Parental Advice

I don’t know how many girls get relationship advice from their dad more than from their mom, but I did. My dad had only ONE piece of advice and it found many ways to give it — little talks when we were in the car together, pop songs, at the supermarket, probably more. His words of advice were, “With men, MAK, follow the Monroe Doctrine.”


“Well the Monroe Doctrine, honey, established the policy that the United States would not enter into binding contracts with foreign powers. It would form ‘no entangling alliances’.”

“What’s an ‘entangling’ alliances?”

“It’s an alliance that you can’t get out of. Remember, MAK. No entangling alliances.”

My mom, on the other hand, when she DID give advice, just said, “Your dad doesn’t understand that women are different.”

I think he’d figured that out, wink wink.

Then this song came out and my dad bought me the 45.

“I hope all your students are deep and funny.”

If you’re read my blog for a while you know there are twenty-something large books in my “studio” — journal/scrapbook things that I don’t want to keep but can’t throw out. They take up a LOT of space, and I don’t “use” them at all. (How would anyone “use” them?) A few of them are spread out on my work table now. If you open one and start reading, well, for the most part, they’re just awful.

I went at 1988-89 (Volume I of that year, seriously) yesterday with scissors and an x-acto knife. I cut out sheafs of pages, laughing, thinking that even if I don’t do anything more with it, and never manage to throw the books out, at least I’ll leave behind the “expurgated” version of “The Examined Life.”

For many years I wrote my personal thoughts and struggles in these books. I suppose it’s a pretty common human thingamajig to struggle over and over with the same aspects of personality or the walls that spring up in life, the stuff you can’t get over, around or through. For me, apparently, it was “luv’,” specifically a marriage that wasn’t working and my desire to have a romantic companion. I don’t know why that didn’t seem to me at the time a good reason to sit down and talk with my ex about our “non” relationship. Maybe I did and it just didn’t make it into “The Examined Life.”

There are greeting cards, photographs, funny things students said (like the title of this post) circular meditations on the meaning of life (didn’t find the answer, so circular). On the other hand, some of it is accurately self-revelatory. I did not purge the book of those bits of elaborate cursive.

Those are not trivial problems but, good god, are they boring to read about.

Mixed in with all that verbiage (rhymes with “garbage”) are some good insights, descriptions of moments which I could not have known at the time were major life moments, like seeing my first rattlesnake, watching the swirling gyre of seagulls rising from the ocean, being looked in the eye by a red tail hawk, the beginning of my hiking life in the chaparral, the beginning of my life with dogs and my first dog, Truffle who was then a puppy, getting my second dog, Molly. I could not know in the midst of 1988-89 how important these things were and how unimportant the other stuff was.

I think, though, this whole thing could be compiled into ONE that I really CAN use, another volume called, “How it All Turned Out here in Heaven” or something. Maybe just denouement. “Getting found almost always means being lost for a while.” Annie Lamont

But it struck me this morning how weird it all is. Here we are, more-or-less consigned to our domiciles, as if this were a second winter without the glorious compensation of snow, relegated to tasks our usual “busyness” would have made it easy for us to avoid.


In other news: if your blender breaks and you want a smoothie, the best tool? The lowly dinner fork.

Solitude or Loneliness?

The idea of “introvert acceptance” was floating around a few years ago. Articles were written about it, explaining it to extroverts and hoping, I think, to find better understanding from society in general. Science (through personality testing which is NOT the same as a horoscope or a Mewkid ‘test’ on Facebook) has determined that Introverts make up only 35% of the population. It’s difficult to know how accurate that is because a lot of introverts might have been in the basement setting up a model train and didn’t know any of that was going on.

I found the idea of “introvert acceptance” paradoxical. Does it mean we’ll be invited to parties? Because we won’t go… I wrote at length about introversion on this blog post, Introverts R Us.

Since the virus (new era, BV and AV. We’re in DV) there have been a lot of memes about introverts (see below) but it really is a situation in which a person like me is unlikely to feel “lonely.”

Loneliness. I HAVE felt it. It’s pretty rare, though. I was a kid in my room (with the door closed!) reading a book — probably I was 14 — and I read something that set me to pondering the difference between solitude and loneliness. I can remember the MOMENT, the carpet, my hair, a book on the floor, stuff like that, but I can’t remember the BOOK. Anyway, I went to talk to my dad about it, and the upshot was that solitude is comforting and loneliness is miserable. I found I can get lonely for someone in particular or a place; for me it involves yearning.

