Bouquets to Art at the De Young

It’s with a special kind of joy that I can write about what we used to take for granted – a trip to the museum. Mask free (although, I admit, here in San Francisco many are still opting in). But even with a mask, there is a sense of freedom about events, gatherings, and yes – even the return of the Pride parade and celebration next week. So, at last, I can resume posting occasionally about our local attractions and history, as well as enjoying it in person!

When my husband and I learned that the De Young museum in Golden Gate Park was welcoming back their unique annual tradition of floral arrangements coordinated with all kinds of works of art throughout history, we jumped on the chance to buy tickets. Words cannot describe the magic of seeing something so delicate (and short lived) as the amazing variety of flowers, plant and organic materials selected carefully to compliment, coordinate or echo the works of traditional artists around the world, and over the centuries, in the many galleries of this beautiful museum. And so, words will be minimal here, with the focus (forgive the pun) on my strictly amateur iPhone pics from our adventure last week. But, if you would like more, there will be a link at the end for further exploration – and, as always, some observations.

One “guidebook” note, for those not familiar with the De Young and it’s amazing variety of artists works and special exhibits – it is well worth a visit annually. Golden Gate Park is truly a jewel, not just in our city or state, but for the country; and it is a truly international representation of creativity and beauty. With that, here we go!

I really admired this “Black and white” arrangement with similar graphic works!

Niagra falls – in 2, and 3 dimensions.

A stunning juxtaposition with this large wall panel. Breathtaking!

You may have noticed other observers of these amazing creations, which come from floral designers of all backgrounds through a very competitive submission process. It is of course a fund raiser for the museum, and a huge draw – for just 5 days. We went fairly early on day 3, a Thursday – and it was increasingly difficult to enjoy the displays without someone popping into “our space”. Still, I got a big kick out of one fellow visitor, who, after studying the floral arrangement, seemed to be equally if not more puzzled by the adjacent art it emulated!

Because, of course, what is great art is extremely subjective (for the most part). Personally, I love landscapes – and I just don’t “get” a lot of a lot of the less traditional approaches (which is why I don’t enjoy the Museum of Modern Art nearly as much!). I have no idea what goes through the minds of most artists as they create – but it is in the act of creating we have a chance to express something deeper that we wish to offer one another. Finding something within, and letting it come forth, to be shared.

I am struck by the fleeting nature of these botanical works – they literally become landfill within days of their debut – and they require incredible skill, a vast knowledge and, I wager, a deep devotion to this unique craft. Most of what we create, work towards, fret over, in life – in time, fades. What we don’t forget ourselves, ultimately is lost to time. Yet there is something timeless in our drive to accomplish – whether through traditional “art” or other pursuits. It is in our nature to want to leave something behind; to be remembered by. Perhaps we all can see, shimmering behind the beauty of what stands on display in the museum, the deeper creativity that we all carry within, that longs to be expressed, shared, celebrated – and be just a little inspired to reach beyond what we have tried before, whatever our personal “creations” may be. I hope this little journey gives you, like me, the opportunity to consider what we might have, uniquely, to create – and contribute – anew. After all, in the traditional text of Genesis, to create is the most divine attribute which we share with whatever source brought all of this into being.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

For further – and much better quality – images of this amazing exhibit, I direct you to the website of another artist – Ron Henggler. His reports on so many aspects of our history and community are always eye openers – I highly recommend you explore his other offerings, but you can click here for a link to his report on Bouquets to Art 2022!

Finally – GET OUT! It’s time! Explore – learn – share – discover – and treasure the beauty we have missed for so long. For those who cannot reach San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park to visit the De Young in person, here is a pleasant little video tour I found to inspire YOU to enjoy that which remains waiting in your neighborhood – and around our wonderful world.

That’s it for this tour, friends!! As always, I welcome your feedback – and hey, maybe even suggestions of what you’d like me to visit in the days to come. There will be more adventures – I hope you have enjoyed being alongside today, and see you next time!

Me and my hubby – without masks and loving life!

Finding fit – the most important muscle is between your ears

Do you have a quest?  Something you have felt a drive to achieve, but never quite made it? Perhaps we all do. Some define quest as an unreachable goal – a dream – something beyond our reach, but worth pursuing. I have written before, and gotten some surprising positive feedback, on my own quest for improved fitness.  Fitness in more than just the traditional body sense – extending into an overall place of well being, but very much including strength and physical health.   In the past few months I have been slowly recognizing some factors that have helped me – not in necessarily traditionally measurable ways, but more in how I am feeling confident that I am on the right path.  It’s been about 9 months since I posted about my progress – it seems like a good time to update you (and me, too!)

Everyone has to start somewhere …. and we all have our own paths to discover!

You can a find numerous books about lifting routines; technique;  videos, apps, charts and more.  I imagine they are all pretty helpful when used correctly – and I have bought (and given away) more than I care to remember.  What surprises me is that there is relatively little written on the mindset one needs to embrace to move towards fitness, and I am realizing that is where every successful effort rests on a solid foundation.   And that’s what I am going to try to convey with this post – some of the perspectives that have helped me refocus my efforts, creating results –the best of which will never be measured on the scale. 

WARNING!!!  Health advisory – my learning curve may differ significantly from yours!  Were you among the “last picked” in PE?  Have you spent your lifetime feeling like your body is best left unseen by human eyes?  Have you found emotional comfort in food?  Did most of your dating life consist of what flavor ice cream to binge? Then, well – maybe some of what I am about to share will resonate.  Maybe, you too, have spent years yo-yoing between gyms and diets, workouts and guilt, success and failure; maybe there’s more like “us” who never reach their “ideal” – but keep coming back.  Some might call it foolish, or compulsive; even destructive for some, sadly.   But – something in us still calls to keep on striving. To not give up.  

Been there, done that – and probably will again!! Because I am HUMAN!!

My not always effective efforts to become more like the physical ideal I yearned to be were thrown off track at age 60, when I had to be hospitalized for a parasite, and lost a great deal of muscle mass, and required physical therapy to resume first walking, and driving.  When the time came to return to any kind of exercise 3 years ago now, I nearly cried at my inability to lift the bar on the bench without any weights attached at all.  It felt like everything I had ever achieved was now gone – but I began to gradually build back. This spring I just turned 64; I did all I could during COVID to focus on improving, or at least maintaining, my fitness through home workouts and eventually limited gym access.  Thankfully, our gyms are now fully open, and although in some ways I miss the backyard weight bench and adjustable dumbbells, I am so glad to be able to go be among others again and have a great selection of equipment to work with.  But this is not some transformational success story, just yet anyway – I remain today far from an example of a successful gym rat.

Sure, I would like to be the guy in “The 300” – but WEIGHING 300 is easier for most of us!

We need to redefine “success”, and identify our own ideals  

Here in SF, and being a gay man among many, the gyms are a kind of temple to what many hold as the masculine ideal – it’s on parade everywhere.  It is so, so very easy to look at those muscular toned bodies, the tight outfits, the gleaming skin, and feel like a complete failure.  Friends – take my word for it! To go in day after day and swim in that ocean of buffness is a potential recipe for depression!  During COVID I began to realize, especially during the months when we had to stand in line to enter the gym by appointment, for less than an hour, outdoors – the people who truly inspired me were, well, the ones that might be classified as “rejects”.   Not the models; not the gleaming Adonis (although I certainly still admire their physical state!) – but the ones like me.   Overweight; skinny; average;  older.   I came to see that for me, and perhaps for them, because coming in took more determination, more commitment – often without visible results – they were showing me how to find that same energy within me.  In fact, the one I remember most, was an elderly woman, at least in her 70’s, faithfully using cardio equpment, slowly moving her arms and legs, showing up like the rest of us – with greater effort.  She would walk to the gym, and might have lived locally; she clearly faced many challenges – but that did not stop her.  I never spoke to her, and now that things are “open” again, I haven’t seen her in months – but she is to me an example of spirit and dedication.

What do you see when you look in the mirror? What does your tomorrow you look like?

Insight the first – You’ve got to adjust your optics. 

Having recently seen the latest “Fantastic beasts” movie, I reflect on the scenes where one wizard and another shoot the obligatory bolts from their wands – realizing that the setting for their battles has relevance for me!  Now, I am not a “Harry Potter” expert by any means, but it seems to be kind of traditional that when they have these fights, they somehow move into a kind of shadow land, where it is just them, and everything and everyone else around them is kind of in a blur, another reality.  Silly as it may be, I have started thinking of my time at the gym that way – surrounded by all these more physically developed – and younger, for the most part – low body fat percent flexing bodies, I move into a different mindset – where it’s just me, and the weights.  I can’t “blur” them out of my perception, but – it really helps, somehow, to think of this as being my gym!  When I walk in and stow my protein shake and keys in the locker, I walk out into “my” training ground – where I focus on what I need to do, right now, today.  If I walk in with an attitude of not being exactly where I belong, well, I will go through my workout with less results!  Don’t ask me to explain it – call me a kook if you like – but I am truly, finally feeling like I really DO belong there – in “my gym” – working on me, exactly where I am.   

I remember this guy on TV in the 60’s – he was quite the motivator for many people!

Insight the second – Our quest may be solo, but it doesn’t have to be alone.

Over the years, and at the roughly dozen or more gyms I have joined on an off, I have had both good and not so good experiences with trainers.  Having a trainer is not some guarantee of success!  A good trainer can truly help – but they can’t do the work, they can’t help you have the right attitude – although they can be encouraging, or worse – disheartening. Working with a trainer effectively requires trust – and trust means respect, and acceptance.  If you don’t have those elements, you are wasting your time and money – best to move on. It took time, but eventually I found my current trainer, who had some availability, and we started working together twice a week about six months ago.  I am truly seeing results – in part because of his encouragement and helping me with technique.    And for the majority, who can’t afford trainers, or even a gym – you can find a cheerleader, if you look.  And you can BE a cheerleader – lifting up those around you.  You never know how a kind word at the right time might help a friend – or a stranger – find the strength to carry on.   Like the Village People proclaimed in YMCA, “No man does it all by himself; young man, put your pride on the shelf”!!!  

How do you see yourself? Do you love your body as it is today? That’s a good start!

Insight the third – The worst cardio you can do is – running from reality. 

