Pilgrim, Part Two

I wasn’t locked into 30 miles, you know. I mean, I wasn’t married to it. Thirty just was the distance Google gave me for my walk from home to church. It just turned out that way. If it had been 25 miles, I wouldn’t have stretched it for the big Three-Oh.

But it was 30, or 29.8 to be exact, and with a couple of minor retraces (once I went in the wrong direction for a minute or so; another time I realized I’d dropped my phone charging cord and went back to retrieve it), so with that and various sweeps through parking lots to stay away from traffic I ended up with 30-1/2 miles.

Of note: After years of technical wordsmithing, I’m well aware that the U.S. stands alone with its customary units, as obstinate as we are (used to be that Liberia and Sierra Leone were the other non-metric users, although that appears to have changed. And there are variations within the British imperial system, if colloquial and minor). So when discussing distance, for example, in miles or segments of miles, we use fractions, not decimals. When I see someone write, “2.5 miles” I shudder from nerd alert.

So it wasn’t about a number. It was about finishing. You get that.

And I wasn’t married to that, either. The safety valve in this long day was that an injury or other situation that kept me from going on was a spouse with a car, never too far away. If I had to, I could stop.

I hit the willingness wall at 25 miles, then. There was gas in the tank, although I was out of water and getting thirsty. I wasn’t in the desert, just wandering past businesses and private homes and the occasional school, all of which had water, I assume. It just wasn’t that bad, yet. A dry mouth.

I could still pick up my feet and put one in front of the other, though, and even straighten my posture and pick up my speed. But I sat on the curb on a busy street, cars whizzing by at 50 six inches from my toes, and I stared at the hill I was required to climb, and I momentarily gave up. I texted my wife.

But she was in the middle of a celebratory dinner, and as they worked it out for a minute, who at the table was willing to leave and pick me up, I decided that I had come far but not far enough. And the longer I sat, the stiffer I’d get, so I stared at that hill and decided I’d at least see what was on the other side.

Turned out there was a grocery store, and I got hydrated, and that made the difference. I dropped my speed and tried not to look at the distance left, which would have been a nice walk on an ordinary day, but then. This wasn’t ordinary.

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Moreover, you must walk like a camel which is said to be the only beast which ruminates when walking. When a traveller asked Wordsworth’s servant to show him her master’s study, she answered “Here is his library, but his study is out of doors.” – Henry David Thoreau.

“Ruminate” comes from the Latin verb ruminari, which essentially means to chew over, like a cow and his cud. Take it in, then wrestle with it for a while. This is rumination. This is walking. This is me.

Thomas Jefferson was adamant. “Walking is the best possible exercise,” he wrote. “Habituate yourself to walk very far.” I’m not a particular fan of Jefferson in a historical sense, as he saw his future country as agrarian, a land of self-sufficient farmers, an apt philosophy from a solitary man who preferred thinking and reading. He was a conservative, if only in that simplistic way we try to connect centuries of political labels and thinking. It’s not a good match, not with today, and I prefer his arch-enemy, Hamilton, at least a little, when it comes to visionary republicanism (and no one had vision like Franklin), but we could say that he mastered a simple life, if bordering on luxurious (although, as with other Founders, particularly Washington and as opposed to Franklin), he carried a lot of debt through his later years, maintaining his lifestyle.

He ate sparingly and was a modern nutritionist’s dream, a semi-vegetarian who tolerated a little meat but mostly fruits and vegetables. He eschewed tobacco, the crop that made America and that he grew, and drank weak wine at dinner, which he enjoyed but kept in its place. As he did his teeth.

And he walked, daily rambling his estate, letting his mind go where it went.

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I’ve run. Running is different. Biking is fun, and fast, but tricky and dangerous, and lends itself (from my limited observation) to a seriousness that doesn’t look appealing. Plenty of exceptions to that, but I like following Jefferson’s advice and letting my observations guide my mind. Thirty miles of walking will give you stuff to think about.

I listened to a couple of podcasts, one of which was fascinating and the other more resembling prattle I wish I hadn’t overheard, but mostly it was me and mine. I walked through neighborhoods I’d never see, not in a million years, and took in sights I would have whizzed by in a car.

And, eventually, I remembered. Even as a boy, I wanted to wander. I didn’t, not really, but I thought about it, gazed at hills stretching away from the highway on long family trips and imagined walking over them, to see what was next. I’d forgotten that boy, and so that was a benefit, a little reminder of who and what I was, and what I thought about way back when.

A lot of it was pedestrian, too, if you’ll forgive that, ordinary and necessary. Checking the map. Watching for cars. Stopping to sit on a bench or curb, long enough to rest a minute and post an update, then back to the road. There was plenty of time spent just negotiating with a world that moves a lot faster than a walking human, waiting at stoplights, looking both ways, staring down drivers who got too close.

But there were other things, covering my bases of rumination. Some were observational, particularly as I walked through Rich People Land (they walk their dogs very stylishly), and of course the sunshine made the beauty pop. I live in a great place.

There were other things, but this is getting long and I’m still ruminating. I walked to a church because that’s where my ride was, so it wasn’t a pilgrimage, but then of course it was. This is a home for me, a place and people I love, people who laugh and sing and then serve, not as a golden ticket to heaven but because that’s what you do when you laugh and sing. You want everyone to.

But I’d still call it sacred, or at least in the neighborhood, and I was grateful. Nine years ago I was dying, lost in my own screwed-up psychology and biology and sociology, addicted and sour and completely disconnected from The Other.

And I walked 30 miles the other day, as I told a few people, because sometimes I need to do something that’s hard, because sometimes when I’m confused and a little lost it helps. Just so I can say, if you can do this, you can do anything. It’s something I’ve repeated several times since 2006, and I hope a few more times to come. It was about the future, then, and also the past.

