Meandering Look at Literature

I stay on standard time all year. This means in summer I wake at 8. All the people around me are up with the sun, but not me. In fact the best two hours of sleep are between 6 and 8. In a few months, I’ll be getting up earlier 😉

Last night I learned of a young writer who’s won all kinds of prizes for her book The Tiger’s Wife and has recently brought out her second novel. Naturally, I was momentarily gripped by envy. It’s just how it is. If you’ve seen Midnight in Paris you might remember Keanu Reeves as Hemingway saying to the young guy from another time, who was writing a book, “Don’t show it to another writer. Writers are competitive.” I’d say failed writers are not just competitive but bitter.

Once the wave of envy passed, I looked at her book.

Once more I thought, “Good God. I’d never write this.” First person, paragraph after paragraph after paragraph after paragraph — pages — of description. Then I remembered the review of The Price that I hate and that has, I think, perhaps dissuaded from reading that book. That review described my writing as “sparse” (as if that were a negative thing 😀 ) and said my book was a failed attempt to write a book I 1) had never heard of and 2) would never write (I looked at it). How can you dis a novel for NOT being something it never set out to be? It is like dissing Huckleberry Finn for not being Portnoy’s Complaint.

I thought of all the things that go together to make a “time.” As I was growing up, and in school, the writers who were lauded as “great writers of our time” were Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Capote. There was no such thing as “Women’s literature,” there was only literature, and at that time the ascendancy of serious women writers — Joan Didion, Joyce Carol Oates, Norah Ephron… The good prose put in front of us was NOT paragraph after paragraph of description. Our professors — most born when Hemingway was still writing — had broken from tradition by embracing Papa. My giant anthology in college did not contain “The Yellow Wallpaper” or anything by Kate Chopin, never mind Toni Morrison. There was no “Norton Anthology of Women’s Literature” but by the time I, myself, was teaching at a university, there was. I saw it as a 1000 page literary ghetto, but that’s just me.

My thesis was about Godey’s Lady’s Book from 1828 – 1845 (during part of this time Poe was the literary editor) which was edited by Sarah Josepha Hale during its heyday. It featured ONLY American authors and most were female. It enforced the idea that women write differently — and about different things — then do men. This didn’t make women worse writers; just different with a different focus, a different reason for reading, different reasons for writing. They wrote from a female perspective about a separate world referred to back then as the “women’s sphere.”

By the time I was out in the world of work (which was academia, after the first 5 years in the clerical jungle) there was an overt and political motion against misogynistic dead, white male writers. I thought this was dumb. What if they were good? What if they had important things to say? Shouldn’t EVERYONE be read with the understanding that whatever benighted time they lived in would affect what they said and how? How they lived?

When I met Hemingway once I was out of school it was intense. I was in my late 20s and life was pretty jacked. I was already divorced, in love with a gay man who was also in love with me. I was on my own trying to connect one end of the month to another. The Hemingway I’d met in the 9th grade was a far different writer than the one I met at 27. No, wait, I was different. My bad. About the same time I met Capote. Two very spare writers yet very different from each other, both approached writing from a philosophical perspective that wasn’t all that different. Both very adamant about it.

And, their writing charmed me. It wasn’t all I read. I loved Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but they didn’t offer me any information I could use. Lost in Terra Nostra when I was in China (how weird is that?) I realized the outer world interested me more than the inner world. The inner world seemed finite (naturally) and the outer world? What was THAT all about. It was a forty year search in the labyrinth of reality before I met Goethe and got a road map.

Every writer is a person with a life and a journey.

The bottom line is taste. No writer can possibly know what every reader wants in a novel or why every reader reads. Beyond that is the social indoctrination of each generation. Tea Obreht’s book, The Tiger’s Wife, is (from the first three pages) intoxicating. It’s the kind of book a person might turn to on a rainy day hoping to lose themselves.

And no, I don’t write that book and I’m unlikely to read it. I don’t want to lose myself. I’ve been there before.

