Afraid of Nothing on Victoria Falls’ Gorge ( adventure)

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Flying Swing at the Gorge at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

 

Looking over the 300 yard chasm in front of me, I sweated bullets. I was about scratch another one off my Bucket list, but  first I had to jump into the void at Victoria Falls.

After visiting Iguassu Falls in Brazil/ Argentina, in 1996, I committed myself to going to Victoria Falls. The power of the water called me, but this leap into nothingness was an add-on. I didn’t have to do it, but my basic operating principle is to walk my talk and take leaps into the abyss.

Vic Falls’ gorge qualified for a test. The Falls had been on my top five Bucket List for years, but I didn’t know that included the gorge. A courageous young man had awakened in my sixty-something soul, and now I had to jump or scurry away like a cowardly rat away from the light waiting at the bottom of the abyss.

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Most people don’t have a Bucket List. For decades I didn’t. I was one of those people afraid to dream and commit for fear of failing and the likely follow-up—self-abnegation. Mostly my list was a Someday List, if everything is aligned then maybe I’ll do it. But someday never comes.

A Bucket List is something to accomplish, a goal, and takes action. I’ve pondered what is going on with me when I don’t act on goals—procrastinating like we all do? It’s a whole field in clinical psychology. Prominent researcher in the field Tim Pychl’s summation on how to overcome it is simple—Just get started—NOW. Not someday.

But then many people never commit to or get started on their Someday /Bucket List? I think it often boils down to the “C” word—courage. Procrastination comes from failing to do the aversive tasks it takes to achieve goals. What is an aversive task? Something perceived as difficult, boring, risky, and / or expensive. And is it possible to adjust our attitude to be more open to new experiences and the attendant risks they bring? Can one override the reptilian brain that seeks to protect us from danger?

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Our Guides, Swiss & South African

 

I pondered that at the edge of the gorge.  I had made it, I saw Vic Falls, I heard the roar, I felt the ‘smoke that thunders’, but then there was an add-on. Egged on by my 25 year old guide from Switzerland, who said she would jump the gorge if she were allowed by the employer. After a couple drinks I one-upped my traveling companions who had chosen to take a riverboat ride, instead, I declared, “I dive into the abyss tomorrow”

The next day sparkled with mist rising from the falls and several rainbows. Arriving at the jumping spot, I handed over my camera to my guide and calmly waited my turn in the three part experience. First ride was a zip line across a narrow part of the 400 foot chasm. Easy and fun. Next, another zip line but this time with a fast drop of 80 mph. The coup de grace was the Flying Swing—A free-fall leap of four seconds followed by swinging back and forth across the chasm.

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After four seconds of free-fall

 


A group of  South Africans, burly men and sturdy women, all in their thirties, waited in front of me, giving me 20 minutes to rethink this—the Leap. I watched the line shrink as they one by one disappeared into the void.  Some hesitated, some dived in head first.  All cried out.

The mild weather suddenly turned warm and humid. Sweat dropped from my eyes, my hands got clammy. Before any thoughts of fear my body expressed it. I spent the next 18 minutes reminding myself that the jump was safe and secure. I vowed to ‘just do it’ when I got to the platform.

When the last one fell from sight, I knew my time had come. I walked to the edge and promptly stepped into the void. Instant bliss washed over me and a grin spread across my face. Big fun! Fear vanished. Adventure prevailed.

But courage is like the proverbial bath—once is not enough. It’s a practice. That leap led to reflection on how often lack of courage holds me back from adventures and fun:

  • Flirt with a potential date and promise to call and don’t?
  • Promise to go to a group or party and then flake?
  • Fudge on my true feelings with someone just to maintain their friendship?
  • Allow self-absorbed narcissists to dominate a conversation because I don’t want to upset them?
  • Ignore issues In a friendship because I don’t want to upset her?
  • Complain about some social ill and never do anything about it?
  • Dream and talk about moving to a tropical island and do nothing.

Sometimes there may be valid reasons to hold back. But what about principles? Do I stand for something or not? It is a line in the sand that moves constantly, depending on my mood and the circumstances? Sometimes discernment may mean not acting, but it could also be— Laziness? Cowardice? Lack of information?