I have never gone to a “boxing” gym – I don’t have to, I have a lifetime of experience in beating myself up!!   Friends, not all of us are going to be calendar models!  Not everyone is going to be anywhere close to the “ideal” we have – but we sure as heck aren’t going to get closer by having unrealistic goals, and then hating ourselves for not making them!  Working out, eating right – these are ways not only of loving our body, but accepting our imperfect selves – and others around us – as we are, and rejoicing, even giving thanks, for what we are able to do with them now – balancing that with an honest assessment of our limits, and the passage of time.   My best won’t be your best – whatever comes of my efforts isn’t entirely up to me, or you – but if we can say “I did my best” today, when we close our eyes, that is cause for celebration, not shame.  We must relish our victory in the knowledge we are on the path!!

Now, when I go to my workout, I tell myself I, too, am a bodybuilder – and this is MY gym!

Insight the fourth – Find YOUR inspiration – and BE an inspiration! 

So now I will be really personal, and maybe a little weird, but … one thing has really made a difference for me in my entire approach to what I call my “fitness journey”.  Maybe it’s a kind of spiritual lens for this part of my experience – or maybe it’s just a mental trick to help me get past my own inner hurdles.  Either way – it’s working – so here goes.  Now, when I look at some of the examples of real bodybuilders around me at the gym – the well developed upper and lower bodies, the chiseled figures, the fat free curves of layers of muscles – I sense a kind of echo within me.  I feel as though, somehow, I am drawn to them because those same possibilities are in me, awaiting to emerge.  Perhaps it is like a kind of “future” mirror – we are, after all, not that different from one another – and somewhere, that new me, the product of the work I do today, all  the yesterdays, and all the tomorrows – is waiting, eagerly, to emerge.  I feel it with every set.   And I see it happening – around me, and within me. 

We humans are an amazing organism – many parts that are a single whole

Insight the fifth – Blurring the line between the inner and outer you 

Just as I am slowly finding my way to let parts of my own, long suppressed, dormant inner being be expressed, shared, enjoyed with others – so are the elements within my physical shell joining in that chorus of awareness.   I am, somehow, feeling my physicality more now that I accept that the same possibilities that others have embraced are there for me, as well.   I sense my body more completely – I actually feel more integrated within it as I work on the different muscle groups.  There is an energy flowing through me that is a different level of being alive, as I slowly integrate this awareness.  I think it is kind of sad that for so many, the concept of a spiritual aspect to our existence has become something to be avoided, to be denied; it is a loss. Yes, our bodies will, one day, be irrelevant; but they are the vessels of the gift of life, one we must treasure, cherish – and honor in one another.  To care for our physical well being – and that of those we love – is no less an act of faith, love and devotion.  It is a dance with grace. I am finding a new kind of joy, integrating my mind, my heart, my faith and my body – together, growing, and finding peace in just being, today, this moment – and the next after that. 

I like to think every day, every moment, offers a new start – and there is never a final finish.

Insight the sixth – The only “last place” is for those who never leave start. 

We have to let our goals be our friends – milestones, not millstones. Just as this blog is subtitled my “journey towards authenticity”, I view my quest for a better body as one that does not have an end – a finish point.  It’s not easy to balance goals with being realistic – I don’t pretend to be good at it.  But I am a bit more balanced than I was, and – I am moving ahead.  I still sense within me, yes even at 64, that I can do better; and I am not doing this for others, or what they think of me, or how they react to me, anymore.  I am doing this because it brings me joy.  I feel a possibility within me and I am working to give it a chance to become reality. There is no limits to what I can learn about fitness, although I truly acknowledge there are very real limits as to what my body can do, and it’s very different than what I might have been able to pursue 30 years ago.  Does missing those decades of achievement mean taking hold of what I want now is a waste of time? I would say, not at all – but that’s a choice everyone has to make for themselves.  Every goal we say “yes” to means an uncounted host of possible that we release.  

Lyrics by David Zippel, music by Alan Menken, for “Go the Distance” from Disney’s Hercules

Insight the final – There is a hero within each of us – waiting to emerge!!

I love music while working out – not the squealing beat of the gym pop that blares, but my own personal soundtrack. It’s amazing what you can find – including this beautiful cover of the song from Disney’s Hercules, as performed by a male youth and adult choir from Brigham Young University. The video is stunning – but more importantly, the voices are divine, and the words carry me through some of the hard times. Here are the lyrics, and I hope you will find that which inspires you, too, to reach beyond where you are, and where you thought you might never be, to become. Enjoy the quest, friends. I’m there beside you! I’m cheering for you – together, we are becoming – the champions!

I have often dreamed of a far off place
Where a hero’s welcome would be waiting for me
Where the crowds would cheer, when they see my face
And a voice keeps saying this is where I’m meant to be

I’ll be there someday, I can go the distance
I will find my way if I can be strong
I know every mile would be worth my while
When I go the distance, I’ll be right where I belong

Down an unknown road to embrace my fate
Though that road may wander, it will lead me to you
And a thousand years would be worth the wait
It might take a lifetime but somehow I’ll see it through

And I won’t look back, I can go the distance
And I’ll stay on track, no I won’t accept defeat
It’s an uphill slope
But I won’t loose hope, ’till I go the distance
And my journey is complete, oh yeah

But to look beyond the glory is the hardest part
For a hero’s strength is measured by his heart, oh

Like a shooting star, I will go the distance
I will search the world, I will face its harms
I don’t care how far, I can go the distance
‘Till I find my hero’s welcome waiting in your arms

I will search the world, I will face its harms
‘Till I find my hero’s welcome waiting in your arms

Hey, if you see me at the gym, hugz are free!

Subscriptions are free too – such a deal? I write about all kinds of weird stuff – maybe you’d enjoy staying in touch!

A tisket, a tasket- what’s in your easter basket?

I will preface this post with an acknowledgement – there are posts that I spend time editing and structuring until they are not perfect, but good enough. And then there are those like today’s, that reflect far more thought than what ends up being written; that I wish I had the eloquence and skill to resonate more deeply, but ultimately, have to just release and let them be what they will be. Please know, as you read this – I respect, value even, the differences that mark my many relationships.  I have family and friends who have diverging perspectives from me on just about any matter you can name – politics, music, COVID, sexuality, and of course, the “big questions”.   Lately with all the changes that continue to be a part of my life, I’ve had to think a lot about what I truly believe – and I feel it is important for me to write about it.  Maybe some of you will get something out of it, but whatever your own place may be as you make your own way through life, I definitely make no claim to having any particular insight or answers as I work towards finding my own.  

Growing up in non-metropolitan southern California in the 60’s, I think most of the people around me were pretty similar.  White, middle class mostly (although my household was less so than most) – families getting started out bought homes in our little community.  Most probably considered themselves Christian, although there was a Jewish family down the street, and I was grateful they welcomed me into their lives.  And of course, many people were not church folks – but my parents were of a generation where that was routine, and we were regular attendants at the small local Methodist church where the beautiful stained-glass window of Jesus with the lambs shone brightly.   Some of the traditions of that time survive, but I think are practiced less now – having palm fronds at Palm Sunday a week before Easter;  musical pageants; acolytes with candles beginning the service; I remember the warbly voices of the primarily old, primarily female adult choir singing “Christ the Lord is risen today” every year, as we followed in our hymnal dutifully.  My husband remembers that Easter often meant new clothes for the Sunday service – and for both of us, family gatherings, meals, easter egg hunts in the yard, and a belief that there was, for a while, a large bunny who brought wonderful treats for good boys and girls.  Among my treasures is an old “Ideals” publications with photos of baby rabbits and kittens decorating eggs and delivering flowers. 

Over the years, through much of my youth and adult life, I attended many church services – because I am just the kind of person that keeps looking for answers that satisfy some calling within me, even though they don’t really seem to be enough to resolve my own uncertainties.  I have attended evangelical churches that were started by beach hippies in the 60’s “Jesus people” movement; denominational mixed race services that were primarily Hispanic, or Black;  I visited a small church once where the pastor proclaimed, quite emphatically, that they were the only congregation going to heaven (not just their denomination, their location!!)  I have been to the Mormon temple in Salt Lake City to hear the music of praise, to Israel to see the sunrise over the Sea of Galilee, and to deserted pagan temples in the Mideast where other gods were worshipped, in ways very different from my small town.   I have prayed for the Holy Spirit to descend upon me in congregations where speaking in tongues was routine; I have attended teenage rallies to be pure for Christ, and visited group homes where young men were gathered to find a way to be healed from their attraction to others like themselves;  I have had hands laid on me to deliver me from demons, and I have celebrated a different kind of closeness to God in my own times of intimacy with men in a way that no church ever would have considered sacred, or holy – and yet, to me, they are a connection with that which is eternal and divine in a way more real than any church service.  

I have read books, and sung songs, and prayed in the darkness and danced with joy at the fervor of the promise of deliverance.  Last night, watching the recent, and outstanding dramatic film “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” after it’s well deserved Oscar recognition, I remembered many such broadcasts that my mother would watch at home – crippled with debilitating arthritis, her limbs and bones distorted, her heart wounded by griefs I could not understand then, she was looking for hope, for healing, for encouragement.  She surrounded herself with a small group of friends who prayed for one another- and for me.  They brought me, a lonely boy with few friends, delicious birthday cakes for years – they were loving and accepting, to the degree they could be.  I have long since forgiven them for their view of a God whose love could not extend beyond that which they knew, and hope I can grow in doing better on that front as well. And when I attended bible studies at local homes, and was baptized, I believed – not entirely understanding, but still, wanting to take that step, to belong.  I longed for acceptance and love – from my family, my church, my society – but I never felt that I had found it, really. 

I have read and studied, and continue to reflect, but I have no real answers to the big questions. I know many have been hurt by what others consider faith and truth – I know that pain, in my own way, but everyone’s is theirs alone, somehow.   I realized that even the words “God” and “Jesus” and most of the traditions practiced for the past few centuries are adopted from other cultures, bandaged into what some group of men, somewhere, once decided was truth;  that other groups selected from writings what they concluded was holy scripture, and left out other pieces; that translations are incomplete, even wrong, and that the familiar sayings that are easy to spout for simplistic answers to tough questions really do more harm than good.  Ignorance is not bliss, but neither is half witted rebaked magical thinking.  Like Elvis, the genie left the bottle a long time ago. 

