Old Movie Time Machine

Last night I visited the 1980s and watched St. Elmo’s Fire. I didn’t see it when it came out in 1985 because I was too cool for Hollywood movies. I only saw arty-farty films.

The movie jiggled my memory, taking me back to what I was doing. I was in my early 30s, new to San Diego (where I had not wanted to move), in the throes of making a marriage work, building a career and contending with stepsons. I remembered lots of flights to Montana to visit my mom and aunts, trips to the beach with the boys in late summer afternoons, students — lots of students, competition and confusion with colleagues. I had some of those clothes, a very pretty and very feminine black wool suit that I never had any reason to wear in Southern California. High-waisted jeans with the cuffs rolled in a certain, unique, 80s way. Shoulder pads in T-shirts.

But overall, the decade is a blank, except for a few memorable moments, it is like one of those dreams that consumes you in your sleep but which you can barely remember when you awaken. Of the 1980s I mostly remember the ends of stories. The marriage didn’t work out. I didn’t get a career out of all my effort. Music. My first dog. My VW van. Discovering a place to hike.

I remember writing my magnum opus about Pearl S. Buck (and listening to Springsteen sing “I’m sick of sitting ’round here trying to write this book”), having a typewriter that had a memory, borrowing my neighbor’s Macintosh and seeing how it helpful it was in contending with the vast amount of information my research had yielded. I remember arguments with the spouse over things, seldom getting my way, for example, when we bought a computer it was an Amiga, not a Mac. There was the huge argument about staying where we were — in a beautiful, large, urban apartment — or pursuing my ex’s midlife imperative of buying a house. We bought the house; a former crack house in the “barrio.” Ultimately, he lived there five years and I lived there seventeen. It provided the financial foundation for the rest of my life, and my years there are among the most intriguing and happiest memories I have. From my experiences in the 80s, I learned that we really are not the “masters of our fate.” Stuff happens. The best we can do is go hiking. 🙂

Pearl Buck sits in a box in my garage. 400 pages (double-spaced) about the history of Chinese fiction in the 20th century and Pearl Buck’s relation to it. The spouse has another spouse and lives on the east coast. I did not get a full-time job at that school (for the best). When the 90s came the shit really did hit the fan and that decade is palpable, even twenty years later.

Watching the film last night, I saw the point — the kids had all reached that moment in life described by one of my students long ago as the moment when a person realizes he’s “…not The Highlander.” That moment in my life was forty years ago and just as turbulent as that experienced by Rob Lowe et. al. What I didn’t know in my early-twenties turmoil is that I would reach a point like that over and over in life. It seems humans often reach a moment when they realize they are not the person they were and they have to adjust to living with someone else, themselves, but someone else. I’m there now. 🙂


The Wind Beneath My Wings

Today is my Aunt Martha’s 98th birthday. I actually celebrated a couple of days ago when I accidentally ended up on the “luv” station on my car radio and this was playing:


The last Christmas my Aunt was reasonably independent and in her mind, she bought Christmas presents, went shopping first with my Aunt Jo and then with me. It was a lot of fun. My present was a music box (my aunt had collected them for years) that played this song.

I have no idea if the song meant anything to her. I never liked it. But now it is my Aunt Martha’s song. In my mind it is my mom helping her big sister in school — my aunt couldn’t see well until she got glasses. It’s my Aunt Martha being on my side all through my life. I don’t know what, where or who I would be right now if it had not been for her steadfast faith in me, her encouragement, her sometimes very wise and timely advice, her perception, and the life she lived herself which was courageous and beautiful.

Happy Birthday, Aunt Martha. I wish you were here and we were making you a cake with a ridiculous number of candles so that all the wax melted all over the top as we did when you turned 50. I wish we were trying to put pennies under your plate, the family custom when you were a kid that we kept up every year for you. You are almost worth a dollar now. I love you and I miss you.

