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Dispatches from the Magic Kingdom

Suggested Song: Travellin’ Band, Credence Clearwater Revival
Suggested Drink: Fogcutter cocktail: rum, brandy, gin, orange and lemon juice, orgeat syrup, sherry

I’m sitting in 36D – center section aisle (mon préféré) – and after 12 hours on this United flight from Munich I admit to some ache. The pilot has just turned on the seat belt sign and provided an update on the cool, foggy San Francisco weather adding, “we should be on the ground shortly.” Blessings to an imminent touchdown.

I haven’t written a dispatch from San Francisco since my last trip here in February. I haven’t written anything since February, actually. Why the pause, my first writing laps in 8 years or so? Now that’s a question I’ve been pondering too. The well isn’t empty, but the motivation has been flagging. I’ve been stretched with other projects, but that’s nothing new. A mystery. Perhaps we just need a breather sometimes to rethink and resync.

Is there a better city than San Francisco for inspiration, to get that figurative pen back to paper, whatever one’s form of creative art? None that I’ve know of. So here’s to a refire of the creative flame. Let’s see what develops. We’ve just touched rubber to tarmac, … and off we go.

Dispatch #1 – A Sense of Place

Noe Valley is a beautiful family neighborhood in the sunny center of San Francisco. It’s a perennial locals’ favorite but never a trendsetter. While the must-live-here-now quarters like the Marina, Hayes Valley, and the Mission bloom and fade on the shifting whims of the hyper-paid, transient hip, Noe Valley remains a priority destination for those seeking longer-term permanence in this city by the bay.

It hasn’t escaped the gentrification wave and real estate bubble burning through the city. There is a scattering of all-organic, locally sourced, gluten-free juice bars and quirky concept stores in the neighborhood now, but many of the boutiques along its 24th Street core remain in family hands after 30 years or more. Haystack Pizza, 24th Street Cheese, the Dubliner bar; I was a regular at all when Noe Valley was my first San Francisco home so way back when – the late ‘80s while studying at SFSU. I’m back in Noe Valley again this week, back to my morning buzz at Martha’s Coffee, my evening beer at the Dubliner.

Place plays an elemental role in life. It frames our quotidian and colors that community of friends and strangers who fill our days. When I take a pulse on how things are going – as I am this year – it’s the what I do, whom I love, and where I live that get the most critical reflection. Getting the where right is so important.

At 60 I’m ready for at least 1 more grand adventure, one more lifting of the anchor for parts unknown. This new course doesn’t have to be geocentric. It might just be the what or with whom. It is certainly not guided by a quest for more cash or greater security, which often fuels the flight in younger years. The eternal wanderlust for personal growth and new experiences, the adrenaline rush from knowing you’ll likely fail spectacularly … but what if not?, … that stubborn unwillingness to accept that this is it at any age; yep, this is the propellant.

I’ve rambled a bit through the years, living here and there in the States and now in France. A few of these places have left their mark, have spoken to something inside that is authentically Bill. Aix-en-Provence, where I’m living now, moves me at a deep level, and San Francisco as well. If I believed in past lives I’d say that I have wandered those streets before. And whenever I’m in the magic kingdom – Bagdad by the Bay, as the great columnist Herb Caen used to say – there’s no neighborhood that I love more than Noe Valley. Now off I go to Martha’s for the morning cup. Onward!

June 7, 2018

Dispatch #2 – Graduation Day

The motivation for this trip west was the high school graduation ceremony for my daughter Stella. One of those big life moments for her and for her proud parents as well. The wave of emotion that swept over me as she first appeared in the auditorium wasn’t a surprise – I knew what was coming the moment I’d see her in that purple cap and gown – but it was still a struggle to keep my pride in check. I’m a teary guy, what can I say?

Stoicism is a guy thing, maybe even more so an American guy thing, I’m not sure. We imagine ourselves as cowboys carved from some noble stone. What me cry? Never! Nothing stirs me more than music and certain songs can put a fine crack in the cool façade. Stella’s mother used to tease me for that vulnerability. When the Beach Boys Don’t Worry Baby came on the AM radio of my treasured ’66 Mustang, sitting behind the wheel and a warm California breeze chasing us down some coastal highway, well lets just say things would get a bit misty. I’m even moved as I write this now, hearing that brilliant third verse in my head:

she told me baby, when you race today
just take along my love with you
and if you know how much I loved you
baby nothing could go wrong with you
oh what she does to me
when she makes love to me
and she says don’t worry baby

I went to an Irma Thomas show last night at the San Francisco Jazz Center. She has a backstory that is as fascinating as the timbre and range of her voice. Doing studio work by 13, two marriages and 4 kids by 19, over 30 singles and 20 albums and a history of small victories, but always in the shadow of Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight and other better-known contemporaries.