I also see in those who practice a different faith – and there are too many for any of us to even know or comprehend, in our own little circles of belief – can be just as sincere and devoted, even more desirous of finding those elusive, yearned for answers.  I recognize that much damage, cruelty, and destruction has been accomplished under the guise of a loving god.  The news is filled with the ugliness of what we can do to one another – and, sadly, I am a part of it, knowing full well that the values I claim to hold dear – love, forgiveness, hope, caring – are not fulfilled in all my walks of life, that I have just as many flaws and chasms within me that show clearly the duality of what I say I believe, and how I behave.  In short-  I know the mess inside me is there, and as much as I wish for some magical force to transform me into someone else – it ain’t gonna happen.  But every day still offers choices for growth, and new direction. 

So when Easter comes around, like Christmas, and I think of the people in my life that I love (and some I don’t, but I try to) – I know they all pretty much have their own beliefs, traditions, questions, and uncertainties.  We may not talk about them much – thinking, perhaps, silence equals respect, or at least keeps the waters calm between us.  Perhaps that is best.  In my own circle of family and friends, there are so many ways of thinking about eternity, truth and what it is to be human, I am both amazed – and awed.  I love these people – I don’t really care if they are agnostic, theists, Mormon/SDA/charismatic Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist (etc etc)  – I have seen enough of their lives and their hearts to know they are not all that different from me, seeking.  Some see truth in the cycles of the planets and ancient practices that others condemn; others cling fervently to remembered scriptures and emphatic exclusion of anything that lies outside the rites and rituals that were passed down to them from origins that many of them have never sought to understand.   It’s so much easier to stay in our little boxes, safely and comfortably assuming we have the answers, and conclude it’s the others who are blind. 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Whn someone asked recently if Easter had meaning for me, the answer is, yes.  Yes, very much so – but a meaning that isn’t really easy so to define, or defend.  I think our culture, at least in the “West” as it used to be called, is to have certainty – to know.  To be “right”.  Yet, I think it is a kind of growth, for me at least, to acknowledge I do not have certainty, and cannot claim to be right – only to be open and seeking.  I realize, even from my very limited knowledge of history, that faith can be both healing, and destructive; that communities of belief can bring strength and hope, but also lead to conflict, exclusion and suffering.  I am getting to a point where I can actually, despite the years of wanting to be someone other than who I am, I can be grateful that I am both inclined to seek a spiritual facet to my daily existence, and reconcile that part of me with my own nature as a gay man that many people who have claimed to love me could never accept as coming from a loving God.  Now, finally, I can accept the many tiny little glimpses of a greater loving force moving through the threads of my life; I am working towards seeing each one of us as being a little reflection of that which is eternal, that creative force that exists apart from time and everything we can know and measure, anything we can ever prove or fully comprehend.  

Perhaps some of you reading this may have reached a point long ago where you found answers that were sufficient – I am glad for you.  Who knows? You may be right! Human history shows an amazing variety of systems of belief – rising and falling, evolving or disappearing completely, lost to time – only crumbling remains and museum antiquities we briefly look at in passing. But in me there is still a yearning to know the answers – and a determination to not stop looking.  I am just more comfortable now accepting that I will never fully “know”, at least not until that time that, like all of us, my time on earth comes to an end – beyond that, perhaps there is even greater mystery, rather than “answers”.   If you are a student of the “Bible” as we know it, when you stop and look at the many examples of God interacting with His children – whether it be the Israelites in bondage in Egypt, or the Roman occupied peoples of the Christian era – or even the “Old Testament” prophets – there are countless incidents where the expectations of the protagonists were, if met at all, not fulfilled in the way they expected.  The very presence and life of Christ as depicted as the promised Savior from oppression was the opposite of what generations expected;  the promise of deliverance was in a form far from what the hopes had promised; instead of paradise, people of faith were faced with oppression, rejection, and despair.  Not exactly a salesman’s dream – and the prophecies of end times are hardly a trip to Disneyland.   I think sometimes God, in whatever form we ultimately understand that which is eternal exists, gets a kind of delight in confounding expectations, just to keep us guessing. 

Just as COVID changed our world forever, that which occurred which is commemorated still by many as Easter – watered down with bunnies, historically questionable and completely unproveable by science – has altered the course of human history, for both good and bad. Even for those who never hear any “New Testament” stories of the lone, itinerant teacher crucified without basis while a guilty man was set free, have been affected over the centuries by those who embraced that faith.   There is one aspect of all this that occupies my thinking as I move through this season, and continue to search for meaning and purpose, understanding and acceptance in my own journey – the realization that the ultimate choice is uniquely ours to make.  Because, finally, there isn’t “science” to follow, there isn’t “proof” of any of the essential elements of most faiths – only tradition.  The “evidence”, many say, is in our lives and how we live it – but we each have a choice to make in what we believe, because regardless of what you ultimately conclude, it finally depends upon a leap of faith.   Even a decision that there is no God, no eternity, no life beyond that which ends when our last breath is drawn – is a choice, a kind of faith.  It is yours alone, mine alone – we can be in congregations, we can repeat chants and practice rituals, we can join together in song but when the time comes – we are all faced with choices that are ours alone.  We may be in a choir, but our songs are all solos, in time. 

Max Von Sydow as Christ in “The Greatest Story Ever Told” – Later, he became “The Exorcist”

My own understanding has much room to grow, as does my heart.  I take comfort from what I believe, even though I have no proof – and I respect that others see it very differently.  I don’t have the same need I did, when young, for everyone to agree with me, to prove that I am right – that I have the truth, and you don’t.  I can share in your joy that you have found some degree of peace, hopefully, in finding your way through whatever you believe – knowing none of us is completely right, and no one in history ever has been.  This morning, as I woke up somewhat before my husband, I came upstairs to find him watching the 60’s “Greatest Story Ever Told” version of the life of Christ on TCM.  Having seen it as a teen in our little local theater, I remembered being moved by the reverence and craft that went into it as a traditional narrative of the life of Jesus, and the events of Easter – complete with the “Hallelujah Chorus” and Max Von Sydow appearing in the clouds.  Like any story, it is not complete – just one version.  But another movie comes to mind – less well known, but also powerful.   “Resurrection” with Ellen Burstyn from 1980 isn’t shown much, wasn’t a hit – but it deals with the same questions we all face, or ignore. Is there a God? Is there life after death? What is the truth?  If you get a chance to see it, I recommend it –  the protagonist, having lived a life that defied the traditions and expectations of her community, ends the film by, in her own unique way, showing love, grace and mercy to a child in need.  But – there is a final scene you will never see.  Years ago, in an obscure defunct film magazine called Cinefantastique, in a profile on the film and its creation, there were pictures shared of a deleted ending; I wish I could find it online but have not.  Alone, the camera follows her into a room filled with the symbols and signs of so many ways of expressing faith; of seeking truth; of knowing that which is eternal, but indefinable.  She has reached a place of peace.  

“Resurrection” (1980) with Ellen Burstyn – the conclusion of her character’s journey of discovering faith

None of us will ever be able to know all the different paths that generations have taken to find their way to some kind of peace.  For me, my Christian upbringing will always echo in everyday life – I am grateful to have it, but also learning that other wisdom remains awaiting discovery. So I am reminded of the story of the apostle, Paul – a traditionally religiously trained “enforcer” of his faith, who moved from being an oppressor of those who followed the radical teachings of the “messiah” Jesus, contradicting tradition – to questioning his understanding, and becoming open to a new way of thinking, a new pathway of faith and understanding.  In writing to one of the emerging bodies of believers, he talks about their conflicts and disagreements – one of which was about what is ultimately the purpose of spiritual maturity.  In one letter, he says the following about our inability to ever completely have the answers we seek to all these questions, at least while we walk this earth.  In part, he shares about how what little we know today will one day be replaced by a greater understanding – (1 Corinthians 13) –   

Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

My wish for all of us is that we can find a place of peace, however incomplete – if not together, in acceptance; if not in unity, in tolerance – with faith; with hope, and ultimately, with love.  We may not know the way, or even recognize we have lost our way now and then, but … keep on going, and as always … thanks for stopping by!   

Until next time, friends ….

Losing my license, after 40 years

Time is a funny thing.  We measure it carefully, we use our devices to map out every minute; yet when we look back, it is more slippery, evasive – our memories are like kites in the wind, colors flashing, sounds emerging and then fading, forgotten faces and melodies.  My 64th birthday was just last week, and I was happy to hear from people in almost every chapter in my life, so far – a remarkable kaleidoscope.  I know that I am very fortunate, in some ways – most ways – to have been able to choose to stop working more than 2 years ago, when my peers are still trying to figure out when they will retire.  But the unexpected in life is like an imp, relishing its unpredictability, laughing at our plans for everything to work out “just so”.  

Still, most people – at least in our culture – see this time of life as one to step away from the “daily grind” and finally “enjoy life”.  How much better it is to try, at least, to see every day as an opportunity to not only experience joy – but to create it for others; to give meaning, and hope, to those we encounter. I have found and continue to discover new meaning in life now that my days of paychecks are long behind me.  But it’s odd, and to be honest, perturbing to share that I often still dream of work – various jobs, and people, mingling from my past in a kind of alternative universe where they all pop in and out of meetings.  I often awake and come to a kind of relief and realization that – no, I don’t work anymore; I don’t have a deadline.  I don’t have to drive anywhere today, or solve that budget problem, or fill that position. 

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

But today, March 31 as I write, marks a change of another sort.  An end to a journey that started a very long time ago, when I would visit the career center – a glorified name for a classroom with a library and some microfilm readers – at my local high school, taking aptitude tests and awaiting computer reports by mail to analyze my responses.  Those reports would tell me, somehow, where my future lay – what path would be fit for my skills and aptitudes.  I had excellent grades – it surprises me, now, that old classmates remember some tests and achievements which at the time seemed so important but which I forgot long ago; but I strove for those grades, I had nothing else to point to that gave me a sense of worth, or belonging.  And those tests told me I was fit for being a librarian, or a bookkeeper, or some sort of similar administrative role – not the kind of future a lonely, closeted boy would dream of in 70’s California. 

If you remember using these to program … what a change we have seen!