On my Someday, now Bucket list are many places to see and experience. For many years I traveled solo and loved it. I also have taken tours and enjoyed that. But lately my taste for solo travel has waned and at the same time, I want the excitement of discovery that regimented and organized tours don’t offer. I have contemplated the options. What would be courageous, the tour or the solo trip? The Tarot offered me a clue on this: Do nothing and the answer shall arise— patience and trust. Not liking this answer, I then threw the I Ching and it said, ‘furtherance of the small’ or watchful waiting.  Not a time for rash action.

Psychologists have discovered that forced decisions are not the best. When I feel a compulsion to make something happen, I explore my creative self. Artists know it as the Muse, others call it god. Regardless, it is that aspect that can’t be seen or touched.

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bridge to Zambia

One form it takes is in the ‘ah ha’ moments in life. Coaxing it out of the unseen and unknown takes determination and patience for me. A coach, therapist, or minister may stimulate those moments, but it comes in its own time. Calm, discipline, and faith set the stage, but it still takes courage to say YES to the unknown—-that mysterious call to do something just because. Regardless of the results, when I do it feels good.

Sitting at the 18th St coffee house in Santa Monica, CA, surrounded by other ‘laptop’ workers, I reflected on the above adventure and looked at the excuses I tell myself to avoid taking action and risk failing. What’s at stake? A totally illusory sense of safety that my comfort zone will protect me from negative emotions? Bogus! My moods swing like The Flying Swing, up and down and sideways. The best I can do is to be real and face the fear, anxiety, and impatience and step into the unknown. As one teacher says, the result is not guaranteed, but you will grow. And for me, that is living my dream.

Categories: Discover / Adventure | Tags: , , , , , ,

Finding the White House in Canyon de Chelly (discovery)

 

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Canyon de Chelly

Coming out of the shade in Canyon de Chelly, NM, a Navajo woman surveyed her table of beaded jewelry and dream catchers. A sweet smile on a weather-beaten face lent veracity to her story of hiking down 600 feet into the canyon every day to sell her self-made curios. My usual practice is to avoid tourist site vendors, but the people at this park sell with such calm and reserve I didn’t restrain myself. Or was it simply the smoothing of my hard edges like the surrounding red rock canyon from years of traveling and encountering such sellers all over the world. Or maybe because it was 90 degrees and I am alone and lonely. So, I engaged the woman and bought a pair of dangling beaded earrings. Just because.

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Jeweler hikes up and down canyon daily

She reported that the earrings are made by her 9 year old daughter, (always an enticement), while she hand-painted the kokopellis on sandstone and weaved the dream catchers. I used to think my job as a classroom teacher in the inner city of Los Angeles with its 80% poverty and 50% non-graduating of the students was a tough job. But traveling around I get a much wider perspective on the challenge of making a living. Right here in the USA. This woman carried the sweet and soft demeanor, while working and living in challenging conditions. 

Canyon de Chelly lies off the main summer tourist route in the Southwest. Located about one hour from Interstate 40, the road meanders through the Navajo Reservation in northern Arizona and New Mexico. I broke my schedule to get to Santa Fe to take the long detour.  For miles around all the eye can see are scrub grazing land and distant mountains. It is so remote that in six hours on the rez, I saw several people with their thumbs out. No public transportation?  A sight never seen in California, even at the national parks. First I saw a couple of teen age girls walking resolutely toward the town of Ganados with pink hair and gothic black shirts and their thumbs out. I had driven a few miles before it registered that it would have been normal to pick them up out here. Not where I live.

de Chelly 3The canyon itself stuns the eye with burnt brick red rock out-cropping and farm homesteads dotting the canyon floor. Being a desert rock and canyon lover, I stood on the edge in awe for an hour. Car loads of tourists came and went, from the young couple in a rental RV to a group of Japanese tourists each wearing a different hat and a sewed on black neck guard to protect from the sun. Then there were the native summer species of the national parks—over-weight, American families who stop for a few minutes, gaze at the scene, and then pile back into the air conditioned car til the next stop.

Munching on my healthy salad from Trader Joe’s and imbibing a shorty can of gin and tonic, the minor buzz inspired me to hike down the trail for a few minutes. Well, the few minutes turned into a 2.5 hour hike with 1200 vertical feet climb. Spectacular views of undulating rock formations, and dark rusty layers of sediment eroded into eerie shapes that could have come from a avant garde ceramicist’s wheel greeted me on the 1.5 mile each way walk. About a half hour down, I engaged a couple of park-uniformed young people on a look-and-see inspection of the trail. The young man exuded optimism and reported that he was a volunteer and had just been hired full time next month. He lived in the town next door to the park, Chinle, and didn’t want to leave home and so was happy to get the job. The teenage girl sported pink-dyed hair and had just graduated high school. She also offered a similar full-face smile that reminded me these weren’t the tough inner-city kids I used to deal with back in LA. We proceeded to share notes about the relative merits of different smart phones.

