Hanging Out with a Friend

Yesterday my friend Perla came to Monte Vista (from Alamosa) to see the eye doc who is two blocks away from my house. We spent three hours talking. It was great. She’s an artist and a thinking person so the conversation was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful and even included a little time spent in my frowzy studio where I introduced her to lapis lazuli ultramarine. She is extremely talented and skillful in a wide, wide, wide variety of things, so I was surprised when I could show her something new. She understood totally when I explained that the paint is like a person to me, a person who wants to help me paint. She laughed, but she got it. I told her about my dream of owning lapis ultramarine with lapis from Afghanistan, and that I’d tried to buy some with my Christmas present money, but the upheaval in Afghanistan meant no one had it. “Don’t feel bad,” I said, “but all I could get is lapis ultramarine with lapis from Argentina.” She’s from Buenos Aires.

That’s when we went to my studio so I could show her the paint. She looked at the painting that’s on my easel drying, the painting of the storm — which she loved — and at the one that’s in progress. “That’s hard. I couldn’t do it.”

“I don’t know yet if I can,” I said. I was, at the time, showing her the lapis ultramarine by putting it on the canvas with my finger. She compared it to indigo which she’d seen growing — and which dye she had used — at her recent experience as an artist in residence at a farm in Arkansas, an experience she’d loved and that had given her great stories and much needed renewal. Jeans are died Indigo. It’s a great blue and in medieval times was used to replace lapis ultramarine for walls and manuscripts. Lapis ultramarine which was expensive and hard to get. There was even a FALSE Indigo, or woad Indigo, that came from a nasty plant that made the ground useless for anything else, it depleted the soil so completely and so rapidly. Still, it’s pretty amazing. Here’s a great explanation and visualization of the difference between real Indigo and Woad. I didn’t argue or “clarify.” There’s no way to know what another person sees when they look at a color AND we look for familiar shades and patterns all the time. The chart below is excellent. The top blue is synthetic ultramarine. They are all great blues. The featured photo of my work in progress is not color true because the underlying ground is not white, but this chart is.


The subject of representational vs. abstract art came up and Perla has always let me know what she wants me to do. I accept that — a push from a knowledgeable person can be helpful in defining direction and everyone’s free to reject it. But knowing her and her work, I listen. Yesterday she said, “You’re obsessed with reality.” That’s true. As a person who lives largely in my head, reality is an important question for me. I’m not a subjectivist; I believe there is an objective reality and that is why I love nature so much. It is what it is whether I recognize it or. not. I WANT to. But as we talked I realized that I don’t see a difference in my work between the stuff I do that’s representational and that which isn’t completely representational. Wanting a tree to look like a tree isn’t, to me, a bad goal because a living thing is only static until you start engaging with it. I quickly find there is more to it than what I recognize as a tree. I realized that I don’t think most of my “realistic” paintings are realistic.

We discussed another artist’s paintings — which are really beautiful nature paintings — and she said, “I don’t like them. Every little thing,” and she made as if she were painting with a tiny brush on a wall. I think his work is lovely, but not exactly what I would paint (obviously). I proclaimed my theory of art, that nothing in nature is what we see, but the life behind what we see. I didn’t add the rest of the idea which is that the life within everything inscrutable and answers to its own demands. The only response I have to THAT is gratitude to nature for letting me in on a little something from time to time.

But the point — to which we both agree — is that it’s all very personal, meaning to the person looking at the work, maybe buying it.

And, of course, we talked about what probably every two artists have spoken about together since the beginning of time. Which is why are we doing this? After looking at my paintings, she became a little frustrated with her work which is felted clothing. I listened while she worked that all out — she makes money from her work and I, obviously, don’t make money from mine. It isn’t that I don’t want to, it’s that no one sees it. So far in my life, when people see it, they buy it. We talked about marketing and promotion — she’s a good saleswoman and goes to shows and has her work in stores. But THAT? In any case if I want to sell at the Crane Festival next year (which I do) she’ll help me by loaning me panels so I can hang my work. Behind the conversation was the immense expense in even getting work out where people can see it and buy it.

It was great conversation, inspiring and fun. Then “What will you do if Trump is elected president again?”

“Perla, remember? We already have a plan. We’re going to Argentina.”

