Bee People (who we’re supposed to bee)

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Does anybody here remember the band Blind Melon?

Back in the early 90’s they had a song called No Rain. It was one of two singles from their self-titled debut album – and it wasn’t doing very well until the accompanying video went into heavy rotation on MTV. After that you would hear No Rain everywhere, which kept bringing the video back to mind for me.

But that was fine – because that video is one of the best metaphors for how we fit or don’t fit into our world, I think I’ve ever seen.

It opens with a small girl upon an auditorium stage waiting for the music to start. She’s a little chubby and has thick glasses and is dressed in a yellow and black tutu – which makes her look sort of like a big bee. As the music begins she starts shuffling her tap shoes to it, and as the Blind Melon song picks up tempo so does our bee girl, until she’s spinning and kicking and flailing her arms in a dance that conveys both individuality and sheer joy.

But when the music stops and her dance ends there is no applause – only denigrating laughter.

With her spirit crushed she leaves the stage in tears and begins a small and unpretentious odyssey in search of those who can appreciate what she does – and see her for who she really is. Her first stop is a man on the street. She dances her dance and ends it in a sort of “ta da” flourish with her arms outspread, but all she gets from him is a quizzical look.

He doesn’t understand.

Next she dances for a group of guys on the corner – but the outcome is the same. They’re a little amused, but that’s about it. There’s none of the recognition, the understanding, the validation that she – that we – need in order to confirm for ourselves that what we’re doing is important, that it matters, and that it’s right – or at least right for us.

Do you remember when you reached that crossroads in your life? When you were faced with the choice between doing what you felt you should do and what others felt you should do? How old were you? Were you 8 like the bee girl? Were you 48 like me? Or were you 98 like that woman who got her college degree last year from Utah State University?

College is a good example of a crossroads isn’t it? It’s something we’re supposed to do, but something we’re supposed to do in a certain way, and within a certain time frame. And while 98 is a pretty extreme example of waiting what most would consider too long to get your degree – society has far smaller numbers in mind. We get told in school that everyone has to go to college – and it’s pretty strongly implied that if you wait much later than age 18, you’re doing it wrong.

I hit a crossroads when I finished high school. I don’t know what it was like for you, but for me I’d just done 13 straight years of sitting inside classrooms, and since that was 13/18ths of my entire life I was kind of looking for a little respite. So I joined the service. And man did I have a great time – I learned a ton about myself and others, made lifelong friends, and banked some much needed cash to eventually get me through school.

But when I did get to college at age 23 I noticed an odd phenomenon: Some people treated me like I was too old to be there.

And if there is discrimination against those who started too late – what do you suppose it’s like for those who never went at all? How does that dinner conversation feel when talk turns to what you studied in college, or which school you attended? Why does that happen in our society? What is the cause? Who says everybody has to go to college?

Please understand that I believe a lot of people should go to college. But I also believe that a lot of people shouldn’t. Or, in many cases, shouldn’t go right out of high school. Here’s my reasoning: Precious few of us really know who we are at 18, and even for those who do – we still don’t know how to channel, or direct, who we are. And yet we get pushed along on a conveyor belt toward the college cauldron, where we either find out who we are and pursue that, or fail to follow who we are and pursue what ends up the wrong thing, or kick and flail and dance only to be laughed off stage and then wander off in search of who we really are.

I think the “You have to go to college” line is the default in our society to the question “What should I do?” It’s what we tell ourselves and every kid who asks. It doesn’t require much thought, or introspection. It doesn’t require that we come to understand who the asker is, and what her passions are, or what’s going to truly be the best and healthiest channel for her journey through the crossroads that life continually present us.

It’s just became a thing we say.

It’s a thing we say because it’s an easy answer, and a safe one. No real thought is required, and there’s no real downside to saying it. Well, not for us anyway – but what about that kid you’ve just said it to, who should be following their gift to become an artisan, or a musician – or a dancer.

In the end of the No Rain video the bee girl – who at this point is quite forlorn – comes upon a gate that leads into a grassy field bathed in bright blurry sunshine. And in the field we see other dancers – spinning and kicking and flailing their arms – and every last one of them is dressed in yellow and black. The little girl’s face lights up immediately as she rushes toward them. She joins the dance and smiles as she finally finds herself surrounded by people who understand and appreciate her. She’s found her bee people.

