Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Filling Your Bucket

Every morning, I try to give myself a daily dose of positive affirmations. This new habit (still a work in progress) is one huge step forward for someone brought up believing that having a sense of self-worth was a negative thing.

These affirmations are rarely anything monumental or significant milestones in my life. Instead, they are simply gentle reminders that I have had a great life, have been blessed with a wonderful wife, children, and grandchildren. I have writing projects that excited me, daily blogs, usually five or more in the hopper at one time, that help me hone my writing skills. There are plays that need tweaking and tinkering and movie scripts that need refinement. Waleed, the Skinny Hippo, is still trying to draw folk’s attention. A comic strip also looking for a home. Song lyrics that keep popping up inside my head scream for capture on paper before they’re lost to passing thought streams. They’re all pressing concerns drawing my attention in a dozen different directions at one time... and I love it.

Aside from the daily crush of vernacular endeavors, there are the simpler pleasures so easily lost in the daily routine of life. Spectacular views of an early morning sunlight painting wonderful colors and hues across the surrounding mountains. The quiet serenity of early morning stillness blanketing a backyard just starting to awake. Simple pleasures our elders wouldn’t or couldn’t allow themselves to feel.

The fifties and sixties were turbulent times for many in that older generation. They had suffered through the Great Depression and endured World War Two. Now, they faced a younger generation who thought the old ways were the wrong way and wanted to pave their own pathway to adulthood. But to do that, they had to feel good about themselves which their elders saw as something akin to heresy.

These thoughts of positive affirmation were rekindled in my mind with one of my latest collections from Better World Books. The book is called: How Full is Your Bucket. I almost threw it away after the first couple of pages. I have nothing against positive feedback but usually its encased in a shell of semi-religious cliches, old school antidotes (Think the Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale) and other sometimes trite journals heralding back to the era of Horatio Alger.

Feel-good affirmations based on some religious affiliation, political position or generational, social, cultural, or monetary attitude are (in my mind) empty promises made to oneself and no one else. With that in mind, I was about to toss the book but curiosity propelled me forward.

For reasons bordering on nothing else to read at the moment, I continued on and finally found a pattern of ideas that actually made sense. The simple idea that positive feedback is better than negative feedback and it doesn’t hurt anyone to say something nice to or about others.

At my 81st birthday party, several folks came up with the obligatory question: “How does it feel to be eighty-one years old? My answer was very simple. “Age is a state of mind and I don’t mind my age” and “Health is Wealth.” I feel I’m on pretty good standing in both those categories.

So, as I enter my eighties, I would like to think that each morning is a gift and opening that gift with a feel-good thought or two is one heck of a great way to start the day.

Amen to that.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

A Walk in Time

Ordinary, plain-talking folks have been walking this country since its inception in the colonial era. They rambled along to find themselves, to find their countrymen, to find their destiny. Great migrations from East to West, West to North and every direction in-between carried their tired bodies in search of that elusive goal, often not defined, but understood in their soul.

The most recent rambling narrative I read was called American Ramble. It was written by a much-traveled veteran of journalistic assignments around the world and at home. It’s not the first walkin, talkin narrative I’ve read or seen.

During World War Two, a film came out entitled ‘A Walk in the Sun.’ it was about a squad of infantrymen who landed at Palermo, Italy and began a forced march across the countryside to their first objective, a farm house at some critical crossroads.

‘A Walk in the Sun’ had very little combat action but ran with poignant dialogue that truly captured the everyday thoughts of those infantrymen as they marched through the Italian countryside. It was at once reflective, insightful, and thought-provoking. It connected the audience on an emotional level with each one of those soldiers. Walking in the woods, alone or with a friend, and getting lost there can have the same effect. It’s like an elixir for your mind and soul at the same time.

Folks have been wandering this planet, with pen in hand, since the beginning of time. Walden and Thoreau, in their time, were able to capture the peace and serenity that accompanies this kind of soul-soothing venture. On a more personal level, I’ve found that long trail runs and mountain hiking can produce the same kind of mind-altering euphoric effect on the brain. Some call it a ‘vison quest.’

Back in time, I’ve taken on my own kind of ‘vision quests’ climbing the mountains, finding a spot to nest in and then get lost inside my head.

