The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

I’m watching Tony Bourdain, who though he can spurt invective that does him no credit, is the coolest TV personality and food writer I can think of. And he’s in Italy and he was interviewing a chef who gets his own seafood by snorkeling and diving right off his own coast.

The guy is bald and thin, full of energy. He’s not a big and heavy pasta and meatball guy, though I imagine he could knock back a carbonara with the best of them. No, he’s seafood and sauce, vegetables and herbs and wine–and he’s impossibly happy. His smile lights up the screen. He flips a delicate pan of spaghetti and herbs with such gusto, you’d swear it will stay on the ceiling as he does it.

I’m not jealous. I’m inspired, a little in awe. Yes, I want to have that kind of joie de vivre, but at times, I do. This guy lives his passion and I suppose I’ve known about passion for a long time. But it’s just now catching up to me. It’s just now hitting me at 46 that you have to live your passion-or at least find it. You have to know what drives you and I do, now. I know what drives me.

So, the other day, I’m talking with Peanut who, rather all of a sudden, has found her passion–or at least one of them. She’s  a bona-fide horseback riding student and her teachers are remarkable people who have a ranch not too far from here. She loves it. She loves the animals, loves cleaning them and feeding them, grooming them and tacking them and then riding them.

I sat with her in the car, that’s where we do our best talking it seems, and I gave her the first real fatherly advice I can remember giving her that she might actually remember. “You’ve found something you’re passionate about. That’s a beautiful thing, honey. It’s a gift. You’ve been given the gift of having a direct line into the reason we are here, the reason we’re alive. We’re here to pursue those things if we can and there are many people in the world, most people in the world, who never even get the chance. I’m proud of you–and happy for you.”

She beamed. She knows it, too. Now, she gets to live it. And her mom and I get to watch her grow into it–or out of it. Who knows? She’s 10.

But I’m not 10 and still, I know what she feels. I’m inspired by the past few years of writing people’s stories and sharing them with the world. The ones that stay with me, though, are the ones about people pursuing passion. Sandy who directs a local hospice and is vehement in sharing her love of life and sharing what life is about through caring for those who are dying and their families.

There’s Brian, who is a rocket scientist–got the bona fides to prove it-who followed his heart and developed a new travel company online that is going to be huge.

Michael, an artist and professor of art who rather motivated an entire university art department to move toward the atelier system and bring back the idea of figurative painting. “Art brings joy,” he says, not interested in the post-modernist 20th century of deconstructed life.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Fitzgerald said, “life is much more successfully looked at from a single window, after all.” He meant it, perhaps sardonically. But there’s truth in there. Passion leads us down a road and necessarily, we turn our backs on others-but passion also gives us the gift of being able to appreciate that there are other windows. That’s why there’s chocolate and vanilla, or something like that.

Onward.

 

 

 

I’m not looking back, but I want to look around…

Forgive the Rush lyric headline…The summer officially ends for me this evening. Tomorrow, I head back in to start year 21 as a public school English teacher. It’s hard to believe. Where did the time go, blah blah blah.

But the time did go and in many ways, because of my teaching career, I can rather easily mark the passing of years because they have definitive start points. The school year, as artificial as it is, has a kind of rhythm to it and the happy coincidence of Peanut’s spring birthday means that if I rather start counting in late March, I can see the past 10 years of her life in clear, concise and chronological order.

This is a year of real change, perhaps more so than last year. I can remember writing that I felt “change was coming” last year and that “new things were happening” and they have. I’m a working and busy freelance writer and journalist and I’m following my own passion, my own dream even while working to help my daughter pursue hers. There’s something to that, too….

I remember before Peanut was born that I would stress over the idea of having a child-not because I didn’t want to be a dad, I did for the most part. But I was worried that having a child would “get in the way” of my pursuing a writing career while teaching. I feared there wouldn’t be enough time.

Au contrer..