Still, I followed my career center’s advice – and decided my future was to pursue being a CPA.  I didn’t really even know what that meant – just that you had to take certain classes, and then join a “public accounting” firm.  A Certified, public, accountant – promising a guaranteed career path, financial stability, and more.  Those were gleaming dreams in the eyes of a kid who grew up in a one parent family, with no car, little money for clothes, and who had never been on an airplane.  I did well in college – naturally – good grades got me interviews, but my awkward discomfort with myself, much less other people, put me at the back of the line for the “national firms” – the “Big 8” back then – and I ultimately got a job with a firm in the majestically named “Inland Empire” to begin my professional life.  I took my first plane trip, to a training course – I remember sitting on the aircraft, half expecting the pilot to announce as we began our ascent – “Ok, everybody, here we goooooo” just like all the times the recording had played on Peter Pan’s flight at Disneyland.   I never would anticipate where my life would head from there. 

What many people thought accountants did … and for some, it was true!!

Back then, it took at least two years to become a CPA – two years of very specific experience, and I barely made it through the first year with my job intact, but I learned how to get my act together. I pushed – like I still do, when I have a goal – and then, after the two years, came the next hurdle – the CPA exam.  A large room, four tests over 3 days.  Many students took what were called “review courses” then – I couldn’t afford it, so I purchased books from some publisher back east for a few hundred dollars, and spent hours on the little desk in the bedroom of my childhood home, studying the past test questions and materials for hours.  Worrying, as I always did, that I might not pass; I might not be smart enough, not as smart as the rest.  Back then, it took a very long time to get results – you might pass some, or all, of the sections – but I cleared that hurdle. Shortly thereafter, I paid my “license fee” the state of California, and joined the professional associations, and was able to proudly add to my business card, those 3 letters – C.P.A.  

I actually did have to run tapes like this back in the 80’s!!! Ah, technology.

Computers were just beginning to emerge as business tools in 1980, when I graduated college; my own programming classes had utilized punch cards to submit to the computer lab, with a report to be picked up the following day on large computer paper with green stripes.  Fax machines were next, then cellular phones, and PC’s – my first home computer from Radio Shack/Tandy utilized a cassette tape for programming.  Now, these terms have themselves become antiquated – and in a way, so has my knowledge.  Public accounting was, in fact, an excellent career for job stability; even with my flaws and foibles, I was able to maintain my employment through more than a few periods of uncertainty and change.  In time, I even pursued an MBA, which I am glad to say did give me a better understanding of how the technical aspects of the work I provided, moving from public accounting into internal financial administration, could help the organizations I serve better achieve their goals. 

Yes, Bill Cosby sold us our first home computers! Maybe Will Smith can ask him for advice ….

Those 4 certificates were framed and displayed above my desk, proudly, through my last office job in 2017. Every two years, I would complete the required continuing education classes – sometimes at conferences, but often on my own – just enough to meet the state requirements, and pay the fees, and get that license renewal.  Even after I decided in 2019 to end my pursuit of employment, at just barely 61, to prioritize my new life with my husband and other pursuits – I filled out the renewal forms and paid the fee.  But the certificates stayed in the basement – until last week, when after another dream about work, I knew the time had come to close the chapter.  I was a little surprised, somehow, that the papers which I had been so delighted to see arrive in the mail after my efforts, long in their frames, were really just flimsy sheets.  This morning, they were picked up, joining all the other contents of the trash barrels at 4 am. 

Legally, from this point on, I cannot say I am a CPA.  Not that this is not a sad occasion – just a memorable one.  As I reflect on all the memories of all those jobs – calling an old friend from that era, who like me waited anxiously to learn if they had met the standard – I think not of all the financial reports that I wrote, or the presentations, as much as I do about the lives that I was able to somehow, in a small way, encourage.  The numbers were not as important as the decisions and choices they facilitated – and the health of the organizations that I toiled for, served the needs not only of their communities, but the individuals who worked alongside me in the teams, trying to get through their own daily grind.  I know how fortunate I have been – but I still remind myself – to have the ability to live a fairly measured life in retirement. free from that sense of uncertainty that there will be enough.   It is very different from the life of that young boy trying to choose what path to take, what road would lead to if not success, safety. 

Beyond that gratitude, I am struck by the realization that we all define ourselves so much by things like our job titles.  Yes, we are nurses or cops or clerks or dancers, bartenders and barbers, sales reps and janitors – yet, we are so much more.  When the time comes to walk away from that paycheck – we do not stop being significant.  In fact, this is a moment to give ourselves to see new opportunities – ones that we could not take up when we were grasping so tightly onto the horses whose reins we had already taken in hand.   We built well defined, comfortable boxes for ourselves – we look for labels, and present those to others;  we see models and try to look like them, because somehow they represent the pinnacle.  Whether in our careers, our relationships, our schools or our bodies of faith – we try to conform.  To meet expectations; to have that “seal of quality” that say, yes – we have made it! 

Photo by GEORGE DESIPRIS on Pexels.com

That label, at least – CPA – for me – is now history.  The career ended a long time ago; the dreams remain, and I doubt that getting rid of the certificate will end those.  But slowly, like many other “skins” of my life, I am shedding the walls that I gripped so closely to define me, and allowing myself the opportunity to, if not spread my wings, dip my toes into new pools, tenderly.  I am glad that my career gave me the opportunity to contribute to the well-being of so many organizations that do good in our world – in a small way.  I am grateful that for a very few lives, that I worked alongside, I was able to encourage and perhaps even inspire a few to believe in themselves even though that was difficult for me to embrace; I saw in them opportunity and gave them permission to chase it.  And I am moved that some from those many years remember me now, kindly.   Today, those desks belong to others and the computers I used are more than defunct, the financial reports shredded and forgotten; all that pressure and stress, just a dissipating smoke of memory. 

We are so, so much more than a single, limited perspective – even our own is less than complete. When we let go of not only trying to meet the expectation of others, but to free ourselves of the limitations and definitions that have been our own private islands – we can travel to new destinations.   New life can emerge – regardless of our age.  Now just for ourselves, but for those around us – we can start to push through the boxes and find a new world outside, filled with promise and uncertainty just like the ones we faced when we took off our high school robes and filed our diplomas. I am glad that life still offers a chance to me, and anyone facing once again the question of what purpose to make primary, what goal to pursue – a choice.  A chance.  Those doors are forever ahead of us, not just behind; each leading to adventures and discoveries we cannot imagine.  Onward, my friends – onward! 

Join my dozens of subscribers and get my occasional musings – free!! Limited time!!

Until next time, friends … thanks for stopping by!!!

Once upon a time … when we were very young ….

It is never too late to add a new chapter to your life story …

Have you been back to the cinema yet?  I sure missed them, especially during the early months of theater closures and uncertainty – but the past few months, we have enjoyed getting out once in a while to enjoy the ones that we considered a “must see” on the big screen.  Sure, sometimes we were nearly alone, and we had to wear masks – but it was still pure magic, for this movie buff.  Nightmare Alley, Dune, West Side Story – heck, I even enjoyed Spiderman and The Batman – and, most recently, Cyrano (which was truly a work of art, and heart).   And now the Oscars are being voted on – the “buzz” isn’t what it used to be, our world is in turmoil and somehow the awards just aren’t really all that important, if they ever were.  Still, I have a favorite (having seen about half the nominees, and the only half I wanted to!) ….. 

When we watched Belfast, filmed primarily in black and white, and set in the 60’s during the “troubles” between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, I was surprised by how much this very specific family story, from a region I have never known, still resonated with me about the passage from childhood into a bigger world.  We identify with the emotions of the young boy caught up in events that shatter his small world, and make him see that his parents, his grandparents and friends and neighbors are not all that he thought.  Sometimes, without even words, the images captured his becoming aware in a way that we all do, eventually, how events that seem routine suddenly change, and that our reliance on reality sometimes hangs by a thread.  It is a gem of a film – and well worth seeing on the big screen, and hopefully to be recognized as such by the ages.

It also reminded me of a similar story – a different era, another continent, and yet – upheaval in small town where a child realizes their world is so much different than the bubble that has protected them, for a time.  It is one of my husband’s favorite films, and a “classic” – so when the opportunity came for us to see it on the “big screen” at the Alamo Mission, we walked through the bustling neighborhood that seemed to be very different from the rest of our city, and entered the darkened room to again be drawn into a black and white vision.   The music, the acting – and of course, the script adaptation by the not as well-known as he should be Horton Foote – somehow made the ugliness of many of the events in the narrative, contrasting with the innocence and hope of the children caught up in them, more dreamlike. 

I speak of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, which is now in a somewhat reconstructed vision being presented on the Broadway stage.  Scout, the young girl in depression Alabama, probably would empathize with Buddy, the 9-year-old whose family faces danger – and loss – in Belfast. Both learn to deal with death – and wrongdoing, and injustice.  The choices that families must make to balance survival with stability, in the face of circumstances beyond their ability to impact – much as the families of Ukraine are challenged with as I write.  The realization that the stories they were read at night, the songs and games they played, are not enough to answer the questions that growing up will bring. On reflection, one shared observation from both films is how traumatic, and suddenly, childhood can shift from the cocoon of safety to the dawning awareness that life is more complex, and dangerous, than we imagined.  But there is also a kind of resilience even in young children that comes from some inner place to pull us through – although, sadly, not always.  

We never have to give up the ability to dream … and to hope ….

As Atticus, the father in To Kill a Mockingbird, says to his son Jem when confronted with racism and injustice – “There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son.  I wish I could keep ‘em all away from you.  That’s never possible.”   When the grandmother in Belfast watches as her son’s family leaving their home forever, while she remains to mourn her husband (sorry, spoiler there!), we know that Buddy is facing truths that he never had imagined just a few months prior.   Innocence can never remain untouched – but wisdom can grow from loss and hope arise from disappointment.  

My kindergarten class photo – goodness how things have changed!!!

Both films brought up memories of childhood moments for me, as well. As I have continued to comb through my stacks of family records and photos, I recently came across my elementary school “class photos” from the 60’s – kindergarten through third grade. In a moment of perhaps inspiration, I turned to Facebook and over the course of a few weeks reconnected for the first time with many of the children in those pictures – some who were in my classes all the way through high school.  I learned of events in their lives – as to be expected, most had married or had children, and grandchildren; some were accepting of what I shared of my life since high school, but some closed me off, and I needed no explanation why.  But as I looked at the faces, remembering some names, and others not recognizing at all, I reflected on how much we had all shared, and even though our paths differed, how alike our lives were in many ways – a group of children in a small town, now scattered elsewhere, some remaining fast friends and others lost to time.  It touched me when one classmate I was able to meet in person with after 45 years shared that, more than once, my name had come up and some had wondered what had become of me – it somehow gave me a little sense that perhaps I had belonged, even then, more than I was able to realize or accept. 