I say we do this: Let’s take the time to figure out each and every one of these kids who are looking to us for help and answers. And let’s guide them in a way that fits who they are.

Let’s help them find their bee people.

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Why Not To Sweep A Girl Off Her Feet…

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Do you remember when Star Wars came out?

And no I don’t mean any of the recent batch, I mean the original Star Wars – the real one – which came out in the 70’s.

I was at Britton Junior High then when word began to filter through the ranks of teenage boys there was a new, amazing sci-fi film coming. I think my brother and I pestered Dad to take us before the film was even out.

And when the thing finally did come to the Century Theater in San Jose you can bet we were there, in line, with what seemed like everyone else in San Jose. And it was amazing – I’d never seen anything like it before. Sure, there was 2001 A Space Odyssey, but with all the apes and symphony music it seemed more like a PBS documentary than anything else.

Star Wars, with its western style shoot outs and it’s clearly demarcated bad guy (Darth Vader wore even more black than Yul Brynner) was a flick us kids could really get into – and so we did. Soon the whole neighborhood was playing out the Millennium Falcon escape scene and Tie Fighter vs. X-wing battles until the street lights came on.

It was a seminal moment in our young lives.

So imagine my delight when the new batch of George Lucas shoot-em-ups came out. That was the late 90’s – by which time I had a couple boys of my own. Charlie was still too young to sit through a movie that didn’t feature a purple dinosaur or talking toys – but his older brother Connor had just started grade school – and I relished the thought of taking him to see the new Star Wars.

I of course thought it’d be just like when I was young. The movie would be awesome, and all his friends would see it, and then they’d go home and re-enact it over and over until the next one came out.

So when opening day arrived I had the theater pre-selected. I went by Connor’s school and, like any good dad, told the attendance lady that he had a dentist appointment – and then took him to see the show.

And it was as amazing as I’d anticipated – well, until the show started. Holy cow was that movie a hot mess. It had no discernible plot or leading man, and the racial stereotypes were so atrocious I spent the movie praying my boy was too young to notice.

Has that ever happened to you – where you were expecting something to be great and it fell flat? I guess it’s what happens when someone over-promises but under-delivers. And it happens in relationships too. Have you ever seen a couple start strong, and then come undone?

It happened recently to a friend of mine. He met a woman that he found himself very attracted to, so they dated a few times and his feelings for her grew – fast. I don’t think a month had passed before he started dropping the L word.

My buddy came on very strong with this woman at first, but I think that was before he knew who she really was – before he knew her quirks. Before he knew that she would probably not fit his life. But we guys do that sometimes – and I know it makes girls a little crazy, and we’re sorry about that, really we are – but we do it anyway.

And that can be a hard thing to explain.

I could tell you it’s because of those Hollywood movies where the guy sweeps the girl off her feet. But that wouldn’t be right, because we don’t go to those movies – but women do. As a result when the guy does come on strong women can be flattered, and go with it. They don’t always use their better judgment and question: “Wait a minute, this guy barely knows me – so how can he know I’m the one for him?” Instead they think their moment in the sun has finally arrived, just like George Clooney and Brad Pitt conveyed it would.

The only trouble is that after coming on so strong we guys often spook ourselves and then slow way down, leaving the woman sort of out ahead on her own, wondering what just happened.

At coffee this morning Loretta and I were discussing that paradox when she reminded me that I didn’t exactly sweep her off her feet. We actually started out as friends who grew very close and fell in love. We started contemplating some of our previous relationships and sort of discovered that the ones which did start strong – both hers and mine – were not the ones that lasted.

We also noticed that those relationships were much earlier in our lives. It’s my belief that at age 40 I was a product of my 30’s – and in my 30’s I thought I had the world by the tail. I thought I knew myself, and just about everything else. So when I reached 40 I was not the enlightened Obi Wan I am now, but pretty much under informed and self-centered – think Han Solo with a motorcycle.

