Happy Goethe’s Birthday

“Everywhere we learn only from those whom we love.” Goethe

I’m sure that one of the things that drives writers to drink is isolation. Between my hip rehab (now finished in a sense) and settling down to really write the Schneebelis Go to America, I’ve spent a lot of time alone. I don’t think it is easy for everyone, but it’s mostly easy for me.

I don’t know why except that my dogs are large enough to feel like companions and without pain in my hip, walking them is a lot more fun than it’s been for years. The wild life refuge — cows and all — is fully open, and I knew what I was getting into moving to a small town. Life is mostly writing, rehab and walking the dogs. Solitary bliss.

But I remember even back in San Diego where there are millions of people, and I was teaching constantly (it seemed) I was still pretty isolated. That’s just my story and has been all my life. I think it’s the result of being an introvert with a lot of resources for entertaining myself. I dunno…

But, as my dad wrote in this little poem when he was 18, if you can’t be your own friend, you’re more or less fucked.

Dad's Poem

Long ago I learned to make friends with dead writers. My first such friend was Louisa May Alcott and there have been several since. My best friend among the dead writers is Goethe. When I met him, I felt I’d found a soulmate. He interests me less as a writer than as a person writing, if that makes any sense. Like a lot of people, I find some of his work dated and somewhat inaccessible in the finished (and translated) form, BUT conceptually, a lot of that very same work is incredibly engaging and I love many of his small poems, one of which is kind of my life-mantra:

Alles geben Götter, die unendlichen,
Ihren Lieblingen ganz,
Alle Freuden, die unendlichen,
Alle Schmerzen, die unendlichen, ganz.

I won’t translate it, having learned that everyone who loves Goethe has a proprietary feeling about anything they read and this has been translated infinitely (like the gods?) and my translation will be debated by someone with far more authority than I have. Just know it’s an argument for stoicism, patience and acceptance and says, basically, that you can expect to experience infinite joy and infinite suffering as the beloved of the gods. That’s true to my experience. 🙂

Among all the beautiful things he wrote my favorite is something he didn’t write. It’s a kind of diary of conversations written by his secretary Johann Peter Eckermann. Back when I was traveling more, Conversations with Goethe was the only book I carried. Reading it is really like talking to Goethe or, at least, listening to him. I’m grateful he lived a long life because his old age is a good guide to me for mine.

I’ve written a birthday “card” to Goethe every year I’ve written a blog. My feelings for him have not changed, but I have little new to add. If you are curious, you can read:

Happy Goethe’s Birthday (2017)

Happy Goethe’s Birthday (2016)

Happy Birthday, Goethe! (2015) 

Happy Goethe’s Birthday (August 28) (2014)

And that’s just the stuff for his birthday SINCE I’ve had a blog on WordPress. I celebrate every year. I have Goethe Birthday posts on my old Blogger blog (Private, sorry). I used to try to celebrate in some more celebratory way, like a walk on the beach with a friend or pizza, but I soon learned that Goethe’s Birthday is not widely known as a holiday.

I’ve written many more posts beyond his birthday that discuss him, his poetry and our undying love. 😉 This one is probably the best, but be prepared for a long read…

The Heroism of Mere Survival

However you celebrate it, have a wonderful Goethe’s birthday.

“People are always talking about originality; but what do they mean? As soon as we are born, the world begins to work upon us, and this goes on to the end. What can we call our own except energy, strength and will? If I could give an accound of all that I owe to great predecessors and contemporaries, there would be but a small balance in my favour.” Goethe from Conversations of Goethe

 

Great Love Begins with Limerence

In 2015, few months after I put my last Siberian Husky, Lily T. Wolf, to sleep (she was 17) I saw a puppy on the Facebook page of the local shelter. I was instantly obsessed with this dog. She had my beautiful Lily T. Wolf’s blue eyes but something else. Some je ne sais quoi. I contacted Brandi, the girl who ran the shelter. She said, “We have to wait two weeks in case someone claims her, but you can come visit.”