P.S. Aunt Martha is the woman in the light suit; I’m between her and my mom. It’s Easter, 1967. Her name was Martha Liberty because she was born on George Washington’s birthday. The family name was Beall — pronounced “Bell.” Her middle name was source of greater or lesser embarrassment to her all her life. 🙂


“Where is he?”

“In the hideout.”

“Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhrrrgggrhhhh!!! We’re going to get you this time Butch Cassidy (or someone).” Run, run, run, run, run, run across the pasture to a hole we’d all dug. And there he was, of course, in the hideout.

“Bang, bang, bang!” Wooden guns or fingers. Nothing draws faster than fingers.

“You can’t get me!” Up out of the hole. Run, run, run, run, run, run across the pasture to an unanticipated destination (behind the chicken house? Behind the cottonwood tree? Behind the COW for godsakes?)

“Get ‘im!” Run, run, run, run, run, run across the pasture.

“OW! WAAAAaaaaaa!”

“What happened?”

“I got a nail in my knee!”

“Uh oh.” War over. Cousin on one side, cousin on the other, brother behind. “We better go to gramma’s.”

Hobble, hobble, hobble, across the pasture. Blood streaming down my leg.


Dad comes out. Practically faints. “We have to clean that right now or she’ll get lockjaw.”

“She’s had the DPT, Bill.”

“Infection then.”

“What’s lockjaw?” Suddenly the mortal wound — quite bloody and fairly deep — doesn’t matter as much as this strange word. “Lock+jaw.”

“Tetanus, honey. Put your leg under the water.” I sit on the edge of my gramma’s old bathtub. “The hotter the water the better. Remember, there are no antiseptics better than lots of hot water and soap.” Truth.

“What’s lockjaw?”

“It’s a terrible disease where your jaws lock shut and you can’t eat and you can’t drink and you die. Put your knee UNDER the running water, dammit! Do you want to die?”

My dad was never chintzy with consequences.


Cold Update

My heart goes out to everyone who’s sick this winter. I think it’s a lot of people. I made it to the store this morning and the first aisle I went to was the OTC drug aisle. I have never seen a supermarket shelf so ravaged and depleted. Chalk some of that up to life in a small town between two high mountain passes after two snow storms, but clearly the whole town is suffering.

I also called to see if I could see my (or any!) doctor. There are no appointments until Friday afternoon.

This cold has been hell as you all know from my copious whining. It’s still hell but climbing up slowly to purgatory. What I’m hoping is I’m not stuck in limbo long.

Sleep has been particularly bad. My sinuses have an intrinsic problem so they don’t drain easily which means — extra coughing. When I try to sleep, it sounds (to me) like a full concrete truck is working in my chest and head. I am forced to cough. It’s extremely annoying, but tonight I realized the trick to dealing with it

“Ignore it, Martha Ann.”

My mom’s wise words. Lying there, the concrete moving around in my chest and head, I think, “I can’t do anything about this, and I’m tired. I’m going to ignore.”

It actually worked.

Mostly. It’s 3 am, but that’s OK. That’s the time when I’ve — lately — actually been, finally getting to sleep. The thing is I’ve already slept 5 hours, concrete and all.

I’ve also had an epiphany about why my Montana aunts and uncles had motorhomes and visited me in California on their way to Texas and Mexico every winter. I totally get it. You must need to be 65 for that bit of arcane knowledge to be made manifest…

On the famous writer front, I have been asked to send The Brothers Path to the largest independent bookstore in Colorado for them to review. If they take it, I will do a book signing up there if I can find 30 people to invite (their rule). Their Colorado Author’s program has been on hiatus for a while, and last week I learned they were reopening it next month, but only for books published in the last three months. As the program has been closed longer than that, and I’ve been waiting, I had a hissy fit and “reached out” (god I hate that phrase) on Facebook Messenger objecting to the vast injustice. They responded right away and told me who to write to. The coordinator of the program responded immediately to my emailed proposal. Thank you to everyone who read and reviewed The Brothers Path and posted reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. You helped my book get the buyer’s attention. ❤

