Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Magic Moorpark Apricot

NOTE: The following is an original short story written a few years ago.  Though based on real people this is a work of fiction and by no means represents any person portrayed in the story. 

The Magic Moorpark Apricot

By Rich Burlingham
It had been years since the hamlet known as Moorpark was the epicenter for the apricot trade in Southern California. A bad freeze in the 1920s wiped out most of the trees and either a decline in demand or a lack of desire to wait for young sprouts to grow into fruitful trees ended the rein of the Moorpark Apricot and only a few trees remained in the now bustling city.  The largest groves of the fruit were part of the Little Simi Ranch bought from the Pico Brothers by town founder Robert Poindexter in the 1880s.  Poindexter was proud of his town and his apricots but the untimely death of his young wife Adele left him not only a widower but also a single father to a six year-old daughter named Helen.  After the great freeze put Poindexter out of business he transferred his remaining estate and other land holdings to his daughter and died shortly after.  Helen was only ten years old.
     Many years later on a sunny but breezy fall day a 13 year old girl named Olivia was escorting her six year-old brother, Avery, from school down a residential street in their hometown of Moorpark.  Avery was wearing his brand-new backpack as they walked to meet their mother at the Neighborhood for Learning Center where she volunteered.  They were passing under a tree when a strong gust of wind almost knocked them over. 
      They saw the tree sway and its branches flutter as though someone had shaken it.  The tree grew out of a yard separated from the sidewalk by a white picket fence and stood next to an old gingerbread-style house painted robin egg blue.  It was the home of an old woman kids called Old Mother Hubbard, but whose real name was Helen Poindexter, daughter of the city’s founding father.  Helen was over 90 years old and rarely left her house.  Care givers would be seen entering and exiting, sometimes the occasional doctor would visit, but that was the extent of it.  No one knew much about Helen except that she was sent away when her father died to live with an Aunt in England and then returned to Moorpark many years later when she was in her 60’s to live in the last remaining Poindexter holding – the little house on Charles Street that once was the home to the ranch foreman.

     Olivia and Avery stopped after the gust because they discovered in front of them on the sidewalk a bright yellow-orange round object that glistened in the sunlight.

     “What’s that,” Avery asked his older sister.  “I don’t know,” she replied.  “It must have fallen from this tree.”  Avery, always the curious one, quickly bent over and picked up the object.

     “Orange?” he questioned.  Olivia, looking at it more closely, answered, “I don’t think so…it looks more like some kind of peach, but it’s smooth. 

     They both looked up at the tree but were astonished to find that there were no other yellow-orange round objects in the branches, just green leaves, limbs and a trunk – like most regular trees.

“That’s odd,” Olivia said, softly to herself.  “Can we eat it?” asked Avery, who was placing it near his mouth.   “No!” exclaimed Olivia, grabbing the fruit away from her little brother, “We don’t know what it is…it could be poisonous.”

     Olivia was about to throw it into Mother Hubbard’s yard when an old woman’s voice rang out.  “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” she said in a raspy, breathy voice. The children looked over and saw this very old, thin woman hunched over with a cane in one hand and a wheeled oxygen tank standing next to her with a tube running to her nostrils.  “That’s a special piece of fruit you have there,” she said, struggling to breath after every third word spoken.  

     Olivia and Avery stood frozen.  They had never really seen Old Mother Hubbard before – all they knew was the playground chatter kids passed down from one generation to the next.  These stories were usually old ghost or monster stories simply revamped to include Old Mother Hubbard.  “It is not poisonous, my child,” the old woman directed at Olivia, with pointed eyes.  “It is a special apricot.  Whoever takes a bite will have their most desired dream come true,” she said from her doorway, the push of air from the tank punctuating her words. "But only one."

     Avery was fascinated by the old woman, yet his shyness kept him quiet. Olivia, her maternal instincts kicking in, held her brother tightly by his shoulders before addressing the senior citizen.

