Tag: Arizona

A Storyteller’s Dream

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On Saturday, my husband and I arrived at the Scottsdale Civic Center Library at 8:30 a.m. We stood patiently. Waiting at the side door in a snaking line. Juggling signage and two boxes of my books with dozens of other independent Arizona authors. All of us were there for the chance to tell and sell our stories at the 6th Annual Local Authors Book Sale.

At 9 a.m., the doors swung open. Like Black Friday shoppers angling for a door-buster deal, we entered the room in a rush to find the best available spot in a sea of first-come-first-served tables. Over the next hour, we unpacked and stacked our books. We positioned cards and literature to entice a roomful of readers. They began to arrive at 10 a.m.

Over the next four hours, I could feel my adrenalin surge whenever someone stopped by my table to say hello or open one of my books. There is no greater joy than feeling the genuine love and support of book-loving friends who admire your work … unless it is having an encounter with a person you’ve never met. Someone who listens intently to you as you describe your writing, deliberately walks from table to table around the room to ponder the possibilities, and then returns to buy Tales of a Rollercoaster Operator, because your up-and-down stories from your St. Louis childhood feel like an intriguing fit.

All of that happened on Saturday. My husband was with me. We were surrounded by fellow writers, close friends and avid readers. I sold eight of my books. It was an extraordinary day. I am living a storyteller’s dream.

 

 

 

I’ve Only Just Begun

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I realize the title of this post sounds a little hokey and an awful lot like a lyric from a 1970s Carpenters song. (Please tell me you remember who Karen Carpenter was!) But I prefer to imagine that I, a generally healthy sixty-one-year-old male who visits his cardiologist every six months, will channel my energies into creative writing projects that will stimulate my intellect rather than stewing over my advancing age. That is beyond my control.

I adopted this philosophy five years ago this week. That’s when I walked out the door of my Aon office in Chicago and began a new chapter. As background, up until that moment I really didn’t feel I was living the artistic life I was meant to live. If anything, in late January 2014, I was numb from my mother’s death a year before and the escalating demands of navigating thirty-four years in the communication consulting, PR and advertising worlds.

After months of soul-searching and years of smart saving, I left the familiar unfulfilling days behind. I needed time to heal. I needed time to explore life on my terms. At age fifty-six, I grabbed my digital camera and began to capture images of darting dragonflies and picturesque prairie landscapes. I recorded random inspirations in my journal as I rambled along. The fog began to lift and my energy returned. Gradually, I discovered my way out in Illinois. As I wrote about the grief of losing my mother and revisiting my southern roots in From Fertile Ground, it prompted new possibilities. It promised a more poetic life.

What else have I learned in the past five years? After surviving a mild heart attack in 2017, I know I am fortunate to be alive. My husband and I lead a creative, warm life. We have a quieter existence in Arizona far away from the hustle and brutal cold of Chicago’s late January days.

Even with the physical distance from my Chicago life, I’m thankful for friends there, who shared their gifts and inspired me along the way to be true to my creative self. Like my friend Dina. She and I were close colleagues at Aon. Five years ago, on my last day of corporate life, she gave me this artful-and-personal handmade gift: a mirrored collage for me to reflect on the fun-and-unforgettable aspects of my Chicago work life. I keep Dina’s gift on my desk in Arizona, because it captures where I’ve been and who I am: a big picture guy, who cares about his husband, good friends, art, music, theatre, the best books, and cuddly animals.

Yes, I lead a happier and more fulfilling life in the desert. Somehow I’ve written and published three books and survived a health scare. But it still feels like I’ve barely scratched the surface on the possibilities of this semi-retired, creative life.

When I look at Dina’s mirrored gift, it feels like I’ve only just begun.

 

 

 

Arizona Authors Book Sale

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If you live in the Phoenix area (or plan to visit the Valley of the Sun in early February to escape the bitter cold elsewhere) stop by and visit me and dozens of other Arizona authors on Saturday, February 2, at the 6th Annual Local Authors Book Sale.

