The Wandering Scholars

I’m reading a book written in the 20s at the moment, a kind of literary criticism and history about the Goliards. The writer — Helen Waddell — writes like a waterfall, says little (that I can use), and what she DOES often says in Latin. The writing carries you along like a raft on a river at high flow, and when you get to the end of the page, you don’t know what you read. It’s a kind of verbal feast but wow. Not helping me. Here’s a random example…

O admirabile Venus idolum

and still more significant in promise, the alba of the Vatican MS. of St. Martial of Limoges. The alba is more precious for its Provencal burden than for other merit: it still holds to Predentius, and the cry might be to waken faithful souls rather than sleeping lovers, the enemy in ambush the Enemy of souls rather than the jealous guardian. But in its own exquisit phrase,

“Dawn is near: she leans across the dark sea.”

Interestingly, she’s EXPLAINING poetry that makes more sense than she does. I’m through three of the chapters and so far the book says, Chapter One, “The Goliards (and the entire church!) was influenced by secular Latin poetry more than they like to acknowledge.” Chapter Two, “There was a transitional moment when the Church tried shaking off the sensual (if not libidinous) secular influence, but they really couldn’t do it. They got some lovely lines, though.” And Chapter Three, “A group rebelled against the church rather quietly and wrote poetry intending to mimic Church verses. Mostly this was in Latin, but after a while, they began writing in their own languages. There are some quite nice things in Middle High German.”

The most comprehensible thing to me in the first chapter were two lines of Dante in Italian. This was after a small flash flood of Latin that had left me dumbfounded, so Dante was a relief. I actually thought, “Hey, I can read that!” As the book progresses into territory I know (the Irish monks and scholars, Columbanus and Gall) I feel a lot better, but wonder why no one ever made me read Virgil? What have I missed?

The thing is, she LOVES this stuff, just plain LOVES it. She gushes like a, oh, I already said that.

She, herself, is an interesting woman, and I wish I could have known her. She was born in China; her parents missionaries. So far she has compared some lines of some poems to some lines of some poems by the Chinese poet, Pai Chuyi. I know his story and his work, so for me that was a log to hold onto in this torrent of words. She must have had incredible linguistic abilities, too.

In a way, she seems to be the Jackson Pollack of thought, but I know it was a different world in 1927 when she wrote this book. People read differently and many had a classical education. And my needs as a writer? Facts. But I know facts are scanty for life in the 10 – 13th centuries, it’s just that I have this THING of showing how NOT dark the “Dark” Ages were. Maybe they’re dark because the people and their lives are buried under time’s detritus and we (too easily?) accepted a random Italian painter’s definition of the Renaissance? (My opinion…)

The book is good exercise for my lazy brain. I keep imagining these young disenchanted clerics and their “amoral” lives, the moment they stopped writing their irreverent verses in Latin and started writing in (that bastard!) Italian and (that barbaric language) German. I imagine them going, “Fuck this!” (which I wanted to write in Latin but Google Translate is NOT helpful giving me — as Latin synonyms a range of NON-synonyms such as “Fortuna”).

But maybe it wasn’t like that…

 

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/09/12/wednesday-rdp-feast/

Souvenir

“Orange doesn’t mean anything to me.”

“What?”

“Writing prompt. ‘What does orange mean to you?‘ No meaning whatsoever. It’s a color, red and yellow mixed together and voilá!”

“You’re grumpy. I think they mean what do you think of when you think of orange?”

“The word inspires one thought; the color inspires nothing.”

“OK what does the word inspire?”

“Oh, a terrible joke from my childhood. A knock-knock joke.”

“Oh god.”

“Yeah. Orange you glad I’m not telling it?”

“So why do you have those orange towels?”

“Those aren’t just towels.”

“Yeah, they are just towels. Kitsch towels. And why are they in the living room?”

“They protect my books from dust.”

“I mean, why do you have them?”

