Sunday, July 7, 2024

TWO DRIFTERS...OFF TO SEE THE WORLD

 

I woke up this morning, the seventh of July, ready to continue a conversation we had begun the night before. You see, it has been two years to the day since Roma made her exit from our world. For that long our conversations, at least my conversations, have been a part of my daily routine.

Rubbing the sleep from my eyes I paused to remember the significance of this date, then turned on the TV for my weekly Sunday Morning on CBS fix……..and there it was, apparently waiting for me.

It was a feature segment on Henry Mancini, and there on the screen was Audrey Hepburn singing ‘Moon River.’ A moment later, without a second thought, I had captured the image of Roma and I……”Two drifters, off to see the world.”

After all, that’s what we were. Perhaps you and your life partner can relate to that notion. We were “two drifters’……swept along by tides we did not always understand, not always sure where we were going, or where our ‘drifting’ might take us……yet glad to be drifting together, seeking “the same rainbows end."

“There’s such a lot of world to see,” the song continued. Though we didn’t see it all in our sixty-seven years together, we certainly saw our share of the world, and more.

And now, two years since she decided to ‘drift’ off on her own, leaving me ‘adrift’ in a sometimes empty world, I am left to visit with her in my own way, and dream about the time, somewhere in our future, when we will again be ‘drifting’ together. 

In the meantime I am left to recall the time, just days before she left, when she told me…..”I am glad it is working out this way……with me leaving first, and you staying here to carry on. Because you will be able to do that, and I know I couldn’t……not alone.”

Of course she could have carried on. She is a strong soul. But instead she left. And here I am, two years later, still trying to “carry on,” adrift with the dream of the reunion that surely awaits us…..me and my “huckleberry friend.”

Thursday, July 4, 2024

FRAMING OUR FUTURE


Happy Fourth of July……when we celebrate our vision of what America has been, and what we hope it can be. Given today’s ‘State of the Union’ it seems appropriate to return to a previous post, from late 2020, that addresses what seemed to me the realistic challenges facing our nation…..the very things we ought to be praying for. Sadly, it rings more true than in times past. 


                           ******************                                                                                                                    


Where did we go wrong……this October/November generation of ours……we children of the 30’ and 40’s? As I look back on the times when we were one of the “generations in charge” it seems like I must have missed a few things along the way. Some of what was happening must have gone right over my head. Either that or I simply wasn’t paying attention.

In my more lucid moments I remember our generation as the product of post-WWII unity. And why not? In those trying war years our nation had come together, if only superficially, to fight a common enemy and defeat that era’s Anti-Christ.

This generation of ours was shaped and tempered by that wartime experience, when everyone, at every age, was expected to do their part in the “war effort.” Grade schoolers, such as we were at the time, were expected to save tin foil and metal cans, add our few coins to War Bond collections, and willingly forgo bubble gum and candy for “the duration.” Without knowing exactly what it meant we were being groomed to accept and support a “united” national effort.

At the same time, in our youthful and naive eyes, that unity was producing a powerful affirmation……a sense that “We can do anything.”

But now……seventy-some years later……it feels like that affirmation has faded for too many of our people. Something as simple as civil discourse is too often out of reach. At times it seems that we are inhabiting an altogether different world…..one that I sometimes scarcely recognize. 

In many ways that new reality is fueled by the internet, with its often unsocial social media, and twenty-four hour cable news, always hungry for eye-catching content. Those technological “improvements” have changed the way we gather the information we use to make decisions.

Perhaps you have noticed that in the process we have become a drastically divided country. I realize that to some degree it has always been that way. But when was it ever this bad……when even our divisions are divided? Right and Left, we are divided. Conservation and Liberal, we are divided. White and Black, we are divided. ’Haves’ and ‘Have-nots,’ we are divided. 

How could a nation as united as I once believed we were become so disjointed? Was the perceived unity I remember a mirage? More to the point, is there any way out of the quicksand quagmire we find ourselves in today? 

Fact is, in today's world we can offer a serious problem for most any taste. Just take a moment to consider the signs of the time……the more obvious ways our nation’s dysfunction has made itself known. 

