Seven years ago when I was cleaning out “archives” preparing my move back to Colorado from California I found this old pay stub from Head Ski. Most of of the cool stuff I found I photographed and threw out, this too. None of the jobs I did at Head Ski were great jobs. The first (fall 1974) was a factory job, on the line, finishing skis in preparation for the Christmas rush. I wasn’t completely aware of that at the time, but when I was laid off I understood it perfectly. Part of me — now — understanding how things worked and knowing what happened next — part of me wishes I’d never quit Head Ski. I wouldn’t have stayed on the line. When I was called back from lay off I was put in the mail-room, a middle-world between the office and the plant.

This pay stub is from the interval during which I worked in the mail room. I did cool stuff for the company at that point and even met Howard Head who was a charismatic, compelling, optimistic character who liked me. If I’d stayed? My imagination paints all kinds of wonderful things for that alternative reality, but who knows? Maybe back then I felt some sense of foreboding thinking of continuing to work at Head Ski. I don’t remember any such feeling, but??? I do remember thinking that with a B.A. in English, I should be doing something profoundly important.

I don’t see it that way any more.

Not long ago a reader commented on a blog post that we live many lives in our lifetime. This pay stub evokes a whole life, confusion, odd choices, long drives, an undetermined future, a bad marriage.

So what did this paycheck cover? It was a weekly thing. Rent was $140/mo in married students housing at the University of Colorado. Our apartment was by the track, the very track you can see if you watching Downhill Racer in which Head Skis have a cameo role. Five sacks of groceries (paper bags) usually added up to about $25. I figured $5/bag and that was a couple weeks, depending. Laundry? A handful of quarters. In short, this was a normal, lower-middle class pay check, about the same as I make now even though the numbers on my “pay” check look like a bigger number, the same amount in the sense of “real wealth” (as defined by Alan Watts) which is what that paycheck buys.

Summer continues relentlessly. The air has been so smoke-filled that I’m not going outside much. I know sooner or later it’s going to break and fall will arrive and then the good times. Meanwhile, having done my five apple paintings I’ve moved on to a medium I can’t control 100%. It’s a good thing. As I carved away at these bits of linoleum, I thought of when I learned this. I was 15. Most of what I do as an artist I learned in 9th grade. Good or bad? I have no idea. Anyway, the challenges here are mechanical: keeping the tools sharp and not cutting myself. 😀

Mammaries are Made of This

Back in Nixon’s time, when the door opened ever so slightly to the People’s Republic of China, there was a thing called “Ping Pong diplomacy.” I don’t know the whole story, the ins, the outs, the backs, the forths, but I do remember it made us all question the way we held our ping-pong paddle. Suddenly it wasn’t cool to call ping-pong ping-pong, it became “Table Tennis.” When I got to China about 10 years later, I didn’t see a single person playing ping-pong. Badminton, but no ping-pong. Still, it was an amazing historical phenomenon and if you’re interested you can read about it here, “How Ping-Pong Diplomacy Thawed the Cold War.” It’s a wonderful story.

My other ping-pong story is pretty sordid (now you want to read it?) and icky, but… In 1977, I had a professor in graduate school who was a letch. Maybe more than one, but I only learned about the one. I was (and probably remain) a pretty naive kind of female human and when he invited me and (allegedly) several others to his apartment for a ping-pong tournament, I believed him and I went. Of course, no one EVER showed up but we “waited” for them. At a certain point the professor made a grab for my mammary gland and I was out of there, nauseated and angry. BUT in the interval of waiting, we did play a game of ping-pong in the rec room of his apartment complex.

A month or so later a friend — a grad-school schoolmate — had a party in her apartment. I went early to help her set up and get a head start on intoxicants. At one point, I was telling her the story of my bizarre evening with El Groppo. We were laughing about it and playing air ping-pong. I was already Bed, Bath and Beyond to the wind so I didn’t notice that people had begun arriving. A game we had begun in an empty room finished in a room with a dozen people sitting around on the floor, watching. The coup de grâce of the performance (as it was then, by virtue of the arrival of an audience) was me saying, “Oooooh what a cute little booby!” quoting the professor.

And there on the floor sat that very professor. To this day, I believe he deserved the public humiliation.

And, from the Waybac Machine, this is what my garden looked like on September 9, 2020

“Where’s My Classroom???”

Ha ha ha ha! Today’s prompt is “nightmare” and last night over and over again I had “teacher dreams.”