The surrounding environment found in mountains and woods is much the same. It’s a quiet that can pound on your eardrum with its softness and penetrate your psychic with reflective thoughts that seem to come out of nowhere and get lodged there. Much like the girl I knew back in college who taught me how to walk in the rain; solitary walking in the woods can have much the same visceral, cerebral cleaning effect.

When he was just sixteen, Brian and I did that in the Amazon River basin. It was a wonderful kaleidoscope of running the Amazon in a narrow canoe carved out of a tree trunk, trudging through the jungle in the pouring rain and crossing raging river streams.

I repeated that experience again in Costa Rica with a number of long forced marches through the jungle. Most folks don’t understand that jungles are usually not found on plateaus but rather steep hills, gullies, rugged crevice’s and rolling terrain.

When Brian and Melanie were younger, I would sometimes take them into the woods to get lost. We’d stop by some fallen log and just sit there and listen.

At first, the kids couldn’t hear a thing but gradually they would grow accustomed to the quiet and slowly, ever so slowly, would begin to hear the wind, the birds, traffic far off in the distance and a myriad of other woodland sounds. It’s meditation on a soft blanket of moss surrounded by forest sentinels.

I took a forced march in the woods recently. I wasn’t wearing khaki or carrying a backpack or satchel of supplies. Just my water bottle, tiny binoculars and good hiking boots. It wasn’t a forced march or trudge through the jungle. It was, as expected, a quiet meander to listen for birds calling my name, the wind ruffling my thinning hair and the sun to brighten my way. A backyard ramble not far from home that took me to an entirely different world inside my head.

I still treasure those moments in time when I get to let go of my surroundings and let my mind and imagination float away, taking me along for the ride.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Passing of Palm Springs

Back around the turn of the century, 2000 to be exact, Palm Springs was on the cusp of some pretty big changes. It was the end of old Hollywood and the beginning of hipsters, millennials and a more diverse population coming to town. Together, they were changing the social, cultural, and architectural landscape of the community. Sharon and I saw it all and went along for the ride.

Palm Springs Life magazine was one barometer of these subtle yet definable changes happening all around us. Gradually the magazine began shifting focus from ‘who was in town’ to grumbling about the old downtown and talk of a revitalization that reflected changing patterns of tourism and economic growth. The old guard could still be found on the golf course but they now had company with much younger swingers.

Condominium living caught our attention and we succumbed to the idea of a second place to spend our winter months. In the beginning, the Palm Villas began as a rental and then unexpectedly stayed that way for many years. It was a new beginning, prior to retirement, with several twists and turns along the way. Canyon View Estates, was another curve in the road that ended when the Condo board made living there unappealing.

Single family living surprised both of us but turned out to be the right choice. It became the family’s annual meeting place to celebrate either Thanksgiving or Christmas. Many memories were made there over the years. We are so fortunately that our grandchildren literally grew up in the warm California sun.

Maya was the first grandchild to visit when she was three or four years old. Now seventeen and accompanied by two siblings and two cousins, they have all come to relish Nana’s pool and time spent with the two families and grandparents.

While the years rolled by and the families built wonderful memories here, the world of Palm Springs continued changing. Old downtown Palm Springs grew tired and stale. After years of slow and/or no growth, change was finally in the air. Hipsters and a growing diverse demographic fueled the much-needed improvements and changes.

Of course, there were casualties along the way. Starbucks in the Warm Sands neighborhood finally succumbed to the growing issues with the homeless population and changing tourist patterns.

The changes for me were more subtle. The Palm Springs Writers Guild began as a wonderful conduit of writing contacts, direction and guidance as I was beginning my own journey of vernacular discovery. Over the years, there was much to learn and unlearn. But gradually the years grew tired with repetitious lectures and little new information.

Local theatrical venues afforded me a great opportunity to stage manage other productions and examine them in detail. This too changed with the pandemic and a change of management. There seemed to be a discernable, almost palatable change of course BP-AP; before the pandemic and after the pandemic.

Our local neighborhood organization hosted their annual fall and spring neighborhood parties. Attendance varied over the years but showed a very discernable change of demographic. There seems to be a lot more DINKs moving into the neighborhood.

One friend, whose home was always a local gathering spot for friends, out of town visitors, local groups and traveling associates, was sold. It truly marked the end of an era. Other friends and associates who had lived here for many years either moved away, died or lost touch with us. Things were changing even as we pondered our future here.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Arriving by Your Home

It was Modernism Week not too long ago here in the desert. Once again, spectacular homes in our neighborhood as well as other enclaves throughout Palm Springs were on display for anyone with $125.00 per visitor to see.

