Thursday, April 20, 2017

Looking back -- a late-life luxury

     Remember, this is a writer’s blog, about the joys and pitfalls of life in October and November. That means, of course, there are times when our personal March and April are part of the conversation.
That is especially true when Imagination -- the mind’s third eye -- is turned loose to weave its mysterious, sometimes magical power. Given free rein it can take us to places we’ve never been, recalling events that perhaps never happened (at least not the way we remember them). With a bit of prompting, imagination can even conjure up stories of the dark and ancient past---all the way back to our adolescent school days.
The last couple years have provided me an opportunity to revisit my own often hazy memories of that earlier time. Reconnecting via the internet with a few high-school classmates has stirred decades of mental overburden---exposing youthful recollections and fuzzy images of young faces staring back at me from the pages of a long-ago high-school annual. 
Of course, like me those folks have become someone very different than the adolescent youngster I remember. Still, weaving them into a story has been an interesting, if occasionally frustrating exercise---a pleasant excuse to return to my own altogether unglorious glory days.
Ours was a large high school. For a social misfit like me close friends could have been numbered on one hand, with a couple fingers left over. Most of the former classmates who have visited our online ‘Class of 55’ website were strangers to me in school, and still are. They are, however, strangers with whom I happened to share a particular time and place. What is it they say about ships that pass in the night?
Still, I have found an unexpected reward in the pleasant reconnecting with those folks, at least the ones who reply. You see, the stories I tell are not set in those youthful, heady days of old. But inevitably my own recollections of that time and those experiences ---the insights and sensibilities, the highs and lows---show up in the stories I tell. There are times when it feels like I’ve been given an opportunity to compare my own recycled recollections with the way my fictional proxies have remembered those times.
One example of how bits of the past can make their way into a late-life story is this scene from Best Friends and Promises, where Aaron Peck and Johnny Blanton are driving off to meet a one-time school pal, Press Fletcher, twenty-five years after their last visit with him.

They were fifteen minutes down the interstate before Johnny’s silent remembering turned verbal.
“Ole Press was always a cool one,” he said quietly. “There weren’t many like him, at least not that I knew. God, even as a kid he had a way with the ladies. He must have been born with it.”
“Yeah. He had the touch all right. There were a few times when he even managed to fix me up with the leftovers.” 
Aaron let those pleasant recollections rattle around in his head for moment, tracking back to the beginning of his friendship with Johnny. “You remember how I was then,” he said. “Back in the ninth grade. I was a gawky damn kid. I stuttered. Had terminal acne. And there I was, just beginning to understand why I liked girls.”
“I knew you’d eventually figure out that part.”
“Hey, that’s just who I was back then. That was the Aaron Peck everyone knew. What girl in her right mind was going to get excited about being around me? Without you and Press to lend a hand out I might never have had a date. I could have ended up being a hermit.” 
Aaron paused a moment to recall how he had managed to avoid that unfortunate possibility. “That’s just the way it was,” he added. “At least until I had a chance to start over.”
“Start over?”
“That’s right,” Aaron nodded.“It wasn’t a plan or anything like that. It just worked out that way. I went off to college. Away from Tanner---where no one knew anything about me. I didn’t have to deal with all that baggage I’d packed around all through junior high and high school---all the stuff that made the old Aaron Peck who he was.”
“So you reinvented yourself. Was that it? You became the new, improved Aaron Peck?”
“Well, maybe a little new. Probably not all that improved. The thing is, I was starting fresh. I didn’t have to live down anyone’s notion of who I was. There I was, making first impressions for the second time.”
“And that seemed to work, eh? Being the ‘new’ you.”
Aaron was grinning at the thought of it. “Do you think a classy girl like Leona would have paid any attention to me in high school? Not a chance. You remember how it was back then. By the eighth or ninth grade everyone had been given a label of some kind. Once they pinned that on you, there was no getting rid of it. 
“Just think back to our last reunion. It was fifty years after we graduated, and still there were lots of folks who remembered us by those old labels. That’s all they knew about us. In their minds that must be who we still were.”
“So what kind of bad stuff could they have pinned on you?” Johnny asked. “That you ran around with Press and me? I suppose tht gave them something to talk about.”
“That, and a few other vices I’d picked up along the way. Anyway, I went off to college the next fall and bingo---I met this very nice, really cute girl, who had never heard all that stuff about me. Turns out she liked me just the way I was, without ever knowing who I used to be.”