As I stood about 10 feet away from her cage — the quarantine cage, a big one off by itself —  she ran to the wall and then stopped. She cocked her head and looked at me seriously, as if she were thinking. Then, she sat as if to say, “See?” Brandi came out of the office with the key to the cage and we went inside. The dog was gentle, happy to see Brandi, curious about me. I didn’t want to stay too long because I wasn’t sure at all. She was beautiful but at four months almost as big as my Australian shepherd! I was in love with her, but since I turned 60 I’ve developed a brain.

I didn’t know what kind of dog she was. I hadn’t lived here long enough to know the breeds that are most common out here in the wild and (literally) woolly west. I thought she was a Siberian Husky/Great Pyrenees mix. I knew Huskies well, having had several, and I was afraid I wouldn’t have the energy to be her person. I researched Great Pyrenees, and I had big doubts about being able to deal with a giant breed livestock guardian dog who wasn’t intrinsically very social and who liked to roam. I had visions of being dragged down the street by this immense white, blue-eyed dog.

The two weeks passed and I went back to see the dog. When I approached her cage, she was clearly happy to see me again. She’d been moved to the regular kennels. Brandi brought her out, I put Lily’s halter on her (it nearly fit) and took her for a walk. She didn’t quite get what was going on, but she kept checking with me (looking up at my face) for clues about whether she was getting it right. That’s a very good sign in a dog.

“Take her home and see how she does with Dusty and Mindy,” Brandi suggested.

“OK,” I said and we loaded the puppy in the back of my car. I turned on the mysterious oracle known as the car radio and this began to play:

Dusty wanted nothing to do with her and Mindy was gently indifferent. The puppy liked Dusty anyway and snuggled next to him on the floor when he napped.

Once at home, we faced the house-breaking challenge, but within the first few hours, the puppy knew where to pee. I took her out with Dusty and Mindy and she saw what they did. She never had an accident.

 

IMG_2275

“WTF?”

When the “test drive” was over, I took the puppy back to the shelter, knowing that someone else could still adopt her. I still wasn’t sure. I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking. There was the “Oh my god, she’s going to be a BIG dog. Can I handle her or am I too rickety and too old?” I sought advice from everyone — and Marilyn had experience with Great Pyrenees and explained how it might work. I read everything I could find online about Great Pyrenees. When morning came, I called the shelter and said, “I’ll be there at 10:30, is that OK?”

1

“Am I going home with you, Human?”  “Yes Bear.”

Her name was “Silver” and if I’d see the Lone Ranger at that point, I’d have kept the name, but I hadn’t. I named her “Polar” but she didn’t like it. She responded very well to Bear.

I have had upwards of 20 dogs, all of them have been good, some of them have been good friends, wise, funny, goofy, wonderful beings. But this one? She turned out to be something completely different.

She’s not a Siberian Husky and not a Pyrenees. She’s an Akbash Dog — a kind of common dog around here though generally pretty rare in the United States. She’s a Turkish breed of livestock guardian dog. These dogs are gentle, calm, patient, and affectionate — but also intelligent, independent — bred to be a partner to man, not a pet. That’s fine with me. Akbash Dogs are powerful enough to protect a herd of sheep from bears, wolves and mountain ions. She has the most amazing intuition. She’s wise, funny, low-energy and very very very loving. As a friend said recently, “Bear is just love.”

Mysterious forces — limerence? —  brought Bear to our lives at just the right moment. Her calm, dedicated love for Dusty helped him recover from the loss of his best friend — Lily T. Wolf who’d raised him and whom he’d known all his life. Now they are close, close friends.

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Bear and Dusty at Noah’s Arff Boarding Kennel

Bear’s love for me persuaded me to go to Colorado Springs for hip surgery.

In less than two weeks they get to come home from the kennel where they’ve been while my hip replacement healed. I can’t wait.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/06/10/limerence/

Lucio Means Light

The occurence of love is often suprising, precious, random. Some of the loves in my life have been sweet beyond belief, and one of those was Lucio.

