Monday, July 26, 2010

Coming Of Age; Part II

Not much to say on this one, except that it follows the other one... Some thoughts about growing up and older. 

I definitely know that the best of my life is the rest of my life. I love learning, reading, doing. I like to also do my own thinking, a habit that is also losing ground amongst the following generations. And I use “following” as a specific term: not only the generations that follow ours, but also generations which have become followers of mandates dictated by public opinion and by the media marketing campaigns.

Every time there is a member of the “older” generation who chooses not to sit down and let time simply take over he or she is usually seen as “cute or amazing”… the oldest grad, the oldest swimmer, the oldest runner in a marathon. Etc… The reality is that we are living much longer than our grandparents did; back in '74 when I started selling life insurance, tables would usually allow us to sell based on a mortality rate that said, unequivocally, that a normal lifespan was then 78 years. Today, companies have products that are geared to “seniors” and can be sold to someone who is, at purchase time, 80 years old. Retirement time was 62 when my work life started; today is inching up to 70.

I, and many others who are now entering into their “Silver Haired 60’s”, are very much aware that our lives have a lot to give yet, and so do we as individuals. Many who have made some not so good decisions in life (myself included) and who must work in order to exist, do so knowing that the work market often overlooks experience and favors looks and “youth”. The young deserve to grow and make their own mistakes;   however, experience is not learned in schools but in the classrooms of life and, like it or not, if you have not lived it, you haven’t got it.

Those of us who came from elsewhere at a young age had to endure changes and a “rapid growth” stage, in order to survive. That’s OK; this, I believe, actually prepared us for things that would come our way, with no warning and no instructions. Age is great; and as for those clever little face lines colorfully dubbed “smile lines”, “crow’s feet”, “worry lines”, etc., they are not a horrible issue to deal with, as some would want us to think. They are, in a much more real sense, small lifelines that tell a story. I don’t want to “botox” them away; I want to be able to look at them and recall the many issues that caused them along the way. The sad ones, the funny ones; the ones that have caused regrets and the wistful ones; the ones that left a bitter taste in my spirit and those that still, after many years in some cases, taste of honey. When these are all put together, with a little bit of today’s salt, pepper and vinegar, they make up who I am. Why, in the name of all that is good and beautiful, erase them as if they never had a reason to exist?

I drive a 16 year old car which I bought sometime ago, because is what I could at that moment afford. It has about 250,000 miles of road time; sometimes it coughs, sometimes it groans a little; I have to top off the oil every 800 miles or so and the seats are worn. Yet, it has character, personality and presence. It’s warm and comfy… It says: Here I am!!! I'm ready to roll!!  Every morning when the key is turned, the engine revs up, the radio plays, and everything works as it should. Well… sometimes a lock doesn’t close and the radio volume knob has to be gently turned. But I can’t just yet bring myself to exchange it. The bloody car fights on, refusing to give up.

As for me, sometimes the bones creak a little when morning comes, the shoulders hurt and the legs are still getting back into shape after the inactivity prior to the surgery. I even need to top off with a glass of wine every 18 to 20 hours… but I go on, also refusing  to give up.

Be Well!! Be Back…

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Coming of Age

While exchanging mails with a dear person who came back into my life after 45 years (or so) we have touched on as many subjects as there may be. In the middle of one exchange, I came to realize we spent most of the available space talking about the past, and this triggered an internal response on my part. We have come to be who we are by going forward, mistakes and all, and not backwards. While our past is indeed the gist of our present, we (of the "third" age) cannot even begin to think or allow others to think that our lives are over. Far from it. I feel, and I know from discussing this not only with my friend, but others as well, that our best is yet to come. This generation of silver hairs (those who still have some hair, that is) is a far cry from other generations past.   

 Recently I was talking with a dearest person, with whom I have had the opportunity to communicate again after some 44 years of not having known the whereabouts of each other. Actually, we were not really talking; rather, we have exchanged almost daily emails about all that has gone on in both our lives during this lapse of time. It was truly a blessing and a total pleasure hearing from her again and, I hope, it was also her pleasure at having heard from me. In comparing notes, we both have had the opportunity to travel the world. In my case due to business pursuits and, in her case, as the wife of an enlisted man. As it happens, in one of those entries usually catalogued as “life’s ironies”, it turns out we may have been almost neighbors on more than one occasion.

