Speaking from the left, far from my starting point

Great ideas remain the heart of a revolution. The kind that strike the core of one’s being and inspire action.

They must have a foundation in irrevocable reality if they’re to succeed in the long run.

Not lies, which are shifting sands. Or dreams, which float far from their anchors. Instead, some touchstone that resonates and holds fast, even on the great prairie.

And that’s it, for now.

Carry on.

Respectfully, I hope. Or else.

Purely for amusement, of course

As a friend tells it, she and a cousin were visiting a carnival in another town and, on a whim, decided to have a palm reading done at a fortuneteller’s booth.

Once they were under way, the psychic looked puzzled. “I have to ask,” she said, hesitantly. “Are you a prostitute?”

Initial shock passing, came the reply, “No, why?”

“Because I see you surrounded by men.”

Ahh! Not so off the mark after all.

“I had to tell her I work at the pier and am surrounded by longshoremen.”

I’m filing this under Local Color.

My dream routine? Pre-Internet?

For decades, I dreamed of getting free from the demands of the newsroom – meaning any paying 9-to-5 job – so I could concentrate on what poet Gary Snyder aptly dubbed the Real Work.

That goal entailed something resembling financial independence, which was hardly likely on a journalism income.

As for 9-to-5? It never fit the places I was employed, sometimes straight salary for 60- to 70-hour weeks, and even when I’d left management and joined the union, it was typically nights and holidays or a double-shift on Saturdays.

I had hoped for a breakout via a bestseller book, and some of my non-fiction projects might have turned the trick, though I found it difficult to respond rapidly when I was tied down by other time-consuming obligations.

The closest I did come in those years was a year’s sabbatical I gave myself between jobs back in the mid-‘80s, when I submerged myself in drafting what later emerged as my novels, after much revision and the openings finally provided by ebook publication.

One thing I learned from that experiment was that I couldn’t continue at that pace – I required more balance in my life. My bank account wasn’t the only thing that was depleted.

One of my annual exercises after that involved setting goals for the year ahead, usually by season. The categories included things like Home, Relationships, Creative Projects, and Quaker Practice – I’m starting to see a forerunner of the Red Barn, eerily – but also had me thinking about how my daily life might look if I ever “made it” as an independent writer.

Part of the impetus was a fear of letting my life just kind of ooze away. I suppose it goes back to some of the sermons heard in my youth, the ones about time being God’s gift to us.

In response, how much could I rely on a tight daily routine, starting with an early morning rise for meditation and then hatha yoga before a light brunch and maybe an hour with the Boston Globe and the local paper followed by a big block for writing and supporting activities?

That thinking was countered by a recognition that I couldn’t fit everything I desired into straight days, so I also played with chunks of time staggered through the week – Topic A on Mondays and Wednesdays, for example, with Project K late on Wednesday.

And then, I still couldn’t fit everything in.

After I’d remarried, my wife caught one sight of one of my schemata and reacted with scorn. She saw so much daily reality I wasn’t including, such as cooking, cleaning, gardening, time for others, and even myself.

Now that retirement has finally provided the independence I sought, I’m having to admit I still haven’t achieved that ideal, intentional scheduling. Instead, so much has revolved around big projects like the novels and random to-do lists.

Still, it built upon the bones of daily Spanish lessons and half-mile swimming and a weekly commute to Boston for choir practice, in addition to Quaker worship and committee work.

But then Covid hit, followed by the move to Maine.

Quite simply, I still haven’t hit on the balanced pace. Maybe now, that the last book’s in place? Or maybe after I stop blogging intensely?

The biggest surprise for me in all of this is how much the Internet has changed the picture. I want the early quiet of those early hours for my writing and revising. What happened to the meditation? As for regular exercise? The nearest indoor pool is in Canada. Or for spreading out with a newspaper? I do most of my reading online, even books, no matter how much I love ink on paper. Even interacting with others occurs largely via email.

One thing I don’t feel is “retired,” but I will say in all of this I feel more engaged than ever.

Naturally, that won’t stop me from tinkering with a routine. I’m sure whatever I come up with will be far superior than what the nursing home would arrange.

How do you arrange your days and weeks? Any secrets to share?

 

What’s the future of retail after Covid?

We all know the boost the Covid shutdown gave to online shopping and delivery. Ordering from the comfort of home, when everything went well, could be a pleasure. For some of us, it even meant being able to find exactly what we wanted, even after we had tried without success to find the item in a bricks-and-mortar store.

Of course, it could also be exasperating, as I discovered when a promised item failed to arrive before Christmas, even though it had been ordered more than a month before, and cancellation and refund weren’t available, due to the fine print that the product was being shipped from an independent source rather than the classy brand name. It was finally delivered in February, even after I had finally got the retailer to cancel the purchase.

As we also know, not every website is easily navigated, either.

~*~

I think about that when I look at the vacant storefronts in Eastport’s historic and charming downtown. Just what would fit in here efficaciously? Retail, of course, is the heart of it, along with a mix of offices and studios.

It’s a situation we share with many other communities, where the pleasures of being able to stroll from one option to another are countered by the expectation of easy parking. Just what do we really want or need, actually? More possessions? Services? Treats for the eyes or taste buds?

If you open a store, you’re not going to get rich at it, even though retailing requires a special insight and savvy. To be successful, you’ll also need value-added lines in ways the online rivals can’t compare. Think of the personal touch as a shopper when you’re not quite sure what you’re looking for to fix a particular problem.

Eastport has the additional complications of a small year-round population that swells in the summer, meaning the retail season can boil down to half-dozen prime weeks with a long slowdown in between.

