The Great Divide

When I was a little kid growing up in a Denver suburb, and once in a while going to the mountains (but not often; the folks weren’t outdoorsy types, even though they liked it OK), my dad would always talk about this wondrous mysterious thing called “The Great Divide.” This is the backbone of the continent, no small thing. “We’re going to cross the Great Divide!” he’d say and if there was a chance, we’d stop on the great divide and look at it.

If you’re standing on the top of a mountain — Loveland Pass — it’s going to be awesome, anyway, but if it’s ALSO the Great Divide! WOW. And then mom would say, “Water that falls here,” and she gestured with her right hand (because we’re oriented north out here) “flows to the Mississippi and into the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean. And on this side,” she gestured grandly with her left hand, “The water will flow to the Pacific Ocean.”

“Think of that kids,” said dad who, it seems to me, was never short on wonder.

Later in school I got in an argument with my teacher over the nomenclature of this wonder. “Continental Divide? I think not. It is much MORE than that. It is the GREAT Divide!” At home my dad set me straight, and I learned a lesson that’s always been useful. There are often several correct names for things. Don’t argue names.

That goes for God, by the way.

Thar Be Monsters…

Daily Prompt Revisionist History Go back in time to an event you think could have played out differently for you. Let alternate history have its moment: tell us what could, would or should have happened?

C’mon. The only stories anyone would revise are the sad ones.

Thirty odd (they’ve all been rather odd) years ago a friend said, “You’ve had a harrowing life.” I never liked her as much after that. No one wants their friends to pass judgements on their lives. Who can fairly do that, anyway? One man’s meat and all that, right? I resented the comment because it was — and had been — my life and I was not “harrowed” by it.

Still and all, there is one thing I would change. I wish I would have woken up earlier. You see, I went through much of my life blind, with my eyes closed and while I know that’s why my life didn’t “harrow” me, it would have been nice to see things as they were much sooner.

I think.

For years and years there was a little voice inside that telling me to see. I wrote a lot of journal entries and seeing was a theme in everything I wrote. During my animal totem years (late 80s/early 90s) I perceived my animal guide as the red tail hawk, and his great attribute is vision. I watched them all the time when I was hiking and took it as a good sign if I arrived at the beginning of a hike and a hawk was there. That was most of the time, by the way.

All I knew of this animal totem business I learned from Hyemeyohsts Storm’s book The Seven Arrows. Since I spent so much of my time in a wilderness park that had been a sacred spot for the Kumeyyaay Indians, I felt that their lives filled the hills and valleys. The animals who lived there were part of my world. There are much worse teachers than nature, anyway. 😉 Now I think that when we need to learn something, we’ll find a teacher. I needed to open my eyes and I was fumbling about for someone to help me.

When my mom ended up in the hospital, deranged and ill, I finally learned the truth.  A brain scan showed the scar tissues and lesions that come from a life time of alcohol abuse. My mom had been a secret alcoholic for much of my life. I didn’t know this until I was 44, and she was a few weeks from death.

She wasn’t a friendly drunk who got maudlin or goofy. She was a mean drunk who got abusive and cruel, and I was the usual target of her cruelty. Why? Because I was also the person she relied on to manage her life, the person who (unwittingly) picked up the slack for her. Her feelings of guilt must have been heavy and one stragedy she had for bearing them was to turn me into an unworthy daughter who deserved punishment and contempt.

I wish I’d seen this sooner. I wish I’d known the truth when I was younger, and I wish I’d had help contending with it. When it was over, and I visited my aunts for Christmas, my Aunt Jo sat me down and talked to me straight and direct about my mom and our relationship. It was shocking in a way. I had always “felt” the truth of things, but because the truth was contradicted by my mom’s words, I had grown up and lived in a kind of twilight where she was concerned. Part of me KNEW she was mean; the other part of me said she wasn’t. I constantly worked to maintain the presence of the peaceful, kind “good” mom while knowing that, at any minute, with no warning, and probably because of something I did, the malicious, caustic and sometimes physically abusive “mean” mom would appear.