Lucio was a little boy who lived down the street from me when I lived in the “hood.” He was Mexican, his status was not quite up to Donald Trump’s idea of “legal.” He lived with his grandma and several animals — also not quite legal in the city limits, ducks, chickens, a small pig, a dog and a cat. His aunt and her little daughters lived next door. I first knew him when he was six or so years old. He came up the street to visit, sometimes with another little kid, sometimes by himself.

He liked to draw and when I was doing art in my garage, he liked to draw his own pictures while I did whatever project engrossed me at the time. Then, of course, he got deported.

A few years later (!) Lucio was back. He was twelve! Almost as tall as I. There had been major changes in my world — my marriage had broken up, and I was teaching a lot more to hold life together. Still, as before, I was doing art work in my garage. Lucio asked about my ex and I said, “It didn’t work out. He left a couple years ago.”

“That’s too bad,” said Lucio. “But you’re still here. You need someone to take care of you.”

“I’m fine this way,” I answered and we both nodded.

The project at the time was “Barbies’ Battle of the Bands Benefit Concert for Cellulite Victims” and involved two stages, instruments and costumes for eight Barbie dolls. I didn’t finish the project; I got to the last part — sewing doll clothes — and realized that wasn’t happening.

Lucio hung out while I was drawing guitars. Then, one day he said, “Aren’t you kind of old to play with Barbies?” I cracked up and tried to explain it was sculpture; I wasn’t playing with Barbies. I gave up the project anyway and starting painting a mountain at Zion National Park. Lucio had no objection to a 42 year old woman painting a mountain.

One day Lucio came up with a brightly painted blue, purple and white wooden push cart, the kind used in Tijuana by street vendors. “My grandpa died and left me this,” he said. It was truly amazing. I believe Lucio saw himself as having inherited the family business and having become a man because the next thing he said was, “I want to take you out for lunch.”

I was mildly dumbfounded (if that’s possible). “Ok,” I said. “Where? Did you ask your grandma?”

“Yes.”

There was a new restaurant (Mexican) a few blocks away. Lucio had it all planned out He’d saved his money, too. We walked over to the restaurant, ordered our lunch, talked about art, school, whether there was a ghost in the crawl space of my house. The food was pretty good the usual Baja/Tijuana cuisine that I did, finally, get used to and even miss now that I’m back in the land of hot green chile and sopapillas.

We walked back home and Lucio said, “I’ve wanted to take you out for a long time.”

I said, “Thank you, Lucio, it was fun,” realizing, suddenly, that I’d been on a date with a 12 year old.

Not too long after, Lucio, his grandma, his aunt and his cousins were all deported. I never again saw my young prince or his beautiful cart.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/06/07/rdp-7-purple/

Incubo

It was in 2000. I was in Genova. I was supposed to be visiting…well, it doesn’t matter. It’s enough to say the entire journey was a living nightmare that included a REAL nightmare. The room in which I slept — a beautiful sunny room decorated in aqua, gold and white in an expensive apartment looking over the Mediterrenean — also looked over a train station and night was filled not with the sounds of gentle warm waves against the rocky shore but trains screaming to a stop outside the wall of glass.

That morning I was to embark early on an adventure to the Cinque Terre. I was in the midst of a horrible, horrible, horrible dream (my mom was rubbing excrement on my chest, OK? Now you know) and I couldn’t get away from her. “La Zia” — my friend’s aunt — came into the room to wake me up, “Marta! Marta!”

Being awakened so suddenly scared me to death. I shot out of bed, shaking my head and looking around the room, no doubt wild-eyed and strange. She looked at me, “Che è successo??” (What happened?)

“Ho avuto un incubo.” (I had a nightmare) I was still in the midst of it. My heart was pounding.

