Cool Rocks

I never got the idea of “jewels.” What made the diamond on my mother’s finger more beautiful or valuable than any other rock? Even when it was explained to me, it made no sense. To me it always seemed a variation on ravens picking up shiny things for their nests — a cool thing that ravens do, but people? 

I just don’t get it. 

In the passage of time, I inherited my mom’s diamonds. They are in a box with a couple of other treasures and I think it’s interesting what those treasures are. There is my dad’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, the Bible my grandma gave me when I was six and able to read, and my mom’s diamonds, metaphors for all three.

But I have some jewels… 


Dendrite rock from Mission Trails Regional Park I found hiking with Truffle and Molly
Moccasin last I found in Montana out rock hunting with my mom. It’s the right size for a child’s moccasin and it was looking up at me just like this from the plowed field by the Little Bighorn. 🙂 ❤
Raw Lapis Lazuli, the stone from which Ultramarine Blue was originally made. It’s my Martin of Gfenn rock.
Rocks (clay) from the Paint Mines in Calhan, Colorado. Very nice pigment stones! 

I can’t wear any of these, but I have one rock treasure that I can wear. It was given to me by a Chinese student years and years ago, soon after I returned to the US from China. I complimented her on her jade pendant, and she took it off her neck and gave it to me. It was embarrassing. I had nothing of equal value to give her, and it’s a very precious thing. I love it. The old-style Chinese writing on the back says, “Bamboo whispers peace.”

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/11/19/rdp-monday-jewel/

China

36 years ago I went to China. It wasn’t the place it is now. Today I’ve had the chance to wander down memory lane through my blog posts with a blogging pal who’s in China now with his family. 

It makes me want to invest in a slide scanner so I can see the pictures we (mostly my ex) took while we were there. The things I want to see really are gone — some for real, some just as they were back then, such as junks on the Pearl River, favorite street corners, my apartment, the university where I taught.

Sometimes people ask me if I want to return to China for a visit, but it’s impossible. I wish sometimes there WERE worm-holes in the universe through which we could revisit places AND times. More than once this morning I was moved to tears through the sharing of memories. 

AND the miracle of my blog, his blog. and the Internet. Imagine exchanging knowledge of places in China with a man from India (that one has not met) in real time — seriously. That’s unreal and wonderful. 

This song by Vasco Rossi is right on. 

Ormai è tardi
E quanto nostalgia
Guarda il tempo
Vola via …
Non si torna.
Comunque sia
E la Vita 
Continua a correr vi

Translation (with the repeated bits left out)

Now it’s late (or) It’s already late
And so much nostalgia
Look at the time
Fly away
And we don’t come back
And life
Continues to run on… 

Roasted

This time of year (in America) people are pondering the gathering together of family to celebrate a holiday that was made up in 1863 as a way to (symbolically) bring a divided nation together. It would be good if that’s what it still meant, because we have a divided country now.

Very vivid in my memory is my family’s first Thanksgiving back in Colorado after living for six years in Nebraska where my dad worked for Strategic Air Command as a wargamer. It was 1966. We’d moved to Colorado Springs and dad went to work at NORAD. We’d been in Colorado Springs maybe six weeks.

My dad hadn’t wanted to move back to Colorado. He knew his physical abilities were deteriorating rapidly. With MS back then, before there was really any treatment, stress could have a yugely deleterious effect. My mom, facing my dad’s deterioration, didn’t want to be alone. Her closest sisters lived in Denver.

So we moved, rented a house and hosted Thanksgiving which involved buying a fancy new turkey roaster.

$_3

I think we used it once…

I was homesick for the small town in Nebraska where we’d lived. I was 14, almost 15. I had had my first boyfriend in Nebraska meaning my first kiss and hand-holding. I was very occupied with YEARNING and listening to The Association sing Cherish. My brother was a kid. I didn’t have friends in the Springs. I sat in the basement watching college football, rooting for the Cornhuskers and trying to care about the outcome because, damn, that was NEBRASKA.

As my mom tried to orchestrate a small family reunion (Aunt Martha, Aunt Kelly, Cousin Linda, me, Kirk and dad) I just wanted it to be over. I wanted the radio to go back to playing the top 40 Rock Hits of the Week (that mattered a lot to me when I was 14). I didn’t even want the days off from school. I wanted normalcy, but it was not to be.

