We are so blessed (#andyouarenot)

Last night my wife and I celebrated our thirteenth wedding anniversary, a big milestone that seemed to just sneak up on us in a blink. We asked my mother to come spend the evening with her grandson, and realized that for the first time in a few months, we were going on a date.The realization that we hadn’t taken the time to connect alone in this way was something that also struck a nerve. Nights like this are necessary, and although we have our walks (more on that later), we also need some romantic moments as well.

Marsaxlokk

Marsaxlokk

Last year we were still in Malta for our anniversary. We celebrated with an evening in the beautiful fishing village of Marsaxlokk and a dinner at Tartarun restaurant. For both of us, one of our most magical evenings, as each anniversary should be. We talked as we ate about how lucky we are, what we thought the future would hold, and toasted to the promise of many, many more years together. I remember taking some pictures of the amazing presentation of dishes that came to the table. Tartarun is truly a unique experience, and we wanted to share it with all of our friends as we posted images to Facebook & Twitter.

Last night our longitude had changed a bit since we were now back in California. We were enjoying a view of Soquel Creek from the beautiful Shadowbrook Restaurant. It’s hard to imagine that our conversations were any different than the ones we had had 12 times before on other anniversaries. But one thing we did notice this time was people.

One couple came in and sat across from us. She wore a simple blouse, ankle length skirt and flats, he was in a polo shirt with pinstripes and old sneakers. The entire time they didn’t say a word to one another, and it almost seemed as if they were regulars. The waiter brought their meal before ours and when he cleared their table, wished them a happy anniversary. They walked out as quietly as they dined.

Across the creek were a some younger people enjoying one of the summer creekside rentals. They walked in and out of the wood framed glass doors and stood to look around and take selfies, one had her phone held to her ear for over thirty minutes, and then we looked up from talking to find them gone, obviously headed to the Capitola Esplanade for dinner or drinks.

And behind us, out of view, were two couples that talked about money. Well, one couple talked. The other said hardly a word as they carried on about their 10 million dollar estate, how it was being willed to the kids and grands, how they bought their deadbeat son a new car because ‘I’m not about to have him drive my grandchildren around in that piece of junk’ and how their daughter was very upset about how their inheritance was being split, but that she ‘makes three times as much money as our son’.

This conversation was one that captivated us, and we just couldn’t stop snickering. The patriarch was an obese man with oxygen tubes feeding into his nostrils and I kept thinking that the kids would be seeing an inheritance fairly soon. Perhaps he sensed the end as much as I did, thus the conversations leaned all night towards what he would be leaving behind. It was sad to me that they talked about their children and grandchildren, but never once did the conversation lead down the path of whether they were happy, fulfilled or loved.

All of these experiences really made us think about the ego and how we are always seemingly trying to ‘one-up’ each other. The kids across the way with their selfies, the old couples behind us with their fixations on money, even ourselves with a lot of the pictures that we had taken of our experiences in Malta. We might as well have tagged them all with #andyouarenot at the end of them.

Look at this 2lb super burrito I am eating #andyouarenot

I’m in Rome #andyouarenot

I’m rich #andyouarenot

I’m buying these new shoes #andyouarenot

Why do we do this? It’s so sad, because most of the time I don’t think we realize we are even doing it. I know that this seems strange to write about, but we both decided last night that social media is really a bizarre thing. That smart phones are so popular in wealthy countries because of the ability to instantly boost an individual’s ego. It’s not often people post things that paint them in a lesser light, probably because those people can’t even afford a smart phone, or have evolved to the point of not having to post every moment of their lives to instagram.

I’m hungry #andyouarenot

I’m dying of cancer #andyouarenot

I am drinking filthy water #andyouarenot

I am homeless #andyouarenot

One thing my wife and I are going to be doing this year is practice more social responsibility in our daily lives & communities, volunteering even more than we have in the past. We are so grateful for the love and health that are so abundant in our lives. So this time next year we will have a brand new hashtag – what do you think it should be?