Irma is 77 now and still brings it big. She had the committed crowd firmly in the palm of her hand, and for good reason. Her voice remains sure and strong and after 60 years in the business she knows how to command the stage. She had us on our feet for much of the night, white handkerchiefs waving New Orleans style as she worked through an endless string of requests from her long back catalog of hits.

We’ll all be lucky to still be bringing it at 77. Doing something we love, something so natural and sure that it seems destined. When I think about the kids graduating with Stella this week, about their futures and all of the questions and uncertainty they face in a world of rapid churn and change, I can offer just 1 piece of advice: never stop trying to find your reason for being alive. It’s rarely evident and you may keep asking the big questions well past midlife. But it’s that journey of discoveries and doubts that makes life as beautiful as a teary sing-along in a classic car or the sultry voice of an American soul queen. Sing on.

June 9, 2018

Dispatch #3 – For a Few Dollars More

The average selling price of a family home in Noe Valley in April this year was a cool $2.5 million. For the monthly rent on a 2-bedroom flat prepare to fork over $4,300. Welcome to the new world of San Francisco economics.

It’s not just the lodging that hurts. A veggie sandwich at Dolores Park Cafe ran me $14 earlier this week and my chai tea at Bernie’s last night was a steep $3.50. When you remove their cost for the tea bag – about 10 cents wholesale according to my back-of-the-envelop calculation – that’s some pretty pricey boiled water. But imagining their rent along that prime spot on 24th Street, I get it.

It’s an unvirtuous upward cycle driving this madness. A surge in the tech industry is once again pulling in boatloads of high-paid software engineers and designers who are young and hip and want to live in uber-cool San Francisco, not the uber-uncool suburbs of San Jose. And with the average salary for a tech worker now hovering around $150,000 they can afford it (well okay, maybe with a roommate!).

To woo the best and brightest, many of the newly minted barons of tech like Twitter and Salesforce are setting up in downtown now, and those that remain in Silicon Valley are providing wi-fi’ed commute transport from the city and back, … which feeds the need for even more pricey condos and chai lattes and all-organic, locally sourced, gluten-free juice bars in neighborhoods like Noe Valley. Sitting at Martha’s Coffee earlier this week, I counted 7 massive luxury buses in 14 minutes rolling down 24th Street, picking up riders for the hour drive south to Google, Apple, and other large corporate centers.

So where’s the problem? The techies are happy, their employees are happy, the city with its coffers full of higher tax revenues is happy. The problem is the loss of diversity, and that has always been at the heart of San Francisco’s unique color and flair. How does a cab driver or cellist or schoolteacher afford $14 sandwiches and $4,200 leases? They don’t.

I like tech workers okay and count a number of friends among them. I just don’t want to be limited by only their interests and sensibilities. There’s only so much bar talk about stock options and fundraising and blockchain that I can take before my attention disorder gets provoked. Yawn, pass the wine please, … and where do I set up my tent?

June 10, 2018

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Posted by on June 7, 2018 in Essays

 

Latest Dispatches from the Magic Kingdom

Suggested Song: The More Things Change, Bill Magill
Suggested Drink: Anchor Steam Beer (brewed in SF since 1896)

I’m en route to San Francisco with just enough connection time in Munich for a cold lager and doughy pretzel.  The 11-hour leg into the magic kingdom will be long enough for a gourmet airline meal and glass of plunk wine, a couple of movies, and some typing on this first report. Perfect.

My last collection of dispatches was offered up just about one year ago. I was struck by the changes both good and bad resulting from the ongoing tech invasion, voyaged up to the wine country for a proper braising in hot, stinky mud, and went on safari for the perfect cheesecake. (That would be Zanze’s by the way, mission completed.)

What’s the plan for this trip? Well, aside from some music recording later in the week I’m keeping the expectations open and hopeful, which is how one should always approach San Francisco, this magical City by the Bay. Onward!