Progress! More than I Imagined Possible. :)

Me and Bear, 8:7:2015

Bear and me at Rock Creek Campground, 8/7/2015

For much of my life I was a very avid hiker and trail runner. Then, about 10 years ago, my right hip went south and I ended up having hip resurfacing surgery in 2007. In between here is a long story (la la la). OK, so the upshot was that my body lost conditioning, my arthritic knees had no support, and I couldn’t hike, never mind run. Often, I could barely walk. After I moved here, in October 2014, surrounded by the Rockies I loved and had missed for 30 years, I was really sad because of all the trails here that were just not going to be for me. BUT I bought an Airdyne (stationary bicycle) and started working out just hoping to improve, even a little. It was a slow process and I honestly didn’t expect much. As I got stronger, I added other things to the regimen. I started 10 months ago and I walk a lot better now — better than anyone (including me) expected.

Friday, my friend L and I took the puppy, Dusty, and L’s dog, Shoe, and went to the area near the Rock Creek campground to check it out (wow in so many ways). I looked at the trail/road and said to L, “Maybe I can run.” I handed L my cane and Bear’s leash and stood there for a minute, taking stock of things and psyching myself up. I took off. I think I ran 30 yards or so and I could have kept going. I wasn’t fast, but I could feel that my form was good and I was well balanced.

It was one of the happiest moments of my life.

Reinhold Messner and Me

I’m not a mountaineer. I’m just a little lady who loves mountains. What I love best about mountains, actually, is looking at them from a distance. They seem to promise so much and I love those promises. As long as I can remember, I’ve felt this way about them and I’ve been lucky to have seen a lot of great mountains in my life, some of them up close.

But when you’re close to a mountain, it becomes something else. It becomes a trail, a ski run, a face, a glacier, a route, a snow field. The mountain is gone. Because of this, I never really minded Southern California. The “mountains” in my California life were all under 10,000 feet and the ones I spent the most time on were not mountains at all; they were hills that happened to rise above the surrounding landscape one or two thousand feet. I got to know these mountains well; they were the right scale for intimacy.

I spent at least an hour most days between 1987 and 2005 on one or another of these trails through the mountains. What I liked was motion and the chance to see animals and the way my mind would work after about 30 minutes of hard exertion. I also liked that I was alone, with my dogs, most of the time and I liked whatever surprises came my way. Coyotes yipping and howling, sometimes to me; the burst of Datura fragrance at dusk on a warm summer evening; an owl silently flying ten feet from my face; the screech of a hawk in the blue sky; the fragrance of black sage after rain; rainbows; clouds that touch the ridge; standing with one hand in rain the other outside of the rain shadow; the  view of the desert from a high place; small seasonal waterfalls; dogs “fishing” in puddles; standing in a golden field with a friend watching a black shouldered kite hover in her hunt; bald eagles fishing in eskers coming out of the flooded reservoir; following my white husky into a thicket to find a surprised doe staring into my eyes; wild lilac blooming all around, their tiny blue petals falling on the trail; thousands of lady bugs in the tall grass; the fun of climbing up a mean little mountain with a good friend and looking over the desert at the Salton Sea; my white husky swimming in a spring; a manzanita ancient and huge with beautiful red bark; orange poppies blooming everywhere; a roadrunner staying in arm’s reach as we both climb a steep, steep trail; ravens surfing on a thermal showing off, I think, for me as I sat and watched on a cliff right beside them; sunset bright red on the ocean 70 miles from where I stood on a narrow, snowy ledge; a mountain lion; the coyote following along beside me as I carried my dead dog’s tag to place on a fence post. I also liked the discomforts; flies in the face, rattlesnakes on the trails, carrying water (lots of water in summer), heat, cold, wet, storms, mud, night. I liked that everything around me was OTHER than I, that the only power I had in that place was over myself, my attitude. I liked that the power of it, nature, is never arbitrary or fake. I liked being where I knew I belonged as a natural creature, not a proponent of culture — a teacher.

