Minimalism

Sometimes a person has an effect on our lives long after they have gone their way and we have gone ours. A long, long, long time ago I was enamoured of a guy in New Mexico. He was beautiful, smart, and adventurous, and I was me, which is to say, pretty cute but terrified. Still I summoned up the courage (twice!) to visit him. The first time was filled with a chain of small and apparently trivial events that forever changed my life.

It was 1979. I was 27, just out of graduate school. Most of the people I knew were lawyers or on their way to becoming lawyers. I had been working in the development office of the University of Denver College of Law and then got a new job as a paralegal in a law firm that (literally) spawned David Gorsuch. His grandfather was a founding partner.

My friends were all about things. Fancy pasta making machines, elaborate camping equipment that took the camp out of camping, ergonomically designed leather furniture, Brookes Brothers Suits, the whole litany of “Holy shit I’m a successful lawyer now!!! I can have a two-bedroom apartment! Maybe even my own condo!”

As a divorcee living on the income of a secretary, I wasn’t living like that, obviously. One day one of the law students who was clerking at “our” firm said, “What’s with you? You think you’re going to come in here one day and be promoted to attorney?”

I signed up for the Law School Admission Test.

My journey to New Mexico had problems from the start — I awoke to find a flat tire on my car. I had to wait for stores to open so I could replace it. I got a  late start. A few miles after I crossed the New Mexico border, I got a speeding ticket that I more or less flirted my way out of. I had never taken a long road trip by myself and suffered a few sessions of paranoia. I had no music in my car (a ’70 VW bug) only a tape recorder with two tapes, one Donna Summer the other Jane Oliver. Shudder.

I arrived at an empty house where the man rented a room. He was trying to get into medical school at the time and taking organic chemistry. He was a mountaineer who would make an attempt on Everest (North Face, Mallory’s route) in a few years.

There was a note on the back door, “Martha, If you come: I’ll be right back. I’ve gone to the store for groceries.” I was so late, that he thought I wasn’t coming. Back then there were no cell phones and no way to say, “I’m on my way.”

Because I’m a writer, and because back then I hadn’t found my stories, I naturally wrote everything down as if it were fiction, making characters out of the man and myself. For the sake of making it SOMEWHAT fictional, I changed his name to Charlie. We are in Albuquerque. Something like small talk has been exchanged, information about the flat tire, and we are cooking dinner…

***

“Let’s cook dinner.” He opened the sack which contained cheese and two cans of tuna. He handed me the cans and told me to open them, but I, who had never thought of getting my tire repaired rather than replacing it, didn’t know how to use his can opener. I suppose he thought I was some kind of pansy who had used only electric can openers, but that wasn’t the case. My can opener was even more primitive than his.

“I don’t know how to use this.”

“You don’t?”

“No. I never used one like this.”

“Here.” He showed me opening one can. “Now you do it.”

I did it and drained the oil from the tuna into the sink.

“What are you doing with all that good oil?” he screamed. “You’re wasting it!”

“You cook,” I said, and he did, winding up with a tuna casserole we ate with carrot sticks. Then, it was over. Everything had been prepared, cooked and eaten from one stainless steel pot. I loved it. No Cuisinart for this man; no fancy pasta machine. Just one pot, two knives, two spoons.

“That’s great,” I said.

“What?”

“That pot.”

“It’s all they use in Nepal, for everything. Cooking, eating, shopping. That’s what I learned there. You don’t need a lot of stuff. You shouldn’t have more stuff than you need because, one way or another, you just have to carry it around with you. The best thing is a thing you can use in a lot of different ways. So, this pot. I brought back two.” He washed it. “Come on. I have to do something. You can help.” We went into what had been planned as a dining room but was now a study. He sat down at the typewriter.

Next to the typewriter was a model of a molecule. I picked it up and said, “Benzene.”

“How did you know?”

“My husband — ex-husband — was a chemistry major.”

“You’re a writer,” he said, suddenly. “I’m trying to write my application for medical school. Maybe you can figure out a good way to say this.”

“OK.” It was the first time I’d heard that I was a writer. The idea was exciting.

“I need to explain why I want to be a doctor.”

“So why do you want to be a doctor? Maybe if you tell me, you can just write down what you say.”