I didn’t get unlost. I just got a chance to see where I had been, where I started, what battles I found myself in and which ones are to come, and to know that on this particular day, I won.

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Pilgrim, Part One

You can’t miss Lake Washington if you look at a map of the Puget Sound area. It divides Seattle from the communities of Bellevue and Kirkland on the east. It’s narrow, as lakes go, freshwater and fed by a couple of rivers on each end, with two famous bridges crossing from west to east and vice-versa. It’s 22 miles long, although even though I walked the length I didn’t cover that distance completely (which would have meant walking on water).

And the Chinook name for it, if slangy, is Hyas Chuck. I will leave it at that, even if I ponder.

There are some things about taking that long walk, covering a range of thoughts and odd ideas, including a history and a philosophy, but honestly I’m tired today. Legs are a little sore and my body feels it otherwise in terms of physical exhaustion. It’s a gorgeous day today (as it was yesterday, except today started off with sunshine and the temps will rise even more, although moderately; meaning pushing 80 at my house, warmer in the south Sound).

So before I get into aboriginal practices, long essays by Thomas Jefferson and Henry David Thoreau on the self-actualization achieved by walking, my personal journey on all levels, and how many errors I made (carrying only 2 liters of water, knowing there would be stores along the way, and then entering a long stretch without such stores, leaving me moderately dehydrated as I started at my long uphill climb to get to my final destination), I may stick with a few trivial moments today and otherwise take a nap.

One is that my legs are stiff, but not particularly. Getting better as I move around. I’ll be fine.

Also, I had a Diet Pepper when I finally got some liquid, just on a whim, and I enjoyed it (I never drink Diet Dr. Pepper, or regular Dr. Pepper, or any sugary soda; I like water and carbonated nothing, meaning some Splenda and carmel coloring, sometimes a little caffeine). I just felt like it. Not bad. Maybe it was the rediscovery of how special Dr. Pepper is. But without the sugar.

Not trusting myself to get sucked into a fast food place and feeling sluggish, I went with my default energy choice, which was trail mix (nuts and raisins, and yes, an occasional M&M. Seriously, you would deny me a couple of M&Ms?). Whether the mix or plain nuts, they provide plenty of calories for a day, if on the light side, and always work fine, keeping me feeling energetic and light on my feet.

Although after a couple of handfuls, I felt fine and it wasn’t until I was in my store-less area that I realized eating nuts without something to wash it down was a bad idea. And I was doing OK, all things considered.

I don’t need to mention the obvious, but walking is an eye-opener just in terms of geography. I saw things I’ll never catch from a car window, including this beautiful Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, right in the middle of nowhere, with a lovely building and grounds. I wanted to hang around, in fact, but places to go, people to see…

St Paul

As I anticipated, the last six or so miles were brutal, with steep climbs up the hill toward the church. As I crossed I-405 and headed up, I looked at that hill and gave up. I texted my wife (who was at a last-choir-of-the-season dinner in a restaurant) that I wouldn’t make it, but I was sitting on a curb on a treacherous road, cars zooming downhill a foot or so from my feet, so by the time I heard from her I was back on my way, saved by a grocery store a mile up the hill, where I procured my Dr. Pepper. Sat on a bench and downed it, then made the final 2-1/2 miles, slowly but steadily.

And at the end, around the corner from the church as I trudged my way there, the remaining choir members, our pastor, and our other pastors (we’ve got lots) stood on the street, taking pictures and singing, “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow.” I mean. Love spills out of that building and does amazing things. It may water the lawn.

One more observation: I think most of us know that pedestrians and bikers face a constant threat from cars, either driven by thoughtless, unaware, or just mean people. I don’t bike but I completely get it.

But on a trail, no cars, just bikes and walkers, of which I was on several? Total asshats, the bikers. Only one shouted “Left!” as he came from behind me. The rest whizzed by, 6 inches from me, needing only a stumble on my part to cause much pain and grief.

I personally know bikers and trust that this is not them. But they may be the only non-assholes for all I know. It was probably the scariest part.

As for the rest, the silliness of a 56-year-old man taking a 30-hike just to do it, not for the exercise but for the experience? Some thoughts as they come, but not today. Today needs rest.

The scale was down 6-1/2 pounds this morning, by the way, but then I ate very little. Statistically, I lost a little less than 2 pounds if you look at the calorie expenditure/intake, but you can’t do that every day, not if you want to do something else. And not if there are bikers around.

So more later.

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Tomorrowland

I think I could explain this. I think.

But it would get a little hairy. I’d start tossing out subjects like Dwight Stones and Franz Mesmer, animal magnetism, “On The Road,” John Bunyan, Robert Kennedy, and God. Also maybe “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” a little Tom Robbins, and SodaStream. It would be typical me stuff.

So here’s the deal: I like to walk, particularly fairly long walking, an hour at least and preferably 90 minutes. Occasionally a longer and usually more challenging one. I’ve been doing it for 8 years now and haven’t shut up about it since.

But then you have your yoga, or your cooking, or your bike rides. This is my thing. It unravels me, sometimes, string by string, until all that’s left is sweat, serenity, and some guilt-free ice cream.

And I thought about a super-long walk a lot. The right day, the right weather, the right arrangements. The right willingness.

Other things are in play, too, but that’s maybe for later. Since my wife works at church in Renton (30 miles from our house) on Wednesday afternoons, then holds choir practice in the evening, and this Wednesday had nice to very nice weather expected, low 70s, maybe some morning clouds, and I see nothing on the schedule, I thought, maybe.

Still maybe, too. I could decide to abort, or postpone. But my default position is go, and I think I’ll head out at 9am for a 30-mile crazy idea. Maybe a quixotic goal, maybe a personal challenge, maybe a cry for help. I say we vote. But later.