I learned so much on those trails, mostly about myself. I learned things I probably am not even fully aware of but which stand me in good stead every day of my life.

Growing to maturity in Colorado in the 70s meant that I was surrounded by the emerging climbing culture. Many of my friends climbed — I climbed, when it comes to it. I liked the feel of rock under my hands; I liked finding routes; I liked the strength involved in making it from place to place. It was never more than a hobby for me, though. What I liked best was moving through space and climbing what came between me and the next vista. Others, though, became mountaineers. Some of them got hurt and most of them didn’t and ended up quitting at a certain point because it is kind of a stupid way to die unless it is your passion.


Last night I watched a film done by Outside magazine, a little documentary and interview of Reinhold Messner, probably THE greatest climber of my generation, and because I liked climbers, love mountains and faraway places, I followed Messner’s adventures. He was the first climber to solo climb Everest without bottled oxygen. He was also a participant/believer in the “free” climbing movement which means climbing without relying much on technical tools to make the climb safer. That style of climbing means you don’t leave hardware on the mountain and the route remains pristine for the next person. I knew if I were a climber, that’s what I would do, too. Messner free-climbed Everest (and many other mountains).

Reinhold Messner was born in 1944 so he’s eight years older than I. In the film I watched last night, I’d guess he was in his sixties. He talked about his philosophy of climbing and answered the question, “Why did you climb?” He asserted he was climbing to learn about himself, to learn about his limitations. He spoke about fear and what fear can teach a person. He said (as I used to say to my students!) “We suck as animals. We might have a man he runs 100 meters in 9 seconds or so but any horse would beat him; we’re not so fast, and there are animals that can pull themselves over an overhang, no problem. We have nothing special except this,” and he pointed at his head, “we have this brain. It’s fear that pushed us into figuring things out, how to get away from the lion or the tiger.”

The interviewer asked him what he had hoped to achieve as a climber and Messner said, “I wasn’t achieving anything except for my own. I was having adventure. The adventure begins here.” He tapped his head again. I thought about that a lot since then — adventure is really everything. All my trails were adventures. I went out every time ready for whatever happened; happy with the consequences. I thought about Messner’s idea of adventure — it does begin in the mind. It is going out into something you’re afraid of and maybe you fail. He said, “Well, I was going up Everest alone without oxygen so there were some things I wasn’t going to do. I was going to take the usual route most people take, not an unknown route. I had to carry all my things myself, so I knew I had to go fast, and to stay up at that altitude too long is dangerous. I was three days up and two days back. It would be easy for things to go wrong. I had to be able to see my footprints or I wouldn’t get back down, but you see, I saw them, I got back down.” He laughed. Thinking is the part that eliminates all that is NOT the adventure.

He talked about how all the big mountains will stop being adventures. “To get to the top of a mountain is a kind of superficial goal; that’s not the adventure. There are thousands of mountains and walls and faces no one has climbed, but the people are going to the top of Mt. Everest.”

I thought about that, too. Since, for me, mountains are beautiful things at a distance, they are all mountains I have not climbed. The mountains I have climbed? Fortuna, South Fortuna, Kwapaay, Cowles, Laguna, Hays Peak and Garnet Peak. That’s it. Not much of a peak bagger… My life has been on a few hard trails but all mountains are trails. I just had to earn a living and I never earned much. It wasn’t like I could pick up and go even to Yosemite.

But the most truly beautiful thing Messner said was that in his mind, in his climbs, he had inscribed lines on the faces of the mountains and walls that he climbed. Only he can see the lines, no one else. Others will have the chance to make their own lines in their own lifetimes. “Each generation remakes the world,” he said.  Without the beauty and the mystery, the story that hasn’t yet been written, there is no adventure. Leaving protection on the rock is stealing from the future the possibility of adventure.

He said some other things that touched me, but maybe most touching was this, “I can’t do it any more. I got this leg that gives me some problems, so now I’m going to do these other things, find different adventures.”