Then, from the story I call Becoming, here is Carl Postell’s recollection of the night he and Jack Bentz first connected, forty-some years after the high-school days they had shared at Tanner Southside High School.


The two of us had not been buddies in high school. As I remember we were both a part of the same niche group---bit players, hanging around the fringes, wanting to belong, with neither the self-confidence or social skills to make that happen. 
Ironically it had been our individual isolation that brought us together that night. It was our fortieth class reunion, a couple years after my divorce from Sandra---the first I had ever attended without her. 
She was there, of course, taking pains to be sure I noticed that she and Tom Ryan were being more friendly than necessary. She might have been disappointed to know I was silently wishing Tom the best of luck. As near as I could tell they deserved each other.
Anyway, while the two of them were refusing to act their age that night, I ended up at the same table as Jack---each of us alone, each of us lonely. After a few awkward glances at each other’s name tag we got talking. Actually we got drinking, then talking. In fact, the more we drank the more we talked.
For a couple of naturally insular guys like Jack and me, a real conversation was a nice change of pace---especially with someone who felt no need to “one up” everything the other said. 
Both of us still lived in Tanner, so once we became acquainted it was an easy thing to get together every week or so, which we had continued to do. When we had time we visited over lunch. If we were in a hurry we chatted over a beer.


Just think of how those adolescent years prepared us for what was to follow. For most of us that time was a launching pad---a place from which to begin a life journey we could scarcely imagine at the time. 
Ready or not, we were taking the first tentative steps toward becoming the person we are today---complete with the dreams we have dreamed and the life we have lived---and the family and friends we have created along the way. 
Now, in the October and November of that journey, having reestablished contact with a few folks I knew back then, and renewing a few hazy memories of that time, I'll admit that I am enjoying the luxury of looking back. 

At the same time I give thanks for the way my personal journey has played out. Hopefully yours has been just as good.

