Thank you…

I really appreciate all the care and support while I’ve been having my existential melt down. It helped a lot to write it down, it helped a lot to “hear” what you all had to say, your experiences, your take on it.

It actually helped me figure it out.

Five years ago I saw the handwriting on the wall. My job was being “outsourced” to another department at the university and no one was going to tell us. There were five of us who had 3 year contracts to teach Business Communication. I had a year left. I had every intention of finishing my contact before retiring, but I ended up without the choice. An “under-the-table” deal was made and, since no one went to the union to complain until I did at the last minute, it was, essentially, a fait accompli. But in English. Looking at most of my income gone, I had to retire and leave. OK. Psychologically I was ready. Physically? I was already showing signs of the hip arthritis I had remedied in 2018.

My move to Colorado was great. I’m happy to be back, but it was a little freaky that — though a native — I didn’t know how to live here any more. It all came back, but there was a long period of adjusting both to retirement and life in a very small town I’d only visited once.

This blog helped me a lot as did the one I wrote specially about my move. That blog is gone, but it was good for me to write.

The first thing I did when I moved here was get an Airdyne. I knew I was overweight and in terrible physical condition. I wanted to be able to hike in the mountains and do things I wasn’t able to do. I wasn’t me, but I’d had to work so much the last few years I lived in California that there was nothing in my life but driving, teaching and all the things connected with teaching — grading, prepping, meetings, etc. When I finally moved into my house, the dogs and I began walking on the golf course and going 1/2 mile was difficult for me (and for Mindy T. Dog ❤ ) but we got better. The Airdyne was good, I did get in better shape, I was able to do yoga again (meaning getting down onto and up from the floor) and I did lose a little weight.

Still, the struggle to regain my body took so much longer than I imagined it could. I didn’t even realize until the end of 2017 WHAT my mobility problem was. Then came the search for a surgeon.

Meanwhile, I wrote. I arrived in Colorado with a work in progress, The Brothers Path. In 2017 I finished an important book — My Everest which is about my time in California hiking with my dogs. It was a total labor of love to put that book together. Then I sucked it up and finished The Price which was very difficult to write for numerous reasons I’ve already written about. The surgery worked and my pre-op training and post-op training have returned to me a body with abilities I haven’t had in a decade. I still can’t run. Maybe I won’t ever run — I do try, though.

I’m grateful and lucky. But at this point in time there is also the feeling that another shoe WILL fall. I will be 67 this coming Monday.

We always say we want to have no regrets, but I don’t think anyone can reach this point in life without regrets. I’m surprised at what mine are. I wrote about that, and last night a friend said, “Lots of people say they want to write books but they never do. You’ve written 3 (actually 6 1/2 but who’s counting?)…can’t you look at writing them the way you look at all your hikes? You never thought about point B; you just went.” He is absolutely right. That’s exactly how I can look at my books and writing itself. Everything, maybe.

This morning I read Cara Sue Achterberg’s blog post, on “My Life in Paragraphs.” She writes about how she and her husband are figuring out together what they want the next step in their lives to be. They’re about to be “empty-nesters” and they’re addressing this question with colored Post-It Notes on which they each write something they want in their future or want their future to be. Cara ultimately asks, “What do you want?” and my first thought was, “A marriage like yours, but that ship has sailed.” ❤

As I read, I thought about the different transitions — the late-40’s transition and the late-60’s transition. I didn’t notice the late 40’s one because the usual late 40’s physical stuff happened to me a lot earlier. Looking back, the time between 47 and 54 were really great years for me and, thankfully, most of the time I knew it. Physical debility and a bad love relationship set the “tone” for the next decade, neither of which I could possibly have seen coming. I thought, “I had the house I wanted. I lived in the mountains. I had great dogs. I hiked with awesome human companions, too. I had the job I wanted. I had all I wanted and then…”

It’s always a balancing act between what we want and what we get, I guess.

Yesterday I wanted Cross Country Skis. I texted the local outdoor store — Kristi Mountain Sports — and asked the appropriate questions. Today I got an answer. As it happens, I had written things down on a Post-It note.


Basically, what Kristi Mountain Sports has for sale is exactly what I want.

Today I want $550. It’s right there! It’s even on a Post-It Note! 😀 But I also want to know that if I buy the skis (which means more debt until the tax refund) I’ll actually use them. I have this big white dog and she doesn’t ski.