     “You’re just a crazy old woman who’s trying to scare little kids,” Olivia yelled at the woman before looking at her brother, “C’mon Avery, we better go.”  Olivia quickly walked off, dropping the apricot to the sidewalk.  Avery remained standing looking directly at Helen, her eyes dull and her face wrinkled.  He bent down and picked up the apricot and put it in his backpack. He then smiled at the old woman and nodded, as though he knew something that only he and Helen understood. He then ran to catch up to his sister.

     Avery tried to keep up with Olivia but she walked unusually fast.  “Do you think what she said is true?” he asked.  “Are you nuts, Avery?” she responded with irritability.  “Old Mother Hubbard is a crazy old woman.  There are no magic apricots that make dreams come true, you got it?” she said sternly, stopping to make sure her point got across to her brother before returning to her fast gait.

     Avery wouldn’t leave the notion alone.  “But what if it was true and you could bite into the apricot and get your wish…what wish would you want?” he asked his sister.

     Olivia kept walking but did ponder the thought of a wish.  “I don’t know…perhaps I’d have all my math homework done and would get A’s on all the tests,” she said.  Avery was about to speak when she added to her wish list.  “Oh, and I’d have Luke Taylor ask me to get ice cream after school…he’s so cute,” she said looking up towards the hills, forgetting for a moment why she was so flustered.  Avery looked up in that direction but couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary.  He wondered if all girls were as strange as his sister.

     Olivia finally looked down at her brother and asked, “What about you, what dream would you want to come true?”       
     With all the talk of dreams and magic apricots he hadn’t thought about his own wish.  He hummed to himself but didn’t say a word.  Olivia pressed. “C’mon, I know there’s stuff you want…what about that…” Olivia was interrupted by the screams of her mother from a block away.  “Hurry you two.  We need to get to the hospital. Your Poppa is sick again.”

     The kids put it in high gear and ran all the way to the car, which was running and ready to speed away.  “What’s wrong, Mom?” Olivia asked nervously.  Her mother, Johanna, was short, “We’ll find out when we get there,” she snapped while helping Avery get buckled up.  They all remained silent on the way to the hospital. 

     Somber silence filled the air during the twenty-minute drive to Thousand Oaks. At the hospital they met their Dad, Rich, who told his kids that their grandfather had been rushed into surgery due to complications with the cancer that had ravaged his body.  Moments after arriving the surgeon came out to tell the family their loved one had just gotten out of surgery and was stable in the ICU. The doctor took Johanna and Rich aside, telling them they weren’t optimistic and perhaps it was best to be prepared to say their goodbyes.  After a short discussion the couple thought it would be best for the kids to say goodbye to their Poppa while he was still coherent.  They each took a kid and prepared them for what they may see.  Avery just nodded to his Dad without any questions. Olivia asked her mother about twenty questions, all in a staccato, rapid style that left Johanna spent.

     Johanna and the kids entered the ICU – the cold, dark and noisy room was full of beds with extremely sick people.  Avery and Olivia followed their mother to the bed that held their
grandfather.  He looked very pale with all sorts of wires connecting him to a slew of noisy machines with flickering lights and LEDs monitoring every life function imaginable.  Avery was most interested in the breathing machine and though all the noise was enough to scare an adult, he was calm and collected, never wincing at the disturbing environment.

     The kids approached their Poppa’s side – the opposite side from all the machines.  The nurse on duty took off the breathing tube and looked at the kids.  “Be quick, now.  He can only speak in short single words.  Don’t excite him, okay?”  She waited for an affirmative nod from both kids before leaving them alone.

     Olivia began to cry as her grandfather moved his head to look at her.  “Oh, Poppa,” she muttered quietly before bursting into silent tears.  She backpedaled to her mother who stood near the end of the bed.  But Avery wasn’t scared nor did he move from his grandfather’s side when he looked at him.  Actually, he moved in closer, and put his face right up to his grandfather’s, almost touching it and said, “I have something for you, Poppa.”
     “Is that so,” his Poppa eked out, gulping for air afterwards.  He gathered enough strength to focus on who was talking.  Avery continued, “Yes, it will help you. It’s magic.”

