I’ve been thinking a lot about writing — fiction writing — which, in an entirely justified and rather long hissy fit, I have stopped doing. There are a lot of frustrations — some with myself. I simply cannot proofread. It doesn’t matter how hard I try, how many times I go over a text, what tools I use, there are always tiny typos. It’s at the point where it feels like a failure of personality. I think of a certain boss I had at one point who really thought this was the result of arrogance and carelessness on my part. I’m neither arrogant nor careless, so that led to some pretty heated confrontations between us. I felt that she could use her abilities and I could use MY abilities and we could be a pretty good team as she had no vision, no imagination, and no sense of humor.

Now I get it. Typos really do matter a LOT at the “end of the day.”

My little book of (cynical) stories, Luv’, which has mostly been given away (one person bought it for Kindle) has myriad typos in spite of most of the stories having been read not just by me but by others. I happened to take it to the doctor with me Monday because it was handy when I was leaving. I was reading (and enjoying) a story and BAM! typo.

But in more significant thinking, today it hit me that allowing my personal failings and the failings of the world at large to keep me from doing something I love is really stupid. Pretty much everything we do is pointless, actually, even if it’s successful. Life is pointless. I mean here we are, we do our thing, we save the world or ruin it, one way or the other (we believe) and the whole thing fills in ultimately like water in a hollow. There is no point in our existence at all except procreation, so the next guys can go out in their search for meaning and the discovery that meaning is subjective. Really the best we can do is not make our lives or the lives of others worse. That’s it. It’s not nothing, by any means.

So as Baudelaire’s poem, Enivrez Vous went wafting through my mind this morning I got the message (again?). “The only way to bear the heavy burden of time that crushes you to the ground is to be intoxicated without stopping, but on what? On wine, on poetry, or virtue, whatever you prefer, but intoxicate yourself!”

Pour ne pas sentir l’horrible fardeau du Temps qui brise vos épaules et vous penche vers la terre, il faut vous enivrer sans trêve.
Mais de quoi? De vin, de poésie, ou de vertu, à votre guise. Mais enivrez-vous!

Quotidian Sloughful Observations #71

The leaves have been released from the trees all around the slough. In town they are hanging on, but they can’t win this battle. The trees are all, “Little dudes. Winter is coming. I don’t have anything to give you. I have to expand my roots now.” I am beginning to see winter’s pastels edging into the picture.


“Sorry little dudes! You gotta’ go!”

Yesterday when we arrived — Dusty decked out in his hunting vest — there were pick up trucks in the parking lot. Three of them. I thought, “Oh rats,” then I saw they were three painters, little ladies with easels. I was really happy about that, somehow. I pulled into the parking lot, left the dogs in the car and went to say, “Hello!” and see the work.

These artists were not happy about that. Very grumpy painters. They were painting the dead trees across the road from the parking lot, contributing more 8 x 10 canvases to the ubiquitous dead tree school of American painting. Feeling stupid (a recognizable feeling), and bad for bothering them, I got the dogs and hit the trail.

It was beautiful. Two red tail hawks, fading yellow trees, leaves floating down, pale sky, the calls of Sandhill Cranes in the distance, beautiful light. I have figured out how to use my trekking pole/cane to relieve pain in my joint, and it was even a painless walk. Bear walked beside me without pulling. Dusty was the sweet gentleman he always is.


We finished the walk with a dog appreciation moment and then I saw a woman — I thought a BLM (that’s Bureau of Land Management) person heading toward the rest room. We hurried the final 50 feet so there would be no Barkaerobics.

The “old boy” I met some time back was waiting in his pick up. The “BLM” woman turned out to be his date for the afternoon, and she wasn’t BLM at all, just your average 60 something hard-living lady looking for a fling with a sabre-toothed, pot-bellied old boy. I thought they were really cute.




“Freedom of expression!!!!”