The event, which runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., will be held at the Civic Center Library, 3839 N. Drinkwater Blvd, Scottsdale, Arizona, 85251.

Naturally, I’ll be selling all three of my books: From Fertile Ground; Tales of a Rollercoaster Operator; and An Unobstructed View.

I look forward to meeting you there and will be delighted to sign whatever you purchase.

Six Years Have Passed, but the Poppies Still Bloom

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In mid-January 2013, I was marking time. I had just returned to my consulting job in Chicago after a two-month leave of absence to spend time with Helen Johnson. She was my wise, but ailing, mother. Somehow Helen had dodged and surpassed the prognostications of her doctors. She was clinging to life in hospice, enduring frequent breathing treatments to relieve her congestive heart failure, channeling the will and resiliency that had sustained her for more than eighty-nine years.

A few weeks later, everything changed. I got the dreaded call. My mother’s life ended peacefully in the wee hours of January 26, 2013. Soon after, a grief-induced fog rolled in and consumed me. Fortunately, I found the strength to write about it. My new life as an author began to take root. I never imagined the vacuum left by my mother’s existence would become the catalyst and subject matter for my first book, From Fertile Ground.

Six years have passed. Today I’m thankful I can remember my mother freely without the specter of pain. Helen Johnson had a passion for nature and supporting aspiring artists. She also believed in second chances. In the 1970s, Mom insisted I come with her to annual art shows at Menard state prison in southern Illinois. That’s where some of the more talented inmates presented and sold their work. On one of those excursions, she bought this painting.

For nearly the next three decades, it hung in our living room in suburban St. Louis. Then it traveled with Mom to her new home in Chicago’s western suburbs, where she spent the last nine years of her life. After Mom died, I kept the painting. When my husband and I moved to Arizona in 2017, we brought it with us.

In a weak moment this week, as the sixth anniversary of my mother’s death drew closer, I considered giving it away because we have less space now. But then I had a change of heart. With my husband’s encouragement, I realized the painting will never mean as much to anyone else. We found the right spot to display it in our condo kitchen.

This vivid splash of blooming poppies on a hillside, painted by an artist named McCall in 1975, will always represent my mother’s best qualities. As long as I’m alive, I hope the memories of her goodness never fade.

 

Alumni Bookshelf: Upper Right Corner

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Perhaps you feel like me. It’s day five in the new year. I’m restless … and I’m itching to regain my rhythm. The joys and demands of the holiday season have vanished in the night. They’ve left me standing in front of a gaping hole in my writing routine.

Simply typing these words is helping me to fill the void. It’s jarring me enough to jumpstart my journalistic juices. But, this week in my mail, I also found another bridge back to my creative ballast. My heart skipped a bit when I opened the Winter 2019 edition of MIZZOU magazine (the magazine of the Mizzou alumni association). I spotted a mention of my latest book, An Unobstructed View, in the upper right corner on page fifty-seven. It’s one of a dozen books highlighted in this edition, all written in 2018 by University of Missouri alumni.

As background, I didn’t pay for this mention. A few months ago I sent my latest book to the Alumni Bookshelf editor with a letter. I told him I thought his readers would find my book to be an inspiring story of promise, perseverance and reflection. Of course, I was hoping for this result. Because when you’re an independent writer, you’re a one-man or one-woman band. You’re always looking for a little exposure that puts you on the map. Maybe a few lines of type to represent the gallons of energy and love you poured into your latest literary venture.

So, here I am in front of my laptop on January 5, 2019. I’m sitting at my desk, gazing up at a palm tree outside my Arizona window. I’m thankful for MIZZOU magazine. I’m grateful for my University of Missouri education and the doors it has opened for me. I’m proud of the journalism degree I earned back in 1979.

Yes, it was forty years ago. But I’m still reaping the benefits. Today I’ve got an unobstructed view on the upper right corner of the alumni bookshelf.