“That’s right Patagonia. Good. Good.” It was a wonderful, wonderful day. And THEN?

Wu Song appeared in the garden and this morning? Two more — Lao She and Pearl Buck. Three have emerged in the house this morning, as well. Looks like I’ll have beans after all. Thank you mysterious forces of the universe that combine a seed, dirt, water and light. They will be growing among several sunflowers who will help hold them up, attract bees and add general amazingness to the garden.

Advice and Dissent

I have a friend who asks for advice then argues over it. I’d like to give him advice about THAT, but…

Still, it made me think about advice and criticism. When it comes to advice — especially unsolicited advice — I guess I argue, too. Unsolicited advice seems to inspire the knee-jerk “Yes but…” Solicited advice? I hope I accept it with more grace. In that case I believe the right response is, “Thanks. You’ve given me something to think about,” or something along those lines.

The worst advice is when you’re doing something the way you want and someone jumps in to straighten you out. I know that makes my blood pressure rise. I have to hold myself back to remember they are not the boss of me; they’re trying to help.

Criticism is a species of advice — thinking about my friend yesterday I realized that. If he asks what I think about something, and I think differently than he does, he thinks (feels like) I’m criticizing him, and not criticism in the good sense — analysis and a studied opinion — but fault-finding. Sigh…

When I destroyed the future of the best novel I will ever write by NOT finding an editor for it early on (I didn’t know what an editor did, frankly, or how to find one) I learned a major lesson. The agent who rejected my book with the note, “Great story, but you need an editor” said the most useful thing to me maybe anyone ever has. I have a great editor now. She said something to me that made me feel really good. She said, “You know how to take criticism.”

Huh? I didn’t know that. We kind of talked about it and it seems that when she offers an opinion or advice to someone who’s paying her for that very thing, some of her clients get defensive and angry. I just said, “I don’t have to do what you tell me. And, when a suggestion you’re giving me looks like you don’t understand what I meant, that burden is on me to be more clear.” I understood she was trying to help me tell MY story. For a few hundred bucks I had a captive, interested, intelligent, supportive critic who was authentically interested in helping me tell MY story.

My attitude toward her criticism resulted from nearly 40 years of teaching other people how to write. That’s not intrinsic to me or my personality. I’m definitely a “I want to do this my way” kind of person by nature. Now, because of having been a writing teacher for such a long time, I get it. An editor is not an authority, but it probably feels like one to many of the people whose work they’re editing. We’ve all had so many teachers in our lives and they have all held red pens. It actually happened in one of my classes that a student handed me a purple pen with which to grade my papers. I don’t think I ever went back to red even though — for me — red, blue, green, purple it was all the same. For some of my students, that red pen was a sword slashing at the skin of effort and ideas, replacing their ideas with mine. Blinded by various things — the fact they hate English, they’d had mean teachers, pressures at home, they didn’t want to write the paper, the project was way difficult, etc. — they couldn’t wrap their minds around what the red ink really was. It seemed that — for many — a different color of ink sent a different signal.

I think the same might be said of advising my friend. My new strategy? “Cool. Try it and see how it works.” What the heck do I know anyway? 😉

OH Well…

Today’s word is acceptance. That’s been a big part of my thoughts for a the past — what — 20 years? Last night I learned that my little family up the alley is moving to Montana. We’ve been a out of contact for the last couple of months for various reasons — theirs and mine.

I’m sad about it. I love that little family a lot and I think we’ve added a lot of joy to each others lives over the past three years. For sure they’ve been a treasure in my life. They “get” me, and I think I “get” them. But, I can’t make it possible for them stay, so we’ll be saying goodbye in a little bit. I have things for them to take with them that I have to organize.

That’s the whole thing. That phrase, “It is what it is” is annoying, but it’s still true. And, as much as I HATE that Kansas song, “Dust in the Wind,” it’s true that nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky.

