Many Thanks from One Boomer to Another

I had the privilege today of having one of my Wiseacre Way posts published on one of my favorite blogs, Life in the Boomer Lane, a funny, irreverent and insightful look at growing old in America that the author calls Guerrilla Aging. The essay she chose to post was “My Kilimanjaro, and Yours,” which I originally posted on April  12, 2014.

If you have not had the pleasure of reading Life in the Boomer Lane, I highly recommend it (and not just because the author was good enough to share her audience with me).

Here’s the link. Enjoy.  http://lifeintheboomerlane.com/

 

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Course Correction; Come About

clouds
Full sail, blind, we squint
into the sun, tantalized
by the Possible.

Our lives unfurl. We
Chart our course, nourished by hope,
Fairy tales, and lies.

Harboring goals and
Audacious ambitions we
Sail into the wind.

It is just as well
That we are foolish and young,
Confident and bold.

Life requires that we
Sacrifice youth for wisdom.
There is no return.

We sail on bravely,
Or otherwise. Scanning for
Mermaids, harbors, shoals.

We hold our course till
the gods shake their hoary heads
And we, rebuffed, stop.

Hold position till
The way is once again clear.
The stars reappear.

It is a trick, though.
The gods of love and mercy
Know we must feel pain.

Again and again
We set out determined, yet
Each time diminished.

Until that moment
We see life for what it is;
Brief, finite, a dream.

We have sailed too close
To the edge of the world, and
We must turn around.

What is behind us
Is everything we dreamed we
wanted all along.

If we are lucky,
A course correction is all
We need to go back.

Re-savor what our
Hearts hold dear, try to hold on,
While we say goodbye.

But part we must, for
This illusion we call life
Is just a story.

Pull yourself back from
The brink. Restore your vision.
Regain your footing.

Rekindle yourself.
Remember your true north, and
Partner with the wind.

Posted in Aging, Love, Musings, Philosophy, Poetry, Social Commentary, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.

“Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.”                                                                                                                                    -Mel Brooks

4011-imageMany years ago I spent a great deal of time on one stage or another. A passion for acting burned bright in me for a long time. Then it did not. There you go.

The title of this rambling nostalgia is an old saying from my theater days, and one well-known by thespians everywhere. It’s actually a quote, reported to be the last words of English actor Edmund Keene, who died for real in 1833.

 “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.”

When a part calls upon an actor to die, there are lots of ways to do it, and it can be loads of fun. But lest they be accused of chewing the scenery (if that’s not what they want), the stage death best be fairly brief and convincing. Either way (with any luck and a sympathetic director), you end up lying down and are heard from no more. Easy peasy.

Another kind of death in the theater, not so entertaining for the performer, is the sound of silence in a full house after they’ve delivered that KILLER PUNCHLINE. No. Fun. At. All. Hence the saying.

Comedy is all about timing and environment. A tipsy Saturday night audience + killer jokes + great timing = adulation. Distracted audience + questionable material = crickets. Perfect timing + lame jokes + distracted, moody crowd = catcalls, tomatoes and the sound of feet heading toward the exits. It’s a dangerous world out there for those who would make us laugh.

The very language of comedy is filled with death. “This killed them in Miami”, “Geez, I’m dying out there.” “Just kill me now.” Now that’s funny.

And so it is with life. Tragedy and comedy are two sides of the same coin, both firmly rooted in our obsession with our own mortality. And it all comes down to a choice; will it be joy or despair?

Wallowing in the tragedies of life presents little challenge. There is no end to them. Twenty seconds of reflection on the horrors happening on the world stage right now, today, thanks largely to man’s epic inhumanity to man and our mother earth, can simply swallow you whole. That’s easy. How can it be otherwise?

What’s hard is finding ways to rise above, to visit laughter, to embrace the ironic hilarity that life brings every day, to choose joy and to seek out beauty. It can be hard work. Sometimes it’s impossible. Sometimes it’s a necessary choice.

How do you react to a pie in the face, a hostile audience, bad material? What do you do when the romantic comedy you thought you were cast in turns into a farce, or worse yet, a bleak Ingmar Bergman tragedy? It’s up to you.

For me, I figure, I might as well laugh, even if it’s the hard thing to do, because in life, as in the theater, any event can be magically transformed from tragedy to comedy (or vice versa) simply by changing the set, the lighting, the music, and the actors intent. It’s a choice. It’s a point of view. It’s within our power.

I say, give the bastards a run for their money. Choose joy.

