Sheaves

“That’s not going to cut a wide swath with me.”

Mom dialect. It meant, “You’re not impressing me.”

I grew up with farming idioms for which I would never have a lived context.

A hard thing in life? “Tough row to hoe.”

My mom was great about explaining these, but the explanations came with incomprehensible terms such as “sickle,” “scythe,” “double-tree, single-tree,” “harrow” and more. I learned what they referred to in real life after a while. Lots of visits to pioneer museums across Nebraska were very helpful and accompanied with, “I can’t believe they think this is an antique. I used one of these the whole time I was growing up.” She was in her 40s and, I think, had a right to complain. Many of those things are timeless, not so different in my mom’s childhood in the 1920s and 30s or the childhood of the characters in my historical novels.

The other day a local woman was selling an antique eight bladed “Ash cradled scythe” on Facebook. I looked at the picture imagining the strength and skill of anyone who lifted that and brought it down. “Works good,” said the ad. They must’ve sold it because the ad is gone, but it looked like this more or less, but with 8 blades.

Rakes have been rakes forever and nothing is better than a shovel to, uh, shovel. Speaking of which we have six inches of cold, fluffy melty, very heavy snow. The dogs greeted me this morning as if I had given it to them. Normally I would share in their joy, but I’m struggling with the anhedonia of our times, and all I could do was pet them and tell them I was happy. I’m not. Six inches of snow and I couldn’t care less. No, that’s not like me.

A bit of something to brighten your day.

After a night drinking with the lads, Paddy begins to stagger home. He sees two feet sticking out from beneath a motor car. He realizes that the automobile belongs to the parish priest. In an attempt to be helpful he calls out, “Are ya havin’ a bit of problem with your motor, Father?”

From under the car the priest replies, “Piston broke!”

Paddy replies, “Aren’t we all, Father.”

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/10/26/rdp-monday-swath/

Rhyming Time

Yesterday I wasn’t too enthusiastic about going to teach art to the kids. I felt like they were losing their focus, and I’m not the goddess of construction, paper, glue and cute crafts. I’m an artist, dammit! But I went. The kids were waiting in the alley,. The little boy was on his bike. Regular readers of my blog know that a period of my life was spent with a group of boys and their BMX bikes. It was a strange time (but really, how would I know?) and our little group of a lady with a truck and boys on bikes was the best part. And there I was yesterday, looking at C, a little boy who was eager to show me how fast he could ride and the great stop he’d learned.

My heart went back to those Boys on Bikes, now in their 40s, some dead already. The one to whom I was closest is raising his own kids now and is teaching his little boy — who’s about the age of C — to ride BMX.

Mark Twain said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” Personal history too, it seems.

C’s parents are more protective of him than the Boys on Bikes’ parents were of their boys. He’s only allowed to ride in the alley when I’m out there, otherwise he has to ride in his yard and driveway. Knowing this, I walked down the alley very, very slowly. He showed me how fast he can ride and he showed me his skidding stop. He fell, took it “like a man,” and I said, “Good for you. The only way to learn is to fall.”

The Boys on Bikes — until they met me — rode their bikes ten miles from our neighborhood up to the BMX jumps. My Ford Ranger and I, and the fact that almost daily I drove up to where the jumps were, were a big boon to their lives.

It’s just a different world today in so many ways, but I liked our old world. I admired the reckless courage of those boys so long ago and the way they took shovels up there to perfect, adjust and repair the dirt jumps. They were amazing.

Little boys are an interesting species. Much derring-do and showing off of prowess; they are all medieval knights.

Yesterday I ran the art “class” a little differently. I had two activities planned and made them go run around the yard for 5 minutes in between. They’d also done their homework. The little girl, M, had drawn me pictures of animals and C had three nice pictures of trucks. He showed me one and asked if I could read the writing on it. “It’s Morse Code,” he said. “Can you read Morse Code?”

I said no and he told me it said, “Hi Miss Martha.”

He used the charcoal pencil I gave him for the road beneath the truck and the tires.

When they came in from “recess” we made tissue paper sun catchers. They loved the project, which was incredibly messy, and Mom even joined it.

“Isolation…exposed the deep sense of connection I took for granted within my relationships with friends and family. Don’t forget to express gratitude for those connections.” From today’s Washington Post newsletter on coping with COVID-19

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/10/24/rdp-saturday-strange/

“What? You didn’t write about the debate?”