Studio Tour

Yesterday went on an artist studio tour in the nearby town of South Fork. I experienced some culture shock. The tour took us first to a strange little house and a few pieces of art work done by a mom and daughter, both nice people. There were kitties and dogs and some paintings and a batik or two. I remembered how much fun batik can be and momentarily thought of doing some, but then? I’d need to buy an iron. Shudder.

The house was a cedar-shingled modular on a dirt road. The art work was exhibited in what looked like a front porch DBA chicken coop. I was uncomfortable because? Well, I don’t know, the girl was very shy, her paintings were the beginning of her artist’s journey. I admired the gumption of the young girl and wondered who’d she’d be fifty years from now when she’s my age. I thought she would be interesting, and if she got real about painting and found a good teacher, that might end up good for her, too.

Next up, a palatial estate on top of the golf course with views, incredible views, impeccably furnished. My friend and I wandered around, totally uncomfortable. We ended up on a deck watching a slew of hummingbirds feeding, a very beautiful sight.

As I watched them, I thought of my Italian friend’s book and what he wrote about forests, how people go there to relax but the forest is never relaxed. It’s a relentless struggle for light, water, space. Same with the hummingbirds. The beautiful urgency of their hovering is extremely competitive. OH WELL.

My entire house would almost fit in the kitchen of that house. There was a bathroom with an immense walk-in shower — bigger than my bedroom — “paved” all the walls with river stones. Beautiful, but??? Why??? Two retired people live there. My friend and I turned away, I turned because I was disgusted. I don’t know why Elizabeth turned away, maybe the same reason.

I was disturbed by the ostentatious consumption. I suppose at heart I’m a communist (not to be confused with being a Stalinist) and think no one should live in a cedar shingled modular with a chicken coop front porch, and no one needs a house with a kitchen 800 square feet. I guess I think the big house people should have less house and help the cedar shack people have a better one. Winters are cold up there. The shack people seemed happier than the big house people. Maybe they could share some of that with the big house people and everyone would be better off.

“They’re showing their house as much as her paintings,” said Elizabeth. True. We went downstairs to the woman’s studio where she sat small and hunched as if she didn’t know what to do. The studio was impeccable and, honestly, the paintings she does are derivative, flat and soulless, but painted in vivid colors and successful at filling a wall. Others on the tour liked them and talked with the artist about prices.

We left for the final stop since our time was limited. It was a far more normal house (to me and Elizabeth, anyway) belonging to a talented fabric artist who weaves, dyes, beads, just pretty much does everything. Two years ago when we did this tour I bought one of the woman’s dishtowels which I use on my table here. I wanted more. She was an artist after my own heart — it seemed to me she loved what she did so much that she hated asking money for it. She apologized often for her prices — which weren’t high — saying, “I’m sorry. The cost of supplies has gone up so much I have to ask more,” she said as she ran my credit card. I bought some Christmas presents.

On the way out of town was a huge, home-painted sign listing all the nasty things the political left wants to do to the good people of South Fork, Colorado. Apparently the “left” wants to take their guns (South Fork is openly open-carry), force socialism upon them, compel them all to be PC and various other things like that, all truly unspeakable. With the next election approaching and the whole thing heating up thanks to the rhetoric from DC (which is another world, really) the silent resolve to get along with our neighbors is breaking down. It’s amazing to me that BOTH sides (why are there sides) are continuing to offer “information.” Sorry, folks but the “other side” doesn’t need more “information.” What we need is to walk away from the blistering rhetoric and go back to getting along with each other.

I know that most of the people I run into randomly and many of my friends have guns, use guns, practice with their guns and like their guns. That’s always been the truth in my life. I can shoot. Back when I practiced, I was a very good shot. I don’t care about people’s guns in a general sense, but the underpinning of all those guns was that they weren’t to be used on people. “Never point a gun at anyone,” first rule of guns. I don’t think anyone around here disagrees with that. And it’s TRUE that guns don’t kill people; people kill people. BUT there are guns that are not designed for anything other than killing people and that’s where the gray area (if there is one) appears. Beyond this, I have nothing to say except politicians should not be for sale to anyone anyway.

Anymore than two elderly retired people need a bathroom bigger than the house in which their neighbors live.

