Friday, April 28, 2017

Open Heart, Closed Mind

To quote the Bangles, it was, “Just another manic Monday”. Barry and I have had a number of them over the past six months, and despite their now routine nature we still have not acclimated. When the entry bell rang, I was in my office trying to ensure payroll checks did not bounce. Although that particular crisis has never happened at Twin Rocks, there have been a few close calls, and I fear the revolt that would immediately ensue if salaries went unpaid. Dragging myself up from the desk, I walked into the showroom to greet the young lady who had just entered through the Kokopelli doors. “Do you have a public restroom”, she immediately inquired, obviously anxious for an answer. The trails run long in southeastern Utah, and lavatories are often hard to come by. This is where the road ends and the adventure begins, not where you find quick and easy pit stops.

Having traveled with young children for years, I am aware how urgent bathroom issues can become. Indeed, on occasion I have vowed to eternally boycott businesses which denied access to their facilities when one of my kids was desperate for relief. Despite my extensive understanding of the issue, I still have lapses of sarcasm. Maywepee, I thought, using the term Barry, Priscilla and I developed for those who only want to use our toilets and have no interest in turquoise and silver. We generally only apply the label to elderly bus travelers who act as though they have an entitlement, consume massive amounts of our time, complain about our prices and never, never say thank you. Of course, when we are overworked we are known to apply the epithet to others. It was, however, a beautiful afternoon and the woman had an extremely nice smile, so I smiled back and directed her down the hall.

When she re-emerged a short while later, her cell phone was in her hand and her eyes locked on the screen. She scrolled madly through what seemed to be a large volume of content. Wondering whether she might stumble over something and seriously injure herself, I watched closely and made a mental note to call our insurance agent and confirm the premium had been timely paid. Once again letting cynicism get the best of me, I applied my Millennial bias, and concluded she was too young to have developed good manners.

I assumed that once she accomplished her mission she would quickly exit the way she had entered. She, however, put aside the phone and lingered, browsing among the Navajo rugs and baskets. After a time, I realized we were in it for the long term and asked, “Are you on the road?” In addition to descriptive terms for bus travelers, Barry, Priscilla and I have developed a number of prompts to get the conversation started when folks visit the trading post. Having once had a memorably bad experience when I asked a traveler whether she was staying in Bluff, I am now more careful how I phrase the questions. This particular inquiry seems to be nonthreatening. That, combined with the Jack Kerouac reference, appears to make the "on the road" icebreaker less threatening to attractive females.

“Yes”, she responded excitedly, “I am traveling three months!” “Three months”, I exclaimed, “90 days, 2,160 hours, a quarter of the year?” “Yup, that’s right”, she confirmed. “Wow, how did you get so much time off”, I pressed.” “Well”, she said, “I got a divorce, dropped out of college, left my job and had open-heart surgery. I thought it might be a good time to travel and decide what to do with the rest of my life.” Embarrassed I might have pushed too far, I searched for a workaround. “How does one so young have open-heart surgery”, I asked, avoiding the issues of failed marriages and premature termination of work and school.

She explained that as a veteran she had visited the VA for a regular check-up and discovered the potential broken heart. A quick trip to the cardiologist, and a week later she was on the operating table. “That”, she declared, “changed my life.” “Yup”, I said, parroting her response to my earlier question. At that point, we seemed to arrive at a comfortable place and she confided, “I discovered I am an artist.” Seeing I was interested, she continued, “Wanna see?” “Sure”, I said, not knowing what to expect, and remembering our photographer friend Karen, who always slips a nude or two into her portfolio before giving us a peek, to “get a rise out of us.” Re-extracting her phone, she brought up images of her recent work. “I had no idea I could do this”, she said, displaying a beautifully pictured honey bee sitting on a sunflower. It didn’t take long to realize she did indeed have a great talent.

At that point, I began to realize I had once again fallen into an old and pernicious habit. Since we live in a culturally diverse location, I take a great deal of pride in being, “colorblind”. I often talk with Kira and Grange about evaluating people based upon their character, not the color of their skin. While one might think that because of this stance I would be less inclined to invent terms like “Maywepee” and prejudge Millennials, that is not always the case. What this fascinating young woman reminded me is that I all too often allow myself to arrive at unsubstantiated conclusions. By making unfounded assumptions, I almost overlooked an interesting person who was willing to share extremely personal experiences. In revealing her open heart, my new friend exposed my closed mind. Priscilla has suggested open-mind surgery might be useful.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Aging Gracefully or Not!

Recently I had an interesting telephone conversation with a perspective customer concerning a couple of large, eye-catching turquoise necklaces by Kai Gallagher and Bruce Eckhardt. Ann told me she had previously worn fairly subtle jewelry, but was now ready to expand her collection into larger, more spectacular pieces.

Something about the way Ann made the statement prompted me to ask why she had come to such a decision. I could almost see her blush with modest embarrassment as she said, “Well, I recently turned 50, and my skin is not as attractive as it once was. I figure such a large, outwardly gorgeous necklace will draw people’s attention and cause them to overlook the wrinkles on my neck!”