And as such I used to come on pretty strong to women. And you know what? It never worked out – not once. I think that’s because too strong an opening play just can’t be sustained. And now, in retrospect I think my strong opening plays had everything to do with me and probably very little to do with the women. I wanted what I wanted – and I wanted it now.

Loretta confided to me that, as she made her way through her 40’s, if a guy came on too strong that behavior started sending up red flags. I think what she was saying was if a guy took his time, and got to know her, it made her more comfortable with the thought of maybe going the distance with him.

In my own case I think I came to a similar conclusion – if from the other side of the equation. I think I figured out, at some level, that if I got to know the woman to see if she’d fit my life before charging in with my light saber, I’d have a far better experience – as would she.

So it turns out that we’ve worked out, at least in part, because we have entered a stage in life where our concern for another – each other – have ended up making our own life a better place. And that’s a really cool thing.

Looks like there’s an upside to being old enough to remember the real Star Wars.

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I Don’t Ollie (or, why ‘Vert’ Skating and Street Skating are pretty much the same thing)

 

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In 1978 a couple things happened in skateboarding I’d like to tell you about. The first is the invention of the Ollie by Alan Gelfand.  The Ollie is a no-handed trick in which a board is popped into the air. Initially a vert move, first performed in a Florida skatepark, it eventually became a flat ground trick that fundamentally changed skateboarding.

The second thing happened in a skatepark on the other coast.

I don’t know about you, but skateparks really do it for me – and every time I went to one I’d get really amped. I’d think of the runs I was going to do, and the pools I was going to skate, and the moves I was going to try. One summer morning in ’78 as I was headed up to Winchester Skatepark in San Jose, California, I was thinking hard about some moves I wanted to go for.

I started on the ‘Washboard’, a set of moguls you pumped through that propelled you up this huge beautiful wall – it was like skating toward the sky. After that I hit the half pipe, where I pushed myself to go higher and higher until I reached that spooky weightless feeling at the top.

Then I headed to the pool.

Back in the day it was all about pools and aerials. Skateboarder Magazine always had some pro on the cover, like Peralta or Alva, flying through the air above the coping of a pool. I had yet to do an aerial – but I dreamed of them over and over.

When I rolled into the pool at Winchester I decided today was the day I caught air. I started pushing myself harder and harder, pumping the board for the momentum I’d need to leave the pool and shoot up past the lip. And on one particular run, when I knew I had the speed I’d need, I arced up and over the coping – just like I dreamed I would – and floated back toward the pool to touch back down. But a truck on my big Powell deck caught the lip as I re-entered. As I left my board up on the coping and fell backward toward the bottom of the pool, I stretched out my right arm to break my fall.

My fall is not what broke.

When I looked down my right forearm was bent into a shape that’s hard to describe. After surgery to straighten it back out, and a week in the hospital, and months in a cast (all spent not skating) I started to drift from skateboarding. Pretty soon I was working as much as I could to save and buy a car – and then girls came into the picture in a pretty big way and skateboarding started seem like a kid thing to me. And at that age I was trying to be anything but a kid.

Eventually I finished high school and joined the Service. Then I went to college, started a family, found a career and got a mortgage – pretty much in that order. Life was busy, a little too busy to skate. But whenever I saw a kid on a board I’d stop and watch for a minute, you know?

In the year 2000, when my son Charlie turned eight, I bought him a skateboard for his birthday – and something rad happened: once I had that board together and stepped on it to ‘show him how’, I didn’t want to get off the thing. It was like part of me – a part I’d put away – came back. That part of me that lived to skate rolled over from his long ass nap and said “Hey, where’s my board?” So I bought a new-old-stock Bahne Rocker, onto which I mounted Indy’s and OJ’s (just like I coveted back in the day) and Charlie and I started skating parks together.

But things were different now – skateparks were different.

The first thing I noticed at the parks? There was no one my age, at least not that I ever saw. And there were few, if any, pools. The parks instead featured odd structures like rails, and steps, and, well, more rails. It’s like they were trying to clone what already existed on streets rather than create that unique undulating terrain found in 70’s skateparks.

The boards were different now too – they were shaped like popsicle sticks – with a ‘kick’ on both ends. (Hello?! They’re called kick tails for a reason people!) And now it was all about tricks and flips. And what was up with those weird little wheels? They were the size of golf balls and almost as hard. Gone were the days of big wide decks and sweet soft urethane. Gone also were the days of pools and half pipes.