I know people who had two functioning parents who believed in their children and supported them. I don’t feel envy, but I do feel a sense of wonderment. Like a lot of children from families with absent parents, to some extent I raised myself. This has made me independent and self-reliant (on the one hand) but it also made me view others with a kind of trepidation. Sure, things are OK now, but sooner or later something’s going to happen to turn all the good things upside-down. My independence and self-reliance comes not from a solid sense of self, but from a lingering mistrust of others — and of myself.

Still and all there’s no point in looking back unless it leads a person to greater self-awareness and peace and, possibly, makes it possible for a person to direct their life in a better way. Though in my youth I thought it was silly, I now know that “happily ever after” is something to shoot for.

Interviewing a Little Girl about School


My First Halfway Decent Depiction of a Horse 🙂

Yesterday I got to hang out with a little girl and talk to her. I was at the Art Co-op Store where I have a few paintings hanging. I was working with the little girl’s grandmother, and I was painting a small watercolor of a horse. The little girl came in, and I gave her something to paint on and with and she sat down with me and we had a good time.

She’s going into third grade. I said, “I remember liking third grade. I had fun then.” In fact, it was hard, because I was a new kid in a new school, but, you know, otherwise, it was very good. I learned a lot about drawing — my teacher’s husband had been stationed in Japan and she brought Japanese paintings for me to copy (it kept me quiet, too…)

This little girl said, “I don’t think I’m going to have any fun. We don’t have any fun at my school.”

“Why not?”

“We just take tests.”

“I remember getting to read some good books.”

“I won’t. I’m still in the last level in reading so I get to read second grade books until I pass the exam. In reading I’m still in level X-2 and I need to be in level X-3 if I am going to read new books.”

Imagine that. Knowing when you start a WHOLE new school year you’re going to read the SAME thing you did the year before even though you’re in a new grade.

“I’m sorry about that,” I said. “If I ruled the world you could at least read a new book.”

“Yeah, that would be nice, but I can’t read a new book until I pass the test.”

“Well, like I said, if it were up to me.”

“I’d like school if it was like this.”


“Yeah. I’d like that.”

“You don’t get to paint in school?”

“No. We just take tests on iPads. I hate that..”

Her painting of a volcano was pretty good and showed a decent understanding of geology. It had fiery red lava, a black sky and a dark mountain. She wanted to put smoke in her picture, but since she’d painted the sky black, she couldn’t see how. “Take a paper towel,” I said, “wet it and soak up some of that black sky. You’ll have nice smoke!” She did. She followed instructions, saw how it worked and got some very good smoke effects for her efforts. I was tickled. She was a teachable little girl, truly interested and ready to learn.

After she finished her volcano she did two more paintings on blue post-its, both of them were of the beach. I said, “Are you going to put in sea gulls and an umbrella?” She did and then she told me the story of all the people at the beach.

When she finished drawing, she went outside and jumped rope.

This is a very cool little girl. She’s smart and she’s talented and imaginative. In no way is she a behavior problem or learning challenged. She’s just a normal, bright kid. She’s 8 years old. She likes to learn and she hates school.

I could cry.

First Party, Permanent Damage

Daily Prompt It’s My Party You’re throwing a party — for you! Tell us all about the food, drink, events, and party favours you’ll have for your event of a lifetime. Use any theme you like — it’s *your* party!

Parents like to buy books to help their children develop motor skills and learn the customs of their world. One of these books in my childhood was My Birthday Party. I can even remember the illustrations in this book and their colors. A popular color combination back in the 50s was red/pink/black/gray with maybe some green accents. This book was like that.

It had a story in the front. A little girl made invitations and sent them to all her friends. They all came to the party and had a wonderful time. There was a pink cake with red roses and green squiggles and they played games after they had cake. Yeah. Typical kid’s party.