Generally, The Washington Post series on coping with the pandemic has been pretty irrelevant to me. Today’s newsletter confirmed why. It ended with this:

“Maybe I sound a little like a retiree. Well, yeah! Retirees have a lot to teach younger people about future orientation. It’s not so much that older people plan fewer activities, writes Marc Wittmann in his book “Felt Time”; it’s that they plan them for a more immediate future — the same way people survive a crisis like this.”  (Hey sweet cheeks, we were not born retirees, but whatev’)

I guess the retiree “crisis” is the impending ultimate nap. Why do retirees “plan (activities) for a more immediate future…”? In my case it’s because I finally can BUT I always have. I’ve never been a person to plan for the long term. I guess I’ve never believed in the long term. I know people do plan like that, a lot of people, maybe even most.

The newsletter today advises people to set “small, achievable goals” for themselves. But isn’t that always a good idea? It also advises people to notice smaller things — like the plants growing on their daily walks. Isn’t that always a good idea? It also advises planning a “mini-vacation” every week — such as riding your bike in a different part of town so they have something to look forward to.

The thread in all of these is fighting the idea that there is no future, nothing to look forward to, black emptiness.

I get that, but I don’t believe that or, having grown up near Air Force bases during the Cold War inoculated me with that world view, I take it for granted, sort of “Yeah? So what else is new?”

I thought about the Cold War as I read this passage in the WP newsletter:

“But the pandemic is this ongoing monster,” said Alice Holman of the University of California at Irvine. In casual speech, “quarantine” no longer has much to do with local orders, or even literally staying inside. It’s a state of mind, an eternal present. “Quarantine” is a vacuum for plans deferred until “this is all over” — not that anyone can define this, all or over.

“We have this chronic underlying stressor that’s holding us hostage,” Holman said.


Plenty of people back then believed that was only a matter of time before WW III. A lot of those people had already lived through two world wars and didn’t see much prospect of that kind of human behavior stopping any time soon. Many people were authentically frightened and, as everyone knows, we had bomb drills at school and watched films that simulated what would have happened if the bomb dropped on Hiroshima had been dropped on some place in England (ie. white people). WW II hovered over the lives of Baby Boomers and the Cold War surrounded us with its impending apocalyptic doom. Scary books like On the Beach made that future very real and moreso when made into films.

The bomb itself was one thing. The worst part was the residual nuclear fallout, so people built shelters to protect themselves from the bomb itself in which they could stay long enough for the fallout to be gone. (Hello Chernobyl). My family lived 2 miles from the second most important target for Soviet bombs so we had a pretty cavalier perspective on the whole thing.

But it was there. A big difference between The Bomb and the pandemic is that the Cold War could be satirized (and was) and this disease cannot.

Meanwhile, those of you who have visited Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, Granby and Grand Lake, be grateful you saw it in its splendor because it is now on fire. I guess we Coloradans haven’t swept or raked our forests sufficiently, either.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/10/23/rdp-friday-impending/

The Easel

Yesterday I drove along the 18 miles of Road T in Saguache County Colorado. That was after some 20 miles on the US Highway 285 and before another 15 miles on paved Saguache County Road T. Saguache County is the first county north of my own, Rio Grande County. I was heading to the old mining town of Crestone — now arty-farty spiritual center — to buy my easel.

Nothing notable about the deal — except getting a $500 easel for $100 — but driving toward the Sangre de Cristo Mountains takes my breath away. They resemble the Alps in the way they rise from the valley floor, rugged and young.

The easel is large and it was a struggle to get it into the house, but I did it. But then — as happens — I realized I had to move stuff out of my studio and THAT led to moving stuff out of my living room. It’s interesting how when you get a small piece of new furniture you might end up re-arranging everything and cleaning.

I don’t know yet if in this picture the gray will turn to blue…

I haven’t figured out everything about it yet — the main thing I still have to work out is adjusting the up/down of the tray on which the painting rests. I see how to do it, I just haven’t been able to do it! I’ll make it work for this big painting, but it won’t work for a smaller one but if I never manages that, a cool thing about this easel is it can go flat, like a table.

Now my little studio has three work “surfaces.” A dedicated drawing table, the table of all work, and an easel. Pretty up town, I’d say.