Monday, April 3, 2017

October (& November) Magic

I can't make my way out of a straight jacket. Truth is, I sometimes struggle to get my shirt on and buttoned right. I don't do card tricks. And I've never sawed anyone in half---at least not on purpose. But a while back, in the course of a day or two I was reminded how something as simple as the first few notes of a long-unheard song can literally transport me to a different time and place. That struck me as a form of October magic.
It was the spring of 2014 when the two of us went driving---from Oregon to Kansas---to follow what remains of the Oregon Trail back to Oregon City. It was a long-awaited trip that had been set aside the year before when one of my ladder tricks landed me in the hospital. Finally, however, I was good to go, so off we went to retrace the wagon-train journey Roma's ancestors endured on their way to Oregon. (My family, being the practical ones we were, waited until the railroads were up and running.)
I had intended to set my blogging activities aside for a couple weeks, to concentrate on seeing the western half of our country from the road instead of the sky. I was quite surprised to find that it took only a few hours for an unexpected aspect of modern-day sightseeing to reveal what seemed to me an October insight worth exploring.
I learned that there is nothing like a long trip over straight and sterile interstate highways to renew old acquaintances---friendships that had not crossed my mind in a very long time. 
You see, to help pass the hours we were listening to The Fabulous Fifties---a set of CDs that Oregon Public Broadcasting had gifted us in return for a pledge. On those eight discs were dozens of classic tunes from our well-remembered heyday. (Well, it certainly felt that way at the time.) There we were, driving down the highway, listening to old friends, perhaps the same ones you knew in the March and April years of your life. 
If you are a pop music person like me, (not everyone is) it was quite a list of friends to whom we were being reintroduced. Perry Como, Nat King Cole, The Four Aces, Four Lads, Fats Domino, Patti Page, Frankie Laine, Kay Starr, Guy Mitchell, Johnny Ray---and on and on. Everyone has their own favorites. I had to chuckle a bit when I found Les Baxter's name on the play list. He was the one who nearly got me fired from my DJ job on the college radio station when I introduced him as Lex Bastard.
For mile after mile I was caught up in those songs and the memories they evoked---struck by their inexplicable power to connect me to my past. What was there about the music---which in one sense is nothing more than melodic noise---that grabbed me the way it did? 
What allows the ethereal reality of those sounds to remain in some seldom-visited corner of our mind for so long? How is it that decades later the unexpected sound of a few introductory notes is enough to unleash a flood of powerful emotions and still-warm recollections---hints of the oh-so-youthful persons we were at the time? How can those connections remain after all those years? What magic is at work?
Perhaps like me there are certain songs or tunes that strike you that way---creating an instant connection to a particular time, place, or person. Other bits of that adolescent music may lack a specific link, but still reinforce the mood and mindset of an era---perhaps a special school year, or the social connections that were part of that moment. 
True, I do sometimes march to a different drummer. I am sure that not everyone has endowed the first few notes of a well-remembered tune with the magical ability to resurrect bits of their personal history---the special moments, events, and persons they associate with those few musical chords---the memories they have carried with them all the way to their October and November years. 
On an allied note---I wonder if today's young couples have "their special song" the way we used to. Having heard some of their music that seems unlikely---though I  suppose that is a sign of my own November judgment bubbling to the surface.
For me it was the music of the Fifties that I endowed with the power to take me back in time. For you it might be the tunes of the Sixties or the Seventies that work the same magic. If you are living out your November years, perhaps the war-time tunes of the Forties can take you to a place you don't visit every day. As near as I can remember the attraction began early for me. I can recall a vivid "Shrimp Boats" moment from the eighth grade---a bit that would eventually show up in my Best Friends and Promises story. 
It was quite remarkable to consider all the places those few hours spent with The Fabulous Fifties were able to take me. But of course, I did have other options. I could have packed my "Country Music Favorites" and spent long hours driving along to the sounds of George Strait, Alan Jackson, and Travis Tritt. (Don't you love that name?)
I could have done that, and perhaps would have---except Roma made it clear I would be traveling alone if I did. You see, she has a thing about "twang." Rather than risk a solitary visit to the Oregon Trail, I settled instead for The Fabulous Fifties---and I'm glad I did.
It is tempting to end this bit of nonsense by assuring myself that everyone has their own mental library of March and April musical recollections. But I'm not sure that is true. Though I may not be the only one who gets swept up in those "memories set to music," perhaps most October folks have outgrown such childish behavior.
And that leads me to today's question. Have you ever felt that magic---the way a few bars of an old favorite can transport you to another time and place? If so, I urge you to take a moment to use the "Post a Comment" option (below) and share with us the songs or performers that had the power to work that magic for you.


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Elder Orphans - an October Epiphany - Take Two