I know a lot of people feel loneliness DV. I am sorry for you. It has to be miserable. Just know the people are still around and 65% of them are feeling just like you are. This confinement probably wears you out, leaving you feeling directionless, low energy and depressed like introverts at a large party.

But, if you’re having a hard time with this, here are some ideas… (The “links” aren’t real. This is a photo of an email I got this morning from my Internet service provider). I would add exercise to this list.

Here’s an OOOOLLLLDDDD song…

4:30 on a Sunday Afternoon


“I didn’t say anything. I am just sitting here.”

“But your face.”

“Faces don’t talk unless the hole in the bottom region opens and emits sounds. Mine wasn’t.”

“Your face says a LOT.”

“I can’t help it.”

“So what’s wrong?”

“I don’t know. It seems like every time I turn around there’s some kind of, I don’t know.” Hubert sighed.

“Some kind of WHAT? Did I do something?”

“No. Not you. I guess it’s the times we live in. I just don’t understand it. So much is so easy that was once so hard and so much is hard that was once so easy.”

“Like walking, Dude? Your ankle is going to heel.”

“Stuff we took for granted isn’t…” Hubert took a long pull on his coffee. At least THAT still worked like it was supposed to…

“Did you know that during the reign of the Sun King the Great Pyrenees was the official dog of the French Court because it was just such a beautiful and majestic creature?”

“Are you trying to distract me?”

“Yeah, seems like a good idea. Look at Foster over there. Is that majesty or what?”

The big old dog looked up at the sound of his name. Seeing that nothing was happening that required his attention, he lay back down.

“Can you imagine how beautiful that was? All those people in those ornate, baroque, silk clothes, wandering around an absurdly manicured garden, prancing through the short labyrinths — short in matter of height not length — and all over the place were dogs like Foster.”

“Foster isn’t a Pyrenees.”

“Same basic theme. Big, white, livestock guardian, calm, independent. Why are you always splitting hairs? Did you ever think about that? How that egregious insistence on absolute precision in all things might lead to your depression?”

“If you don’t like me, you can leave.”


“Well, yeah. Why would you want to stay around here if you’re unhappy?”

“Hmm. Good point. Here, Foster. C’mon boy.”

The big dog stood slowly, stretched an immense white dog stretch, looked at Hubert questioningly, shook all over, throwing hair and dust all around the room and went to Anabelle. “We’re going for a walk. See if you can be a little less whiny and self-indulgent by the time we get back.”

Personal Psychological Stuff Related to Overcoming Self-Sabotage

Ultimately each of us is accountable to OURSELVES. I’m not one to say that’s easy. I’m struggling right now JUST to get to a little bookstore in Alamosa, Colorado. Should be easy enough, right? But not all of our enemies are visible or external. What am I fighting for? The truth that I am a good writer and a good person and my books deserve attention. Self-sabotage is a real but insidious enemy, and the more engrained it is in a person’s psyche the more difficult it is to identify, root out, and defeat.

I hurt my foot again last night. It is now pretty much where it was when I first injured it. From the outside, this looks like a simple accident. On the superficial practical level it is. I have to treat it like a foot injured in an accident because that’s what it is. But thinking about when it first happened, I remember that it happened a few days before I was going to Denver to The Who concert and to see old friends, specifically a guy who was my first ever date. Even though we didn’t work out as boyfriend and girlfriend, he always remained in contact with me, keeping me in his sight over the years. We are good friends.

My mother hated him. Until she died, she blamed Ron for everything that went wrong with my brother. Seriously. And why? Because the three of shared a joint once.

Going to Denver to see The Who and visit Ron and his wife? What’s wrong with that? Nothing, but…

I initially sprained my foot on NOTHING. A flat, easy trail. I was wearing the right footwear. I wasn’t running. It is something that should NOT have happened. The re-injuries should not have happened, either. Yesterday I was thinking about it. This whole summer was filled with physical pain of one kind or another culminating in the foot. As Freud said, “Sometimes a foot is just a foot,” but sometimes it’s also a metaphor for liberty and motion.

It’s like there is another “Martha” inside me, and right now she’s fighting against the REAL Martha. She’s scared of trying, of achieving, of being who she really is because if she DOES do those things, Mom will not like it, and the shit will hit the fan. “Don’t show off.” “Nobody likes a know-it-all.” “They don’t know the REAL you. I do.” “I don’t care what you want.” “Why did you do that?” (Smack) “Art is a four letter word in this house.” “You might be a writer, but you don’t have anything to say.” “You’re the lowest form of human life.”