     The old man forced a smile as Avery took off his backpack and proceeded to take something out.  Johanna became alarmed, “Avery, what are you doing?”  Before she could react Avery had taken out the apricot and was placing it by his Poppa’s mouth.  “Take a bite, Poppa.  Old Mother Hubbard said it’ll make your dreams come true,” he said with confidence. The gaunt ash-faced man with sunken eyes and gravelly voice, barely able to keep his eyes open, looked directly into his grandson’s bright blue eyes and said, “Thank you”, before opening his mouth.

     “No!” yelled Olivia.  “That’s that fruit…from the old woman…Old Mother Hubb…it’s POISONOUS!” she screamed.  Both Johanna and Olivia tried to intercept the bite but they weren’t in time.  Their grandfather gathered all the strength he had to take a small bite of the magic fruit and to chew and swallow.  Avery smiled. 

     Then all hell broke loose.

     Poppa began gasping.  The machines went haywire.  Alarms sounded and a horde of nurses and doctors rushed into the room, pushing Avery against the wall.  An excited nurse
asked for Johanna to take leave with the kids while they worked on the patient.  Johanna complied as she tried to comfort her hysterical daughter.  Avery calmly followed.

     Upon exiting the ICU Johanna was a mix of fright and ire.  She knew she couldn’t scold her son in the middle of the hospital so she quickly rushed them down the crowded hallway to the waiting room.  Once there they found Rich pacing the tiny room while Anderson Cooper of CNN reported from the middle of a hurricane on a TV perched above.  “That was quick,” he told the trio as they entered. Olivia rushed to her father for a reassuring hug.  “What’s wrong…what happened?” he asked.  Johanna simply looked at her son.  “I don’t understand what happened in there.  Avery, talk.”

     Avery sat in a chair opposite the TV, the apricot with his Poppa’s bite mark still in his hand.  He was about to explain when the squeaky waiting room door opened.  The same doctor from earlier slowly entered, now frazzled with sweat stains all over his greens.  Everyone in the room looked up, except for Avery.

     “I’m sorry….”, the doctor began.  Johanna wailed, knowing what was about to be said.  “We tried everything but I guess the surgery was too much after all.  We did everything we could, but Mr. Brooks has died.”  The doctor gave a sympathetic look to the family and was about to turn and leave without a further word when a small boy’s voice rang out.  “Thank you, doctor,” Avery told the surgeon.  “For trying to help my Poppa.”  The doc looked at the six year-old that sounded forty. They exchanged a half smile and the doctor turned quickly around towards the door in order to hide his tears. He left the room, closing the squeaky door behind him.

     After comforting his wife and daughter Rich sat down next to his son, who simply stared at the TV, not shedding one tear.

     “You know it’s okay to cry when someone you love dies,” he said, as he placed his arm around his son’s shoulder.  “I know, Dad, but I don’t have to because Poppa is better now,” he said with wisdom beyond his years.  Rich was aptly confused.  Avery showed him the apricot.  “This is magic. I let Poppa take a bite so his dream would come true…and it did.”  Rich was at first extremely perplexed, but looking at his son and then at the piece of fruit, for some reason it all clicked in his head, but he needed confirmation.

Olivia and Johanna looked over as they overheard the conversation.  Avery put on a confident face and looked at his family, speaking assuredly.  He said, “Poppa wanted to be with Nana more than anything.  He missed her so much and now he is with her. That was his only dream.”

     Avery then put the apricot back in his backpack, sat back and looked up at the TV. They all stared at Avery while he stared at the screen.  For the first time in a long time a quiet comfort enveloped the entire family.  Avery then looked to his parents.  “I’m hungry. Can we go get some McDonald’s,” he said as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

     Johanna looked at her husband and then back to her son, “Sure, sweetie.”  She rose, walked over to Avery and kissed him on the top of his head.  “We can surely do that.”

     Avery held his backpack tightly and looked up towards the TV screen.  “Say hi to Nana for me,” he said to himself.  A single drop of a tear finally rolled down his cheek.