“A long time ago in a faraway land that was very hot (or cold) and very humid a young couple got on a boat to go down the river to a big city where they could buy cheese, mayonnaise, tuna fish and take hot showers. Because the entire place was so humid, most people slept with a towel on their pillow. For that matter, most people slept on a woven reed mat on boards because it was cooler than a mattress.”

“And THEN????”

“Oh, these towels were on the pillows on the boat. We stole them. The pagoda in the picture is the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees which was near the Guang Xiao Temple.”

“Wait, YOU were THERE???”

“36 years ago about now I got on a plane in San Francisco, bound for Hong Kong.”

“How was it?”

“You know, a big bus in the air.”

“No, I mean Hong Kong? Was that your ultimate destination?”

“No. Guangzhou was the ultimate destination. See, on the towel.”

“How was it?”

“Ah… Cold, hot, wet, crowded, roach and rat ridden, inspiring, beautiful, heart-rending, complex, challenging, uncomfortable…”

“Why are you crying?”

 

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https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/09/11/rdp-tuesday-prompt-orange/

There but for…

For me, the word “grace” is as abstract as they come. But if, as I do, you write about religion (and no, I cannot fully explain that) you need to understand Grace because it figures prominently in all Christian faiths. As far as I can tell it’s God’s whim, good things coming to us whether we deserve them or not.

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Medieval people had a world view that life was a game of snakes and ladders (Chutes and Ladders I played as a kid).

The only way to mitigate bad luck (or a fall from grace) was to do good deeds that would allow you to climb up a ladder taking you quickly to a higher level. The highest level would be salvation, of course, knowing with certainty that you were destined to sit beside God and Jesus in Heaven. An element of this perspective was the idea that opportunities for good deeds and calamitous falls hung on the throw of the dice — grace. Your best shot at salvation came from doing good deeds and NOT landing on snakes.

The game is filled with moral lessons and “if” statements. Good things come through a combination of luck and effort. Bad things? Well, they just happen. And then you have to recover.

I completely get this game. All this has happened to me so many times it’s laughable. I think of 2008 when I threw out the Evil X and began the effort to rebuild my life financially. Then my Aunt Martha died and left me $20k. I fixed the roof on my house and built an art shed. After all, I was earning good money (and working constantly) so I could “afford” these two things, but then 2009 came along and the market crashed. The State of CA was in terrible debt, all state employees were furloughed and my income dropped drastically, meaning, I almost lost my house.

“Should’ve saved that money,” I thought.

“How were you to know?” I answered myself.

“Good point,” I replied to me.

But that was a long, slippery snake.

I called my mortgage company and they connected me to a special counselor they’d hired to help people in this very common predicament. “I think you might qualify for Obama’s Home Affordable Modification Program. I’ll send you the paper work.”

The ladder was hard. Every month I had to send my mortgage company detailed financial reports (25 to 50 pages) about my income and expenditures. I had to go to a debt counselor. I had to teach 7 classes. I drove 100 miles/day. My mortgage payment of $1500/month was reduced to $600, and I got a new mortgage and kept my house (by the grace of?). I later learned that not a lot of people got this chance.

Protestantism is based on the idea that people achieve salvation not through good deeds but because God wants them to be saved. Medieval people truly believed good deeds (like kissing a leper) earned them Grace.

I think the game is right on. I’m not sure kissing a leper would have prevented the economic crisis, but it might have changed my perspective on my plight, because, as my grandfather was known to say, “There but for the Grace of God go I.”

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/09/10/rdp-monday-grace/

Care Bear

“BEAR!!!! I want to sleep!”

“I have a job to do, Aunt Lois. I need to make sure my flock is well and safe all night.”

“But you’ve woken me up four times! I’m tired! It was a long day! Fun, but long.”

“OK. I’ll go check on Mark.”

“You do that.” Lois gets up and slams her door shut, hoping that this time it latches. Martha wakes up at the sound and knows the whole story. She laughs to herself and goes back to sleep.