Easy first leg, as I did a dry run on Monday of that. Head toward Alderwood Mall, then cross the bridge over I-5 on 196th, then down Poplar through Lynnwood and the outskirts of Mountlake Terrace into Kenmore, where I pick up the Burke-Gilman trail at the northern shore of Lake Washington.

Veer off the B-G when it heads east and I go south, through Kirkland and Bellevue, nice, green, quiet roads (thank you, Google Street View), parks, and nice views of the lake.

At the 24-mile mark, I turn east and head up Coal Creek Parkway, probably the brutal leg, six miles to church and most of that uphill. Heartbreak not ruled out.

Or not. I could do it another day.

Or I could explain that animal magnetism does not mean what you think it means.

Options, options.

Which is sort of the point. Narrow those options. Head off in one direction, aware that the first 10 miles are mildly boring, mostly neighborhoods, and turning around at that point means more boredom and at the end, 20 miles to end up back home. I think with every mile, my options get more limited, which I like.

My left foot has some twinges this morning, which is concerning but probably nothing. Otherwise, I’m off on a pilgrimage on a free day.

This is not a test of myself. I have no interest in running a marathon, or running at all. Ditto for age-bracket-based triathlete competitions, etc. I don’t want to walk across the country. I don’t want to set any records, as if I could.

I just want to walk a long way, to see what happens, and then see what tomorrow looks like.

walk

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No Blanche Dubois Here

Nodding in the general direction of Tennessee Williams, I’ve always depended on the kindness of friends. Strangers are good, too, but the intimacy of long friendships gives me some solace. These impromptu lunches and coffees are keeping me in the outside world, while my inside world stays confused.

The freelance (read that: Content provider) market has become overloaded with English majors and people who just retain sentence structure from somewhere, although nothing exciting. Technical, press releases, blogging anonymously for various sites: This was a fall-back position for me, when I couldn’t find something solid and parttime that paid well and gave me the flexibility that drives all this uncertainty, but it’s saturated and a young world, anyway.

————

Family caregivers know all about this, and I’ve spoken of this often, but I started working at home, in this house, 13 months before my son was born. He’s never known a dad who wasn’t there, usually in the next room, comfort by proximity. And in this phase of his life, he needs a proactive parent, along with a chauffer to his various appointments. Eyeing poorly paid but solid positions in fields I could probably find a job would mean several hours of commuting as well as landing in cubicle land.

The social aspect of that is a plus, at least. But I have trouble picturing how it work. In the summer, sure; JK is not teaching and I could pull that off.

In the meantime, I’m supported by people who may or may not have trouble grasping my peculiar life situation, while I try to brush up on all my MS Office Suite skills (when’s the last time I used Power Point, other than to mess around? Probably that would be never), along with possibly coming up to reasonable skill on SQL database management, something I barely understood a decade ago but seems a useful skill.

—————–

In the meantime, I’m still working on producing my audio book, which I’m pleased with but done here in my makeshift recording studio, which involves a lot of noise-absorbing quilts (thanks to my wife’s relatives) and trying to trick my brain into reading the words on the page, and not rewriting as I speak. Then there’s the sound quality, which is fine for me but interrupted by the planes that nearly brush my roof as they land at Paine Field, a mile away. Sunshine and longer days means private pilots are taking advantage, and a plane (and leafblowers and string trimmers and even the lawnmowers) make clean sound a challenge. It’s taking a while (I had to restart, noticing distortion only after I’d recorded half the book), and I have no idea how many listen to audio books, but I’m up to the job. It’s just the plane, boss.

I’ve not been successful in getting word-of-mouth publicity, but then there are lots of books and not that much time, and sharing a post and writing a blurb sometimes takes more effort when you’re just checking in. No hard feelings. Many nice reviews have come in, for which I’m grateful.

In the meantime, I rewrite resumes, trying to capture an adult life of minimal entrepreneurship and self employment. Three companies I actually worked for — thus establishing a record and recommendations — are defunct, closed, boarded up, at least for the most part. My history has been erased by market forces.

So my friends save me. They offer suggestions, they buy me lunch, they comfort me in a time in which I fight back a growing awareness that spontaneous decisions made for the purpose of earning a few bucks has left me out of the networking loop, and at my age…it’s a bit ugly, but not hopeless. No point in regretting the past, since I seem to be unable to change the past and unwilling to spend the time trying.

————-

But there’s sunshine, and I attended a wedding on Saturday between two young-ish (I have no skill with ages, but they seem like young adults) women who started attending our church a while back. I was absent during a solid year from church, needing Sunday mornings for work stuff, but I’ve grown to appreciate them from a distance and they invited the whole church, along with families. Plus food and dancing.

I refuse to dance, thinking it unbecoming of the aging male unless he’s really into ballroom classes (Richard Gere, J.Lo, Susan Sarandon: I should watch that again, just for the fun and growth that comes by just learning how to tango).

SHALL WE DANCE?, Jennifer Lopez, Richard Gere, 2004, (c) Miramax
SHALL WE DANCE?, Jennifer Lopez, Richard Gere, 2004, (c) Miramax

But we danced, my wife and I, as hesitant as I was, and discovered a little joy in movement together. The music was fun, the atmosphere lively, and I can twinkle-toes from time to time. It has to be the right song.

Joy, once again. Find it, embrace it, dance to it. Encourage your friends to friend you, and take up their invitations. Search for answers. Try to get the words to start coming again, and ponder how stressful it would or would not be to be a shuttle driver somewhere (I can drive, and the pay is probably dismal, but the socialization aspects are intriguing). But there’s something else that might need SQL.

In the meantime, back to the recording, back outside to walk in the sunshine, cut back the morning glory, run the lawnmower over my well-trimmed grass, maybe dig out a few more flowerbeds…I’m not retired, can’t, won’t, don’t see the point, can’t afford it, but it’s fun to pretend some days.

And all shall be well, as my wife says, and I trust my wife. I might amend that to say, “Some things shall be well,” but I suspect she’s right all along.