Interestingly, during lunch, Ron came out with a “mom” quote that I found both disturbing and enlightening. She was OBVIOUS to others and unforgettable.

The China book. I came home from China with all kinds of stories and a trunk filled with presents for everyone. What I got was, “I don’t want to hear about China. I didn’t want you to go in the first place.” That was that. Baby Duck brought all of this up into my sub-conscious mind where mom and that little girl still, apparently, live. All of it. It’s almost as if writing that book was the ultimate act of defiance. So…I re-injured my foot the first time the day after I’d contacted the store about an event. I re-injured it AGAIN the day my picture and my book appeared on the front page of the paper. I re-injured it again last night, walking with my cane through a lit living room, to let the dogs out to pee. This was after doing an interview with the local radio station.

All the obvious and usual methods for getting me to turn back from something that belongs to me didn’t work. So Little Martha has resorted to some dark and sinister maneuvers like spraining my foot on absolutely fucking nothing.

How do we exorcise these demons? I know now that’s what I’m doing. I feel that if I can make it through tomorrow I will have made significant headway against the small, scared, self-sabotaging Martha who lives deep inside my psyche. That poor thing. She just wants to be loved, but she is so warped.

So, last night, after I returned to bed and attempted to find a way to raise my foot while I lay on my side, a bit of Bible verse floated through my mind. “He shall bruise your heel.” I knew that wasn’t quite right, but …

I looked it up this morning. You can’t be raised on the Bible without it having resonance for you even after you are no longer exactly a Christian and are a Panenetheist (which doesn’t leave out anything). Here are Adam and Eve in Paradise and here comes the serpent, tempting, and evil. Truly fucking evil (which, oddly, many people don’t believe really exists — but I do).

God is speaking to Satan. He says,

“Because you have done this,
You are cursed more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you shall go,
And you shall eat dust
All the days of your life.
15And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He (Man) shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise his heel.” Gen. 3:14-15 KJV

I feel as if someone wise just said to me, “I didn’t say it would be easy or painless, but I’m proud of you. Don’t give up.” All these things we carry in our deep selves. It’s not only that others are a mystery to us. We are often a mystery to ourselves. Thank goodness I’m surrounded by loving friends in a beautiful place where I can learn and grow as human being.

Interesting article on self-sabotaging behavior if you’re interested.

A Gift

My Aunt Dickie — my mom’s youngest sister — was definitely her own person. Somehow, she liked me very much. I’ve thought since that as kids are growing up, they don’t know what adults see in them. The first mysterious experience I had with my Aunt Dickie was after my Aunt Kelly died. All this was sometime in the late 1970’s.

Aunt Kelly lived in New Mexico, Aunt Dickie in Montana and my mom and Aunt Martha in Denver. Aunt Dickie and Uncle Bob drove down in their motor home, picked up my mom and aunt, and went down to New Mexico together to the funeral.

I went over to my mom’s that afternoon to help her pack. I was going to stay at her condo and take care of Misty, the geriatric miniature white poodle of unparalleled courage, the heroic dog of song and saga. “Bob says we an only take as much stuff as fits in a boot box.” She was sorting clothes to fit into that comparatively small space.

The doorbell rang and my Aunt Martha came in, an overnight bag in her hand. “That wasn’t easy,” she said. My mom and aunt were very sad. Aunt Kelly had been their friend and champion in their childhood and they loved her very much. They started talking about Aunt Dickie’s complicated relationship with my Aunt Kelly. As the youngest of 10 kids, Dickie had grown up in a different world than my mom, Aunt Martha and Aunt Kelly. The older kids had contributed to the well being of the large family. Aunt Dickie had had piano lessons, gone to the prom, been a cheerleader — all things that Kelly, Martha and my mom could never have done during the impoverished years of the Depression when their only income had come from my grandma driving the horse drawn school bus and my grandfather’s not-all-that successful farming. The way I heard it during dinner-table talks, they would have starved if they hadn’t grown their own food.

My Aunt Dickie’s life had been a little different.

My Aunt Kelly had a heart as big as the world but, in a way, she was very stern and narrow in her thinking. I loved her — we were close, her daughter was my “big sister” when I was little — but there was something sour and repressed about her. I could imagine plenty of battles between my Aunt Kelly and my Aunt Dickie during Aunt Dickie’s teen years.

Aunt Martha and my mom weren’t sure how Dickie was going to take Aunt Kelly’s death. I had heard my mom say, “They never really got along.”