Now, spring emerges in our world, again.  Seasons flowing into one another, a rhythm in the earth itself that echoes deep in our souls.  We perhaps mistakenly see our lives as a linear process – certainly we move through it that way, consciously.  We think of our stories in stages – childhood, adolescence, adulthood, parenthood and more.  But a portion of our heart remains forever young, a little piece that still looks out the door on a Saturday morning anxious to jump on a bicycle and explore, meet new friends, embrace joy and spontaneity.  Whether a young girl living in depression era American south, or a boy struggling to understand why his neighbors are turning on one another in 60’s Ireland – or the children of Ukraine today being torn from their homes and families without knowing why – these moments awaken our hearts. Our hearts that somehow exist beyond the reach of time, and even throw off the limitations of age itself.  

A video montage with the musical theme from To Kill a Mockingbird

Listen to that little voice in your being, wanting to be heard, waiting to tell you secrets and hopes that still long to be birthed in your tomorrows. Our growth – maturing, or moving towards it – never really ends, even after a lifetime of missed opportunities – we just need to be open to the possible that our world taught us to question and set aside. That lost inner fountain of joy can still stream freely, the journeys that begin with curiosity and the possibility of new discoveries, and even the strength to deal with the shock of the unexpected with a kind of faith that, beyond the immediate, there is a better day ahead.  The songs and games we played as children are still echoing in our souls, and a smile can break out unexpectedly, if our hearts let us keep a small bit of room for those moments when we need them most. Just as children need parents, our adult consciousness needs to reach out to those little ones inside our hearts to find our way; to join our hands, and together walk toward the future together.  We need one another, now more than ever.  Perhaps, soon, you can invite them to join you, and discover again that which has been awaiting you ever since once upon a time. 

Thanks for flying New NormL – until next time, keep on keeping on!!

Not just another valentine

I would never claim to have anything original to say about love.  No memorable new quotes, no revolutionary observations, no insights for those reading this who are asking themselves that question right now.   I only have, as with all things, my story … one still being written; just like yours.  So, for this Valentine’s day, this is just a little piece of my heart in hopes it touches some of you, out there.  By now, if you have read any of my posts, this won’t be much different – Like life, I sometimes know where I start and have an idea of where I want to end, but the road is something I discover along the way.  Shall we? 

I still have Valentine’s day cards from my childhood, and some from later years – from my Mom, of course.  She kept not everything, but bits of most things, and I am glad for that.  Back in the 60’s, kids valentines were pretty routine, you’d buy a box for $2 and give one to your friends in class – maybe themed to pets, or rocket ships, or cartoon characters.  As a shy child, with a single disabled parent, my path to not fitting in was only beginning then; in junior and senior high, my sense of not belonging only grew deeper, there was no dates, there were virtually no encounters with my peers outside of school; and there certainly was no LGBT youth outreach at church, or even adults who I could tell what I was feeling, to seek help through all the confusion and conflict.  The road to “being an adult” was filled with mile markers that didn’t apply to my trip. 

This is what was upheld as ideal in my childhood – what happiness would look like.

I was alone.  Or at least, I felt very alone – like many boys and girls in that era, we had no place to “belong” as ourselves.  So, when I reached the age where dating was expected, I made some awkward attempts, including one at the encouragement of a well-meaning counselor that resulted in deeply wounded feelings for a woman in my church who, like me, didn’t belong; wasn’t part of the crowd.  I think perhaps church groups were a refuge for those who felt rejected – and yet there was still an effort to achieve the standards of, if not perfection, conformity.  I knew well enough that as much as I wanted to be “normal” – heterosexual, straight, whatever words fit – that I wasn’t, and that pretending to be so was something I could not fulfill.  My withdrawal grew deeper. 

Every February, when Valentine’s day would come around, I would give candy to my Mom, and sometimes take goodies to work; I admit there were years I bought boxes of Sees in a tuxedo box, their Valentine’s gifts for men, for myself.  Recently, I reconnected with a friend who knew me from kindergarten through high school – we had not seen one another in over 40 years and had a lot of catching up to do.  She had the most insightful observation – that during our high school years, I had simply kind of disappeared. I was there, but not there like everyone else – not at the dances or the games, certainly not at the prom.  She shared that sometimes, over the years, my name would come up – but no one knew what had become of me.  I had left all those connections behind, because I could not be honest about myself and feel safe or accepted – that was impossible to conceive.  So, too, was the idea that I could be loved for me. 

We all know loneliness during our lives – sometimes we feel like we live in a private wilderness.
Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

The only source of love that somehow kept creeping through the walls I had built around myself was my spirituality.  Somehow, despite the heartfelt assurances of the sermons in the churches I still occasionally tried to belong within, I found a way to believe that God’s love was bigger than what I had been told. I am eternally grateful to Alan, my straight, Christian counselor who held onto the belief that the creator he knew had a love greater than the one I had come to believe in. Unlike many who are wounded, deeply, by the hypocrisy and ignorance that so many people of faith still embrace, I found a way to see that God’s love could not be confined by the traditions and models and standards that were paraded as the only way to live;  that there was a greater love, and a source, that pushed beyond those artificial walls and shined brighter even though my eyes might be so blind that I could only occasionally see a glimmer through the cracks in my lonely fortress. 

Today, I am gifted, graced and blessed with real, honest to goodness love from my husband.  His life path has been very different from mine – and yet, in some ways, alike, just alternate roads until ours crossed and we realized that our hearts belonged together.  I had never been in a real relationship; he had been with his late husband for over 35 years; he had come out in the 70’s, I had come out only shortly before we met; he had lived in San Francisco through all the changes that eventually brought the right for all to marry and have their love recognized; I had lived in towns where gay was a four letter word, and there were no rainbow flags fluttering from windows.  

Our Valentine’s cards to one another today.

And yet, love found us.  Love indeed brought us together, like so many from around the world, in ways we didn’t plan or predict.  So on Valentine’s day, today, we exchange cards – mine a Hallmark, his an American greetings – that are from a husband, to a husband.  How remarkable that is to me, and yet, seemingly unremarkable as our culture has shifted, at least here and now; for others, they still hide in the shadows, many alone, fearful of the consequences of sharing their hearts openly, and the risks of being known for who they are at the most basic level of existence and identity. 

I have many friends that are single, still; straight, gay, whatever. Some have found happiness alone, others wonder why they are not finding someone who is their life partner, and still more are perhaps in relationships that have evolved, where the fires of love have cooled but the comfort of being together is better than parting.  Some will have no calls, candy or cards today, others might be looking for a short-term escape from solitary to numb the sense of uncertainty whether they are the problem.  Whether they will ever find someone to say “I love you” to, and hear it in return, and know it is true. 

Perhaps, as Paul writes, Faith, Hope and Love are all gifts – or a single gift with many forms?
Photo by Yelena Odintsova on Pexels.com

I am not an eloquent man, and I have no editor to help me better share something rising from deep within my spirit.  I have only the longings of my heart to find a way to express something meaningful in my entries here.  But those feelings run deep, deeper than my faith or whatever it is that calls me to reach out beyond what I understand factually and yet is just as real to my spirit.  And in my heart, I write to anyone out there reading this on Valentine’s day, or any other day, who is looking for love – trying to figure out what it is, where it comes from, and how to get more of it.  I don’t have those answers, and never will – but if a repressed gay Christian man in his 50’s can find a way to work through the mounds of muck that engulfed my life for too many years, and encounter someone from such a different walk of life and together, discover love and joy, hope and intimacy – not just for ourselves, but giving that through our love to others in our life – then I offer this a just a little bit of light, perhaps a minor miracle.  Not proof of God, or right and wrong; not a formula for success; no Hallmark channel movie.  Just me telling you – it happened; we love one another; we are blessed.  I truly believe – yes, I even dare to say I know – that love exists for all of us, sometimes in ways we don’t realize or perceive, but it is there for us to reach out and know – and to share. There is no perfect love on this planet, just our awareness that something better exists, built into our codes somehow from childhood; if we dare to let it speak to us, it challenges us to step out without answers, and just find a way to give.  Better to give, than receive, someone said; perhaps by focusing on giving, the promise of receiving begins to form.   

I often include links to music here – music has been a way for the better angels of that great unknown to reach my heart.  The music of my childhood in school chorus, and church choir; the music of the men’s gay choruses around the world; old hymns, new anthems, longings and wishes expressed by talents I will never be able to thank.  As I thought of which song I might want to include today, “Where is Love” from the musical “Oliver” came to mind; sung by the title character, an orphan in a seemingly hopeless world of loneliness and rejection, it is timeless in capturing that sense of asking not only where, but why, and when, and how.  I found this version – it may not be obvious from the video itself, but from what I could find online, the young boy performing here is blind.  Filmed in 2009, he would now be a young man – with challenges I, and many of us, will never know.  Perhaps he still sings, perhaps he has forgotten this moment – it has less than 300 views, and there are many others, by well known names, and with more technical polish. It is, in a way, unremarkable.

And yet, it is just that commonality that captures perhaps what my heart and my mind is doing a poor job of communicating; that we all just want love.  We just want to be loved for who we are, and get past all the mountains and all the chaos, we can’t answer the whys, we will never be able to predict the future and much of the time we can’t understand the past – we certainly don’t control the present (and often wonder if anyone does).  We muddle through and when love happens, whether for a brief glimmer in time like a candle that burns brightly and fades, or whether for decades surviving whatever life throws at us – love is worth celebrating and sharing.  It is worth being laughed at for; it is worth fighting for; it is even worth forgiving for.  It is worth giving away without question.  It is worth believing in when we seemingly stand alone. 

Wherever you are, my wish for you is that somehow, today, you can look at your life and see that love has been there, and is there now – mysterious, immeasurable, but real.  It may ebb and flow, but it is alive, and real – and timeless. Whether you read this today, or on a hot summer afternoon, or Halloween or whatever – for the few who read this – you have the power to reach out to someone else and give them some love that they may be longing for, missing, in ways you could not imagine.  This is my little effort to offer you that hope, just as the love I share with my husband was a gift to my life – and ours.  Undeserved, perhaps; unplanned, certainly; amazing to me, always.  I will be reading this to him tonight, as we share a quiet few moments reflecting.   And I will continue to learn how to love, and to be loved – albeit imperfectly – from the heart. 