Vert was dead.

But now it’s 2016 and things are better, at least to this old skate rat. Parks have pools again, and popsicle decks are now occasionally seen with big soft wheels on them. I’m even noticing board shapes evolving (devolving?) back to what they looked like in decades past. But here’s something else I’ve noticed: there’s a sort of rift between old school and new school; between ‘vert skaters’ and ‘street skaters’.

And I don’t like it.

You know, if you want you can get all hung up that “skateboard” now means a popsicle deck. And that “longboard” refers to just about everything else (even if it’s 27”) OR… you can remember that it’s all skateboarding – and age, or skating style, aren’t really divisive elements.

Why is it people think the way they do things is the way things should be done? Is that human nature? Maybe – or maybe it’s just one of those ideas that grow from distrust or fear. Well the best way to erase a fear is to face a fear – and I faced one recently. Okay, maybe not a genuine fear, maybe more of a shortcoming. A hole in my skating repertoire, so to speak.

You see, I don’t Ollie.

It’s not that I don’t want to – it’s just that I don’t know how. Really. No one ever showed me and I never tried to learn. I left skateboarding the year Ollies came on the scene, and was away for over two decades – that trick was a rite of passage for a different generation of skaters. I think my own prejudice made me see it as somehow ‘not really skating’, and, I hate to admit, the symbol of a change skateboarding had undergone that I didn’t like.

But one of the cool things about being my age, is that life’s become easier to figure out. I mean hell, at this age there’s very little I haven’t already done, so how hard could fixing an old prejudice be?

Maybe not as easy as I thought.

I figured I’d need instruction, so I went to my local skateshop, Lighthouse Skates, down by the beach here in Santa Barbara and enlisted the help of Naren Porter-Kasbati, a street skater who runs the place. Naren agreed to help, so we met up at the skatepark a few days later. His offer was, if I could learn to Ollie, he’d also teach me to kick-flip.

I had high hopes – I really did. I thought, “How hard could it be, right?” Naren said just pop the tail with one foot then push the board with the other. Really? A two-step process and that’s it? Dude, I thought, I’ll be rockin’ these things in no time. I mean sure I’m getting older, but I’m still athletic. Just last week I rolled my longboard 27 miles in under 3 hours. So I’m going to pop a board into the air and land on it?

Big whoop.

An hour – and gawd knows how many pop/push combos later – and I still hadn’t done what you would call an honest-to-goodness Ollie. I mean, like I could get the front wheels off the ground, and I’m pretty sure a back wheel even came up a time or two, but a real Ollie, where the whole board is up a foot or two (or even a few inches!) off the ground? That wasn’t happening.

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Now Naren is a nice kid, and the whole time he kept a great attitude, saying things like “Good job!” and “You almost had it that time!” But a John Gavin Ollie was turning out to be like the Loch Ness Monster, or Donald Trump’s sense of decorum – nowhere to be found.

So what did we do? Moved on to the kick-flip! Which, by the way, you have to be able to do an Ollie to even attempt. But you know what? It wasn’t that bad. In fact, it was fun just trying. Soon Naren and I were trying to do them side by side – and by ‘trying’ I mean he was actually doing them and I was actually not (though one time my board did rotate half way ‘round and land on its top – and I’m calling that a win).

Here’s the truth: It was a blast giving those tricks a go – and I laughed my ass off more than once, even while landing on my ass. Am I any good at them? Well, no. But you know what? I was skating. At a skatepark. With other skaters. And I freaking love that!

We’re all skaters, right? Yes, yes we are. We do this thing because we love rolling a board along, and the feeling it gives us. For me, that means pushing a longboard a long way and careening down the occasional hill. For others, it means trying and mastering crazy new tricks. But it’s all skateboarding.

All of it.

So get out there and get your skate on. If you’re older and a kid Ollies past you, show some camaraderie and say “Hey”. And if you’re younger and some geezer like me is in your way? Remember that, if you’re lucky, you’ll be where I am someday too: just enjoying the stoke (even if it sometimes comes with the aroma of Icy-Hot these days).