The turkey roaster cooked the turkey OK, but it wasn’t the same as an oven. The skin wasn’t golden and the meat fell off the bones. The dressing was tasty, the gravy had giblets in it (ew), the green bean-mushroom-soup-canned-onion-ring casserole (Aunt Kelly’s, “Bless her heart, Kelly could never cook.” True that), all of it was beige and brown except Aunt Martha’s Jell-o salad. It was the best part of the meal (I made it for a family Thanksgiving a few years ago and it surprised everyone — yeah it’s old-fashioned but it’s really good and refreshing, and so everyone agreed after trying it, though the young’uns initially laughed at it — whether in fear, ridicule or surprise, I don’t know).

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Kinda, sorta. Cream cheese and walnuts (should be on the bottom). Lime Jell-o and pineapple, raspberry jello and cranberries on top. No idea what the mint leaves are doing…

We were all seated around the table (“Martha Ann, made the centerpiece,”) set with the “best china” and the silver-plate and the crystal stemware and the grownups had champagne and my dad had muscle spasms and I yearned for my boyfriend in Nebraska and my brother just wanted to get back to his drawing table in the corner of the basement and continue drawing cartoons.

It didn’t really occur to me until this morning that people who resist the way holidays interrupt their normal lives might have the most to be thankful for. It’s no small thing to like your life.  ❤

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/11/15/rdp-thursday-orchestrate/

Bad Teacher

I’ve been cleaning out files on my computer (nothing to write at the moment) I found this little essay I wrote in 2012 or so. Cracked me up and also reminded me how I got to Monte Vista. It took a couple of years but…

***

Sitting in an empty classroom waiting for my class to start, writing in a blog no one reads but me (that’s OK) Driving into school today I thought about how hard it is to teach anyone anything and how much has to be caught up before the students of today are ready to take the ball forward. It’s really too much. It’s all I can do with some of my English class students not to write, simply, “Stupid.”

The problem remains the selling of higher education and the absolute abyss that is secondary education plus the influx of international students whose English ability is poor. Students go to university so they can get jobs afterwards doing things like managing fast food restaurants and rental car agencies. These are skills no one should need university — or even college — to learn.

It’s not my fault they haven’t been taught or that they chose not to learn. This is a fact and yet I’ve taken it upon myself to rectify that. My bosses expect that of me, too. I’m relied upon to hold up my end of the bargain even though it is getting more and more difficult all the time. Students can’t even tell when they are reading something that should be taken literally and something that should be — obviously — a joke. Part of it is that for many (more all the time) English is not their first language, but as all languages have jokes, irony, hyperbole, metaphor they should be able to imagine that English would, too.

And, there’s the Internet. On the Internet — even and/or especially the news — people “choose” the reality they want to inform themselves about. They “choose” the point of view and they “read” with their mouths open, waiting to say their thing. They do not read to find out what other people think. They do not read to learn what the opposing view has as evidence or to learn anything about the argument. They read to “react” to “rant” to “like.” That I will attempt to teach them to read a short essay by someone and find out what the WRITER has to say, discuss WHAT CHOICES the writer made in organizing the essay or the language in which it’s written, none of that has as much currency compared to the students’ “like” “agree” “disagree.” These fuckers will like, agree and disagree without even knowing what the person says. That’s what I contended with today. Some stupid fucking housewife very openly “disagreed” with something she had read with 100% bias and 0% curiosity. When I asked her what she disagreed with, she said, “Everything.”

I followed this with, “What does the essay SAY?” she responded with, “I didn’t read it. I know what writers like that think and I disagree.”

As I attempted to show the class how to write an essay to a writing prompt, by showing how I would write the essay, the woman didn’t like MY perspective either (though the prompt is all about the individual writer’s perspective). She interrupted me and challenged me not from a position of enlightened awareness, but from the same abyss of ignorance that leads people to vote for Sarah Palin because she’s a hockey mom and knocks people like me because we’re educated.

Then I have to argue with a student about an essay (as I’m offering her one-on-one help because she failed a writing assessment necessary for graduation). Finally I say, “Here’s the thing. I’m not your teacher. I’m ‘Random Reader’ and this does not make any sense to me at all. As Random Reader, I’ll stop reading right here.” She was shocked. Imagine! A TEACHER (the martyr of the world) saying, “If I didn’t have to, I wouldn’t read it.”

Late homework. “Here’s my homework.”

“I don’t accept late homework. The syllabus is very clear on this point.”