Anyway, I realized that I if I were to continue with the Post-It Notes, that what I want is a new adventure. I feel a little nervous even saying that — let alone committing it to an actual Post-It Note — because the universe might go, “You want adventure? Ha! I’ll give you adventure.” No, universe, this time let me find my own. ❤

‘Luv (Because I Haven’t Written a Cynical Love Story in a While)

“Where are you going?”

“I’d rather not say. I’m a free person. I can go where I want when I want.”

“Yeah, but, when will you be home?”

“None of your business.”

“Wow. What did I do to deserve this?”

“I feel like you’re smothering me. I don’t have any freedom.”

“What?”

“Seriously. Think about it. You always know where I am, what I’m doing, who I’m with.”

“You always know where I am, what I’m doing, who I’m with. It’s not like there are any big mysteries.”

“Why not? Wouldn’t some mystery make this relationship more interesting?”

“Seriously. You want mystery.”

“Well, yeah. With everything so predictable it’s not all that exciting.”

“You want excitement. Listen sweet cheeks. Mystery and excitement are not always good things. Maybe the mystery is I have another woman on the side. Maybe the excitement is that I’m leaving you for her.”

“Oh my God, I knew it!”


The Most Amazing Photo (of Dogs I Love)

All the Dogs that Look Like Lily T. Wolf ❤

From “Here’s Where the Arctic’s Wildlife Will Make Its Last Stand,” National Geographic, January 2018 PHOTOGRAPH BY PAUL NICKLEN

Lily T. Wolf in her first and only REAL snow storm, March 2015


Walking in the snow with a dog who loves snow is a kind of transcendental thing, particularly if you love snow, too. Only a couple times in the lives of my Siberian huskies was I able to share that with them, and Lily was the ONLY one who got to experience real nordic cold and a legit snowstorm. Otherwise, if it snowed in the mountains where I lived in California, a rare event but it happened, we were OUT in it as soon as it was possible.

Now I don’t have a Siberian husky, but I have Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog. She and I took our first REAL winter walk of the year this afternoon. It was a balmy 17 F (- 8 C). We took off across the golf course (who’s surprised?) and out into the big empty.

I didn’t expect to see the deer. They really are gone. One of the property owners north of the golf course is now shooting at geese and if I were one of my deer (highly intelligent deer, by the way) I wouldn’t hang around. On our return, the scent in the air was a mixture of gunpowder and piñon. Bear did not like the smell, but the sound of the shots didn’t seem to bother her.

I’d forgotten the exquisite pleasure of walking in the cold on a still, sunny day with the best companion I could ever ask for. It was really perfect.

Bear and me looking toward the place where “our” deer should be, Bear leaning against my legs to keep me safe from danger. ❤

Tea Party vs. Darkness

It’s been a weird year for most of my friends. The litany of scary strangeness includes a cancer diagnosis, a messed up ankle leading to surgery, hip surgery x 2 (mine and a friend’s), a romance failure, car wrecks, shoulder surgery. There’s more but why write it?

A guy could dig a bunker after all this and stay there.

But that’s not what we did. None of us. A couple of days ago I thought about all my friends now the year is ending, I thought, “We’re all better off than we were this time a year ago. Every one of us.” It helped lift the cloud of depression that’s been hovering.

Last week, I read The Pavlova Palaver on Global Housesitter’s blog. The article attempts to resolve the debate about whether this marvelous dessert is Australian or New Zealander in origin. One of my best friends here in Heaven is Australian and a very good cook. She’d spoke of this mythical dessert many times, but so far hadn’t made it for any of our tea parties. I sent the article to her via text and she immediately texted back, “Regardless of the article, it’s still an Australian staple for parties.” Followed by a koala bear emoji.

I texted back, “I’m on your side.”

“Good.”

She’s a fierce and wonderful beastie.

We’d talked of doing something quietly festive for our friend who was house-bound from ankle surgery and whose husband had recently been through a battery of (we learned successful) treatments for a mysterious cancer-like-thing. In dark times, a tea party is a kind of solution.

Of course, my Aussie friend put the whole thing together and took it to our friend’s house. She made Pavlovas.

And we all felt better. ❤

Halcyon Days

I have a feeling that one’s halcyon days might depend on one’s attitude. I’ve been feeling glum about things. Anyway, woke up in a blue mood, confused and disenchanted. The prompt “halcyon” wasn’t happening. 