What some orange people don’t understand is that having freedom of expression doesn’t mean anyone will listen to you. In fact, with a law protecting freedom of expression, it’s LESS likely anyone will listen. Usually as person A is expressing him/herself, person B is formulating a response or figuring out how it relates to him/her.

Then there are the people who don’t want to hear what they’re hearing (there are a lot of those) and there are the people who want to hear something OTHER than what they’re hearing (they pick out the good bits and forget the rest).

The best way to assure no one will hear you is to mandate freedom of expression.



Grace under Pressure

A paradox of courage is that if you are never afraid, you never need to be brave. Bravery is for cowards. Seriously.

Hemingway seems to have worried about the true nature of courage a LOT. He offered a lovely definition of it, “Grace under pressure.” It’s lovey but vague. Grace is one of those words that’s so ineffable it’s difficult to capture and pin down. Pressure? What? Running late? Or something more dramatic like being shot at.

Basically it means not losing your shit when it would be completely reasonable to lose it.

For Hemingway, reason is part of the scenario. A brave person exhibiting grace under pressure must be 1) afraid, 2) smart enough to know that he’s in danger and 3) aware of his options.

Then things kind of fall apart for Hemingway, in my view. Courage is something you take home with you, and people have contempt for you if you haven’t shown it even when they have no idea at all what it was like in the moment when you were not brave. That dynamic is a motive behind several of his stories. And, even for the guy who SHOWS grace under pressure, there’s no guarantee of comprehension or acceptance from others.  How can they comprehend or accept experiences that are far, far away from the lives they lead? Why does Hemingway care?

Many of his heroes reach a moment in which they transcend their preoccupation with the opinions of others. That’s another common motif in his novels and stories. It leaves me thinking that might ultimately be what courage means for Hemingway. That’s a paradox, too, especially for a guy who makes a living as a writer, which demands public acceptance.

I’ve been accused of bravery several times in my life, but I don’t see that I’m brave at all. I was “brave” to pull up stakes in California and move all alone to Colorado to a town where I didn’t know anyone. But there were external imperatives and I had a lot less choice than most of those people calling me brave seemed to understand. The biggest imperative was financial. I couldn’t afford to stay where I was. I had to go somewhere. I am from Colorado and hadn’t wanted to move away in the first place. It was a logical decision. Then, having fixed on that, I had to find a place with houses I could afford. It wasn’t courage. It was a limited income, not bravery.

Necessity — preserving your life and love, such as Santiago’s love for the fish, his love for the sea — often appear to others as courage. But no. That little kid hiding behind his mom,  wondering about the tall stranger who is his grandfather, previously unknown to him, that little kid is the brave one. The quivering pup behind the bars at the shelter, huddled in a corner, is the brave one. The young teacher about to walk into her first class EVER, racing to the ladies room 9 million times in the 15 minutes before the bell rings is the brave one.


Bored Games


“Sure. It’s better than Life.”


“I don’t see any difference.”

One of my favorite lines in Little Big Man (a GREAT film, by the way) is when Alardyce T. Merriwether, a snake oil salesman who kept losing “parts of himself” says, “Life contains a particle of risk.” It’s not one or the other, I guess.


For some people it’s Monopoly. For others — like my brother — it’s Gin rummy. As far as I can tell, my life is a game of Snakes and Ladders. 🙂



Hip Update

I got my X-rays today and, to my somewhat educated eye, my hip looks good. The doctor has to see them, and he will know a lot more than I do, but the visit had a lot of good news.

Anyone who lives in a rural area has their life complicated by that fact. Today I learned that there is a surgeon who comes down here every two weeks to consult with patients. If it turns out I need it, and I like him, I will go to a somewhat larger town 1 1/2 hours away over a mountain pass for surgery. Then, four days later, I will come back to the San Luis Valley (my friend will have to drive me) and I’ll stay in the hospital in Del Norte until I’ve rehabbed enough to come home on my own.