At the end of the story there were heavy paper models that a kid could pop out of the book and assemble into a birthday cake to “play birthday party.” I did this. I made the 8 little pink wedges, that looked just like the cake in the story, and put them together into a circle. It also had invitations that a kid could “write” on. I was already writing, but not reading yet, so only my dad could tell that I’d written my friends’ names on those invitations because he was the only person who could read my writing. He said he’d mail them on his way to work. There were also table decorations to assemble, and I put them together, too.

I’ve always been an imaginative person, more, I’m sure, than my mom understood, especially then when I was four or five and we were getting to know each other. They had no idea what was going on inside my head, none. If they had…

The day for the party came, the one I’d written on the invitations. I set up the folding table in my room, laid out all the paper cake plates from the book and set a “cake” wedge on each one. I asked for candles, but mom said no (there was a hole in the top of each wedge for a candle). I set the decorations on the middle of the table. Then I got dressed up and went to the living room. I sat in the green chair by the front door and waited for my friends to come. It was a rainy, rainy day with a dark sky. No one came. My little heart was broken. My parents were stunned. They had assumed I knew it was “pretend.”

Now, when I hold a party, I always imagine that no one shows up. In fact, the thought of holding a party is a major stressor for me. Those first experiences leave deep tracks in the sand of our souls.


Patching Things Up and Holding Them Together

Daily Prompt I Have Confidence in Me Are you good at what you do? What would you like to be better at?

“Wow. How does anyone know that?”

“What, Lamont?”

“If they’re good at something?”

“They succeed or someone tells them, ‘Good job’. I guess that’s how.”

“The question then is ‘So what?'”

“Isn’t it positive to aspire and achieve?”

“I don’t know about ‘positive’. It’s what humans do. It’s part of our DNA, I think, but people aspire to all kinds of things and achievement is relative.”

“You said something is RELATIVE? YOU???? Lamont, are you OK?”

“Ha ha, Dude. Last night my friend’s son, who’s developmentally disabled (allegedly — I happen to think he’s profoundly wise in ways most people aren’t) hit a baseball. He’s not a kid; he’s 30, but it was the first time his bat connected with a ball and he hit the ball such that if it had been in a field, it would have been a home run. THAT’S an achievement. I had tears in my eyes when I heard of it. I know how hitting home runs made me feel when I was a kid, and I was SO happy he got to have that feeling.”

“You loved playing baseball, didn’t you, Lamont.”

“Yeah. I wanted to play pro-ball.”

“No way. That wasn’t going to happen.”

“I figured that out, Dude, thanks. But I practiced hard and constantly for many years. I really wanted to be better at it and I got better at it. I was better than any kid in my age group in the town of Bellevue, Nebraska at that point in time, including boys. I ran faster, hit and threw farther, and caught anything that came my way in center field — or anywhere out there if no one else was running for the ball.

“Where did that get you?”

“I learned that it’s not about being good at something. You can be the fastest runner but you might not win. There are other factors; I’ve learned through the course of my life that there are always other factors.”

“OK, so let’s get back to the prompt, shall we?”

“You patronizing imaginary entity you…”

“Yeah, right, so what are you good at?”

“I’m good at holding things together and patching them up and I’m proud of it.”


“Years and years ago — somewhere between baseball and now — I was feeling really crappy about my life. I was supposed to have been great. I was smart and talented and attractive. I should have taken the world by storm, but I didn’t. I couldn’t even get a full time job. My marriage was lack-luster, to say the least. I lived in a tract house in a bad neighborhood and my life was going no where. All I did was patch things up and hold them together. Money went from one end of the month to the other, that was it. My mom was a POA and I couldn’t fix our relationship. The big excitement for the week was mowing the lawn, but the lawnmower didn’t always work. I was talking to my brother on the phone — now he was a guy with a very fucked up life (his own “fault” but still). He said, ‘You sound down.’ I said, ‘I am. My life isn’t going anywhere. All I do is patch things up and hold them together.’ He said, ‘You can do that? That’s amazing. I can’t do that’. I realized then that patching things up and holding them together is no small feat.”