I realized lately it’s probable that I’ve hit another one of those “turning points” or “crisis junctures” in life, often related to age. Also, maybe, it’s also related to the time of year which everyone agrees isn’t always the “holly jolly” thing it’s supposed to be. In my case, after all the HOPE and striving last year, I have landed square in reality again. It’s OK. It’s a far better reality than that in which I lived last year.

Over the past two days I’ve seen what story the Work in Progress actually is. It’s not a happy story, but it is definitely a Goliard story and it’s a view at a little known aspect of the Middle Ages, though that’s not all it is. I still want to write it, but it’s going to require a lot of discipline and mountain hikes. I wish it would really snow so I could find out if I can still X-country ski. I make take horse-riding lessons. To write this story my life is going to need a very powerful balance toward the good, the happy, the light. Thank goodness I have a pal who’s always ready to go outside with me.

Anyhoo, with all this in mind, I left the story for the day, shopped, cleaned, took the dogs for a walk. At the store a couple of guys were making fun of salad dressing and it just cracked me up.

“All there is is raaanch.”
“I hate raaaanch.”
“Me too, but look at that. Every brand of raaaanch.” (You have to pronounce it in kind of a nasal way like in a cowboy movie)
I had to go where they were to get salad dressing and I said, “You guys are totally cracking me up.”
“Yeah and we haven’t even had anything yet.”
“Wow.”
“What about rawnch.” (Faux British accent)
I laughed. 
“Oh, ranch” (French accent).
“Mai oui. C’est merveilleux.” I said. 

Lucky I’m easily amused. 

Still in a funk, I took out the dogs. We’ve been walking at the end of the golf course where, if I were a deer, I wouldn’t hang out. Now I think my herd of deer might actually “like” me. 

Bear notices them as soon as they are within our “range” which is about 100 yards. I knew they were coming and from where when Bear suddenly stood between me and what seemed to be the “big empty” to the west. I knew then it wasn’t empty, but I didn’t see anything. 

We kept walking and from time to time I looked toward the north, toward the parked tanker cars beyond which the deer hang out. Not always “beyond which” I know for fact from their footprints, spray on snowy trees, tracks and Dusty and Bear’s passionate sniffing. Then I looked over at the train and saw big ears turned in my direction under one of the cars. I stopped. 

Bear resumed her guardian position. I took Dusty’s collar because we were pretty close — maybe 50 yards away and no real barrier. If he saw them, there was every chance he’d bark and chase. I turned and kept going. When I turned around, one of them had emerged from under the train and was walking toward us. 

Well, my deer. “We’re not friends,” I told her. “These are dogs and your dad or husband doesn’t like me.” She stopped. Dusty, Bear and I walked away from them and when I turned around, they were gone. 


Then I thought, “What’s really better than this? I can walk. I can write this difficult story. It’s in my power now, but it wasn’t before. I live in this beautiful place. I can spend the winter getting ready to climb mountains this summer. Never before in my life have I had this kind of freedom. So what if I’m old and ugly? Dusty and Bear don’t care and neither do my friends. That’s MY female ego problem, nothing more. So what if I’m approaching that ‘three score and ten’ they go on about in the Bible? I don’t want to live forever anyway. Sure, right now I’m disappointed about some stuff, but who isn’t? These are halcyon days, these winter days with the steeply angled light, the indigo mountains and the promise of snow.”

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/12/17/rdp-monday-halcyon/

The Roxy

“I’ll ask my mom.”

I was ten, just the age when the ‘rents start letting the kid out of the cage on her own. “It’s time you learned to do things by yourself.” Since that is the litany written on my soul, I was all about it. I already did stuff on my own like go to my friends’ houses or wander off into the woods, but this was the big league. A movie theater at night with a friend. The girl across the street, Becky Sparks, had called to see if I wanted to go.

I heard the secondary phone conversation later (between moms) that involved planning. It was winter, days were short, nights were cold, there was no question of us walking down there. It was the Christmas season, so the idea of a Saturday matinee was out, too. Too much to do. “Thank you, Elizabeth,” I heard my mom say, knowing it signified my mom wasn’t going to have to drive. She’d just gotten her license and didn’t like to drive at night.

She was one of those people frightened by everything. 