© 2014 Rich Burlingham

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Diary of a New Middle-Aged Substitute Teacher - Entry 1

NOTE: Periodically I will be posting diary entries chronicling the trials and tribulations of becoming a substitute teacher at my age (52). I hope they shed some light on the good and not so good parts of this under-appreciated profession.
Professions in the creative arts are difficult to sustain or make profitable.  When you have a family to support it just compounds the problem and so alternate professions are usually sought.  I am no exception and the impetus for becoming a substitute teacher, and hopefully a fully certified teacher at some point, was obvious.

Here in California, where I live, they have placed some of the most stringent standards for those wanting to become substitute teachers.  I hear in some places any Joe off the street can become a sub with little to no proof of ability.  In California and Oregon you need to pass a standardized test called the CBEST: California Basic Educational Skills Test. 

It is a computerized-based test consisting of three sections which you can take individually or all together in one session.  There is a reading comprehension section, a math section and a writing section.  I wasn’t too worried about the reading and writing – heck, I’m a writer but the math…I was petrified after looking at the practice tests.  I knew I had to cram in order to pass as it had really been since high school that I took any kind of math class.  Oh, in college I took a statistics class to satisfy a prerequisite but I barely got through it.  As you can tell, numbers are not my specialty. 

 The reading comprehension wasn’t all that easy, either.  It took several practice tests to see the type of questions to know how to read the passages efficiently – and they try to trip you up.  With the writing section I would have to rely on my years of experience but I realized quickly that I would need to stick to basic academic essay style and format – no free verse.  Time was critical so I decided to take all three parts in one long session given at a designated testing center located at a local school district facility.  Before testing my wife tutored me on math (that’s her thing) and I took as many practice tests as possible.  It would be the first test of this kind I had taken since the GRE many, many, many…did I say many years ago. 

On the evening of the test I was a bit nervous as I was shown my computer station in a room with about 30 stations.  There were already about ten people taking various tests at different stages.  I sit down and log on.  I had already watched a tutorial at home on how to navigate their system and so it wasn’t totally foreign.  Then it came time to hit the GO button.  It was timed and a little countdown clock in the upper right of the screen constantly reminded you how much time you had left.  I had four hours.

My strategy was to tackle the math first – you could do any section in any order and mark questions in any section that you would like to come back to later.  I figured I might as well get the hard stuff done first since I could whiz through the reading and writing.  My strategy proved correct since the math took two thirds of the time to complete.  They give you white boards to use instead of scratch paper but when you run out of space they bring you another white board – I guess it was environmentally better.  I used two white boards. 

By the time I got to the two essays I had about 30 minutes left and used almost all my time  - I think I logged off with three minutes to spare.  It didn’t leave me much time to edit the essays so I hoped they made sense and had topic sentences and enough supporting paragraphs, oh, and a conclusion. 

Once completed my passing the test was certainly in question due to the math.  I was aware that I would receive my scores on math and reading after before leaving the center – the writing score and thus the overall passing score would come via email in ten days or so.  I was nervous when they handed me the print out of my scores.  Reading pretty good but math…just barely enough depending how I did on the writing.  It was a waiting game.

Not passing a basic education test would make me feel like a real putz, even though it’s been decades since I was in school.  When I finally got the email with my writing score I was anxious to look and even hesitated slightly.  I was pleasantly surprised to have done extremely well on the writing and so passed the CBEST on the first try.  I would later find out that for many subs took two or three times to pass all three sections. 

Passing the CBEST was just one of many steps (and costs) before I could enter a classroom.  Districts are all different but all required to see your Social Security Card, not just the number but the actual card…I had lost mine a long time ago and have never needed the actual card.  I had to request a new one from the SS Administration, which took 10 days.  Some school districts required sealed college transcripts so they had to be ordered from my university.  All need me to be fingerprinted for clearances by the FBI and Dept. of Justice – at my cost and it’s not cheap, though for substituting the resulting report goes into a county database accessible by all districts.  Then there was applying for a 30-Day Permit from the state through the county – another cost.  All in all it was about $400 – four days of teaching to pay off.  Some districts also required you to sit through a bunch of training videos on child abuse and mandated reporting.  The funny thing – no training on actually being a substitute or teaching – it is totally on the job training and something for the next installment.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Times They Are A Changin’

NOTE: The following was written a month after 911 happened while I was living in Manhattan.  It was written to the members of the Dallas Screenwriters Association of which I was past Vice President.  In the wake of the recent international crises such at with the Ukraine and Syria among others that have put the world on alert again, I thought it appropriate to republish. 