Dispatch #1 – All Colors of the Rainbow

I’m flying solo on this voyage so have accepted my ex’s invite to stay at the old homestead. It’s become quite the colorful residence, with ages ranging from 18 to 84, dinner debates in 3 languages, a grandma from Spain (no inglés, lo siento), our 3 French/American kids, one new boyfriend and a transgender girlfriend (both are second generation immigrants also fluent in Spanish, so that works for grandma!), and now Bill-the-former-husband sofa surfing for a week.

How my ex manages to manage this ever-entertaining circus while holding down a full time job, caring for her mother, helping with college apps, keeping the house from falling apart, and putting a dinner on the table every evening is a mystery to me.  It takes real perseverance, acceptance, a love of all things diverse, and a big heart, … and this is what makes it a truly San Francisco household.

This is a city of incredible diversity: ethnic, sexual, economic, and even meteorological (50s at the foggy beach, 80s in Dolores Park). It’s not a town for the intolerant or neophobic. If you’re uncomfortable with change or being around people of different shades, accents, or orientations of any fashion, best to avoid signing a long-term lease.

Perseverance and ambition have been the hallmarks of each wave of migrants who’ve managed to secure a foothold: the gold miners and railroaders, the Chinese and Italians and Irish and Mexicans, the gay community, the techies. You don’t come to San Francisco for a life of leisure by the sea. It’s a city of creative sweat and big energy, … and the possibilities of beautiful reward.

So here I am and being blessed with sunny blue skies. My walk this morning along West Portal Avenue for a coffee at Peet’s – a few days of adjustment will be needed for the American caffeine dosage – has left me sweating in my light pullover. It’s only 9 a.m. but I’m already thinking through neighborhood options for lunch: tacos, pasta, sushi, burgers, pizza, dim sum …. the options are endless, kinda like this town. Appetite peaked, let’s go!

February 17, 2018

Dispatch #2 – Strike Up the Band

It is an interesting twist that we immigrants to this garden paradise are proposing border walls to keep out its former owners. Mexicans were roaming these Pacific lands long before the gringos arrived in ships from Spain and wagons across the Sierras. Since then they have been driven out, then invited back to work the fruit and vegetable farms during WWI, bussed back out during the Depression, then begged back to the fields during WWII, and on and on. They are a resilient group, and despite current presidential claims to the contrary continue to play a vital, essential role in the economy and social color here in the magic kingdom.

In the studio with Eduardo Garcia and Adrian Arreguin of Nueva Generacion.

Mariachi music is distinctly Mexican. It is a festive mix of strumming guitars, brassy trumpets, sweeping violins, and nostalgic lyrics about life and love south of the border. These ensembles come large and small.  Bands of 10 or more in splendid mariachi regalia play weddings and parties, and small combos of 3 or 4 in their nicked up cowboy boots and hats wander the Mission District streets, popping into bars and restaurants for an hour of entertainment and tips before moving on.

La Rondalla was a special kind of restaurant cantina in the Mission that I frequented in my rowdier years. It had a long and dark serpentine bar, Christmas lights shaped like tiny chillies blinking year around, generous bartenders known to break into Spanish song, a crazy fun mix of patrons – from the local hispanics to city hipsters, gays and lesbians of every persuasion, punkers and college kids and anyone else out for an unpredictable night – and great mariachi music. There was a large house band and no stage. They would show up mid-evening, stand at one end of the bar and rip out song after song while the locals sang along with lyrics that most of us didn’t understand. It was a family ensemble, with dad leading up the group and his young sons and nephews and friends, some barely into double digits, playing along and learning the craft. Great energy, great fun.

I had more than a few interesting evenings at La Rondalla. One involved a close and charming friend that moved me to write Paralyzed, which is one of 14 songs being recorded now for my upcoming album. It begged for a festive arrangement, and so last year I sought out the best mariachi band in San Francisco to help adapt and play it. Nueva Generacion was the obvious choice, particularly after learning that its young leader Eduardo Garcia was one of those kids playing weekly at La Rondalla so many moons ago, most likely on the night that Paralyzed was inspired.

Life never ceases to amaze. It leads us across the paths of people from different tribes and ages, with different histories and hopes, and we make biased assumptions about them that only serve to disserve. I have to constantly remind myself: stop this! Not in my wildest imagination would I imagine that this young Mexican kid I used to watch playing violin in La Randalla would be collaborating with me on music so many years later. Thank you Eduardo! Just more magic in the magic kingdom.