Old Hollywood died off here in the 60s and 70s. Now the real money has moved down Valley to select residential communities like Big Horn and PGA. But the allure and panache of Palm Springs continues and folks love coming here to check out the fabled lifestyle and over-the-top dwellings.

If I’m going to arrive, it won’t be via my house. Maybe I’ve already arrived and don’t even know it. More realistically, it doesn’t matter in the first place. Our first home was a small brick rambler in Baltimore County. Today it would be a great starter home. Our second was our present one in Apple Valley. A mid-60s rambler that’s proven the value of its talented carpenters and tradesmen back then. The house is still a solid, well-built structure that has gone through a number of remodeling projects inside and out.

I’ve always been interested in real estate. This was long before HGTV (Home and Garden Television) muddied the waters of reality and made real estate seem like a sure bet for the masses. The cable channel is like OxyContin for the uninitiated – stimulating but it makes outcomes appear more believable than they really are. My own experience with real estate investing was a lot more plain vanilla. Never a lot, never very fancy but solid and reliable. For your average HGTV watcher nowadays, it would have seemed boring as heck.

The one show I do enjoy watching is ‘House Hunters’, both national and international. It gives me a pretty reliable gauge of home prices around the country, assuming the show isn’t a repeat from years past. The home buyers seem pretty average and believable. None of the individuals or couples seemed to stand out from one another. Until now.

Something is going on with the series and I can’t put my finger on it. Whether it’s a trending, deliberate subtle message or a new direction, the series has now, on four separate occasions, shown couples of a certain demographic deliberately seeking out their ‘dream home’ as a sign of status.

That, in itself, is nothing new or unusual. What is unusual is their very pronounced (loud and vocal) desire to find a home that speaks to their success. They want a home that says: “I (We) Have Arrived.” These house hunters have been very focused and deliberate in stating that the house they seek must show status among their peers, wealth (supposed), and a bricks and mortar fa├žade that stands out in the neighborhood.

Unfortunately, it sometimes feels like a 60’s television version of the ‘Beverly Hillbillies.’ Novo-rich status seekers wanting to make a statement. It is simplistic and dumbed-down; often bordering on unreal or sketchy scenarios. Again, there seems to be a message here but I guess I’m too daft to get it.

‘House Hunters’ is probably the most realistic show on the channel even if some of the real estate agents shown seem to be competing for attention right off the clown car.

Another series ‘My Lottery Dream Home’ falls into the same kind of trap. ‘My Lottery Dream Home’ follows lucky lottery winners seeking to buy their first home. The host (my wife loves this guy) dresses like a clown and acts the same way. His primary job is to remind these lucky newbies that they are now millionaires and can do or buy whatever they want. And, more importantly, that they deserve it.

I still haven’t figured out the motivation behind these deliberate attempts to send subtle messages in the shows themselves. Of course, I’m not a producer and I don’t care about ratings. Still, it would be nice to have an honest presentation instead of a structured, manipulated storyline.

On a personal level, several folks I know insist that a home, not a condo, best reflects their place in the world. We seem to be at a point in this country where many consider housing to be an inalienable right along with education, public health and protection from harm (fire and police). It’s an interesting perspective and one that deserves further discussion and debate.

I’m just not sure that housing as status and deserved earnings is the right approach to take. But then again, that’s me, Mr. Plain Vanilla. Family experiences will top lumber and concrete every time.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Memories: Breaking the Enigma Code

Memories are a curious kind of phenomena. We’ve all collected them in bits and pieces, some with clarity and others still wrapped in the fog of time. But they are there, like floaters drifting across your eyes.

I can’t remember a lot about growing up in our single parent household with just my sister and mother. Not because it was sad or traumatic which it wasn’t. And I don’t think there were any incidents that might have repressed certain memories. Recollections of that period in my life are simply few and far between. Why, your guess is as good as mine?

On the other hand, my sister still has vivid memories of that period growing up. Sometimes she can recall in great detail little incidents and events that seem totally foreign to me. It’s as if I was never there in the first place. 

The same thing happened with some old college friends that I’d recently gotten reacquainted with. Most of them had vivid memories of events that occurred back in school. Some events I can remember while others seem like an empty dream. Really, was I even there?