I won’t apologize for this updated bit of repetition that I offer for those who did not see it the first time. It is another of those subjects I have dealt with before, and may well address again some day. It is, to be sure, a repeat. It's also, in my muddled, moss-covered opinion an increasingly serious matter---one that deserves another look.
For twelve years now I have written over and over that late-life, our October and November Years, works best as a shared effort, when two or more of us---friends and lovers, family and caregivers, face that sometime harsh time together. I have written whole books making that case---following my Tanner Chronicles friends as they stumble toward the relationships or other arrangements that will help support them in October and beyond. 
Having spent so much ink stressing that point, you can perhaps imagine my pleasant surprise when, several months ago, I came across an effective and incredibly descriptive way, with just two words, of defining those seniors who are not that fortunate---the ones who are forced to face late-life alone.
It may be those folks are Elder Orphans. Take a moment to repeat those words out loud. When I first heard them they had the ring of an epiphany---a striking, suddenly-revealed truth. In two short, well-defined words, catchy and amazingly accurate, is captured the essence of a growing, wide-spread October Years crisis. I was impressed at the time, and still am. Like a lot of things, the more aware we become, the more we are able to see the all-too-obvious signs all around us.
Lest you think my not-so-nimble mind has created that simple, yet startling insight, I am happy to credit a Huffington Post blog by Carol Marak (www.twitter.com/Carebuzz), part of an extended blog series on Aging Alone that addressed Elder Orphan problems and possibilities from a personal perspective. 
“Who will care of them?” she asked. “Who will look out for those unfortunate ones? Dealing with late-life complexities is hard enough in the best of circumstances. But who will help the aging, the childless, the single---when they are alone and in need?”
Those “lonely ones” are, of course, the Elder Orphans. Like their infant counterparts, they are literally on their own at a distressingly vulnerable time of life, and just as much in need of caring support.
Chances are they are socially and physically isolated, living without a family member or surrogate. Too often they are lonely, depressed, and dealing with diminished decision-making capabilities. To make matters worse they are seldom acknowledged as a group or class that needs help.
So what does the future hold for our elder orphan population? By all accounts their numbers are increasing, and the help they need grows accordingly. Going forward it is likely that more seniors will need more help for a longer period of time. According to Ms. Marak a recent AARP report offers precious little solace, confirming that the demand for elder caregivers continues to grown faster than the supply. In the face of funding shortfalls and rapidly increasing costs, Caregiver per Orphan ratios are steadily declining across the country. Being an Elder Orphan is not about to get easier.
Though I operated without that catchy label for all those years, my Tanner Chronicle stories often focused on those who qualified as Elder Orphans. Take for instance Johnny Blanton, one of my favorite Tanner friends, who happened to remind me of someone special. In Best Friends and Promises Johnny lives in a low-cost, county-owned apartment, surrounded by neighbors who scarcely acknowledge his presence. Though he would be unwilling to admit as much, (Actually he would scream like hell.), in many important ways he had become an orphan. You tell me, is this a viable depiction of an Elder Orphan?

For all his gregarious instincts Johnny Blanton led a spartan, decidedly isolated existence, the unfortunate result of circumstances over which he had little control. In the course of his four-year residency in the County-operated Senior Housing Complex he had concluded that, as a group, his neighbors suffered from a multitude of shared failings. To a person they were old, financially strapped, grouchy, and judgmental. Most depressing of all, not one of them subscribed to his long-cultivated interest in having a good time.
Wary, unsmiling widows were everywhere. He passed them in the hallways. They crowded the dingy activity room. Without exception he found them  unnaturally distrusting of his well-intentioned attention. At one time or another he had approached nearly all of them, hoping to spark some degree of interest, and had struck out at every turn.
Except for Mrs. Perkins, who lived across the hall from his apartment and provided him with a steady supply of day-old newspapers, Johnny had not made one female acquaintance in the entire thirty-unit complex. He took that sad reality, and the slight it represented, very personally
To make matters worse Johnny’s success at making friends among the male residents, he called them “inmates,” had been only slightly better. Many were deaf, blind, or immobile---which tended to limit their “good time” potential. Sadly, the few who still found drinking beer a viable social pursuit were no more affluent than Johnny. After years of having Aaron Peck and others pick up the tab, he was reluctant to cultivate drinking buddies who expected him to play that role.
As a result, his social life had become seriously constrained. For three years Willie Thomas, who did not drink at all, but played a mean game of cribbage, had been his most reliable ally among the residents. With Willie’s passing the previous December that welcome friendship had been lost.
In his heart of hearts Johnny Blanton was a very social creature. It appeared, however, that in the sterile confines of the Senior Complex his declining years were destined to be lived out in a state of stagnant depression. To his way of thinking it would take a miracle to change that unfortunate situation.