“I don’t know. Inspiration? Inspiration, I guess.”

Inspiration. Wow. I was knocked hard. No one I knew used inspiration as a reason for anything. Reasons were money, success, prestige. Charlie had beautiful legs, a stainless steel pot and ordered his life according to inspiration. I was very, very frightened.

“What inspired you? Write that.”

“India. When I was in India, I saw so many sick, sick people. You can’t imagine. You want to see some pictures?” he got up from the table and went to his room, and I followed like a puppy. I felt like a puppy. I’d been taken in, fed, disciplined and now I wanted to stay.

“Here.” He handed me a big book filled with pictures. I was behind him, still looking all around me. On the wall was a photo of the Taj Majal. There was the dome, some minarets, a slight haze, a reflection; water in the foreground in which beautiful curves moved, curves like the necks of swans or a woman’s arm, everything your mind visualizes with the words, “Taj Mahal.” But, the curves were the necks of camels, not swans; the water was a lake, not the rectangular reflecting pool; the dome was not centered perfectly between the minarets, but stood to one side. The photograph did everything I believe art should do, force you to turn around and look beyond your expectations.

“I love this picture,” I said with solemn reverence.

“It’s mine,” said Charlie.

“You took it?”

“It took me a long time to get everything just right.”

So, now I had to imagine Charlie sitting on an unknown dusty hill in Agra waiting for things to get “just right” so he could take this picture, develop it, hang it on his wall in Albuquerque so that I, a person he didn’t even know, would see it.

That was the end of any chance for coherent conversation between us.

***

“Charlie” succeeded in getting into med school and is now a doctor. I succeeded in not acquiring a lot of stuff and keeping a comparatively simplified life. It all worked out. And, though I showed up for the Law School Admission Test, in the middle of it I realized I was not the LEAST inspired to become an attorney and I walked out.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/simplify/

My Friend

My friend has a developmentally disabled son, now in his 30s if you look at his birth year, but all over the place if you look at his development. I spent the past weekend at their house and the first quality time I’ve had with him in a while.

He can be maddening. Sometimes you want to say, “Could you just stop being so weird and annoying for five minutes?” but he can’t. Soon after you think that, you shrug and relax into “M time” and “M reality.” It’s seriously non-negotiable. If you can cross the bridge, you stand to experience some moments of extraordinary sweetness.

I paint rocks — as everyone knows. I’ve painted a few for M. He loves snakes, so I painted a rock of one of his snakes — a corn snake — as a Christmas present. I’m not sure he recognizes HIS snake in the rock, but he likes the rock and that’s what matters. Suddenly, this past Sunday, M wanted to paint snakes on rocks. I said, “OK, let’s do that,” and sent him out to find some good rocks to paint. He came in with rocks that were too pretty to paint and too small.

“You need to find some bigger rocks, M. Flatter, too. And these are too pretty.” M has a well-developed, if slightly bizarre, aesthetic sense, and I’m fairly sure he chose those rocks BECAUSE they were pretty. He went back out. His mom and I agreed it was a good strategy to send him out to a yard full of rocks so we could have a little piece and quiet.

When he came back he had two plausible snake-painting rocks. He got his paint, a new brush he’d bought at the art supply store the day before when we all went together, and he was ready. He even got a little plastic model of a coiled rattler, ready to spring, to model his painting on. The problem is that the plastic model was three dimensional and the snake on the rock would be two.

“Good idea,” I said. “But we can’t paint exactly that on the rock because it’s flat. Does that make sense? We can paint him, though.” I drew the coiled snake on the rock explaining to M what I was doing. Then he painted the coiled snake white. As the paint dried, he painted another snake on the other rock, this time green. It came out like a green blob because M’s unique physical coordination doesn’t give him excellent small motor skills. The white paint was dry, so I sketched the snake on the white paint and Mark painted it. “We need tan paint,” I said. All we had was an assortment of primary and secondary colors, no earth tones.

“How?” he said.

“Like this. Give me some green.” He slowly and deliberately opened the green paint. He didn’t want to spill it. “Great. Now I need some red.” He did the same with the little tub of red paint. “Awesome. I need some yellow.” Two shades of tan emerged, perfect for the rattler.

