Small Town Living and Walking Out the Writer’s Block

The desert is in bloom, the temperature is in the mid to upper 80s and the town population is down to a few thousand.  And, I have to say, life in a small town is pretty nice.

Granted, Quartzsite isn’t just any small town.  This place is an odd mixture of carnival, flea market, gem show, tourist destination (with very few tourist attractions) and it desperately wants to be a real city.  Or at least its politicians are seeking this outcome.  The Palm Springs of Arizona.

Transient wanderers walk through town amongst the stray snowbirds who are prolonging their winter retreat until the last possible moments.  The town drunks are more prevalent now and nothing is hidden on these quiet streets.  And the daily trips of the locals on their bicycles heading to the market for beer are more reliable than the postman.

I’m currently battling a case of writer’s block, usually an indication that I’ve stayed in one place too long- or I’ve had too much of my aunt’s homemade banana bread and the yummy, sugary goodness has zapped the creative juju out of my brain.  I utilize the wonderful art of sauntering to try and alleviate my blockage.  Alas, as this entry is proof, my block is still here, but I did work on my tan and see some odd occurrences today and overhear some interesting conversations on my aimless walks.

On the way to the post office, I noticed an odd group of guys parked next to a 30 foot dilapidated RV with a flat tire that limped onto our street the other night and landed itself at the vacant lot to our park.  A lot which is home to some very, very odd fellows and is frequented by the police several times a week.  For what purposes, I can only imagine.  These fellows are stuffing plastic garbage bags full of crap from the RV and placing it into an old blue van.  The kind of van you walk by quickly and open the eyes in the back of your head just to be sure.  Upon my return, the van was gone.

Later that day, I walked to the coffeeshop and sat on the porch to try and find something profound to write about.  Obviously, I’m still searching.  I listened to the barista and her new employee talk about the changes in this town of 3500 people over the past few years.  They mentioned the price of food- which is insanely expensive.  Six dollars for 4 sticks of generic, chemical laden butter is just wrong.  They went on to mention the cost of housing.  Property in this semi ghost town has skyrocketed over the past few years as more people park the RV permanently and try to recreate California.  The barista is a sweet woman who works hard to provide for her 4 kids and is about to be married.  Again.  She mentioned finding a 40 foot fifth wheel with 3 slide-outs, but couldn’t imagine having all four children and her soon to be husband inside the home at once.  I couldn’t imagine this either.  But that’s life in this tiny little town if you are not of the Have’s.

While finding reasons not to write at the espresso outpost, the blue van filled with garbage bags drove by 3 times.  And I passed them again on the walk home.

After dinner, at a loss for words- literally- and with no reason to walk to McDonalds and buy a $1 espresso (yes, I support my addiction with the cheap stuff in this town.  No Starbucks, what can I say) I went for another walk.  More of an aimless, after dinner, ‘let’s watch the sunset behind the mountains and hope another character from the story gods appears’ walk.  I passed the same familiar faces.  This town is so small that I pass the same people walking, biking or trolling in their electric wheelchairs every day.  The guy who smokes while driving his electric chair attached to an oxygen tank waves at me from across the road.  An older gentlemen stopped in the middle of the four-lane road to see if I needed a ride.  The guy who runs one of the swap meet stands and sold me a copy of the ‘Tibetan Book on Living and Dying’ for 2 bucks waved to me as he closed shop and asked how my day went.  He’s seen me at least three times today walking the streets.  As the sun sets in this town, the folks gather around camp fires, share dinner at the picnic tables and ride their 4 wheelers through the washes on the way to the local bars, all two of them.

Strolling down main street.

Strolling down main street.

I figured it was time to walk home once the sun disappeared behind the hills.  I turned down my street and came to the empty lot with the dilapidated RV.  A woman was hollering outside the RV with her dog.  I had to remove the iPod to hear this.

“They sold me a hot RV.  Bastards!” She yelled to no one.

“Not you.” she pointed to me as I walked by. “I’m not talking to you, just yelling at these guys.”  There was no one there.  “This thing is stolen.  They sold me a stolen RV.”  Insert foul language here.  I passed this woman on my first walk around lunchtime.  She was walking up the road, with a little swagger, in her pajama bottoms and a tank top and slippers.  When I returned from that first walk, she was sitting by the sidewalk next to the main road picking flowers.  Its been a rough day for her.