OK, this isn’t much of a video, but I thought, since I have this fancy new upgrade I should try it…

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/10/22/ragtag-daily-prompt-thursday-grey-turns-to-blue/

Pawsitivity

I got my second email this morning from The Washington Post about how to cope with the mental challenges brought by our time in history. There is a lot of stuff there, but one thing I know from my own life is right on:

“…lots of small practices can help you move forward and recover a sense of time … Alvord (clinical psychologist) said, you accept what’s out of your control and look for what’s in your control, even if it’s as small as taking a walk.”

I think I learned as a little kid that if I just take a walk (bike ride, run) things will improve, whatever things are. There was another good thing in this morning’s email regarding mental habits that deepen peoples’ depression and feelings of hopelessness:

  • The “I can’t” habit. You automatically decide you can’t meet a new challenge. You give up before even trying.
  • The catastrophizing habit. You see disaster everywhere, and fall into what ifs. You spend a lot of energy panicking.
  • The all-or-nothing habit. If something doesn’t go just one way, it’s wrong. You’re irritated with yourself and others.

    These are countered with challenge questions:
  • The “I can’t” habit: “What is the evidence that I can’t do it?”
  • The catastrophizing habit: “What are five other things more likely to happen?”
  • The all-or-nothing habit: “What are some possibilities that fall between the extremes?”

Today’s newsletter thing was great — I guess I’m a fan of behavioral psychology which this whole thing illustrates. When I was having counseling myself, that was my therapist’s approach. She was perfect for me because I’m one of those, “That’s all very interesting, but what do I DO???” kind of people. Deep down I believe that we are what we do, the culmination of our choices and actions. I just wanted to make choices that worked. I wasn’t trying to expunge any deeply buried demons or get to the bottom of anything. I knew that dark icky stuff wasn’t going away. I wanted to learn how to live with it.

Still…I dunno. I think “sinking spells” are a normal part of life in any moment, “normal” or whatever this is. Maybe it’s all how we feel about our sinking spells, how well we’re able to ride them out and move forward. Some time ago — when I was still teaching Business Communication — I had an epiphany about the word “positive.” The text book talked about “good news” and “bad news” messages. Simply good news is what the audience wants to read/hear and bad news what the audience doesn’t want to read/hear.

It was challenging for my students to get that simple point, that good or bad depended on the audience’ desires, not theirs. A good news message started out with good news, ‘Yay! You get a refund!” a bad news message started with goodwill, an acknowledgement of the humanity of the audience, “We appreciate your business” or “Thank you for your inquiry” — something like that. Students had this idea of “justice” (“They want something they can’t have! They read the signs! Off with their heads!”) so it was challenging to teach this. Shouldn’t have been, but it was there I learned that we can’t take empathy for granted. Some people need to be taught.

The closing of both types of messages was supposed to be positive, and positive meant something that pointed to a future relationship. Positive didn’t mean up-beat or cheery, but something that pointed to a future that was better than the present, essentially the “light at the end of the tunnel.” In a business message like those my students were learning it might be, “Here’s a coupon for 10% off a future purchase” or “We hope to do business with you in the future.” Basically saying, “This, too, shall pass.”

Featured photo: For various reasons, I had a bad day yesterday. At one point, I started to cry. Teddy and Bear were very worried and Bear stayed worried (as is her nature) until I went to bed. The photo is Bear taking care of me in the evening. She can’t make me soup when I’m sick, drive me to the doc if I’m hurt, or offer any other concrete help, but when it comes to moral support, faith and affection, it’s pretty hard to beat a livestock guardian dog.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/10/20/rdp-tuesday-swamp/

Color’s Determined Boldness

I recently decided to participate more fully in our pandemic by letting The Washington Post send me a week of advice/activities for dealing with the “lockdown.” I got the first one today. One thing it said struck me. It relates to time.

“…attention, emotion, stress and novelty, researchers say, are all related to how we perceive time.” 

The article goes on to say, “… time, as we perceive it, is “extremely malleable,” said Martin Wiener, an assistant professor of psychology at George Mason University. It acts just like a sense does, he said. And like hearing or sight, it can be tricked… Factors like attention, emotion, stress and novelty…are all related to how we perceive time. Uncertainty, grief and isolation have stretched them all.

Time is a weird thing. Some belief systems say there is no time; that it’s an illusion, and what we have is duration. I like that idea, though it’s admittedly a little difficult for me to wrap my head around.