~*~

You’ll hear people talk fondly of the old Woolworth’s or Newberry’s, with their lunch counters and swivel chairs or their extensive fabric selection or whatever, or the way these emporiums anchored the block. Not so for the dollar stores or Walmart.

I’m well into a stage of de-collection and downsizing, so I hesitate to add more possessions. Still, when I walk into a place like the Rock & Art store in Ellsworth or Bangor, I can be tempted.

Obviously, I don’t have the answer for what will revitalize the district, but my guess is that it will be an array of things not currently in our vision. Who would have thought of brewpubs a decade or two ago, for instance?

Or, as they used to say in the days of black-and-white television, “Please stay tuned.”

Murder capital of Maine

With a population of only 31,121, Washington County is essentially rural and small town. It’s 90 percent white, five percent Native American, and has a fourth of its residents over age 65.

At first glance, then, it’s not the kind of place you would expect to be suffering a homicide in each of the past six months.

The entire state reported only 22 in 2021 – two of them in Washington County, starting the six-month count. Quite simply, the county can currently be seen as the murder capital of the state.

Back in November, the victim in Machias was a 17-year-old male from New York. We could shake our heads and assume drugs had something to do with the case.

The rest, however, have been unmistakably local.

Several were domestic violence. One of those, the death of a valued employee, resulted in a family decision not to reopen a popular lobster pound in downtown Eastport, so we see these events having public consequences.

The latest instance had a 43-year-old Passamaquoddy woman as the victim and two of her neighbors arrested on homicide charges. Investigators have been unusually tight-lipped, leading to widespread speculation. Happening within a community of about 600, this takes a hard toll, ripping through at least three extended families.

The news, coming on the heels of a heavier than usual number of funerals in the tribe, adds to the grieving.

We can ask what is prompting this wave of violence and death.

Poverty is no doubt a factor. Individual and household incomes are only two-thirds of the national average, but probably skewer sharply down on one side or up the other, creating a gulch in real practice. The Covid-related closures of the international border to and from Canada have taken a toll on businesses, employment, and families, too.

The despair leads to drug abuse, as is related in everyday conversations around here.

As much as this region can be a paradise, it’s not problem-free. Not by any means.

Don Draper and the life I thought I’d be living

My first awareness of the Mad Men television series, about a decade ago now, came in my daughters’ outraged question – “Was there really that much sexual abuse in the workplace back then? They’re making that up, aren’t they?”

They were incredulous at the blatant sexism and racism of the time I grew up in, even after I confirmed it was there.

What they described was confirmed and more in my recent binge viewing of the series. Let’s just say I was quickly emotionally engaged in the show.

Growing up in the Midwest, I was repeatedly told I belonged in New York rather than in my hometown. Advertising was, in fact, one of the career paths I was considering, and like journalism and publishing in general, Manhattan was still the center of the universe.

Watching the presentations reminded me, to some extent, of the first offices I worked in, even in Ohio. And Don Draper, the advertising creative director at the core of the story (I started to say “heart” but he is rather heartless), reminded me of some of my livelier bosses as well as a kind of ideal of what I was aspiring to or perhaps was being groomed for, at least before the hippie influence kicked in.

Yes, there was cigarette smoking everywhere, and liquor – and functioning alcoholics. (Should I say “functioning alcoholics who smoked”? Or is that too redundant?)

There were also some incredible secretaries, who were far more than typists. The best held the office together, far more than the corner office they reported to.

Let’s just say that the workplace changed drastically in the years since, in part through the digital revolution.

~*~

The show also hit close to home through the father of my best friend in high school, who was a vice president in a boutique advertising agency, one titled with the initials of the three of the partners’ surnames. Not that he was anything like the ad men in the show. Through him, though, I learned of the intricacies of billing, production challenges, deadline crunches, marketing analysis, and purchasing print, broadcast, billboard, and direct mail access – things that were touched lightly on, if at all, in the plots but still a factor.

And during college and the first year after, I was exposed to families that could well have mingled with the Drapers – executives, attorneys, and politicians, plus their wives and children of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.

~*~

My daughters were swept up in the show’s fashion mindfulness of the ‘50s and early ‘60s but unhappy with the styles as the chronology moved on in the final seasons. We can argue there.

My biggest criticism is of the cheap shots taken at hippies, falling into stereotypes rather than the more carefully crafted type studies up to that point. In doing so, the writers and producers lost an opportunity to more sharply critique the cynical, superficial world Draper and his colleagues inhabited. The tone of these segments, quite simply, was out of line with the rest of the production.

Even so, I was devastated by the final episode.

Could that have actually been me? Thank God, I escaped.

So much for one game plan

As I’ve been revisiting my earlier planning for retirement, I started to scold myself for not looking more carefully at finances. Then I remembered something I had anticipated but never noted: adding an overtime shift or two each month during my final five years of employment.

For years, management always seemed to have those openings, and the pay was good – time-and-a-half, often with a nighttime or weekend differential.

In the last five years, the kids would be on their own, for one thing. We would really build up our savings – by 25 to 50 percent, as I’m now calculating.

What happened instead was that the newspaper found itself increasingly financially strapped, to the point our pay was actually being cut. Officially, I was the copy desk chief, except that in the end there were no longer copy editors. They were all wearing other hats as positions consolidated. As for those overtime hours? We agreed to allow the hiring of part-timers.

So much for the big plan.

At least the stock market hadn’t crashed when my wife and I closed out our IRA to purchase the house in Maine.