Big Adventures in the Big Empty

Yesterday on the spur of the moment — as much as that is possible for 3 people living in different households — the ladies and I went out to see the cranes. The wind was blowing like a MOFO (but only in one direction). There are more cranes than I remember ever seeing. I felt a little like a tour guide since I’m out there a lot. Bear came along, of course. 🙂

After our walk we took a drive through the countryside. I wanted to show them what the Refuge people have done to adapt the Refuge to the Covid/post Covid way of seeing cranes. We went to see the two beautiful large parking lots at opposite ends of this immense stretch of Big Empty where people can park their cars and listen to a naturalist talk about the cranes. This is great, but… It’s very hard to talk over the March winds.

Once upon a time, school buses picked up people at the rodeo/fair grounds/building of all public purposes and took people out to see the birds. A naturalist spoke on the bus, and at various stops, everyone piled out at stopping points to see what there was to see. I personally prefer that, but Covid changed the way we do many things. What’s lost? Seriously, 50 people on a school bus jazzed about seeing cranes, prisoners for 15 minutes (in each direction) of an educated person giving good information about the birds, the ecosystem, the San Luis Valley and who might get a great idea about where to see something else. A word in the bus driver’s ear, and off that bus goes. It’s Miss Frizzle. It’s the Magic School Bus. Once the driver (one of the San Luis Valley’s extremely rare Black people) sang and he was amazing.

One of the places where we stopped yesterday is a pull out on the main road which was once a kind of “Why are we stopping here?” kind of place. But it has been “gussied” up and, in the words of Elizabeth, “isn’t this nice what they’ve done?” there are two beautiful new informative signs, a bench where people can sit to watch the cranes and a telescope, thoughtfully placed at kid-height which, since I’m as tall as your average 12 year old, is great. Because I didn’t take my camera out there, just my phone, I tried to use the telescope as a telephoto lens. It was kinda sorta effective. I would need to practice lining up the lenses.

I love the way people love the cranes. Seriously, it’s possible to get so down on humanity but then? A car barreling on the dirt road, too fast. My friends and I stop walking, and with exaggerated attention, look at a group of cranes the driver in the car wouldn’t have seen at that speed. The car slows and stops. The driver gets out. Bear greets her. The woman is a dog person and Bear recognizes that immediately. We chat and then hurry to catch up with our friends. The woman gets closer to the cranes than she will at any other place. Crane tourists are just not quite like the other kids.

I’m really sorry, Rag Tag Daily Prompt, but I can’t work “brindle” into this, though once upon a time I had a little brindle pit bull who climbed rocks with me. ❤

Wonderful Tea Party

It isn’t much in the grand scheme — or even in the normal scheme — but that we could meet in my actual house, drink from my actual coffee cups, and eat from my dishes? Not bring our own tea and our own cookies and sit out in the dust and cold? This is something that hasn’t happened since sometime in 2019. It was very lovely and simple and real and normal.

Friendships have been one of the boons of my post-retirement life. When you work ALL THE TIME (writing teacher with 7 classes), planning and teaching classes, grading infinite numbers of papers, and all your social energy is drained by the classroom, you don’t make friends. I had some in spite of all that, but sweet, simple socializing was very rare especially in the last few years of my career, during and after the recession.

I moved here 7 years ago without knowing anyone, but, to my great good fortune, two really great women live within a hundred yards of me. I made the snowball cookies my Swedish grandma always made. Elizabeth made Saffron buns, Karen made Spritz cookies. I made coffee in the French press. We talked about nothing in particular for an hour and a half. It was great.

I wonder if any of us will take this kind of thing for granted ever again. I hope I don’t.

Nothing is Ordinary

There’s nothing ordinary about life. If you think of the vast number of sperm and eggs who never ever ever ever ever approach the dim possibility of life, that right there indicates that “Wow! Here we are!! HFS!!!” as Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Summer Day,” asks, “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?” It’s all extraordinary, and I feel it all the time — most of the time, OK, if you want to split hairs.

My friend Lois is here and our conversation (poor Lois, she’s in a house with a woman who has hardly spoken to anyone in 2 years… Well, somewhat of an exaggeration, but…) touched on that very thing. She has had some incredible luck in the horse riding dimension of her life — and that’s her passion. She has the opportunity to ride horses as a favor to an older couple who love horses, have several, and have a beautiful small horse ranch. Her horse story is beautiful and moving. Most of the time she rides in the same landscape which is a beautiful landscape between Colorado Springs and Denver. “It’s always the same road,” she said.

“It’s never the same road,” I said. My mantra, I guess.