“So because your drunken brother said that’s an achievement you feel like you’re all that?”

“No, Dude. I’m trying to explain that I’m good at persevering, at hope, at not giving up. My baseball career turned out to be a good lesson, a good metaphor, for what my life has required. I played center-field with a first baseman’s mit. I was a girl who wanted to go pro and I practiced toward that end. That is what I’m good at. I patch things up and hold them together so that I have the chance to pursue impossible dreams.”

The First Supper

Daily Prompt Shaken and Stirred What’s the most elaborate, complicated meal you’ve ever cooked? Was it a triumph for the ages, or a colossal fiasco? Give us the behind-the-scenes story (pictures are welcome, of course).

I was eight or nine. I had a cookbook my Aunt Martha had given me for Christmas. Mom was in the basement, conducting a Cub Scout meeting. I was bored (stuck in the house and unable to attend the Cub Scout Meeting). I wanted something meaningful to do. I wanted to make my mom happy. Even that long ago I somehow knew she wasn’t really happy.

My mom had set my cookbook on the shelf with her cookbooks, making mine legit. 🙂 I looked in the refrigerator. There were hot dogs and there were always potatoes. “I just don’t feel it’s supper without potatoes on the table,” my mom said more than once.

I turned the pages to see how to cook hot dogs and potatoes. I found a thing called “Potatoes Anna.” When it was all over, I realized that Potatoes Anna are fried potatoes, but different from the way my mom usually made them. They are sliced rather than diced. I thought that was pretty fancy. I’d seen my mom fry potatoes hundreds of times, but I’d never read instructions for cooking them. For that matter, I’d never read a recipe before.

I got out two iron skillets, one for the hotdogs and one for the potatoes. I put margarine in both pans and turned on the heat on our turquoise (it was 1961) electric stove.


This is EXACTLY what it looked like…makes me wonder; is THIS the actual ONE???

I sliced the potatoes on the cutting board as instructed by my cookbook (my mom never did that) and put them in the larger pan. I then poured 1/4 cup of water into the pan (my mom never did that but the recipe said to) and I put the lid on the pan. I had no idea of timing — not much idea of time, when it came down to it. I wasn’t very tall, either. Maybe I’d achieved 4 feet by then. Appliances, countertops, all those things are designed for grownups but…

I started cooking.The potatoes went into the skillet — it never occurred to me that once it was filled I might not be able to lift it high enough to achieve the final step which was lifting the skillet and draining off the excess water! (My mom never did that…) very easily. It wouldn’t be easy for me to return the skillet to the stove for the final drying-out and browning of said potatoes, either.


What Potatoes Anna Are Supposed to Look Like

Things got a little too hot under the hot dogs and the potatoes. Even down in the basement, my mom could smell stuff cooking. I guess she put the little boys to work doing something, because she appeared in the kitchen.

“What’s going on, Martha Ann?”
“I’m cooking supper.”
She looked at the stove, at the two pans and the lid.
“I’m cooking hot dogs and Potatoes Anna.”
“What’s ‘Potatoes Anna’?”
“It’s in my cookbook.” Then she saw the cookbook open on the counter. She glanced at the recipe.
“Fried potatoes.”
“No, mom. Potatoes Anna.”
“Turn down the heat. You’re going to burn the house down.”
I did as she told me. I knew it smelled kind of burny in there.
“And turn on the fan. Let’s see the hot dogs.”
They actually looked OK.
“Turn the heat way down on those, honey. Your dad won’t be home for twenty minutes.”
I did as she said.
“OK, I’m going back downstairs. I have no idea what those boys might be doing now.”
They could not be very destructive in an all-concrete Nebraska tract house basement in November, but…

When it was time (according to the recipe) for the Potatoes Anna to be done, I lifted the heavy skillet off the stove, carried it carefully over to the sink and “drained” the absolutely nothing. It was a big mess because I couldn’t hold the pan very high, and I couldn’t easily hold the lid against the pan and a few potatoes fell into the sink. Most of the water had long ago evaporated and the potatoes were a little dark, not burned, exactly, but not, you know, golden brown.