Then I sat back and watched. This is where the M magic comes in. No painter EVER felt more love or interest for his/her painting than M did for what he was doing. It was a very beautiful moment and I got to witness it.

You never know. More and more I think the purpose of life is the appreciation of small beautiful moments.

That evening, he, his mom and I played some card games together, Uno and Skip-bo. M is very skillful at both. Then it was time for him to go to bed, but he didn’t want to go. He employed every manipulative trick in his repertoire to delay that moment. At one point he looked at a photo on my phone. I put my hand over my phone, looked up at him, and grinned. He picked up that I was onto him and he started to giggle. I giggled, too. It was truly very funny, our inside joke.  And I thought, “Who’d think I’d be giggling at this point in my life?” I silently thanked M for that.

“Grandma, you WHAT???”

I look at old ladies a lot differently now and, yes, because I am one. It pretty much never occurred to me when I was a whippersnapper that behind the visual static of their wrinkled faces and lumpy bodies might lurk some very interesting love stories. I could be wrong, I think they just weren’t saying.

I’m thinking about this because this morning I’m drinking a marvelous cup of Guatemalan coffee. I ordered two pounds from the Solar Roast people as a birthday present to me and now I’m savoring it.

A long, long time ago in a faraway place known as Denver, Colorado, my then boss introduced me to his college friend. Let’s call him Ed. That wasn’t his name, but it’s a fine name. Ed was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen. He walked into our office with the kind of grace you never see anywhere, but maybe particularly not in a man wearing clogs. He was long-legged, had black hair, green eyes, and a beautiful, wide smile.

He noticed (who wouldn’t?) the 2″ x 3″ photo of T. E. Lawrence and Lowell Thomas that was on the top shelf of the credenza behind me, leaning against the wall.

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“I’m reading Seven Pillars,” he said. “Monster book.”

I was stunned. The first love of MY life was T. E. Lawrence. I got a huge crush on him (thanks to David Lean) back when I was 10 and really NEVER got over it.

“Yeah, it is,” I said. “I read it a long time ago.” I was 12 when I read it, but why show off?

It turned out he was as attracted to me as I was to him and an epistolary and telephone love story ensued. He was, at that time, taking courses at a university in Texas so he could apply to med school. He was already 30. He’d been inspired to this decision by his recent expedition (yes) to Annapurna II. Passing through India (passing through India, got that?) he’d been touched deeply by the poverty and illness of the people. And he’d picked up TB.

It coulda’, shoulda’ worked, but as time unfolded it was clear that though we were attracted to each other and had many commonalities, we were not at the same places in life. I was recently divorced and wanted to “see the world.” He’d seen the world and was ready to settle down and start a family. But in the meantime, his career goals (climbing and treating diseases of impoverished Spanish speaking people) took him to Guatemala to study Spanish and climb. He brought back a yard of Guatemalan weaving and two pounds of unroasted coffee beans as gifts for me.

The night before my one-woman painting show in 1981, I roasted them in my oven. They lent their fragrance and flavor to that moment of my life. There’s more to the story, but as an old lady, I’m not saying.

image

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/static/

Quotidian News from the Back of Beyond

Twice a day Dusty T. Dog and Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog unfurl their inner-puppy and they wrestle and play. Never in the yard, always in the living room.

Since she ran away, Bear has been odd. I think she scared herself. She’s been more needy, more attention seeking, more destructive. It’s a situation where I wish I could have a one-to-one conversation with her, but she’s a dog. She’s a dog that clings strongly to a routine, too. And now that summer is FINALLY here (my subjective summer) and I’m doing different things, spending time with humans, painting rocks, trimming dead-heads off flowers, taking her for walks at random times, she’s uncomfortable, too.

But my neighbor is going to help me put up a fence in the side yard so Bear can no longer dive through the lilac hedge and that will be a very positive change in both our lives.

That’s the dog report for today…

Night before last and yesterday I hid my first few rocks and waited to see what would happen. The woman who found the tiger was THRILLED. Lots of people WANTED to find it which made me happy.

I hid the two cute ones at the playground in the park near my house — the bluebird and the turtle — and this was my reward.

I love giving away my art and this is really, really sweet. ❤ I have a couple to hide today.

