Visit with Teddy to the Big Empty

Practicing social distancing with Teddy is very different from social distancing with Bear. I imagine some of it is that I haven’t even been walking with Teddy for a year yet so we don’t know each other to the same degree.

Teddy is so small (to me). Only 25 pounds and maybe 14 inches tall at his shoulders. He’s a bundle of energy, curiosity and affection. From time to time in his exploration (leashed) he seems to feel, “I must now love Martha!” and he’ll jump up on me for a hug. To my surprise and joy, he is learning NOT to jump on me in the house. I think he is making a distinction.

One thing my life with dogs has taught me is that you get to know your dog best by going out “hunting” with them.

Teddy is a fun little guy who is just as determined as Bear to pursue his education in mammal and avian scatology with a specialization in Canadian goose scat.

There is more coyote scat than there has been and much less elk. I have a different perspective on all this poop, not having to smell it to identify it, but I think my dogs might have more data such as when it was placed on the trail and the diet of the corresponding animal.

The cranes are all gone and now the magic lies in birdsongs. The video is kind of lame, but the sound is absolutely beautiful. Western meadowlarks. Oh and the little guy… ❤

In this photo, if you have a very good eye, you can see a magpie.

Magpie at 11:57 more or less

When I took the photo, was drawn to the laciness of the aspen branches against the blue sky, but then I saw the magpie. The magpie was fluffing his feathers and calling out, “Would someone PLEASE share a nest with me for the love of God?” This is reminiscent of a scene in Fellini’s Amarcord.



I love Federico Fellini’s films. I think if I’d had the opportunity to know him, I might have liked him, too. I first learned of him — his films — when I was a little kid and a then-scandalous “foreign” (OH MY GOD!) film came out. My parents went to see La Dolce Vita. My brother and I had a babysitter that night. All I remember hearing about it the next day was, “I don’t like subtitles.”

I watched Nights of Cabiria in a college film class. Afterward, my teacher explained what Fellini was doing. I listened without being convinced. It’s an incredibly dark film made before Fellini broke from the post-war vision of most Italian directors.

The next Fellini film I heard about was Satyricon. There was a big article about it in Life Magazine that sparked my curiosity. I was in college, and Satyricon was at the Denver art theater, the Flick. A guy from the Colorado School of Mines was trying to date me. He picked me up at the dorm, took me to the theater, and expected me to pay half. THAT wasn’t my idea of a date at all. We didn’t see the movie and I never saw him again.

Eight years later my best friend, her boyfriend and I went to see City of Women at Denver’s Vogue (vague) Theater. It was hilarious, and it beat out all previous films in my experience for quantities of phallus images (to be fair also images of birth canals). As we were leaving the theater, we looked in the window of the nearby Mexican restaurant at all the cocktuses and laughed.

Somewhere in there I had decided that God had abdicated responsibility for guiding my fate and had subcontracted to Federico Fellini. I’d told my friend this one night over dinner. She just laughed at me until one of the songs in City of Women was this disco hit by Gino Soccio that she’d heard ONLY at my house. It convinced her. 😀

Fellini’s semi-autobiographical film about failure, the artistic vision vs. investors, monogamy vs. human nature, the constant pulls on the human heart and the artist’s imagination was my best friend for a long time. Whenever I felt discouraged about teaching, writing, love, life, money, identity, I watched 8 1/2.

In 2004, in the midst of my Felliniesque life, I even gave a paper at a professional conference. The topic was “The Image of the Hero.” My mind went right to Fellini’s corpus. I named the hero of Fellini’s films “Old Half Head,” the nickname given to a statue of Julius Caesar standing in the town square of the movie version of Fellini’s home town, Rimini, in the film Roma. Half of Caesar’s head has broken off. I saw this image over and over and over in Fellini’s films, and over time, realized that it represents what an artist does to himself when he/she gives up, gives in, loses faith. The “Fellini hero”, in many films, “half-heads” “himself.”

The protagonist of La Dolce Vita half-heads himself in the very last scene of the movie. As construction proceeds in a subway in Roma, a Roman villa is discovered and there is a floor mosaic of Fellini with part of his head broken away. In 8 1/2 the hero, Guido, stops short of half-heading himself with a pistol. The half-head is what happens when an artist loses faith. There is also “half-heading” in I Vitelloni, Intervista, and the unfinished Voyage of G. Mastorna.