If you’ve been — or are — a teacher I don’t need to explain anything but for those of you who have never entered a classroom in that capacity there are certain dreams that most teachers can expect to have during their career.

Teachers really DO dream they walk into their classroom naked. I dreamed that until I DID (essentially) walk into my classroom naked. I wrote about that HERE. It’s a funny story but I don’t want to write it AGAIN. ONCE was enough. The other dreams fit more the anxiety and frustration dream genres. They are almost always about the first day of school, an earth-shattering event that happens every fall.

Every fall since I began teaching — and since I retired — I’ve had those dreams. Last night one right after the other. They were classic. In one dream, I didn’t have clothes because I was suddenly about to start teaching, and all I had with me were the clothes I typically wear now — jeans, T-shirts, shorts, T-shirts. Someone pulled a bunch of clothes out of a costume rack from the theater classes. None of them fit, but I had to go to class anyway. Then, several times, I had the classic dream of having a class, no real description of the class, and no idea where the classroom was. All the people in THAT dream are superlatively helpful giving directions, “Oh, it’s over there!” My teaching dreams are always on a campus I KNOW (some version of San Diego State) but it’s never the same twice, familiar buildings in unfamiliar places.

In my sleep I was detached enough to protest, “Yeah but I’m not teaching anymore!” Unless you’re a skilled lucid dreamer, your dreams don’t “listen.” Were these nightmares? Yes and no. For the “me” in the dreams, definitely. For the me curled up under my duvet the dreams were entertaining.

A real nightmare happened last year when it snowed 12 wet inches here in Monte Vista, breaking trees and challenging everything. Whole flocks of migrating birds fell from the sky, dead. It was a very bad, bad in the sense of evil. Definitely a lesson for me in “be careful what you wish for.”

Meanwhile, I’m continuing to paint apples. It’s strangely soothing and seems to be helping me think things through.

Who knew. The problem is I’m going to have to bake them soon. I guess I can paint a pie. And, you know, an apple for the teacher.

Image vs. Real Life

Back in school we learned Carl Sandburg’s poem, “Fog.”

The fog comes in
On little cat feet

It sits looking 
over harbor and city 
on silent haunches 
and then moves on.

It was a good school for image and metaphor, but it imprisoned fog in “little cat feet” for a whole generation. 🙂 That’s not a bad thing, but in my world fog definitely does NOT arrive on “little cat feet.” If it arrives on any kind of cat’s foot it’s the Snow Leopard or Siberian tiger. Fog is a winter miracle that leaves the tiniest branches on every bare tree wrapped in crystals, a silent, enchanted world.

The Apple(s) of My Eye

This past Saturday my friend and I went to pick apples. I picked some and then, seeing how incredibly lovely they were on the tree, I took some photos. I have had a lot on my mind in recent weeks — some of it personal, related to to me, some involving a friend who has been struggling with himself. If you’ve ever had to struggle with yourself, you know it’s no fun.

So, since I’m in an artistic slump (it happens and doesn’t worry me) but really wanted to make art I decided on an “apple a day.” Today, as I worked on the fourth apple, I thought about art philosophy and criticism.

This past Saturday my friend and I went to pick apples. I picked some and then, seeing how incredibly lovely they were on the tree, I took some photos. I have had a lot on my mind in recent weeks — some of it personal, related to to me, some involving a friend who has been struggling with himself. If you’ve ever had to struggle with yourself, you know it’s no fun.

So, since I’m in an artistic slump (it happens and doesn’t worry me) but really wanted to make art I decided on an “apple a day.” Today, as I worked on the fourth apple, I thought about art philosophy and criticism.

It’s unlikely I will ever be a NON-representational artist. After spending time last week with an artist friend who had a very different philosophy and who chides me for being what I am, I’ve been thinking about that. I finally told her, “I don’t see me doing abstract paintings.”

“Why not? Your brush strokes are abstract.”

It’s not because I don’t like abstract art. I do. It’s just not fulfilling for me. My primary relationship is with nature; the important questions for me are “how does this work? What is it really? How can I see it better?” For me, a painting is a synthesis of brush strokes. It’s not brush strokes. It’s a totality. For me, it’s a way of seeing.

So, four days of apples. Some from “life” (those I picked), one from a photo. These are notecard size and I’ll use them for that.