Here’s the film:


Being Scared vs. Being Real

I’m a very self-disciplined person. I never regarded myself as such because I’m also creative and spontaneous and responsive. My high school teachers used to yammer at me about that, but now I know that it wasn’t that I lacked discipline EVER but I was young and flitting here and there trying to figure out what I wanted to do, who I was. On some level I bought into the stereotype that creativity, spontaneity and responsiveness are the opposite of disciplined. But over the years of teaching an exaggerated number of classes and still writing books I developed discipline.

I’d never have made it through the past ten years without serious self-discipline. The last several years, 10 years, precisely, I’ve had some concrete problems to overcome. In 2005 two things happened. My right hip was in almost constant pain and my doctor wasn’t diagnosing it. He would, finally, in November of that year, a year after I first had symptoms and first went to see him. The second thing, I fell in love (or in need?) with a person who was very bad for me and who was, I believe, an intrinsically bad person; a con artist. I think now, if I hadn’t been in such intense physical pain, I might have thought more clearly — but maybe not.

The problem started in the fall of 2004. I felt pain when I was hiking. One evening, after I got home from a long hike, I — as usual — loaded wood in my stove and started a fire. In this middle of this, the phone rang; a land-line. I couldn’t get up. I crawled over to the phone and used the door jam to hoist myself to standing so I could get the phone. I won’t relate the long saga that led to surgery on January 5, 2007, but it should not have taken three years for me to get repaired. By then I’d lost conditioning and my knees (injured several times over the years) were in bad shape from doing more than their fair share.

Fast forward to slow, careful, responsible rehab and lost joy in hiking (I didn’t enjoy it any more; I couldn’t move fast through the hills, I couldn’t run, I was afraid to jump over rocks, I didn’t feel like myself there any more and deep inside I was afraid it would happen again). Financial pressures mounted up, even though by then I’d ejected the Evil X he’d left me in a terrible financial hole I only got out of by selling my house and moving to Colorado last year! 🙂 But back then (2008 – 2009) I nearly lost my house (I am one of the few people in existence who actually GOT Obama’s Home Affordable Mortgage Modification — that saved me).

And I had to work a lot more with less certainty during those years. Add a few more levels of fear to the cocktail. There were periods when I woke up most every morning at 4 terrified about something; sometimes I woke up screaming. I had plenty to be anxious about so my anxiety didn’t worry me. I thought there’d be something wrong with me if I weren’t anxious.

And now…

I’ve spent the six months I’ve lived in Colorado systematically rebuilding my physical abilities. We’re talking serious rebuilding because I have had a long way to go. To catalog all of the very small movements we take for granted that I could not do would take up a very long blog post and wouldn’t be interesting. But one example, in November, if I fell, I needed Dusty’s help or something large to hold onto so I could get up off the ground, and I fell pretty often. Now I can stand up on my own and I do not fall nearly as much; something has to trip me. My loss of abilities was the result of nearly a decade of my life spent driving and teaching and grading papers, trying to write fiction and truly NOT having time to do anything more than that. One of the things I used to say with great certainty, “Bah. Everyone has time to exercise.” Well, no, not necessarily and added to that was the fact that deep down inside I was afraid.

I’m still afraid though I realize I have less to fear. If I were to ride a mountain bike now and fall off, assuming it wasn’t a terrible life-threatening fall, I’d probably be able to get back up and get on the bike. Good. And, I thought about that; how many times did I ever fall when I was riding a mountain bike every day? The truth is, I only fell once and that was because I was watching a hawk in flight not watching the trail. I have been worried about my balance, but I’ve been working on that steadily, too, these six months and I can do a lot of things now I couldn’t do in October. I could ride a bike now on an average single-track and have a very good time, but I’m afraid.