Chiens du Matin

The wily and intrepid Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog is guarding her breakfast. Not eating it. She’s far too intrepid for that. She’s guarding it. The workings of the brain of the livestock guardian dog are often beyond the comprehension of we mere mortals, even canine mortals such as Teddy Bear T. Dog who’s here with me as I try to write a blog post that’s even remotely interesting.

“I’m not going in there,” he says to me, telepathically. “You taught me ‘NO!’ Martha and I believe you. Even though there’s tuna on Bear’s breakfast, I’m not going near it because you said ‘NO!’ and she curled her lip that time. Anyway, you in your graciousness put tuna on mine, too, and I’m grateful.”

Meanwhile, he gets all the morning rawhide pencils.

The differences between these two are so fun. Yesterday I got to enjoy them fully. Bear and I rambled slowly around the slough. Bear caught scents, I caught vistas and we were happy. I came home, put Teddy into his harness, put a bag of treats in my pocket and we headed out for 20 minutes of training in the empty parking lot of the high school. Besides, “sit,” “down,” “stay,” “heel,” I’m teaching him to stay with me without being tightly leashed. For a puppy, concentrating on any one thing for any length of time is a huge challenge, but he’s getting it, even, sometimes to the point of walking at heel when he’s on a loose leash. It’s a little challenging with the leash fastened to his chest because it easily gets between his feet, but he’s a stalwart and intrepid little guy.

“What, Bear? You really aren’t hungry? OK. Do you want me to cover that and put it in the fridge?”

“Yeah, otherwise I have to stay here and guard it, and I’d rather be with you and Teddy in the living room.”

“OK, but it might be your dinner.”

“Or Teddy’s?”

A Day Redeemed

As often happens here in Heaven, the day was redeemed.

Read this WHOLE story because it’s good. 🙂

I took Bear out to Shriver/Wright (wildlife area and slough along the Rio Grande River here in Monte Vista, CO) and was very happy to see the trail was mowed — YESTERDAY! There was a guy there in a pickup whom I’ve seen fishing there and once at the lake. He’s never been very friendly, but…
He was eating lunch in his truck. I waved. He waved.

Bear and I walked. It was a perfect day to return. Cool, slightly rainy. A HUGE flock of geese took flight just as I arrived.

It was lovely to be there. I DO feel the presence of Dusty T. Dog when I’m there, there so I DON’T think he went to the Enchanted Forest. I think he went to the slough so he could keep walking with Bear and me.

When I got back to the parking lot, the guy was out of his truck and clearly wanted to talk. Turned out to be a really nice guy from Dillon, MT, with great stories about animals, trucks, Montana and other things I like to talk about. He has a nice, friendly dog that Bear would get along with


The biggest story was that…

In the very place I’d just been…


And where I’ve seen the guy fishing before…

He said that he’d gone down there to fish, and as soon as he sat down he saw a cow moose not twenty feet away from him. He grabbed his pistol, packed up his stuff slowly, grabbed his dog and backed away from the moose.

I didn’t even see tracks BUT I think what made the geese take off like that might have been the moose heading east along the river.

The guy was deliberating going back in. We talked a long time, loudly, with much laughter and obscenities. I’m sure any ungulate with half a brain wouldn’t want to stick around a place like that.

This photo which I took BEFORE I heard the story is where he was when he saw the moose.

I’d love to see a moose but not 20 feet away. 50 maybe. Or more.

Lamont’s Audience of Skeptics

“It’s impossible to remember all that. He’s a total charlatan, a sham.”

“How do you know? It seems like real memories to me. He’s taken every polygraph test from here to the moon and none of them indicate there is the least deception in anything he says. Besides, why would he lie? Anyway, his friend remembers many of the same things.”

“Every mad man is convinced of his delusions and they often find followers, like his friend or YOU, for that matter. I don’t think that would register on a polygraph test. Be logical. How can a verbal being — such as a human — remember non-verbal lives?”

“Just because you don’t put words on something, or can’t, doesn’t mean the experience didn’t happen. Lots of people remember things from early childhood. And what about dogs? We teach them stuff all the time and they remember.”

“Yeah but we use words to teach dogs, stupid.”