There was a strange run of random memories yesterday that led me to wonder whatever happened to David Hartman, the former actor and then original host of “Good Morning, America,” who served in that role as a steady, calming baritone presence. He quit after a decade or so, and he either died or retired or did something else, so I googled and found his Wikipedia page on a whim.

On the day of his 80th birthday, as it turned out. Strange. I have no idea. Just a weird coincidence, but the universe is expanding and maybe I’m picking up that vibe.

That, and the affirmation I’ve gotten from the few book readers and those who’ve had peeks at Winning Dad make me wonder if the universe is just being playful, of which I approve, and about which I think, all shall be well and am starting to believe.

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Poor Me

It’s no secret, or at least to my son and sometimes my wife, and perhaps other sensitive people, that I’ve been depressed.

This isn’t a surprise. First, people get depressed, and for those of us who’ve wrestled with it most of our lives, this is pretty minor. A little bummed. A little stasis. Too much time sitting, not enough moving, you get it.

And for good reason, which happens with depression: Sometimes you get sad for legitimate causes. Grief would be one. Transmission problems possibly another.

I have a good reason. Much of my income suddenly disappeared, and I’ve been here before, as I held on to part-time work I could do from home, so fast and efficiently that the pay was good, at least on an hourly basis. I’ve subcontracted from companies that lost contracts overnight, on at least two occasions being really the last one left, closing up shop.

And none was surprising. It was stupid work but, again: It paid bills and allowed me to do what I need to, which is be home as the caretaker of a disabled child, one who is much more independent and adult now, but still would be making slow if any progress if he had to stay home alone every day, only occasionally wandering down the block to volunteer at the animal shelter. And I usually drive him there, the typical Asperger’s muscle tone issue causing him some distress for the walk, particularly in the rain.

And it allows me to write, which pays but not as much as the occasional reader seems to think.

I mentioned casually the other day that I needed a brain trust, people who knew me and what I could do, just some creative thinking on where I go next. There were plenty of good ideas, all of which required enough education that I’d arrive, with luck and some way to pay the tuition, prepared to start a new career at around the age of 60. That’s certainly possible, but not in the areas these kind people were suggesting.

This is nothing new. I understood long ago that I’d probably be creating my own jobs for the duration. I just am at a slow spot.

In the meantime, my book still dribbles out sales, most of them Kindle versions these days, which is great but not so much in the way of royalties (as I mentioned on Facebook the other day, I love e-books but see no reason to price them anywhere the cost of the paperback. So a Kindle or two every day, with a royalty per of around 3 bucks; call it $100 or so a month. Not helping with the mortgage).

Again, the depression is mild, and I have a couple of wild ideas that who knows? Maybe. Or maybe I stock shelves somewhere in the middle of the night, so I can be here during the day.

And ideas are always welcome. But you have to know what I can and can’t do.

At any rate, it was time to get started recording the audio book version of Learning to Walk, because some people like audio books. I’ve set up a makeshift recording studio, deadening most sound except for the occasional plane.

And my neighbor, who leaves town a lot and so hired a guy to mow his lawn every couple of weeks, come rain or shine, winter or summer. I’m not crazy about the job he does, but it’s not my lawn.

But it is my recording, and after struggling through four chapters, maybe a little too monotonous and with some technical issues that I needed to learn, I was on a roll until that lawnmower cranked up. It’s not that good of a recording set-up to drown out that gas-powered engine (I myself use an electric, quiet and spewing nothing into the atmosphere aside from blades of grass). So today I buckle down again.

And unless I’ve seriously underestimated the audio book market, this isn’t going to do it either.

There’s plenty of time to write, too, and it may be time to entertain an idea about a series of comic novels, which why not? Turn out one every three months, focus on e-books…lots of people do. Romance is big. Erotic is pretty big. Neither of these are in my wheelhouse, really, except for being romantic and I seem to remember something about sex. It’s a little faint. But I could probably manage comedy.

I’ve donated to quite a few GoFundMe projects, but these are for people with health problems or suddenly unemployed, needing help to tide them over. I’ve seen some success here, but GoFundMe isn’t an option. My wife is employed, we’re not starving, and if come August and September suddenly the utility companies get aggressive, we’ll deal with that as we can. Come November we’re back on a reasonable basis, and we tend to be frugal, and are working on food (biggest expense after the medical bills and other basic bills).

Then there’s the house, in a seller’s market up here, still nowhere near underwater as much as we used our equity to stay afloat and out of bankruptcy court (which would do us little good at this point, since it mostly seems useful for credit card debt, which we don’t have. And I take unreasonable pride in my credit score that is way above 800, for some strange reason; I’m guessing lack of credit card debt and paying my bills on time, really).

We hate this house. It’s home, and familiar, but it’s sort of falling apart. I figure we need at least $50,000 to get it ready for market, which still might net us a fair amount of equity but this updated, overborrowed mortgage is what we’d pay to rent even a smaller place, and then there’s the tax break, perhaps a questionable allowance but one we take gratefully. Also, I don’t have the 50 grand.

None of this is anyone’s fault except mine and some misbehaving tumors, but I could have gambled away the family fortune on blackjack and the situation would be the same. Blame is useful as prophylaxis against future mistakes, but it ain’t doing a damn thing for me at the moment.

We’re so much better off than so many others, too. Don’t worry about homeless Sigars.

Or unstocked shelves. That remains a possibility.

In the meantime, though, it’s time to finish this audio book, pop it up on Audible and iTunes, and then get busy in my new career. I’m hoping one shows up soon.