I’d assumed that regaining physical strength and ability would make the fear go away, but it hasn’t. I want very much to go to the local bike store and get a real mountain bike like I used to have but I’m afraid. I’m afraid to go in there, a slightly lop-sided little white-haired lady and say, “I want a mountain bike, please.” In fact, the one I want is the one in the picture. But I’m afraid they won’t have one. I’m afraid they’ll look at me and think, “She couldn’t ride a mountain bike. It would be wrong to sell her one.” I don’t know how to live with this outside physical appearance of me, either. It doesn’t fit at all. 😉

Michael J. Preston

Daily Prompt Mentor Me Have you ever had a mentor? What was the greatest lesson you learned from him or her?


At the top of the third flight of stairs was an office looking out on the campus. An arched window faced west. The floor was piled high with neatly stacked punch cards and books. In front of a big desk, also piled high but this time with papers, books and a pair of large Wellington clad feet sat a lanky red-haired man with a very British/Nordic face (kind of like the real Lawrence of Arabia), a large nose and very blue eyes. He looked to be in his twenties — but to me at 18, he was a GROWN UP a PROFESSOR, a little scary, even. I’d never sought out or spoken to a professor. Hell, I’d only be at college two days.

“Excuse me. Are you Mr. Preston?”

“Yes. How can I help you?”

“I want to take your class, Middle English Verse Romances, but I don’t have the prerequisites. I’m just a freshman and I haven’t taken Intro to British Literature.” Already at 18 I had a resistance to survey courses…

“Do you have your paper?” He swung his feet off the desk and turned around in his creaky old swivel chair.

“Yeah.” I handed it to him.

“Why do you want to take this class?” he asked as he signed it.

“I’m interested in Middle English Verse Romances.”

No I wasn’t. I wanted to take the class because I didn’t think I needed any freshman courses. I was the shit. I was smart and advanced and perceptive and a great writer and I didn’t need to jump the hoops. I could take a senior level English class my first semester of college and ace it.

“OK,” he said. “There’s a lot of reading. So who are you?”

“I’m Martha Kennedy,” I stuck out my hand to shake. He took it in his giant paw.

“All right, Martha Kennedy. You’re in the class. Go turn this in.”

Thinking back on that moment now, I also think of the innumerable students who walked into my classes over the years. I remember uncountable first days. I remember the shining eyes, the undaunted expressions, the certainty that they’d ace my class and go on to the next thing NO PROBLEM. I don’t know how many times I warned them, “Don’t set your sights on an A. Set your sights on learning something. You have no idea what’s going to happen during the semester. I do. Some of you are going to lose interest — you’re sophomores and there’s a verified phenomenon known as ‘sophomore slump.’  Some of you are going to have skate-boarding accidents and break something. Some of you are going to fall in love and some of you are going to be dumped by your lovers. Some of you will have family problems. Some of you will get mono or something.” I know somewhere inside I was remembering my first and second (and third and fourth) years of college and university.

I didn’t know how I would be my first time away from home. I didn’t know I’d miss my family, that dysfunctional assemblage that I had been so eager to escape. I didn’t know I’d get a very dangerous case of bronchitis and need to be in the health center hospital for almost a month. I didn’t know that my heart was still broken from the summer before. I didn’t know that rebelling against everything was stupid. I didn’t know I’d have horrible roommates (I did).  I didn’t know, I didn’t know, I didn’t know…

Mr. Preston was always there, in that office with the afternoon light, the books on the floor and the computer punch cards. He was in the process of making the first ever computer generated index to a literary work — he was compiling a concordance to Chaucer.

At a certain point in the semester, realizing I was lost, I started following him around and he let me. When I was in health services, he was alerted to the fact that I was missing class because I was desperately ill. It was he who was there when I was discharged and took me for coffee, sitting and talking with me about my life and my family. That afternoon — blustery and Novembery — I went with him to the biology lab where he picked up a dozen pullets that he’d be taking to his farm between Longmont and Boulder. His black jeans were always covered with cat hair and feathers and now I understood why.