When my dad got home, we ate this supper. Everyone enjoyed it and my mom realized she’d hit the “daughter lode” so to speak. She then taught me to cook and from that evening on, I had a hand in supper. The payoff was immense. Among other rewards, in high school, I got consistently got A’s in Home Ec. Doesn’t sound like much, but those A’s brought my grade over the “hump” from a B average to B+ so I was able to join the National Honor Society with the rest of my friends, some of whom grew up to be rocket scientists.

A Day and Trains

Daily Prompt Return Address Yesterday, your pet/baby/inanimate object could read your post. Today, they can write back (thanks for the suggestion, lifelessons!). Write a post from their point of view (or just pick any non-verbal creature/object). I am not writing this prompt. Everything Lily has to say to me, well, I’d rather hear it from Lily herself. She is a Siberian husky and they are very vocal dogs. They don’t bark, but they have a range of sounds and vocalizations — including howling — that is quite comprehensible.

It was rare. To my brother and me it was always a shock. The lights would go on in our room and dad would say, “Come on kids. Get up. We’re going to the depot for pancakes.”

Then Kirk and I were rousted out, scramble-haired, pajamaed. They helped us into our coats, pulling our little arms through the sleeves. “Put on your shoes.” Shoes and PAJAMAS??? What had happened to the world?

We climbed half-sleeping into the back seat of a green Ford, a 49, then a 55, for a long drive all the way from the suburb of Englewood to the depot in downtown Denver.

“These are the best pancakes you’ll ever have, kids.”

We sat at a table in the green, black, chrome and white diner. People waiting for trains sat on the stools at the counter, reading their papers, drinking coffee, ears cocked to hear their trains called. The diner smelled of trains and maple syrup.

“What’ll it be?” asked a waitress in a green uniform and a white apron, pencil behind her ear, order tablet in her hand, fancy folded lacy handkerchief pinned to her bosom behind her name tag.

“I think I’ll have a short stack.”

“What’s that?” I asked. They spoke a strange language, these two grownups, a strange language I was constantly trying to figure out.

“Three pancakes, Martha Ann. Can you fix up plates with two pancakes for each of the kids?”

“Sure. Off the kiddie menu. What about you, sir?”

“Full order.”

“Oh, Bill!”

“I’m wearing my PJ’s,” announced my brother, revealing flannel printed with rockets and flying saucers.


“You want coffee?”



“Sugar’s fine.”

More strange words. That meant, “No.”

The pancakes came.

“I think this is Log Cabin,” said my mom, “no better than home.”


“The syrup. I think they’re just using Log Cabin. Used to have real maple syrup at the depot.”

“Best pancakes you’ll ever eat,” said my dad. “It doesn’t matter, Helen. They’re good.”

After the pancakes we went out to see the trains. My heart beat fast. Seeing them made me think of getting on one, of GOING somewhere, like MONTANA which was where I went on trains, sitting in big green cars on red velvet seats with white-painted wrought iron arm-rests and racks above the seats. Old cars, built in the ’20’s. It wasn’t a big seller, the trip from Denver to Billings. This was not the Denver Zephyr that went to Chicago or the California Zephyr that went to LA. It was a mail train that carried some passengers.

In 1959, when I was 7, and understood most of what the grownups said, we took that train to Billings. Up there my mom took me into the cellar of my grandma’s house where there was an old trunk. “I took this to college with me,” she said. “All my books are inside.” We opened it. It was truly filled with treasures, books, old lace, letters from people I had never heard of, old stamps, a musty smell. “I’ll ship this home, but lets take some books for the train.”

A few days later, a bright June morning, Hank took us to the depot in Billings. We got on the train that was nothing more than an engine and a car that was half mail/baggage and half passenger car, a kind of rail bus. Mom, Kirk and I took our seats. As the train pulled out of the station, our faces were pressed against the window. Hank, Jo and grandma waved goodbye. Later, the train would stop and let us out for dinner somewhere — probably Thermopolis — and a sleeper car would be attached.