“Ma si. Francesco ti sta portando alla stazione. Devi sbrigarti.” (F is taking you to the station. You have to hurry)

I thought to myself, “I can get myself to the fucking station. I don’t need THAT person’s (a-HA) help at all!!!”

La Zia and I had coffee and cookies together in the kitchen. Then F and I got into a old orange VW bug (the car of his dad’s youth), and I was dropped at the station in Santa Margarita. Barely a word was spoken between us.

(Painting, “The Nightmare” Henry Fuseli, 1781)

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/73604906/posts/1881048422

Imagination, Smagination…

Compared to reality, imagination is nothing. This hit me one rainy Denver night while I was sitting on a kitchen chair in my then boyfriend’s apartment. We had just been to the grocery store. Innocuous enough, right? But grocery stores are not JUST grocery stores, and that particular night, Peter had exchanged some meaningful glances with the cute boy who had been tasked with stacking oranges.

I was trying (again!) to wrap my head around our love relationship. That was impossible. How could two people love each other as deeply as we did and STILL have no chance at all ever? None of the stories I’d read up to that point had prepared me for THIS reality.

“I could never make this up,” I thought as my former cat — Agate — wandered back and forth from where Peter lay on the bed and I sat by the table. I’m sure she could feel everything in that room, the sadness, the anger, the love, the yearning, the “way-things-are” against which Peter and I had consistently pushed for the previous four years. We had, so far, not turned back, just went in another direction to find a breach in the wall, a weak spot. We broke up, met up, tried again.

“You think I chose this?” he asked from the bedroom. “Who would choose this? You’re the only thing that matters to me. Talk to me!!!” But I couldn’t talk to him. I got up, put on my jacket, and went home.

I didn’t think he’d chosen to be gay. I was sure about his choices; his choice was me, but… That night I knew that it was I who had to choose, not Peter. I COULD choose. I could choose this exquisite, literary suffering or I could choose something else. I had that power, something Peter had understood all along though I hadn’t.

I wrote about it, but I hadn’t lived enough life to make characters (finite, neat, believable) out of those two lovers, Peter and me. Though the end was in sight, we kept loving each other and I kept writing.

Above my work table is a photocopy of one of his last letters to me. It was written after we had physically split up (he was in Chicago, I remained in Denver) but were still psychically together. At some point, I sent him the story. He was a writer, had a PhD in Creative Writing. I wondered how the story would read to him, the prototype for the not-all-that-fictional male protagonist. “Yes, I like the story. It moves fast and smoothly,” he says, “Keep Writing!! Love, Peter.”

 

 

Ragtag Daily Prompt

RDP #3: Imagination

RDP #3: Imagination

Heaven

Yesterday my neighbor came over with her lawn mower and cut the grass in my front yard. Then we drank some water and had a chat, a pretty deep chat about “what’s real? Are we real? Why are we here?” Since we’re both 66 years old, it was lighter than the same talk in earlier stages of life. I guess at a certain point part of you is OK with “I have no clue.”

My phone rang. It was my neighbor across the street, the one who hails from Buxton in Australia. I’ve had no appetite for three weeks and most of the time, food is just sickening. It’s the meds, but it’s still not good. “I made you something to tempt your appetite. Meet me outside.”

I went out and she ran across the street (she’s 77 but she can run) “Rhubarb muffins,” she sad, handing me a bag.

“You said ‘rhubarb’.” It’s kind of a joke in my town that I love rhubarb so much. But it’s really one of my all time favorite foods. We giggle. I thank her and come in.

Yesterday was a crappy day. Lots of leg cramps. The feeling it’s NEVER going to get better. As night fell and the cramps got worse, I had to take more meds than I like, but the meds worked and I slept well. Then, morning came with certain urgent imperatives and I got out of bed and walked to the bathroom. The bathroom is right off my room. I did this without thinking about it, without noticing that I had taken neither walker nor cane. I just walked.

But I needed the walker for safety so I had to walk back to my room and get it.