New York. Oct 11, 2001. In the fallout of the World Trade Center attacks there has been a conscious and unconscious change in the way we Americans look at entertainment.  Not since the Great Depression and World War II has an industry been thrust into a situation that can make it glow in the eyes of a nation.  As screenwriters we have the ability and in many respects the responsibility to guide our fellow citizens through anxious and fearful times that will define our future.  Whether it is through documentary-style realism or escapist entertainment, we can both enlighten the populous and take their minds away from the terror that fills our heads.

Here in New York, the entire communications industry – from the news organizations to the television dramas shot on the streets of Manhattan – has a distinct difference in their attitudes towards what they offer their viewers and how they do it.  As a writer in New York in the wake of what has happened, you cannot, not change.  From walking down the street and seeing posters on every lamp post and phone booths from friends and relatives of the missing to the vigils set up in parks with candles and flowers to the pictures of killed or missing fire fighters that adorn the facades of every fire house – it’s a different world than it was September 10th, 200l.

Of course, there is the welcome patriotism that has come across the nation.  But there is also a Ford F150 full of emotions, from fear to anger, that also has blanketed this country.  These emotions are swirling about like an Okie twister and it is the screenwriter who can capture them and turn them into compelling storytelling – features and TV shows that will help a nation, not just a demographic, heal and gain a sense that the future will be better.

Not that I was ever an aficionado of the big action adventure genre that has dominated theaters for the last twenty years but for the most part you can safely say that it has had its day.  Sorry Andrew Marlowe.  Americans of all ages are gong to want compelling dramas that help relate to the feelings that are dominating their lives, flat-out funny comedies and romantic comedies that can make them laugh and forget about the troubles at home and abroad.  You can bring back quality family entertainment that can put a smile on not only a child’s face but that of their parents and grandparents who try to shield their kids from all the bad stuff in the world.

So remember DSA’ers, as you sit in front of your word processors (or manual typewriters for you purists), that YOU have the power to help heal and lift a nation over this hump of terror, war and economic uncertainty.  You may find the uplifting screenplays you churn out might also help lift your own spirits.

Good luck and good writing.

Rich Burlingham
DSA Vice President (ret.)

Monday, February 17, 2014


NOTE: In honor of President's Day I thought of reprinting an old article that first appeared November 2006 for the on line news mag, In The Fray.  It's a list of the best film and TV presidents up to that point in time.  There have since been other screen presidents, such as James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) in White House Down and Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges) in The Contender, that may or may not make the list but I will let you decide if any of them should be included.


Critically Speaking:  Who’s the best Hollywood President?


Before all the holiday blockbuster and Oscar© bait movies get to a theater near you I wanted to do a little politicking myself with a self induced caucus on the best fictional president in film or television.  I decided to conduct my own very unscientific poll with a very biased pool of one person, myself.  I limited the possible candidates to those films or television shows after 1960 and I came up with certain criteria based on what Mr.& Mrs. Joe Schmo would use to help make up their minds.  I graded each on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being bad and 10 being excellent on the following criteria: Character, Intelligence & Ability, Charisma, Family Life, Trust & Honesty, Experience, Decision Making, Political Skills, and Leadership. I added up the scores from all the categories with the result being what I call their Q Rating. 

The group consisted of 16 candidates from 11 films and three television shows.  They must have all been fictional characters (no biopics) and they had to be either the lead or a very major supporting role.  After exhausting study and analysis here are the results of the best Hollywood presidents, according to me.

The top president is James Marshal from the action blockbuster Air Force One portrayed by Harrison Ford.  His Q rating was 77 out of a possible 90.  Marshal scored high in all categories by showing his ability to not only thwart a group of terrorists threatening to kill his family but by being a president that we’d all want on our side...and women tell me he’s not bad to look at.   