We carried the chickens to his car and he said something useful to me that I no longer remember, but it had something to do with ignoring everything that didn’t really matter. What might that have been? I’d just been in a play and gotten the only mention in the local paper for the role I played. I’d declared an art major, but wasn’t doing very well in that area, in fact, my first sculpture project had ended in my being pulled into the president’s office to give an explanation. I’d taken on an immense project for anthropology, one I couldn’t possibly do. I was always trying to find marijuana because I was determined to be a hippy. I wanted a boyfriend, but didn’t want to sleep with anyone. I yearned and yearned and yearned in vague and inchoate yearning, but? I was pushing the envelope as hard as I could without knowing why. If I had seen myself as the teacher I became, I’d have been Mr. Preston, too. In fact, I can think of several students to whom I was “Mr. Preston.”

Mr. Preston was somewhat like my father. He was brilliant, individualistic and iconoclastic. He respected things done well. He was too alive to be called an intellectual, but he definitely had an intellect. He taught class sitting on the back of a chair, his feet on the seat, a cup of coffee sloshing as he gestured. I thought he was wonderful.

I couldn’t really read Sir Gawain and the Grene Knight or anything else assigned in the class, but I managed to write a decent final paper and Mr. Preston let me take his next senior class, Restoration Drama. Second semester was somewhat better. Going home for Christmas helped; not smoking pot helped. I was a more sober and focused girl than I’d been in fall, but I was also sad and scared. My dad (who had MS) wasn’t doing well. My brother was not at home much, even though he was only sixteen. My mom? All I can say is we fought constantly and viciously.

My dorm mother (who’d decided I was anti-social, depressed and insane) had the college send me to see the school psychologist. He was a nice man and he asked me concrete questions about my life and my family. At the end of the session he said, “I don’t think you need to come back. There’s nothing wrong with you. Your family has some real problems. I think you’re scared for the future and sad for your dad. I think you’re worried about your little brother and you’ve been carrying a big load on your shoulders. You need to take advantage of being here and not at home. You have an opportunity here to learn and you should use it. Come back any time you want to talk.”

He was right, of course. I immediately went to see Mr. Preston and told him about it. He nodded in agreement through my whole recitation. He said, “Your dorm mother thinks that because you’re young you can’t have any real problems. But you have some real problems. Next year, find another dorm.” I did find another dorm, but I also remembered that being young doesn’t mean “trouble free.” That right there made me a better teacher when my turn came.


I discovered that at my school (Colorado Women’s College RIP) I could take any class I wanted. All I had to do was find one other student who wanted it and a professor qualified to teach it. I wanted to learn Greek so I could read Homer in the original language. I found another girl who wanted it and I went to Mr. Preston who said he’d teach it.

Back then, photocopies DID exist but they were expensive and the machines were few and far between. He had his text from the Jesuit school he’d gone to as a boy, and had three copies made.

“I can only do this at 8 am.”

“OK,” I said. He knew I slept until noon.

“You’ll have to be there because it’s going to mean I have to get up at 4 to take care of the animals before driving in from Boulder.”

“I can do it,” I said.

“XXX (the other girl) said that works for her. All right. We’ll meet Mondays through Thursday mornings at 8 am.”

Looking back, I know Mr. Preston was — among other things — trying to get me to learn self-discipline, to put learning something above staying up all night and sleeping half the day. I also know, now, that that those habits seem to be a common among post-adolescents. Most of the kids I taught over the years thought a 1 pm class was a morning class…

Fall semester rolled around and I moved into a new dorm, which I loved, had my own room, which I loved. Other things had happened over the summer and I was a more settled girl, more focused on learning something, more focused on the future that was becoming clearer — my dad was now in a nursing home and that meant that however much longer he lived, it would not be long. MS is not a deadly disease, but it does weaken the body and the immune system as organs and muscles stop functioning as well as they should. My mom no longer had a burden heavier than she could carry. I could only hope she’d begin to build a life of her own because she’d need one soon.