Morning comes. Martha’s up first. She looks in her friend’s room and sees the sheet pulled up over her face and laughs to herself again. Bear doesn’t give up. Bonded to humans rather than sheep, she is taking care of her flock. Lois and Mark are her flock and when they come back to the fold after a long absence, Bear is visibly relieved.

In the solitude and silence, Martha makes coffe and a smoothie, taking the blender to her room so she doesn’t wake Mark who’s sleeping in the semi-bedroom/studio off the kitchen with only a curtain, no door. She sits down at her laptop and with amazing tenacity continues looking for agents who might possibly represent her book, The Price. She does this only because it’s the right thing to do, and necessary, not because she has any hope. She doesn’t.

Lois wakes up.

“I guess Bear checked on you a few times?”

“I finally gave up keeping her out of my room.”

Later on, Mark stumbles out.

“Did Bear check on you in the night, Marky?”

“Her nose.” Mark had slept on a mattress on the floor, an easy target for Bear’s cold nose.

This is the hazard of spending the night in the same house with a tenacious livestock guardian dog who loves you.

~~~~

(Some of the conversation in this post is possible but imaginary)

 

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/09/09/rdp-sunday-tenacious/

Potato Festival #4 (Of My Life)

The area around my town is potato country. That’s right. Next to Idaho, the San Luis Valley of Colorado grows the most potatoes in the United States. It’s (I believe) our main source of income. Now ye give tat a tink, will ye’ knowin’ tat sum a yer Irish ancestor’s arrived in America during the starvin’ and ye might be a bit worried. All ‘at remains is a lurkin’ fear tat a potato might betray me…

I don’t like them much, except French fries, my Aunt Martha’s potatoes fried with onions and the occasional hashbrowns which do business in Switzerland as a thing called Rösti.

But the festival is great. My friend Lois and her developmentally disabled son, Mark, came down from Colorado Springs to partake in the wonders of Heaven (Monte Vista).

I didn’t take pictures, but my friend did. I’ll let them round out the thousand or so words I might have written extoling the wonders of it all. BUT I did have a couple of great experiences myself.

Something rather personal. I am a tiger. I guess it’s my totem. I didn’t pick it; years ago my therapist said, (in a French accent because she was French) “Martha you are a tiger. You see what you want or need and you go do it.” She was right. I then learned about tigers and was surprised at the similarities. They are solitary. They like to live in cold, snowy places (I am a Siberian tiger). They find relationships dangerous because (in the case of the female) they can die in the mating process. There are other similarities, but I’ll stop there.

Of course, as this was a country fair, there was face painting. As we were leaving I saw a little boy — 3 years old? — with his face painted perfectly as a tiger. I said, “It’s a tiger boy!” He turned around, looked at me, and roared and took a paw swipe. I roared back. We roared at each other for quite a while and did some paw swipes. It was wonderful. I said, “It takes one to know one,” by way of explaining to his mother who was laughing.

After that, I actually felt lighter in my heart. It’s good to find a kindred soul.

~~~

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Refurbished, beautiful old trucks

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The local riding stable brought ponies in 3 sizes and a horse.

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What Potato Festival would it be without Mr. Potato Head (but he kept losing his nose)

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The San Luis Valley has an alligator rescue. Seriously. They live year round on a working farm in hot springs pools.

 

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/09/09/bonus-prompt-weekend/

This Valley is for the Birds

Birds are big where I live, I mean that literally and figuratively. The biggest economic  boom to my town each year is the Crane Festival when people come from all over the world to watch Sandhill Cranes cavort. But there are other great birds here. All kinds of raptors (bald eagles nest here). The Rio Grande threads through the valley and there are hundreds of artesian wells. On a recent walk along the river, we watched a Great Blue Heron take flight in front of us. At the slough, of course, there is every kind of water bird who might like fishing in these climes. Last week I saw my first Killdeer. In my very yard are humingbirds, sparrows, house finches, gold finches and yellow warblers. Of course, I plant things for them. The finches like the seeds of Bachelor Buttons (aka cornflowers) and everything hangs around sunflowers.

