Free Solo — Rock Climbing is Not a Pathology

Last night I finally got to watch Free Solo. There were a lot of things about it that bothered me, but I was not in the least bothered by Alex Honnold’s quest to climb El Cap without any protection at all. I was glad someone was at the top with ropes so he could get down, though.

I hate the idea that wanting to do something as absolutely mind-blowingly dangerous as climbing that enormous rock without protection is pathological, and that theory riffled through the film. Was his dad on the Asperger’s spectrum? Why didn’t his parents ever tell him, “I love you”? Did it cripple him emotionally that his mother only spoke French at home (French teacher)? Did the fact that his mother had high standards for his achievement (he was a gifted kid in school and she WAS a teacher) cause him to seek out ever more challenging scenarios to prove his worthiness? Did his parents’ divorce sour him on romantic love? Is he emotionally deficient that he can’t form romantic relationships easily with a hot, dimpled chick who sees in him the fulfillment of her biological urges? The film was full of this.

To make a film that would have a wider audience than just a climbing film might have? I dunno…

The only pathology I saw was that he stayed with his girlfriend after climbing with her caused him to get significant injuries TWICE because of her ignorance and negligence. Compression fractures in his spine and a severely sprained ankle? I’d be, you know, “Hey, Sweetcheeks, I don’t think you get it. Get out of my van.”

I don’t think wanting to climb El Cap without protection is pathological. Climbing El Cap has gone in that direction since the first time it was climbed (a three day adventure if I remember right). Relentlessly climbers have sought to climb that rock with less equipment and faster.
There was a lot in the movie about Honnold’s view of death. If you’re going to climb — particularly a big rock face without protection — you are choosing to risk your life. Not everyone can make that choice. For most of us, death is thrust upon us one way or another, but none of us gets out alive. I personally believe a person has a right to choose to risk his/her own life. I don’t think it’s a pathology at all, and Honnold seems to have taken personal responsibility for his decision. I liked his mom saying, “It is what makes him happy. Who am I to try to stop him?” or something to that effect.

Honnold practiced, planned, evaluated, did every possible kind of preparation to prevent the abysmal (see what I did?) outcome. It was no spontaneous stunt; it was something that he prepared for over the course of years, a lifetime, just as a ballerina might prepare for the moment she enters the stage — finally — as the prima ballerina.

BUT I guess straight climbing might not net an Academy Award. Maybe all the squishy interpersonal relationship stuff and psycho-babble makes the story of a man climbing a giant rock face more entertaining? Relatable?

CAVEAT I don’t really “like” either Honnold or his girlfriend. They’re not my kind of people. Honnold is walking billboard for The North Face (fine, an athlete needs a sponsor) who knew how to create drama around his amazing ascent of El Cap, and his chick? She hit the gravy train with him. To me, legit anything is done without an audience, and these two are all about audience. It’s a different generation, I think. That said, I still like Reinhold Messner.

Bass Speaker

I’ve been away at college for two weeks. I’m waiting for something to happen, for the great adventure to begin. My roommate is a freaky rich Jewish girl from Texas whose father owns a woman’s clothing line. I don’t like her; she doesn’t like me and worse still, she’s taken up smoking. I’d specified a non-smoking roommate, and here’s Ellen, smoking. Not because she likes smoking but because the older girls are cool and flick their ashes into the little hole in the top of the Coke can.

It’s announced in a dorm meeting that the school is holding a “mixer” with Regis College, a men’s college. This is how we were supposed to meet boys and date and fall in love and get engaged and get a ring so we could have a “ringing” ceremony. This is an event in which a girl orders a candle and corsage (or the dorm does it, I don’t know) in her favorite color. There is then a small party with cake and everyone sits in a circle. The ring is slid down the candle and the candle, corsage and ring are passed from girl to girl so everyone can see the ring. Even at 18 the phallic allusions are completely obvious to me. To them?