An unfortunate situation, eh? One that begs for a compassionate storyteller to provide the “miracle” Johnny is hoping for. That, however, is something for another day. After all, storytelling---fictional accounts of fictional situations---is one thing. Real life in the Elder Orphan fast lane is something very different, something that you and I can play our part in addressing.
You see, most of us know an elder orphan, probably more than one. They sit in the midst of our congregations. We may pass them shuffling behind their walker in the supermarket aisle, or rub elbows with them at the senior center. You may  also find them in hospital emergency rooms, their only source of the health care most of us take for granted. They are, in fact, everywhere---out of sight right before our eyes.
So, from the first time I read Ms Marak’s post I wanted that label and what it stands for to be part of my personal October Years dialogue, with you and myself---now and in the future. 
And along the way I hope I can be observant enough, and bold enough, to spot the elder orphans who cross my path---to acknowledge their place in my world, and perhaps take the time to hear a bit of their story. 
That’s an important thing, you know, showing them that for at least a few minutes someone cares enough to listen. There are so many folks out there who need our casual gift---the simple act of acknowledging and affirming their presence. Isn’t that what every orphan wants, no matter what their age?

Monday, February 6, 2017

Let's Pretend

  It’s okay, you know. I am used to it by now---showing my November age like this. The more I do it, the easier it becomes, at least when I am reliving a slightly unorthodox memory.
  For instance, let’s take a moment to consider something as mundane as Saturday morning. Most of us like Saturday, don’t we? Especially if it is not a work day. But you can be sure I am not talking about just any Saturday morning. I happen to have some particular ones in mind, from a time when Saturday morning was still something special. And I hope you will join me for a moment as I return to some of my well-remembered, all-time favorite Saturday mornings---circa 1945, 1946, or 1947.
  What? You say you cannot ‘return’ to 1945, because it had come and gone before your arrived. Darn, I am sorry to hear that, because that means you missed some really good Saturday morning times. Take this, for example. As I recall it was ten o’clock, mid-morning, when the living room radio greeted us with.........”It’s Big John and Sparky! And There’s No School Today.” Man, after all these years I can hear that happy call to action as clear as anything. I’ll bet you would have loved it too.
  Or how about Chandu, the Magician? I think that was nine, or maybe nine-thirty. True, he was a semi-creepy fellow, at least the way I saw him in my mind.. But he always had a trick up his sleeve. And in the end he was on our side. What I remember most of all was the spooky organ music in the background.
  Earlier that morning, at eight-thirty, we had already tuned in to Smilin’ Ed and the Buster Brown Gang. Though it does seem like I ought to remember more about that half hour than just the excited introduction, with Tige, the Buster Brown dog barking like he was happy to see us. At the time I don’t suppose I even realized there were other programs airing at that hour, or why anyone would bother to listen to them if there were. By then I was hooked.
  It was, as you can tell, a different time. Later, many of us would learn to consider Saturday a ‘sleep-in’ day. But not so in those post-war radio days, at least not in our home. Mom had to get us up early enough on Saturday to have breakfast finished before eight o’clock. Though getting us up and about on a school day took some doing, Saturday mornings were different. 
  After all, brother Roger and I needed to be parked in front of the old hardwood Zenith radio by eight o’clock for Let’s Pretend, the storytime program that always started our radio Saturday. (Why was it we had to ‘watch’ the radio?)
  So, you might be wondering---what the hell does that have to do with anything. What was there about my childhood Saturday mornings that warrants all that? I will try to explain.
  Have you ever wondered why you managed to stumble across some obscure thought or memory that you had not considered for decades? Was there an existential purpose at work, or was it purely accidental? Whatever the reason, that’s the space I find myself in this morning. You see, as I have mentioned before on these pages, I have spent my October Years writing stories---fictional stories. By definition that means I have made them up, created them out of thin air and a dose of dubious brain matter.
  Yet not until a few days ago, for reasons I still don’t understand, did it dawn on me that I was in the “What if?” business. That is one way to describe fiction, isn’t it? The writer, any writer, begins with a question---What if an alien force is threatening the earth?---What if zombies are about to invade?---What if the killer is about to get away? What if an eighty-year-old guy falls for Lady Gaga? Thing is, no matter what the question, the answer will be the story that is told to provide an answer. 
  That is what writers of fiction do. They answer a series of “what if?” questions. I try to do that. Except, my stories are not about world annihilation, zombie invasions, Donald Trump’s crowd-counting skills, or the hard-to-define allure of Lady Gaga. Instead, I tell ‘what if?’ stories about October people facing October life---and then November.
  It was those thoughts that brought me to an awkward pause, wondering how I would introduce my latest story, Closing the Circle. I stumbled around a bit before it dawned on me. In a very personal way it felt like I was closing my own circle---from Let’s Pretend to What if? My sometimes muddled mind saw the irony of that. Having learned to pretend as a child, here I was spending my October Years creating “what if?”---i.e. “pretend” answers. In a very real way I was right back where I had started.
  So what about Closing the Circle, you ask? (At least I hope you do.) What if a young man, adopted at birth, sets out to find his birth parents? What sort of story might I create to answer that ‘what if?’ question? Then to further complicate matters, what if the birth parents he finally finds have their own deep regrets about having separated before his birth, leaving each of them to wonder what might have been had they stayed together.?
  Of course, there are as many answers to those questions as there are persons who choose to answer. I happen to like the answer I “pretended” into being. And at the same time, when I was done it felt a bit like closing my own circle---from ‘pretending’ to ‘what if?’ and back.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