Becky and I got dressed up (comparatively) in wool capri slacks, our sweaters, our coats and wool scarves tied around our heads. It was 1962. I wonder what happened to wool pants. They were comfortable and warm… ANY-hoo we got in back of Elizabeth’s white station wagon and a few minutes later we were at the Roxy. 

The Roxy was a small town theater with two entrances that flanked the (freezing cold) ticket booth. There was a tiny line. We stood doing the “It’s COLD!” prance young girls do, hugging themselves and laughing. 

We bought popcorn and sour cherries and found seats in the back. The lights went down. The curtains parted. We heard…

For the next two hours I sat mesmerized, sucking sour cherries, and, for the first time, feeling both the power of film and of personality. The little girl who entered that theater never came out. 

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/12/14/rdp-friday-overture/

Love Songs, Part II

Research is good. We usually look at the past through our own eyes and experience, and every once in a while a historian (we’ll call him “History Man”) will say, “Those people aren’t you, Sweet-cheeks. Those Medieval love songs that you are having such a hard time with AREN’T like love songs of today.”

“What?”

“No. Those guys had arranged marriages. They were stuck with whatever their parents had set up for them. These lyric poems are more along YOUR style of love.”

“You mean hopeless, unrequited, at an absurd distance, across insane age differences?”

“Yes, exactly. Is this or is this not you, ‘…poets of the Middle Ages would likely find our contemporary love rituals completely alien. Medieval desire…was expressed as an ideal to be constantly sought, but rarely attained.”

“Whoa. So you’re saying that not only is my sense of humor medieval but my view of love?”

“Yep. Feel better now? Ready to return to hopeless yearning and all that makes you so happily miserable?”

“Thank you History Man.”

You can read the rest of History Man’s thoughts here: https://news.stanford.edu/news/2013/february/valentine-medieval-desire-021113.html

Love Songs

This is the first time in decades I don’t have a story to work on. What I thought might be a good idea is looking more and more doubtful. I’ve been reading about and in the work of the Goliards and it’s — they — are notable for being priests who wrote love songs. 

Whoop-dee-do. And songs about drinking, the corruption of the church, the absurdity of doctrine, and poverty. But mostly love songs. Sometimes naughty love, but love. And if you’re a priest, is there any other kind of love? Maybe these are not my people. 

Sixty-two years ago when some crooner was crooning on the radio in the family kitchen, I asked my dad, “Why do they sing about love all the time?”

My dad gave me a startled look, like, “She’s only four, WTF?” then said, “Because love is the greatest thing in the world.”

“Why?”

“Helen, can I have a little more coffee?” 

Way to change the subject, Dad.

I’m not convinced that romantic love is the greatest thing in the world. There are lots of other really great things like the range, horses named Old Paint, exploration, adventure, art, and nature. It’s true there are a few anti-love songs, but love is still the main subject.  

One of the things I’ve always liked about Punk Rock is that while there are love songs, there are songs about other things. The more hard-core the Punk, the less likely there is to be a love song. It’s awesome. Often, when a Punk band sings about love, it’s not sappy love but something else. The Dead Kennedys’ best love song is “Too Drunk to Fuck.” Sorry, but there it is. Realistic, funny and ironic. 

I’ve been listening to The Pretenders a lot lately, and Chrissie Hynde has a few sappy love songs, but her love songs are mostly not. 

“I wanna do it, do it on the pavement.” That is not sappy.

Anyhoo…. Since I find all this love song stuff de-inspiring, I don’t know what’s up next. I’m not anti-love or bitter on the subject. I congratulate — and have deep respect for —  all of you who found your great love and are busy living happily ever after. That just isn’t my story. 

But why?

The model in front of me growing up wasn’t particularly happy, that’s one thing, probably, then I never wanted kids. I wanted adventure. For a while I thought a boyfriend or husband would also want adventure, and we’d go off into the world adventuring, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. Even the most adventurous men I knew longed for wife and family, the ties that guys like in the movie K2 struggle against. Except one. He wanted adventure more than wife and family, and I think his romantic life has gone pretty much like mine. There is a kind of love between us, maybe a shared love of mountains, adventure and words, mutual esteem. Anyway, I treasure it, maybe partly because it’s love that doesn’t show up in love songs. 