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It Only Hurts When I Live

My first response to hearing the news that Netflix had premiered a new series, a comedy called Grace & Frankie, starring (eponymously and respectively) Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, was irritation. How could Netflix not prominently place this new show, which I assume they hope is successful, right there at the top of my splash screen, a Suggestion For Chuck? I had to look for it, while their algorithms spin out suggestions that look OK, but I only have so much time. A quick human glance at my Netflix viewing habits would suggest, I think, that I have a limited capacity for absorbing new material, considering how many episodes of The Office and Parks & Recreation I’ve watched, but it might also suggest that I’m susceptible to nontraditional situational comedies.

It doesn’t matter. I heard about it, read about it, thought about it, and watched it. Grace & Frankie, that is. The first two episodes. That’s where I am. There are some issues with my wife, who on Mother’s Day seemed determined that this would be something we could watch together, although God knows when she thinks she’ll find the time. It’s fine; I don’t mind watching things twice (see: The Office, above), although after a few decades of my own marriage I think I understand how this will go down on the domestic front: I’ll watch the episodes, then sum them up for her.

But how could I at least not be intrigued? It’s not just the star power (Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston play the male counterparts, although there are complications and “counterparts” is pretty funny), although these are all actors I’ve enjoyed watching in the past and are worth at least a look.

The set-up is mildly interesting, but we may have already outpaced the novelty of a story of two men coming out of the closet in their later years.

In fact, it’s the “later years” aspect that drew my respect, if not attention. Exactly how old the characters are supposed to be hasn’t been established by the two episodes I’ve watched, and actors playing younger is such a convention that we barely notice any discrepancies, but a quick check shows me what I already knew: These four actors are firmly septuagenarians (Fonda is the elder at 77; Tomlin is 75, and both men are 74; all will bump up one year before 2015 closes out).

I’m not surprised at this, just impressed. Happy, too, that these actors can still find some acting to do, although they seem to have been pretty busy anyway.

GF

The story, in case you missed it, is straightforward if a little contrived: Two men, law partners for decades, break the news to their wives (who tolerate their social contract as spouses who must occasionally socialize, but just barely) that not only are they gay, but they’ve been lovers for 20 years and have decided to divorce these two women after 40 years and marry each other.

And we assume that the point of this not-so-cutting-edge storyline is a retread of The Odd Couple, throwing these two disoriented and devastated women together and watching the hilarity ensue. Both play to type, or to a type that feels familiar and comfortable to us: Fonda is the body image-obsessed, high society-finessing wife of a successful man; Tomlin is a hippy, who keeps a supply of peyote (and pot) in the fridge for a special occasion, when she and Sol (Waterston, so far the most interesting character of the bunch) can vision quest together at the beach house the two couples bought together.

Oh, right. And these people are rich.

None of this matters. It’s just a show. I wish it well. I’ll probably watch the remaining eight or so episodes, just to see how it plays out. Lots of good shows out there. I won’t watch most of them.

I’m watching Grace & Frankie because of one line, delivered by Fonda as she stares at her aging face in the mirror, removing her hair extensions and eyelashes absentmindedly, at the end of the evening of truth telling. Her husband, Sheen, tries to communicate, to express understanding of her feelings, to apologize for the pain he’s causing, but she’s nowhere near ready for that (possibly, given her attitude, this might come in season #3, if ever).

“It would have been easier if you’d just died,” she says to him, and there it is.

This isn’t a comedy about social upheaval, or cute older men who are finally true to themselves (although they’re pretty cute a couple of times). This isn’t about marriage equality, or self-actualization, or even about the complications of very long marriages.

This is a comedy about heartbreak, and it doesn’t spare us. Fonda knows she and Sheen didn’t have the romance of the century, but she thought they did OK (did I mention they were rich?). Tomlin beats herself up a little for not processing the signals, but Sol was her best friend.

I can imagine all sorts of stories with a few minor tweaks of this one. Two women, very different, suddenly widowed in their later years, as happens. They make discoveries. They bond. They learn secrets their dead husbands kept, they explore options, they become free at last, free at last. Saddened by loss, but loss is inevitable, particularly if you’re a woman and you’re married to a man. Statistics, etc.

But no. Whatever Grace & Frankie turns out to be, if anything at all (I have no idea if there will be more episodes), the creators have given us a topical, startling, life-altering syllabus for a comedy and they blindside us with pain. Lots and lots of pain.

And laughs, or at least my wife found them. I smiled a little, but I couldn’t help suffering along with these women, and that was my surprise. Death is painful. A later-life divorce, driven by the aging male ego with a young trophy wife on his radar, would be humiliating.

But this? This lights up every emotional pain receptor, and the show doesn’t hide it. The thoughts of forty years’ worth of fraudulent cohabitation are there, but mostly it’s the future that is biting these women, and hard.

You can start things over in your 70s, absolutely. But not everything. Life doesn’t let us. We don’t live long enough. These were couples looking at 10 to maybe 20 years of life left, optimistically, and they had no reason to expect it to wind up any other way. Together. Husbands and wives, friends and partners, houses and children.

I could find myself surprised. I could see some senior citizen self-actualization after all. There may be a lot of laughs, and I’ll be impressed that the writers gave us the hard truth from the beginning, working their way toward humor. There’s always humor.

This show belongs to the women. First, it’s just a matter of talent: Waterston and Sheen are solid actors, but they’re not in the same league as Tomlin and Fonda. It’s going to be up to them. I’ll watch, anyway, to see how or if they pull it off, but it won’t be for lack of chops.

But make no mistake: This is a show about loneliness. Laughter will only help. I suspect it can’t heal.

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The Dance Lesson

This piece has been on my mind lately, anyway. Nothing to do with Mother’s Day. More to do with making a list of things I couldn’t do or do well, and sort of picturing myself dancing.

But mothers were on my mind when I first wrote it, 12 years ago, and I thought I might dust it off. Just so I can remember it again, maybe.

Mom and Blake
Mom with her latest great-grandchild (#3), Blake, born on May 7, 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

———————-

The school year will be over in a few weeks, so soon it’ll be yearbook time.