Anyway, I dress up for the mixer — cute tweed jumper made by my mom. Shades of green to bring out the color of my eyes (they are green), and go with my suite-mates and evil roommate. I’m nervous and irked. Something doesn’t feel right to me; I don’t think anyone will ask me to dance; I’m not looking for a boyfriend. I’m looking for adventure and change and action. I have already suffered my first real broken heart and boys are scary. I also don’t see me going through the process and ending up at a “ringing”. I am simply confused.

The mixer is in the college dining hall — where we also had our formal dances. It is a beautiful room, in fact the college is beautiful. After I leave, I’ll realize what I left behind.

The girls stand around and the boys stand around. Back then boys looked like young men and girls looked like young women. Today, it seems, girls often look like experienced hookers and boys look like eighth graders. Sure, the counterculture is alive and well, but not everywhere and certainly not at a Catholic men’s college where the boys come from nor at my college. The “kids” are well-dressed, clean, attractive and shy. It isn’t quite high school, but it isn’t quite NOT. There is no alcohol served (it is a Baptist college) and few people in that milieu use drugs. The only ones I know are two girls from California, from LA, Palos Verdes Estates. In the heart of Colorado these girls insist California skiing is better. Sacrilege. I’d gotten high with them a couple of times, walking down the street to Stapleton Airport, sitting in an empty field and watching the airborne planes change color as the sun set.

In the corner, on an elevated stage is the band, a local band. Sugarloaf. They have a decent kit — the best I’ve seen, anyway in my no-rock-concert adolescence. As for the band? Not Steppenwolf, Tim Buckley or The Moody Blues, but the best I’ve seen so far. And, you know, their one hit is about a lady with green eyes. That would be me. Is it me?

I  won’t dance. I am short, dark haired. I wear glasses. I do not look like the girl a guy would walk into a room and dance with. At least (at most?) I don’t think I do. My California friends get bored and leave, stopping to ask me if I want to get high. My roommate finds a nice Catholic boy to dance with and I see him, later, lighting her cigarette. My suite mates vanish at some point, but later I will help one of them puke out her first Boones Farm overdose. At a certain point in this, my first college mixer, I realize that the best thing there, for me, is the bass speaker. I sit down as close to it as I can. I try to look as if I am in love with the band (I can hardly stand them) imagining that if I look like a groupie I might become one and my adventures would start.

Dude’s Love Story (Lamont and Dude, Episode 1 from 2014)

“It’ll have to show up sooner or later. The way the tides work? There’s no way it won’t. She said she put it in the water at Santa Margarita. I’ll wait. I’ll prove my faith and love by squatting here on the shore until it arrives. I know it’ll be great, everything, everything I ever wanted. It’s like her to do this instead of just picking up the phone or writing a letter. Ok, so, where is it? She’s right, you know? Patience is a virtue I really do not have. This will help me cultivate it. I’ll wait and hope it doesn’t rain, but it’s still fucking cold, damn, why didn’t I bring a wet suit or something? At least wear clothes. OH WELL. OK, so I can see it from up here, but what if I can’t get down there in time to pick it up? What if it gets carried on a current or something and then I never get it? What about the important information she was – she said she was, but she could be lying, that’s certainly, wait, she could be lying about the whole thing, maybe it’s not even. What did she actually say? Did she say she WAS sending it or that she might as WELL be sending it? Oh shit, I hate that. Everything she says is so perfect, so beautiful, I should write it all down for posterity, it should always be remembered, like the words I KNOW are coming to me, here on this promontory of sand. We’re all on promontories of sand, come to it. Everything washes away sooner or later, and I will, too, and who the fuck knows but I’ll die here waiting? Maybe a tsunami will come and wash this whole fragile promontory away and then? She’ll be sorry, that’s ‘and then’. Sorry she couldn’t just pick up the fucking phone! It’s not like… OH well, there’s that patience thing again. If I could just master that! Man, my life would be so much easier, I’d be so much calmer, I wouldn’t blow the little things out of proportion! I’d get the big picture, right?”