As I walked through the RV park to my humble abode- literally- the residents were standing around talking, so I caught up on the days activities.  As I sat knitting on the couch later that evening, again- trying to find something to write about- I told my uncle about the stolen RV and the blue van.  He laughed, “well, I guess the cops will be out later.”  Maybe that will give me something to write about.

Life in this little RV town.

Ceasing to Adapt and a Dying Trade

“You’re father taught you adaptability,” the teacher told his student. “When we cease to be able to adapt, we’re in trouble.”

“I went to work when I was 12, I worked with my brothers,” a budding 21 year-old jewelry artist stated.  “I didn’t go to class and got straight A’s.  I went to work instead and made money, and saved it.  Its sad, its pathetic.”

Our conversation began as in interview for my project on the Gem and Mineral Club in Quartzsite.  A young woman from Idaho was finishing her ring from the casting class.  She had traveled down here for a week to learn silversmithing, casting and wire-wrapping.  Her father owns an agate mine and she wants to work with these stones to create her art- and make a living.  We spoke about what she had learned from her instructor, but our conversation soon drifted to the theme of this journey thus far.  Embracing a trade and choosing a different route than her peers.

Her family supports her decision because, as she puts it, “my father chose the academic route” and he eventually turned away from his career as a bank executive to become a miner. He instilled the need to work with your hands and have a trade in his children.  According to the young jewelry artist, her older brothers started a cabinet making business at a young age, even sawing their own lumber, and are thriving now in the current economy.  Work and putting food on the table is something they’ve never had to worry about.  She began working for them at a young age and now her husband works with her brothers as well.

I asked her why she made the long journey to southern Arizona just to learn casting and silversmithing, didn’t someone teach this in Idaho?

“We never found anyone who could teach me,” she said.  Most of the people in her area are hobbyist and for a young girl aspiring to become a “world class designer” she had to journey far to find a teacher.

When asked about her art and if other young people are pursing this type of work, or trades in general, she gave a pretty interesting answer.  “Its a dying trade- its terrible to say. I don’t think its pushed hard.  Today kids- academics are pushed so hard- we’re not taught to work with our hands and this is all hand eye coordination.”

So, why aren’t we teaching our kids to create, to work with their hands, to step away from the computer and make something?  Why did we drift so far from our roots as a country?  Why did we sit back complacently and allow things like “No Child Left Behind” to occur and our school systems to create adults who adhere to a strict 9-5 regimen and keep the wheels of capitalism spinning? Why have we not shown our youth the beauty of entrepreneurship and of making a living through creativity, ingenuity and determination?

“We haven’t left them behind, they don’t exist,” the teacher responded when the topic drifted to the public school system and children who fall in between the NCLB cracks. He left the system after many years of teaching lapidary and silversmithing at a public school in Seattle.  The school cut his program, along with many other programs from the arts in order to adhere to the standardized testing regimen and to push students towards AP classes to increase the school’s ranking.  He has some very strong opinions, and quite warranted, regarding the topic.  During our interview, he picked up the phone and called a former colleague who still teaches photography at the school where he worked.  Her and I talked at length about the school system’s structure now and the cutting of her classes as well.  They eliminated the photography class she teaches.  How sad.  I often credit my high school photography teacher for starting me along my path towards professional photography and showing me what a darkroom is and how it works.

She stated that her school was ranked first in the nation recently because so many students were taking AP classes.  But in order to do this, the school cut the classes on Shakespeare, philosophy and arts. She was hopeful that some of the students were taking a stand and still seeking the non-AP liberal arts classes and arts in general.

“That’s what makes you creative, your art.”  The young artist stated. And she’s right.  She’s also lucky that she had parents who looked outside the box- from inside of it- and said no, there’s a different path for you.

This topic isn’t finished and neither are the interviews for this story.  I’m curious where this story will lead.  A photo essay about a Gem and Mineral Club is now morphing into an article about art programs in the public schools and teaching our children to use their creativity and their critical thinking skills- not merely memorization and regurgitation.  Stay tuned.