 

On the side is a verse from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, the poem “O Me! O Life!” The scene is the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Sand Dunes ❤

Running Bunny with Carrot

Country Mouse

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/unfurl/

Love or Lust?

Oh how sophisticated we all were in our late 20s and early 30s looking at each other and saying, “That’s very interesting, but is it love or lust?” Of course, it was the 70s and the bill some people would pay for wild, random sex hadn’t come in yet.

“I mean, he’s gorgeous, but, Martha, he’s gay.”

“I know that.”

“Well? You can never have him.”

“I don’t want to ‘have’ anyone. But as for that, I think we have each other as much as any two people can. We know each other inside out. We love each other and we’re friends.”

“He’s gay.”

“That’s not all he is.”

“Gay” is a rather impersonal term when it comes down to it. It doesn’t describe anything other than the general idea that a person prefers sex with people of his own sex. There is a, uh, there is a whole RAINBOW of possibilities in that word and, ultimately, we love people — a person, an individual.

But the gay scene in the late 70s was a temple of lust. I found it refreshing. A bunch of guys going out looking for a guy to hook up with — not forever, no white dress, wide-brimmed hat and bouquet, but just that. Desire. I decided then — and I still believe — lust gets a bum wrap.

In the hetero world to which I belong, in those days, people straddled the fence of encouplement and free love. If you watch movies from the time you’ll see the dilemma. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice is a good one to watch. It was the days of “wife swapping” and “open relationships.” People weren’t sure about NOT being in committed love relationships; they were afraid they were missing out but…

Things didn’t work out between the guy and me. They couldn’t, but we were a couple for five years. People continued to say, “It must drive you crazy! He’s so good-looking!”

“What drives me crazy?”

“You know. He’s gay.”

I learned to shrug. In the vast shag rug of love one of the filaments is lust. Our moments of tenderness in bed, our heart-to-heart conversations, our hours of laughter, our fights? OUR moments. No one else’s. Not the subject for debate or dialectic.

“I just want to know, Martha, if everything falls apart, you’ll still be here.”

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/lust/

Young Love, a Hickey, Weed and Embarrassment

Dusty, Bear and I were able to hike at the slough Sunday because it was a cool, cloudy day. No hot trail, cool wind blowing so no mosquitoes. We had a great time listening to the birds and appreciating being out.

On the way back, Bear and Dusty alerted me to people at the little seating area at the beginning of the trail. I leashed Dusty since most of the people who go there are walking dogs. Then I saw there were two people and they were headed our way. I took the dogs off the trail so the people could pass without having to interact with the dogs, especially if they had a dog of their own. My dogs are friendly, but Dusty sounds fierce, so I am always cautious.

It was a high school couple. I know this because the boy wore his high school T-Shirt. Both the boy and the girl were shiny and new. They were beautiful. Both were tall and slender, well built. Their faces were smooth and generally everything about them was perfect. They looked like they had just come out of the box marked “New adults.”

They liked the dogs. Dusty especially liked the boy and jumped straight up six feet and kissed him. The boy was calm; I can imagine most people would have freaked out. The girl had a brand new hickey on her neck. They smelled of weed. They asked about the dogs, what kinds they were, and the girl thought Bear was beautiful. Then they walked on and we headed to the car.

I felt for a moment like I’d entered a time slip. 49 years ago on a summer Sunday afternoon I could have been found in a similarly “remote” spot with a high school boy doing similar things (no hickey; I always thought they were unnecessary advertising). No weed, either. I wasn’t “there” yet.

I remember those intense drives that blocked out everything. They were extremely pronounced and equally incomprehensible. Like most New Adults, I felt I’d invented all of that and it was GREAT. I would not say exactly that they fade with time, but experience is a good teacher.

I really loved those kids. I hope their love is happy and, if it ends, it ends in a way that no one is hurt. I hope they have dreams that are worthy and that their dreams come true. I hope when they are my age they are walking together in some spot like that and run into an embarrassed young couple who cannot imagine that the old couple remembers very well what it is to be young. And, far from condemning and judging them, the old people are filled with love and good wishes for the Shiny New Adults.