In fact, what I have found is that being a family guy has allowed me a kind of freedom to pursue these things I didn’t know I had. There is quite simply a driving force, a muse, even, to get the work done, to put myself out there. Without a child, I’d think, “eh, it can wait till tomorrow.” That’s something I’ve learned being a dad. No, it can’t wait until tomorrow. Tempis fugit and all that (say, I’ve broken into Latin and French in this post).

I’ve written a piece on a new art exhibit here in Ventura County at my alma mater, California Lutheran University and I’ve also got a piece up on a local entrepreneur who is doing something extraordinary in the travel space and I think will do very well.

Read on, gentles.

 

 

Meeting Susan Hart Hellman

It was meant to be a coffee shop meeting to interview someone about whom I was writing an article. I’d pitched the piece to my editor and she accepted. Susan Hart Hellman is going to be teaching a class in writing memoir here in my fair city and the class is being offered through our park district’s senior center. I thought it would make a good preview because it’s a subject a lot of people are interested in.

So, as I do on nearly a daily basis, I packed my press badge and several pens and pencils-I’ve had a streak of bad luck running out of ink recently, so I pack a few pencils in case-my notebook and a few dollars for one of the best Americano’s made in Ventura County at Palermo coffee shop.

Susan got there first and her ready smile and courteous demeanor were enhanced by a kind of elegance that I have imagined all my life writers should have. I don’t have it, by the way. But Susan does. We began talking and instantly, I felt dialed in, connected to our conversation. This was important to me because I’ve been jittery of late with school starting after such a glorious summer and my feeling of connection has been hiding away like a gopher in a hole. With Susan, that connection came back. I’d met a kindred spirit, someone who cared about words the way I do.

She talked a lot about her love of stories. She told me that invariably, as a writing teacher, she hears people say that they cannot think of what to write or where to start. “I can’t turn it off,” she said. “I could write a thousand words about this coffee cup and still think of more.” When she said that, it sent chills up my spine. It wasn’t because I just agreed with her, it’s that I understood her. I know what she meant. I’ve had many cups of coffee I could write about endlessly, like the one I drank the morning I experienced my first wine hangover or the one I drank as I drove to Paso Robles at 8:00 in the morning on my way to interview a legendary winemaker who agreed to sit down for an interview. Words are important to Susan. They’re important to me.

She told me wonderful stories about her grandparents who were in the circus, on Vaudeville and in the USO. She knows that whatever started her writing, that had to be part of it. She related how her daughter is now a writer, too-and how she remembers when the girl was very young, she’d come to her mother’s furnished attic writing room and sit quietly, watching her mother tap away at stories. “It got into her,” Susan said.

My mother was a writer. She even wrote a column for our local paper in Illinois when I was growing up. My father was and is a reader. He writes beautifully, but he doesn’t do it very often. He turns a phrase very well, though and I have strong memories of some of the letters he’s written me over the years when we moved apart from each other. I don’t remember sitting by either of their sides as they wrote-but I remember early on being fascinated by stories, the earliest of which I still remember was the Three Billy-Goats Gruff, a fairy-tale picture book. We were on a road trip and my brothers read their Hardy Boys books, ticking off the chapters they read, proud of their accomplishment. I remember looking at the page numbers of the Billy Goats and saying I was on chapter 9 or 10 and so on. My mom had to work hard to correct the notion that a page wasn’t a chapter, but she did so with patience, all the while telling me how proud she was that I was reading.

Susan brought much of that out and back to me. In a moment, I was awash in the memory of mononucleosis in Massachusetts at 18 years old. A Best Western Motel room was home while my father worked and we waited for our condo to be readied, and I stayed in to recuperate. He brought me a typewriter and I wrote stories, scads of them, pages and volumes. I wrote about a U.S. Navy destroyer in San Diego, CA that caught fire and the local fire crew that came to risk their lives to secure explosive ammunition and save the docks. I was living with my dad 3000 miles from my friends and my mom because my parents’ marriage exploded. The damage was done, I was just trying to put out the fire and see that nothing else exploded.

