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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Life As I Know It These Days

The ladies and I met on my deck for another COVID tea party yesterday and had a wonderful time. One thing in particular touched me and I think it’s meaningful in a more general way. As they left they thanked me.

I didn’t do anything but hose off the deck, wash the table and chairs, and get the patio umbrella in the right position. I made a joke, “Well, it’s pretty easy when you bring your cups of tea over, and I bring my water bottle outside, and, you know.” Laughter.

There was a lot of laughter, even when I told an off color joke about a young sheepherder. It had a context..

The conversations were random and wide ranging in their way. E, my neighbor who is originally from Australia, and Church of England, told a story about a recent Zoom meeting she attended pertaining her her leadership position in the Colorado Episcopalian church. She told how this bishop (?) explained he’d discovered during these times how much time he wasted BEFORE just being busy and important. He explained that C-19 had awakened him to an emptiness in his life he hadn’t been aware of.

This came up because I mentioned a note I got along with a sweatshirt I’d ordered from Poshmark. I said it was amazing the thoughtfulness and care that we express to each other now that we wouldn’t have last year.

When the party was over and I walked everyone to the front gate, K asked if I’d seen the garden sign I painted her in June. She said they’d hung it up. We all went to her house to see it. When the wood fades, the painting will be more visible, but meantime, I think it does its job pretty well, its job being to cheer people up. It’s hanging on their new shed.

My other activities yesterday were a little more arduous. I’m a small person. Five feet tall, so when it comes to framing large paintings it’s more like a wrestling match than it would be for a taller person. I had to order a roll of 4″ wide brown paper to properly frame the big painting. There’s more to framing an oil for which you have respect than there is to putting a photo in a frame. You have to fasten the painting into the frame and then you have to make sure that dust and other nasties won’t find their way to the painting. I use brown paper. I base my framing methods on those used by my grandfather’s favorite artist, Leroy Greene, a 20th century Montana impressionist.

Yesterday morning I spent three hours getting the backing on the painting of the tree. I don’t even have a table big enough so I was using my small drawing table. When I was done, I was finally able to hang up the painting and see it on a wall.

“To create a painting, should be like telling a story to a friend. The grammar, the choice of words, the thought, the knowledge of the subject, plus the joy of the telling, makes the difference between a good or a crude story. Just so in painting. The technique, the colors and the knowledge of the subject are most important, but without feeling and inspiration, and the sheer delight in the subject, the resulting painting will be short of being a work of art.” LeRoy Greene.

And, this is the sixth anniversary of actually LIVING in my house in Monte Vista, a life that still seems too good to be true, like a fantasy. ❤



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Color’s Determined Boldness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Not Fiction…

I just got back from getting my flu shot at Rio Grande County Public Health. They had a clinic today. I was honestly a little freaked out about the adventure in the way adventures these days are smaller or greater freak outs.

They had set up about 8 tables — four for reception, filling out forms, looking at insurance cards, four for shots. The nurse said she liked my shirt (see above). She asked if I wanted the high dose and I said I did. Then I asked what’s the difference.

“We recommend it for seniors. It’s stronger, gives more immunity.”

“Yeah but I’m 24.”

“OK, but let’s not talk about it,” she answered. No one knows if anyone’s smiling any more.

I got my shot in my good arm. Arthritis is acting up majorly in the other one. I have always held stress, sadness and fear in my shoulders and neck and for the past few weeks they’ve been very painful making it hard to sleep at night. Arthritis responds to changes in weather, but also changes in personal “weather.”

“You’re brave,” she said.

“Comes with age,” I said. And I was out of there.

For a few moments, though, while I was waiting for her to find the right shot (“You got the last one!”) I watched a dozen people wearing masks and plastic shields, two layers of face protection, and plastic clothes over their clothes. They worked hard and fast, wiping down chairs and tables, taking care of sanitizing things to the best of their ability. There were a lot of people coming in to get shots. The workers had to hurry to get us all in and out safely for themselves and us.

COVID-19 cases have risen sharply in the San Luis Valley in the last ten days.

I thought of a friend’s blog post, “Topia” which somewhat spun off one of my blog posts. Now I’m spinning off his…

I don’t wear short sleeved shirts ever. I have ugly old lady arms, and I hate them, so, you know, out of sight out of mind, but for a flu shot? Short sleeves. I put on the only short sleeved shirt I have that doesn’t have holes in the armpits and is not a punk-band shirt. I didn’t think of what was silk-screened onto the shirt until I was there, in that room, watching these bizarrely outfitted, earnest people, cleaning everything, kindly helping one old farmer and his wife after another, keeping everything moving, kindly helping me, wiping the upper arms of old people clean and injecting them with extra-strong flu vaccines.

Then I thought of my shirt.

The novel from which Bladerunner was made was Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. It’s a dystopian novel, portraying a dark future. My ONLY half-way decent not punk-band short-sleeved shirt is a pixilated sheep plugged into the wall. I suddenly perceived too intensely that I had arrived in a dark present. I wanted to cry.

I’m not brave. I just don’t want this to get me.