A sunset on Main Street in Quartzsite.

A sunset on Main Street in Quartzsite.

Just for Laughs- a gift from the YouTube gods

Sometimes, we just need to laugh.

I was sitting outside the espresso outpost in Quartzsite yesterday and a new friend was playing some guitar music.  Out stumbled a local from the bar next door, completely lit at 3 pm.  He sat down and started a live concert, right there on the porch.

A drunken singer starts a live concert at the espresso shop.

A drunken singer starts a live concert at the espresso shop.

Now, being the person who loves to capture things on film for posterity’s sake, I couldn’t resist the urge to document this, I mean, isn’t that why engineers put video cameras in cell phones?

So, I have taken a step away from my journalistic integrity, and, I’m sure,  much to my professor’s dismay, I have created two installments of the day’s entertainment and placed them on the YouTubes.  Check them out if you need a good laugh.  They are a little profane, not for the weak at heart or the young, virgin ears.

The quality sucks badly.  And yes, the compression is off, the camera is shaky (I couldn’t stop laughing while filming) and the sound sucks- but what can you do?  Some things should be shared. I do have better quality versions to publish once I reach a normal internet connection.

There are actually 3 more installments, equally as funny, but I have yet to produce them, each one takes about 4 hours to produce and just seems a little silly to devote that much time to a drunken video.  But, upon request, I will publish the remaining videos.

So, that said, let’s put on our sense-of-humor hats and dive into the YouTubes.  Just for a few minutes.

I’m a Bad-Ass, Baby and  The Eagles- Live- in Quartzsite- Sort of…

I’m working on more meaningful stories and will post something of importance tonight or tomorrow.

An Empathetic Crystal and Saying Goodbye.

“I was walking along, looking down at the ground and there was this crystal.  Looked just like a tear drop.  A teardrop from God, just for me.”  My aunt’s friend held out this crystal she had found just moments after she and her husband had to put their 16 year old dog out of her misery.

“He had to shoot her.  Not the way I would have done it, but he felt it was his obligation to her.  She just laid her head down for him when it was time and he sobbed like a child afterward.  Then we buried her out in the desert and I found this crystal.”

I told my aunt’s friend that a crystal appears when the person needs it, the crystal finds the person, not necessarily the other way around.

I looked at her crystal and recognized some properties or ‘personalities’ of the stone.  She had found an empathetic crystal, and one of its properties is to help a person suffering from grief or a loss.  I told her this and her face brightened, and she was comforted by her crystal finding her at that moment.

My aunt and her friend spent the afternoon making jewelry and turning her crystal into a necklace, and I’m sure she will be wearing it as she grieves for the passing of her four-legged loved one.

Things are a little different out here.  Life and death seem to be a part of the daily dialogue in this retirement community.  So often the conversation drifts to so-and-so and his recent heart attack or so-and-so and their trip to the hospital or so-and-so and the passing of their husband.  Death is just hanging out here in the desert as the Great Generation reaches the end of their years and exits this world.

A couple walks to Tyson Wells in Quartzsite, AZ.

A couple walks to Tyson Wells in Quartzsite, AZ.

Another friend of my aunt’s stopped by the other day and was telling us about the dog her friend brought over who needed a home.

“He’s too full of piss and vinegar,” claimed the friend.  “He is a young one and I had to take him back.  My daughter was giving me grief about getting a puppy.  She knows she’ll have to take care of him once I go.  I need an older dog whose at the end of his years like I am.”

Everyday, a little man a few doors down from my RV takes his tiny white pug out for a walk.  The dog just sort of stands there, not sure of which way to go.  He looks up at his owner, and his owner looks down at him, and they just sort of stand there for 5 or 10 minutes.  The unspoken words between the two of them speak volumes.  I happened to by walking home one day and passed them in their daily ritual.  His owner told me his companion should have died by now.  The little pup was old and suffering from congestive heart failure and totally blind. But he’s still going, and everyday they walk out of the RV and look around at the world passing them by.

I passed them this evening as I was driving down the road and he was driving out of the RV park.  The little pug was curled up on the dashboard going for a ride.  I hope they were going somewhere special and the little pup was enjoying his final days with his master.