Long long ago when the dinosaurs roamed this valley was a huge lake. The lake is now underground and farmers have relied on it for centuries. Because of that ancient lake what would otherwise be a desert is, well, still a desert, but one in which crops grow.

I have a political sign in my yard right now — the first one since 1980 when I worked on John Anderson’s campaign. Yes, that’s obscure but if you’re really interested there’s this thing called Google 😉 Yesterday on my walk with Bear, I was near home when I saw a young, tall, handsome Hispanic guy in a concha belt and cowboy hat in the sidewalk in front of me. Bear and I approached. He remained calm and just patted Bear’s head, demonstrating some knowledge of how to be with a big dog.

“Nice dog. I’m Donald Valdez. I’m running for State Legislature.”

“What do you stand for?”

He was taken back a bit but he answered. “I stand for farmers and ranches, affordable health care and education. I believe in education. People complain about crowded prisons, but I think spending on education is more important. A good farmer doesn’t just put a seed in the ground and forget about it. Seeds are like children. They have to be taught and nurtured.”

I don’t know how you teach a seed, but I got his point. I had to ask the requisite question of the San Luis Valley which is, “Are you from here?” Not from the usual reason but because if he represents the people here, he should know who they are. His family has a ranch in La Jara and he pronounced La Jarrrra correctly.

And now I have his sign in my yard.

Back to birds.

At the moment there are white pelicans at the lake. They are beautiful birds, especially in flight.

Now we are waiting for the fall return of the Sandhill Cranes on their commute from Yellowstone to New Mexico. The cranes ARE our seasons. When they begin flying over again in February, we know spring is on the way. When they come south again, we know winter is coming.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/09/08/rdp-saturday-bird/

Bliss

Chilly mornings out here in the real west. This big cup of hot coffee is (sometimes) the best part of a whole day. It’s always a major enhancement. I’m sad when it’s gone, and I have to give the cup to Dusty T. Dog (who is salivating at my feet waiting for it). All he gets is whatever has stuck to the sides of the cup, but he likes it. I think it’s a bonding thing.

During my long blogging hiatus I finished my book and sent it to my editor, Beth Bruno. She’s a writer’s editor not an editor like Maxwell Perkins or something. She helps me find typos and inelegancies of writing and that sort of thing. She’s awesome. Very helpful, thorough, and kind. I like working with her very much.

Long long ago (like 20 years) when I first sent manuscripts of Martin of Gfenn to agents, I got a rejection that was a folded a 8 1/2 x 11 sheet off paper that said in big black letters written with a Magic Marker, “Get an editor!” Big black letters and all, I didn’t know what he meant. I mean, was I NOT an English teacher? A WRITING teacher? Seriously?

But he was right. I should have been alert to hubris, but like many heroes (ha ha) had not yet encountered my fatal flaw face-to-face.

Meanwhile I’ve done my tasks. I have compiled a little spreadsheet that is a list of possible agents for The Price. I’ve written a pretty good query letter. I have done my chapter summaries, my synopsis and an introduction to the book.