We have talked about many of those who were our high school friends and classmates (yes, 44-45 years ago… no comments please!) and tried to find out how many of them had remained in our lives. In fact, she is now, as I write this entry, attending her HS Class of ‘65 reunion (#45). We talked about those friends who made up the band of Cubans who “invaded” Columbia HS in 1964. Some with whom I now communicate regularly (as indicated in other entries) and she was happy to hear about them. I was, in return, happy to hear about some of the others from her group and to know they are well.

As we continued to exchange mails on this subject, she made a comment which is, really, the thought behind this entry’s title of “Coming of Age”. We soon realized that, as we near the “third” third of our lives and come into the realization that the largest (not necessarily the best) part of our lives is already past, the longing for that time gone becomes a notion we manage on a daily basis. “What if?” becomes o center issue in most of these thought patterns. What if I had stayed together with so and so? What if I had never become involved in this or that? What if I had become involved in this or that? What if I had never moved to such place? You can guess that this list can become a book of many pages. And each and every one of them, my friends, a totally useless page.

We live, we make decisions as we go and most of them are done on a trial and error basis. Some have good results, some have no results and some others result in negative issues and situations that affect the rest of our lives. There is no way to know beforehand what will happen, based on an action we take –or not take. Yes, we can foresee some results (good or not so good) but these cannot be guaranteed. Whether we like it or not, all our actions are really interactions with other people who surround us. Some are family, some are strangers.

What is this all about?  As we get older, we face an extremely heavy pressure not to accept the fact that we are getting older. Especially in this country of ours, where “rejuvenation techniques” (including surgery, botox, et all) have become a multi-billion (yes, with a “B”) business. We are told we can look years younger, have more hair, more muscle, more sexual power, more whatever… and less of other, unwanted things. It was simpler in my childhood, where grandparents were just that: grandparents… and were respected for simply having attained that status. No one told them they looked old, that they were out of synch with the rest of the world. Today, in this much more complex world, where an eight year old can give classes in computing, we are told that an “old-looking” person is out of synch simply because he or she looks the attained age. 

Be well!! I'll be back with more on this tomorrow... or in a couple of days.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Dissidents and Other Issues.

You know I seldom write on political issues. However, it truly bothers me when we act as if the release of some poor folks jailed for simply trying to express their thoughts becomes a political celebratory circus, forgetting many other issues that we should be airing and questioning. We allow the sun to be covered by a well placed thumb and proceed to applaud and wistfully ignore the dirt that is convenient not to show or question.

A few days ago, the Cuban government announced that it would free 52 of 75 people it jailed a couple of years back. This was the result of a joint effort of the Catholic Church leadership in Cuba, the Spanish Government and the Cuban Government. The news was, of course, very well received by many; especially those who still insist in saying that the Cuban government is a democratic government. I personally believe that in freeing these people, the government is revving up the marketing machinery to further its own cause, but also understand that 52 people who were unjustly placed in jail, will now be free.
Interestingly, several of those being freed have stated that they will not accept a forced exile as part of the package (those being freed are being sent to Spain as part of the package deal) because they prefer to stay in the island and continue their cause. It seems that part of the incentive the government has had to free these people, besides public opinion –a concept which carries no weight with this particular group- is to actually reduce the internal resistance and the dissidents’ ranks within the island. As long as they remain there, they will be heard by the people; once they are sent outside, the walls of censorship and control weigh in and their words will not so easily reach those left behind. It is a win-win situation for the Castro regime: good press and a reduction in the ranks of those who dare speak out against their policies and politics.
All is well and good. I believe, however, that there are some basic questions which need to be asked in a loud voice, requiring answers just as loud:
1- Why celebrate the freeing of these people without questioning the government as to the reasons for their captivity in the first place?
2- Why do we not look at the fact that their freedom was first curtailed not for being common criminals, but for simply demanding that the government allow them to freely express their thoughts and their dissatisfaction with governmental policies and politics?
3- What happens to the other 23 or so who remain in jail? There were 75 prisoners, originally taken in at pretty much the same time as part of this group.
4- What happens to many other less celebrated political prisoners, who languish in jail cells fit maybe for the rats and cockroaches which are often their only companions?
5- Why are we so easily derailed from the real issues, with just a little bit of sleigh of hand and well placed propaganda?
I am not sure I have the answers, or that the answers can be given in a conclusive manner. All I know, from first hand accounts, is that life in the island is full of fears and betrayals, often from those within the family of the person being betrayed. Every morning is the beginning of a new daily crusade, just to be able to acquire the very minimal basics in order to survive. And no, this is not due to the “blockade” as some would like to point out. Cuba has continuously traded with many countries around the world (it owes money to pretty much all trade partners, since it usually does not pay its debts), being able to secure goods for their stores and supposedly the consumption of all. However, most of these goods usually end up in stores designed to sell to those tourists who can buy with hard currencies, not usually available to the Cuban citizens.
Some years ago my sister went to visit the island and those of the family (many, I’m afraid) who had had to stay behind. She went to some of these stores in order to buy the children some clothing not available in the regular stores and, when my nephews and cousins tried to go in with her (who went in after showing her US passport), they were not allowed. It seems that, as Cuban citizens, they did not have the same rights of those who came from the outside.
After 51 years, the Castro Brothers have achieved the dubious record of being the longest, continuous same person government in modern history. This ruling “monarchy” has changed the course of a country which was rich in many aspects, including the human aspect and has turned it into a ragged piece of used up land and buildings, populated by a mass of people who follow the “leader”, whether by conviction or obligation. Whenever there may be some courageous exceptions, these people are quickly jailed or beaten into submission.
As all human constructs come and go, this shall also come to pass. I only hope those entrusted with the task to rebuild will be able to, no matter how long it may take, accomplish the rebirth of the best possible country, helping it rise from the ashes. Not just “as good as it used to be” but much, much better physically and much farther down the road to understanding what it means to work together and respect each other’s ideas and dreams.
Be Well!!! Be Back!.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Little More Cheating...