What’s Your Wish?

Waking Up

“Every morning I wake up is a good morning.” Grumbled an old-timer as he shuffled up to the door of the Quartzsite Gem and Mineral Club.

“As long as I wake up on the green side of the grass, I’m happy.” Agreed his fellow lapidary artist. The men were enjoying their coffee on a bench outside the workshop, waiting patiently for the doors to open. They continued to tell these little parodies about waking up each morning in relation to their age.

“Youth is wasted on the young, or something like that.” Commented one woman. “No offense.” And the group turned slowly to look at me and they chuckled.

As their eyes turned to me, I saw the fleeting glance of “what exactly are you doing here” cross their faces, so I walked over to the circle and joined in the conversation. We talked briefly about the lapidary and the projects we were working on and one man said, “we’re retired, this is what we do.”

Well, my reply was, “I’m not retired and this is what I do.” I just decided to skip the need for retirement and take the whole show on the road. “I started photography when I was 15 and this lapidary and silver-smithing now, when I’m 34. I figure by the time I’m your age I’ll be a master of two art forms.” He laughed, but its true. I’ll have a 30 year head start on my peers who wait until their 60s to pick up this art form.

Several hours later, I was filing away the edges of my pendant in my silver-smithing class and talking with my instructor, who, oddly enough, is a Buddhist. Not that being a Buddhist is odd, I just don’t run into too many Buddhists in this community. We were conversing about being a “full-timer” at a young age and by-passing the normal routes in life. He was a self-proclaimed “long-haired hippy” in a former life and studied art at University before starting a business and entering what he termed the “20 year sentence.” He did the traditional route, a mortgage, a business and a family, and while he loves his family and enjoyed his business, he just woke up one day and realized he’d journeyed far from his former life.


A Month

“I believe you need at least a month to really unwind and find yourself. To look back at your life and reflect on your current path,” observed my instructor. He and his wife were on vacation in their early 40s and they realized they were burnt out and had traveled too far from their former “long-haired hippy” days. They felt enslaved by the life they had built and felt it was time to make an exit.

So they did. They traveled home from the vacation, sold his business and they decided to travel the world. For a long time.

We read about these stories occasionally on the internet or we may bump into someone doing some fabulous adventurous endeavor after hitting the F*** It Switch and putting a stop to their own enslavement. These renegade souls stop their dissatisfying lives and do a complete 180- they head out on the road, they start a completely unique and satisfying small business or they merely return to a simpler way of life.

These souls don’t wait until their best years are behind them. They hear that little voice calling them to a different destiny and they listen. Without regrets. Without remorse. They listen. And they seek.

And some people choose never to enter the circus in the first place. After leaving my lesson, I wandered over to the rock gardens where a few gemstone dealers are still selling stones and rough cuts for lapidary. I was seeking some more gorgeous stones to turn into something fabulous while embracing my new trade.

Finding a Treasure

“Are you finding some treasures?” A young man asked me after I found some amazing Chrysocolla to work cut and polish. Yes, I met a young person in the land of the old-timers.

We talked for a bit and he showed me his artwork. This young artist carves stones for a living and was so excited to show me his creations. He lives on the road in an RV with his dog and his artwork and has by-passed the normal route all together. He said he likes to wander and look for treasures. After explaining my new found lapidary trade, he asked me, “what’s your wish?” I had to pause for a second before my response. No one’s really asked me that question in relation to learning an art form. The traditional question is, “what will you do with that?”

An interesting way to ask the “what do you do question.” I may start using that question myself. I’m curious to hear more about his story, I’m sure its not a “normal” one.

In opening my life up to the Universe in this unorthodox manner, it seems the Universe is continuing to place people in my path for chance encounters that reaffirm the beliefs that I seem to be focused on in my writings. And hopefully you’re finding them interesting as well. I find these people fascinating and reaffirming to the different perspectives on a life well led.

And, while on the topic of chance encounters, Luca the Italian Cyclist mentioned recently on this blog, has written an entry in English, for my mom! How amazingly wonderful of him- check it out if you have a second. And wish him well!