Granted that was a very crazy period in my life. I’ve already blogged about that decade in ‘My Lost Years.’ I’ve tried to document my life in the military, living in Europe, sequestered in the Amazon, trapesing around the country, falling in and out of love and other sordid adventures before they all escaped my memory bank. Trying to recall those glimpses into my past often brings up just vapid images and faint recollections. If it wasn’t for old photographs those mental images might be a total blur.

It’s funny how memories of past relationships and/or friendships can sometimes paint rainbow images in your mind. Yet when confronted with reality those memories don’t always match those of the other party’s recollection. It’s an interesting paradox. What really happened back then and from whose perspective?

And it isn’t just a question of ‘he said…she said.’ In reality, it’s a present-day memory story of what the other party really meant verses what was or wasn’t stated in the first place. Turns out, you just thought you knew what was stated or implied between the lines.

The paradox that’s seldom addressed is ‘what kind of baggage were you both carrying at the time?’ Have you ever had the experience of thinking you know someone else pretty well and then they turn out to be quite different from many of your expectations? Or reflecting on a past relationship, you could never figure out when the hell it went south and why.

I’ve already waxed philosophically about those folks who have entered my life for brief periods of time and then exited as quietly and subtly as they entered. There’s been a plethora of acquaintances from school, the military, past jobs, social organizations, neighbors or other passing friendships. They came and went in a rhythmic pattern but always leaving behind fleeting impressions, temporary feelings and sometimes great memories; real or imagined.

 I was at a retirement party a while back. These were folks I’ve known (some well, some not so much) for a long time. Most had retired by now while a few were still hanging on. But we were all at that critical juncture in our group lives. Yet most were unaware that what used to be was about to change. Upon her retirement, my wife told our friends that we were ‘moving on.’ Turns out that retirement party was the beginning of the end to the old gang. Some got it. Many others didn’t.

There was once an enigma in one of my past lives. She was a swirling tornado of vivaciousness that swept me off my feet and rendered all logical judgment null and void. It was for me a period of elation and excitement, confusion and disappointment, deep feelings and unmet expectations (at least on my part). I kept hearing a whispering in my ear ‘This Bird Shall Fly’ but I ignored all the warning signs.  Ultimately, it was the infamous five-minute phone call that ended it all.

My wife would say that it’s a gender thing. She believes that women are much more likely to know and understand what another person is thinking. She claims that most women have an intuitiveness that can detect if another person likes them or not. They can read body language and subtle hints in conversations that paint a pretty clear picture of true intentions and interest. Men aren’t so well equipped.  She would be kind and simply say ‘we’re clueless.’

Upon reflection, I figure most of my fleeting friendships could be explained away simply be-cause of my focus on self, thoughtlessness or just plain immaturity. That would explain high school and a few of the years after that. But after the service it was a little different. Not that I was any more mature. I just think I had a little better handle on other people. The service did that to me.

The friends I made in the service (if ever so briefly) were an entirely different breed. We were both caught up in a time and place not of our making. We were trying to make the best of that situation. I’d venture to guess that if I met them today, we would have absolutely nothing in common other than that fleeting window of shared experiences back then.  It would probably be a very quick ‘yeah, remember’ with a smile and then as quickly ‘now you-all have a good life.’

On the other side of that relationship spectrum would be the high school and college friends I’ve become reacquainted with after an absence of many years. Not surprisingly, we usually spend the first twenty minutes doing an edited version of ‘So what have you done for the last fifty years?’ interjected with a few comments from (fill in the place here such as high school or college). Then the real fun begins with a genuine focus on the present and future.

Thankfully, none of these reunions have been a rehash of our ‘Glory Days’ but rather a reconnection of the bonds that brought us together in the first place…a long time ago. I’d like to reconnect with a lot more old friends like that.  

Oh, and that enigma from one of my past lives. She became an East Coast ex-pat. Now after fifty years I think I’ve finally broken that enigma code. That realization (or assumption at this point) brings clarity to our past lives and a better understanding of what really was and wasn’t happening back then.

That’s okay; it’s all good.

As a writer and one always hungry to better understand the human condition, I can mine this new discovery to better explain the behavior of one of my characters in ‘Making A Home,’ my latest movie script.  It would seem to be a plausible explanation for this character’s confusing behavior toward the one she supposedly cares about.  Great character drama even if it’s fiction.

Unlike in real life, where non-fiction always paints reality in colors and hues and not just for audience consumption.