Trying not to Rant and Failing…

Since the Pandemic started life has had an eerie feeling. Some days — for me — moreso than others. I’ve been more closeted than usual, not just in my house and yard, but in my mind. When I emerge (which is pretty often, in fact, but still differently) it sometimes seem as if people also emerge from their closeted lives into the alley to talk to me. I have thought of painting it calling it “My Alley in the Pandemic.”

Yesterday we met for another Covid Tea Party and it was wonderful. We met at E’s house and talked for a full two hours. We also got to see some of the beautiful things E has made for the Christmas Boutique — a little pop up market of beautiful things made by an elite group of women that they hold every year at the Church of Christ. I do a LOT of my Christmas shopping there. That morning, E was wearing a beautiful cardigan she’d made for herself with a matching beret. I bought a pair of wool socks E had made. They will be worn only for very special moments like skiing or coming home from skiing. When I said, “I don’t know how I can wear them!” E said, “Slide them on your feet.” 😀

Our conversations invariably begin with a discussion of the virus. I’ve been having a hard time with that subject lately since it occurred to me that we’ve had experts yammering at us with things that seem to me now — and have always seemed — perfectly obvious, common sense. A virus is contagious, often very contagious, so err on the side of caution. I’ve visited enough old aunts at “The Home,” and seen enough signs saying, “If you have any symptoms of a cold or flu, do NOT come in” to understand that people in The Home are vulnerable. Putting a barrier between one’s breath and the outer world is — to me — just an obvious way to reduce the number of germs floating around. That viruses are airborne isn’t rocket science. I actually said, “Don’t get me started. If I get on this subject, you’ll hear a lot of blue language.”

All anyone ever had to do was say, “There’s a new virus that’s appeared first in China. It’s very contagious, and we don’t have immunity to it, so the risk is high. Please take these extra precautions when you’re out in public (list). for now, we’re going to slow things down drastically to get the number of cases under control so our healthcare can catch up, but then we’ll ask you to … ” Then come up with guidelines for businesses. Of course, if the alleged president had come clean in January with the knowledge he had, our country might have been ready when the virus hit, but that’s another story.

The yammering didn’t have to go on for 7 months. That this has resulted in violence infuriates me more than I can say, but maybe it will turn out to be for the best. You know what I mean, though I doubt the 200 k + dead people and their families would agree it’s “for the best.”

I’m tired — as I imagine everyone else is — of waking up in COVID world, but I was thinking yesterday this is nothing (so far). I thought of how it must have been for my grandmother to wake up every morning to at least a half a dozen kids who needed to be fed and clothed, the labor of the farm during the Depression and the daily struggle under all that work in pioneer conditions.

And… Illnesses, one of which killed one of my uncles when he was a child. There they were. Two beds, at least 8 kids, all in a log sod cabin on the high plains of Montana.

We are really wusses.

My Grandmother Beall filling the cistern at the local well to take water home for laundry…


No Clue (still? again?)

I don’t know about you, but I know I’m laboring under the illusion that things are going to get better. What’s more, I’m not abdicating that illusion. I think in a situation such ours, that’s known as “optimism.”

I was chatting with a neighbor the other day. We were both standing in ankle-deep mud with snow all around. She and her husband own a campground in the nearby town of South Fork, up in the mountains. The snow did a number on their business. Broke trees to the extent that they don’t know if they’re going to stay open this year. Normally they close on October 1. People in RVs is one thing still going on even with C-19. She said there wasn’t much damage to anyone’s vehicles. I know the campground. It’s well laid out and when trees break, and it’s not a hurricane or something, the branches don’t go flying. They just drop.

We joked about God having all kinds of ideas like, “Well, those poor guys in the San Luis Valley have been in a drought for 10 months, and I wasn’t paying attention. I’d better fix that.”

“I don’t get this year at all,” she said.

Who does?

Featured image from The Far Side by Gary Larson


Out Into the World

Today I had to take my Jeep Renegade in to change the oil. I don’t venture “out” at all ever right now. Anyone who reads this blog knows what I do — it involves a few neighbors, trips to the market to pick up groceries, and long walks with dogs in the Big Empty. To go to the “big city” and have to wear a mask and read all the rules taped onto the door of the service area of the dealership was weird. I didn’t want to sit and wait inside, but there were no chairs outside, so I dragged one out. I enjoyed the book I brought along and my car was ready within an hour. I’ve been going there as long as I’ve lived here and big city or not, this whole valley is a small town (40k people) so it wasn’t like it was stressful or weird otherwise. BUT…

I’m lucky I live in a place where there are currently only 5 active cases of the virus in an area as large as Connecticut. I’m lucky I can avoid the whole idea of the virus much of the time. But today I couldn’t.

Part of my mind thought of the 180,000 people who are dead from this. Part of my mind thought of the incredibly stupid “debate” that the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions didn’t directly die of Covid-19 and shouldn’t be counted in the tally. Part of my mind wanted to slap people who make that argument without knowing what heinous things they are saying — that sick and elderly people should die AND they are making the admission that too many people have died. That argument says both of those things, but the dimwits making it don’t seem to realize it.