I haven’t yet lost faith in the journey, even though it often seems dark and desperate. The important thing of man today is to hang on, not to let his head droop but to keep looking up through the tunnel, perhaps even inventing a way of salvation through fantasy or will-power, and especially through faith. For this reason, I think the work of artists is really important today. Fellini on Fellini

P.S. I just learned that yesterday Fellini would have been 100 years old. ❤

Illusion Reveals Reality; Fellini

Warning! This post contains “un-masked” language!

Everyone wears one. I’m about to put on “friendly retiree exuding enthusiasm for Valley Art Co-op Gallery and Gift Shop.” It’s a neutral face, easy enough to wear. I think (anyway I do) we even wear masks when we’re alone.

Interestingly, one of the earliest dreams I had as a kid was of a long hallway with black and white tiles and green walls. I’ve often wondered if this was the hallway in the hospital in which I was born — St. Lukes in Denver.  There were doors on both sides and I ran down the hallway afraid. I tried a door and inside was a face, and the face pulled off a mask, and another, and another, and another. It was a terrifying dream. I woke up screaming and my dad came with a glass of water, took me to the bathroom and tucked me back in. In a sense that is life. There is falsity — malicious and not; chicanery, illusion, pretense everywhere. The biggest question of my life has been, “What’s real, anyway?” I do not recommend asking that one unless you’re ready for a wild ride.

Fellini was fascinated by the masks people wear even in front of themselves. Maybe especially in front of themselves. The day Fellini died — Halloween, 1993 — I was in the midst of personal upheaval, the beginning of the ripping off of years and years of masks. That night — before I learned about the death of my favorite film director and hero — I was struggling aginst the depression that would ultimately throw me down. It was the beginning of a strange and confusing ride.



My plans for the evening were to meet a good friend at a coffee house downtown (Bassam’s in San Diego) and go from there to a Halloween party at Cafe Sevilla. I’d been out the whole afternoon with other friends listening to Tibetan monks do throat singing.

I don’t know if that comes across as surreal to you as it was to me.

I got home and realized I’d given no thought to a costume. I painted bones on a pair of leggings and put on a black turtleneck. I went into the bathroom and went at my face with makeup, painting an honest self-portrait, and went down town.

Here’s the poem I wrote about that night. The language is rather blue so be warned and the poem is pretty bad, still, it’s an homage to Fellini who strove with all his films to tear the masks away in the most loving and compassionate manner. If you’ve enjoyed his films, the poem might make sense.

To Fellini

I had done my makeup;
The top of my face, Marcel Marceau;
The lower regions, Nosferatu.
I had lost track of time,
brushing the pattern of bleached bones
on black leggings when the alarm went off
telling me to go.

My friend, wearing a slouch hat
Black eye, fake blood, looking like
a railroad bum thrown off at a lonely junction in western Oklahoma
waited outside that coffeehouse, owned by a Palestinian
who always wears berets.
“Jesus! You look scary!”
I had nothing but ennui, incomplete visions,
unfocused depression, hair in my eyes.
I felt the space already, in the places where your films inoculated me
intravenous plugs of sodium pentothal and delight.

My friend ordered me coffee, then, as small talk, he said
“Did you hear? Fellini died.”
My numbness and ennui made sense.
The cappuccino came
The tongue depressor stir-stick stood
erect in the cream.

An old, tired woman wearing a flowered, floppy hat came through the door,
Selling roses; red lipstick sliding down the corners of her mouth.
She peered into my face and jumped back.
“Dio!” she cried and crossed herself.

Your most recent, ultimate news dripped from my painted sockets.
Carnivals and sheets,
Music, tits, lusty buttocks clothed in red wool, on a bicycle,
a peacock (mechanical) in the snow, a beautiful illusion;
roller-skating feminists
Wandering rejection and sex un-sexed
thorny phalluses, spinning dildoes, desperate cunts,
libidinous balloons, children tucked in bed,
the great mass jerk-off in the old Ford,
the immortal romantic dance, the spiraling dream,
the little nun, the tall old crazy uncle,
Volpina — all that we really are, unmasked, all we will always be
the illusion and its never-ending battle.
Silhouettes on the sheet, the Japanese video journalists,
“Bere il latte!” My laughing friend, my radiant self
Gino Soccio, punk teenagers, cabbages, Dobermans,
vaginal vacuums sucking-up coins.

At the party I danced, sad-faced, bored,
to throbbing Brazilian music.
You would have won the costume contest,
dressed convincingly as someone dead.