“But I typed it.” (And how, I wonder, in this day and age, is THAT anything exceptional? You want to be taken seriously by a teacher, fucking TYPE your work and, guess what? It’s saved on your computer so it won’t be LOST, stupid.)

“Well, here’s the deal. That was supposed to be posted on Blackboard four days ago. I don’t read late work. I have 200 students and I must organize my life so I can teach all of them.”

“That isn’t fair.”

I think, “No, cunt, what’s NOT fair is you thinking your late work is important to ME. Your work should be so important to YOU that you turn it in EARLY, get help from me, revise it and get an A.”

Not having Internet for an online class. “Professor, I haven’t done any homework because I don’t have Internet at my house.”

“Well, you know this is an online class. You need to get to the library or a school computer lab.”

“I can’t do that. I have a job. How am I supposed to do that?”

“I guess you’re going to fail,” I say, “unless you figure that out.”

Signing up for a class does not equal taking a class.

The other day, as I drove to school I thought of just teaching to the quizzes and not trying to teach in any more profound sense than that. “Here are the answers. Go take the quiz.” It would be much less tiring OR I can do like some colleagues do and say, “Here is the exam. Ooops! Fooled you! You all fail but OK I’ll curve your grades up to C.”

So I don’t know. I’m not in love with this any more. I was in love with it for a long time, but now I need to stop. I don’t know how I can. One more semester after this one if I don’t self-destruct. I remember Dr. Richardson back in 1984 at my and Jim’s house for dinner. A student called me. I talked with the student for a few minutes. Afterwards I said, “Students are great.” Dr. Richardson said, “Students are awful.” I said, “Seriously?” He said, “You’ll find out. Teach long enough and you’ll get there.” Sad to say, I have found out. I taught long enough.

Michael J. Preston (reprise)

 

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/11/04/rdp-sunday-mentor/

***

This blog post was originally published some 3 years ago. A person only has so many mentors. I’ve had three actual living people as mentors along with various and sundry dead people. There’s a difference between mentor and hero, but the line is kind of fuzzy, especially with dead mentors.

Thoughts on My Brother’s 65th Birthday

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My brother, his ex-wife, and daughter, 1979

The other day I read an article by a guy who’d lost his brother to alcoholism. I got very angry with the writer. His whole point was that if there were a scientific and methodical way to treat alcoholism, no one would die of it. The writer (I wish I could find the article and if I do, I will insert it here) railed against AA and other 12 step programs because, mainly, they put the cure of alcoholism in the hands of the alcoholic.

Statistically, AA works for only between 10 and 20% of alcoholics. Personally, I don’t think the statistics matter when one sober person is enough (IMO) to call the program a success, at least for that person’s family.

I get it. No one wants to rely on the drunk to cure his/her own problems. Who is more unreliable than an alcoholic?

Anyone who loves an alcoholic wants a powerful outside force to come and wrest the problem from the drinker and awaken that person to the wonder of a sober life. I wanted that for my brother every single day of his life. For a time I thought I could BE that power. Later I thought I could ally myself with that power (various rehab programs and hospitals that tried to help my brother). I busted my ass working extra jobs to pay for my brother’s rehab, housing, food, medical care. In all that I learned something important.

There is no such power.

The United States already spends about $35 billion a year on alcohol- and substance-abuse treatment, yet heavy drinking causes 88,000 deaths a year—including deaths from car accidents and diseases linked to alcohol. (“The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous” The Atlantic)

Science continues to research the problem of alcoholism (which is as old as humanity, I think, since we started brewing brew and vintnering vino early in our history) and comes up with chemical aids to treat and help alcholics. The bottom line THERE is that even with the help of science, the alcoholic has to be motivated to use the medications or the psychological treatment.

It’s a pretty common-place notion now that many alcoholics have underlying psychological problems and that booze is self-medication. My brother very likely suffered something like borderline personality disorder. Both our childhoods were traumatic at key moments in our development, and we were very different kids. Some people are intrinsically more reslient than others, less dependent on others, react differently to stress, able to develop alliances outside the family. I am a survivor; my little brother wasn’t. Even as kids if someone picked on him, I beat them up. My reaction was to fight back or leave. My brother’s was to stay there and take it.

In 2004 I realized that though he called me, he didn’t even know where I lived, what my life was like, or much about who I was. I was just an open wallet to him and he would — and did — lie and con me to get money. It was hurting me teaching 7 classes and holding down a 20 hr/week clerical job. His life wasn’t worth more than mine. “Don’t call me again until you stop drinking,” I said on the phone, feeling like my heart was being pulled from my chest.