One of the most intractable of those divisions is the widening gulf between our country’s ‘Haves’ and ‘Have-nots.’ Is there anything in sight that might reverse that trend? I am one of those who believe that until the ‘Have-nots,’ who make up the majority of our nation’s population, are provided a more meaningful place at the table their increasingly vocal complaints will stand in the way of a lasting reconciliation.

On the other hand, if a ‘Have vs Have-not’ debate fails to gain your attention you might consider Climate Change as a major-league point of social division. 

I have never put much faith in prophecies, the ones claiming to foretell the future. But it seems that any seer worth his or her salt could have predicted that 2020 would be an apocalyptic disaster for mankind………at least the American branch of the species. Given that magic gift of foresight why couldn’t an adept fortune teller have gazed into his or her crystal ball to warn us of a Tropical Storm season on steroids, or how the dry and windy western half of our country was about to spawn such disastrous fires and destruction.

For those of us who cannot foretell the future the question is……how did we get to this distressing place? Have we failed to appreciate the fragile balance that allows our world’s eco-system to operate in a “human friendly” manner………or have we consciously allowed the ‘gods of profit’ to drive their destructive, “unfriendly” agenda? In either case, why have we allowed this global destruction to happen?

In our little corner of the world 2020 will be remembered as the year the Oregon Cascades, and especially the Santiam River Canyon, turned to fire. Roma and I were rightfully thankful that our discomfort was limited to a darkened, orange-tinted mid-day overcast and days of low-hanging, ash-laden smoke. 

Still, it was hard to find comfort in that when a mere thirty minutes from our front door dozens of unfortunate folks, including a few we knew personally, had lost literally everything except the clothes on their back and the vehicle they used to escape the approaching inferno. It was hard not to feel a tinge of guilt about our unmerited good fortune.

Or perhaps your complaint de jour is the plague of ‘social, racially-fueled unrest’ that has gripped our nation. Without pointing fingers or placing blame I fear that sad reality is destined to impact American society in ways we may scarcely comprehend. No matter how I approach our sad dilemma I keep returning to one unrelenting question. What about the world our grandchildren will inherit?

More to the point, how will the gradual demise of the country’s white majority……the demographic condition that some assume is God’s intended plan……impact that future? It seems that trend, so threatening to so many, is unlikely to be reversed. And if it is not, will ‘social unrest’ remain a permanent feature of American life?

Yet, be it economic disparity, mankind’s impact on global climate, or social and racial unrest the epic problems we all face have at least a couple elements in common. Each of them is deeply ingrained in American culture. There will be no "On/Off" switches, no quick fixes.

With that in mind it seems to me that until our nation…..its leaders, its politicians, and its people…….is able to come together, and more importantly “work together,” the answers we seek will remain out of reach. Truth to tell, that “coming together,” which we have managed to accomplish in times past, will not happen all by itself. It will require a special sort of leadership. 

The status quo cries out for that leadership……the sort that can help stop the bleeding, acknowledge our failings, and turn us toward the slow and tedious process of reconciliation. The sort that brings people together, rather than pushing them apart.

From the beginning Obama struck me as one who could be that leader. Sadly, I fear that he was simply too black for many of our people to accept in that role.

  On the other hand, as a “unifier” Trump will never get out of the gate. Actually, it is a role he shows no interest in playing. “Bringing people together,” seeking a middle ground, is apparently far down his list of priorities, a list that appears to be headed by “Winning at any cost.” Instead, he revels in Napoleonic posses, wanting us to believe the epic grandeur he sees in his own mind.

At this moment in history I happen to believe that Biden understands and believes in the “coming together” we need so badly. But I have to wonder if he can muster the dynamic charisma it will take to bring today’s young voters into the fold. 


So many of today’s youngsters have been raised on “Not winning is the same as losing.” The notion of ‘compromise,’ instead of ‘domination' might be a hard sale with many of them……at least until they, like the rest of us……have spent more time paying the high price of everyone doing their own thing.

To summarize……Economic inequity…… climate change……social and racial unrest …….and political division………. 

Together those elements will play key roles in framing the coming decade and beyond. In the hands of leaders we have yet to choose, those important factors will help shape the outcomes we have yet to create. Here’s hoping we choose wisely.