Uncle Bob and Aunt Dickie finally arrived. Mom, Aunt Martha and Misty all clustered at the front door to welcome them. There was much, “How was the drive?” conversation. They’d driven from Billings to Denver in one day, 12 hours, and the plan was to keep going to New Mexico that night. If they got tired they would pull off the road and sleep in the motorhome.

My mom wasn’t sure about this plan and said, “You can stay here the night and we can go early in the morning, if you’re tired.”

I was standing in the living room, quite a distance from the entry way. Suddenly I saw my Aunt Dickie had broken away from the group discussion and was heading my way.

This woman was not “touchy-feely.” She didn’t say “I love you” to her kids or anyone. For good reasons, she was very self-contained. The story was that you didn’t talk to her before she’d had her morning coffee, and that was true. I’m the same in that. You can imagine how surprised I was when I found my Aunt Dickie in my arms, her head on my shoulder. “I’m so sad about Kelly, Martha Ann.”

Why could she tell me?

I hugged her and didn’t say anything. It was bewildering, but somehow I felt complimented, as you feel when a dog who’s afraid of people comes to you for friendship.

Over the many years that followed I came to understand that my Aunt Dickie simply loved me. There’s no “why” for that, no “how.” It is a gift.

P.S. The photo is my Aunt Jo and Aunt Dickie at the family house in Hardin Montana, sometime in the late 1920s.

“Leave Me Alone!”

I’m a solitary person by inclination. I spend most of my time alone. I’m a “friendly introvert.” I like people very much. I love it when my neighbor stops by on her morning walk and we chat away a half-hour or so. I love it when I’m out with the dogs and find myself engaging with kids. I’m not bristly, brusque, hostile or anything like that. I’m just solitary.

As a kid I was always trying to be alone, but it was hard. My mom had some problem with closed doors and if I went into my room and closed the door, within minutes the woman would be there opening the door and saying, “What are you trying to hide?”

I always responded with, “Leave me alone!” and THAT always led to,

“I’m your mother. I have a right to know.”

THAT escalated to a fight. Invariably. Even if all I was doing was reading a book, as I was wont to do back in the days when I was a reader.

I always knew my marriages or marriage-like-things were over when, if the guy was gone when I got home from work, and I realized he wasn’t there, I felt relief, peace, even, yes, joy. A few episodes of this over the decades, and I knew that I probably only wanted men to visit.


I believe solitude is necessary to art, and it is certainly necessary to writing.

When I was writing Martin of Gfenn, my first novel and first experience of that nature, I remember being totally absorbed for months. Every morning I went to school, taught and ran a writing lab. I bored everyone by talking about medieval lepers and what I was writing. Then I went home, took the dogs hiking, returning and seeking, again, that absorption.

When I finished the novel it was about 8 pm on a winter night. I got up from my chair and wondered where everyone was. Then I understood no one writes with a bunch of people around laughing and talking and sharing the experience. I could draw in coffee houses, grade papers and I probably could have done some writing there had I owned a laptop at the time ( ha ha ) but to truly concentrate and allow the story to live? Solitude.

“Works of art are of an infinite solitude, and no means of approach is so useless as criticism. Only love can touch and hold them and be fair to them. — Always trust yourself and your own feeling, as opposed to argumentations, discussions, or introductions of that sort; if it turns out that you are wrong, then the natural growth of your inner life will eventually guide you to other insights.” Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Luckily, I live in a place where it doesn’t seem to be that strange to be alone. the San Luis Valley is full of introverts — I think it might be a prerequisite for happiness in this large remote valley.

Prerogatives of Sole Survivors

I dreaded the slide scanning chore for years, and, like a lot of chores, it turned out not to be so bad. Looking at China was inspiring, great.


Yesterday I sat down with the famdamily slides and more or less cursed life as I stacked them into the (usually not functional) bulk scanner. Some of the slides are over 60 years old and the glue holding the sides of the slides together had stopped working. Retired, I guess.

Since so many of them were totally irrelevant to me (as the sole survivor, I get to be the arbiter of relevance for this family) I started holding them up to the light to see if it was worth scanning them. Lots of slides went into the trash, things like store-bought slides of the Air Force Academy or faded scenery photos of the Black Hills. It was a relief just to toss them.

I found some wonderful things in that huge collection of slides.

Like a lot of families in the 1950s, we took road trips, usually to Montana, but in 1957 we drove from Denver to Florida, then to California, Oregon, Montana and back to Colorado. I was five and my brother was three. Some of those photos survived and they are sweet artifacts of a very different world.

Somewhere on the road having lunch, 1957. The background hills look like California, but who knows?