A New Year, A New Day to Feed the Ducks

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My husband and I have a New Year’s Day tradition in Arizona. Every year on January 1 we hike to a nearby park to feed crusts of old year bread to new year birds. We began doing this four or five years ago when we were birds ourselves — snowbirds, that is — and found we had fallen in love with the darling ducks at a little oasis surrounded by buttes and palm trees.

Today, on a frosty Arizona morning, we renewed our ritual. We tossed tufts of multi-grain goodness into the water. The ducks dove in and paddled up to gobble up the bread. A family with two pre-teen children watched with delight from the edge of the water. Their expressions told me they were fascinated with our interaction with the ducks. I smiled and passed them two slices of bread so they could join in our moment with the ducks.

What better way to begin 2019. Reaching out to nature. Connecting with strangers. Celebrating the start of another year in a world of possibilities.

Desert Rose: December Memories

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In a world that overvalues youth, immediacy and hashtags (and undervalues history, longevity and sentiment), I sometimes fear that memoirs will vanish one day soon. That no one will care about the past, what we might learn from it, and what it means to us. Still, I continue to share my stories, because I believe we grow as human beings by remembering where we came from and how these experiences inform our present lives.

Last week, I wrote about my fascination with desert rose plants and their beautiful blooms. This story goes deeper than my Arizona life. Decades deeper. Back to my childhood in St. Louis and beyond. Back to my mother and father, when they were newlyweds living in Texas in the late 1940s.

As Christmas approaches and my new desert rose plant lies dormant in my Arizona home, the time is right to share my earliest desert rose memories from the 1960s and the sense of renewal this beautiful succulent represents in my life.

Following is an excerpt from Tales of a Rollercoaster Operator, my book of stories about my Missouri youth. This is one of my sweetest December recollections.

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With the disruptions at home, my parents had too much on their plates and seldom played host and hostess on holidays. The one exception was Christmas Day dinner. That’s when they threw caution to the wind annually; when Mom poured highballs for our hardest drinking guests; when a layer of cigarette and cigar smoke bellowed and hung across our living room; when Mom cooked roast beef, whipped potatoes and gravy, and some sort of green vegetable to present a “balanced meal;” when she reached into the kitchen cupboard for her favorite dinnerware; when–best of all–she proudly displayed the place settings of Franciscan Desert Rose she and Dad received as wedding gifts in 1948.

While Mom’s meal was in the oven, I helped her swing open the leg of our maple dining room table and insert a few leaves to accommodate our house guests: Thelma, Ralph, Harry, Violet,  Phyllis, Vic, Virginia, Vickie and Lib–and a few other aging relatives and friends who had nowhere else to go. Then, between intermittent checks of her roast, she took laps around the dining room, setting each place with utensils and napkins, and adding the Desert Rose plates, cups, and saucers.

I don’t think I was a tremendous help to her as she set the table, but I remember seeing a far off glint in Mom’s eyes as she examined and caressed each plate. I know she treasured her embossed earthenware. Introduced by Gladding, McBean and Company in 1941, Franciscan Desert Rose was one of the best-selling dinnerware lines of the 1940s. Perhaps it reminded her of a simpler time … when she and Dad were newlyweds preparing to move to Texas where his dry goods sales job was taking them … when they had lighter hopes, greater dreams, more time, and a sparkling set of dinnerware to frame lovingly-prepared meals with new friends and acquaintances.

Whatever the case, the classic design of the Desert Rose–the pink rose with a yellow center and a green-leaf border–dressed up Mom’s holiday table and brought a hint of beauty into an otherwise chaotic world.

Over the decades, several plates, cups and saucers were chipped or broken. I don’t know what happened to the remaining pieces of my parents’ Desert Rose dinnerware, but my husband and I have bought a few Desert Rose plates in the past few years, whenever we discover them on a random shelf in a Midwestern antique shop. They remind me of my happiest holiday memories and that fleeting, wistful look I saw on my mother’s face each year on Christmas Day.

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Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, as 2018 winds down, I encourage you to take a few moments to reflect on your favorite childhood memories. And, most of all, I wish you peace and good health in 2019. I hope you realize your desert rose dreams and witness the power of renewal in the coming year.