  Following that same line of remembering I invite, actually I urge, those of you who remember those long-ago radio days to use the “Comment” section below to offer your own examples of radio  favorites. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

Growing into our gifts


It’s true. I am that strange fellow who rants, raves, and writes stories about the many ways my October and November friends are growing and changing, continuing to “become,” even at their advanced age.
The fact is, at 60, 70, or even 80, we are always in the process of becoming someone different than we were yesterday. That’s a given. The more important question is this---is the person I am becoming a reasonable approximation of the person I was meant to be? Even in October and November, with all their attendant excuses for settling on something less, am I on track to be the best 'me' I can be, for my family, and my world?
I must admit, I find some of my own answers to that question hard to accept. After all, there are so many ways for us to 'become,' and so many habits and lifestyles that trap us in our old ways, making it hard to change. I was reminded of that a couple days ago when I read the following post.
It is from Brene Brown, Ph.D. (www.brenebrown.com), an author and research professor at the University of Houston. Though she and many in her audience are probably dealing with the July-August time of life, her emphasis on “growing into our gifts” strikes me as another way to frame the notion of 'becoming.' And certainly her closing remark ---”it’s time to show up and be seen” applies just as much to we October and November folks as it does to those August kids.
Here is what she has to say.

I think midlife is when the universe gently places her hand upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear:
“I’m not screwing around. It’s time. All of this pretending and performing - these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt - has to go.
“Your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armor could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy of love and belonging, but you’re still searching and you’re more lost than ever.
“Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging. Courage and daring are coursing through you. You were made to live and love with your whole heart. It’s time to show up and be seen.”