“What happened there?” I thought and tried it again. Wow. Yesterday when I looked at the progress chart of what I could expect this week and next, I scoffed at “Walks short distances without cane, crutches or walker.” But there I was.

Later on, the physical therapy guy came. He’s a strange little person with some parts of the combination plate not missing, exactly, but different, like green beans instead of refried. Something. I haven’t been able to put my finger on it, but as we did my therapy (I asked him today to take my walk with me) he confided that his parents had told him recently that when he was a kid he had meningitis. All the puzzle pieces slipped into place. What he does not have a shred of is imagination or humor. He doesn’t notice when he’s said the same thing twice in less than 5 minutes. But he does his work meticulously and kindly; he’s very good at it. I taught a young man who had suffered similarly as a teenager and that shifted the combinations on his plate, too. He was brilliant working with autistic kids because he couldn’t hurry, he couldn’t joke, he couldn’t do anything threatening to them. He wasn’t capable.

I was struck again by that truth that we don’t know the stories of most of the people around us. I was really glad to hear his story. Glad he wanted to tell me and grateful for the insight. He has two great dogs that he loves and awesome dog stories to share, too.

Then my neighbor texted me about our planned adventure to the store in the big city. I drove because my car is easier and safer for me to get into. We had a lot of fun shopping and joking around and slipping, from time to time, into more serious conversation. When I got home, she helped me with my groceries, planted a tomato for me and took some tomato plants home.

Then I had to take some dog food out to Dusty and Bear and visit them. Lori — who owns the shelter — loves my dogs, all dogs, actually. She let them into the play yard and they were very happy to see me. Lori kept them from jumping on me. We chatted and she said next week she’ll have time to bring them home and take them on a walk with me. They still can’t stay here, but that will be wonderful for all of us. I asked about the bill and she said, “Yeah, yeah, I’ll get that. We’ve had a donation from an anonymous donor.” I was a little puzzled. They’re a business. Why would they get a donation? She read my mind and said, “For you, for Dusty and Bear.”

I may have suspicions, but that doesn’t matter. Whoever it is, I hope I have the opportunity to return the kindness.

I left, drove home toward my pretty town, the green mountains, the fields, the emptiness, the sky with swirling thunderstorms and virga, the whole beauty of this place that filled my heart from the first time I saw it. It’s never been a “place” to me. It has been an entity, almost like a person. I can’t explain it, but I love it. It’s been my “thank you good and faithful servant” for all my years teaching. It fills my heart in every way — the kindness of the people, the harshness of the climate, the wild winds, the beauty of the landscape, the hoarfrost on a -20 degree foggy morning. The tracks of elk in the snow. The sight of a fox in the distance. Every sunset is an amazing event. The cranes!!! I love my friends — I feel completely myself around them and appreciate them so much.

So…as I approached my town, the radio played this song. You have to imagine the “beloved” is the San Luis Valley.

Dating Advice from a Reliable Sources

“Absolutely. Gorgeous, but serious drama.”

“Maybe not. Maybe we’ll do great.”

“Life is short. You want to bring known complications into your life on ‘maybe’?”

“It’s just coffee.”

“Ha. Let’s see how that goes.”

“How do you know Juliette, anyway?”

“You really want an answer?”

“Well, yeah. Maybe you’re a legitimate source, you know, not just fake news.”

“Ha ha.”

“So how do you know her?”

“You know Lucretia?”

“Only by reputation. She’s the insane virago that made your life hell for three years, right? The one who totaled your classic 911 in a jealous rage? The one who called your poor house-bound mother an ‘antiquated relic who can’t die soon enough’? The one who set fire to your suits so you couldn’t go to work? The one who called the Humane Society alleging you kept her tied up in the backyard? The one who showed up at your office bare-breasted and challenged all the women to compete with her tits? That Lucretia?”

“‘Lucretia’ isn’t her real name.”

“Whoa.”

“Yeah.”

“Thanks buddy. Thanks. You want to go get a beer?”

“What about the coffee?”

“Like you said. Life is short.”

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

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.

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