Friday, June 28, 2024

AH......THE WONDERS OF DEMOCRACY


 ALAS…..OUR FUTURE LOOKS A BIT CREAKY AND CRANKY


Let me begin with a bit of context. I am 87 years old……a well-worn 87. Like most folks my age I have been around the block a time or two.


Given the recent loss of my life mate, my world continues to shrink, growing smaller and more self-contained, more ‘alone’ than I like.


Fortunately, my mind remains more or less intact…..not as quick as it once was, but reasonably sound. There is no denying, however, that everyday physical activities are slower to play out, and sometimes simply out of reach. So how then do I deal with those late-life circumstances?


Well, I try to be realistic, to accept that age is having its inevitable way with me. The influence I have on the world around me continues to grow less impactful. No matter how strong my will, that is a fact of life.


So……given my experienced understanding of age, and the way it often works, what was it that I witnessed last night as a pair of our nation’s senior citizens…..Biden and Trump……attempted to make their case for leading and shaping the future of our great nation?


We have watched those two well-aged combatants bob, weave, and jab at each other for the last eight years. Given that history it is hard to know if their latest skirmish changed many minds. For most of that ninety minutes it sounded like each of them was preaching to their own congregation.


Still……by the time their less-than-civilized debating was done, and the endless commentary offered by competing analysts had faded  away, this old guy…..all 87 years of him……was asking the most puzzling question of all, the one that neither of the debaters had addressed to my satisfaction.



HOW IS IT, THAT IN A NATION OF NEARLY 350 MILLION SOULS OF EVERY SIZE, SHAPE, COLOR, AND CAPABILITY, FATE HAS DETERMINED THAT THESE TWO TOTTERING OLD WARRIORS ARE THE BEST WE CAN FIND TO LEAD US?


How is it that our supposedly powerful political parties seem to have lost their ability to identify, grow, and nurture a new generation of leaders? 


Have the cadre of wealthy donors, sitting in the background, checkbooks in hand, calling the shots, lost sight of what is best for the nation? Did they ever care about the rest of us?


And while I am in a questioning mode, why would I stop there? Take a moment to consider the state of our legislative bodies and our courts, the supposed keepers of our democratic promise? What are we to make of them?


Or perhaps we ought to take a moment to dwell on the most important question of all……the one every one of us late-lifers ought to be asking……WHAT SORT OF INHERITANCE ARE WE LEAVING OUR OFFSPRING?


Just wondering.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

WELCOME TO THE REAL WORLD

  There was a time when I assumed I would be telling my stories for as long as I could put pen to paper and pound away at the computer keyboard. It was a bit surprising to finally learn that I had run out of stories to tell…..and/or the need to tell them.

When I paused to think about that change of course I wondered if I have failed in my once-stated mission. But on second thought I realized that I had a good story-telling run….and it was time to move on from there.

With that in mind I found it easy enough to return to the following bit of meandering introspection….an October Years post from a few years back. Though it is long and blatantly self-indulgent it seemed to me a fitting recap of those many years of late-life storytelling. 

This also strikes me as an appropriate time to note that in the course of telling all the stories mentioned in the following post Roma, my life-long sidekick, was along for every step of the way. She read and reread every paragraph, provided her English-teacher editing help, and an ongoing, no-nonsense running commentary of what sounded real to her, and what did not.

I guessing there were moments when my narrative upset her, or at least had her wondering. Still, she was always open and honest with her critiques, and the stories are certainly better for that. With that, I offer this bit of late-life history.


                               ~~~


           WELCOME TO THE REAL WORLD


Today I am ready to venture down a familiar, though sometimes hazy path. More to the point, I want to return to my original reason for these blogging efforts of mine. From the beginning these pages have been labeled a ‘Writer’s Blog.’ And that is what I would like them to be today.

Fact is, I plan to indulge myself a little, or maybe a lot, by returning to the roots of my storytelling, and focusing on some of what I have created over the years. On a purely selfish level, it feels like I need to remind myself of those times and those results.

You see, I’ve always been a storyteller. I can’t seem to help it. It’s what I do. Apparently it started early. Why else would each of our children have a copy of my epic Cabin Boy Cal tale....seven hand-printed pages written in the summer of my eighth year? Turns out, that childhood obsession only grew stronger in time.