I can hear your October questions--- “How can I be ‘courageous and daring’ at my age? I am too set in my ways, too limited in what I can do---besides, I’m tired.”
Granted, our October becoming will probably not require a strong back and ripped abs. (A good thing too, since most days it is my back that is ‘ripped.’) But there are so many other ways to exploit our possibilities---to move beyond what we’ve been told we can do at our age and try, and in an age-appropriate way, keep ‘growing our gifts.’ 
We have learned so much along the way, more than we normally give ourselves credit for. And we are still on a ‘becoming’ path, whether we admit it or not. It is a matter of finding what works for us. This very afternoon I will be visiting with an October friend, helping him turn the novel he has always wanted to publish into a Print-on-Demand paperback. Even in retirement he is continuing to grow his gifts.
Finally, if Ms Brown’s insights resonate with you, I hope you will share this post and her website info with your July & August friends, including your own children. Help them understand why it is so important to continue down the path of Becoming.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Is This Our October Future?

As you might expect, over the years I’ve had a few folks take exception with my depiction of our 60s and 70s as “only” October. So far no one has argued for “September,” but quite a few of you have suggested a later month. 
Truth to tell, there are days when “November” better describes my mood and physical capabilities. Heck, I’ve probably dipped a toe in “December” a time or two. That’s why a few months ago I stepped forward to add “and November too” to the blog’s title.
But of course my use of “October” was never meant to be simply about age. When I use that label I am thinking of October as a state of mind. More to the point, like the October on a calendar, our October Years (and November too) are a time of harvest---a time to gather the fruits of all the seeds we’ve sown in the course of a lifetime and the things we’ve learned along the way. I happen to believe that even at our later years there are ways we can put that experience to good use.
I will admit that one of the risks I face in telling the October stories I tell is the temptation to dwell on the maudlin---stressing the negatives and hardships of late life. Of course, by this stage of the game we’ve all had our share of bumpy roads and unexpected detours. And there will be more of those. If we’ve been paying attention at all we should expect that. 
But this morning I am prompted to move beyond our individual circumstances and address something I find even more upsetting---something for which my personal life journey and the life views I have accumulated  have not adequately prepared me to deal with.
If you are my age, infirmity and distress are sure to have been part of your personal experience. I can accept that. Yet scarcely a day goes by when this November mind of mine does not struggle to make sense of a more sinister reality---the cultural infirmity and divisive distress that plague our society. 
What I perceive as the chaotic unraveling of our national persona has me wondering if things have always been this way. Having been lulled by decades of relatively-civilized peace, are we simply experiencing a regression to the human norm? Or has there been a fundamental change in the path of social evolution? Is there a new “human norm” being created?
How else would you interpret the headlines that assault our sensibilities daily? On the local level it feels like every morning’s newspaper and every evening’s newscast provides new evidence of predators and perverts, addicts and con-men, not to mention politicians gone amuck. At times it seems we have become accepting of an unprecedented scale of violence and mayhem. 
Have we grown so numb that we look right past the all-too- obvious warning signs---middle-school girls being bullied to death---wide-eyed young men unleashing their lethal revenge in our high schools---an ever-increasing number of us, young and old, dependent on mind-altering pharmaceuticals? There are times when it seems that our beloved nation is drowning in a tsunami of insanity.
And while our towns and neighborhoods struggle to stay afloat, our national political dysfunction continues to stir the flames of discord. Finger pointing and blame have displaced bipartisan problem solving. 
In a world of spiteful politics and crushing, always mounting debt, most of which will never be repaid, the great majority of us are being hung out to dry. Meanwhile the Wall Street and Washington vultures slowly circle, fighting to get their piece of the pie before it vanishes into the economic quicksand. The supposedly “drained swamps” still hide menacing creatures, and smell as bad as always.
Surely I am not the only one who wonders what has happened to the world we knew. It becomes harder and harder to recognize the country where I grew up and perhaps thought I understood. Small wonder the October characters I write about are apt to stumble as they try to make sense of it.
My question is simple enough. Has it always been like this? I’ll bet every one of us grew up hearing our parents and grand-parents grumbling about “the younger generation,” and how things were not this bad in “the good old days.” As I recall those same old sayings included hints of ancient cultures where age was equated with wisdom. Truth to tell, I’m getting old, but the wisdom and understanding I had hoped to gain seem to have eluded me.
So, are today’s headlines just more of the same? Did the world of our childhood and adolescence always include the troubles we read about now and watch on the tube? And if it did, is it the scale and frequency of those problems that has changed---or is our increased awareness simply a matter of more thorough reporting, better police work, and cameras on every street corner? 
Whether or not our generation is dealing with something new and different, I have no doubt that for many of us, this crazy new world impacts our ability to “thrive in our 60s and 70s.” If so, I’d say that makes it an October issue.
I would appreciate your help here, your input. If you wish, I hope you'll pass this on to your October  and November friends. (The email link below is easy to use.) As always I'd be interested in hearing your input via “Reply.” (below) 
With that, I will try to calm down a bit in time for the next post.