Waves hit the beach, wave after wave after wave. Night falls. The stars come out above the layer of fog on top of the ocean. Our hero persists; waiting, waiting for what?

photo-jun-05-10-40-37-pm“This reminds me of something, what is it? Something from college, from English class, something that seemed particularly pointless, and turned out to be totally and completely pointless. Perhaps everything is pointless, actually. Even this, even this, her, she, me, I, us, we – how can I know? There is no crystal ball, no way to read the future. It’s just this. Squatting for hours on life’s sandy promontory waiting for. I could leave! I could leave and come back tomorrow and see if the tide dropped it along with the sand dollars, the shells, the broken glass, the kelp and some guy’s broken flip flop, but…”


“Someone’s HERE?”

“DUDE! Yo!”



“Nothing, I mean nothing so far. I’m waiting for…”

“Christmas? I saw you here yesterday, Dude. You haven’t even hardly moved.”

“No. Moving would be faithless. This is a test of faith.”

“In fucking WHAT?”

“Her. My love. This is a test of faith and a lesson in patience.”

“You’re squatting here waiting for a WOMAN? Unreal, Dude. Why?”

“No. I’m not waiting for a woman. I’m waiting to hear from her, from the one I love, my beloved across the sea.”

“Have you tried email? I hear good things about it. The phone seems fairly popular as well. You want half of my breakfast burrito? It’s eggs and chorizo.”

“Hmmmmm. Wow. Yeah, I’m hungry, I am, but no, no, part of this, I must fast. I must prove my worthiness.”

“You’re more worthy if you’re HUNGRY? Wow. What miracle play did you drop out of, man?”

“I took a vow. I would wait here until I heard from her.”

“Where is she?”

“Santa Margarita.”

“That’s only two miles up the coast.”

“Not that Santa Margarita. The one in Italy.”

“ITALY? And what’s she doing, Dude? Sailing?”

“No, she wrote me a message. I’m waiting for it.”

“There is no fucking mailbox anywhere around here, Dude. How are you going to get a message? You sure you don’t want some of this burrito? It’s yummy and you look hungry.”

“Thanks, that’s very kind, but no. I – well, yeah, just a bite, just tear off a bite.”


“Wow. That is great, that hits the spot. You wouldn’t have a soda would you?”

“Back at my place. You wanna’ come back to my place? I can fix you some coffee or something.”

“No, no, no, I have to wait. It will have to arrive today. I looked at the charts of the tides, everything, and it should be today. Any time now.”

“What IS it for the love of Pete?”

“It’s – wait – that’s it! It’s here! It’s here! I gotta’ go get it.”

“Watch yourself, Dude. It’s steep. Don’t fall or all this waiting will have been a waste of time. Where is it, anyway? What is it?”

“There, see it?”

“That’s TRASH Dude!”

“No, no, no, no that’s a bottle with a cork in it, a wine bottle, our favorite wine.”

“You got a bottle of wine floating on the ocean? That’s not gonna’ happen, man. Wine sinks.”

“No, it’s a bottle that held our favorite wine. Inside, inside, look just wait here. I’ll go get it and…”

“What a FREAK! That dude has been sitting here for three days waiting for a wine bottle to float here from Italy! Some message in a bottle number, yeah, look at that.”

“I can’t get the cork out!”

“Probably swoll all up in the water.”

“What should I do?”

“Break the bottle, get the message.”

“No! I can’t do that! How will I send a message back?”

“The phone? Like I mentioned before?”


I’m looking at old posts and eliminating those that just don’t have any reason to hang around, taking up space and not being read. But this one? I think it’s worth reposting. It’s based on the old style of Daily Prompts and I’ve included that, too. It was originally posted on my birthday five years ago. 🙂

January 7, 2014 Write about anything you’d like, but make sure that all seven colors of the rainbow — red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet — make an appearance in the post, either through word or image.