Living alone and retired in a small mountain town is at least half-way toward a “lockdown” so, I can’t say I’ve really experienced the “timewarp” of the pandemic. That’s fine with me. My experience of it is mostly through my awareness of the deadly, political blustering of our Asshole in Chief balanced by scientific information from the ambient world and the wisdom of my state’s governor.

“On call with campaign staff, President Trump says people are tired of hearing about coronavirus. ‘People are saying whatever. Just leave us alone. They’re tired of it. People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots…Fauci is a nice guy. He’s been here for 500 years’.”

The pandemic’s effect on my daily life has been through my understanding that it’s scary and my resolution not to get sick. I also feel the reality that no one is OK right now. The “ordinary” tragedies of life are not on lockdown. People are still going to struggle with their lives, personal problems, dread diseases. COVID 19 is like a glaze an artist might paint over an entire painting to give it a particular color “cast,” or the sobering darkness left by time on a work of dazzling color.

I enjoy watching Waldemar Januszczak’s art history documentaries. I get to see paintings and places, and I learn a little something. 😉 Last night I was watching his biographical piece on Manet. There was a painting — The Old Musician — being restored at the National Gallery. Waldemar said to the restorer, “Wow! Is this the same painting?”

“Yes,” she said. “We’ve removed all the yellow varnish. Now we have all these colors.” Since the viewer probably had no memory of the painting before, the film showed the restoration process in progress at one point. I was moved by the determination of color.

P.S. I don’t think I’ll ever use the word “hardihood.” Sorry. It’s just kind of weird.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/10/19/rdp-monday-hardihood/

Singing

I was driving home from the shelter with Teddy, I’d just gotten him, ostensibly to foster (ha ha) Eric Clapton started singing from Mohammed’s Radio. Little Teddy, still with his puppy coat, sat in the seat next to me. Teddy is absurdly friendly and manically alert. He was hiding his nervousness (fear?) in a little coat of cuteness. For some reason I started singing along with the radio, and Teddy’s little ears perked up. He cocked his head, he looked at me. I put my hand on his little head and I kept singing. In the back of my mind were the words to the song. Promises. I’d just made one.

How had Teddy — the cutest smartest little dog ever born — ended up tied up and abandoned outside a convenience store? Who would not want him? I thought of the nice lady who’d rescued him and then brought him to the shelter in case someone was looking for him.

I didn’t know it, but only a few weeks later my 15 year old barky black dog, Dusty T., would have a stroke, and I would have to put him down. I didn’t think that in Teddy I was bringing home a pal and a job for Bear who was going to mourn that big black dog as much as I would. I didn’t know any of this.

Teddy took to Dusty right away and Dusty protected that little dog when he thought Bear was playing too rough. Here’s a video of Dusty protecting his little “son”, hopefully, you can see. I couldn’t download it from Facebook 😦

As I drove home, I kept singing. Teddy clearly liked it. Now, I always turn the radio to some soft rock stuff when I’m in the car with Teddy and if it’s humanly possible, I sing.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/10/18/rdp-sunday-promises/

Manibus

I should have waited to write the blog post I wrote yesterday, when I came home from a beautiful walk with Bear. Definitely fit today’s Ragtag Daily Prompt. Those glorious moments are pretty uncommon these days, and this morning I had to laugh. When I grabbed my jeans to put on, I noticed I’d sat in bird shit yesterday. Glory is grounded in shit after all, something reinforced when “traffic” (three cars) on the “highway” to the Refuge was slowed by a tractor pulling a manure spreader into a hay field.

Teaching “art” to the kids has inspired me to think about my early years in school. I’ve realized that a LOT of what “they” were doing to us had nothing much to do with what they told us they were teaching us. Neither of the kids writes — prints — halfway decently and the little girl doesn’t even write legibly. Seeing this at first I was shocked and a little worried then it hit me.

Keyboards.

I thought about all the hours in school we just sat there with special lined paper and practiced printing letters, then, in second grade, we learned to “…write like grownups” — cursive. As I watch the little girl struggle with her hands when she does anything, I think about how they taught us to control and use the small muscles in our hands. We THOUGHT we were learning to write and it was annoying that we had to keep practicing, but that wasn’t what “they” were doing at all. I thought about how these amazing tools at the ends of our arms contributed to make us human. I wondered if our word “man” came from the Latin word, “manibus,” or “hand.” (I don’t really care what the answer is.)