“Cookies. We use cookies and punishment to teach dogs. Cookies are pleasurable experiences and punishment is the opposite. Dogs remember the experiences and connect the words to them. They’re not remembering words. They translate our words into a language that means something to them. Cookies = good. Punishment = bad. They decide on their own they’d rather have cookies.”

“I don’t know WHAT you’re trying to say.”

“Well, humans just think this language thing is SO great. People like you? You probably think that, in the beginning, was the word and after that reality appeared. Ludicrous. There’s a lot of reality beyond words, sweet-cheeks.”

“What are you doing? Get your hand OUT of there!!!”

“Just making a point.”

“Look, you don’t have to get all hot and bothered just because we don’t agree. We can talk this out and reach an agreement.”

“Consensus isn’t the same as truth, babe. ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy’.”

“ARGGHH! You make me so mad!”

“Sssh. He’s on stage.”

“Well, I hope this is worth the $75 you paid to hear this fake.”



Lamont (and his pal, Dude) are characters I came up with a few years ago. They have the uncanny ability to remember past lives giving them a unique perspective on life, the universe and everything. If you enjoyed this little vignette, just search “Lamont and Dude” to read dozens more absurdities such as this. 🙂

I Overcome Fear and am Rewarded

Fear is a friend of mine. It’s amazing how many lessons it’s taught me and, this week, I’ve had to learn another one. I haven’t learned it yet, but I’m working on it. I appreciate all the moral support yesterday — it was important to learn that others might have been traumatized, too, by a close call with a head-on collision, a couple of trucks and a ditch. ❤

After my close call on US HWY 160 Monday, I was afraid to go out in Bella to a birthday party in Alamosa yesterday for my friend, Perla, who is an artist. When I was first invited I was happy but then… “Shit, I have to get back on that road.”

The rational brain steps in, “Sure but how many times have you driven that road and nothing happened?”

The even MORE rational brain steps in and says, “Outside of the laboratory, empirical probability is a hoax designed to comfort idiots. Real life is far more random and events are unique.”

“True dat…”

At least THAT was resolved. So…I wasn’t going to disappoint my friend.

I rode the bike to nowhere, took a shower, got in Bella and headed to Alamosa. I was apprehensive, but I’d also resolved to be a better driver myself.

Turned out it was a beautiful drive with infinite vistas and good music. That’s all I want from a ride in the car… 🙂

I arrived a little late, but I had the longest journey. The party was small, just five of us (one person couldn’t make it). It was made up of people I like very much but hadn’t seen in a while. It was WONDERFUL. Good food, great conversation, warm feelings. Perfect. 🙂

I also learned that the dermatologist I’m going be driving 1 1/2 hours to see next month is THE dermatologist for the region and a very good one. I was happy to know that.

After we had the birthday feast, Perla showed us her newest work. As an artist, Perla can do anything, but her thing as long as I’ve known her has been clothing. Recently she’s begun learning and practicing Japanese fabric dyeing techniques. She showed us some of her new work in that area and a friend and I started designing clothing made of it. Then, as one among us was a young and lovely woman who models for Perla, we witnessed a little fashion show.

I’ll just share the beauty with you. All of these pieces of clothing are felted — silk and merino wool.

If you want to see more, you can visit Perla’s webpage, or her Facebook page which is a little more up-to-date.

Sixty-Five MPH

Yesterday I was almost killed on the mostly two-lane highway between my town and the “big city” — Alamosa. Only very quick evasive action kept me (and Bella) out of a head-on collision that, had it happened, would have involved me, two semi-trucks and the sub-compact car that was driving in the wrong lane, attempting to pass one of the semis — or both. That driver was tail-gating the semi so until he or she pulled out into my lane with the intent to pass, he or she couldn’t see me.

I drove home as if nothing had happened, but once I was inside, had the groceries unpacked and could take a breath, I realized I had just had a big experience.

I started thinking about my life — what am I doing? Five years ago I made the big decisions and moved out here. A lot has happened in these years. Four books. Surgery. Fighting to be able to keep walking. A similar fight ahead of me. How real is any of it? Living with the luxurious illusion that death is “someday” down the road, OK, maybe not as far as it I could believe when I was 20, but still not RIGHT NOW on US Hwy 160.