“Let the sun stay in my back, unseen!
The waterfall I now behold with growing
Delight as it roars down to the ravine.
From fall to fall a thousand streams are flowing.
A thousand more are plunging, effervescent,
And high up in the air the spray is glowing.
Out of this thunder rises, iridescent,
Enduring through all change the motley bow,
Now painted clearly, now evanescent,
Spreading a fragrant, cooling spray below.
The rainbow mirrors human love and strive:
In many-hued reflection we have life.”
Goethe, Faust II, trans. Walter Kauffman

m-EkoN8lNLXW1r_M7xjEIgAWe were just girls, nearly women. Young women. It now seems very long ago and very far away. “A secret, fraternal, Masonic organization for girls of teen age.” Love, religion, nature, immortality, fidelity, patriotism and service. The two offices I held during those brief years were Nature (yellow) and Service. Sweet prophecy? I couldn’t know back then, aged fourteen, that love of nature and service to others as a teacher would turn out to be my life.


Denver's pridefest parade through downtownWe sat on a grassy hillside in Cheeseman Park looking down toward Colfax. We couldn’t see the street, but we could hear the commotion, yelling and music.

“You wouldn’t march in that? Why?”

“It’s ridiculous. If ALL they are is the way they f… then they need more than a parade to save them. I hope I’m more than my ‘sexual preference.’ Preference? Who’d choose this? I’m shut out from the basic, most natural, most common unit of human society. I won’t have a family. I won’t have a wife and a house and all of the things other people take for granted. I’m not ‘proud’ of it.”

I knew this was true. I knew that however much I loved him — or he loved me — that love was not going to change a certain basic and elemental fact of his nature.

“You’re not ashamed of it, are you? That’s…”

“No. What is there to be ashamed of? It’s a simple fact of my existence. I have to make a life around it. Everyone makes a life around something. Come here, life.” He pulled me toward him. “You know those guys marching in that parade? They wouldn’t understand this.” He kissed me long and hard. “It’s all one or the other for them. They’re more narrow minded than straights.”


sspaceRainbow flags hung over balconies with the big word, “Pace” printed on them. Italy was “on our side” in the fracas in Iraq. It didn’t occur to me what that meant until I wandered around the Pinacoteca of the Castello Sforza and found galleries that were open in 2000 were, in 2004, closed.

A scaffold surrounded the cathedral, too, and I wasn’t sure if it was for repair and restoration or for something more sinister. The sanctuary was shut to everyone but people who were there to pray. There was no wandering around its cavernous interior, visiting chapels and looking at paintings, sculptures, reliquaries and puzzling over their makers and the aspirations or sorrows of those who loved them in centuries past. 

I was relegated to the crypt and there I saw the place where St. Ambrose baptized St. Augustine. I tDuomo_di_milano_sivualttarihought about that. In writing Martin of Gfenn I’d developed a kind of friendship with St. Augustine. Martin’s Commander refers to St. Augustine often and the Rule of the Order of the Knights of St. Lazarus is based on St. Augustine’s rule for life in a religious community. I had read St. Augustine’s Confessions and pieces of The City of God and overall I’d come to like him, too. I went down the narrow stone steps to the bottom of the cathedral, the bottom? I was sure that it was not. I was sure that if there were steps I would go down and down and down until I would find myself at the beginning of time.

Every day, Every day, Every day I Write the Book

“We all lead boring lives. But some of us write reports about it.” (paraphrased from the movie Naked Lunch dir David Cronenburg, a line spoken by the character portraying William S. Burroughs)

When I go on Twitter or anywhere else on line where it happens that I follow or am followed by or am capriciously linked to a bunch of writers via the inscrutable machinations of The Algorithm, I see people talking about writing. They say things like, “How many hours do you write a day?” and “What’s your favorite method for overcoming writer’s block?” and “How do you start writing when you don’t have any ideas?” and “I always dreamed of writing a book.”

I don’t really get any of those questions. Any writer writes as many hours as he or she has time to write. Lots of good writers have day jobs. As for overcoming “writer’s block” I don’t think there’s any such thing — but a person can be stuck in a project and not know where to go. And, if you don’t have any ideas, why are you writing? BUT last one I is, to me, the most incomprehensible. Why would anyone dream of writing a book? A book is a vehicle for the transmission of ideas. The book itself is nothing, an empty shell. It makes more sense to me to think, say, dream, “I want to tell this story!!!” Still, I’m not going to trample on anyone’s dreams, even the ones I find incomprehensible.