Next, I think I’ll give downhill/sliding a try – I mean, how hard could it be, right?

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#skateboarding #Ollie #vert #streetskating #skateboard #skatepark #downhill #skater #skatelife

 

 

Color me gone

This is Me

me

I’ve been describes as many things.

My husband John likes to call me a hippy. I guess that is sort of true. I do want a commune, I like that the sexual revolution freed people to express themselves, I’m pretty liberal and I am all about eating organic, non GMO, healthy food. I like my blue jeans and my long flowing skirts go well with my long flowing hair.

But I can also look like I stepped right out of a high powered board room. I know how to dress like an executive and can sport a chignon that is classic and conservative. Once I was helping my son Adam with an event he was putting together in Santa Barbara and went to a meeting there to see if I could help. Later one of the men from the committee asked “Who is the power woman Adam brought in to…

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Lifetime Habit

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Do you know what you’re made of?

I don’t mean physically – like your composition. No, what I’m talking about are those experiences from your life that made you the way you are today. You know, like when someone says a certain thing to you – be that “get out of my hair”, or “what lovely eyes you have”.

What shapes the ways we respond to what others say to us?

Is it our original programming; that version of software that came pre-installed in our between-the-ears hard drive? Or is it the way we were conditioned by parents, teachers and life’s hard knocks?

A combination of both?

Here’s why I ask: There are things I’d like to change about myself. I can hear what you’re thinking now: “But John, you’re super great, at writing and probably many other things, so why change?” And trust me, I get your point – but there are still things about me I might want to modify a smidge.

Like how I argue.

Loretta: This ought to be interesting… Continue reading

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He ain’t heavy…

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In honor of National Brother Day I thought I’d write about my brother, Brian.

Brian is two years younger than me, and two inches taller (which doesn’t seem right, but whatever) and is really one of the best guys I know. He’s always ready to help, and is cool under pressure which – if you had a childhood like ours – was a vital skill.

And by “childhood like ours” I don’t mean to imply our childhood wasn’t good, or healthy or loving. It was those things. But it was also dangerous, and daring, and exciting – mostly because we made it that way.

Here’s the sort of stuff I’m talking about:

Our parents were born in Ireland – and because they were they liked to go to Irish events to comingle with other Irish immigrants and do Irishy stuff.

One Saturday when I was about 12 and Brian 10, they piled us in the station wagon and took us to an Irish dancing competition at a local middle school (think Riverdance for 7th graders) so that we could watch the children of other Irish immigrants bounce up and down to really fast Celtic music.

Whatever. Continue reading

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On the same page…

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So the funniest thing happened to Loretta and me the other day – and by funny I mean mysterious.

Loretta and I have been married for the better part of a year – and we were together for over a year before that. So you’d think we’d have the bigger topics sorted out by now. Sure, we know which side of the bed each sleeps on. And who gets the bathroom first (and I’m OK with second, really I am). But there are still some topics we have trouble with.

Like how much time do I get to myself?

Hi, this is Loretta, and I’ve been proofreading John’s columns for over two years now. Sometimes he listens to my advice, sometimes not, so I think it’s time I added my two cents to what he says about us.  First of all, part of the predicament is, after years of being single and on our own, we tend to think in terms of “I” instead of “we”. It’s “how much time do WE get to ourselves?” Not ‘how much time to I get to myself?” Continue reading

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Never mind Edward Snowden, where’s Terry the Toad?

Terry the Toad

Have you seen American Graffiti?

I bet I’ve seen that movie twenty times, maybe more. It came out when I was young so the first few times I saw it I wasn’t able to consider the story with any real insight or savvy. I probably just liked all the hotrods and music and such.

But as I grew older and saw the movie again and again I developed a real affinity for this low budget coming of age story. It’s the tale of four young men just out of high school, on the last night they’ll be together before their plans for the future will carry some of them away from the town in which they live.

And on that last night they sort of struggle with the seeming finality of leaving – which is fitting because that’s how us guys think. You know, sort of like “If I leave I’m never coming back”. And since the movie was made by a guy – a fellow by the name of George Lucas – that zeitgeist clearly shows through. Continue reading

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