Cleaned Out

I didn’t expect it to be fun. I even expected it to be painful sometimes, going through all the boxes of my parents’ lives. Most of the time I just went out to the garage, filled up the trash can and then put everything back. When the trash can was empty again, I attacked another box or two. Some boxes I hauled unopened to the thrift store when I knew what was in them and knew I didn’t want them — my mom’s crystal, my aunt Martha’s fancy clock.

It’s funny that the last box held my own past. Fitting and kind of cosmic, sort of saying, “OK, MAK, deal with your own life now.”

I lost my dad when I was 20. He was my best friend, my confidant, my teacher, my hero. He was funny and iconoclastic, brilliant, but, above all, brave. He had Multiple Sclerosis back in the day before Interferon and the other drugs that exist now, before they knew anything about autoimmune diseases, maybe before the term even existed. I was there for him, beside him and with him through all of it. When he died, I wasn’t really allowed to mourn. My mom was an extremely envious and possessive woman, very jealous of my relationship with my dad. My Aunt Jo told me this and that just corroborated what I already sensed, especially when my mom said, “Shut up. He was your dad, but he was MY husband.”

A lot of feelings got stuffed down, and I wrestled on my own to understand what had happened to my life. Thankfully I had friends and other family who were by my side and on my side as I went through it.

There is something, though. I wish I could have known him once I had grown up as I have some other members of my family. As I’ve gone through all these things, things that I did not myself pack or even know about, I’ve seen a little bit of my dad through my very adult eyes.

One of my dad’s most personal artifacts was in the second to last box, his wallet. Inside were the usual things — pictures of my brother and me as newborns, a photo of his parents in their 40s, a photo of my mom holding me when I was 1, identification for the government places where he worked, even his army discharge papers and a copy of his birth certificate. But this…

Dad's wallet

It took me a little while to figure it out. Then I realized it was my dad’s way of reminding himself that no matter what a crappy hand he’d been dealt, he wasn’t going to whine about it. He didn’t, either. Toward the end, he got very frustrated and angry sometimes, raging over the question of continuing to be alive when his abilities had been abridged dramatically, but he never — that I remember — played violin music.

I was not really prepared for the intensity of my reaction to these artifacts. Last night, it had all so penetrated my mind, that when I saw a friend outside when I began my walk with the dogs, and invited her along, I said, “The light on the Beartooths is beautiful in the evenings, I mean the Sangres. I’m in Montana in my mind, I guess.” I felt awkward and disoriented for a moment.

All today I’ve felt exhausted and sad. I don’t think that’s so strange. I’m glad I’m finished with this, I’m glad I did it, it was the right thing to do, but most of all, I’m most happy that I will never have to do it again. All that’s left is one last trip to Montana.

Exposure

“What’s on the agenda today?” I asked, making coffee.

“You leave.”

“Sorry. Not until this evening. I wish it were sooner, but I had to stay forty-eight hours.”

“What time do you go?”

“Plane leaves at 7. I want to go to the Art Institute.”

“You have to go alone.”

“Why?” I asked, though being away from Mark was fine with me.

“I have to work. Paul’s gone”

“What do you mean, ‘gone’?”

“He’s gone to Colorado to buy boots.”

“Ah. You don’t have boots in Chicago?”

“We sell boots. They’re for the store.”

“Great! I won’t have to spend the whole day in the car.”

“I guess not.”

Mark was not happy. I began to see that he was tired, sad, drained. But then, I’d had no experience in the night with someone. I’d simply slept. I knew very well the hell of our day together, but no idea what had gone on between him and Paul, what conversations, fights, discussions. I didn’t ask. I didn’t want to know. It was none of my business, and I sought no confidences.

“The other thing is, Paul has my car. I have his.”

“So?”

“I don’t think Paul’s car will make it to the airport.”

“Call me a taxi.”

“You can’t afford it.”

“You can.”

“Fuck you.”

“Thanks anyway.” I mixed up some Instant Breakfast and poured my coffee.

We began to calm down and to talk sensibly for the first time that weekend. I walked around the bedroom, finding my things and packing. Mark watched and talked. 

“Did I tell you about the foreign service exam?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I passed it. Now I’m waiting to hear where and when I take the oral test.”

“Why do you want to join the Foreign Service?”

“I just want to leave the country.”

“Why?”