Godnose my dreams are pretty incomprehensible, like wanting to grow up to be Willy Mays. How was THAT ever going to happen?

One thing William S. Burroughs the real guy said that rings true to me is, “Well, Kerouac, Kerouac was a writer. That is, he wrote.” That is the primary requirement.

I’ve now written a bunch of books. Having done that, and gone through the grueling and surreal experience of trying to sell aforesaid (always wanted to write “aforesaid”) books, I still think I’m right. I loved writing them, even The Price which was really challenging to write and pushed me in directions I never thought of going and actually scared me a little. I experienced writer’s block because I arrived at points in the story where I didn’t know how to say what the story seemed to demand or, in a couple cases, I hated the characters. I didn’t want to recognize who, exactly, was the protagonist because I didn’t like him. But it all happened and I just re-read it and it’s a really good story. Still, I don’t know if there are any more stories that are going to demand that I sit in front of this computer screen and write them. No idea.

I kind of feel like Huck Finn at the end of his saga,

“…there ain’t nothing more to write about, and I am rotten glad of it, because if I’d a knowed what a trouble it was to make a book I wouldn’t a tackled it, and ain’t a-going to no more…” Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn

Question — and Answers

Answers here and on Facebook to the question asked me by one of my readers, “Why do Americans claim their original or ancestral nationality along with being American?” after reading my St. Patrick’s day post about my being Irish American

Here are the Facebook answers I got:

One friend wrote: Many Americans still practice traditions that came across the oceans with their ancestors. It’s part of what makes us Americans in my opinion. As the supposed “melting pot” we combine a multitude of ethnicity into our American culture. Most big American cities have restaurants with every possible cuisine. My local Orthodox Greek Church has a Greek festival every year. La Veta has a Huajatolla Heritage Festival every year. I don’t have to be of Mexican heritage to celebrate Cinco de Mayo or be Irish to have fun on St. Patrick’s Day.

My German step-daughter-in-law wrote: I’ve always found that curious as well. 🤷‍♀️ That said… I hope all my descendants here will always say they are German-American.

Another thought it was a good question. Another said that she thought her mother didn’t make a big deal of where she came from because it was WW II and she wanted to put her origins behind her. I’ve seen that happen a lot among recent immigrants that I’ve taught. I know that some people don’t want to be from the places they are from either because they fear discrimination or they hated it there. 🙂

Another very thoughtful response: In theory, we are a melting pot but in actuality, we aren’t. We don’t melt. We carry our previous heritage(s) around like flags and wave them with enthusiasm. I don’t know that they do this in England. We do it here. In Israel, it’s actively encouraged. They want people to keep traditions alive. I think this varies from country to country. Some places make it a big deal to urge groups to hold on to traditions. Others countries prefer everyone to form a unified group. We really DO encourage it here, even though in theory, we don’t. We have parades and special holidays for all kinds of ethnic background. It’s just as well. This is too big a country to make one giant polyglot.

Another friend wrote: Because we’re not Native Americans.

She has a point.

The answer is…

It’s pretty deep.

I hope you’re ready.

Some do claim their ancestral heritage, some don’t, but we all like the parties.

Question —

Got in a bit of a dispute with a British reader over why Americans refer to themselves as “Irish-American” (for example) mentioning their ancestral nationality. I weighed in on this but I don’t think she got it, or I was unclear or didn’t get the point of her question.

I’d love to read your responses (and she might, also) in the comments if you are American and you (occasionally) do this.


I’m Irish American. It was a long unnecessary road for me to find this out for certain, but there you have it. Yeah, there are some Swiss guys in the wood pile back there and a few Scandihoovians, but the final word from Ancestry DNA is that I’m Irish, well, Irish, Scots, Welsh and so on. The vast majority of ancestral ingrediments in this little person is Celt.