Before I knew it, I could see the famous White House ruins off in the distance and just had to continue to the end. Picking up the pace I got there just after the Japanese tourists, took a selfie and turned around to buy my official de Chelly earrings.

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A man in front of the  white house

Huffing and puffing and almost running, I raced up the mountain, legs and back aching. I stopped only when two women hikers asked me if I was local. Smiling to myself and them (I figured it was my long, dark pony-tail disguise), I said no. I asked what they needed? One responded, “ Will it rain?”. I looked up at the gathering clouds and from somewhere inside summoned the confidence to say, “No, and even if it does it, it’s only a little.” Turns out I was right. Then I asked where they were from? The tall, skinny one with disjointed features and spiky dyed black hair said, “France.” The other of short stature and hair, looked surprised with my response. I said, “Look, I am from California and I know you French are tough.  You can do it.” Then I pointed to the ruins and said, “Go do it. You must.” And returned to my brisk pace up the mountain confident that I contributed to amiable French/ American relations.

It stretched my physical capabilities and my schedule, but I pushed on and made the top and crashed through my aging back issue to my car. I made it. Real travel means keep pushing on, keep going til you see what you didn’t expect to see. I’ve had that experience for forty years, and I wasn’t going to let my age stop me—yet. Yes, adjustments but not babying.

Canyon de Chelly offers a distinct view of how modern American indigenous people live around and in their ancestral setting. Driving along the rim of the canyon, every few miles is an compelling outlook to stop and take snaps. And at every stop are an Indian or two with a tarp and their array of sandstone paintings, earrings, and necklaces. Between each outlook one passes the homesteads with satellite antennas and a collection of old cars and pick ups. Strange mix of nature, tradition lifestyles, and 21st Century USA.

On the way to the next outlook, a fiftyish guy had his thumb out. Tall with missing teeth, jet black hair, and a scruffy beard and cowboy shirt, I decided to break my ennui and isolation and let him ride. In accord with one of the sadly too often true to stereotypes of Indians, he smelled of alcohol and spoke with a pronounced slur. Amiable but confused in his conversation he lived near the main road, but had to hitch because he had no gas for his pick-up truck. We bumped fists and he loped off into the scrub brush and I continued.

Slipped House outlook offered a gaggle of four locals sitting under the shade of a short tree and one of their number hanging at the stretched tarp with the usual paintings and beads. Walking by, she went into a long spiel at a very slow and low pitch. I wondered if it was my aged hearing or her. I nodded, she smiled and continued with her explanation of the esoteric meanings of her sandstone painting. I understood the words red, blue, and green but nothing else. Entranced by her sweet, low-key style, I had to buy. She asked 10, I said 7. Tapping into my decades of haggling with vendors from Zimbabwe to Austria, I expected her to come back with 8, which she did. Just for the fun of it, I said no, but she surprised me with yes and a smile.

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hanging with the teens at the  canyon

I’ve traveled the southwest almost yearly for decades and I had never made to the famous site of Canyon de Chelly. But what pushed me to get off the Interstate, and delay my arrival at my close friends in Santa Fe was a sign, an omen that started at home. I chanced upon my brother-in-law outside the gym at home, and he had just made a trip to the same area and the ONLY place he mentioned was Canyon de Chelly. So, the night before at a motel in Flagstaff, I looked at a map, yes a real paper map, and de Chelly on the map and decided it was time. I called my friends in Santa Fe and said I’d be a couple hours late and took the 1.5 hour detour to Navajo nation and the canyon.

That side trip felt like what I was, a visit to another nation. The Navajo live in a unique amalgam of modern America and their traditional farming and grazing culture. I encountered a special flavor of America; indigenous people living on their ancestral lands who totally integrated with the modern world. This is always my quest when I travel. Uncover the unexpected and encounter the local people. Meeting Navajos on this trip showed me how it is possible to balance one’s history and traditions and still be fully invested in modern culture.