I wrote about spaceships being designed to take nuclear weapons into outer space to get rid of them and I wrote about airline pilots who flew above it all, relying on their skill and the design of the craft they flew to bring people safely home. None of the stories are memorable to anyone else, perhaps. But I can see the crisp white paper like clean sheets on a sterile hotel bed, with the watermark and the uneven ink pattern of the electric typewriter’s imperfect letters spilling onto it. I can see the yellow manilla folders I carried the stories around in and how they led to something more tangible than just the stories themselves. I’d crafted something, built it from the ground up if you will, prepared, organized, created, executed and then held it in my hands. Writing is tangible to me. Writing feels like something.

And to this day, everything’s a story. My daughter’s life is a story and her passion for horses and for the ocean are stories. My wife’s health scares are a story and her triumphant fighting to conquer them is a story as is my love for her and my memory of the 18-year old girl I saw sitting in the Pierce College cafeteria in 1984, asking my friend, Keith, “who’s that?”

And now, meeting Susan Hart Hellman is a story. Thanks, Susan.

Onward.

Passions

The summer is drawing near an end and it makes me sad. This was one of those grand summers, one that Peanut will remember for a very long time-with travel and Uncle Doug and Aunt Katy’s wedding, two new states-Oregon and Washington-and this week, the added bonus of a week long class in horse camp.

The child is becoming a natural and, of course, it makes her mother and I both proud. We just wish she could have made us proud doing something that cost a little less. But, finding a passion is a good thing and we’ll figure something out, I’m sure. Least-wise, I cannot see telling her she cannot ride anymore. She loves it and talks about it constantly and what’s more-she’s good at it.

I’ve spent a couple of hours back in the classroom setting up for the fall. Getting photocopies made, cleaning up, making sure everything works-making plans for the student newspaper. All of it takes a bit of time, but a lot less than it used to. I find that I can do about 2 hours a day this week in the classroom and get everything I need to get done–and then come back and delve into story-writing, interviewing and pitching.

I did a late-night last night and burned the candle for a while, finishing up two pieces I needed to get done. Unfortunately, I drank an Americano in the afternoon around 4 and that beautiful drink that I have come to love so much, kept me awake until after midnight. Thing is, I had to be up at 6:30. I’m lacking a little–but it’s good to get used to it because it will happen again during the school year.

Election season shouldn’t be starting yet, but it is–courtesy of a feckless, incompetent President whose every move makes things worse. My pal Marc, a true socialist (or he was at one time) disagrees with me, I know. And I have a lot of friends on the left. But I’m now very comfortable with just about anybody for President and anytime I hear anyone say, “Oh my gosh, Michelle Bachman is awful. She’s worse than Palin…” Or “Sarah Palin is an idiot. She’s not smart enough or experienced enough…” Or “Mitt Romney is….” Or “Rick Perry…” I simply respond by saying, “Yeah, totally. Give me four more years of Obama. Look how well things are going. It’s great isn’t it?”

No response.

Or a tepid one. Bottom line? Keynesian economics don’t work. Time to put that silliness out of our misery.

OK-no more politics for a while, I promise. Sort of.

Good night gentles.

Of Air Races and Music

The weekend was a good one. Carpinteria’s beach, aside from having the “world’s safest beach” moniker, is simply beautiful. We rent a house there from a friend of ours and it’s a block from said safe beach. I even slid into a wetsuit and boogie-boarded out in the waves, though I have to confess–putting on a black wetsuit and fins simply makes me feel like I’m ringing the dinner bell for the sharks. Yes, I know…chances are and all that. But, well–it does happen. So, I’ll continue my uneasy relationship with the Pacific Ocean if you don’t mind.