I know that self-publishing is an option, but (as with all my books except My Everest) I want to give it a chance out in the big world.

~~~

In case you want to know what my coffee is, it’s made in Colorado. You can order it online. I bought a 5 pound bag a couple of months ago. I’ve tried their “sampler” and ALL of it was delicious. You can actually tell the different roasts and origins apart. Because of the way it’s roasted, it’s relatively low acid, too. That’s all for my sales pitch. 😉

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https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/09/07/friday-rdp-coffee/

 

Bark

Four years ago I set out for Colorado. I’d sold my house, I’d quit my job and I was leaving California behind, hotel and all (ha ha). In my rented van were Lily T. Wolf, Dusty and Mindy T. Dog, the only companionship I’d have on that journey and in my new life in a new town where I knew no one.

Life in the mountains of CA had been hard on Dusty T. Dog. My neighbor hated him and was abusive and mean to both of us. Yes, Dusty barks, but 1) He was never outside unchaperoned after 8 pm, 2) I scrupulously cleaned the yard and their dog run, 3) Dusty would not leave the yard even if someone left the gate open.

One day I went out and my asshole neighbor was standing next to the fence in front of my house (at that time it was a 3 foot fence; it was soon changed to a 6 foot fence) shaking the fence, screaming at Dusty and yelling, “Come on you son of a bitch. BITE me!” He threw rocks at my dog. He hoped to provoke Dusty so that Animal Control would haul Dusty away.

Animal Control came in response to a formal complaint the guy lodged against me. They found three friendly dogs and a clean yard. I conferred with Animal Control and my trainer and the consensus was that if Dusty wore a bark collar it would control the barking. It didn’t. Dusty’s urge to bark was stronger than the pain of the electric shock. One day I felt a scar on my dog’s neck, took the batteries out of the collar and put it back on him. To the world it looked like he was wearing the bark collar, but it would never shock him again. Grrrrrr.

Dusty was a rescue. I got him from a shelter. He was on his way out as an unadoptable, nervous and aggressive dog, but I didn’t know it when I met him. He was a 4 month old black puppy who let me know as soon as he saw me that he wanted to be my dog. The Animal Control people who ran the shelter warned me that he was not adoptable, but when they put us in a little room together, Dusty laid his head on my chest and talked and talked and talked. The Animal Control officer said, “I guess he’s your dog after all.”

I spent $1500 to have him professionally trained and socialized because where I lived he would not meet people or dogs and he needed to. He never really got calmed down with either (though he is a very sweet, affectionate and friendly dog if you get past the bark) but he did learn to love horses. Dusty barks at people as a warning, to protect me, and to protect himself. You see, when Animal Control picked him up, he was a two month old puppy who was injured and left by the side of Interstate 8 outside of Alpine, CA. Someone had intentionally hurt that dog — puppy, rather. How could he trust anyone?

But he does trust a lot of people. He’s come a very long way from the scared creature he used to be. He used to be terrified at the vet — scary terrified, and now he’s happy to see Dr. Crawford, Dr. Ratzlaff and all the other people who work at Alpine Vet in Monte Vista. He loves my friends (and their dogs). He adores everyone at the kennel where I board him. He likes other dogs, just not from a distance or if they charge him.

Still, my early experiences with Dusty made me wary, and I have always tried to keep him from scaring people, even when it was the people who were the assholes.

Until today.

There’s an old guy who sometimes walks where I do. When I see his truck parked, I go somewhere else. There’s just something about him that creeps me out. The first time we met, the dogs and I had just arrived. Dusty was off leash, and the guy pulled up beside me in the parking lot. Dusty barked and ran to him. The guy was obviously (and naturally) afraid. Dusty’s a big dog.

“I’m afraid of dogs,” he said. “I used to be a mailman.”

“I’m sorry.” How many times have I said, “I’m sorry” because of Dusty? Thousands.

“Keep him away from me.”

“He’s friendly.”

“I don’t like dogs.”

Somehow, that guy’s “I don’t like dogs” trumped my dog. Until today.

We got to a spot to walk. I let Dusty out (off leash because he heels off-leash very very well) and Bear (on leash because she catches a scent and she’s GONE) and off we went. Dusty pooped on the edge of the parking lot. This parking lot is used by teenagers for, uh, parking, (snicker, snicker) and it’s replete with used condoms and beer bottles and dog poop. Lots of people take their dogs there. There is no trash can. Sometimes I pick up my dog’s poop, and sometimes I don’t. It depends whether I am prepared or not. Lots of people don’t, but it’s the country, it’s out of town and who cares?