I never know what may happen while living the dream deferred, the free life, the expressive life, the life of adventure, so I make my plans in pencil and invite surprises, Canyon de Chelly was a sweet, physical, and memorable one.

Categories: Discover / Adventure | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trading Missile Silos for Thatched Roofs: Gary Miller of Placencia, Belize (Reinvention)

Barefoot Bar Placencia

Barefoot  Bar, Plascencia, Beliz

Scratch, scratch and then silence. Mysterious sounds on the aluminum roofing punctuated our first night in Belize. No more white noise of car traffic and ear-drum blasting by over head private jets, we had arrived. Picked up at the airstrip by the proprietor of Miller’s Landing Eco-Resort in his old, gray, no a/c pick up, we shared the place with a German couple, a big dog, and the owner/ builder/ operators— the Millers.

Raised in the shadow of Vandenberg AFB, Gary Miller has engineering in his DNA. Growing up in Santa Maria, California, the protests that roiled the college campuses in the mid Sixties didn’t penetrate this town about three hours north of Los Angeles. Even these days in Santa Maria, pick-up trucks far out-number the BMWs, Audis, Mercedes, and Porsches typically seen in West LA. Down home conservative, my country right-or-wrong values in these parts.

Drafted into military service in Vietnam, Gary returned to the war-weary, fast-life 70s America that has frequently been documented in films and stories. But eschewing the anti-Establishment attitude of the day, Gary Miller attended UC Santa Barbara and received a degree in engineering, a rarity in the70’s. The counter-culture of rock and roll eventually got under his skin and he found himself  living in the fast lane in LA. He found work as a recording engineer for performers like Ike and Tina Turner and Chicago and soon was burning the proverbial candle at both ends. Fueled by the ever present drugs and big money he frequently worked 24 hours in a stretch. He eventually hit the wall after he almost got killed through-no-fault of his own in a moment of road rage on the San Diego Fwy. Heeding that clear warning that his life was out of control, he returned to aerospace with Rocket-Dyne. From then on his engineering career took off with positions of increasing importance posting at a variety of military sites around the country.

But as is common in aerospace, he endured periodic lay-offs between contracts. One of those lay-offs changed his life’s course. Taking a promotion with a firm working on missiles on Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands, something shifted. Gary found the peace of tropical islands. All went well for several years, until a dispute with a superior and a dream began to take form.

Feeling fed up with the usual constraints of institutional jobs like military contractors, he decided to quit and take his retirement savings and build and run a resort on a tropical island. First he planned to stay in the Marshall Islands, but nixed that when he learned that foreigners may not buy land. He and his wife (who was a sea captain in the Marshalls) took a tour of the Caribbean and tried out several islands, but nothing fit until he got to Placencia.

Placencia is a small, but growing village in the south of the Central American country of Belize. Belize’s biggest resort areas are Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, which specialize in the pseudo-idyllic island vibe common to destination tourist resorts. Placencia doesn’t have any of that comfort seeking ersatz paradise vibe.  Yet!

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I used the back  door, Plascencia, Belize

But like many tropical places I’ve visited, it is poised for a big blow out with stone-still boat marinas and super modern, luxury villas and moored yachts, but very few patrons. A kind of ghost town in reverse, not old and empty, it is new and empty. The village itself houses several souvenir shops specializing in over-priced Mayan textiles and conch shell jewelry. Progress has made an appearance with a juice bar on the waterfront and one coffee bar with a sardonic sign that says, ‘Hippies go around the back.’ A few restaurants, guest houses, car / golf kart rental, and banks mark Placencia’s status as an up and coming tourist town. Serving traveler’s needs, but not in excess, it reminds me of quaint places I visited thirty years ago (Caye Caulker among them); casual and comfortable but ruined when the cruise ships arrive. Let’s hope that sordid fate never falls on Placencia.

But Gary Miller is ready, if it does. He and his wife bought prime-ocean fronting acreage and built their resort, long before the coffee lounge with the vituperative sign and the yoga massage offered in Francis Ford Coppola’s chic, low-rise hotel. Being an engineer, Gary designed all of the buildings and the pool and did much of the hammer swinging. Simple, yet comfortable with the necessities, Miller’s Landing, stands out as an old school tropical resort—family run and owned, small, friendly, and quiet. The loudest sound is the leaves scrapping on the aluminum roofing at night.