There have been several comments on the last "cheat" entry, so I went back to the manuscript and picked up another entry, following the one previously published from this "work-in-progress". I hope you enjoy it. Next entry will be a little more up to date... :)

“…There was a real interest on my part to try to help improve the insurance related corporate structures in that overall market. Most companies are owned by private stockholders, especially in the smaller countries. These are owner families whose primary interest is to make money. This is OK. However, there has to be an investment in human development in order to continue to make more money, and do so in a manner that allows those non-owners who work with the companies, to have a shot at a decent life. This holds true, especially with the continuing education of those who manage the day to day business end. This message and the delivery of all its related structures, was my mission.

However, I am digressing (nothing new here!!). The stage was beginning to set for some life decisions to be made. On the one side: my honest interest in Latin America. You could say: “loving Latin America is nice but, business is business”, and you would be right. But there is another perspective to that one side. When I went to Latin America because of my work, I was returning to my cultural roots, from which I had been yanked many years before. In fact, at one point I had to re-learn the Spanish language. My trips to Latin America reopened my eyes, mind and heart to the realities of my culture; the good as well as the bad. I had known my culture as a growing child, from the somewhat restrictive point of view of a fairly well-to-do, protective family, in the midst of a protective society. Frankly, I came to fall in love with the people I met, with their simple craziness and with the beauty of the countries and lifestyle. Given a choice, I really did not want to leave this mélange of people, countries, sounds and music; their thirst for learning, and the always present hope for the future. In many instances, this last is all they had to keep going.

On the other side: the developmental income needs of the Association that paid my wages, giving my family and I a very decent standard of living (economically speaking). On the one hand, the income being received from Latin America, despite the truly concerted work of the local representatives (all volunteer work) and my own, due to the currency exchange and the decreasing values of local currencies, was a continually diminishing corporate line in exchange for an ever increasing effort. On the other hand, each day spent with a Far Eastern company, would return about 5 to 7 times as much direct and derived income as the income derived from a Latin American company during the same period of time invested. Obviously, this was not a good combination; the writing was on the wall: my time would be increasingly spent in the Far East.

Anyway, that was a prelude to setting the stage. One of the primary US based member companies had (and has) several affiliated companies in different countries of Latin America, with the primary regional corporate headquarters being in Santiago, Chile. Just about the time I was being told my future leaned to the Far East (I had actually enrolled in Japanese Language courses!!), I was approached by the Latin American Vice President of the aforementioned big company. It seemed they were in need of a Regional Operations and Marketing Manager, who would report to him in Santiago and to the World Wide VP in the USA based Corporate Headquarters. Hmmm!

The offer included a lot of goodies: yearly vacation travel to the US with the family, private American style school for my children, the monthly cost of the house we would live in, and other expenses to be discussed. Of course, a decent salary as well was part of the package. It would also give us time to be a family, since travel, compared to what I did at the time, would be negligible.