“Why not? You’ve lived in France and Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. You’ve traveled all kinds of places. You’ve left the country, so you know what I mean, or you should know what I mean.”

“I don’t know.”

“I just want exposure, Mark. I want to see things, know things.”

“Honey, you’ve already seen more of life than 99% of most Americans. It’s not that great to go away.”

“Maybe you’re right, but I don’t know that.”

“I’m telling you.”

“I have to. I want to. All my life I’ve wanted to live outside the country, in some place with ‘less,’ with a different way of thinking, of doing things. I need to get perspective, experiences. I feel so blind.”

“Well, you’re not blind.”

“What about you?”

“I don’t know. I got a teaching job here. I don’t like working at the store; Paul likes it. It’s what he does and I’ll be teaching foreign students starting next week.”

“Full time?”

“No.”

“What about your writing?”

“The store has kept me tied up, and I haven’t written anything in more than a year.”

“That’s not good. I love to read what you write, and not just because you wrote it.”

“Maybe I’ll have time after I start teaching. I’ll have afternoons, anyway, while Paul is at the store.”

“Not too bad.”

“No. It’s OK.”

I was packed. We went out to Paul’s decrepit VW which chugged its way to the store. The timing was off; the carburetor needed help, but not mine. Mark opened up the store and I stashed by stuff under the counter. I hung around until 10 when the Art Institute opened. Mark gave me instructions for getting to the El and I left, walking into the bright, cool morning.

***

This is an excerpt from a book-length work of creative non-fiction I wrote back in the 70s during another snowy, white-sky winter in Colorado. It is about the relationship between Mark and Adrienne (on one level) and it is about Adrienne’s search for the purpose of her life (the over-arching meaning of the story). The backstory here is that Mark has asked Adrienne to marry him. She thinks that’s a disastrous idea because Mark is (mostly) gay. Still, he flies her to Chicago from Denver to talk it over and see his parents, with whom she is close. Paul is Mark’s lover. They share a house. Mark did not tell Adrienne about this before flying her out so… The weekend is a disaster for them but hopefully not for literature. At this point, the weekend is nearly over… 

All that is happening with this story now is that I periodically retype it into new technology… 😉

The Overwhelming Excitement of New Years Day in Monte Vista, Colorado

The day began gray and somewhere in the 20s; unusually balmy for this time of year. The gray hung on, lower in some parts of town than in others, leaving behind hoar frost on a random tree and bush here and there. All the stores were closed except food stores, even the two liquor stores were closed. In fact, there aren’t many stores in Monte Vista.

After cleaning up the dog run, I grabbed the snow shovel and cleared the driveway. It was barely worth shoveling, but melting anything can lead to ice. It’s a pretty big driveway so it took a little while. Dusty and Bear barked at me through the fence and I told them to get over it.

I then cleared the walk beside the house and headed out to the front to get the walk from the front door to the sidewalk where my neighbor was sweeping away the snow with a heavy push broom. We shot the breeze for a while, said hello to another neighbor and his dog, then went back to our days. My main chore was going to the store and getting bananas and other necessary things that I was out of. The store was pretty full and I still have part of my California paranoia that people behind me in line are in a hurry. I was using the self-checkout (ha ha I think that’s a riot). I turned and apologized to the woman behind me. There’s a Bronco game today and she was all ready in her jersey, “It’s all right,” she said, “there’s no need to rush.”

No. I’m in Monte Vista. I’m in Monte Vista. ❤

Got home, ate lunch, rode the stationary bike, did my yoga, fed the dogs, talked to another neighbor on the phone (she’d passed by when I was calling Mindy from the front door), took a shower and now I’m writing this which sounds, probably, like a lot of NON-news, but…

A tranquil gray day is something to cherish. A neighbor who sweeps your walk is something to cherish. A neighbor who calls to make sure you got Mindy inside is something to cherish. The breaking clouds and sun on the mountain is worth a lifetime. A friendly smile at the not-so-supermarket is so much better than some angry guy yelling, “Why don’t you go through the checkout line with all that stuff?” and you only have 8 items… My third New Year commences here in Heaven and I think that, rather than making resolutions, it makes more sense to count the blessings of the past year. I won’t bore you with the list because, you know, it’s very, very long.