“Fuck you,” he said.

I never heard from him again. I was totally OK with that. I had realized that I couldn’t do anything to fix my brother. It was 100% beyond me. I wasn’t mad at him, I loved him as much as ever, I wanted him to pull his shit together as much as I ever had, but I finally understood that it wasn’t my job. I had a lot of help reaching that point, the kindness of loving friends who’d experienced something like this in their lives and some of whom knew and loved my brother, too. I took a lot of shit from some of my family over my decision, but those who understood really did understand. I will always be grateful. ❤

No one ever saves anyone who isn’t already clinging to the shore asking for help while he or she tries to pull him/herself up.

My feeling now about alcholism is that there isn’t, and will never be, a “one size fits all” cure for this problem other than the one we know and that is that the alcoholic can stop drinking if he or she is motivated to do so. I’ve known several people who stopped drinking because something outside of them mattered more to them than drinking. My dad’s sister, my dad, my grandfather — just to name three, but my list is longer than those three family members. People do stop, but my brother didn’t. He died of an alcoholism related stroke in 2010. I didn’t even know until five months later.

Today is my brother’s birthday and he would be 65. The ONE thing he refused to try was AA. Who knows?

In any case, I miss my brother, and I would much rather be baking a cake today than writing this. I think I’ll go take a walk. ❤

Two songs for my brother and me:

 

 

The best song about addiction I know:

Back In the Day when Friday Mattered

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Friday was a big deal back in the day. Not so much when I was teaching — teaching college and university writing is a 7 day/week job — but when I was living the clerical life as a paralegal at a large Denver law firm, the very one started by Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch’ grandfather. The name was Gorsuch, Kirgis, Campbell, Walker and Grover. Try saying that very fast on the phone with marbles in your mouth.

Friday could mean a dash across the street to a restaurant known as The Broker for all you can eat peel and eat shrimp with my friend Eve, who was a young attorney, her husband, an accountant and his accountant buddies. It involved lots of shrimp, lots of booze and lots of laughing. Then I walked home to my efficiency apartment on Humboldt Street. It was in one of those faux Spanish buildings built in the 70s with lots of faux wrought iron and faux plaster in the hallways, so over-the-top it looked like bat guano.

One Friday afternoon walking home from work, I noticed an apartment building I had always liked had a for rent sign in the window. I went in, talked to the manager, got the apartment. It was more money and more space (it was a one bedroom!) than my efficiency and I had no furniture, but I loved it. My house in Monte Vista is very similar. Still faux Spanish (what is this, a theme?) but less faux, if that makes sense. The building (The Dalton) has a lot of history and is now owned by a company. If you Google “The Dalton, Denver”, you can see my actual apartment. Fancified and so on for these modern times, but…

In that apartment I made a lot of art — paintings and linoleum cuts. I wrote stories, too. I had dinner guests and held a couple of parties, but usually Friday nights were MINE. I loved living there. It felt like a haven of “Martha” in the vast sea of people making money and getting married. I wasn’t doing either. I chronicled one of those Friday nights with my Kodak 35 mm. By the time I was doing linoleum cuts (inspired by those done by Picasso I saw at the National Gallery in DC when I went for the second part of the Foreign Service Test [which I failed])  I had taken apart my bed, rolled up the futon and set it against the wall. Someone had given me a daybed and I converted my bedroom into a studio because I needed the space to lay out the prints to dry.

Says something about priorities, I guess.

 

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/11/02/rdp-friday-friday/

My Home IS on the Range

That’s a loaded word, “home.” You can’t go there, according to Thomas Wolfe, but you could look in its general direction, angelically.

One night in an Irish bar in San Diego, where I had been taken by my date, an Irishman who’d been my student, I was introduced to a man who, after looking at me quizzically through blearily drunken tired eyes and hearing my name said, “Och, and when were ye last home?”

“He means Ireland,” said my date. I nodded, didn’t know what to say. “Home” as Ireland? Never been there.

So what is this “home” of which you speak?

When I was a kid, home was always Montana, wherever we lived. “We’re going home for Christmas,” my mom would say, and I’d wonder where in hell we were when my mom said, “Come right home after school.” Parental language is designed to keep kids off balance. In a part of my mind, Montana is still “home” but I will probably never return. The people who made it home are all dead.