All this is buried pretty far down and wasn’t burbling away on the top levels of my consciousness, but when I got my car keys back and got into Bella, I had the strangest other-worldly feeling as if my car and I were not really touching wheels to earth at all. When I got home, I was exhausted.

As I pulled into my driveway, I saw my lovely neighbor had leaned some long pieces of bead-board against my fence. She gave me a couple of large pieces yesterday, and NOW I’m even richer in this resource. You can be sure I brought them inside my fence.

This is my new raw material for garden signs and it’s very nice, a far more predictable surface than the cedar fence boards of which I still have a few. The back is plain, clear, plywood. I’m going to need to get a circular saw, I guess.

Sign painted on headboard…

In the Workshop of the Big Guy

“I don’t know how to tell the Big Guy.”

“Do we have to?”

“I think it’s the right thing to do. He’ll forgive us, but…”

“He might not. He’s been known to… you know, LUCIFER!!”


“What did we do wrong, exactly? Our job is just to keep things moving down there, make sure the domestic star is where it’s supposed to be, you know.”

“Yeah, I know, but maybe we weren’t paying attention. Maybe they weren’t supposed to get SO MUCH of this stuff all at once. The Big Guy promised them a long time ago that He wouldn’t dump too much on them.”

“That was back when he had a more hands-on role. He backed off a while back.”

“Because he’d trained us. He trusted us and now? We’ve let the whole shit show…”

“You know what I think? Those beings down there ought to be better at handling this stuff. They have a lot of good books filled with advice and wisdom, they have memories and free will. They’ve learned a LOT over the millennia. It’s really not our fault that they haven’t assumed the level of control they’re capable of. It’s not like they’re not informed.”

“What’s up, guys?”

“Uh, hi Big Guy.”

“You’re worried, aren’t you? You think I’m going to send you down there with Lucifer because of the way this arbitrary designation of non-existent time is going down there on my pet planet.”

“Honestly, Big Guy…”

“There’s no point attempting dishonesty with the Big Guy, Uriel.”

“Yeah, we’re afraid you’re going to blame us and…”

“You forget who’s the boss up here. You don’t think I KNOW what’s been going on? I can see clearly, now the question is why?”

“Yeah, well, THEY’RE all asking that.”

“I set the universe up to function fine on its own. Sure, sentient beings were a risk, a big risk, but there they are. Sadly, they are pretty short-sighted and still mainly animals, so the thinking thing remains problematic. It’s not you, boys. It’s not even me. I’m not angry. I’ve never been angry — well, I was pretty pissed at Lucifer, mostly for being stupid — and I’ve never exacted vengeance. In reality, I’m pretty incomprehensible to those little guys down there and like everything, they paint me with the only colors they have.”

“So what’s going on, Big Guy?”

“Well, Gabe, they just got a shitload of trouble this ‘year’. It’s not a glitch and you guys didn’t mess up. It’s just a real mess down there. I just pray they use their heads, but they keep going off half-cocked.”

“You PRAY?”

“Sure. It’s a way to clear my mind.”

“You have to clear YOUR mind?”

“Don’t you? Isn’t that why you two were just jabbering when I came in?”

“How can we help them? I love them. I hate to see them going through all this.”

“Me too, but they have to if they’re going to come to grips with the problems that keep coming up over and over in their world. The solutions are simple. They just have to employ them. They have all the tools they need. They don’t really need you two fussing over them. C’mon. Uriel, Gabe, let’s go get a pizza. My treat.”


Caveat: This is pure fiction and not meant to disrespect anyone’s beliefs or disbeliefs.


Lamont and Dude Discuss Victory

“Lamont, do you remember vanquishing anything?”

“Well, I vanquished you that time you were a salmon. You were delicious. For that matter, I guess when you were a young Smilodon and I was an aged mammoth, you vanquished me but…”

“Doesn’t seem quite right, does it?”

“Why not? It’s kill or be killed out there and food is for eating.”

“I mean vanquishing is about destroying your enemy. I didn’t see you as my enemy back in the day, Lamont. I saw you as dinner.”

“Good point, Dude. Kind of the opposite of an enemy.”

“Right? What about the meteor? Weren’t we vanquished by the meteor?”

“No. By your logic there has to be enmity. That meteor didn’t even know we were there. That was just our bad luck.”

“For the meteor too. I don’t think it wanted to crash into a planet. I think it wanted to keep going.”

“Accepting your absurd theory that a meteor has desires and goals, I agree with you, Dude. But in real life? It was just a rock hurtling through space. Why are we having this conversation?”

“Well, first, the surf is pretty flat. Second, I was reading this morning that doctors all over the world are trying to ‘vanquish’ this virus.”

“Typical human anthropomorphization.”

“That’s a hell of a word. So the virus isn’t an enemy?”

“No. It’s a virus. Just a weird little not-quite-alive-not-exactly-not-alive microscopic thing floating around. Humans won’t ‘vanquish’ it. It will always be there. It has always been there; it just never affected them before.”

“I wish the surf would come up.”

“What about when the tide comes back?”

“Naw, not even then.”

“I hate this time of year.”