I was looking out the window at a summer storm gathering slowly over the green Wyoming plain, when my mom handed me a book. “You’ll like this,” she said. It was Seven League Boots by Richard Halliburton. It became my first grown up book. I took it outside to the porch on the back of the train where someone had put a straight-backed chair. With my feet up on the railing, I opened the book as Wyoming moved around me. I read until it rained.

A Summer Day in 1965

Daily Prompt One-Way Street Congrats! You’re the owner of a new time machine. The catch? It comes in two models, each traveling one way only: the past OR the future. Which do you choose, and why?(Thanks for the great prompt suggestion, Purvi Gadia!)

Well, hell. I don’t know if it’s the influence of the limited range of radio in these parts, but seems like more and more often these here daily prompts can be answered by a country song, generally one by Garth Brooks. That’s down right scary. I ain’t going to the future because I’ll look back and realize “I might’ve missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.”

I would go backward (if I can come back to the dance). I’d go backward to this ONE day — but I’ve written this before and in this one thing I am consistent. I’d go back if I could be my 13 year old self with my 62 year old mind and awareness. My dad wouldn’t know, but I would certainly appreciate that moment more fully than I could back then.


“What are those?”
“Mannequins, honey. Come on. We need to get you some summer pjs.”
“What kind?”
“Baby dolls. How about that? Would you like that?”
“What are they?”
“Like these.” She pointed to a child mannequin. “Like those.”
I liked them! They had little red roses, lots of lace and a ribbon at the neck.
“They’re pretty!”
“All right then. How about these?” She held up the same but with yellow roses.

It was a rare occurrence for us to be at a store. I don’t think they had much money — dad was working at Denver Research Institute and mom was a stay at home mom. Stores then were not open at night, either, but for some reason – a special longest day of the year sale? – this evening stores were open. While I can see the stores in my mind’s eye, I don’t know where they were exactly. There were no malls back then, but this was not “downtown” Englewood, Colorado, either. Unless it was and I was just too small to know, to have a context. That could be. This is one of my earliest memories.

“It’s the longest day of the year, kids,” said my dad from the front seat. “You know what that means? That means the sun is over the Tropic of Cancer. It’s closer to us today than any other time in the year.”
“Longest day of the year?”
“Yep. The sun won’t go down until after 8 o’clock tonight. You’ll be in bed before the sun goes down!”
My brother and I were at the 7 o’clock bedtime. I was three.

“Go wash your face and brush your teeth and I’ll bring you your new pajamas,” said my mom. I ran into the bathroom and did as I had been told. My mom showed up at the bathroom door when I still had foam in my mouth. “Here you go, baby. When you get them on, come out and show me how they fit.”

I liked them so much. I came out and showed my mom and dad my new PJs. My brother had new pajamas, too. “OK, kids, let me tuck you in.” My dad picked up my brother and took my hand. My brother was still in a crib. Dad pulled down the shades so it would at least be a little dark. “You’ll be sound asleep before the sun goes down,” he said.

It was the longest day of the year! I was too excited to go to sleep right way. I watched the daylight in the lines around the sides of the window shades. It went from the bright white of Colorado day, to the golden slant of sunset, to the soft blue of dusk before I finally closed my eyes.