In 2014 my friend Lois picked me up at the airport in Denver. I was going to look at a house in Monte Vista — a town I’d never seen. To get there, we drove over Poncha Pass and dropped down into the San Luis Valley. I knew immediately that I was home. The light was right. The mountains were right. The emptiness was perfect. I found a house that fit me perfectly. For the first couple of years, I frequently wondered if I had died and gone to Heaven.

But I got to Heaven without dying, and I was finally home.

My dad’s favorite singing cowboy brings it all…home.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/10/28/rdp-sunday-home/

Mom’s Illogical Demands

“We spent all that money on raincoats for you two! You didn’t even take them to school!”

“We didn’t know it was going to rain.” Wasn’t that HER job, to say, “Take your rain coats it looks like rain”?

“Get in here. You’re drenched. Get in the tub.”

“Me first,” says your brother, knowing there are cartoons.

OK now that made sense. Come home from school with your little brother, you’re both soaked from the rain storm and she tells you to get in the bathtub.

“Why?” you ask.

“You’ll catch your death. NOW!!!!”

You both run to your rooms. You wonder what you’re supposed to do while your brother is in the tub avoiding death.

“Get out of your wet clothes!!” yells your mom. “Throw them down the basement stairs!”

You take off your school clothes and run through the house in your underwear, open the basement door and throw your dress, slip, and socks down the basement stairs. Now you’re more or less naked in wet panties. This is madness.

“Billy! Get out of the tub, dry off good! It’s your sister’s turn!”

You hear the water begin its journey down down the drain.

“Dry off good! Maureen, get in there.”

Dry off and then get wet. You’re cold now, but you were fine before. Shivering, you go into the bathroom, turn on the water and get into the tub. “Can I have bubblebath?” you yell.

“I don’t care!” she yells back. “Just get into that tub.”

Your brother passes by the bathroom door in his pajamas. His red-blond hair spikey from being dried with the towel. He makes a face at you as he goes by.

“Stop looking at me!” you yell.

After a while your mother yells again, “Get out of there and get dried off. I need you to set the table.”

Life is an unsupportable burden. First you’re in trouble for getting wet in the rain you couldn’t predict or prevent. Then you’re yelled at for not getting into the bathtub already peopled by your brother. Then you’re yelled at for being IN the bathtub. You heave a sigh reflecting deep world-weariness as you let the water out of the tub. You drag your legs over the side, take your leaden towel from the rack and endure the effort of drying off your skin.

“I’m coming,” you yell back.

 

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/10/27/rdp-saturday-drench/

Lost in Time

Long, long ago in a nearby land lived a lot of men and women who knew how to use a slide rule. It was a wonderful thing that could help these men and women do very complex mathematics that now we need computers to do. With the use of these things, humans invented computers and put people into space.

There were always a bunch of these around my house, (there still are) because my dad was a mathematician. Sometimes my dad attempted to teach me to use one, but those moments never went well. Using a slide rule was second nature to my dad and he wasn’t the most patient person in the world. I don’t think he ever thought about how long it it had taken him to learn. Still, he had one in high school as did all the smart kids in my classes. I was in dumb kids math.

Along with the slide rule were books of tables. I tossed dozens of these in the great purge of 2017 because they literally have no meaning at all to anyone anymore.

I still look at slide rules in wonderment just like my dad would probably look at my cell phone if he suddenly appeared in my living room. The difference is, he would soon be able to work the cell phone. I’ll never be able to use his slide rules.

BUT…a couple of years ago I participated in my second ever demonstration (my first was Earth Day, 1970, the first one ❤ ). It was the March for Science. I made a poster to honor my dad who was a scientist in Colorado Springs (where I marched).

March for Science Poster

It was a chilly day and I was already suffering from osteoarthritis in my left hip though at that point I just knew I couldn’t walk very well, and I hurt, I didn’t know why. It took science to determine what was wrong, mathematicians to devise the most accurate way to measure the repairs I would need, and a scientist to repair me.

The March for Science in Colorado Springs was a wonderful experience. It was a small march, mostly families and earnest nerds like this man holding a sign that my dad could have read.

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***

In case you’re curious about slide rules, I found some videos on Youtube. This video is even more obscure in its explanation and instruction than was my dad. My dad’s explanation was directed toward showing me how to use a slide rule to get answers to math problems. It probably would have worked on a person who didn’t hyperventilate as soon as numbers were put in front of her.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/10/26/rdp-friday-slide/