Let me tell you about yearbooks, you who don’t know, who never cared or else are still too young to realize.  Yearbooks are the most powerful force in the universe.  Yearbooks resist laws of physics.  They laugh at quaint ideas of time and space.  Yearbooks take you back, and they take you fast.  Open your yearbook with caution.  Things are waiting for you there.

My high school senior yearbook is around here somewhere.  I pretend to lose it sometimes, so I don’t have to look at it and my kids can’t find it and laugh at my hair.  But it’s here in my office, under stuff.

It isn’t about pictures.  We have pictures, baby photos and wedding albums.  They can move us, but it’s just reflected light captured on paper, flat and distant.  Reminders.  Yearbooks are alive, because people write in them.  It’s like opening a book to find a pressed flower or dried blood; there’s DNA there, and it can shock us back in time.

We remember who wrote what, and remember exactly when.  I look through my yearbook and read.  Some people I still know.  One I see a lot.  One is dead.  And so on.

And there, in a girlish script, in an ink that still seems sort of phosphorescent, Karen Parinello wrote me a note.  I had a little crush on Karen, not much of anything, and we only dated once.  But she had nice things to say, and then at the end of her message she reached out 27 years into the future to grab onto my soul and shake it.

“P.S.: Thank you for teaching me how to waltz.”

It had been in the spring, a fundraiser for our marching band, who were going to Philadelphia that July to take place in the bicentennial celebration.  They set up in the parking lot of a mall and played music for 24 hours, as I recall; maybe less, but it went on all night.  They played a waltz, and people were dancing, so I asked Karen.  She said she didn’t know how.  I said it was easy, I’d show her.

A few months earlier, I’d auditioned for a part in our school play.  I thought I had a good chance, except for that dancing thing.  As the saying goes, I had two left feet and the right one wasn’t so hot, either.  The choreographer tried to teach me a waltz, and I heard snickering in the wings.

I came home late that night to find my mother waiting up for me, as usual.  I told her my frustrations, my inadequacy and my failure.  I said I was going to give up.

She put down the book she’d been reading, and she told me things only a mother knows.  She recited my entire history, problems I’d encountered and overcome, solutions I’d found, answers I’d discovered.  She told me what I’d done and what I might possibly do, and then she went over to the stereo and put on music, and for 40 minutes or so my mother danced with me.

The yearbook is messing with my mind again.  Suddenly I’m on the outside, looking in.   I stand on the street and watch through the window as they dance around the living room.  He is 17 and she is 39.  She has work in the morning and he has life waiting for him, but for a while she teaches him how to waltz.  ONE, two three, ONE, two, three.

I got the part, and if Mom took some credit for that she never said a word.  ONE, two, three.

I’ve told her this all before, with some of the same words.  She probably thinks I’m recycling my life for publication.  I am, I am.  ONE, two, three.

But I’m telling it to you now, because this Sunday is Mother’s Day and it’s not too late.  I know, I know.  It’s a Hallmark Holiday, and reeks of legislated emotion and forced confessions.  Of course I love my mother.  Why should I have to tell her every May because you say I should?

Because I don’t do it enough, is why.  And I don’t say thank you nearly enough, either.

So, thanks, Mom.  Thanks for teaching me to tie my shoes.  Thanks for making my lunches.  Thanks for giving me your recipes.  Thanks for teaching me to love music and theater.

Thanks for making me wash the dishes and clean my room.  Thanks for loving my children.  Thanks for sharing your memories.  Thanks for teaching me how to make tacos.

Thanks for being cold and aloof to me when I was rude and thoughtless to you.  Thanks for showing me that common courtesy starts with your family, or it never starts.

Thanks for showing me all the things I could do, if only I’d remember the things I’ve already done.

And P.S.: Thank you for teaching me how to waltz.  It was just one of many moments, but some of those are still alive, like the writing in a yearbook.  We are still dancing, I am still learning to believe, you are still teaching me, and looking back at my life I’m still convinced that has made all the difference.

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What Feels Like A Win

You’re 15 years old, and you sign your name on a clipboard, and eventually it’s called, your carefully (or maybe not so much) prepared monologue racing through your brain. You stand on a stage, do your best, and either get the part or another one, and then you begin.

You study the script and highlight your lines. You read through at the first rehearsal, maybe block out a few scenes. You continue this over weeks, eventually off book, finessing the moments, finding secrets to the story, and eventually the curtain goes up. With luck, it stays up for a while, a week or weeks, and every night you learn something little but important. Your character at the end of the run is slightly different than at the beginning, but of course.

That’s what I remember, anyway.

There is none of this in filmmaking, or at least the kind of filmmaking we did. I’d walk into a room and say to Megan, “Jamie, where’s your mother?” They switch angles and do it again, this time over the shoulder, next time from her perspective, one for safety, then pack up the equipment and move on to a new setup.

In the meantime, I stand there, muttering. “Jamie, where’s your mother?” “Jamie, where’s your mother.” There’s a better line delivery, surely, and I will never give it.

And that’s the difference. You act in two- to three-minute segments, a collaborative process that I recognized immediately. The sound guy is crucial. The lighting is important. The DP makes it look great. The director subtly changes a few things.

Sometimes I just watched. Watched Megan play the sarcastic, smart college student who knows her father too well. Watched Jake, two feet from me, pour out his damaged heart with its attendant anger and frustration, me just listening, the best kind of acting.

I cram myself into a tiny space, crouched on the floor, watching the amazing Ellen McLain grieve in real time over her little boy, her dreams and his pain, while I listen again.

Now you listen, if you will: I daydream as much as anyone, but 56 years and counting has made me a realist. When someone asked if I’d ever consider acting again, after I walked off my last stage in the late 1980s, I’d usually suggest that it would take someone approaching me on the street and asking if I’d be in his or her film, or play, or whatever, and I’d probably say no, but that’s the only scenario I could possibly imagine, and it wasn’t going to happen.

And still it did, almost exactly like that, and now here we are.

Cast, crew, Kickstarter backers in the area, and a few plus-ones will fill a theater in downtown Seattle tonight to get a first look at Winning Dad, although plenty of strangers have seen it already, with more to come. My job is finished. There will be a short Q&A. There will be no auditioning.

But a 15-year-old will stand in the wings, understanding that this all makes a weird sort of sense. He’s a ghost of ambition and desire, and his hair is stupid, but he knows what calls him.

In the very first play I did in high school, the cast members of which are now fading away in my memory, there was another 15-year-old, a girl who was optimistic and charming, and who flew into a (fortunately) sunny Seattle this week to watch her old friend’s return to pretending, along with a couple of other former 15-year-olds who saw that performance and now live, against some serious odds, in this city.

And if they’re like me, they’ll sense that ghost as I do. Our children are much older than we were then, our joints stiffer, our hair grayer, and our ends closer. We’ll celebrate, eat and drink, reminisce, and remember when we were young, when all this seemed possible, and funny enough, as it turns out, it was.

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The Postman Rang Once

A mail carrier did me a solid the other day and dropped off my mail at the doorstep. There was a package that wouldn’t fit in our dropbox, which happens, and usually they bring it to the house, place it in front of the door, ring the doorbell, and then ride off into the sunset, more work to do.

But this guy? He brought all my mail, along with the package, a nice gesture. And rang the doorbell.

And waited for me to answer.

Because – and I’m speculating, or inducting, or being silly – he wanted to speak with me.

“I really enjoy your columns, Chuck,” he said. I get nervous when strangers at my door call me Chuck, because legally I’m Charles. You’ve got to know something about me to address me as Chuck.

People who don’t know me but are inappropriately friendly, usually sales people, sometimes call me Charlie. This is a sign, too, although to be fair I kind of like Charlie. If I’d turned out to be a Charlie instead of a Chuck like my namesake (my dad), I think I’d be perfectly happy. It’s a happy nickname. Charlie.

I bring this up not because it’s unusual for people to comment on what I write when they meet me in person. I’m a tiny fish in a slightly less tiny pond, but sometimes, particularly at public events, I might meet some readers. I’ve even been surrounded on a couple of occasions by fans, an odd but gratifying invasion of personal space.

But nobody has never knocked on my door to give me a compliment. And as cheery and pleasant as that was (and it was; he was a nice guy), it was one more sign (assuming I want to look at it that way) that the universe is messing with me.

That’s the message I get from a couple of people in my life, anyway. And I sort of believe it, in an abstract way, in the sense that interesting things have been happening and maybe, erratically and usually foolishly, I may be heading in the right direction.

I’ve probably lost you. There are a few things I know about reality (the earth orbits the sun, our planet is warming because we’re spewing our 20th-century technology into the environment, the Aeropress is a miracle, Adam Sandler is a blight on humanity, etc.), and the rest I just muse about.

But occasionally my musing gives me the strong impression that there’s a wind at my back, and that’s all I’m talking about. It was just a weird thing.

And it happened at a very shaky time, the end result of a bunch of awful decisions I’ve made over the course of my adult life, and then just the vagaries of existence that hit us all at once, as many others get hit. Medical bills. Starting a business all those years ago that I should have known would easily orchestrate my brain into crazy mode, dull and soul-sucking work that I couldn’t resist because the money was good and my kids were little and bills, etc. It could have easily been a life of crime, for another person, but in my case I just went crazy.

Not so crazy now, and grateful. But I still wonder about the universe.

I supposed, in fact, that this man could have actually been an angel, sent by God to get me off my butt, stop moping and appreciate life a little more. This is tricky, since I have no inside information and I find the idea of heavenly beings showing up from time to time as part of some divine EMS service perplexing and illogical. Although people who believe seriously in angelic intervention usually tell the sweetest stories, all hope and grace, and as I said I have no inside information. And there are certainly angels among us, even if they’re just plain folks who perform miracles of the human kind. I’m in favor of that, certainly.

But occasionally – and just occasionally, really rarely – over the past few months I’ve slid into a mild depression, more of a frozen funk, plumb out of ideas and finding no inspiration.

So I’m OK with my angel postman. It made me cheerful, if a little taken aback, and more than a little inspired, to at least write better if nothing else.

But maybe I’ll just take it for what it was, a kind word from a stranger, in an exciting week, and inspiration to look forward, where I should be looking anyway. Even tiny fish need hope. Probably not mail, but again, I have no inside information.

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Vantage

On the first day of summer, 2012, in some sort of mood, most of that having to do with a couple of lousy summers in the past couple of years (i.e., colder and cloudier than our usual), I started a journal.

Journals are nothing to write about. They’ve been around forever, and are done with a purpose or with none at all, and probably for all sorts of reasons in between. They’re just not for me. I write for other people to read.

But there was a nagging sense that I was losing days, and then there was this odd urge to track the weather, just to see, and maybe to be able to look back on the various news cycles and see if they were as ridiculous as they appeared. So I tracked mostly data, how much sleep I got, how I felt, what the weather was like, a few headlines. Then a paragraph or so to describe the day, mostly in note form, reminders for some future me.

Future me has arrived.

Not that I’ve spent any time reading through it. I never even think of it, actually, or almost never. Today I did, because as it turned out a couple of days after I began this experiment, I noted in that journal that I’d gone to meet for coffee with a friend of Beth’s. He wanted to talk about a movie or something.

Three years ago, roughly. June 23, 2012 to be exact. A Starbuck’s, a passionate discussion about his dream, a screenplay passed across the table for me to take and read, and that was it. That’s the origin story. It involved Starbuck’s, what can I say.

Here’s what I can say. There was no expectant glint in my eye, not about anything. Not about a potential grandson, now nearly 19 months old. It would be another nine months or so (as it turned out) before I found out the news, and a couple of months more until there was an official announcement of impending Baby Boy Beauchamp. And certainly not about where I was to go. It was still just a dream.

But we were busy during that time, Arthur and I and fellow players in this little adventure. We took lots of photos, hoping for visual publicity to help with fundraising; Arthur had decided to devote a year to this, applying for grants and other funding, assembling a crew, setting up a Kickstarter. We filmed one short scene for a reason I can’t remember, a scene not used in the film, but a nice intro to some of the technical aspects. I met people who would become companions in a few months, fellow travelers to wherever we were going (nobody really knew), including Julia Bruk, who was just helping out and ended up being our Director of Photography; her talent is all over Winning Dad, you can’t miss it.

So we started filming a year and change after the Starbuck’s meeting, long days in a Lake Forest Park home and longer ones climbing mountains, along with wandering city streets, guerilla style, shooting montages without permits or permission, feeling very much the outlaw filmmakers, as if anyone cared.

We cared, though. Our final day of filming left us with the rest of the story, the wait for editing and all the processing that would have to happen before the film was ready to be seen. I was thinking a few months, and thought Arthur’s conservative goal of a premiere in June 2014 a little too conservative. What did I know. What did he.

And then there was US-In-Progress, sending Arthur and the film to Paris, where it got remarkable appreciation, enough to drive Arthur back into editing mode, trimming scenes, finding a sound editor, finding people who did the color correction, etc.

And we’re still in limbo, in a sense. A distributor is still a dream, if a little hazy, but it premiered in Boston and is now heading for Mumbai, but more importantly for around 250 of us, cast, crew, Kickstarter backers, and friends of all of us, this Thursday night we have a private screening in Seattle, invitation only, a premiere of sorts but without a red carpet, followed by a short Q&A and then the rest of this film’s professional arc, whatever that may be. I think Auntie Em must have forgotten about us by now. She’ll have to wait for the DVD, probably.

And as involved as I’ve been, with reshooting scenes and replacing muffled dialogue, with more publicity photos, with a serious fear that I’ll get a whim and shave off this beard two days before just one more photo is needed, I’m also aware that I’ve been detached. This is out of my hands, and regardless of my urge to jump into the details, the details I’ve mostly left alone. My life has other items to consider, and if not on a back burner then at least Winning Dad existed in a corner on my radar, slowing moving into actionable territory but taking its time, definitely.

So this is the time, or a time, anyway. I have a friend flying in from Arizona, a promise she made months ago and kept, as she tends to do. Other friends are coming, many of them backers, a few I snuck onto the RSVP list (a full theater being a good thing). Several of us are meeting beforehand, some others for dinner 15 feet away from the theater, and then we do this thing. Me probably slinking in my seat and covering my eyes; would you want to watch yourself for 80 minutes? That could be just you.

I’ve learned a tremendous amount about filmmaking, particularly the indie variety, and even more about myself. I grew up that summer of filming, somehow, inexplicably for a 55-year-old man surrounded by 27-year-olds, or maybe explicable. Maybe the contrast and the camaraderie did the trick, or the forced socialization, or the nearly-forgotten experience of working with a group of people toward a common creative goal.

It struck me a couple of nights ago, just before bed, that maybe I needed to find something appropriate to wear. I discussed this with my wife, and then my daughter, deep into her arts management phase of life, a detailed text message discussion that consisted of her saying, “No, not that. Absolutely no to that. Oh, for God’s sake, don’t even think about that,” and so on. Helpful but adamant, guidance by iPhone, dressing for success via text message through a process of elimination.

I’ll settle, I think, on being myself. I can dress up for any number of social events without problem, having a few things that I can dust off and drag out of a closet. A tie. A blazer. Shiny shoes.

It’s not really me, though, just a shinier version, so I imagine I’ll settle for a slightly newer version of same-old, same-old. Nicer jeans. New shoes. A much-needed haircut tonight with probably some pleading to make me look better, please; younger is out of the question, but not sloppy.

And then it’ll be over, and we’re back to waiting for the future. Despite the kind encouragement and daydreaming from those who care, this will probably be it for me, my one and only premiere, my one and only film, but I’m just talking statistics and life expectancy and the nature of a business that has plenty of older actors and a dearth of roles for them.

But it may have been the best summer of my life, and the most significant. I learned to like these people, tremendously, to admire their skill, to up my game when in a scene with them, to watch their organization and professionalism, and to be chewed out on at least one occasion by my one contemporary, Ellen McClain, who chews with the best of them. And kisses real nice (although they cut that out; I still remember).

And, finally, ultimately, I was going to get older anyway; growing is a bonus, and I grew. I tested some boundaries, I discovered some truths about my character and behaviors almost every day, and then one afternoon in the North Cascades I went to the mountaintop.

It’s a crucial scene, raw and painful and impossible for me to predict. I sidled up to that scene, aware but unsure of how it would turn out, but I stood there on an outcropping, among the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, shivering in the cold and from the cinematic deconstruction of social interaction until all that was left were the things best left unsaid, but said anyway because it’s a movie, it was needed.

I found my mountaintop, in other words. Not a vantage point to theatrically look back on my life, or even forward. Just a place to stand, feeling the wind, gazing at the mountains and flora of this beautiful place, glad to be finished with the scene, relaxed at last.

I drove the two hours home that night, down pitch-black switchbacks, hands tight on the steering wheel, knowing I needed to pay attention, knowing I was heading home.

I wish for you your own mountaintop, wherever and whenever you find it. It’s a curious thing, and I’m willing to accept that it meant more to someone my age, or with my particular history, but there’s something there. It takes movement, and energy, and preparation, and devotion to one another, but the wind might blow and beauty might appear in a burst of late-afternoon sunlight and traveling clouds, and if you stop to look you can see forever.

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