“Wake up!” said Bella as she swerved.

I wished so much it could be winter for the rest of the day so Bear and I could go out and walk forever and ever in the snowfields looking at the motionless blue mountains untroubled by storms. I felt that if I could just do that, I could figure things out and see where my life is supposed to go.

Another fucking turning point.


P.S. Between Monte Vista and Alamosa, US HWY 285 and US HWY 160 are the same road.

Every Pot…

There’s a saying meant to cheer up the old and lonely, unloved, unwanted, fusty old spinsterish, bachelorish people sitting sit in front of a glowing TV screen every night, watching Bridget Jones’ Diary, eating sad, desiccated TV dinners and ice cream from the carton, all of them hoping for, pining for, yearning for that ineffable and oft’ disappointing life ingredient, that is…


Naturally, given that I am unmarried and so on and so forth and sometimes eat frozen pizza in front of a movie playing on my laptop, and single has been my most consistent (and preferred) marital status, and “getting” a boyfriend was never easy for me (“Isn’t it like kissing a book?”) I’ve heard the expression many times. “Don’t worry, Martha.” (I wasn’t worried) ” You’ll find someone.”

Every pot has a lid.”

I’m here to tell you that it’s true. I found my lid. It was not at all where I expected it to be. It was so surprising, especially where I found it. I was walking home last week with friends. We’d had coffee at the town’s new coffeehouse (Lovely place. I hope so much it survives). I got to my sidewalk and there in the street in front of my mailbox, was something I thought, at first, was a lost hubcap but when I went out to water, later, I saw that,

apparently it had jumped off someone’s truck,

or out of their RV, camper or?



It was meant to be.

The First Word in Funeral…

Yesterday I went to a memorial service for a man I never met. However, I have met his daughter and she’s awesome. She’s a young cultural archeologist who does most of her current work here in the San Luis Valley where her family has a farm. She is currently working at an old fort — Fort Massachusetts — and did her thesis on potato cellars. I wrote about her a couple of months ago here, Potato Cellars and Tea Party.

I wanted to show her my support. I know what it’s like to lose your dad before what should be his “use by” date. At the very moment he died, I was hiking with my friends. It’s impossible to be this age and go hiking with your friends who are also “this age” and not feel the passing of time and be grateful for your friends, for being on a trail. It’s one of time’s changes. A beautiful one, but, intense.

I rode to the service with my friends, who needed to go early, and I planned to walk home afterward. My friend’s husband was giving a eulogy and they were probably going to linger and maybe go out to the farmhouse for the reception. I was just going to go, hug the young woman offer condolences to her mom, sit in the back, and leave. There are times when I feel like (and am) an outsider and I knew that service would be one of those times. I’m OK with it. It’s just reality in this case. Everyone’s uncomfortable most of the time — the conclusion I reached years ago.

As I was waiting, people came in, sat down and more or less avoided my pew. I sat on the end so they probably thought I was saving it. Finally, the choices were sit in front or ask me to move over and I moved over saying, “I’m not saving these seats.”

“Oh, OK.”

A couple a little younger than I sat down beside me. In front of me was the town mayor and his wife. They started talking, catching up, the husband asked the mayor how he liked his job. He’s been mayor a little over a year now. The mayor said, “It’s politics.” He then went on, listing the litany of politics that intersects? or IS the job of mayor. He ran unopposed with big promises to turn the town around. His short tenure has faced some opposition that was quickly dispatched, and has had some successes. I didn’t vote for him. I thought his platform was vague, and when I asked for clarification in a letter to the paper, he smacked me down.

“All this being PC,” he said with disgust to the man sitting next to me on the pew.

“Ah,” I thought. “I had your number right. You sought that job, you have no right to bitch about it. And being PC? You’re everyone’s mayor.”