Some of the photos are hilarious, though they were probably not meant to be. Others bring back good memories of the time when our family was functional and happy. Looking at them, I decided to forget that I know how it turned out. But my initial feeling as I dived into this was anger, an anger I never felt before. I was furious with them all for dying.

I’m not big on Facebook memes but a friend happened to post this last night when the “… l’horrible fardeau du temps” (…the horrible burden of time) (Baudelaire) was pushing me to the ground. The meme seemed to give good information, maybe it was the truth. It really was a huge pressure fitting my life around my mom’s expectations. I carried the hopeless weight of my brother’s addiction for years, but couldn’t fix him. My dad? He was doomed from the start and he always said that he, mom, and Kirk were not my job. ❤

It was wonderful to see some of those people again, people I loved and times I savored even as a little kid. The best photos are the ones no one set up or posed, the photos of a day in the life.

Neighbor kids, my brother with a broken arm and an airplane, my Aunt Martha and my grandmother, our house in Nebraska.

When I was done with that for the day, I put on my new skis for the first time. Out there on the snow, with the beautiful San Luis Valley sky and mountains all around me, the snow beneath my skis, the frost falling off the tips of the cottonwood trees, I thought in the vague direction of my mom and brother, both suicides, “Maybe I just loved this more than you did. Maybe it was always enough for me.” I glided forward, somewhat tentatively, hoping I’d still be able to do do this and I was, I am. ❤

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

“Where are you going?”

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

“Yeah, but, when will you be home?”

“None of your business.”

“Wow. What did I do to deserve this?”

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


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

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

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

“Seriously. You want mystery.”

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

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

“Oh my God, I knew it!”

Not that PBR

I’m sorry but what? My family? Two dogs. A couple of cousins in the wilds of Montana (one of whom flirts with me, very creepy) and a couple others here and there. Family is not all it’s cracked up to be. Some families are just fucked from the getgo. Some fall apart over time. This joyful holiday get-together-with-family BS is just an added pressure this time of year, and I’m at the point in life where I get to choose my “family.”

Last Christmas I spent with some of my chosen family in Colorado Springs. Providence brought me a sister not long after my brother Kirk died from alcoholism. “Here,” Providence said, “from Kirk.” We thank Kirk from time to time because without him dying we wouldn’t know each other. To learn about that, you can read my post on the Kindness of the Gods.

The Christmas Eve get-together of family and friends was hilarious and grim as only family Christmases can be. The “brother-in-law,” we’ll call him “M,” got drunk and spent the evening sitting on the “going to the basement” stairs of the split-level house my chosen sister (CS) had borrowed from her second brother (who was not there) because it had a dishwasher and more space than her house. Probably 30 people attended. I knew most of them, but didn’t get to talk to everyone. I was in a lot of pain from my hip and couldn’t stand for more than five or ten minutes, so I had to spend the party sitting on a comfy chair (“No, no, not the comfy chair!”)

My “son-like-thing” was depressed and mildly inebriated, in a bad relationship and lost in life. My nephew, one of the sweetest people on the planet, a developmentally disabled guy in his 30s, sat with me on a small sofa with his head on my shoulder staring at my tits. My CS’s oldest brother and his piece-of-work wife interviewed me about my education and credentials to see if I merited their attention and conversation. I passed, but that didn’t mean we had anything to say to each other.

After about a couple of hours, my CS noticed that “M” was MIA.

“He’s on the basement stairs. He’s been there all night.”
“Is he OK?”
“He doesn’t look so good.”
“I’ll take him home,” I said. I’d signed up for that job early in the day.

Some friends helped “M” to my car. No one knew if he (blind and arthritic and drunk) could walk on his own, and the thought of him falling was not to be borne. “I’ll meet you there,” said one of my CS’s friends who was there with her son and his new girlfriend. I was pretty stove up at the time, needing hip surgery and unable to easily climb stairs, so I wouldn’t have been able to help him into the house. We’d have sat in the car godnose how long.


“Great,” I said, relieved. On the way “home,” I dropped off my CS’s very pitiful ( 😦 )alcoholic musician friend, then took “M” home. The friends drove up, ready to help, but “M” was fine. He went in by himself, headed directly to the basement, his hangout, with the mini-fridge and the 20 pack of *PBRs.

“You going back to the party?” asked the friend.

I shook my head, thinking how amazing life is that even with everyone in my own dysfunctional blood family dead, I could still have a Christmas Eve like that. ❤


*PBR stands both for Professional Bull Riders and Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer.