Back in the day, I got up every morning at about 4:30 so I could organize myself and have some “me” time — and maybe write my blog — before heading down the highway to school. My first classes were always at 7:30 or 8:00 and it was at least a 40 miinute drive. I got so I didn’t even notice the early hour. My days were long — sometimes I didn’t get home from school until 8 o’clock — and from there the usual evening stuff of making supper and winding down. Then do it again. If I sound like a martyr, that’s OK. I was a martyr.

This morning I’m heading to Taos with a friend, and I need to be at her house at 9 which, I admit, is not that early. For me, having to organize the dogs and myself by a certain time, it’s early. The dogs are going to “day care” — practice for if they need to be boarded while I have my surgery. My friend lives 18 miles away. I had to set the alarm. I get up earlyish as it is (7:00/7:30) but if I didn’t get up this morning by 6:30 I’d have a hard time being ready.

OK, that’s just — here’s the deal. The alarm has become a foreign object to me and as soon as I set an alarm, I can’t sleep. I worry I won’t get up. I worry I won’t sleep. I worry about every possible thing I could worry about. Sure, I probably go right to sleep, but I’ll wake up and say, “Oh, good, I still have five hours” and it will be three hours of angst followed by two hours of sleep followed by, “Oh shit” and fear of the snooze.

But I made it, kind of, sort of, anyway I’m up and awake. I’ve fed the dogs and had my coffee and I have an hour to get ready and out of here.

Yesterday I posted a long story. It was 4000+ words.

As some of the readers of my blog know, I write novels. I don’t only write novels. I’ve been guilty of poetry a time or two, and I write short fiction when I have a good reason. Yesterday I read the daily prompt (talisman) and the only thing that came to my mind was the chapter in a very old work in progress that mentioned “talisman.”

I was intrigued by the comments on its length (but the readers seem to have enjoyed it anyway, which is the main point ūüôā ) Thank you for your patience.


Old ladies write — and talk — about their health challenges. Ah well… There is no talisman against time.

Yesterday I went to my third physical therapy session. My PT guy is on vacation (spring break) so I had a different therapist. I liked him, too.

Today I saw my neighbors. They are a decade or so older than I. B had surgery to repair his thumb. Part of a tendon in his wrist was cut out to replace worn cartilage in his thumb. He’s cruising around with a cast holding his thumb in place.

It’s pretty miraculous. I thought of Mrs. Thornton, my piano teacher when I was in 6th and 7th grade. The arthritis in her hands was so bad she was in constant pain and couldn’t play. To add to the pain she already suffered was all of our bad playing. She just hit us when we made mistakes, or dragged our hands against the keys if we fucked up an arpeggio. No one was repairing arthritic hands back in the 60s.

At the moment it seems like the main focus of my life is on preparing for a new hip. It really does take a lot of time and, the morning after PT can be quite painful. This morning I woke up wondering why I’m doing it. There is no fountain of youth. I thought, “This is my version of a facelift.”

Going Along

It’s taken a long time, but I’ve finally realized people don’t always see things the way I do. ¬† ūüėÄ When I was growing up, that was already true at home. “Your feelings don’t matter,” my mom said more than once, right out there, a clear message. At school I got a different message, which was that my ideas mattered. I entered the world with the understanding, “Feelings? Useless. Ideas? Good.”

That isn’t true. Feelings are not useless and the world has been — generally — no more interested in my ideas than my mom was in my feelings. It’s kind of a surprise when, somewhere in adulthood, later in adulthood, usually, I think, but I could be wrong, we realize that we’re not all that important in the grand scheme. We’re actually pretty invisible.

To advance our ideas we have to express them, support them, often fight for them and, if we fight, it is often against something a lot more powerful than we will ever be. It’s often against the invisible force known as the¬†zeitgeist. If we’re not (as my brother would say) “on the public pulse” our chances are not great. If Hillary Clinton (whom I did not like but believed would be a better president than His Orangeness) had listened to me, she might have won. What did I tell her? Oh, stuff like, “It’s not about being the first woman president, sweet cheeks. It might be to YOU; it isn’t to US. In the immortal words of Jello Biafra, ‘We have a bigger problem now’.” But she didn’t hear me and probably never heard of the Dead Kennedys or of Jello Biafra and, for all I know, thinks punk rock is a bunch of skin heads…

It isn’t just Hillary. Through my whole life, I have been relentlessly off the mark. Here’s an example. During the 20+ years I was teaching writing at community colleges, many theories about the teaching and learning of writing were gaining traction. In the last decade, one was a particularly formulaic five paragraph essay taught in basic writing classes. It was not the five paragraph essay as I’d learned it in high school, but something far more rote. Begin the essay with a quotation to get the reader’s attention; cover some basic information in 3 sentences following the attention grabber (which you purloin from BrainyQuotes); write your thesis statement.

Students who learned this, universally believed that, to find a thesis statement, all you had to do was look at the last sentence in the first pagagraph. Wrong.

Since I taught writing at a slightly higher level than this five paragraph essay (next class and at the university), I got to read a lot of these. They were horrible, especially when the writer was writing about something he or she had read and could actually glean a relevant quote from their reading. OK, well, it was a start, but I didn’t think it was the best start because there’s more to writing than that formula. I also knew that — at the university level — this patent structure was scorned.

Time marched on and a job opened up at a community college. I got an interview. Part of the interview was my boss pretending to be a student coming to me for help revising the paper. I did my best. Told her to find a relevant quotation from her reading rather than Googling “quotes about XYZ”. I suggested some other things that were absolutely counter to the formula.

The next part of the interview was a teaching demo. I had a PowerPoint (because most of my colleagues were still struggling with it and it was a requirement of the job to have that kind of techxpertise). The topic of the lecture was supposed to be “the four sentence types.” I did my lecture and that was the end of the interview.

I had no idea that I had stepped firmly on the feet — not just the toes — ¬†of many of the people on the committee.

Turned out it was my BOSS who had come up with the formula for THAT particular formulaic five paragraph essay, something that had been discussed in numerous conferences over a period of a few years. She was the one who came up with the idea that students could Google salient quotations to hook the reader. She’d contributed to a textbook and so on and so forth. The four sentence types? Well, in that world it was far more important that students memorize the four sentence types and how to construct them than it is that they learn to use language to say something.

Form over substance. That’s how I saw it. I didn’t get the job. Obviously. BUT they continued to give me as many classes as they could every semester because what I did in the classroom worked.

Was I right? Were THEY right? I’d say both, but IF you’re not going with the tide, you are against the tide or carried along in spite of yourself. I was carried along and grateful to be because I needed to earn a living, but when the water level dropped, I was left on the bank.

Thank God.

Let’s Do It Again…

“So what would you call this TV show, Lamont?”

“Some names have been tossed around. ‘First You Die and Then You Die,’ didn’t fly but I thought it was funny.”

“You see the challenge, don’t you?”

“I see a lot of challenges. Which one are you referring to?”

“Death is not a cheerful subject for most people.”

“That’s true, and I had thought of that. Most people don’t see it as the gateway to a possible incarnation as an oak tree. They probably think all oak trees are identical, not a network of unique beings.”


“I don’t think they’re even ready for a consequenceless afterlife.”

“No. They would see coming back as a bug a bad thing.”

“It’s not. It’s a pretty good life. Plenty of food, that part’s good, but predators. A bug’s life is usually pretty short.”

“They don’t see that as good thing, either.”

“There’s no ‘good’ Dude. No ‘bad’. It’s just what it is.”

“I know that. It’s difficult to… I try to live in the moment. That doesn’t come back as an oak tree, velociraptor, anything.”

“You got me there, Dude. So no on the TV show?”

“I told you, Lamont. I’m not doing it.”

“I guess you’re right. I thought it might be fun, but if we can’t even name it…”

“People don’t believe us, anyway. Grab your board. Let’s catch some waves.”


Part One: Lamont and Dude discuss their Own TV Show

Lamont and Dude are characters I came up with a few years ago. Because they remember many of their past incarnations, they have a unique perspective on life, the universe and everything.

Lamont and Dude Discuss their Own TV Show



“We’ve been invited to pilot a television talk show.”

“Like Ellen?”

“I don’t think we’ll be in the least like Ellen.”

“Naw, Lamont. You can do it. It’s not my thing, you know, television. Talking to a television audience, none of that. Naw. I don’t want to. I’m not like you. I don’t have your sardonic outlook and your pithy turn of phrase.”

“They want you to appear as a smilodon.”

“I’m not a smilodon any more, well, except on weekends.”

“What if I tell you it’s a kid’s talk show with a decided political bias to which you subscribe?”


“The idea is that we subtly make the point…”

“You’ve never made a subtle point in your lives, Lamont.”

“OK, but the idea is that we gently assert…”

“You’ve never asserted gently, Lamont. It’s not you.”

“We are going to help kids understand how important it is to take care of the planet because maybe they were once dandelions, ladybugs and velociraptors.”

“I think kids would like to be velociraptors. The ones I see up there in LA on weekends, anyway. They definitely like pretending to be smilodons. It’s not far psychologically from smilodon to velociraptor.”

“There you go. Now will you do it? It was your smilodon performance that made the network interested.”


“Are you blushing?”

“Shut up.”


Lamont and Dude are characters I came up with a few years ago. They have the uncanny ability to remember many of their previous incarnations which gives them a unique perspective on life, the universe and everything.

Teaching is a Teacher

Over my many years in the classroom, I developed patience. I saw over and over how things could evolve if I just left them alone, how an intractable student could mellow out (yeah, I’m in that generation) all on his/her own. I realized there’s just no way to force an outcome. This all happened without my even noticing it, believing I was, as my mom always said, “So impatient, Martha Ann! Learn a little patience!” Then one day one of my students said, “I don’t see how you ¬†can be so patient, Professor, I’d be, I don’t know. Apeshit. Sorry.”

“Ah, well, you guys have a hard job here. You’re doing things you never did before. You’re afraid you won’t succeed. There’s a lot of stuff you’re going through right now that I’m not. You just have to do it, and I have to help you.”

At that moment I realized that I’d become patient. When and how, I have no idea, but I’m glad.

Freedom in Obscurity

I woke up this morning dreaming of taking some Tylenol and thinking about the Novel-that-I-do-not-write; “working” title,¬†The Schneebelis Go to America. I thought of all the writers who stopped writing after one book. Those who died with a work in progress. All of them. I enjoyed Hemingway’s “posthumous” novel,¬†Islands in the Stream,¬†very much. It was published in 1970. Hemingway worked on it in 1950/1951. He killed himself in 1961.

Capote’s story is similar. After¬†In Cold Blood, he basically never got his shit together adequately to finish¬†Answered Prayers¬†(which I also liked). In fact, he lost his shit big time.

As did Hemingway.

I’m sure not Hemingway or Capote, but right now, I feel sorry for those two guys. Their lives (and livelihood!) depended on writing bestsellers. I wonder if — when they began their lives as writers — they felt like I did when I began Martin of Gfenn. Enraptured, intoxicated, carried away on the sweet river of inspiration. I think they did. I’ve read pretty much everything they’ve written — fiction and nonfiction, including interviews where they talked about writing. Both of them were in love with it. Looking at their lives post-success, the love faded into desperation. Everything depended on something beyond them, other people, the sea of eyes and pocketbooks called “the public.”

I wonder (I suspect, I believe) if they ever wanted just to go away somewhere and write without a public, without a publisher, without external demands, even those in their own minds.

But even for someone like me, not a famous writer with a public clamoring for more of The Sun Also Rises or more¬†In Cold Blood, it’s hard to stay “in love” with writing a story, with a story.¬†Ideas incubate. I thought that, too, as I woke up this morning. Maybe the story of the Schneebelis coming to America is incubating, but I don’t think so. Personally, I think it’s just boring to write. I know where it has to go, I know what needs to happen between the people, and it doesn’t interest me much. The question now is do I serve the story or not? It’s a compelling tale, but, at the moment, it involves two people who need to fall back in love, get married and raise a family.

Honestly, I could not care less about falling in love and raising a family, but I recognize the imperative. There’s always a moment when a writer has to step back and serve the story. Or not. Luckily, it doesn’t matter to me or anyone else if my characters manage to mend their ruptured love, procreate, and board the Francis and Elizabeth¬†at the port city of Cowes and head into the sunset.

“There are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers.” – Saint Teresa of Avila¬†

Life’s Litany

“All our life is drawn on our faces. That’s why when we’re old, we have wrinkles. It’s like a painting. Your grandmother’s life is in the wrinkles in her face.”

I bought it when my dad told me this. Sometimes I studied my grandmother’s face to see if I could find the stories. Really, parents, you can tell your kids anything, pretty much.