San Francisco, January, 2022.

“The dreams that stuff is made of”

Dreams can be amazingly vivid; more intense, somehow, than real life, at least for a few moments before you become aware of your “true” surroundings, the blankets over you, the slowly brightening sky.  Perhaps in that moment you feel a kind of astonishment – that something so powerful, emotions flowing that arose from points unknown, only to disappear with the realization that it was all a kind of fantasy.  Lately, most of my own dreams seem to be in an alternate reality, where people from different chapters of my life interact, where business meetings are incredibly stressful and the pressure of deadlines seem to portend doom, until I become again aware that, no, I don’t work anymore; those faces and places are only shadows. Shadows that seem so real before awareness banishes them, often entirely, from memory.

Our dreams call us to wander an unknown land with dark, and light, and all that lies in between.

Then, there are the nightmares – elements added to the brew of deep sleep that were never a part of daily life, even bizarre situations that seem to spring from some unrealized desire within me to write a script for a thriller.  Some are recurring, like the one I have every few years about being awakened by groups of strangers walking through the house with a real estate agent, with me protesting that they don’t belong there.  Others verge on the surreal, with elements of time travel; recently, I dreamt that I was in my childhood home – purchased by my parents in the 60s, and sold after my mother’s passing in 2006, it was a place filled with memory and emotion, even now 15 years after I walked out the door.  In the dream, the neighbors on the “bedroom” side had pushed the rickety wooden fence between our side yards further into our backyard, expanding their own footprint; but they were not home when the workers did this, and I could not find anyone to listen to me.  Finally, their real estate agent (seems like I have a phobia there of some kind!) showed up, but refused to stop the fence building, and as she decided to drive away ignoring my pleas for understanding, a vibrator fell out of her car and rolled onto the street behind her fleeing sedan as I called to her in vain to let her know of her loss. What does that all mean?  I have no idea – but it seemed so real, and my emotions, my frustration and sense of being ignored were real even if the scenario was imaginary. 

Now that I think about it, many films and programs of my childhood were tied to the “it was just a dream” motif – “Invaders from Mars”, the only film directed by William Cameron Menzies, which terrified me; “The boy and the pirates”, a very cheap film featuring a no name cast, but with a boy my age, then, in peril;  “The 5000 fingers of Dr. T” which features Hans Conreid as a megalomaniacal piano teacher; and probably countless others (including, eventually, Bobby in the shower on Dallas!).  Where do my own vivid dreams come from? What is their genesis – my overactive imagination, some Freudian dream machine hiding in my unconscious, or hidden meanings trying to get me to pay attention?  

Now, decades later, this film is considered a classic of childhood paranoia and the “Red Scare”

The answer to those questions eludes me, like so many others from my walking, daily life.  The phantasms of my darker hours may, however, soon become less present.  Sleep is important for so many reasons – not just lying down with your eyes closed, but for chemical reactions that occur in our mind and body when the system is in “pause”, so to speak. I have struggled with restlessness for years, now, and the related exhaustion during waking hours. I often find it difficult to return to sleep after awakening in the “wee small hours of the morning” – whether it is music running through my memory, or plans for the next day, or pondering the great mysteries of the universe – my brain doesn’t want to turn off.  Sometimes I picture a bank of dials and levers, not unlike the wall of controls that Dr. Morbius had at his disposal in “Forbidden Planet”, and I try to slowly switch them all off.  It doesn’t work – whatever “Id monster” is wandering through my intellect refuses to be evicted, only to hide for a while. 

In “Forbidden Planet”, the alien technology was based on 50’s industrial design.

Sleep is important for so many reasons – not just lying down with your eyes closed, but for chemical reactions that occur in our mind and body when the system is in “pause”, so to speak. There is some point where our consciousness moves from awareness into that place of magic where dreams arise like mist, and disappear – and when we do not reach that level of rest, it comes at a cost to our overall health and well-being, in ways that science still works to understand.  After my recent annual physical, my dr. surprised me with a suggestion that we do a “sleep study”, for possible issues with apnea; this was not a welcome idea.  More than two decades ago, when I carried much more baggage – physically and mentally – in my body, I weighed about 25% more than I do now, and had ended up with a device attached to my head that made me feel like Lloyd Bridges in Sea Hunt, and look like Steve Martin as the dentist in Little Shop of Horrors.  It didn’t help then, and I doubted after my weight loss and efforts to gain and retain fitness that apnea could be a factor in my life – could it? 

Technology has advanced, of course, and the device I wore on my finger one night indicated that I indeed had severe apnea – with my breathing interrupted more than 40 times an hour, something related to my nose and throat structure having nothing to do with weight or fitness. So, shortly thereafter, I find myself using a somewhat sleeker device by my head at night, and a noticeably quieter and less bulky apparatus to adorn my head upon the pillow – and I have to admit – my sleep does seem to be improving. Of course, there are still instances of awakening at 2 am for non-apnea factors, including our cat Chaps demanding my service as a trampoline and punching bag, or my husband’s sometimes lively conversations with someone at a work meeting or party in his own dreamland. But the results are undeniable. The “test” for apnea showed I was having more than 40 instances of breathing interruptions an hour; now, it is regularly less than 5 per my trusty electronic monitor.  

I am hoping my new “little friend” will provide my body, mind, and spirit with the peace it needs – although I don’t expect it will completely quiet those dreams, only muffle if not silence the intensity that awakens me back to the daily reality. I hope to “sleep, perchance to dream”, to paraphrase Hamlet – putting sleep first, hoping that this unwelcome diagnosis – and non-insured medical equipment treatment – will bring a better rest to my life, and better balance and health overall. Still, I do not wish to bid goodbye to dreams, not entirely.  Whether they are nightmares we awaken from gradually, or those hidden dreams we do not remember beyond the moment – there are those who say that dreams are the wishes of an older soul, emerging in our quietest hour, demanding to be heard.  Perhaps they have a point of origin that we sometimes cannot quite place our fingers upon; but the shadows that rise and play out in the space between our closed eyelids and our brain, seeping into the night, carrying our bodies into lands that, if they exist, are not on any map – I think we need those too.  Because, sometimes, dreams last beyond the dawn, in ways we do not realize.  

Just like George Bailey lassoing the moon for Mary … we can bring dreams to reality

Perhaps our wishes are born, seeds floating out from those fields of dreams – and the wishes become goals, and hopes, that we hold deep in our hearts, transporting us almost like one of those “driverless” cars that seem to fill the streets of my home here in San Francisco, taking us to places we did not realize our hearts wanted to reach – by roads we did not know existed, or had to build. I am reminded of the biblical story of Joseph, the interpreter of dreams – so amusingly converted into a lively musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber – a child who did not fit in, was rejected by his family and suffered misery because of his gift of dreaming, and interpreting the dreams of others; eventually raised to powers neither he nor his family could have ever imagined, and then – in time beyond his own – leading his peoples into, and out from, desperation.  His dreams – however much is fact, or fable – changed the world.  I do not flatter myself that my dreams, or any of our dreams, will have that effect – but they can change our little, quiet worlds, and our lives, if we pay heed to their voices. 

When a dream speaks to our hearts, if a wish is born, and grows into a goal – each day holds the promise that a tiny step can take us closer to the dream becoming a reality.  It can be a very long journey. It can be so frustrating to acknowledge that the destination is not for today – just the step ahead, on a path that takes a lifetime to carve. To grasp the promise in just this moment, this “now”, is ultimately a step of faith – the outcome uncertain, but the act of responding to the call, the vision is our choice, alone.  That response needs to be enough, as results may not be seen now, or perhaps ever; we exist in the imperfect now while the hopes of the perfect tomorrow shine like a momentary rainbow, shimmering and then gone only leaving a shadow in our memory.  We must find the beauty, just enough to hold on to in the now – and balance that tenderly against our yearning for the ideal we can only move towards, never holding fully, yet …. The intangible, forming the tangible, until a new dream emerges and the cycle renews.  

And once made real, our dreams can take us on to new adventures ….

Back in 1941, Humphrey Bogart described the Maltese Falcon, the priceless statue that led to multiple murders and greed and loss, as “the stuff that dreams are made of”;  he was paraphrasing, again, Shakespeare in “The Tempest”, when Prospero reflect that “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep”.   Not to dispute William, or Humphrey – but I believe we can use our dreams to create reality, not the reverse.  Perhaps we can say that our lives at this moment are the product of not only our dreams, but those before us; our today is the result of “the dreams that stuff is made of”.   We may not be able to choose our dreams; whatever the source, or the meaning if any – they arise, and speak, and move on. We move from a consciousness based on what we think, feel, see and “know” – into a place of mystery, where a new creation awaits to be birthed, or discovered.  As you next lay down your head, and the day slips into darkness, and your breathing slows – I hope your dreams will lead to hopes and visions that you can bring into being, dreams that will last.   With, or without, a mask and a machine to carry you into that place of unlimited perhaps, and a million maybes.  

Until next time, friends ….. sweet dreams …..

Act quickly – subscriptions will end when I run out of paper!!! (Or when I wake up?)

Curating a gallery of your lifetime

To start our new year, my husband and I travelled across the continent to Florida, celebrating his 75th birthday. We had a wonderful time – and like all of our adventures in recent years, took a lot of pictures. Recently, I had sorted through my mac photo library for all the pictures that need “tagging” and organization; as I renew my documentation of piles of family photos and letters, documents and memories, it becomes even more critical to, well, not get so far behind. Easier said than done! It’s hard to press “delete” on that 5th picture of the trip to such and such; it’s even harder, for some reason, to put an old print in the trash (either after scanning, or after giving up on figuring out who and what is in that picture!)

As we wandered through two wonderful museums – the Ringling in Sarasota, and the Museum of the Arts and Crafts Movement in America in St. Petersburg – I admired the art of displaying, curating, and describing the works that have been preserved. When I started this blog, I had created a page (as opposed to a post – one of those things I had to learn) with a few pictures. Since the blog “premiered” almost two years ago, my library of images has been expanded – including those in posts here. And I was inspired to do a little bit of “urban renewal” on that gallery of my life, which you can find here …

In revising that page, I realized that the images themselves had no context, no description or setting to explain why they mattered enough to me to share with the thousands of strangers around the globe who might, one day, stumble in to my little blog – and hence, this post. So, without further ado – here are the images in that gallery, a little tour of sorts for you to amble through – those who know me, and those who do not.