Perhaps second best to escaping with the family up to the beach house was that I got to cover the Air Show at Camarillo Airport. That assignment led to a chance meeting with Bud Holecheck and Richard Johnston. Both are in their mid to late 80’s and both are WWII vets who flew in the 428th Squadron of the 474th Fighter group. The story I wrote for the paper is here. The story on the airshow itself is here. The second one has the added caveat of the Federal govt. being intrusive and cumbersome again. Best line by the President of the Ultiamte Air Race Championship flying team, which the FAA refused to allow to perform, was cut from the piece. Gary Thomason, the president of UARC said, “We were stonewalled by the FAA. We’d done due diligence. They just wanted to exercise some power, so they did…”

I spoke to the two of them for nearly an hour. They were delightful and as long as I didn’t interrupt a passing fly-by of a Stearman or the F8F Bearcat, they seemed OK. Johnston was fascinating. He was shot down by anti-aircraft fire in February of ’45. He was a P.O.W., a guest of the Nazi’s until Patton’s army came up into Germany from the south. Johnston watched as Patton’s jeep crashed through the gates of the camp he was in and the man himself jumped out of the jeep and yelled, “this place stinks!”Johnston said, “He didn’t get that we’d all been there, some of us for a year or more, and we weren’t taking showers or changing clothes very often.”

They talked about the P-38 with such a split vision of both how powerful and fine an aircraft it was to fly and the sheer terror they felt when they saw anti-aircraft fire light up below them. “I got scared every time we went into do a strafing run,” Holecheck said.
Meanwhile, my piece in Ventana Magazine is up on house concerts in Ventura County. Fun interviews, but I’m more interested in the September issue’s story which is on stone as a building material. It was fascinating and will be the cover story for the magazine next month.

Thanks for

Summer’s End…

Sleep has been in short supply. Not sure of the reason, though I suspect it is because of the life-changing vacation/writing spree I took to Northern California and Oregon. I’m home and so, I’m thinking about teacher prep and that’s not what I wanted. Ah…the joy.

I’m actually not home and I’m feeling guilty. The girls are with me, but Simon isn’t and Simon looked so sad when we left today. He’s a people dog–loves to be with people and he doesn’t like it when we leave him. Today, I was back at the house and played with him but for the first time in a long time, I didn’t walk him because I’d worked all day and was nursing a migraine before I came back to Carpinteria.

Still, the beach has been wonderful and Doug and his wife Katy have joined us for a couple of nights of saying so long to summer. What a summer it has been.

I’m ready to turn in, gentles. Good night.

It’s the Simple things…

My childhood memory in California is flecked with bits of wondrous joy and banal familial destruction. My parents’ divorce happened when I graduated high school and it was a painful time-but a necessary one, I suppose. We all have our various crosses to bear and all that.

But before all of that, in the first few years of moving to California in the mid to late 70’s, I remember the economy wasn’t so grand and my parents were looking for a vacation that wouldn’t break the bank. So, they packed my brothers and I up and off we went to the desert–to Bishop, California over Labor Day weekend for Mule Days. We actually stayed in Lone Pine at a Best Western Motel that is still there. I know because I drove by it last October on my way to Mammoth Mountain for a Men’s retreat with my church.

The culminating event of the weekend was the rodeo in Bishop and I remember it precisely because it wasn’t something I was used to. Yes, I had been a child of the Midwest–but Chicago, not Nebraska. We were suburban city folk and rodeos weren’t something I knew. Until then.

And I remember it precisely because it was fun and interesting and new and the people who were working the rodeos called me “young man” and “sir” and things like that. I remember their friendly smiles and the smell of the cattle and the bulls and the stuff that made a rodeo a rodeo.

So, when I got the assignment to cover the rodeo at the Ventura County Fair today. I was reminded of that special time in my young life. I was transported back to 12 years old and the breezy cool desert evening that kicked up wind and the smell of horse, cattle and popcorn all rolled into one. I was reminded of walking through the dirt parking lot to the grandstands, the salute to the U.S. flag and to the men and women, as tough then as they are now and I watched childlike from the announcer’s stand this time, taking notes and talking to cowboys and girls, looking at fierce horses and bulls and watching as the moment turned into a time machine and I was transported back to 1977.