In any case, I wonder what the protagonist will do so that I can write his story? I see him influenced by Goliard love songs, in a moment of heated passion impregnating a girl, then facing the betrayal of romance, thrown out of his monastery, sent wandering over the Alps to teach Martin to paint and then in his own Paul on the Road to Damascus moment realizing there is no better lover than art and returning to the monastery, seeing it as his best bet for a life as an artist. Maybe he’ll go that way. 

Ars longa, labilis est dilectio

For the Birds

When I’m not working on a novel, I have had a project, a piece of “creative nonfiction” though when I started it in 1978 or so I don’t think the term existed. It’s autobiographical fiction or fictionalized autobiography or autobiography about learning to writer fiction. Maybe it — like one of the protagonists — defies labels. 

It’s a strange piece. The speaker (it’s a first person story) is at that moment in life where she doesn’t know what to do, who she is. She has a lot of abilities but no direction. She’s poised for flight but doesn’t know if she has wings.

So I ended up titling it “Fledging.” It’s had several titles in its long evolution, but from this promontory, looking at it from the distance of forty years and knowing how the stories turned out, I can see what she was doing. And writing this book was part of her attempt to take wing. Who and what was she? Painter? Writer? World-traveler? Wife? No clue…

I don’t think it’ll ever be for sale. Maybe it’s just a thing I had to finish for myself. It’s got lots of bad writing — which makes sense because it’s about a person learning to write and only starting to discover her voice and understand the importance of refining skills.

I wrote it with a typewriter, retyped it innumerable times on my original Smith/Corona and then on my Smith/Corona correcting typewriter (replete with a small memory card), retyped it on my Amiga and then again on my Mac Classic and again on my MacBook Pro. This one? The one before? The one before that? I don’t know. 

Anyway, I love it and I’m proud of it — and her. That girl survived, endured and kept writing thanks to her plasticity and resilience. If she hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here in Heaven on this gorgeous blue and powdered-sugar snow day. 

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/11/25/rdp-sunday-plastic/

Heart-shaped Fruit

Obviously, I never got love right or I’d live in a bigger house with another person in it instead of a little house with two big dogs and a tiny, elusive mouse.

BUT

One winter, after a love misadventure in Italy, I ran away and went to stay with my friends who lived near Zürich. I had a brokenish heart. It wasn’t decimated, but it wasn’t happy, either.** My friend’s parents had emigrated to Zürich from Italy right after WW II.

Pietro started to sing before we left the house. He had a terrible singing voice, awful, but not quite as bad as mine. “Non esiste l’amore. E soltanto una fragola,” he sang as he put on his boots.

“Ma, Pietro, no,” said Laura, my friend’s mom. “Marta, Non ascoltarlo. L’amore esiste. E non é FRAGOLA. É FAVOLA, sai? Story. L’amore e buono, bello. Pietro, non essere così cinico.”* 

Pietro winked, put his coat on, and we went out for a walk in the forest. He explained it was a joke. Fragola — strawberry sounds like favola — fable. He wanted to console me. Just being there was a big consolation.

The trip to Italy had been a disaster from the get-go. Late connections. Storms in Cincinnati. A missed plane in New York. Routed through Paris. Lost luggage. No record of my being on the plane from Paris to Milan. No boarding pass. Trapped in the luggage area of Malpensa for an hour while Alitalia sorted it out. The traveling companion I’d picked up on the way to New York was a story in herself, an elderly Italian woman from Las Vegas traveling with two neatly wrapped mink coats disguised as boxes filled with jars of homemade jelly. Finally, in Genoa, I had to borrow my would-be-lover’s mother’s underwear!

When I arrived in Zürich, my luggage was there (thanks to the would-be love in Italy who organized it). Each day was Swiss December sunshine. I felt I’d been meant to be in Zürich in the first place. I loved my friend’s family, Zürich, the forest, their dog. It was really and truly ALL GOOD. It was also the last time I saw Pietro alive. He died of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma the next winter.

Looking back, I see this is a pretty romantic story and a grand adventure. Still, that fragile easily-smashed and rotted heart-shaped fruit is a pretty good metaphor for love.

 

Portofino

Portofino

 

NOTES:
*Martha, don’t listen to him. Love exists. And it’s not strawberry, it’s story, you see? Love is good, beautiful. Pietro, don’t be so cyncial.”

**And, the man in Italy and I are still connected in our own way. I ran away, other stories followed in following years, but some threads are made of tough stuff.

 

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/10/20/rdp-saturday-fabulist/