My mother shortly before her 1954 marriage, and my father and brother welcome me home in 1958. Their lives were not easy – but they loved me with their best love, as they knew how. Just as I am learning, still. Even from them – although they have passed, learning about my family history – and it’s place in so many changes in our world and nation – has helped me find my path ahead.

For much of my adult life, my getaway, refuge and place of renewal was Disneyland. Even though I grew up less than an hour away, our financial resources didn’t allow for regular visits until I finished school and started working. I was lonely and isolated – the happiest place on earth became a second home. I loved the artistry, the music, and I met many creative giants. I felt less alone there for a while – but in time, I knew I had to make a choice. Here I am with my favorite character, Pinocchio – I wanted to be a “real boy” too! And, in 2006, at the inaugural half marathon weekend – I trained for 9 months just to finish the course (this is from the 5k run). I still love Disneyland – but mainly the one of my memories, rather than that which remains.

Coming out, later than most, in 2012 opened new doors in my life, and new frontiers. Here I am with the Gay Men’s Chorus of LA, “Indoor skydiving” with my family in Perris, CA, and on the glacier of Alaska. I began to travel, and to understand who I was, and who I could be others – being authentic and loving without shame.

But I never imagined I would become a “biker” – albeit only marginally. Getting my 2001 Centennial “Indian Chief” was a real step outside my comfort zone. But it brought me new friends, new confidence, along with a lot of bills! It was big, beautiful, loud – and unreliable. But I rode it to the Satyrs Motorcycle Club “Badger flat” run in 2012, to Vegas, in Long Beach Pride, and to that mecca of gay history – San Francisco. It was my faithful steed, carrying me to new adventures.

As I child, I found comforts in the stories of old – and in the teachings of my faith. Believe it or not, for most of my life we did not have a TV in my home growing up – but going to the movies, and escaping the reality that I could not then change, opened my eyes to new dreams. Two of my favorites, that still touch my heart after decades, in sense represent the same them – that there is always hope. Seeing George Bailey discover that his life had meaning even though his dreams were not fulfilled; and seeing a child who felt different and longed to belong could learn to choose and through that, have some dreams come true – these moments echo in my life daily.

This year, 2022, marks 10 years since I “came out” to family and friends – sometimes with tears; some, followed by goodbyes. More importantly, I came out to myself – discovering much that I had believed and been taught was not true. And the greatest miracle of all – that something unimaginable to me for virtually all of my life could happen – Love found me, and brought my husband into my life. We were married in 2018 surrounded by family and friends – present and absent – and we continue find new happiness together, sharing joy with others. Is there a greater gift in life? Yes, like a boat out of the blue, fate steps in and sees you through.

So, here we are at the last display area in my little gallery. From this picture of me, nearly 40 years ago – standing on the edge of the sea of Galilee, seeking answers; today, here in San Francisco; with my father a lifetime ago . Still exploring faith, history – still growing. Hopefully, still giving a little to others around me as I muddle through. Dare I say I am blessed? I am.

Good news, folks – there are no posters in the gift shop on the exit. But there is something I hope you can “take home” from this free tour. I encourage you – some slow afternoon, some rainy weekend, or tonight – perhaps with a family member – pull out a box, or a thumb drive. Look at the images – which bring life to your heart, a smile to your face? Which come alive when you see that moment again?

For most of the memories in your life – the stories of your joys and sorrows, the tales handed down from your family, the misty legends that are still in the shadows of your attic of recollections – and for all the images and scraps that you have stuck somewhere, in boxes or bags, or not even on paper but on that drive you never reference anymore – their shelf life ends with you. You and only you can take steps to share them with others, to transfer the custody of those questionable treasures – or to wipe them from history, never to be seen again. As I scan the stacks of photos I inherited that have no identification, and I see the faces and landscapes, the babies and the elderly looking back at me – their lives are literally in my hands. We don’t, as a culture, keep photo albums much anymore – we have videos and data files – and a time will come, my friend, when someone other than you will open that box, or that computer file, and say – I don’t want to bother with these. So as you see these moments from my life, I challenge you – take the time to do this yourself for those stacks. Make the time – for your loved ones, and for those who will not have memories of you or your grandparents. They are priceless, they are irreplaceable, and they have meaning. We are their archivists – they are the true family jewels.

That’s it for this visit, friends – hope you enjoyed, but more importantly, I hope you get a chance to not only revisit past joys – but create new ones, new images, new memories as our world reopens. Thanks for stopping by – see you soon!

PS – Special New year savings on subscriptions – free! Worth every penny!

Creating a very good year

It’s a little odd thinking that my last post of 2021 was about how much music can mean to our lives – particularly recalling how my Mom loved the songs of Frank Sinatra – and that my thoughts this week seem to be resonating with one of his songs.   Like many around the world, the last two weeks of our lives have been filled with celebrations of meaning – and the beginning of a new year, with all the reflections and projections that come with the perspective of “out with the old, in with the new”.   It is, naturally, not that simple – but it sounds comforting.  

New Year’s 1910 Saturday Evening Post Cover – a classic Leyendecker illustraion

For some, “Fast away the old year passes” couldn’t be fast enough for 2021. I don’t see it as much referenced “nowadays”, but it used to be common in advertising to have “baby new year” and “father time” marking the occasion.  Of course, thankfully, we do not age that quickly, moving from infancy to “old age” in the course of just 365 days – it creeps up on us, until one day we see gray hairs (or no hair – or hair where we don’t want it!) and wrinkles, and perhaps wince at the sight.  Next week, my husband has a milestone birthday – 75; and shortly after that, I will be the age where the Beatles asked “Will you still love me when …”.   To many, that makes us both old geezers – neither of us is ready to embrace that title, just yet. 

A rather grumpy perspective on the past, don’t you think?

But I have been thinking lately about just what is the truest sign of old age – and I think perhaps I have found the key, for my purposes at least.  Having just last month reconnected with a fellow elementary through high school classmate, and reflected on our lives paths and the unexpected turns they took in the 60 years since, remembering the final years of my parents as their health declined, and being very much aware that it is just 3 years ago my own life was put at risk by a parasite, hospitalization and ongoing seemingly never complete recovery – I realize that as the years add up, the wrinkles deepen, and other effects of aging compete for my denial – no future is guaranteed.  No tomorrow is promised, but the hope will not be set aside that many years of joy, discoveries, love, growth and exploration lie ahead.  Yet there is one indicator of aging that I hope to avoid, and that we can take action on every day – not to defer the passage of time, but to ensure that the days ahead, and today, have as much meaning as those remembered – and maybe more. 

Talk about forced perspective – a completely distorted view of reality!

The surest sign of aging is …… letting your world shrink. 

I see it in my life, especially since moving, and then retiring early – my world is at risk of growing smaller.  Not so small yet that it is like the room my mother spent the last 8 years of her life sharing with another care patient; not as small as the houses and apartments where some spend their days living online, or watching “reality shows” without a word shared with a fellow human being, perhaps for days at a time.  COVID has accelerated that “shrinkage” in some ways, unavoidably to a degree – but it takes effort to fight.  To reach out to those we cannot touch, still, even though silence may be the only response; to force ourselves to meet new faces, move past social insecurities to speak to a stranger and share a smile, or a kind word;  and especially, to dream and then ACT on those dreams, even though some may say your time has passed. 

Many years ago, I sat in the California Theater in San Bernardino – I was probably around 40 or 45 at the time – to see a silent movie.  My own father and grandparents had watched movies there decades prior, and on this occasion, the theater organ was going to be played by, essentially, a very old man.   In a way, I was already older then, compared to now – my world was small, I remained trapped in thinking in ways that kept me alone, closeted, and lonely – but movies had always been a window out of the darkness into a world of adventure, and this was a chance to revisit a moment in time.  The organist was a gentleman by the name of Gaylord Carter – he had begun playing when silent movies were “new”, 100 years ago, and continued performing through his 90th birthday.  You can actually hear his artistry daily – over, and over, and over – in the Haunted Mansion, where his dancing hands created the magical sounds of “Grim Grinning Ghosts” on the ballroom organ where spirits enjoy their never ending waltz. 

Organist Gaylord Carter, and his performance that will outlast us all!

What was amazing to me about Gaylord, and his performance, was his spirit.  He was so alive – by that time, I think he was probably in his 70s – but so full of energy, and joy, and laughter.  I think too of a woman I never met, but who I often read of in the paper in Redlands, California – Hulda Crooks, who a park is named for in Loma Linda, California – remembered for her worldwide hiking including climbing Mount Whitney 23 times between the ages of 65 and 91, along with nearly 100 other peaks during those same years.  I did not know my own grandparents, sadly – but there were many others I met during my time in various groups and organizations, or even just preparing their taxes – men and women who remained more vital and more excited about life than most of the people I encountered on a daily basis.  They did not let their worlds get small – they pushed the limits, insisting on moving forward, and discovering new perspectives. 

How do we retain that fresh outlook, how do we embrace the hope for something beyond what is known?  In part, at least, it means letting go – our hands, our hearts, our intellects can only hold so much, and we must make choices about our energies, our focus and our goals.  Many of us did that, perhaps, as December wound down and the fireworks began to be shown on our televisions and phones and laptops around the world, a celebratory orgy of rebirth and a yearned for optimism for a better year ahead, less dread, more joy, less alone, more together.  But it is up to me, to you, to each of us in a way alone yet in a way together, to set our courses and our desires to deliberately, daily, move ahead – to not just sit where we are, to take the chances and the steps – tiny, or leaps of faith or both at once – into the future we want to make real.  Intentions and wishes, resolutions and dreams – they are only launching pads.  We cannot stay on the diving board forever, or at its foot, imagining that our fantasies will be realized and dwelling in the vision – we must work, we must sweat, we must sacrifice and lift up those around us moment by moment to inch forward and make it happen.  