The term political correctness (adjectivally: politically correct; commonly abbreviated PC) is used to describe language, policies, or measures that are intended to avoid offense or disadvantage to members of particular groups in society. Since the late 1980s, the term has come to refer to a preference for inclusive language and avoiding language or behavior that can be seen as excluding, marginalizing, or insulting groups of people considered disadvantaged or discriminated against, especially groups defined by sex or race. In public discourse and the media, it is generally used as a pejorative, implying that these policies are excessive or unwarranted

I also resent the whole “PC” thing in a way. It (to me) has always seemed superficial and petty, but at bottom, “PC” doesn’t mean calling someone of a different race by their preferred label; it means not using labels at all and treating each individual with respect. It’s giving the benefit of the doubt to ideas of which we are unfamiliar. It’s not “judging a book by its cover.” It’s understanding that each person struggles just as we have struggled. It’s respecting differing opinions and striving to find common ground. It’s realizing that no person is “better” than the next; it’s humility.

As the service went on, I thought about the comment. I live in a town where there are two “creeds” frequently touted. One is the Cowboy Creed and the other is the Farmer’s Creed which was printed on the back of the memorial service program. These creeds have existed all my life. In my mom’s old Bible was a yellowed wallet card with a slightly different version the cowboy creed. The man who died was a potato farmer. The mayor claims to be a cowboy.

In my book, PC ought to boil down — for the mayor — to living by either of those creeds. Yeah, we can say it’s legislated behavior changes, but it shouldn’t be. At bottom it’s nothing but simple human kindness and respect. It should never need to be defined. That it DOES need to be defined says something about human beings.

It’s extraordinarily difficult. If it were easy, the Golden Rule, which exists in every major religion and has been written for at least 4000 years, would never have needed to be said.

I don’t much want a mayor that struggles to be kind, tolerant, open-minded and fair. BUT since he doesn’t seem to like the job, maybe he won’t try to continue doing it next election.

A Farmer’s Creed: A man’s greatest possession is his dignity and no calling bestows this more abundantly than farming. Hard work and honest sweat are the building blocks of a person’s character. I’ve often heard friends, neighbors and family – my dad for one – quote bits and pieces of it. I’ve heard others refer to it at meetings, in church, at a sale barn, funerals and many other places where rural people live, work and congregate. It exemplifies the farm and ranch vocation. It goes something like this.

   Farming and ranching, despite its hardships and disappointments, is the most honest and honorable way a man/woman can spend days on this earth. The vocation of agriculture nurtures the close family ties that make life rich in ways money can’t buy.

   Children who are raised on a farm or ranch earn values that last a lifetime and that can be learned no other way. Farming and ranching provides education for life and no other occupation teaches so much about birth, growth and maturity in such a variety of ways.

   Without question, many of the best things in life are free – the splendor of a sunrise, the rapture of wide open spaces, the exhilarating sight of the landscape greening each spring – true happiness comes from watching crops ripen in the field, watching children grow tall in the sun, seeing your whole family feel the pride that springs from their shared experience living, working and harvesting from the land.

   Farmers and ranchers believe that through their shared vocation they are giving more to the world than they are taking from it – an honor and privilege that does not come to all men or women. Agricultural producers believe their lives will be measured ultimately by what they have done for their fellow men and women and by this standard, fear no judgment.

   They believe when they grow old and sum up their days, they will stand tall and feel pride in the life they’ve lived. Farmers and ranchers believe in their vocation because it makes all of this possible.

Trail Confidence Marker

“I’m uncertain whether to comment. Again. I want to know do we all feel this? Why? Take your time.” Tracy

Yesterday I wrote on the prompt “Transitions.” The post turned out a lot deeper than I thought it would when I commenced writing it. Then Tracy asked me that serious question after she read it.

Damned chain reactions (Neils Bohr)

In the post I talked about myself and how, as a young person, I was extremely uncomfortable with uncertainty and confusion, how I wanted to know answers to my questions RIGHT NOW. The whole thing (post, life) culminated in the understanding that letting things be is often the only rational “choice,” not even a choice because that’s what’s going to happen anyway.

I learned, finally, beginning in the late 1990s, that what I was really seeking was reality. Life as I had always known it was built on lies. I didn’t know the whole story. All I knew was that on some visceral level, I was aware that things weren’t right. I wanted to stand on solid ground, but I didn’t know where it was and why I wasn’t standing on it.