Next is a tie.  First in line is Andrew Shepherd, the widowed head of state played by Michael Douglas, who becomes smitten with Annette Bening’s lobbyist from Rob Riener’s romantic comedy An American President.  Shepherd was able to gain a 72 Q rating by being tops in most categories save for political skill.  Dating a lobbyist trying to persuade your administration to change opinion on key legislation isn’t the smartest of career moves but again, he’s not bad to look at.
Also gaining a 72 Q rating is a president from another blockbuster, Tom Whitmore, as portrayed by Bill Pullman, the jet flying, alien busting president from the action sci-fi film, Independence Day.  Whitmore’s only bad marks come in the family life category because he’s too busy saving the world to worry about his wife, though he does give a good pep talk.
We go back to the 1960’s and to Henry Fonda in the film Fail Safe where he’s simply referred to as The PresidentFail Safe is a cold war thriller directed by Sidney Lumet (who cut his teeth on live TV) and  reflects on all the fears of nuclear annihilation brought upon by the Cuban missile crises.  Fonda’s president is cool, collected and able to make hard decisions that will affect the entire world.  If he wasn’t willing to let his family die in a nuclear blast just to save the world he may have gotten more than a 69 rating.
The highest TV president on the list is Jed Bartlett of The West Wing played with a mix of pathos and sincerity by the politically active Martin Sheen.  Bartlett gets a 68 Q rating by bringing intelligence and a conscious to his presidency and a heartfelt desire to lead the American people through challenging times.  If he hadn’t lied about his medical problems he would have scored a lot higher.
Next we have another sci-fi president in Tom Beck, the first African-American Chief played by the Academy Award winning actor Morgan Freeman.  In the film Deep Impact, Freeman’s president has to play the tough father figure to a world that is certainly going to be hit by a giant comet.  Beck lacks charisma but if push comes to shove I wouldn’t mind having him in the oval office whenever a large celestial object is heading our way.
We go back to television for our next president, the greenest member on the list and the first female, Mackenzie Allen, played by another Academy Award winner, Geena Davis.  In Commander In Chief you have a Vice-President who assumes the presidency after her boss dies off.  She has to battle public opinion and a ruthless Speaker of the House, played to the hilt by the venerable Donald Sutherland.  In the Allen White House you have a husband who assumes a greater role than most first ladies have before him and three kids all face the hardships of growing up with a mom who could drop a bomb whenever she pleases.  She still has some proving to do, experience to gain and political moves to master but given time McKenzie Allen could move up in the polls and raise her 61 rating.
We change networks for our next president, David Palmer as portrayed by Dennis Haysbert from the first couple seasons of the Fox show 24.  After facing not only a threat on his life and an actual assassination attempt he had to deal with a back-stabbing evil wife turned ex-wife who would do anything to get her man back.  Being able to help keep both America and Jack Bauer (Keifer Sutherland) safe is a lot for any president to handle.  I’m sure his advice would be to get rid of a crazy wife before running for president.   His Q Rating, 58.
Finally, one of my favorite presidents isn’t really a president - he just plays one on screen.  In Ivan Reitman's Dave Kevin Kline plays Dave Kovich, an everyman who happens to look like the president and assumes those duties when the real president falls into a deep coma after a sexual dalliance with an assistant.  Dave’s "President" wins the hearts of the people, balances the budget and falls for the real first lady.  The only problem is he’s really just an owner of an employment agency and can’t really be president.  If only it were that easy.  Dave only gets a 58 because...well...he's not really the president - but he deserves more.  Perhaps in a sequel where Dave can move from city council to the Presidency of the United States he'll be able to move up on the list, legitimately.