When you are a solitary human the challenges are different. Today when I signed in at the hospital for X-rays the young woman asked me my emergency contact. I gave her the info and she said, “What’s her relationship to you?”

I said, “Friend.”

The girl goes, “We don’t have a box for that. We have sister, mother, daughter, but no ‘friend’.”

I said, “I’m the only survivor. I don’t have a family.”

That’s pretty strange, I guess. Hispanic culture is about big families and that’s the dominant group down here. AND most people who live here have lived here for generations and have family. And, let’s face it. Most people have children. I didn’t. “I guess my friends are my family,” I said.

“I have friends like that,” she said.

Of course, the hip still hurts, and I still don’t know what will happen, but I’ve lost 10 pounds since last year, my blood pressure is down, and I don’t have to go far, far away to rehab from surgery if I need it.

I was struck again by the wonderfulness of living here. How many people have a hospital that is across the road from a herd of bison?

Dusty T. Dog and His Scary Bark


Dusty loves Bear

Everyone who gets to know Dusty T. Dog realizes he’s an exceptional being. Sure, other dogs are big, black and barky, but how many of them are also incredibly sweet, can jump six fee straight into the air and do yoga?


Which is the REAL Dusty?

In the three years I’ve lived here, Dusty has blossomed. His true nature has been allowed to flourish because people here like dogs, big dogs, and know how to be around them. Last week — the day Dusty wore his hunting vest for the first time on our walk — we encountered a dad with his son and his son’s friend. The dad was teaching the boys to fly-fish. Dusty, of course, started barking as if they were deeply violating everything he held dear. I said to the man, “He only sounds mean. He’s not.”


The man smiled!!! Then he said, “You want to run, boy?” (Dusty was leashed). I took that to mean I could unleash my dog. The man held out his hands in welcome and Dusty ran to him for pats. The man loved on Dusty and Dusty ate it up. Honestly, Dusty’s wonder is often eclipsed by Bear’s beauty. Then the man said, “Your other dog is pretty, too.” ❤

So Dusty made a friend. On our return trip (it’s a loop) Dusty didn’t bark at all or run over to meet them. He’d checked them out, found them safe to be around me and all was well with the world.


Dusty and K at the Sand Dunes

Dusty’s job (as he sees it) is to make sure nothing bad happens to me. He really likes people. He loves my neighbor, K, and I think she’s fond of him, but sometimes I think of all the times she and her husband walked past my house before I had a fence to keep Dusty out of the front yard. He must have terrified them.



Values and Personal Freedom

I was recently in bed not sleeping, thinking about the visit to the doctor tomorrow. My mind wandered to the question of personal freedom and from THERE to what seem to be the governing values of American society.


Wealth — the personal freedom to NOT pay taxes to support other people so you can keep all your money because the people who NEED your tax dollars are obviously losers or they would not NEED anyone’s help because, by god, you don’t.

You’re one of the chosen.

That line of thinking very naturally led me to Calvinism and the Doctrine of the Elect.

You can see why I got up and decided to make cocoa…

It occurred to me that THOSE values infringe on MY personal freedom. I don’t share those values. Not at all. I never wanted a lot of material wealth. I just wanted to be OK, to have my basic needs met and a little left over for an aesthetic. I like to travel, for example, but I don’t need to go first class. I like owning my own home, but I only need enough for me. I even considered a tiny house… Though my friends have said I HAVE a tiny house, I don’t. Just a small one. It is tiny when four or five people are attempting to stay in it at the same time, true…

And that, folks, is the tug-of-war. RICH people (people who have a lot of money for the sake of having a lot of money) want THAT and they want to APPEAR wealthier (and be wealthier) than those around them. It is their value. People like me — resolutely middle class — don’t. Those are aspirations absolutely at odds with each other.