I could hear my friend in my head saying, “You don’t have to get every little thing!” a chorus I’ve heard before. But what is it to work toward “every little thing”? (Which I don’t actually do) As I worked on the two apples on the tree I realized what was going on in my head. I was relieving the stress of the last several weeks. I was meditating. The image — the colors of the leaves, the striations on the apples, the problem of the branch — all of it — drew me out of my self into a clearer mind. There’s not much smaller to make art with than the sharpened end of a watercolor pencil.

Reblogged from My Amazing Life Distilled.

Lamont and Dude Discuss Anubis

“Lamont, did you see they found fossils proving there were once whales with legs?”

“Never happened.”

“Why not?”

“Dude, they have like five bones. You’re convinced with only five bones and a handful of teeth?”

“I think it’s more than that. They said he was ‘the God of death’.”

“I read that, too. I’ll give you the God of Death. It’s a microbe.”

“I think we can find the God of Death on all points of the God of Death spectrum, Lamont. You’re in a bad mood.”

“Not really. I’ve just lost my balance and fallen off my lofty perch of exalted philosophical equanimity.”

“I hate when that happens.”

“Yeah, no one likes it.”

“You want to go catch some waves?”

“Are you serious? The God of Death is out there using surfers as hors d’oeuvres.”

“Not here.”

“They will, believe me, when they’ve chomped down on all the other beaches.”

“Lamont, I’m worried about you. You want to head inland and maybe head north? Go fishing in some crystalline stream?”

“Fish for salmon? No, I don’t think so. The God of Death might trundle by and fight me for his food. It’s HIS food after all. You might think being a bear is easy, but it isn’t. Just because a bear is big and fierce and a top predator, doesn’t mean a bear always gets what he wants.”

“Do you have to bring up THAT memory? I was just there, a beautiful day, spawning with the rest of them — my first spawn! — and suddenly I’m in a bear’s jaws like a pretzel at a poker game.”

“Good analogy. Life is a poker game.”

“Lamont, is there ANYTHING I can do to cheer you up?”

Lamont and Dude are characters I came up with a few years ago. They have the uncanny ability to remember many of their previous incarnations which gives them a unique perspective on life, the universe and everything.

BIG Questions

It seems that for all it’s feet-dragging and lallygagging, this year has gone by fast. Yesterday I went out and picked some apples with Elizabeth. She’s a real cook. I’m not. I only wanted a few. The best thing about it was the beauty of the apples on the tree.

So I took some photos and brought home four or five apples. The birds, deer and raccoons need their fair share, too.

I have so many incredible memories. Some of my discomfort lately is that I don’t want to live in them, but I’m not sure where to go. Yesterday I got somewhat jazzed at the thought of returning to San Diego for my upcoming milestone birthday (who said? Oh yeah, the Bible…) I checked airfares, AirBNBs, planned the trip in my mind and woke up this morning knowing that isn’t happening. I’ve been there and done that. Without a time machine, the trip I would take is impossible.

Last night I read an article about a guy from California who, sight unseen, bought a house in Billings, MT. He was happy because it was so inexpensive ($719,000). That’s NOT the Billings, MT I knew, but nothing is the “Billings, MT” I knew. He has the idea (illusion?) that Billings is healthier than California. No. I guess he hasn’t seen the giant, graphic billboards advising people not to use meth… I’m sure he’s never lived through a Montana winter with two weeks of -40 F temperatures and little sunlight. I love Montana but like all places it’s REAL.

People do so many things based on their idea of how things are. Me too. All the time. He has the idea that Billings is not moving as fast as California; he’s not thinking that every person like him who makes that leap is changing Billings (and all other places…)

Change is the nature of things, maybe particularly (but not only) in the human-driven world of which I am a part. Resistance to change is a huge power in human reality. It’s been a “force” leading to some of the bigger problems we as a species confront today.

I remember when I was growing up there were markers on the trail in front of me. Starting school. Becoming a woman. Getting into college. Graduating (several times). Finding a job. Getting married. All clear markers, markers one could reach, ignore, reject or fail. The marker ahead of me at 70 doesn’t bear thinking about, and I realize that THAT is the kicker.

After Elizabeth and I finished picking apples, we took some to my next-door neighbor. We chatted for a long time together and “the” subject came up. “After 60, stuff starts happening,” said my neighbor.

I’ve often lobbied (unsuccessfully) for humans to be born with a little book that details the health pitfalls and challenges ahead of them. Silly as that sounds, we are born with that. Science is slowly gaining access to the litany of likely health problems waiting for everyone.