“No, and I take the same photos over and over. I see that in my Facebook memories. But then, the Refuge,” referring to me.

“Yeah.” I laughed we’d just gotten back from there, as it happens. “It’s never the same, and I take the same photo over and over, too.”

Lois noticed something yesterday I hadn’t noticed before. Little mammals swimming in a pond — river otters? What? I messaged the refuges to ask, but a little research last night narrowed them down to mink or river otters. River otters are more rare, so, for the moment, my money is on mink.

Yesterday Lois took the “same” photo at the Refuge. ❤ This is the pond where we saw the little mammals.


That’s what I learned in California when I had a great place to hike — nearby — and not much time. Every day I took one or the other of a handful of trails depending on the time I had to hike. The first year and a half I hiked there I really DID hike only ONE trail. That’s when I learned how fabulously extraordinary the “ordinary” — or familiar (isn’t that what we consider ordinary?) — might be. It’s only when our eyes are not distracted by mere novelty that we start to see something.

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver

Walk with a Friend

Lucky for Bear, she can’t read the weather forecast or she would be feeling all the emotions of disappointment, betrayal, longing. Snow was predicted at a VERY high percentage of probability. I fully expected and/or hoped to wake up to a tiny sift of snow on the ground. Yesterday I found Bear napping in her “snow” spot in the yard, the spot against the fence which is the last to see the snow and ice vanish in spring. As things turned out, it didn’t snow, and she’s just lying here on the floor per usual chewing on a rawhide pencil. It’s drizzly and dark out there, though, so there might be some slight, very slight, hope of snow in spite of what the coin tossers at NOAA have to say. Seriously, I think they make this stuff up. I get more accurate information from the sky.

This is what the weather gamblers have in the forecast for today…


Yesterday, on the spur of the moment, we picked up our friend Elizabeth and headed out for a walk in a windy and beautiful Refuge. Bear likes it when another human is along. She feels less pressure to take care of me (the other human can have that job). Bear smelled all kinds of great things and even found a scent worth rolling in. Fortunately there was nothing (excrement, corpse, etc.) but a scent. The wind blew, but not terribly, the sky was perfectly clear, the mountains seemed near, the conversation was peerless. Bear walked close enough to Elizabeth so Elizabeth could rest her hand on Bear’s back, reminding me that friendship is a very precious thing.

The featured photo is of the sun hitting a small grove of cottonwoods. I took it day-before-yesterday when I was out with Teddy. Yesterday’s clear and open sky was more like this from a year ago today.

Early Morning

For the last couple of months I’ve been attempting to help a friend who has been in dark night of the soul for a long time. I attempted even when I knew that, in a way, no one ever helped anyone except, maybe, by holding on. People are complicated creatures. The crisis reached a turning point (funny how that always happens) and he ended up having to contend with himself. The thing is, he is one of the luckiest people on the planet and he didn’t have to contend for long. Just when he let go of an opportunity (which he was right to do), the very opportunity he wanted fell into his lap. He’s a relentlessly fortunate person, so much so that often he can’t even see it.

My work here is done. Very very very done. Dumb as I feel for ever attempting, I also think humanity would be a lot less human if people didn’t try.

But I’m worn out. I woke up this morning at 4 and couldn’t go back to sleep which, for me, is unusual. I just wanted a cup of coffee. I didn’t want anything else from life at that point. I tried going back to sleep, but no luck. It was like a big cup of hot coffee was drifting along, just out of reach. So here I am, a couple hours earlier than usual, drinking the coffee (yum), pondering whether it would be OK to have another one, but, usually the second one isn’t as good as the first and just leaves me kind of nervous and weird.

It looks like the sun is about to rise.


In other news, Bear and I headed out for a saunter late yesterday morning. It was lovely.

It Doesn’t Always Work Out

Many years ago my friend Jenny (RIP) was having all kinds of personal problems. She ate lunch every day at a Chinese restaurant near our offices at San Diego State, not so much because of the food, but because of the fortune cookies. The longer I knew Jenny, the more aware I became that personal problems were a ubiquitous aspect of her life (mine too, yours, too, possibly).