A person can think a lot of things watching kids make ghosts from tissue paper and egg cartons.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/10/17/rdp-saturday-divine/

Mighty Strange…

I had good time watching the town halls last night. Really, I wish I could have had two screens going at once (don’t have that kind of set up). There was so much about Trump’s performance that was hilarious. Savannah Guthrie was definitely a Mighty Girl.

“Savannah Guthrie: Why did you tweet out a conspiracy about Biden killing Navy Seals to cover up the fake death of Bin Laden?

Trump: “That was a retweet…”

Guthrie: “I don’t get that. You’re the president! You’re not like someone’s crazy uncle who can retweet whatever!”

There was more along those lines. I happened to tune in just as she was asking him about Q-Anon. She gave him an explanation of what Q-Anon is and he said, “I don’t know anything about Q-Anon.” She said, “I just told you.”

If that’s reality TV, I’ve been missing out.

On the OTHER side (channel) Joe was answering questions with great sincerity and often long-windedness but I know from my own life and self, when you’ve lived a while you really do have TOO MUCH to say. Some pundit made the point that Biden has the luxury (??) of talking about plans for the future and his record while 45 is compelled to defend himself.

It was fun watching 45 get pissed off, “Awright already! I condemn white supremacy!”

Well, that’s a little something…

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/10/16/rdp-friday-mighty/

If Empty Acreage Could Vote — Wait, it Can!

“Down the line” is a phrase I’ve never really understood except in context. Which line and where’s down? It’s a homely phrase that seems to have meat everything from “someday” to “the straight and narrow” to a row of posts with wire stretched between them. It also seems to me “that which you can expect in given circumstances.”

That would be a letter to the editor I read yesterday in the local paper and which I’ve just dug out of the recycling so I can refer to it in this post.

The news in my town’s paper references a spike in COVID-19 cases, a local graduate who’s been promoted to lieutenant colonel and a full page ad for the entire Republican panoply of candidates straight down the ballot. There is an unusual number of letters to the editor (usually there are none). One of the letters asks people to vote “No” on a proposition to abolish the electoral college.

The arguments are the usual ones, that the Electoral College makes elections more equal so that people in populated states don’t get the final say in running the country. To me, that’s illogical if theis is a nation “for the people and by the people” rather than a nation “by the land for the land.”

As I read it I thought, “Why should empty space get a vote?” The writer ends his brief diatribe with “And this, children, is WHY you have an electoral college. It’s a safety net so every vote counts.” THAT patronizing coda set my teeth on edge. As for the safety net that “every vote counts”?

Except the votes of all those people in the recently designated “blue” states.

I thought about that all evening. How does anyone know where his or her kids are going to end up living their lives? How does anyone know what kind of social services those kids will need down the line? Doesn’t it seem obvious to people that laws that improve schools in New Jersey might improve schools in the back of beyond or health care? Isn’t it obvious that a person in LA is a person just like the people out here in the so-called “fly over zones”? And, then there’s that oft’ harked upon Pledge of Allegiance that says stuff other than “under God,” stuff like “One nation, indivisible” implying that we are all in this together and need to look out for each other?

Never mind the monetary reality that taxes paid by people in the “blue” states’ support less populated states throughout the nation. That’s an aspect of “democracy” that I was surprised to learn back in 2010 when I was bowed down under California’s back-breaking taxes. At that point my research showed me that for every $1 in federal taxes paid by the average Californian, only ten cents remained in the state. The rest went to places like, well, Kentucky.

If the so-called “red states” want their voice to matter MORE they could maybe try communicating rather than what we have now, this tragic “us vs. them” noise, even in the House and Senate. That is the point of representatives, to present the case for, the reality of, the needs of the people in their states. But even at the state level that doesn’t happen in a state like mine with a megalopolitan area and vast emptiness AND an economy that relies on tourism there’s no easy answer. The inability or unwillingness of people to communicate to each other makes it all the more difficult to work out real problems like, well, here the big problem is water. The San Luis Valley has it; Denver wants it.

All this is the result of coming from a native Coloradan with deep roots in Montana who lived for 30 years in a very populated state. I’ve looked at this from both sides now…

So…rather than writing a response to that letter to the editor, I’ve written this blog post. 🙂 Thanks for listening.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/10/15/ragtag-daily-prompt-thursday-down-the-line/