December, 1993

Use By Date

“Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha, oh my god, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha…”

“Are you OK?”

“Oh man, I haven’t laughed so hard at 7:15 am in YEARS.”

“What’s going on?”

“Today’s prompt. ‘Age is just a number, or is it a number you care about or try to ignore?’ Give me a break.”

“It’s just a prompt. It’s not important.”

“Age and I have always had an odd relationship. I was older than my age when I was young, and being hit on by 19 year olds when I was 50. And now? I’m a little old lady in a Clockwork Orange t-shirt.”

“You just LOOK like a little old lady.”

“Yeah, well, I feel like one, too.”

“You don’t think like one. Or act like one.”

“How does a little old lady act, dude? Someone not acting like the stereotype should invalidate the stereotype. That’s the weird thing. The stereotype remains stronger than actual real living experience — I’m sure I’m not the only ‘little old lady’ who doesn’t act like one. Maybe I am a TYPICAL little old lady. In any case age is NOT ‘just a number’. Try dating a 20 year old when you’re 41 and see how THAT goes down with your friends, family, co-workers and random people on the street.”

“Good point. Remember that older couple that saw you two kissing in the gay part of town and remarked, loudly, ‘Well, at least they’re male and female’.”

“That was hilarious. ‘When Prejudices Collide.’ That’s what I named THAT moment in the movie of THEIR lives.”

“That sounds like a Woody Allen movie.”

“Naw. Or yeah, actually. An aspect of age may be ‘just’ a number, though. I mean the stuff that happens inside the mind. Goethe wrote about it — or rather talked about it in his conversations with his assistant/secretary/amanuensis, Johann Eckermann. He explained how certain types of people have a particular ‘Entelechy,’ or potentiality, and experience a ‘renewed puberty’ — and I think he was pretty inclusive in this idea of “puberty” since he fell in love with a 17 year old girl when he was in his late 70s — but mostly, I think, he was thinking about himself and friends of his who consistently discovered and pursued new ideas, new forms of art — in other words never lost the so-called youthful enthusiasm for their own work, however, ‘…youth is youth; and however powerful an Entelechy may prove, it will never become quite master of the corporeal…’”

“So it doesn’t matter what you think of it, then…”

“Actually, many great things are attributed to youth with no real justification in fact. First, that young people are more willing to learn new things. That stereotype goes absolutely counter to my 35 years experience in the classroom. My older students — 30+ — were exponentially more willing to learn new things, were academically and intellectually braver and far, far, far more willing to do the work involved to learn something. Not just students, either. My really good friend — 28 at the time — visited me in China along with my 70 year old mother-in-law. My friend LEFT after 10 days into a 28 day trip because she could not adjust. My mother-in-law not only adjusted but learned enough Chinese to order certain items in a restaurant!”

“Interesting! Flies in the face of the stereotype, all-right. Anything else?”

“Sure. Young people take different risks than older people partly because the brains of younger people are not fully developed and they cannot yet imagine adverse consequences. Of course, we romanticize that whole crash-and-burn beauty, but it’s normally preferable to survive.”

“I read about the frontal lobe business. Is that the only thing you’ve got, though? Willingness to learn and adapt and a preference for survival?”

“No. Youth is supposed to be the best time in a person’s life — we hear that all the time when we’re growing up. But in my case — and the cases of a great many of my students — youth was very, very hard. It involves a lot of gruesome firsts. First failure, first broken heart, first major disappointment in life or self — truly, when a person is older and has survived failures and a broken heart and disappointment and STILL engages in life, that person is wise. It’s what a person does AFTER those sad firsts that is the reflection of the nobility of the human soul. I think about guys like Kerouac — who were blisteringly beautiful at that Roman candle thing, that being young thing — but who were never able to make it past those moments of life and who died addicted and bitter and sad. Ginsberg, who never carried the banner of ‘Youth is Truth!’ managed to live a constantly regenerating life into old age. He did this because his quest was more than the discovery of self and his own personal experience.”

“I had no idea you were a Ginsberg fan!”

“No, not really, but he’s one of the artists I know about who kept moving ahead in his life. Fellini did, Goethe did, Monet, Renoir, Matisse — even Hemingway. He was 54 when he wrote The Old Man and the Sea. No way he could have written that at 24!”

“So age is not just a number?”

“Not at all. It’s stupid even to think it is.”