Paul Andersen: Fair Game
June 27, 2010
Last week, I met with just the right person to help further my writing career. It was one of those serendipitous meetings that happen occasionally – and magically – in Aspen.
As the self-published author of “Moonlight Over Pearl: Ten Stories From Aspen,” I am doing what most writers disdain – marketing and promotion. Hawking my work has always felt tawdry to the creative purity of my soul. Still, it would be nice to pay off the printing bill.
So I signed up for a 15-minute conference with literary editor Rob Spillman. Such mini-conferences were offered, as they are each year, during the Aspen Writers’ Foundation’s Summer Words Literary Festival.
I paid the nominal fee and showed up with skepticism, fearing a complacent pat on the back and a “keep up the good work” send off. During our session, however, Rob was genuinely constructive and supportive. When he told me of his formative summers in Aspen where his father, Robert Spillman, was director of the renowned Aspen Music Festival opera program, I knew I had made the right contact.
My book is a great fit for Rob, who appreciates the literary approach I’ve taken with Aspen, so I left the session feeling what I can only describe as an “Aspen high,” a kind of euphoria that comes of serendipitous engagements with interesting people in a beautiful place.
As I was unlocking my bike from the rack outside the Doerr-Hosier building, a woman was also unlocking hers. We started talking, and I met Shere Coleman, a board member of the Writers’ Foundation. Our conversation led to a table on the deck of the Meadows Restaurant overlooking Castle Creek where we found common ground in the Aspen Idea.
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I rode my bike away from the Meadows inspired by the opportune sharing of experiences and mutual values based on Aspen’s core ideals that Paepcke, Hutchins and Adler planted here in 1950. A stop at the newly renovated Paepcke Building revealed the buzz of anticipation presaging a rich summer of programming at the Aspen Institute, the ideological focal point for the body/mind/spirit triad upon which I strive to live my life.
Next came an errand at the Aspen Historical Society, where Aspen’s history is tangibly preserved. The grounds of the Wheeler-Stallard House are bedecked with flowers, shade plants and towering cottonwoods that stand like Greek columns crowned with capitals of greenery. A new exhibit on Aspen in the ’70s promises a glimpse of a lifestyle awakening that transformed the old mining town into a counter-culture haven for hedonistic hippies who provided Aspen with a depth of spirit, passion, irreverence, creativity, humor and love.
Riding through the West End among lavish homes and the most beautiful gardens money can buy, I was reminded that the age of affluence was born of the ’70s, from which Aspen rose to an apogee of Bohemian vivacity and resort notoriety. The rich were attracted like moths to the bright flame of this cultured enclave where they could assimilate to a funky Shangri-la while living in the lap of material wealth.
Aspen is an odd contradiction of spirit and matter, philosophy and materialism, ethereal creativity and cold, hard cash. Mortimer Adler once said that Aspen represents two competing mindsets – the Platonic (the good, the true, the beautiful) and the Machiavellian (money, fame and power). It is within this interplay of opposing ideas that Robert Maynard Hutchins introduced “The Great Conversation,” which in Aspen is enlivened, enduring and damnably irresolvable.
Enjoying a Grateful Deli sandwich in the quiet of Stein Park on a shady bench three feet from the rushing snowmelt of the Roaring Fork River, I marveled at the dichotomies of Aspen and how electrifying it is when taken in sum, both as witness and participant.
Riding to Basalt on the Rio Grande Trail took the journey full circle, from pioneers trailblazing through sagebrush flats amid the redolent perfume of sage, to railroad builders who connected Aspen to the world, to a cultural renaissance after World War II, to succeeding generations of hippies, yuppies, artists, philosophers, developers, and dilettantes, all culminating in a thriving culture of art, ideas and athleticism that provides vital personal enrichment and one of the greatest highs I know.
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