Some long-time readers may have noticed that once again I have edited an earlier post (6/27/14) to fit what seems to me a new and different world---one that I am struggling to make sense of. Will this rant of mine change the course of our descent? Not likely. Still, someone needs to speak up about these October concerns.

Friday, January 6, 2017

A return to yesteryear

2017 -- a new year, and the end of another family-centered holiday season. As always it was a time of Christmas cards and Christmas letters---reading about friends and family we may not hear from for another year
If that sounds superficial and synthetic, I would argue that it is not. There is no rule that says we have to see people every week or every month before we welcome news about the life they are living, and relive the memories we have created together. 
This year my personal memory bank was stirred up more than usual by a string of year-end updates from old (I use the term kindly) high-school classmates, who added their voices to the world of cyber communications. As you would expect 61 years after-the-fact, every one of them, like me, is dealing with their own personal form of November Years reality, and thankful for November understanding and support.
Another thing that struck me was the many age-appropriate ways my one-time classmates have found to make their late-life satisfying, even rewarding. As one who writes about those times, I know that it takes a certain resourcefulness to pull that off. Though there is certainly no ‘one-size-fits-all” way to do it, that elusive ‘right answer,’ the one that works for each of us, is well worth seeking.
Perhaps like me, you sometimes find that satisfaction by revisiting the past. I’ll bet we weren’t the only ones who spent a few holiday hours thumbing through photo albums, trying to convince the grandkids that our long ago ‘dorky’ good times were actually fun. Do you know a better way to brighten a day?
Of course, you can take that ‘remembering’ theme a bit further. A case in point---the new story Roma and I recently finished, which is actually a prequel to A Year to Remember. We call this one An Oregon Outback Odyssey and we are actively seeking feedback about how it reads. You can check it and the others out on our Amazon page.
An overview of An Oregon Outback Odyssey, you ask? You tell me, does this sound like a history worth revisiting?

                THEY WERE A TEAM - A MAN AND HIS HORSE
You remember those famous pairs---the ones from our childhood---Roy and Trigger, Gene and Champion, the Lone Ranger and Silver. It was a time when every kid wanted to be a cowboy. Yet, how many of us made that dream come true?
Well, we did. We bought a ranch, some cows, and that all important horse. And though they never made it to the silver screen, Gil and Star might have become a team worthy of  the Outback---if only Gil had learned to enjoy his time in the saddle.
More to the point, could the great Oregon Outback have made room for a wannabe cowboy who hoped to raise hogs?We started out with Priscilla Goodbody, then moved on to the only gay boy-pig in the whole darn county?


However, since I am not writing this post from Poison Creek Ranch, you can probably guess that particular detour did not pan out. Yet, when all is said and done, and I look back at how the last 61 years have treated me, I must conclude that I have been one of the lucky ones. I have a wife and family I scarcely deserve, equally-ancient former classmates to visit with, and the time and freedom to tell the stories I want to tell, the way I want to tell them. Come to think of it, I believe I have hit the jackpot. I hope you have been just as lucky.