So what’s the story, Morning Glory?

I think everyone feels restless sometimes and wants to know what’s going to happen, like “What’s Santa going to put in my stocking?” I’m not sure everyone is continually apprehensive. I think, in my case, it’s probably something shared by other children of alcoholics.


In all my reading 20 years ago or so when I first began to come to grips with this, to comprehend this, I learned that the people in families like mine have “roles” and my role was to keep things going in a semblance of normalcy. The alcoholic parent is a puppet-master, giving and withholding love as a way to retain control over his/her life. The “keeping-things-going” (KTG) kid has to be constantly working to earn that parent’s love or the KTG might (good god we can’t let this happen) relax and see reality for what it is.

An added factor in the unreality of life with my mom was that no one knew she was an alcoholic until she was a month or two from death in 1996 (she was 74) and the hospital, trying to figure out the sudden onset of severe dementia, did a brain scan. The brain scan found masses of lesions and scar tissue consistent with long term alcohol abuse. I did not even have the chance some other children of alcoholics have of KNOWING my mom was a drunk. I couldn’t even say, “Well, she’s been drinking,” because I didn’t know. Part of the strategy she employed was making sure I couldn’t see what she was doing. Why?

She didn’t want to stop? She was ashamed? Only she would know why, but the upshot was that until that phone call with her doctor, I had no idea about the truth behind my uncomfortable life.

My mom was a master at keeping me off balance. One day I was her best friend, the next day the worst thing that ever happened to her. All I wanted was to know — for once and for all — that she loved me and that I was doing OK. Naturally this affected every aspect of my life. Regardless of what happened, all the bad things were my fault. Mean childhood friends, “You have to learn to get along with people. Go to your room.” Abusive first husband? “What did you do to make him hit you? You married him. You stay there.”

And the good things I did? She refused to notice other than to say, “You think you’re so great, but I know who you really are.” Or, “I have no use for art. It’s a dirty word.” Or, at a dinner put on by the Rainbow Girls group of which I was a member, “You have these people fooled. They don’t know you like I do,” accompanied by a hard pinch to my upper arm.”

She was a mean bitch.

What’s more important, a healthy sense of self and the ability to accept love do not grow in a family agar culture like that.

The journey to reality has been long and I’m still on it. It began with therapy in the late 90s when I began to learn about the dynamics of the alcoholic family and heard from someone else how the mechanics of such a family work. I was shocked to the core by what I heard from my therapist, by its accuracy. She explained why I never knew what I really FELT. I didn’t. I didn’t recognize feeling, emotion, as information I could use, a color that completed life’s painting.

There was a moment — 2000? or so — when, having met Goethe, I got the “answer” that allowed me, has allowed me, to at least “fake it until I make it.” He said to his secretary, Johann Peter Eckermann, who was pondering whether to take a teaching job that had been offered him and leave Goethe, “Hold your powers together for something good and let everything go that is not for you and is not suited to you.”

That became my mantra(?) It was clear instruction about what to do until I had a better understanding of life, the universe and everything. It told me, simply, what to do until I understood, until I found solid ground. My lifelong instinct to get away from the family madness into the woods, hills, rocks, rivers, mountains was sane. I was looking for reality at the very source of reality.

It’s been a long journey and I’m still traveling. A few years ago, when “the man” first expressed his feelings, I was shocked and confused and, well, felt like a moth trapped in a light. I didn’t respond for a long time. I had understood that I needed to think about it, about our sketchy past and where I am now. After a while, I reached a conclusion about love — all love, friendship, romance, whatever — that it demands consistency and kindness. I saw that is what love is. I finally responded and from that began a long correspondence that covered all the mistakes and blindness of the past 25 years that we’ve known each other. At this point, I’m just amazed that two people could successfully communicate about feelings and build a relationship. For me that’s a huge step and measure of personal growth.

I think on all our journeys we reach trail markers. Sometimes they are clear and give us direction; sometimes they’re obscure like the markers on the mountain bike trail at Penitente Canyon that are just a number and the words “Trail Confidence Marker.” But clear or obscure, they are information.