It came as no surprise. I was raised to be proud of me Irish heritage, tinking der was none better, no foiner ting. I was raised wit’ a love of poetry and god knows there’ve been far too many whiskey drinkers in me family (not me by da grace of God). I’ve been in an Irish bar, a bar in San Diego frequented pretty much exclusively by Irish ex-pats, and asked by a drunken Irishman, “Aye, Martha Kennedy is it. When were you last home?” Home being the “Ould Sod.” My date was an Irishman, former student, an expert in drinking a lot and taking cabs from bar to bar. It was an interesting night, but I could drive home.

So what? Well, in the writing of The Price I learned stuff about being Irish that I hadn’t known before. Poor Irish and prisoners of war were put on ships and sold as slaves in the colonies, most often Barbadoes and Virginia. One of these was one of my ancestors, a Scots/Irishman named Ninian Beall. Who knew? Nobody teaches us this. The more recent ones came during “the starving” and lived in Canada and northern New York. My great-grandad worked on ships on the Great Lakes. It was then he met my great-grandma, an Irish/Finnish French speaking woman from Quebec.

The Last Pure Irishman in me family, Thomas Kennedy

I don’t know what this ancestry stuff means other than it’s a lot of interesting stories and some useful information about our physical beings. Early onset hip degeneration is an Irish thing. Me brother, other Irish/American friends and I had hip replacements at a comparatively young age.

But…maybe there’s more to it. I dunna’ tink dares any poetry to compare to Irish poetry and me special favorite is William Butler Yeats.

Never give all the Heart


Never give all the heart, for love 
Will hardly seem worth thinking of 
To passionate women if it seem 
Certain, and they never dream 
That it fades out from kiss to kiss; 
For everything that’s lovely is 
But a brief, dreamy, kind delight. 
O never give the heart outright, 
For they, for all smooth lips can say, 
Have given their hearts up to the play. 
And who could play it well enough
If deaf and dumb and blind with love? 
He that made this knows all the cost, 
For he gave all his heart and lost.

The Song of Wandering Aengus

BY WILLIAM BUTLER YEATSI went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

And my own favorite, and the reason to continue writing books hardly anyone reads:

The Song of the Happy Shepherd

BY WILLIAM BUTLER YEATSThe woods of Arcady are dead, 
And over is their antique joy; 
Of old the world on dreaming fed; 
Grey Truth is now her painted toy; 
Yet still she turns her restless head: 
But O, sick children of the world, 
Of all the many changing things 
In dreary dancing past us whirled, 
To the cracked tune that Chronos sings, 
Words alone are certain good. 
Where are now the warring kings, 
Word be-mockers? — By the Rood
Where are now the warring kings? 
An idle word is now their glory, 
By the stammering schoolboy said, 
Reading some entangled story: 
The kings of the old time are dead; 
The wandering earth herself may be 
Only a sudden flaming word, 
In clanging space a moment heard, 
Troubling the endless reverie.

Then nowise worship dusty deeds, 
Nor seek, for this is also sooth, 
To hunger fiercely after truth, 
Lest all thy toiling only breeds 
New dreams, new dreams; there is no truth 
Saving in thine own heart. Seek, then, 
No learning from the starry men, 
Who follow with the optic glass 
The whirling ways of stars that pass — 
Seek, then, for this is also sooth, 
No word of theirs — the cold star-bane 
Has cloven and rent their hearts in twain, 
And dead is all their human truth. 
Go gather by the humming sea 
Some twisted, echo-harbouring shell,
And to its lips thy story tell, 
And they thy comforters will be, 
Rewarding in melodious guile 
Thy fretful words a little while, 
Till they shall singing fade in ruth 
And die a pearly brotherhood; 
For words alone are certain good: 
Sing, then, for this is also sooth. 