I worked hard my whole career for the good of the society in which I live. I believed that was right. More than 10,000 people passed in and then out of my classrooms, and I think all of them learned a little something. A few of them learned a LOT. Lucky for me, I got to teach at a California State University with a pretty powerful union, and I started teaching a few years after the union had fought and won retirement benefits for Lecturers. Godnose where I’d be right now if it were not for that. Because of that I have excellent health insurance, and I have a pension that makes it possible for me to live in a little house in a depressed economic area in the wilds of Colorado. Lecturers, by the way, are dedicated teachers who teach 5 classes/semester to the tenured faculty requirement to teach 5 classes a year. In my college we were also required to do all the extra-curricular stuff tenured faculty did. It was a racket, absolute exhausting exploitation but a person has to eat right?

Lucky for me living on Social Security and a small pension in the back-of-beyond is fine, but what if I were a person who wanted to live in a city? I’d be hard-pressed to live comfortably in any city other than, maybe, Detroit. I sure as hell could not stay in my home in the mountains of Southern California. I would have, but I couldn’t.

If I were rich, I’d have had the freedom to choose, but to be rich, I’d have to be someone else.

The Doctrine of the Elect, chief among the “Judeo/Christian Values” that “formed” this nation, states that those chosen by God will be more prosperous than others in this lifetime because God will not let his chosen ones suffer. In contrast to Catholicism where a person earns his/her right to Heaven, most Protestant faiths believe that people are saved by God’s grace and all they have to do is accept Jesus as their personal savior. Within this over-arching theory is the idea in some Protestant faiths that God has already decided who is and is not going to be saved. You know who they are because they will be conspicuously “blessed” in this life — materially. Because a lot of those people settled this continent, that idea is deeply entrenched in some American philosophies.

The irony of this is that many of the people who cling to this philosophy — and voted for Trump — are most dependent on tax dollars.


The cocoa and hot milk has had the desired effect as has trying to write this at 2 am. A good article with effective graphics to explain this dependency phenomenon in detail can be found here.


I’m not ascending particularly well these days. It’s a process… But the word itself made me think of a painting by Matthias Grünewald, one of a series of paintings I’d really like to see in real life some day; the Ascension of Christ, part of the Isenheim Altarpiece.



Resurrection and Ascension of Christ, Matthias Grünewald

Long, long ago when I was in high school, and dreaming of being an artist, before my art teacher told me I had no talent (grrrr), I was watching a lecture on the history of painting. It was the usual thing, that painting advanced over time — that once people were not capable of rendering realistic human forms (the Egyptians and Etruscans) but as they got more skillful with their tools, they were able to make realistic looking people. Humans did very well in their enlightened, realistic-human-art-rendering state until the fall of Rome and the descent of the Dark Ages. The Dark Ages were dark because (one reason) humans were no longer able to render realistic human forms and retreated to the primitive paintings of the Byzantine Period. Medieval art was the child of the Dark Ages and, thanks God the Renaissance came along and lifted those benighted artists out of the slough of darkness and into the light, giving us Michelangelo and Leonardo who were able to render realistic human forms. We know all this to be true because primitive cultures — such as India and China — did not render realistic human forms.

There is so much wrong with all this, but I bought it at the time.

Of course, art historians “claimed” Giotto for the Renaissance… Two Renaissance painters for whom my “teacher” had no slides were Matthias Grünewald and Piero Della Francesca.

A lot has been written about these two painters — more than I’ve read since it’s as annoying as reading about politics to read painting criticism. For myself, I love their work. Aldous Huxley called Della Francesca’s The Resurrection of Christ “the greatest painting in the world” and wrote an essay explaining why. I’ve read it, but…


Resurrection of Christ, Piero Della Francesca

I can explain why I like the work of these two artists. There is simply something unique, strange, about them. There is, for me, a reason to engage. I can say that Grünewald’s palette attracts me because it’s similar to mine when I’m painting something from the inside of me vs. outside which evokes a very different palette.


But the key attraction to me of both these painters is mystery, something beyond the surface, something deeper than the stories their paintings are supposed to tell.

My favorite painting by Della Francesca is The Flagellation of Christ. There is something very challenging about this piece, challenging beyond the story or the painting’s composition, challenging because of those two things.


Flagellation of Christ, Piero Della Francesca


Old Lady’s Preoccupations with Her Arthritic Hip, Part 2

Monday we had snow. Today we have a Red Flag Warning — high winds/warm temps. In between, temps in the high 60s/low 70s. “I have no idea what’s going on.

Fall doesn’t want to succumb to winter, I guess, nor summer to fall. I’m here to tell them that what they want has NOTHING to do with what will happen. THAT’S a lesson I am very good at learning, but I also understand the desire to resist the inevitable…

In thinking about hip surgery, I realize that the parts of it I dread most are not the surgery or the possibility of dying on the operating table. That would be OK. I dread the prep, the waiting time and the recovery. If I could just go there, do it and come home to my life I wouldn’t mind at all, but it doesn’t work that way.

Recovery is a messy and complicated business. Some might say, “You won’t mind. You’l be taking narcotics,” but I don’t like narcotics. I’ve already been there. What a lot of people don’t know is that whether you get psychologically hooked to them or not, you will get physically hooked and the withdrawal isn’t fun. And then there are all the antibiotics. I can’t take penicillin and, as a result, whenever I need antibiotics, they have to give me something that would kill the bacteria in the dirtiest lake in the world. The after-effects of that aren’t fun, either.

So… I will have X-rays Monday. I don’t know how they WON’T say what I think they will say. And if they don’t? Then I’m here with this pain for what — forever? Hip surgery removes the source of pain and returns the joint to normal functioning. Why wouldn’t I want that?

Meanwhile, I’ve amped up my activity on the Bike to Nowhere and find it relieves the pain a LOT. Walking the dogs is not a lot of fun right now, but as they are as happy with a stroll around the high school as they would be with an expedition to the Antipodes, it’s really OK. In fact, they are helpful in a strange canine way. Dusty was around for my first surgery and he was trained professionally to help me out. Bear is extremely empathic, but while her crawling up on my lap to save me from whatever is hurting me is always a morale booster, sometimes it’s not convenient and she CAN’T do that after my surgery. Mindy is just there, a kind spirit.

My job will be to find the best surgeon who can do this with the least fuss and the greatest success. I’ve learned Medicare will pay for 3 weeks in a rehab facility and I might need that since I don’t have kids or siblings to stay with me and drive me to physical therapy and stuff. That’s OK. It could work that I drive myself to the hospital and drive myself home if that’s the case. Friends have stepped up and I’m very grateful for that.

Meanwhile, I have brought my “horse” out of the closet. To you it would probably look like a cane, but it has a story.

When my other hip “went south” (2005) I bought a cane at the drugstore. I liked the cane. It was adjustable and functional and helpful. I arrived with it in Montana, much to the shock and horror of my Aunt Jo and my Uncle Hank. “What happened, Martha Ann?” Since I was always running in the hills, they were always sure I’d hurt myself sooner or later.

I explained I had end-stage osteoarthritis in my hip and was trying to find the best solution, meanwhile, I had to walk with a cane.

One day after lunch, I went to “my” room to take nap. Pain is tiring. My Uncle Hank said, “Leave your cane outside your room.” I did. I hung it on the door. When I woke up there was a beautiful wooden cane hanging in its place.

It matched the cane my uncle (who’d had a stroke) used to walk with. He loved working with wood and tried to make useful things. You have to know he’d had retinal detachment so he had mostly peripheral vision. He couldn’t drive and was essentially, mostly, blind.

My uncle and I took our walks together, morning and evening, both of us with our canes. When we would go out somewhere, we had our matching canes. If one of us forget his or her cane, the other would say, “You got your horse, cowboy?”

I also have an adjustable, shock absorbing  “hiking cane.” I have been relying on a trekking pole, but I think I’m going to use this thing instead on dog walks since I can lean on the handle. Bear will have to learn to walk on the other side.