Laughing out loud, and realizing my indiscretion too late, I quickly apologized. I attempted to regain my composure and semiprofessional balance by explaining the reason for my disturbing reaction. I told Ann that my precious spouse was of the same stage of life and state of mind. I had recently been informed, by Laurie, that she was falling apart.

My wonderful wife, who I find intoxicatingly attractive and mentally stimulating has somehow decided she is no longer suitable to be seen in public. Go figure! With Laurie, I know for a fact that I am personally responsible for any outward, and/or inward, wear and tear she may be struggling with. I publicly apologize and accept total responsibility, but I must also disagree with her assumption.

Visiting with Ann was a real pleasure. By her voice and mannerisms, I could tell I was speaking with a well-educated, thoughtful and sophisticated woman. I thought to myself, “What difference does a few wrinkles make?” I suspect they only add character. But who am I to talk? I have my own aged demons to emotionally deal with which are too ugly to expose publicly.

Our Navajo neighbors tell us that the Sun symbolizes male youth, strength, vigor and virility. The Moon, on the other hand, represents male maturity, a graceful decline in years, compassion, understanding, and eventual death. As men, we naturally desire to be associated with the Sun. No man in his right mind would want to be recognized as being in the lunar stage of life. The only time I want to participate in a full Moon experience would be while wasting away in Margaritaville.

These issues have become so imbedded in my psyche that whenever I witness a spectacular sunset, I view the event as a gargantuan battle of will by the Sun to remain in a position of strength and enduring longevity—a last ditch effort on behalf of maledom to maintain a grasp on the beauty of youth. I see a glorious sunrise as a statement of rebirth and regeneration, hope and determination personified, the Viagra effect of the natural world as it were.

I find myself hiding out at night, evading the harmful rays of soft light. I quietly rest myself in order to spring forth and embrace the empowering light of first light. The other day while driving to Bluff just as dawn found the horizon. I was startled by a vibrant red fox sprinting across the road in an easterly direction. I looked upon the fox, saw the flame in his glistening coat and the shadow of darkness at the tip of his tail.

It seemed to me the fox was the embodiment of man’s struggle with degeneration, racing valiantly towards the everlasting Sun with doom and destruction hot on its trail. My heart skipped a beat as it kicked into overdrive and a wild cheer erupted from my throat.

“You go brother!” I screamed passionately. In my troubled mind, I witnessed the eternal struggle to maintain youth, strength, endurance and virility while being only slightly touched by the overwhelming dark side.

I guess each of us deals with reaching maturity differently, some gracefully with the aid of humor and turquoise beads, others with fear in our hearts and a passionate fire in our eyes.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Thoughts on Wrestling and Navajo Baskets

Some time ago Grange and I were sitting in a Mexican restaurant, having dinner and enjoying few moments together. Earlier that day he and I had been to a wrestling match, which, as anyone who knows me will confirm, is one of my all-time favorite things to do. Since this is a wrestling family, however, seeing Grange on the mat fills me with a unique pride. Competing in a sport where you have nobody to rely on but yourself and have to accept sole responsibility for your success or failure seems exceptionally courageous to me.

Grange has been wrestling since he was five years old, so he has a great deal of experience. Over that time, we have had good and not so good years. That particular day had not been a successful one for Team Simpson. In fact, it had been exceptionally difficult, so he and I were working hard to find the good in our endeavor. As we waited for our dinner to arrive, I noticed Tom, one of our Twin Rocks Trading Post customers, sitting across the dining room.

Tom, like Barry, is addicted to turquoise, and comes into the store to see what Bisbee, Morenci, Kingman, Number 8 and Blue Gem stones we have. When he holds the cabochons in his hand, he gets genuinely nervous and you can see they actually affect his judgment.

Aside from being fascinated by Tom’s addiction to Sky Stone, or maybe as a result of it, I have grown extremely fond of him. He arrives at the trading post each year attended by a herd of young people from the private school where he coaches and teaches. The kids obviously love him, and he surely adores them. So, along with his own children, who are now in their mid- to late twenties, Tom travels the Southwest with his students, visiting Anasazi ruins, running rivers, looking at art and studying local cultures.

Seeing Grange in his athletic gear, Tom inquired where we had been and what we had been doing. One thing led to another, and before long he was asking how the day had gone. Reluctantly we admitted it had been challenging. Having been an exceptionally talented coach, Tom was quick to advise Grange that failure is an important part of any undertaking. Tom went on to say that if Grange took the opportunity to evaluate what needed to be improved he would likely look back at this as a positive experience and find that it allowed him to improve his skills.

Grange seemed to accept Tom’s premise, and dinner became a much happier affair. As Grange and I drove home, I began to realize just how many times I had seen Tom’s advice at work in the trading post, particularly in the realm of Navajo basketry.

Twin Rocks Trading Post has been open just over 28 years, and we have been collaborating with the local Navajo basket weavers from the beginning. Over that time, I have watched as Mary Black has gone from a vibrant young mother instructing her offspring in this traditional craft to an elderly weaver. I have also seen her children grow from inexperienced, uncertain basket makers to acknowledged masters in their field. The evolutionary cycle has been both exciting and frustrating. Along the way there have been soaring successes and a few colossal failures. Overall, it’s been a stunning experiment. It is my hope Grange and I will look back on his time on the wrestling mat with the same emotion.