After that burst of Cabin Boy Cal energy, during my high school and college years, those storytelling urges were concentrated on sports writing for the school paper, and in college for the Portland Oregonian. Later, in 1970, when our family moved to our eastern Oregon ranch I spent a winter writing a book-length story for our kids……Indian Summer At Horseshoe Ranch.

Apparently that process was more addictive than I expected, because a year later, at age thirty-five, I was overtaken by the notion of creating a novel….and promptly moved our family of six to England to accomplish that task. Long story short….after a year abroad the resulting manuscript, Forever Starts Now, would sit on a closet shelf for another thirty-five years before it would again see the light of day. 

Then in 2005, seven years into retirement, It seemed I was ready to again tread that storytelling path. Of course, it was one thing to decide that I wanted to tell a story, and quite another to know what I would write about and what I intended to say. 

Yet, for reasons I still don’t understand, when I began to scratch that writer’s itch, I seemed to know at once the kind of story I would be telling. After all, by then I understood that the best parts of life involve relationships. Invariably it is the people we encounter along the way who make life interesting and worth living. 

So from the beginning I realized that I would be telling “relational” stories. I have mentioned before that my first post-retirement story, begun on the eve of my fiftieth high-school reunion, was about a pair of brothers whose fiftieth reunion becomes a springboard to new relationships. 

The story itself was not all that original….a fellow who had once been a not-so-promising high-schooler is overtaken by his adolescent dreams of the coed who had always been miles out of his league. Sure, it was predicable. But the story, which took two books (650 pages) to tell, felt real and worth the telling.

So there I was, telling ‘relational’ stories, though I knew at the time that was not what everyone called them. Thing is, I prefer that label to the other possibility….‘romance.’ After all, what kind of old guy admits to writing ‘romances’? More to the point, does that label even apply to the sometimes stumbling efforts of the seriously Beta characters I portray? Anyway, in the end I always settle for ‘relational’ stories.

It took a while for me to move beyond the embarrassment of admitting that I wrote such stories….until I finally accepted the fact that it’s hard to imagine any story that is not at its heart a relational story. Whether it’s about young lovers, time-traveling vagabonds, Intergalactic warfare, zombies and vampires, or in the extreme….late-life seniors….., at some point you and the author will probably be exploring the role of relationships in the lives of the characters.

Most of us have experienced the April version of relationship at least once. I think that is rightly called ‘romance’ at that age. You have been there, haven’t you….the young dreams, young love, and young hormones? (Remember those?) It was a time of new experiences, when anything seemed possible. That was April love. Thankfully we’ve been there and done that.

However, as you can imagine, or know from personal experience, the October/November version of relationship is bound to be something different. The Tanner seniors I depict may think they know how to play that game. After all, they have played it before, sometimes more than once. 

Yet chances are they have never started over with someone who, like them, brings the baggage and barnacles that come with October and beyond. Of course the resulting relationship will be different. Why wouldn’t it be? After all, they have spent a lifetime becoming someone very different than that April person they vaguely remember.

Although the ‘second time’ path I lay out before them may be a daunting challenge, the Tanner relation seekers I portray are a tenacious bunch, not the kind to be easily put off. The fellow may win the lady in the end, or he may not. We know that October endings are not always happily-ever-after. But no matter what, it won’t be for lack of trying. That too is something we have learned over a lifetime. When we’re dealing with what might be our last chance, most of us are not apt to give up easily.

The challenges my Tanner friends face are as unique and individual as the characters themselves. The one constant throughout their stories is their determined desire to make their lives complete and whole again in spite of their personal issues. 

Which brings me to a 'Time Out’….A DISCLAIMER, if you will. I realize that not everyone needs ‘another relationship’ to feel complete. Many of us are ‘whole and complete’ with what life has gifted us the first time around. We are not looking for more. As you might imagine, however, that approach would not serve the stories I want to tell.

So what are these Tanner Chronicle stories I tell? Are they simply about old guys and old gals getting together. Is that where the ‘relationship’ thing comes in? Well, yes, the story is likely to include a relationship…..but always in the context of how my October friends are dealing with their own real late-life issues. Please allow me to offer some thumbnail examples. 