Photo: Sarah Bernhardt in death scene from “Lady of the Camillias.” From “Sarah Bernhardt, a Legend and a Name in History,”  http://viola.bz/sarah-bernhardt-a-legend-and-a-name-in-history/.

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Arizona, Wulfenite and the Rocks in my Head

IMG_7236 (1024x768)   This little story was inspired by blogger extraordinaire and writer of The Zombies Ate My Brains, Maggie Wilson. Maggie apparently also discovered early on the allure of rocks in her head. In 1963, my family bundled into an old station wagon and traveled west for a week on two lane highways from Massachusetts to Arizona. The occasion was my father’s working sabbatical at the University of Arizona in Tucson. We were taking a year hiatus away from the brick and ivy New England prep school that was his and my mother’s place of employment and our home for many years. As the miles rolled by, mom and dad sat in the front, and we (my various siblings and I) all inhabited the back in various states of hyperactivity, bickering, boredom, somnolence, tantrums, giggle fits and tug-o-wars. I was nine, my big sister, 15, my big brother, 11, and my little sister, just a year old. I was to spend my 5th grade year at Jefferson Park Elementary school, fondly known by my fellow inmates at that time as “Japanese Prison.” (J.P. Get it?) I had a great time there. Having grown up entirely in New England (except for the really early and totally unremembered year in Singapore), Arizona was a revelation to me. Deserts! Mountains! Cacti! Swimming pools! Air conditioning! Not to mention the starkly beautiful, blasted landscapes, as foreign to me as the moon. And then, there were the rocks. The fabulous rock formations fired my imagination, as did the Petrified Forest, the gift shops full of gemstones, piles of them, and the gorgeous gemstone jewelry! I’d never seen anything like it. It was all over. I went gaga for rocks. Over the next several months I became obsessed with collecting all things mineral. They were my talismans, my power sources, my treasures, my magic baubles. Crystals of every imaginable type and color, turquoise, obsidian, malachite, onyx, geodes, lapis lazuli! Arizona was the land of colorful, highly collectible shiny dreams, and I wanted them all, for I had never seen such miraculous things on the right coast. I was relentless, steadily amassing a substantial pile of glittering booty in the garage of our humble rental home. I pawed through rock identification handbooks, fawned over the little beauties, labelled them, arranged and rearranged them, and told all the kids in the neighborhood that I was destined to be a geologist. None of them knew what that meant until I, with blinding superiority, explained it to them. They were not impressed. But I did not care. I kept on collecting. One of the coolest things I remember was that at beloved old Japanese Prison Elementary, when I wasn’t learning to hula dance, I was out on the playground digging for what I came to call sand garnets. At least they looked like garnets. The sand on which the school was built was seeded with small roundish dark red pebbles that looked like treasure to me. And, they were right there for the taking! My own little gemstone mine! I collected as many as I could. I never did find out what they really were (I hope they weren’t some kind of toxic waste,) My parents indulged my new passion to a point, but mostly ignored it. (I think they were just glad that it kept me busy.) The only person who showed much interest was a friend of my dad’s, who, I discovered late in our stay, was, in fact, a geologist. He took a shine to my little collection, filled in the blanks on some pieces I could not identify, somehow got my parents to take me on a field trip to an abandoned turquoise mine (OMG! I would have said, if anyone was saying that at the time, turquoise chunks just lying there all over the ground! Just lying there for the taking! Heavenly!) He was also the one responsible for the crown jewel of my collection. I arrived home from school one day to find he had dropped off a present for me. It was the most incredible crystal I had ever seen. An alien-looking chunk of rock, covered with geometric plates, shards and strings of crystal of the most remarkable orange.  His note identified it as wulfenite. It was as big as my head. I was delighted. This photo is a close representation of what it looked like. wulfenite I received this gift toward the end of our stay in Tucson. My parents were starting to pull things together for the long trip home when I found out they had arranged a several week stint at a summer camp for me in the mountains in northern Arizona. It was a horse riding camp, and I was thrilled. Off I went, taking just a few of my favorite rocks with me. Now, memory doesn’t serve me well here, but at some point I learned that my parents had decided that my rock collection had to stay behind in Tucson. There was no room in the car, and they said they tried to ship it, but it was too heavy, they said, and way too expensive. It stayed behind. All of it, including my prized wulfenite. I remember being initially bereft, then sullen about the loss of my precious collection. But I was surrounded by horses, another one of my favorite things, so I let it slide. I found out later that dad’s friend could have shipped it all at a low bulk shipping rate enjoyed by professional geologists. Too bad. To this day I miss that collection. Especially the wulfenite. When I got home, things went back to New England normal. Turns out I was not scientist material, so my geology aspirations stayed behind with the rock collection. But I have kept my affinity toward gemstones. I have a small collection, and continue to work with them in the jewelry I make. My head apparently is still full of shiny little baubles. Can’t keep a good rock hound down. IMG_5081 (1024x824) - Copy “Hailey’s Retreat”, Sterling Silver, sand and mixed media on turquoise-dyed howlite by Royzle Designs. You can see more at my Royzle Designs blog. Photo from Crystal Classics, fine and rare mineral specimens. https://crystalclassics.co.uk

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The Amtrak Writer’s Residency Program Redux – Babel On!

Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_Babel_(Vienna)_-_Google_Art_Project_-_edited

Hello all. Some months ago (March, to be exact), I made considerable noise about applying for the Amtrak Writer’s Residency, a contest of sorts wherein a handful of lucky writers would win the privilege of taking a free long distance train trip for the sole purpose of looking and writing, and promoting Amtrak, of course. Sounded heavenly to me, and I figured, what the heck? I sent in my app and held my breath. Tick tick tick…

Finally, on June 17, I received a very nice email from Amtrak. In short, and in the friendliest possible way, they dumped me and my training aspirations right off the High Trestle Bridge (a particularly lovely former railroad bridge on a bike trail in Madrid, Iowa) and a high bridge it is, indeed.

According to Amtrak, they had more than 16,000 applicants for this gig, and I can’t say I’m surprised. They narrowed it down to 150 finalists based on the following criteria, “…the quality and completeness of their application package, as well as the extensiveness of their social community and ability to reach online audiences with content.” Am I missing something here? Oh yeah, writing ability? Ah, of course, that is what they mean by “quality.” Short shrift, I’m thinking, next to the social networking capabilities.

Credit where credit is due, though. Managing that many applications had to have been a truly Herculean task—I see many long nights, warm sodas and cold pizzas. And I can imagine the conversation of the judges, but I’ll spare you. I think their lessons-learned list is probably corporate legend at this point. Plus, as a non-finalist, the offer of a 15% discount on any long distance Amtrak route I choose is much appreciated.

Still, because it’s really all about me, I can’t help but ponder why I was not chosen, even as a finalist. Could it be that my writing sucks? Hmmm. Surely not.

Having eliminated that possibility, I do know that the five of you who are reading this are a mighty force indeed, though perhaps not quite what they had in mind for an “extensive social community.” Nonetheless, I appreciate every single one of you.

Or perhaps it was my embarrassing lack of Instagram skills.

It may also, perhaps, be because I took the liberty of razzing Amtrak, just a bit, in a good-natured way, about their stunning lack of follow-through. After all, the initial huge TAH DAH! reveal was followed by months of crickets; not the best way to build momentum and enthusiasm. I should know. I’ve heard my share of crickets.

So, Amtrak, I want you to know that I’ve been in your corner from the beginning on this. Really. It was a cool idea, and I wish you and your chosen scribes stunning success.

Here’s the thing. Don’t stop. This is great stuff. Whether it will yield the next Great American Novel or “Porkies Part 12,” remains to be seen. But it’s worth the ride, particularly because it nicely nutshells the wild tumble in the sheets currently underway between the “art” and the “ad.”  It’s the American way, is it not?

Any writer worth his or her salt these days knows that the journey to (horrors) commercial viability means singing and tap dancing around that Babelous (Just made that word up. Do you like it?) maelstrom we call social media. Being heard above the din is just the beginning. (God help them if they are hoping to remain authentic.)

I did feel a sense of disappointment as I was catapulted off the moving train into the dark chasm below. But I survived. In the end, Amtrak did invite me to apply again next year. Maybe I will. (Maybe I’ll have Instagram figured out by then. I’m still missing the point.)

In the meantime, party on Amtrak. Thanks for giving this scribbling, narcissistic crew a chance to dream about a ride on the golden tracks to literary stardom. Either way, it’s stellar. Have a slice of cold pepperoni on me.

 

Painting, The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563)

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Tornado Country

nebraska_tornado_wide-97012e2cc66ad39035b0c0d2283705d67807e8a2-s6-c30

We wake to sirens
Whining out warning. Go now!
Anywhere but here!

The gods hurl lightning
From their fists, drum thunder, blow
Mighty destruction.

The night brings terror,
The day, anguish, shock, joy for
every miracle.

Each spring we witness
Capricious nature’s awesome
Force, searing beauty.

Here in the heartland
We tend our gardens and keep
One eye on the sky.

Photo from StormChasing Video.com/AP

 

 

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