When I Grow Up I Want to Be Me

“When I grow up I want to be Willie Mays.”
“Oh no you don’t.”
“I do. I want to play centerfield for the New York Giants.”
“Oh honey. Girls don’t play baseball.”
“I play baseball.”
Third, fourth, fifth, sixth grade. I did train, but I didn’t end up a pro baseball player.
8393144“When I grow up I want to be an archeologist.”
“Here’s a book about archeology. It’s called Rivers in the Desert. It was written by an archeologist. You can see what archeologists do.”
“Do you think I can read this, dad?”
“I think so. Anyway, you can try.”
I couldn’t. I was only in second grade. A guy on Goodreads (the book is out of print) wrote, “This is basically a scholarly book about the Negev desert.” Well the Negev Desert appeared again in my life and maybe someday I’ll see it. What I read of this book — more than you might imagine — fascinated me. Not only about people living long ago, but about the place. I also learned about the work of archeologists, that it isn’t just travel and discovery. It’s pretty damned tedious.
238“When I grow up, I want to be Lawrence of Arabia.” Sixth grade. I’m wearing a sheet on my head. I look in our family bookshelf — a kind of built-in my dad and I put together in the basement and hung on the living room wall. Mom picked out paint for it, paint that to my dad looked pink.

“Goddammit, Helen, I’m not hanging a big pink bookcase on the living room wall.”

“Well I don’t want that dark mahogany stain.”

Dad and I varnished it and it was hung, natural pine. There in the bookshelf is Seven Pillars of Wisdom. I pull it down and start reading it. I’d already read the entry on Lawrence in The World Book Encyclopedia and I knew he had been an archeologist. In the beginning, Lawrence writes an iconoclast’s rant on spelling and editors. Apparently it’s OK in Arabic not to spell the name of one’s camel precisely the same way twice, “Jedha, the she-camel, was Jedhah on Slip 40,” complains an editor. “She was a splendid beast,” replies Lawrence. I laugh out loud at that. I like him AS A PERSON then and there. He is my first “dead friend” that is a friend whose written words inform my life and whose personality offers a kind of companionship, just as a living friend might. He seems to know what is important and what is not. That, of course, I am also learning from my dad who is beginning his downhill toward his death from MS, still some eight years away.

Looking at that very volume today I take a little heart seeing Lawrence had printed it privately some time before it saw the “light of day” in the general market place. My mom’s book was a deluxe edition for a book club she belonged to. My sixth grade pencil underlined these words:

“Pray God that men reading the story will not, for love of the glamour of strangeness go out to prostitute themselves and their talents in serving another race. A man who gives himself to be a possession of aliens leads a Yahoo life, having bartered his soul to a brute-master. He is not of them. He may stand against them, persuade himself of a mission, batter and twist them into something which they, of their own accord, would not have been. Then he is exploiting his old environment to press them out of theirs. Or, after my model, he may imitate them so well that they spuriously imitate him back. Then he is giving away his own environment: pretending to theirs; and pretences are hollow, worthless things. In neither case does he do a thing of himself, nor a thing so clean as to be his own (without thought of conversion), letting them take what action or reaction they please from his silent example.”

Reading those words this morning I was stunned.

First, I absolutely do not believe in converting anyone to anything. In my profession of teaching there are many missionaries and many systems and beliefs, many strident voices attempting to persuade other teachers and I think on that often. Not every student learns well from the same teacher, so there cannot be “one right way” to teach. I worked in a semi-team situation this past semester with another instructor who scares the shit out of me with her rigid little black-clad immaculately groomed self dragging her wheeled briefcase around the campus, her little lips forming fake smiles, her glasses, her tight little perfectionism. A long ago friend of mine would have said, “Broomstick, hell. That one can hold a needle…” But, it was the best thing for my students to have her for one class (reading)  and me for the other (writing).

My strategy as a writing teacher is what Lawrence recommends. I write. I just write and my students follow my example and they write. Should everyone do this? No. But I am a writer (yes I am) and so what else would I do?

Second, Lawrence was right in that which makes us us comes from something deep and old and immutable. We can look on; we can be involved in the world of others only from a certain distance whether those others are people living in a different culture or our own brothers or sisters. We can only be ourselves and we must do that as well as we can.

The paragraph has an element of prophecy to it as I look at it today. I guess, in becoming myself,  I succeeded in becoming Lawrence of Arabia.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire
By Gerard Manley Hopkins

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.
I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.


  34. Daily Prompt: Futures Past, A Bird, Orchids and a few childish Dreams – and my Dad