February 26, 2018

 

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2018 in Essays

 

Of Toasts And Something Deeper

Suggested Song: Wall of Death, Richard & Linda Thompson
Suggested Drink: a frothy pint of Guinness. Let the toasts begin.

I was in Nashville last week for a funeral and had been invited to say a few words on behalf of my family. This kind of duty can make people squirm. To be honest I don’t mind it. It provides a rare chance to reconnect with that soulful raconteur within, a genetic companion from my paternal grandfather, who was an Irish preacher of the good word.

Toasts spill out with ease, but eulogies can be tough to get right when the material is thin. This was not the case in Nashville. In fact my challenge was less what to say and more what to leave out. For my oldest sister had suddenly departed a life of beautiful breadth and depth. She was a traveler and seeker, a generous giver and curious student, strong when strength was needed, vulnerable when our own failings were being shared.

Life is short so enjoy it now.

This popular call to carpe diem always gets a good airing at funerals and wakes. It never quite hit the intended mark for me.

Life is short. Not necessarily. All that we know for sure is that none of us have any idea for sure. Children die unexpectedly and wrinkled up folks live past 100 and most of us get plunked down somewhere in between.

I never heard my grandmother Magill say life was short. For her, life was one long adventure. She escaped the crossroads of a Pennsylvania village and ventured off to college at the dawn of the Roosevelt era – Teddy that is – when a woman’s place was well understood: hands on the pot and babies on the hip. Work and wonder would carry her on to Puerto Rico, up to Manhattan (where a degree from Columbia was added), down to deep, deep Alabama, and then overseas to the Egyptian Sudan where she married my grandfather; the one and the same mentioned above.

Grammy lived to 100 and my sister to 67. I lost a close childhood friend at 19. We can’t waste time trying to size up our allotted sand in the hourglass. Life is unpredictable. Isn’t the key to get in a grand story worth sharing?

Enjoy it now. I don’t propose suffering now, but there is more to life than margaritas deck-side. If we want our eulogists’ writing assignment to be easy then we need lead lives worth retelling. And we’re all going to have someone retelling our stories, right? No one gets out of here alive.

So my point is this: go bold, go deep, do it now. Your remaining days may not be short. You may have decades left to create a magic that reflects all the best of your gifts and passions. Then again, you may have one more day. Be the author of the narrative you want delivered on that sunny day in the chapel, or it may fall to someone much less vested in making you sound amazing. Offer a highlight reel that can’t be cut and cropped; one that keeps everyone roused and laughing between tears.

Put a pint in my hand and I’ll stay full of barley-inspired toasts to you for many a round. But if you want deeper reflections on a life that truly mattered, that left everyone who knew and touched you in a better place, take the leap now. Uncover, develop, and share that bold gift as only you can.

Dedicated to J. Catherine. You made my job so easy sister.

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

 

 

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2018 in Essays

 

The Human Touch

Suggested Song: The Human Touch, Bruce Springsteen
Suggested Drink: Communion cocktail: vodka, creme de menthe, orange juice, grenadine syrup

It was billed as “The World’s Biggest Eye Contact Experiment,” and the local event was held in a large grassy park in my hometown of Aix-en-Provence. This is what happened. I arrived soon after lunch to find 3 dozen or so people already paired up, sitting on cushions and facing one another, relaxed and concentrating on their partner’s eyes, and not uttering a peep. This trance would hold for a few minutes, then after warm smiles and a short debrief they would part and seek out someone new, … someone like me.

Fixing on a stranger’s eyes for a sustained moment without conversing is an intense, slightly disconcerting experience at first. Nicolas was my initial victim. I’ve never fixed on another man’s eyes for 2 minutes in silence. What should I be expressing and how do I do that without uttering a sound? It’s the opposite of mindfulness. You’re not focused internally on breath and body, you’re connecting externally and personally, and there is an odd intimacy that is unavoidable. The mind searches for the appropriate decorum. How to convey empathy but not attraction with only my gaze?

Lily was next. She was a different person of course and the opposite gender, and I was now experienced (as Jimi would say). I was curious to see if that changed things, started to relax, and could lock eyes without overthinking my presence and demeanor. From Nicolas I received a gentle vibe of curiosity and outreach, and with Lily it was a simple acceptance. Here I am facing you. There is nothing more important at this very moment than our simple bond. We are going to just connect in silence and relax, … friendly smile.