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The Millers & the author

Over twenty years ago Gary reinvented: Freed from the pressure of supervisors and bureaucrats, he spends a lot of time pondering how to improve his kingdom. Challenges abound other than the obvious, attracting customers and fulfilling their petty needs. While we were there a new visitor came into the restaurant with an insect in a paper cup and asked Gary, “I found this thing running around the room. What is it? I’ve never seen anything like it.” Miller gazed at the creature in the cup, about one inch in length, and said, “That is a cockroach. It won’t hurt you. They are common in the tropics.” Being from Silicon Valley in California, the young man had never seen a cockroach. I guess they hide out from the techies.

Trials and tribulations are inevitable with such a radical reinvention: About ten years ago, the whole resort was submerged in a hurricane. Fortunately, it did not blow down but everything was under water and required replacing or major cleaning. A Mennonite friend of Gary’s rebuilt the place—for free. And before the next high season they were up and running.  The power of community.

With major problems like the hurricane and minor problems like keeping the sewage working, quitting and going back the ‘civilization’ can be tempting. About five years after leaving aerospace, his old employer called and offered him a job with a promotion at double his old salary. What to do? Quit the dream and go back to the pressurized life of an aerospace engineer and make big money, or keep stepping forward living his dream?

Demonstrating commitment to his reinvention, Gary Miller said to the military contractor—No thanks. These days he spends a lot of time reflecting on improvements to his resort, fixing rum punches for pseudo-adventurous tourists, and playing guitar at the weekly open-mike bar called ‘Pigs in the Wind.’  I asked Gary if he plans to return to California: He declared, “I only go there when I have to, like my mother’s funeral about five years ago.”

Our era offers almost unlimited of options of how and where to live, but moves like Gary’s require awareness, courage, and perseverance. And for Gary Miller it includes dealing with naïve tourist encounters with wild animals and apolcalyptic hurricanes. Getting out of LA and checking places like Placencia reminded me that reinvention wears many costumes.

Categories: Reinvention | Tags: , , ,

Not Taking Angel’s Flight, 2015 (Remembrance)

One of the good things about being a Boomer is the memories. Ever have the feeling that you know the place you’re visiting, but it isn’t quite right? I’m not talking about déjà vu. I mean the experience of going to an old, familiar place same name and location, recognizable but totally different function and character. Recently I visited an old haunt, Grand Central Market at DTLA (new acronym for the resurging downtown LA) and Angel’s Flight. Ghosts of the old days linger, but it was spooky.

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An LA icon shut-down

My experiences in DTLA go back to my childhood growing up in LA in the Fifties. As a toddler, I would visit my grandparents, who owned an apartment building on Third St, just west of the then newly completed Harbor Freeway. My grandmother and I would walk through the cavernous (1500 feet long) and much filmed Third St tunnel. Car horns and dim light made for great adventure. Eventually, we would break through into the bustle of downtown and visit my grandfather, who was a butcher at Grand Central. In those days it housed a labyrinth of stalls and shops on two floors where shoppers would go for fresh produce, meat, and spices. Supermarkets were rare in those days and usually located in the suburbs like the new subdivision in the San Fernando Valley where I lived with my parents. To a three year old kid walking the aisles of Grand Central was as exotic as the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul. The cacophony of languages belted out by competing merchants ranked up there with Clifton’s Cafeteria as fun for me.

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Inspecting the  broken icon with Jeff Bughouse

Across the street on Bunker Hill decaying rows of Victorian houses stood watch over the booming metropolis. Originally mansions for the elite of Los Angeles, by this time they had been subdivided into rooming houses, soon to be demolished to make way for redevelopment. Access to the towering homes was via Angel’s Flight, dubbed the world’s shortest railway. After visiting grandpa, who cut an imposing figure with a white smock splattered with blood and hat and tie, we would take the 5 cent ride to the top of the hill.
Recently, my brother suggested meeting at Grand Central for lunch with our 22 year niece. Recovering well from tough times serving the burgeoning immigrant population, now Grand Central Market houses a couple dozen boutique cafes, one produce stand, one meat market, and a few holdovers from the ethnic days of the 80s—Chinese herbs and Central American veggies. And a gourmet coffee place, where a cup of Joe costs minimum $4.