The story I wrote is here.

A few images of today’s rodeo:

That's "Hollywood and Boogerhead" aka Cliff and Brinson Harris. Father and son rodeo clowns who travel the US together on the rodeo circuit.

Noble beast, yes? He was friendly for at least a few moments.

The flag was parachuted in and all of these people grabbed it before it hit the ground. They then took it, stretched it out and a young girl sang the National Anthem. I don't care what you say--Patriotism is a beautiful thing.

 

 

The Hammer Speaks…correctly.

I have long admired Charles Krauthammer’s writing. Today’s (or last night’s) piece in the National Review is one more reason why. It’s absolutely spot on. I’ve spoken with several people about the current political stirrings and some of them, friends of mine, say how broken the system is. Nonsense. The system works and works well. And if Barack Obama is slowly losing the argument, that’s because he’s slowly losing the country. He’s in over his head, he’s incompetent and when he loses, he whines about it. It’s unbecoming of a President. One term. That’s all.

Phlogging the Vay-K.

Returned this evening from a long working vacation that took us up to Sonoma and then to the Oregon coast and then a quick few hours into the Dundee Hills Oregon wine country.

Brother Doug’s wedding was on July 30 up at Buena Vista winery in Sonoma and we spent from the 28th through August 1 there in Sonoma. It was a lovely wedding, folks. The surrounding winery, the vineyards and the old oak trees waving in the evening breeze as Doug and Katy said their vows while the sun went down. It’s a persistent memory and one I will cherish a long time.

Peanut and her cousin, brother Jerry’s daughter were in the wedding and they were pictures of innocent elegance. It was such a blessing to be a part of that.

Shannon (Peanut) was in her glory as the sort of junior bridesmaid/senior flower girl. She got to be in charge of her cousin and Katy’s nephew, who was the ring bearer. She was so happy being given all of that responsibility and she saw it through. It was a real treat.

One of my favorite images of the whole trip is this one, just before the wedding, of my beautiful Sue and Peanut together at Buena Vista winery. Those smiles are the authentic summer-time, “we’re on vacation and having a blast” smiles that adorned our faces for nearly the entire 11 days.

I’m not going to go through everything as it would take a lot of time to post and much of the writing I have to do is about wines and wineries, some of which is up now at enobytes–and the rest will follow at winefox later this month.

Allow me instead to phlog and caption below:

My favorite image I shot of the wedding as the happy couple prepares to leave in a classic car. I think it captured the joy of the time and all of the family and friends that were there mid-party mode.

We drove out to Bodega Bay on Saturday before the wedding just to get a glimpse. I took this at a pier near a seafood restaurant that had great chowder.

A deer peers above the brush as we hiked down to the Pt. Cabrillo light house in Fort Bragg, CA.

Pt. Cabrillo lighthouse. I have a ton of pics of it. I chose this one to get a sense of all the land around it.

A great rock formation-sandstone, I suppose-north of Fort Bragg overlooking the North Pacific Ocean.

Peanut in a redwood trunk as we explored and got a really nice long look at the North Coast redwood forests near the Oregon border.

Redwoods. Tall. Need I say more?

A real highlight of the trip was Newport, OR where we walked on the beach right outside our hotel-a special plug for Best Western Hotels--great. Absolutely great--and I took probably two dozen images of this lighthouse.

It doesn't seem like much-but that's Aunt Laurie taking a pic of P.-but, it's in Vancouver, WA. We were in Portland for the wine writing I was doing and so for dinner, crossed the Columbia river and ate dinner in Washington, giving P. a chance to be in her fourth state in the U.S.

 

Vineyards in the Dundee Hills. These belong to the Four Graces winery about whom I'll be writing for Winefox.ca.