One year I made her a “painting” collage thing of dozens of photo copied fortune cookies floating in a bright, blue sky. Out of each one came a fortune — all of them bromides. We’d decided at that point that these sayings — almost nonsense in some cases — were useful and often true. There was, “It’ll all work out.” “Tomorrow is another day.” “Put a good face on it.” “In the fullness of time.” “One day at a time.” “Time will tell.” “There’s no way to know.” “Wait and see.” “It was meant to be.” “The course of true love never ran smooth.” (We have Shakespeare to thank for a lot of these.) A bunch more. Jenny put the picture on a wall between her kitchen and dining area, by the back door and the entrance to her studio. The point of the “art” was to cheer her up. Maybe it worked.

I’ve noticed that these phrases come out of my mouth when a friend is sharing his/her problems with me, telling me what’s on their mind. I understand now that the important part for them is not my stellar, sagacious advice or perceptive insight, it’s “It’ll work out.” or “I’m so sorry. Time will tell, I guess.” In most situations I don’t want to GIVE my opinion beyond a general observation such as, “That sucks.” The exception? If I have something concrete to offer like, “It’s OK. I’ll loan you my can opener.”

Going further? Usually ill-advised. My friend Jenny pushed me beyond the bromides after I moved away from California and we could no longer hang out. Her “boy”friend (a man of 80) was an abusive shit — to her and to her friends. Her daughters despised him. BUT Jenny felt she needed him (she was physically disabled to some extent) and couldn’t break away. The reality was that she loved him. Our relationship shifted to a phone relationship when I moved to Colorado. I became the “sob sister.”

I loved Jenny like a sister. She was my longest-time friend and when I finally had to say, “I can’t listen to this any more, Jenny. If that’s all you call to talk about, don’t call me any more,” it was very very hard. The experience of moving to a new town where I knew no one and leaving a career of 35+ years was pretty intense and scary for me, but my life never entered our conversations. Jenny didn’t understand how harrowing it was to hear one recitation after another of this man’s abuses from a 1000+ miles away.

Finally I asked her, “Jen, do you love X?”

“I do,” she said. “You don’t seem to understand that.”

I did understand that. I’ve “loved” abusive men myself. It’s something I still find beyond description and not exactly love. But I understood that until she loved herself more than she “loved” X I was going to endure these nightmare phone calls from a friend I couldn’t help.

“OK, Jen. Don’t call me as long as X is in your life and hurting you. I’m too far away to do anything to help you. I love you.” Click.

She wrote me a very angry letter and said she’d forgive me under certain conditions. I tossed it and cried. Sometimes these situations go beyond, “It’ll all work out.” It doesn’t always work out.

Still, these apparently facile and trite attempts at consolation and hope are often useful and true. The time remedy, especially… My injured shoulder is starting to feel normal again, and last night I had a real night’s sleep, the first one is more than four weeks. I can almost use my shoulder normally. All of those bromides applied to this situation 100%.

On the Town

Yesterday my friend/neighbors and I went “out on the town” — the first time since the pandemic hit. The town, of course, is the scenic county seat of Rio Grande County, Colorado, Del Norte. Del Norte is a typical one-main street western town, that street lined with restaurants and other small businesses that change frequently because it’s hard to “make a go of it” down here when the season of actual human beings is already short and, last year, VERY short, like didn’t happen.

A restaurant where we like to have lunch was very smart last year and when the pandemic hit, they almost immediately got a food truck and used it to promote their FUTURE business by setting up in all the local towns during the week. They didn’t fight the mask mandate, they just took the challenge. We wandered around on the very hot street (south side, of course) as the sun exsiccated every drop of moisture from our skin. The temperature wasn’t crazy hot — only 85 F (31 c) or something — but at 8000 feet (2438 m) it’s almost like the sun is RIGHT ON TOP of you.

We investigated new businesses and some old businesses. I was really happy to discover a small, natural foods grocery store. I don’t know, but they might get my grocery business, though they might be more expensive than City Market (Kroger). Across the street (in the SHADE!!!) is a small new bakery where we stopped for dessert.

It was really nice to hang out again. I’m often grateful for randomness of fate that landed me in a little house where I would find neighbors who became friends.

Meanwhile, I’m off to Colorado Springs (a city?) tomorrow to collect my paintings and visit friends.