I’ve taken a DNA test and it’s pretty much told me stuff I already knew though in many cases I didn’t know there was an actual gene defining it. Here are a couple of things I found very amusing/interesting. One is apparently I am genetically predisposed to consume more caffeine than most people and I am more likely to run very fast in short bursts. The results of the test have been accurate so far but, in some cases, pretty meaningless as, with most traits, I’m “average.” Average based on WHAT??? I have no idea. Most people in the world through all time or most people who’ve taken the test? 😀 It doesn’t matter.

We can see a lot of the content of our personal “little books” by observing the older members of our family. In my family, a lot of things happened, but among those who were not self-destructive, were very long, productive lives.

I’m totally down with that, if that’s what’s in my little book, and if that ISN’T written in my little book, it doesn’t change anything. The thing is, I want the road ahead — even with its single, definitive marker — to be an adventure-filled interval of discovery as my whole life has been. The challenge now is to discover what constitutes adventure at this point in my life? What do I want to discover?

Excellent Blog Post from a Bike-rider and Occupational Therapist in a COVID Unit

“COVID cases are on the rise again and I just finished another tour of duty on the COVID units. Most of my patients this week were not vaccinated. I was vaccinated in December and January. While it is true that I am now magnetic, that’s just my personality and I was that way before the vaccine;) If you have seen the videos of people purporting to prove that the vaccine makes one magnetic, they are either more ignorant than I think they are, or they just blatantly dishonest. The videos show people sticking non-ferrous metals to their skin and claiming it is because the vaccine made them magnetic. I have duplicated that with a penny, bobby pin, paper clip, money clip, button, and a Post-It note. Only one of those would have stuck were magnetism at play. Lest you think I did anything heroic this week, I was safer in this gear (and the sanitation process I go through as I enter and leave each room) than you are if you go into a store, restaurant, or bar (especially if you don’t wear a mask, or anyone else in there doesn’t). You don’t know if you are near someone who is positive. I do.”

Time and Space

I live in a vista — Monte Vista! It really is a “mountain view” kind of place. Out at the Big Empty (which is all around) I can see mountains on all sides, a ring, around “my” valley. The vistas are wide, immeasurable, inspiring, soul-stirring.

Between my house and the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge where I like to walk with my dogs there are several abandoned farms, or, at least, farm buildings from the very early 20th century. Some are log, some, the newer ones, are frame. Some are surrounded by trees that are now taller than those who planted them might have imagined. Others are exposed. I often wonder how those people felt surrounded by these immense vistas. Their lives would have been hard, and mostly animal propelled, stretching the size of the landscape. The towns are roughly a wagon trip apart — 14, 18, 15 — miles apart. A train finally came through, linking the towns.

The Town of Monte Vista around 1920 looking down my street toward the west. My house might have been built when this photo was taken. It would be down in the tree-lined part. This is potato harvest. The wagons are filled with potatoes to load onto a train.

In just a few weeks, I will have lived here in Heaven a full seven years and be entering my eighth. There is still — and always will be — so much about this place that I don’t know. Last week some friends (whom I have not yet met, connected to the woman for whose book I did illustrations this past spring) from Wyoming took a church trip through the eastern side of the Valley, the Sand Dunes down to San Luis — the oldest continually inhabited town in Colorado — to New Mexico, taking the high road between Taos and Santa Fe, back through Los Alamos and Ojos Calientes. It was fun seeing a few of these the vistas of the San Luis Valley through their eyes via Facebook.

This valley and its vistas are ancient. I always feel my own transience when I’m out there. My two little feet, navigating their small perambulation, a perfect analogy for human life on this planet.

My valley was once a lake — now called “Lake Alamosa” — and when I take out the dogs, our walks begin at one edge of the ancient lake and make a small dent in the lake’s immensity. At a couple of points the lake overflowed, and where that happened is clear on this map. It spread as far as Del Norte.

The vistas I enjoy are not only in space, but a little bit into time. I imagine mammoths wandering the edges of what may have remained of the watery world pursued by “Native American Paleo-Indian cultures, beginning with the Clovis and Folsom Complexes (11,000 years ago)” the first known human inhabitants of the San Luis Valley. As I recall, the Navajo called the later inhabitants, the Utes, the “blue sky people.” ❤

The eternal yet changing sky is in charge of everything here in immensity. This time last year, snow was in the forecast and there was no negotiating our way out of that.