My grandma didn’t mind my sitting on her lap, looking at her, putting my little hands on her face, asking her questions, like “What does this wrinkle mean, grandma?” I couldn’t read words yet. I thought the wrinkles were just one more thing I’d learn once I started school. I figured the grownups could look at her and see everything.

Now I’m the age my grandmother was. My life has been so different, and I would say easier than hers it’s crazy. The photo above is two of my aunts — the youngest of my grandmother’s children — on a spring day in front of their house in Hardin, Montana around 1930.

At her 50th wedding anniversary party — 1957 — my grandma was about the age I am now, but older than I at the same age — but not by a lot. It’s not only life that writes on our faces but genetics.


At this point, I see life as a conveyor belt or a river; time. We’re born, discharged into time, we are carried along, dependent on our parents, we learn how to live here, our parents drop away from us, we become parents ourselves, we age and, in our turn, step off the conveyor belt of time into the vast gray of memory. We began as a spasm of delight and end as an idea. And my dad was right; our lives ARE written on our faces.

Brown Penny

“Stay out of the kitchen.”


“Penny is eating her supper.”

“But I want to pet her.”

“No. You don’t pet Penny while she’s eating. You’ll provoke her. You can watch.”

The little girl stood in the doorway. Penny chomped away on her dog food in the back room, but Elizabeth Ann could see her.

“Why’d you name her Penny, Grandma?”

“Because she’s the color of a new penny.”

Penny was old, overweight and fractious. Grandma was seldom affectionate to her, telling her to “Shoo!” more than she asked her to “Come!” Elizabeth Ann was sure if Penny was HER dog, Penny would never get provoked. Every once in a while, though, Elizabeth Ann caught her grandma scratching Penny’s ears while Penny’s stub tail wagged in delight.

In grandma’s mind, a dog was a working member of a farming operation¬†even though, in her old age, all that remained of a farm were a few chickens. The cow and its calf were sold when grandpa died. Mostly it was fruit trees and the vegetable garden. She still put up vegetables — tomatoes, corn, beans and fruit — peaches, mostly. Plums were for eating and jam; apples for pies, apple butter and jelly. Wherever grandma went out to the yard, Penny followed on her short legs.

“She just wants to be fed,” said Grandma.

“I think she loves you,” thought Elizabeth Ann who was always trying to pet Penny but Penny was not interested. Grandma interested Penny, not the 20 odd grandkids who came and went “of a summer’s day” and tried to pet her.

When Penny was old and sick, and it was clear she wouldn’t make it, Grandma called her son-in-law, Jack. He brought his 22, but couldn’t shoot the dog. He stood over her, shook his head and said, “I can’t, Mother.”

“What are you going to do then?” Grandma’s lips set in a tight line, as if by closing her mouth tightly her feelings couldn’t escape.

“I’ll take her to the vet, Mom.” Jack wrapped Penny in a blanket and set her in the trunk of his car. It wasn’t far to the vet. When Jack came back he had the blanket and Penny’s collar. “Here Mom,” he said. “I’m sorry about Penny.”

“I’m not getting another dog,” said Grandma, her lips still narrow and pale.

She meant it, but that left her all alone in her little house smack in the middle of five acres. No one thought that was a good idea, so Jack and Florence appeared on Christmas Eve with a wiggly brown puppy with curly fur and bright eyes. “This is Brownie, Mom,” said Florence.

The whole family was there to open gifts, all nine children, all 20-odd grandchildren. They stared at Grandma, wondering what she would do.

“I don’t need another dog,” she said. “Penny was enough.”

“You need a dog, Mom,” said her daughter Mary Ruth. “You’re here all alone. You need a dog to bark if something’s wrong.”

The puppy walked around the room, sniffing, undoubtedly finding the ghost-scents of Penny. Then she went to Grandma. The argument went on, the “kids” (all people in their thirties and forties) trying to persuade Grandma that she needed a dog, and grandma resisting. What no one saw was that grandma was scratching Brownie’s little, silky ears.

First Amendment vs. Facebook

A long, long time ago in a faraway land known as Colorado lived a girl who was worried about what we now call “the environment.” The term wasn’t in use yet and it always kind of bothered the girl, anyway. She went away to college — to a woman’s college in Denver that was funded mostly by the American Baptist Convention. They had given her $25k to go to school there. It paid for housing, food, tuition. Everything.