(A click on the highlighted title below will take you to the Amazon recap of that story. To return to the blog post from the Amazon page simply click on the return arrow in the upper left corner of the screen.)


***For decades Tom Fedder has dodged the issue, but now there is no avoiding a return to Tanner. With his step-son in tow he is Going Home. But will he be able to take care of the business at hand without crossing paths with the wife and daughter he had deserted forty years earlier? And what could possibly go wrong when his step-son takes a fancy to the granddaughter Tom has never met? No wonder Going Home grows more complicated by the day



***In Becoming, while Carl Postell is falling under the spell of his father’s caregiver, Jack Benz is pursuing a longstanding interest of his own….the high school diva he dreamed about all those years ago. When he finally meets her again, months after her stroke, he scarcely recognizes the woman she has become. She looks different, her speech is hard to understand, and she needs a walker to get around. Yet wonder of wonders, she seems to like him. 


***In October Bold David and Marian spend a few minutes together on a Music City dance floor, then go their separate ways….to opposite sides of the country. Though the possibility of ‘more’ was intriguing, their wanting was constrained by shared timidity, and reinforced by a mutual unwillingness to risk relational failure. Clearly they would need all the boldness they could muster to fulfill the promise of their dance-floor meeting.


***Or what about a relationship that deals with one of late-life’s ultimate challenges….when the deep shadows of dementia intrude? In Best Friends and Promises Aaron Peck deals with that distressing change of course. Leona is still there with him, but the love and companionship she has always represented are now out of reach. In time, when she moves into a care facility, his October trials will be further complicated by an all-to-human need for companionship, and the upsetting attention of the kind lady who is willing to ease his loneliness.


***Adopted as an infant, Jerald Rogers, now a young father himself, sets out to find his birth parents. In the course of Closing the Circle long-buried memories are resurrected, lingering questions are raised, and lives are impacted….including those of Jerald’s birth parents, who are reluctantly reunited after a twenty-year separation.


***In today’s late-life economic universe, being ‘underwater’ is not all that uncommon. As their once-hopeful retirement dreams slowly unravel, Jim and Anita Camden have come face to face with an unwelcome reality. The need to downsize is real and depressing….and complicated by their differing ways of dealing with what comes next. Apparently Breathing Underwater is best learned when there is no other choice.


***They are Family Matters, the ways a couple and/or family copes with the realities of family, home, and career. Along the way ‘compromise’ is bound to be part of a productive formula. But when that coping and compromise are no longer effective….what then? Dan Padgett has nursed his elaborate retirement plans for years. So why is Nell being so resistant? Why can’t she just accept the liberating logic he has so carefully constructed?


***Going Poor deals with a different sort of October becoming. Lane Tipton’s dreams of a happy ending have gone terribly wrong. He is sixty years old, broke, dejected, and depressed. Yet even in the midst of all that, his dreams of relationship, and becoming the man he believes he should be, have not died. The shape of those dreams has changed, but they are still alive and well.

`

***In Conversations With Sarah Hank Rolland is widowed, looking for answers, and still relying on his departed Sarah for direction. When he finally realizes that he has been looking in the wrong places he retreats all the way to the  wild Mendocino headlands. There, in the shelter of a knarly Alpha Tree, he is finally able to make sense of the future Sarah had envisioned for him all along .


*** And finally, we come back to my favorite, to where these late-life stories began. It was their fiftieth high-school reunion. And though Clint and Gary Harris were on hand, they were certainly not looking for relationships. Yet sometimes those things just seem to happen. In the course of Second Chances and Long Way Home there would be a trail of unexpected alliances, resurrected rivalries, dire threats, and surprising admissions….as the brothers stumbled toward the hopeful possibilities of ‘one-more-time.’


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At every turn Tanner’s senior population offers late-life stories waiting to be told. And though the stories I tell will include relational elements, you can tell they are not the stories of youthful abandon, the ones that line the supermarket bookshelves. 

And while you’re at it, throw away your dated stereotypes….of used-up seniors and their altogether boring lives. To be sure, every one of the October seekers I depict is dealing with his or her own late-life issues, while doing their best to overcome the emptiness of life lived alone. Beyond that, I happen to think those folks are worth getting to know. I hope you’ll take time to check them out.