I sat with a few more people before leaving. Each exchange was unique and quietly profound, and required a moment to reflect and recompose before moving on to someone new. The point of this event, held that day in dozens of cities across the globe, was to appreciate afresh the wonders of genuine human connection. Not through a carefully manicured iPhone photo or social media stream, but across a naked space of perhaps 3 feet, separating you from a stranger offering 100% of their attention, deeply, for a few minutes. Beautiful.

The Need for Speed

I have a few friends on Tinder. I’ve gotten the demo: the wow Bill, the check this one out, their swipe, the immediate response and plans for an evening dalliance. It’s an ultimate end to the trend in speed and effortlessness that has taken root these past many years. Why spend time in the kitchen when gourmet options are available in your frozen section? Why learn to play a guitar with real strings when you can be the next Slash with Guitar Hero? Why learn to commune with friends in person when you can socialize over the phone, still in your boxers at home? And why learn to love when sex is available with the ease of a swipe?

Am I showing my age when I say that this leaves me more than a little sad, … and confused? What don’t people get? The joy of cooking is more than a classic recipe book. Art offers even more to the creator than the consumer. The beauty of friendship is most deeply enjoyed elbow to elbow (and glass to glass!), … without ringtones. And love, well the gulf between sex and love is as wide as the ocean is deep. It’s like comparing a Big Mac to the Colours, Textures & Flavours course at Restaurant Guy Savoy in Paris.

Personally, I shoot for the human touch trifecta by inviting good friends for long dinners prepared throughout the afternoon in my modest kitchen. And for this they get a proper torturing after dessert with a few new songs on my trusty guitar or piano. Food, friends, music, perfecto!

Life is short. Why rush through it? Dive deep and linger over what you create, when you connect, and whom you love.

For more on the “The World’s Biggest Eye Contact Experiment” click here.

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2017 in Essays

 

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The Merits of Madness

Suggested Song: Mad, Bill Magill
Suggested Drink: Caribbean cocktail: Bombarra rum, cointreau, fruit juice, grenadine syrup (for my island friends, who’ve just survived a date with Irma)

Madness is close to everybody.
Carol Rama

I decided to take a gap year when I reached 50, to rediscover the world around, to reassess the man within. That year bled into a decade of exploration, an end to a marriage, a change in career ambitions, and a move across the globe. I sought out alternative beliefs and states of being, how to create, how to eat, how to love, how to live. Those first 50 years had brought me security, certainty, and predictability; things that kept me well anchored in a safe harbour. That all changed.

I’ve gotten to know the stranger within much better these past years in Provence. I came looking for an authentic life, a daily quotidian more genuine and rich than I could afford in the tech and investments worlds of Silicon Valley. And by afford I don’t mean with money. You cannot buy genuine. All the treasure of Zuckerberg and Gates and Bezos cannot buy genuine. You find it in the people whom love you, the dreams that seduce you, and the enchanted places that complement your own rhythms and energy.

I’ve learned that Easy Street is not my address of envy. Passion Avenue is where I look to squat. This can be a difficult neighbourhood, noisy at times, unstable, brilliantly sunny then ominously dark, rarely dull. Unpredictable lovers, impossible dreams, and impractical locales are what arouse my emotions. And aren’t emotions fully aroused the essence of a rich life?

I also value a good drink with trusted friends.

Madness

The weekends of my youth were spent with buddies wrenching on our cars, racing at the strip or on the streets. You had this keen and uneasy sense when your hopped-up, bored-out, over-torqued muscle motor was about to blow. It would roar down that last quarter mile run like a wild banshee, pushing your aggressive assemblage of custom painted steel and polished chrome seconds faster than ever before, gear after gear, eerily so. And then, in a scream of twisting rods and scorching valves, all of that mighty horsepower would explode in a crescendo of oil and fuel and flame.

You knew the risk but still pushed it hard. It was a mad drive to that wild edge. And at my point in life, again, … this is where I choose to live.

Time

Time is elemental. Quality time. Time spent with people who forgive (and perhaps even appreciate) your madness, doing things that define it, in places that provoke it. More time is more important than more possessions. Possessions are the enemy, actually. They require investment, maintenance, and energy; have to be placed or stored; and apply a brake on our ability to move quickly, to be fleet and flexible.