She wanted to be an artist when she grew up (against the advice of the US gubmint [who picked up part of the tab for her schooling] and her mom). Their advice to her was that she become a journalist.

Being a freshman, just 18, right out of high school, she knew practically EVERYTHING and had COMPLETE confidence that before she graduated she’d have fixed most of the major problems in the world.

Her sculpture teacher assigned an “earth” sculpture project after they had had a fieldtrip to the big state University in the next town and saw a lot of earth sculpture. The girl was VERY happy. She had a plan. She was going to get some cedar fenceposts, some plastic flags like were used at used car lots and a real estate for sale sign. She would erect it by the art building. She sketched it, and planned it, and hornswoggled the guy who wanted to get her in bed to drive her out east of the city (probably where DIA is now).

So the night before the project was due, she dug the postholes. She planted the poles. She acquired the flags. She got the For Sale sign and scraped off all the words, but it still looked like what it was. She did her project, never, never thinking what it might mean to passers by and not knowing that the school was in big financial trouble and THAT’S why it had lately changed its name from Colorado Womans College to Temple Buell College. Temple Buell had money, but also an ego the size of the buildings he designed.

When morning came, all that remained were three holes. She was called into the office of the President and lectured. No one asked her what she had meant; it didn’t matter to them that her sculpture was a representation of the last open land on the earth, a small triangle of open “space.” The president asked the young woman, “What on earth were you thinking?” And explained the financial situation of the college and told her that people had called asking if the college were for sale.

She’d raised a big problem for the college because of a situation about which she had NO idea. It was — for her — the first glint she had of her comparative size in the universe.

What we don’t know, probably at any time in our lives, is that we DON’T KNOW, but this is especially true at that juncture in our lives. Teaching post-adolescents for as long as I did, I got to witness thousands of examples of a kid being one person at age 18 and a completely (almost) different person at age 21. This is a time of rapid brain development and awakening in a lot of young people. Unfortunately, many of us freeze in that moment. For whatever reason — hating school, not having had the chance to further our education, not having a basically inquiring mind, maybe a million reasons — we don’t grow past that point of strong, adamant and ignorant opinions. We BECOME our beliefs and don’t ask questions.

I didn’t do that. I know I didn’t. Does it make me “better” than other people? I don’t know. It does make me different than some. Mental and intellectual flexibility matter to me, partly because of my — oops — that young woman’s experience with the post holes, the cedar fence posts, the plastic flags, the sign and the college president. I loved my college. I didn’t want to put it in any danger, but I was a kid and the big picture was not yet open to me.

Yesterday, on Facebook, in one of the local groups to which I belong, a photo was posted of a work of art at the nearby university, Adams State. It’s a piece of protest art. It stimulated a LOT of noise, but I see it as the kind of thing EXACTLY a young person would do. People generally seem to have their minds made up about things and their “responses” are knee jerk reactions, but it did stimulate a few thoughtful responses. The work ITSELF is pretty bad. It was a response to this topic from a critical thinking class:

…make something that challenges ‘the assumptions or principles relating to or inherent in a sphere, theory, or thing, especially when concerned with power and status in a society.”

So a teacher challenged students. The piece displays ignorance, passion and a LITTLE knowledge. (Sorry I don’t know know and couldn’t find the name of the artist.)




My comment on the thread was:


Of course, there was reaction against what people THOUGHT I said (normal for social media) but there was comprehension, too.

It is the work of a post-adolescent who feels strongly about the direction politics in this country is taking. It really pissed people off, and showed me, again, what’s wrong with social media. NONE of these people would even have KNOWN about this work without Facebook. It would have done its job on a university campus, maybe have been written about in the campus paper. Unlike the young woman in the story above, this student is going to imagine his/her size in the universe is pretty big, that his/her feelings are very important, that he/she has said something meaningful and worth fighting for. The “artist” might think he/she is finished with the idea and has mastered it. That’s not the best lesson.

I hate social media because it brings out the worst in people. It makes people defensive and aggressive. A complex topic like this one deserves more than just, “I’m not sending my kid to ASU!” or “Disrespecting veterans,” or, the worst, “This is why China euthanized an entire generation.”

But the paradox of America that I will never understand is Freedom of Speech. People love it, want it, value it, until someone says something they don’t like.