On the trail are cow pies, road apples, coyote shit, cat shit, elk, deer and rabbit droppings along with god (and Bear) knows what other excremental delicacies.

Today we took a walk by the river (humid, mosquitoes, flies, horseflies, not fun) and then we turned back. I saw the guy walking toward us with his stupid ass hiking stick and not wearing a shirt. Did I say mosquitoes? Flies? Horseflies? I leashed Dusty, took both dogs to the side of the trail, pointed their noses toward the woods, away from the trail, and held them tight.

The guy approached. The guy approached me. “Don’t stop,” I said. Dusty was barking like crazy, of course, because a guy with a cudgel was coming toward his human. “DON’T STOP!!!” I said again because the guy just didn’t get it. Finally he walked on, and I got back on the trail. He stopped and said, “Someone let their dog poop in the parking lot.”

I’ve been Dusty’s human for 12 years. For 12 years I’ve taken the peoples’ side in their objections to my dog. Today, I didn’t. “Big fucking deal,” I said thinking of the museum of excrement that is a path along a river.

The guy yelled toward my quickly retreating back, something about “Don’t talk to me that way.”

The thing is, I never wanted to talk to him at all.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/09/06/rdp-thursday-prompt-bark/

Ch ch ch changes (and a Small Rant)

Amazon’s self-publishing platform, Createspace (RIP), was somewhat unwieldy but once you figured it out, it was simple, and customer service was responsive (to me, other people have had other experiences)…but then there was Kindle.

Publishing on Kindle was another thing completely. Not very easy. If, like me, you don’t read books on Kindle and don’t want to, you wouldn’t know how they worked. Still if you’re serious about getting your self-published book read, you learn, and I learned. It’s not as easy as where Createspace used to say, “Do you want to publish your book on Kindle?” What emerged THEN was ugly and unreadable. There was a reason for this. If you frustrate the customer enough, they’ll hire you to do it for them.

Ha.

Thank God for reviewers on Goodreads and IndieBRAG who alerted me to format problems in my eBooks. Besides that, more people bought my books as eBooks than as paperbacks. Customer service, right?

Life was good.

Then Amazon said, “Why do I have two self-publishing platforms?” and began offering Kindle publishers the option to publish their Kindle books as paperbacks. I had a feeling… Just last week, they told us we needed to “migrate” our Createspace books to Kindle Paperback (which is an oxymoron).

OK. They did most of the work but…

It didn’t work for Martin of Gfenn, and I ended up reformatting the whole thing. Yep. Hours and hours of work (somehow when it migrated the font size went up two points; it looked like a kid’s book and was VERY thick). To fix that, I pretty much had to edit the whole book (again) which was OK. I found some funny formatting inside that was probably my fault.

Their interface is far from obvious. I get that, too. They want to sell their services.

Pretty much everybody wants to sell their services. I’m even paying for radio in my car which I think is nuts. My tires were low yesterday, and I spent $2 for 6 minutes of fucking air. Yeah. Sorry. But air???

“It’s a racket,” as an old friend’s 95 year old mother used to say from her elegant, turn-of-the-century wood and wicker wheelchair. She said a couple of other things, too. If something was great, she said, “Great!” if it wasn’t, she said, “Baloney.”

Not a bad summary for a human. My roommates, however, have it figured out. They don’t like something, they bark.

 

 

Look Around You, You Can Save These Dogs

This is a heart-rending, beautifully and passionately written post. Cara Achtenberg is on a book tour/shelter tour of the South, reading ad signing books and distributing donations to shelters in need. The book is wonderful, but I think this tour eclipses it. ❤

Another Good Dog™

The dogs and shelters are beginning to blur together.

Thank goodness for Lisa, who is traveling with me and taking copious notes, asking the questions I forget to ask, and handing me crackers with cheese as I drive the behemoth van between stops. Our days and hearts are filled to the brim.

If you knew Lisa you would be surprised and not surprised that she is traveling on this journey with me. Lisa is not a dog-person, but she is a Cara-person. When she visits my dog-filled house, the dogs will flock to her and she will inevitably say, “I don’t even like dogs, but this one is nice.” (every time)

Here’s what this trip is doing to her – she is often the last one out of the kennels as we finish our visits, lingering in front of cages, tears on her face, snapping pictures. One dog, at Anson…

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