Longtime Aspenite Mark Howard looks back (and ahead) in new memoir
‘A Rewiring Life’
By Mark W. Howard
142 pages, $17.99
He was a ski bum who flipped to become a 9-to-5 guy and family man. He was a financial advisor who took a 90% paycut to teach high school English. And now he’s a retiree with his first book on shelves.
Mark Howard has tried to embrace change since he moved to Aspen, at 22, in 1973 and he reflects on those changes in his memoir, “A Rewiring Life.”
“Life is a series of chapters and changes,” Howard said in a recent interview on gondola plaza in Aspen.
The book recounts Howard’s life in a series of short vignettes, from his childhood in California through his many phases of life in the Roaring Fork Valley. There are some stories of ‘70s ski bum glory and celebrity encounters here but more of the book is devoted to lessons learned from the turns Howard took in his personal and professional life, especially in his experience teaching English at Basalt High School from 2008 to 2017. He was 57 years old when he made that leap, earning an Alternative Teaching License and a new life in the classroom.
Between his tales, he outlines an approach to life that harnesses the active mountain lifestyle available here without losing purpose, of opting to “rewire” rather than retire.
“My concept of rewiring is the antithesis of being a trust funder,” he writes. “Having a real purpose for getting out of bed in the morning. Not just another day on the golf course, ski slope or tennis court.”
It’s not a self-help or how-to book, exactly, but a personal memoir that frequently returns to the theme of embracing change and highlighting the positive outcomes that arose from the moments Howard shook up his own life. He’s hoping it might help some local readers navigate the personal and economic challenges and changes foisted upon them by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s timely because with COVID people are being forced to rewire,” Howard said. “They’re going, ‘Well, that restaurant I worked at closed or the business I owned closed, it’s time for me to do something different.’”
Howard offers wisdom and reflects breezily on his eventful life. He’s not prescriptive or preachy here, often reflecting on the literature that’s meant the most to him or, more often, that had the most impact on his students. (The book includes a bibliography of works referenced).
He fondly recalls personal connections he’s made with students — some he met at crucial forks in the road, like the young man deciding whether or not to enlist in the armed services.
Howard’s story begins with putting off law school for one year to come ski-bum in Aspen, then sticking around for summer, then watching nearly 50 years go by. That first winter, Howard rented a room from Jony Poschman, who has lived here since the dawn of the resort (now 94, Howard still visits her weekly).
He worked in a ski shop, on a grocery store night crew, later as a ski instructor and waiter in the time-honored local bumming tradition of making enough cash to get by and play outdoors everyday.
“Life was carefree,” he writes.
Then came fatherhood and, after 10 years on the service industry hustle, a gig in a local insurance office followed by a 25-year career in finance.
Any Aspen memoir has at least a few celebrity stories. Howard’s include playing a round of golf with Kevin Costner and serving a cocaine-snorting O.J. Simpson, who refused a private room for a window seat with Nicole Brown Simpson when Howard was a waiter at the Chinese restaurant Eastern Winds.
“They got louder and louder, and O.J. started banging on the windows and waving to strangers on the sidewalk,” he writes. “People would stop and look and he would be waving at their stunned faces.”
Howard also chronicles his friendship with the late Steve Grabow, who was killed by pipe bomb outside of the Aspen Club in 1985. Howard writes that he only learned of Grabow’s alleged life as a drug kingpin after his murder, when the FBI informed Howard that their phone calls and tennis matches had been recorded.
Howard started writing what would become “A Rewiring Life” in June of 2017 when he retired from teaching. He began with a chapter about being a young man of draftable age during the Vietnam War, which he then work-shopped it at the Aspen Summer Words literary conference, finding encouragement from publishers before opting to self-publish rather than chase a book contract.
The pandemic has kept Howard from doing traditional author talks or book-signings, though he did a sidewalk signing in Carbondale and one at Two Rivers Café in Basalt in December.
He has launched the website arewiringlife.com, through which he’s hoping to build a community of people discussing their own “rewires.”
“It will be a two-way forum where people can tell me how they’re rewiring, what their fears are or what their thoughts are,” he said. “The idea is, ‘Let’s keep changing and evolving. That’s a good thing.’ It has nothing to do with age.”
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