Here are the rest of the Presidents and their ratings.  No time for explanations but since they’re the worst of the lot, who cares.  Matt Douglas (James Garner) and Russell Kramer (Jack Lemon) from My Fellow Americans, 57 and 54 respectively; John Travolta’s Jack Stanton from Primary Colors, a 49 rating; Mars Attacks’ James Dale gets a 47 as played by Jack Nicholson; a 42 is awarded to Peter Sellers' Markin Muffly in Stanley Kubrick’s cold war classic Dr. Strangelove: Or How I learned to Love the Bomb; and the two most vile presidents on the list, each getting a 42 and 34, not respectively, are Gene Hackman’s Alan Richmond in Absolute Power and Dan Aykroyd’s William Haney from My Fellow Americans, each putting themselves way ahead of the American people.

The fortunate thing is that all of these films and television shows are first rate and deserve to be viewed many times over.  I’d also like to hear your opinion on the best Hollywood president.  I’ll tally up your votes in an upcoming column – no hanging chads, please.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Recognizing the Artist Within

NOTE: The following is an Op-Ed that appeared in the Ventura County Star in 2010 as part of the ArtsLive Initiative.  My father-in-law recently wrote an article about my wife's grandmother, an artist, poet, cake designer and a regal Southern lady.  It made me think about her influence on me and the world and so I share this again.

Recognizing the Artist Within
I have been involved with creative endeavors for all of my life but I never really ever thought of myself as an artist or creative person, mainly because my creativity was part of what I did to make a living.  I wrote, produced and directed while working for an advertising agency.  I also wrote screenplays, newspaper columns, speeches, you name it, but it was just something that I did because it came easily to me.  It wasn’t until I met my wife back in 1999 and she introduced me to her grandmother, Gertrude Smith, an eighty-something visual artist from a small town deep in the middle of Mississippi. Gertrude was the epitome of Southern belle charm who had spent her life in the rural country-side raising four kids, working hard and being the dutiful wife who catered to all her husband’s needs.  But she had begun a life-long love of visual art as a young girl when her grandmother bribed her to milk the cows with a box of crayons.  Being resourceful, she took those crayons to school and sold them to friends and earned enough to buy two boxes. She then drew on anything she could get her hands on and never stopped.

Her artistry had to be suspended since Southern girls in the 30’s weren’t able to seek careers in the arts or careers in anything, for that matter – they married a handsome boy in town and followed him on HIS journey.  Working in factories on both coasts during World War II Gertrude did get a taste of the world outside Mississippi but returned with her husband Percy to start a simple life back in their hometown of Collins.  She never abandoned her artistry totally and to this day remnants still remain from her younger days.  She was never trained.  It was just inside her to replicate what she saw and felt onto paper, canvas, mason board or anything that she could find around the house. As a devout Christian she always insisted it was God’s work but as we all know God works in mysterious ways and you could see in her abstract paintings and collages that her art was the means to which she could express her independence, her true self that was hidden to everyone else, perhaps even to her.  God may have given her the tools, but it was obvious she was the creator.

It wasn’t until the kids all left home and her husband loosened the reins that she became more serious with her art and began spending more time painting.  Percy even converted their cow barn into an artist studio for her.  She began attending art colonies and selling her work, but it was local and mostly to friends and neighbors.  My wife had always wanted to spend the time to help promote and market Gertrude’s work.  When I came along, being another kindred artist, it became a reality and we took on the challenge of inventorying and photographing her works (over a 1,000 filled her studio).  We created marketing materials, formed an LLC, got articles in Southern Living and other publications, got her on TV, flew a gallery owner from New York to evaluate and offer advice.  She received honors and art shows and she and her art were beginning to gain a reputation around the country – all in her eighties.  By helping Gertrude blossom as an artist so late in life, especially after her artistry was stifled for such a long time, I became more introspective about my own creativity and realized that I was an artist, as well, and that I had not allowed myself to “blossom” as I should have if I had known that it was possible.  Sometimes when a talent or skill is so innate or natural its importance goes unnoticed by the very person who possesses it.  Gertrude passed on a few years ago but her art lives on – I look at it every day as a reminder that I not only need to realize that the arts are a part of me but that I need to let people help me gain deserved recognition. This help comes from all of you who can help promote the artists in our communities.  Through patronizing galleries and attending performances or simply by just appreciating the artists that reside here in Ventura County you can spread the word on how they all enrich our lives.  Gertrude never forgot the smell of those first crayons she received from her grandmother.  I’ll never forget the first book I wrote in second grade.  For Gertrude and myself, art doesn’t imitate anything, life is art and hopefully, with a little help, we can give others the same thrill we get when creating our art as when it is experienced.
March Wind
Blue Bayou