Gustav Klimt, The Kiss

Is there someone, something, or some place that you are mad enough about to pay for with time? Two years cropped from the end of your life for one more with them now, doing that, or living there? Four fewer final years for 2 now?  We would all pay for more time if we had the money, because money is a worthless, limitless currency. But time, now that’s a precious exchange in the extreme.

It’s a hypothetical question of course, but worth considering.  For if you have no one or nothing worth sacrificing your precious stores of time for, are you living a passionate life? Is it important to live a life of passion? I’m provoking, yes, but not leading with an answer. If you knew you would die in a year would you want the next 12 months to be mad and full of unpredictable passion, or choose comfort and security? It is very possible that you could die in year, in a month, or in week, so this particular question is not hypothetical. Right?

I want to know what my readers thinks about the merits of a mad life. I love to preach – my Scots-Irish grandfather was a fire and brimstone healer of the unholy, so please excuse the genetics – but I am sure of nothing except my own convictions. And I am immensely curious about your own.

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

Postscript: This essay is dedicated to a close friend who, at 64, has suddenly found himself unmoored and adrift in an unpredictable sea of life possibilities. Where he will be and what he will doing in the next months and years; it’s all green field territory. He is a true pirate and has provoked me to question much about my own priorities and ambitions over these past years. A toast to you, Dada. One of a mad kind.

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2017 in Essays

 

A Year of Goodbyes

Suggested Song: Hello, Goodbye, the Beatles
Suggested Drink: Memory Lane cocktail: rye whisky, shrub, bitters, lemon juice

Goodbyes can be hard and I’ve had an avalanche of them this year. Friends, kids, and lovers moving on, cherished apartments given up, and even my daily out-door market moved from the bottom of the street to across town. Now that really hurt. Adios.

This kind of churn wreaks havoc on the daily agenda. Whom I see when, where, and what it is we do together has been upended, and being a creature of habit I am off my game. The creative well is dusty, productivity down, and motivation flagging. My summer rosé pace remains robust and thank god for that. At least I can point to something that’s trending up.

It all started near year-end with that darn Sottak family. After holding court as provocateurs and organizers of all things social and immensely fun amongst our circle for the past 7 years, they decided to call it a French day and skedaddle back to the US. They were the glue and warm glow that pulled us all together for spontaneous apéros and long family dinners, group holidays to hither and tither, fun and frolic and generally irresponsible licentiousness. That they could not be replaced made their move even more unforgiveable.

Then over the Noel holidays my landlord sent a cryptic email that a dinner in January was welcome, … and needed. He needed to sell the apartment that was my welcome matt to Aix-en-Provence in 2010, a small but noble 17th century flat in the heart of this sun-touched, provincial city. So many memories between those walls: my 3 kids and their friends joyfully spread out amongst the cots and daybed and pullout; the communal meals and singing and supporting and debating and always one more bottle; mon amoure at my breakfast table, her perfume lingering for hours after departure. Another difficult goodbye.

More recently good friends of mine in Aix have decided to get divorced. They are managing it with all the love and respect that a beautiful 13-year marriage deserves, but it leaves me sad and deflated. My reaction is purely selfish of course, as they both seem fine and taking on the change with a positive, forward-facing attitude. I see a farewell to the many delicious memories we’ve shared these past 7 years, two of my closest friends imagined as forever a unit and couple.

I will continue to see them separately of course, but between their news and my own recent breakup, and my daughter packing up last week after a final long summer with Dad (growing up and college bound next year), and the Sottak departure, and the apartment move, … 2017 is becoming one long goodbye to an intimately warm and beautiful era.

Coping

Goodbye and Hello are funny words. One starts with a positive syllable but is often a distressing experience, while the other begins with a foreboding term but is typically hopeful and uplifting. Weird. Hello to new people in our lives, hello to new places.

The best we can do with empty space is to enjoy its serenity. Our daily lives are filled with turbulence, and a momentary calm can be soothing and restorative. An empty home is a clean slate, and an empty heart, once healed, open for new and beautiful souls to discover.

I’m keeping my hellos to a minimum through this transition, leaning toward the zen hermit mode and a few faithful friends. Stay busy and switch up the hours regularly. Avoid the routines that tug out warm memories. Run at dawn, write into the night, then write at dawn and run late. Travel on impulse, an evening in Italy or weekend in Paris. Keep the overnight bag at the ready. Staying off balance seems to offset the imbalance of these various goodbyes. I can’t explain why, but it’s working.