It is said often that when something sounds too good to be true, it usually isn’t. Oh, the offer was very real. So is the company (still one of the large cats –although somewhat trimmed by recent developments- in the world). What in the end did not turn out so real, was the actual work conditions and the friendliness and interest of the person to whom I would have to report, and who was enticing me to go. After much thinking, I believe that the actual first step in this long spiral was taken: I made the decision to accept. You see, when I say “I made the decision”, so it was. It was not really consulted with my spouse.

Although done with the best intentions to provide more to my family, this was a major mistake on my part. I publicly do so admit. Actually, the eventual destiny of the marriage was already sealed; we just had no idea yet as to how badly the foundation was undermined…”

Well, we'll stop it there for now. Maybe there will be more if there is an interest expressed or, more likely, if there is a moment in which there is a need to fill the spot... It is part of a longer story, one which is still ongoing and perhaps this is what keeps me from putting it all here.

Be Well!! Be Back...

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Yellow Brick Road.

Life is a Yellow Brick Road of sorts. Much like the "chocklits" where you never know what the next one will be, the YBR brings you around and around, through all the little side trips of life. At the end, Who Knows What Will Be There? This title just fell from thin air unto the virtual page... :)

Don’t ask me why as to the title above… I really have no idea, it just came to mind when this page opened up in its clean, empty glory. As usual, there are no concrete thoughts as to where I will be going in here, or why. I wonder, is it better to have a defined “content guide” when doing this, or is it better to simply sit at the computer and let the mind roam?. There are many issues floating in the air around my life at this time and doing this is almost like a scape from that reality, to be submerged into a different reality, sort of…

What kind of “reality” should I create for this blog? I truly admire and envy those writers who can actually create worlds of fantasy, the people who inhabit them, their cultures and even their languages. That kind of creativity is, to me, awesome. It doesn’t matter that whatever book did not make it to the top of the charts; the sole idea of that much creativity going from one’s mind unto a clean bunch of papers is totally unreal. Just to sit here and write something relatively short is often taxing; I can just imagine what it would take to complete a full character novel. It took J.R.R.Tolkien some 40 years to complete his trilogy (actually quartet, since the latter three books were preceded by his first one “The Hobbit”). That is total dedication to a craft. In the middle of completing the trilogy of “The Lord of the Rings” he also wrote several books on theology, as well as treaties which were the base for his teachings at the University of Oxford from 1925 through 1959. I know, you don’t probably think too much about this guy but he became, by far, my favorite writer and his work my favorite work. I think I have given the full series at least 16 readings since the first time it came to my attention in 1972. Every time I do, something new pops up: a new slant, a new phrase; an old character seen from a new light. It is fascinating and also a tribute to the author that it never gets old. In fact, I will probably start on it again soon.

I declare myself to be from the old school: I despise the “spoken books”. I think they are a great disservice to the imagination of the recipient, unless he/she is a blind individual; they are the recipients for whom these books were originally intended. Those who can read and choose to get their books via a recorded version are just too lazy to pick up the book and take the time and trouble to read it. No excuses: we are all busy, we all work, we all have things to do; reading 30 minutes every night will do wonders for your gray matter. Not to mention that when you get immersed in a good story of your choice the day’s problems disappear, at least for a few minutes, while the written word takes you into a world created by the writer, just for you. The funny thing, each world created in the mind of each reader is ever so slightly different than the others… THAT is what makes it wonderful: the reader is creating his or her own imaginary world, aided by the words in the story.

You get my drift… Go on and READ!!!

On to something else, except I’m not sure what. Just went into the ITunes “radio” streams and started looking at what they offer there. It is really mind boggling (at least to an old mule like me!!) that in that one list, there are over 150 stations from at least 25 different countries and all offering, of course, the greatest music this side of Heaven. There certainly is a very ample choice and for the most part, free. Actually it is all free but, in some cases, you will be subjected to commercial time just like a regular station, although a lot less yelling is involved. Right now I am listening to a stream (remember when this word had nothing to do with internet and just meant a small, flowing river of water??) through my computer that originates somewhere in Europe (Spain, I believe) and has nothing but light classical guitar music. It is really soothing and great to listen to while working.

Internet, books, stories, they all are like a great long yellow brick road. In the end, we all come to the Land of Oz… or not?

Enjoy the trip, ‘tis the only one you’ll get.

Be Back! Be Well!!


Doña América and other memories.

I know she has already been mentioned somewhen along this line of sometimes unhinged memories as they relate to moments of my life , but y...