Hope is a Four Letter Word

A few weeks ago, I wrote a story. I had several members of the family read it and all of them enjoyed it so much that I had my first burning desire to submit it for publication. Now that I look back, it seems strange that I have never submitted a single piece before. No…that’s not right. I remember many years ago my mother submitted a poem that was published in a compilation of poetry. So this would technically be the second piece submitted, the first submitted of my own volition. Besides, the poem that my mother submitted when I was 16 was awful, and when she has guests over and takes me through the horror of finding the tome it’s in and passing it about the room I become awash with embarrassment and want to vanish. So, for the sake of this story, this was my first writing submission for publication.

The requirements for submission were simple. I printed it up, double spaced, placed a short cover letter inside explaining that I lived in Malta, and that any correspondence should be sent to my U.S. post office box instead of the return address. At the time, Linda and I were formulating a way to return to the States, a story for another day, but one that has the same level of anxiety building up to our flight as the escape from Alcatraz and would have the Anglin brothers nod their approval. I stuffed everything into an envelope plastered with numerous Maltese stamps and walked it down to the nearest Malta Post drop box. I remember having some butterflies as I watched it slip into the darkness. Was this going to be my first published work? Would the world look back, long after fame and fortune had elevated me to unseen heights, to this first story as the keystone to my writing career?

Oh, the things I imagined. It’s amusing when you think about what you think about. As I strolled down Triq Guze Howard, back to our flat at the Howard-Milner Residence, my mind became filled with the wonders of a new, sweeping epic of a life, borne on the winds of this small, traveling envelope. Linda would never work again. We would build our dream home with the money earned from my novels. I would continue to write into my twilight years from my new study, surrounded by books, old and new, and the smells of decaying leather and paper. Travel & leisure, and more time to enjoy our remaining days would be ours.

Soon the letter was forgotten. My wife and I got caught up in the stresses of moving back home. Resignations needed to be submitted at work, items that weren’t going to make the trip with us sold or given away. Packing and shipping consumed us, and of course, goodbyes to all of our wonderful friends here in Malta. Yet every once in a while as the weeks wore on, I would remember the submission, and wonder what became of it. Thinking about it always gave me a pang of excitement. The small letter had evolved into something more than a container of a story. It contained limitless possibility.

We visited friends in North Carolina and Florida before we ended up back in our home state of California. My daughter was getting ready to attend her first year of college, my son desperately wanted to return to the same elementary school that he had left behind. And there are so many friends to see! First, we needed to find a home to rent. Our home was still going to be leased for another 3 years. We didn’t realize we would be returning from Malta so soon. And although we had taken a peek at the rental market from Malta, it didn’t sink in how things had changed in 2 years until we actively began our search. If it wasn’t for the generosity of friends and family, this experience would have been so much worse. What began in late July as casual house hunting became a desperate situation by late August. Because of the recession, construction on new homes had ceased. Banks had taken so many homes from people that what remained became rentals. Inventory quickly shrank to almost nothing, and landlords had an opportunity to raise prices to astonishing heights. Unfortunately, we were being priced right out of our home town. Add to this the need to find work!

Then it came! The response to my submission. This could change everything. It was as if the envelope would contain thousands of dollars. The gushing review of my masterpiece was inside, and the springboard to my career as a novelist/screenwriter/playwright/poet was in my grasp! The world had begun to spin anew.

I opened the envelope and began reading the letter inside.

It was a rejection. I kindly letter, stating that hundreds of submissions come through every day. That this was no reflection on the quality of my writing, just that it wasn’t a good fit for the magazine.

hopeAt first I was disappointed, but it only took a few moments to, strangely, feel elation. I held in my hand a response from strangers that had read my work. The important thing about this letter was that it was proof that I had taken a leap to submit it. I had put myself into the most vulnerable place a creative writer can. I had exposed my underbelly to be gored by the beast, and although my courage had left me bloodied, I was not shamed. It was at that moment that the letter became one of my most prized possessions.

I have always told my children that they need to feel failure to feel the triumph of success. That they will fall down numerous times on their way to their goal. That picking ourselves up after each misstep builds character and teaches us something. In my hands were my own words to them, but it was their beautiful faces, and my dear wife Linda’s, that were speaking them back to me now. This letter might be the first of many more rejections. I envisioned a box full of them in my near future, and that box was to be my greatest treasure. More submissions are forthcoming.

Now I write for you, and for myself. I can’t care who loves it or hates it. I just write. Because, as someone told me recently, that’s what writers do.

We write.