I must be gone: there is a grave 
Where daffodil and lily wave, 
And I would please the hapless faun, 
Buried under the sleepy ground, 
With mirthful songs before the dawn. 
His shouting days with mirth were crowned; 
And still I dream he treads the lawn, 
Walking ghostly in the dew, 
Pierced by my glad singing through, 
My songs of old earth’s dreamy youth: 
But ah! she dreams not now; dream thou! 
For fair are poppies on the brow: 
Dream, dream, for this is also sooth.

And some fun with an Irish Band.

Erin go Bragh, from long ago and far away.

Bear Is All Grown Up

When I first got Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to handle such a big dog or an energetic puppy. I thought she was a mix of husky and Pyrenees. Marilyn, of the blog “Serendipity…” let me know she was familiar with Pyrenees and kind of talked me into allowing this giant breed dog into my family. It went well from the beginning.

A few months into the adventure, a friend correctly identified Bear as an Akbash Dog, not a Pyrenees. Big deal. Both breeds are livestock guardian dogs. The main difference between the two is that Akbash dogs are lighter in weight, faster on their feet and come from Turkey not the Pyrenees. Both are ancient breeds (Akbash have been traced to 300 BCE) and both have guarded livestock, working in a partnership with people.

I read everything I could about them and it really seemed like Marilyn was right. I have had a lot of dogs in my life — more than 25 — and I have gone through a lot of training with those dogs. My dogs have all been at least 50 pounds and my favorite breed was the Siberian Husky which is notorious for being difficult to train and independent of temperament. Everything I saw about the Akbash Dog suited me fine. I wanted a partner, not a pet, a friend on a hike, a dog who was able to read a situation and make up her own mind.

The Akbash is large, strong and fast, as befits a dog whose job it is to guard valuable flocks of sheep. When he’s not taking on wolves, he is a calm, quiet and steady dog with an independent frame of mind and the ability to think for himself in different circumstances. He is accustomed to working with people as a partner, not as a subordinate. (vet street, Akbash dog)

With her mentality, she very quickly decided to go along with my preferences. She liked being with me and understood that’s what she’d have to do. She was housebroken in four hours, had made friends with Mindy and was working hard to win Dusty’s approval (but he still mourned his Lily).

I’ve never known a dog like Bear. She amazes me every day.

She began guarding as soon as she moved in, but it was never very serious until last week when the Australian cattle dog came charging at us, teeth bared. Within seconds Bear had slipped my hand (taking her leash with her) and had thrown that dog on his back in the driveway of his house.

She’s a different dog now. She is far more attentive to sounds than she was before the attack. She stays closer to me and stops and leans when she hears anything she thinks might be a threat. She’s come into her own as a livestock guardian dog.

I have mixed feelings about this. She is no longer what I would call “dog friendly.” Off leash, without me, probably she would be friendly, but definitely if she’s leashed and with me, she’s going to do her job.

She is four years old today, March 12. I don’t know if this is her exact birthday, but she was four months old when I first learned of her in mid-July 2015, and Lily T. Wolf died exactly four months before that, on March 12, aged 17. Bear looked up at me from a posting on Facebook from the local dog shelter and it seemed it was Lily looking at me through Bear’s blue eyes saying, “This is the one.”

I believe it really happened that way. And for her birthday, Bear got a BIG snowstorm that Lily would also have loved. ❤ ❤

Making the Grade in China, Part 1

I have decided to compile the China posts into a book and then decided to be as inclusive as possible, adding other things I’ve written and published about my life in China in the 1980s. 

When I came back from the Peoples Republic of China in 1984, I had a lot to say. A magazine — the EastWest Journal, long defunct, published my article about teaching in China.

SO — I found the magazine in the garage in a bin and started typing the article into my lap top. Yeah. It was typed on my Smith-Corona back in the day. ❤

Here’s Part One.