But more bizarre than the former bazaar is Angel’s Flight, a funicular that climbs 300’ at 33 degrees. Dissembled and stored 1969, while Bunker Hill was flattened and then developed with high rise office buildings and condos. Moved south 200 feet, Angel’s Flight reopened in 1996. Accidents and repairs forced closure again in 2001, 2011, and 2013. Currently, the two funicular cars sit mid hill as if in suspended animation waiting for the conductor to flip the switch, while tourists stare in wonderment and peer down memory lane. Along with the railway, the adjacent park with its information plaques and benches is fenced off from the public pending its next redevelopment.

Bittersweet, this journey to landmarks of my childhood reminded me that everything is impermanent, except our memories. Visiting Grand Central and Angel’s Flight felt like going to a high school reunion and not recognizing your old friends. The old friend doesn’t look the same, but you have a connection. This spirit of remembrance infused the day, not with nostalgia but fondness for my childhood, my grandparents, and my city.

Categories: Boomer Ideals/ Remembrance, Exemplars, Funk/ Issues/ Roadblocks, Planning/ Structure | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Red, Gold, and Green Comes Together in DTLA (community)

Bob Marley is the King

At the  prophet—Bob Marley’s yard  in Kingston

“How many saw Marley perform live?” inquired a seventy something man with dulcet vocal tones, a shock of wild hair, a purple lined sports jacket, and a tie with images of Bob Marley. A couple dozen hands went up, mine included.

A mission on par with my 22 hour flight time to South Africa, but beyond the Bucket List nature of visiting Cape Town, Okavango Delta, and Victoria Falls, had called me to reconnect with a far flung tribe and spirit. Part pilgrimage, part passion, and part community, I heeded the call of Bob Marley.

Looking around the crowd of mostly strangers, I relaxed after my stressful; Waze guided drive to DTLA (downtown LA) during rush hour traffic. More than the new versions of old songs, witty anecdotes by Roger Steffens, I came to connect with of my tribe of fellow Marleyites—Lovers of the music, but in addition adherents of a vision of community beyond the isms and schisms that often separate us.

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In Roger Steffen’s Reggae Archives

Roger greeted me and many others with powerful hugs and the personal attention rarely seen outside of family. Pacing in front of the stage without a microphone, he held the crowd of 100 in the auditorium at USC spellbound for over two hours with stories and unreleased videos of Bob Marley. After the presentation each question prompted a quick, relevant and amusing reflection about the reggae icon. Several times during the evening, this audience of diverse ethnicities, ages, and social status, gave Roger Steffens and by extension Marley several standing ovations. As one man in the q & a session proclaimed, “In a hundred years, when Bob Marley achieves Jesus-like veneration, then Steffens will be considered his St Peter.”

Roger Steffens discovered Bob Marley in June 1973 while living in Berkeley, CA and has built a life and career around, as he says, being ‘just a fan.’ He has traveled the world giving talks on the life and music of Bob, written six books on Marley, and building the world’s largest reggae/ Bob Marley archives in the world. And now almost 35 years after the passing of the king of reggae, Steffens epitomizes and crystallizes Marley’s mission of one love—community.

One of my early blogs on Living the Dream Deferred drew a snarky comment from a lifelong friend that community can’t be instant like the reggae gathering at USC. I propose that community is where we find it. It can happen whenever people walk the same path and share a vision and values. Seeing and building these connections helps me to keep stepping when I hit a rough patch or massive traffic. Or as fifteen year old Marley said in his first recorded song, Judge Not—“The road of life is rocky. And you may stumble too.”

Tonight I head out on another mission through the jungle of LA’s freeways to the Grammy Museum. I hope to meet the tribe again and get the word and spirit of One love.

Categories: Community | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Creative Expression Pops Up in Retired Teacher (creative expression)

LivingtheDream-p175“I wanted to be a rock drummer before I finally settled into teaching for a career. And when I retired I realized that dream was no longer feasible.” An old friend on the path of personal/ spiritual growth recently shared this insight from his home outside of Portland, OR. I met this guy back in the 80s at a zen sesshin at Mt Baldy, CA. We instantly recognized in each other kindred souls on the path and over the years frequently shared, argued, and discussed our youthful ideals and how to apply them in our thirties and beyond. A peripatetic sort, he was raised in the East Bay of San Francisco, attended college in San Diego, completed an MFA in Boulder, and ultimately settled down to a high school teaching career in Oregon and stopped writing.

Our tumultuous friendship has always offered the quality I need in close friendships—inquiry and truth telling. Not an easy skanking connection, but the kind that pushes me to think deeply and honestly about work, relationships, and life. Zenman (not his real name) doesn’t have time for superficial small talk. He digs for the deeper story, meaning, and feeling. A facile, but sometimes cranky, practitioner of what Daniel Goleman calls narrow and big focus, he has little patience for lazy thinking and societal shibboleths. He gets down, present, and authentic in every conversation and yet concurrently maintains awareness of how it all fits into a systemic big picture.

In a recent typically wide ranging and rambling conversation, he mentioned that he had picked up writing again because he couldn’t go back to that youthful dream of rock drumming. After retiring with the psychic and time demands of work gone, something called him to create again. These days he is writing and sharing new and old pieces. I said, “Right on! That is it!” The urge to express was always there and now he has the time to do it. Updating the dream (dropping the rock drummer fantasy) opened the space for living a new/ old dream. Now, Zenman writes regularly and soulfully.

What is this urge to create? I experience it as the impulse to drop my awareness from my head to my heart, in other words dropping analysis. Once I get going, it resembles a dam that is filled with water that must be drained. A little stream of water relieves the pressure, but draining the reservoir of water reveals a lot of detritus that has clogged the system. When I practice my creative arts, a flood of unexpected feelings, memories, and ideas are revealed. Letting the water out by writing a poem or making a painting satisfies me in a way that reading another book or going to a music concert or playing tennis can’t. It happens differently in painting from writing poetry. Regardless the creative flow and energy satisfies my soul. At times procrastination prevails with the Resistance that Steven Pressfield describes in The War of Art and blocks expression til I take that first step and start. Then the old maxim —The hotter the battle, the sweeter the victory—spurs me on. Today I won the battle with my old friend procrastination, but tomorrow is another day.

Categories: Creative Expression | Tags: , , , ,

Palm Springs, Tahquitz Canyon, & Fun! (community)

Recently, rapping (in the sense we used back in the day) with a close friend,  my call to revive our generation’s youthful ideals and dreams came up. She posited that perhaps Boomers are not that way now. We kicked it back and forth for a while discussing the natural tendency of people to become more conservative as they age and the evidence that most people live in Santa Claritaesque settings (check Santa Clarita, CA to get my point).

“No question few Boomers live in the bohemian/ communitarian way these days, if ever,”, I responded “but I believe that a spark of youth still resides in that older body and that youthful spirit wants expression.”  So much is learned and deep brain grooves are laid down in our twenties, which explains why as we get older the songs of our youth evoke memories.  They are familiar and deeply embedded in our sense of identity.  Spirit in the Sky is still one of my all time favorites.

I continued, “Perhaps when individuals are released from the inhibiting structures of a job and career, that new freedom opens up space for the old feelings, memories, and values to emerge.  Just maybe, some of the new seniors will want to revive their love of music, or community, or social justice, or ?”

A quickie research on Wikipedia revealed that among the antecedents of the hippie movement of the Sixties and Seventies were a similar counter-cultural trend in Germany in 1896-1908—Der Wandervogel (or wandering people).  They also sought a simpler life style in reaction to the rapid industrialization of that time.  Eventually, some of that group moved to southern California and a local group developed called Nature BoysAt one time they lived off the land in Tahquitz Canyon, Palm Springs, CA.

When I read that, a personal full circle was drawn linking my experience of a hippie bacchanal in Tahquitz Canyon in 1968 while I was in high school.  That wild Easter break week, included the first Palm Springs Pop Music Festival, starring Eric Burden and the Animals, Blue Cheer and other rock luminaries. After the next festival in ’69, the local authorities freaked out, evacuated the canyon, and shut it down to all visitors for decades.  I took a guided tour of the canyon a couple years ago and the Indian tribe who ‘owns’ that land states it had to spend a pile of money and many years to clean up the crap.  Yes, there is a shadow to all that youthful rebellion. But law and order returned to Tahquitz Canyon and Palm Springs and most of us kids settled down to LIFE— eventually.

I don’t do that stuff anymore, but I DO remember the joy, fun, excitement, and camaraderie of those times. And I seek it out regularly (last weekend I drove a Ferrari on a simulated race course) I believe it is possible to revive that youthful spirit (with modifications) and couple it with our wisdom (hopefully earned in life) and make the last third the best yet.

Categories: Boomer Ideals/ Remembrance

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