Rich Burlingham - Writer/Filmmaker and Actor.  He resides in Moorpark, CA with his wife and two children and is working on a documentary called Brain Games: The Amazing Story of Academic Decathlon.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Why Women Can Rule the World Without Being On Top

I was listening to NPR’s On Point the other day and the topic was why there were not more women running Fortune 500 companies. They had on an expert who had just written a book, of course, with her theories and explanations.  Many people called in with various comments, theories and suggestions but nobody had the simple revelation that men and women simply think and do things differently.  It doesn’t mean that either is right or wrong or better or worse.  Just think in your own lives – those you know of the opposite gender.  You can come up with a multitude of examples of how they did something in a way that just astounds you - which you can’t comprehend.  John Gray was right with the whole Venus-Mars thing.  I racked my brain and came up with one reason why 95% of men occupy the top spots in companies.  Men have an innate need to be on top.  I’m not sure if this has a genetic or evolutionary component to it, but they like to be above everyone else in order to feel successful and fulfilled. 

Women, generally don’t have that strong need to be number one, but they have a stronger need to feel desired.  I don’t just mean in a sexual manner but a need for the people around them to think they are needed, respected, and wanted.  On the other hand, a man doesn’t necessarily need compliments to feel superior.  He needs to show off his prowess and in business this is done either through sports, such as golf or through normal business life, such as besting a co-worker in front of a boss.

Imagine a split picture - on the one side a giant mountain of people with one man standing on top in triumph, while on the other side is a woman surrounded by a group of people telling her she’s smart, looks great, is a terrific mother, wife, boss, colleague, human being, etc.  It’s not that men don’t crave the same desire for validation or that women don’t have an aggressive drive to be the top dog but their core modus operandi are different.  And that’s okay.

The other issue is that men and women manage people differently.  Women have had to bow to the way men do things in order to get ahead.  Now that women make up 50% of middle management positions female leaders can now manage their own way, but they have to figure out a means to convince or train the men under them to go along.  And since men aren’t as savvy when it comes to changing behaviors and attitudes or how they do things, it will be difficult for women to take the reins of business.  Once women figure that out I believe there will be far more women running corporate America.  Women are as cutthroat as men but they are also more collaborative and work better in groups.  Men tend to work more alone and manage with a more aggressive style.  And just as a bunch of men trying to get on top can be ugly, a gaggle of women all trying to be the one that is more desired than all the others can be just as or even uglier.  Men come out physically bloody.  Women come out emotionally bludgeoned. 

I think it’s just a matter of time that the majority of companies will be run by women.  All businesses will have daycare or child care as part of their systems of management so kids are near where their parents work so women can have it all.  More husbands will be primary childcare givers but work itself will be done more organically – 9-5 work days/5 days a week will be gone.  People will work a few hours here and few hours there that fit in with their overall lives.  Of course, there will still be workaholics but that’s an issue for another time.

Thursday, January 23, 2014



It's been a long time since I've updated this site.  A lot has happened in six years.  I continued my path to becoming a teacher, which had a lot...and I mean a lot...of twists and turns.  I finally gained my single subject social science teaching credential in 2018 and soon after my CTE credential in Arts, Media, and Entertainment.  Unfortunately, the job market was tight and I have yet to find a full time teaching position.  In the meantime I tutor with C3 Education part time and I was driving for Lyft until the pandemic hit.  This summer's teaching job search came up empty with only a few interviews.  So it's back to also searching for jobs from my past work as a writer, director, producer, editor, actor.  We shall see what happens but as it may, I will try to contribute to this blog more often and hopefully someone out there will read it.  Please, if you do, let me know and comment so I know there are actual eyeballs on this material.  See you in the funny pages.