Originally published in East/West Journal April, 1985

One winter a few years ago my thesis advisor spent two weeks in Beijing and Shanghai. During supper one night he told me wonderful stories about the bleakness, poverty, hardship and gloomy, Victorian architecture of what he called “Dicken’s China.” After talking with him I was very curious to see for myself how China was recovering from the wounds of thirty years of revolution. I sent letters to several Chinese universities applying for a job as a “Foreign Expert” in English. A year later, I received a letter stamped with an exotic registration seal from South China Teachers University in Guangzhou (Canton). They wanted me to come that September. Was I still interested in teaching in China? My boyfriend was less than thrilled so I asked him to marry me and we went together to Guangzhou where we both taught English to Chinese university students. 

Before we left, we tried to prepare ourselves — we had heard stories about isolation and loneliness. In some Chinese cities foreign teachers are prevented from having out-of-class contact with students and colleagues. We had also heard of how foreign teacherswere watched in their movements around their “home town” and restricted to organized outings. 

All of this is a plausible version of life for a foreign teacher in China, but it was not true for us in Guangzhou. We spent nearly every evening of our year with students or Chinese friends and had no restrictions on where we went in the city. At the time we left, faculty colleagues said they thought we had seen parts of the city they hadn’t. 

However, problems did arise with my classroom expectations. China and the United States approach educational theory from totally different perspectives. China is trying to solve an immense, fundamental illiteracy problem. In 1949 approximately nine out of every ten adults could not read or write. China is also trying to give its people a uniform spoken language, Mandarin Chinese. Once the language of the intelligentsia, it is now called Putungwah — People’s Speech. 

With such basic problems to overcome in educating its vast population, China’s first solution is the training of teachers. Our university prepared teachers in the “key” disciplines — physics, mathematics, politics, physical education and foreign languages, primarily English and Japanese. China believes that English will propel the nation into the twentieth century. What they are doing would probably make perfect sense to anyone; it is how theyare doing it that may be difficult for an American teacher to understand. China’s education needs demand an education assembly line. 

After getting out of bed at 5:30 a.m. to the sounds of marching music and a Beijing accent counting, “yi, er, san, si, wu, liu, chi, BA,” over the loudspeaker, providing a beat for morning esercises, students eat a simple breakfast of baozi (steamed bread) and tea. Then they go to their classroom where they share a backless bench with a comrade. Standing outside a classroom while a Chinese teacher conducts an English class, you hear sixty voices repeating in unison —a modern version of the eighteenth century “blab” schools where attentiveness was measured by the level of noise. This process is refined in the language labs which are beginning to appear throughout China as a technological relief for the ears.

Like their American counterparts, for most Chinese today college and university are routes to a decent job. In China jobs are assigned, usually for life. My students knew that most of them would probably become middle school teachers. Their response to this fate was often like that of a trained ballerina told that she would spend the rest of her life trampling grapes.

Students work for grades because their job assignments, good or bad, depend largely on their marks — and their Marx. Teaching is considered the crux of China’s moderniztion process and central to this is the education of the peasants in the interior regions of China. No one wants to live in rural China where living conditions are very hard, food is poor and scarce, fuel is hard to find and the pay is very bad. Good grades help insure a good assignment, as does a good reputation for correctness in behavior and attitude. All of the American literature and analysisof poetry I gave my students had little relevance to their futures. I knew it, too, but once in a while a student would tell me, “We don’t really need literature. The “Heads” make us study it. We won’t use it as middle school teachers.” The best assignments were positions as young teachers at the various colleges in the province, ideally in Guangzhou. Next best, a local middle school, next best, to return to one’s home town to teach; last, a job in the countryside.

When the time for final English assignments (called theses) came at the end of the year, the tension in the senior class was palpable. I let them off early because I expected to have many theses to mark, and I knew what work the students had left to do. Many were finding alternatives to the middle school job. Some were hoping to remain at South China Teacher’s University as “young teachers.” When it was all over and the students prepared to disperse to their various exiles, one girl came to our apartment for a talk. “There is the end of my wonderful literature,” she said. She had been assigned to our university as a young teacher, and she wanted to accept the assignment, but her mother insisted she return to her home town. She had found her daughter a job translating and the government had approved it. 


Wow! I forgot how tiring it was to type from copy — but I only have one page of three columns left. More to follow!