Greek was great — though very difficult. We read the Odyssey. We didn’t study grammar or vocabulary, we just read Homer. It was a good way to learn. It was the way Mr. Preston had learned. Every day I went back to my room and translated Homer. I liked my classes that semester, I made friends, and moved quickly along toward that vaunted goal of graduation. By the end of my second year, I was classified as a second semester Junior.

My father died in February of that school year. After the funeral I kept to myself. I studied a lot. I spent time with Mr. Preston and quietly digested these events that most people at age 20 have not experienced. I don’t remember anything Mr. Preston said to me, I only remember having lunch in the cafeteria with him and other teachers and some of my friends, of listening to them debate ideas and laugh, of following him to his office and sitting in a comfy chair and trying to read Greek.

He was my mentor, but he did his mentoring by being himself and never closing the door to me. I am sure he gave me good advice and useful life lessons. I’m sure I used them for my own well-being and later for the well-being of the students who came my way, equally fucked up, confused and scared. The one thing I can say for sure is that his presence in my life during those troubled years was a beacon of light flashing the words, “Be yourself” against the uncertain firmament of my dark sky.



My dog Lily is in her 16th year of life and I know that her days are numbered. Our days together are numbered. She’s weak in her hips. Sometimes she’s confused about where she is. This is compounded because she’s blind and deaf. Sometimes she falls and I have to help her up. She still likes her breakfast and dinner. She’s still happy when I find her and pet her. She likes to do yoga with me (I have to do yoga in my kitchen). She’s not in much pain (good meds) but she gets frustrated when she can’t get up from her bed. Normally all I have to do to make her fine is to stand beside her in those moments; then she gets up. I don’t know exactly what’s going on in her mind, but somehow my being near makes it better.

I’ve had old dogs before. I’ve had to help many of them find their way into the next world where, I hope to God they’re all waiting for me. I imagine this as a forest — a Swiss forest — with a little stone house and all my dogs. That’s Heaven.

I have much less equanimity about Lily’s approaching “transition” than I have had about any of my other dogs I’ve had to put to sleep. I’ve been trying to figure that out so that when the moment comes I’m up to the job. Today, I figured it out.

Lily knew me “when.” We hiked miles and miles together; ran on snowy trails and climbed mountains. When she came to live with me, my arthritis had not manifested symptoms. The first day I had Lily, she and Jasmine, whom I adopted with Lily, and I took a hike in the mountains. It was the dogs’ first mountain hike and they loved it.

Jasmine and Lily soon after they came to live with me. Lily was 3; Jasmine was 8

Jasmine and Lily soon after they came to live with me. Lily was 3; Jasmine was 8

Over the few years we could do this we tracked deer, chased ground squirrels, drank from a well, looked out at the Salton Sea and watched the sun set on the Pacific — all standing in one spot on a wonderful wild trail in the Lagunas that led to Hays Peak. Lily and I once tried a short cut and learned a lot about how mean a chaparral hillside can be — but we had fun.

Lily is the last “person” in my life who knew me when I was “real.” That’s what I thought today. Lily isn’t “real” any more, either. It’s been a while. I have photos of the last “real” hike of her life — and it was my last hike, too, in a way. A former student, friend, from Germany came to visit and he and I took Cody and Lily up Garnet Peak. It was very hard for me to climb down (up was fine) that mountain and when we all got home, I saw how terribly sore Lily was. That was it.

Lily Garnet Peak-1

Lily on Garnet Peak

Lily still loves snow, she just loves it more slowly.

Lily enjoying the snowstorm, 2/22/2015

Lily enjoying the snowstorm, ten years after, 2/22/2015

I realized today that the sadness, for me, won’t only be the loss of Lily, though that will be terrible, it will also be that she is the last link to my own lost joys.

All I can do is have faith that when the moment comes it will be all right as it has been for my other dogs. My job now is to make some peace with my future and develop a new sense of what it means to me to “be real” for myself, but also so that Lily’s last moments in my arms will be peaceful with no sad telepathic messages coming to her from me to disturb her passing.