I’m hoping that all of your goodbyes are as warm and tender as mine. That doesn’t lessen the sting, but eases the recovery.

Enjoy the rest of the summer. It will be saying goodbye all too soon.

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2017 in Essays

 

R E S P E C T

Suggested song: Respect, Aretha Franklin (written by Otis Reading)
Suggested drink: Shot of Respect cocktail: tequila, rum, tabasco

I love that my partner believes in past lives and future premonitions. She buys gemstones of various colors and shapes – agate and garnet and bloodstone – some for protection, some for energy, others for healing. The spiritual resonance of vintage jewelry and clothing can overwhelm her emotional antennae; the histories of ownership, the echoes of lives and loves. Phases of the moon and astral alignments can swing her moods and appetites. This embrace of mysticism is just a small part of her beautiful complexity, and often leaves me both baffled and enlightened.

I studied physics and worked in finance. I’m the son of a no-nonsense country doctor and was taught to believe in logic and the observable, in the need for empirical evidence, the credibility of proofs and statistical significance, and to call bullshit on bullshit. Grounded, predictable.

Do I share my partner’s faith in a world beyond our world? Does that matter? No, it doesn’t matter. What matters is respect.

I respect beliefs of all stripe and persuasion and allow that someone, most anyone actually, may have a better handle on the bewildering mysteries of life than me. I accept that emotional states like heartbreak and love may inexplicably induce or remedy our physical ailments, and wonder openly if universes parallel to our own might be humming along at this very moment, shifted in time and frequency. With the greatest admiration for the principals of solid science and Neil Degrasse Tyson, I respect that not all cause and effect can be proven through scientific method (although that’s a great starting point).

Respect for the beliefs and priorities of others is not a virtue promoted widely across the globe these days, particularly by our political leadership. There has been a decidedly my-way-or-the-highway approach to governing and diplomacy since George W. declared in 2001, “Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

This type of narrow, self-centered bluster, which proved highly effective at rousing patriotic fervor (and voter support), has been co-opted by every aspiring strongman worth his or her spittle: Putin, Jong un, Trump, and Le Pen are just four headliners making the most racket at the moment. National mandates are paramount, compromise shows weakness, and those with opposing views are twittered as morons, frauds, and liars. Respect for opposing opinions? That’s for losers.

 

Now here I sit, a loser with his pint of beer at Le Grand Café in downtown Fontainebleau, a beautiful French city (aren’t they all?) just an hour southeast of Paris. Macron’s win last week is the topic on everyone’s tongue. I’m guessing he was widely supported in this upper class enclave, home to the regal Fontainebleau Chateau where Henry IV (the very coolest of French kings), Napoleon, and various Louis entertained in the gardens, hunted in the forest, and generally carried on with the local beauties.

The election outcome reflects to me a story of 2 conflicting global movements, the first based on hope despite the very real risks, the second based on fear in light of the many challenges. France has emerged as the best example of #1, showing again that it cuts its own stubborn path. Liberté, égalité, fraternité: these are uneasy times to honor such honorable principles. The US is the best case study for #2. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. This is another tough invitation to honor for a nation terrified by the bad hombres under the bed.

It surprises me. The The Home of the Brave has been so quick to surrender its principals and self-respect to the threat of terror, despite having almost no instances of domestic terror in the past 15 years. Respect for the hopes and dreams of others, … the American DREAMers for example? Désolé. Look at the man they’ve elected. Meanwhile their Surrender Monkey counterparts have hung tough and shown real bravery, despite suffering the highest incidence of Allah Akbar-screaming lunatics spraying their cafés and clubs with deadly fire. You think life is dangerous in Paris, think of the genocide in Aleppo. Come, come. Look at the man they’ve elected.

It surprises me. At this moment of global upheaval both countries have placed their bets on mavericks with no political experience. The similarities end there. One married a schoolteacher 25 years his wise senior; the other a model 24 years his long-legged junior. (I give her big points for avoiding the White House these days, however. She’s growing on me.) On election eve one spoke of hope, humility, and the imperative of a proud country to coalesce around ambitions for a brighter future and respect for all cultures, creeds, and religions. The other spoke in dark tones of enemies at the gate, a country in crisis, and himself as the single sole savior able to counter the nation’s impending doom. Who deserves your respect?

Bill Magill
Aix-en-Provence

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2017 in Essays

 

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