By this point, you may have wondered (or perhaps forgotten) how I might see any of this as relating to a Sinatra hit from 1965.  I was eight then – soon I will be 8 times that – and my thoughts were of grades, and Hardy Boys books, and piano lessons.   A composer whose name I did not know until I researched today, Ervin Drake, was already well known for a hit, “I Believe” – a song of hope – and this number was originally recorded by the Kingston Trio in 1961, becoming a kind of “comeback song” for Sinatra when he recorded it 4 years later  It is a song of memories and gratitude, reflections – the kind of thing that becomes more a part of life with age, perhaps.  But it is the final lyric that comes to mind for me – “It was a very good year”.  

For me, with all it’s trials (and yes, disappointments too), 2021 was an amazing, wonderful year – and I want that to be even truer in 2022.  How can I make that so?  How can I keep my world from shrinking as the rolling online dial for “year of birth” takes longer to scroll to?  Part of it, I believe, is knowing this – my life is at its fullest when I am the truest, deepest, and best “me” I can be – whatever that is or looks like, but forever imperfect and flawed; therefore, the process of moving towards authenticity is never complete.  You and I will never be “finished”; we can never stop our journey. A page on a calendar is neither a beginning or an end – our beginnings were before our parents met, and our endings lie outside the limits of our knowledge and imagination, but the now, the today, is where will build on one and create another yet to be seen.  

My own desk calendar for 2021 was one of those “page a day” with quotes – and two, from December, seemed appropriate for my own reflection as I worked to shape my priorities and goals for my next stage of life.   The first, by a contemporary author and counselor, Craig D. Lounsbrough,  reminds me that there is work that must be accomplished, there are doors that must be closed, and that the to-do’s need to be done – so that I can move on.  We must finish our business and not drag it endlessly into our future – there is not enough room for new dreams if we are forever reviving the old.  We must choose.

The second, by Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard more than 150 years ago, forces us to recognize that creating our future takes courage.  We cannot know the outcome, we cannot guarantee anything – the “safety zone” of our childhood, if it ever was even partially realized, does not extend into becoming whatever we choose of the possibilities on our menu of life. The uncertainty, the darkness, the fog of the future that stretches just beyond our nose is not, and never will be, under our control – we must seek reassurance and trust from something more than we can know or measure – but the only way to get there is to leap.  The great something lies awaiting.  It does take daring to enter that universe of perhaps and maybe.

For many, last year’s resolution is this years excuses and regrets. I did not accomplish everything I set out to do a year ago – so what? My resolution as I shared with a friend via text today is simple – keep going and keep growing.  I will work to make my world bigger – not smaller.  More full of life – taking the chances, welcoming new friends into our circle, exploring parts known and unknown – trying new adventures. How that looks and how it ends up will probably be very different than I might wish for when the baby new year toddles out in diapers until his older self shuffles off next winter, his journey over. But just as I can embrace the process, widen my world, and go forth boldly – so can you.  Make your world bigger – or perhaps just realize it is already bigger than you ever could have imagined!  Perhaps as you set sail, and catch the wind anew – whether today is January 1, or March 18, or October 27th – like me, you have matters to be finished, and then leaps to be made.  But staying where we are – that is the surest guarantee of a shrinking world, and the quickest way to a year that we will never remember.  I want to stand at the end of 2022, and look back and say – yes.  Yes, this was a year that mattered – it was a very good year.  Let us make the next one, better. 

Until next time, friends …. thanks for stopping by to visit!

Subscriptions? Absolutely – just sign up below – and I would love to hear from you!

The chairman of the Board, and the melodies that linger

This week, we got to attend our wonderful San Francisco Symphony again for the first time in more than two years – it was an unforgettable evening of joy.  And our second concert is coming up Wednesday – a holiday musical tribute to the artistry of two giants – Frank Sinatra, and Ella Fitzgerald.  I’ve been reflecting on the power of music, universal in its ability to provide a sort of magical ticket away from the daily stresses and rebirth joy – perhaps through remembered moments, perhaps by unearthing some lesser explored part of our hearts, setting energies free to sing and dance, even if only to ourselves.  I listen to music constantly – rediscovering songs I had forgotten through streaming services, along with new artists, new voices. It lifts us, it can inspire, infuriate, renew and reveal – artists vocal and instrumental, composers and lyricists whose names deserve more recognition than the performers.  Some – a few – are timeless; we can form bonds with music that last a lifetime, that become the soundtrack to our history. 

My Mom loved music too – and as we look forward to hearing the Sinatra tribute this week, I realize how much his music meant to her throughout her lifetime. My memories of her are many, but they all have a common thread –  she suffered from debilitating pain throughout her time on earth.  Born in 1926, having me as her second child in 1958, she was already developing problems from rheumatoid arthritis after my brother’s birth 3 years prior.   She had health problems from childhood, multiple surgeries and hospitalizations, and by the time I was five, separated from my Dad, disabled and raising two boys on minimal child support and alimony.   As the years and the deterioration of her muscle strength progressed, she had to have special shoes made for her feet and became dependent on pain treatments that today’s patients happily can avoid. I remember the many nights when she would try to take care of things around the house, pushing through the pain, and the sounds of her distress and discomfort were not easily ignored – nor easily forgotten, decades later. 

This is not the “Mom” I knew – but in her day, she was quite the “pin up” girl from So Cal!

But music could somehow transform, or at least diminish, her distress into joy, in moments.  She had a pretty large collection of 78’s – big, bulky, scratched, in these sort of cardboard folio albums – along with later LP’s.  She also had held onto an upright piano, gifted from her mother who passed before my entry on the scene – and encouraged me to take piano lessons, which I did for years.  She also would occasionally peck at the keys a bit, but more often just turn on the radio.  As a teen, I remember digging through the record cabinet, wondering at the names – some I knew, many were unknown.  She didn’t listen to 70’s artists; I think her most contemporary albums were by Jack Jones and Rod McKuen (no Beatles, and certainly no rock!) – but there were many scratched 78’s and several 50’s/60’s albums by Frank Sinatra – the “Chairman of the Board”, “The Voice”, the emblem of a generation.  

It wasn’t until my 40’s, when she entered a long term care facility and I took on the years long task of cleaning and repairing her home, and the many boxes of her life that remained unopened for decades, that I began to see how much Sinatra had been part of her life.  By this time, I had become more familiar with the music of that era – certainly loving many of the songs he made popular, especially later when I started enjoying karaoke at the bars in Palm Springs.   Frank himself had passed by then – I’d seen some movies and knew a little of his history from the tributes and television coverage.  So, when I came across the boxes of photos, and the magazines, and programs – it was like a time capsule of my Mom’s love affair with his songs.  

The 1943 Hollywood Bowl program – the first “popular” artist to perform there.

It was during those years, the final few of her life, that she began to share some of her memories of the 40’s in LA – before meeting my Dad, before the ravages of health gnarled her hands and distorted her feet, keeping her in a physical prison and to a degree an emotional one as well.  Seeing pictures of her as a glamour teen, in a bathing suit, were kind of astonishing – this was not the woman who had raised me, to my eyes at least.  Growing up in Long Beach and working in that area, she had made friends with ties to Hollywood, somehow – after all, as a teenager at the outset of World War II, with so many young men leaving to fight for freedom, young women were exploring new ways of living that their parents never imagined.  She had gone on a bowling double date with Mickey Rooney, had lunch at the Paramount studios commissary with Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth one table over, and visited the home of Errol Flynn – a young woman bursting with life, and dreams and hopes of romance.  All influenced by the crooner that ruled the radio, and in time movies as well – Frank. 

A signed drawing by my Mom, clearly copied (with love) from a publicity photo.

She told me how her father took her to the Hollywood Bowl in 1943 to see Frank break with long held tradition there – somewhat controversially – performing “popular song” instead of the usual classical fare.  Years later, visiting the Bowl Museum, I heard a recording of his comments that night – it was the beginning of many ups and downs in his career, but a pinnacle for the scrawny kid from Hoboken.  My uncle, a few years her senior, was in England building glider planes for the Allies – he told me later how much all the enlisted men hated Sinatra for staying home, getting all the attention from the screaming fans.  It surprised me to see on display at the museum the same program I had found in her belongings, carefully preserved.  

A recording of Frank Sinatra’s 1943 Hollywood Bowl appearance … almost 80 years ago. You can even hear the screaming, swooning fans …. including my Mom (but probably not my Grandpa!)

She even shared how, as the president of a chapter of the Sinatra Fan Club, she had attended some of the earlier west coast radio feeds earlier in his career, from LA for the Major Bowes Amateur hour – a few of which I share here – with notations for the timing of the breaks, and songs, on the I imagine now rare scripts.  Thinking of her in Los Angeles, occasionally getting to ask for his autograph, long before the realities of life brought her elsewhere with two sons and no husband or job or car – I began to understand her life from a different perspective. 

As I enjoy the recordings of Frank today – and have retained the photos and magazines and other items, despite my brothers encouragement to sell them since at the time of his passing they had more value – I also remember the joy that those songs brought my Mom, a kind of healing, at least for a moment, a respite of sorts for her spirit.  Perhaps, when she sang along with those records, or played the radio for a special song while struggling to keep up with the responsibilities that lay on her alone, she was carried back to those moments – those hopes and dreams.  But my Mom never expressed regret that things did not work out as she had imagined – she focused on the challenges of the day, caring for us, and trying to sort through the choices we all have to make, in whatever circumstances we face.  

Unlike Mom, I never saw Sinatra perform live – at least, not that Sinatra.  After my Mom’s passing, a friend and I drove to see his son, Frank Jr., perform in Orange County – sitting a few seats away, his daughter Nancy (without her boots), knowing and reliving their own memories of their father through song.  The upcoming symphony performance is nearly sold out – a remarkable testimony to the legacy of Sinatra and Ella, the composers and artists, and the power of music to give us life.  Over two years ago, we enjoyed a similar tribute to my own favorite vocalist, Nat King Cole, and Aretha Franklin there – voices that remind us that our humanity is shared, our desires are not so different, and our yearnings unchanged from generations prior.   I am glad we can again be gathered together, celebrating not only the season, but the timelessness of music – and of the hopes that it nourishes.  My heart will sing along; I will smile, thinking, just maybe, Mom will be listening, too.  

The smallest of Mom’s signed pics – and yet, somehow, my favorite.

Wherever your week takes you – I hope you find some joy. It’s there, for the discovery – and the sharing. Until next time – thanks for stopping by to visit. You are always welcome!

It’s the season of giving – at least, it is when I post this! But, whenever you may read this, subscriptions to new posts is still a bargain – at nothing! Worth every cent and more … hopefully!