“Did you trace that, MAK?”

“No, Dad. I drew it myself.”

“Tracing is stealing someone else’s drawing.”

“I didn’t trace it.”

“That’s very good. Can you draw that, MAK? It’s not easy.”

“I can draw it.” I sat down on the backyard sidewalk with my paper, a magazine (so I had a smooth surface), and my colored pencils. I drew my first iris.

They were all planted outside the back fence — now I know why. My two favorite plants — lilacs and iris — are land devouring monsters. Spring is as much about stopping their ravenous spread as it is about starting a garden.

My neighbor, K, is giving me some plants later today from what she calls her “jungle.” After my walk with Dusty and Bear last evening, and a brief chat with K, I thought, “I’m getting plants from her, I’ve gotten plants from E (my other neighbor). Our gardens are going to have all the same plants.”

Then it hit me how cool that is, and I saw a sweet quiet story in it.

Almost Over… 

Four days of fog, heavy wind, cold rain and what happens to people on what was to have been their dream vacation of riding horses, hiking, driving through splendid vistas?

Add to this the lack of a proper bed, aching, brutalized joints and a ridiculous load of laundry and you have, “I wonder what the suicide rate is in Iceland.”

the lounge section of a sofa made long enough by the addition of sofa pillows and an arm chair — all the real beds were up stairs from hell that could only climg on all fours.

stairs from hell

Lois hit the wall yesterday; I hit it the day before when I couldn’t ride horses and had to go “home” in the sodden grey day. I had resources, but I still felt lousy because my body isn’t able to do everything I wish it could any more.

And it can’t be over soon enough.

Today the sky lifted some and as we drove from Hellnar to Rekjavik blue skies emerged, the wind died down some and it was altogether more pleasant. We went to Thingvellier — the site of Iceland’s government from Viking days. I learned of it from reading Njal’s Saga and it has fascinated me for more than fifteen years. It is in the geographical center of Iceland — which the Vikings knew — and it is, coincidentally an enormous rift along a fault line where the North American and European continents are pulling away from each other.


The Thingveller photo by Lois Maxwell

Travel is a great teacher, both of new lessons and reminders of those we have forgotten.

 Alp Horns

My first visit to Zurich was in 1994 and I did not like the city at all. 21 years later, after many subsequent visits, the city feels like an old friend, even its darker history feels like a poorly resolved and largely forgotten fight between siblings. Just a few years ago, Zurich apologized to the Anabaptists (Mennonites) and even put a plaques beside the Limmar where Felix Manz was executed by “baptism” (drowning) back in the 16th century.

Yesterday we had fewer problems navigating. I drove us over the Uetliberg into the city, parked our car and led Lois through Zurich’s ancient and labyrinthine streets. We spent some time in the Grossmunster, and Lois climbed up the tower. It was a lovely day, a Zurich postcard. There were people everywhere enjoying the sunshine, relaxing at outdoor cafes, kids playing.  

At 5:30 we we to meet a friend of mine, Rainer, and his girlfriend, Kirsten, for dinner. They are both historians, one working in the state archives and the other in the city archives. 

I first met Rainer in 2004 when I was writing Martin of Gfenn. I needed help with the historical accuracy of the story and I found him in a Google search — he had published a paper about Gfenn! When we met that first time, he brought along a map of medieval Zurich. Last night when we met he brought me two more maps — on that is of Canton Zurich (including the tiny village of Obfelden where I’m staying now) and the other showing the Zurich war. They are wonderful!!

Dinner was good, conversation even better, and then, more or less out of nowhere, or so it seemed, four men were standing in the middle of the street playing Alp horns. “For you,” Kirsten said to Lois. I had the same thought. 

I also made more attempts at speaking German and did well enough that Rainer said he didn’t even notice. 

Because the drive home involved a winding mountain road and more navigating, we had to leave while there was still daylight, so we all walked back to our parking structure, stopping on the way outside Cabaret Voltaire for a photo evoking photos we took eleven years ago.

I think most of the time people share elements of their individual experiences. But Rainer and I, eleven years ago actually shared an experience. Meeting last evening we picked up our conversation, returning to those moments while telling our stories of our lives through the intervening decade, here at the “Navel of the World.”

Not Until I’m Forced….

Daily Prompt Break the Silence When was the last time you really wanted (or needed) to say something, but kept quiet? Write a post about what you should’ve said.

My mom taught me a lot and one of the things she taught me was that I can yammer all day and it won’t change anything. In fact, later down the road, my own words could be used against me.

My theory — that if I express myself clearly and the other person really listens, they will understand and come around to my way of thinking — is bogus. No they won’t. They’re listening with their own words echoing in THEIR ears (as mine echoed in my own?). A true give-and-take conversation is rare.

Many “deep” conversations with wouldbe boyfriends taught me that, too. You know, “We need to talk,” the talks NOT leading to breaking up (those came, too).

I’ve also experienced that when people do things to me I don’t like, my objecting probably won’t matter; if they didn’t want to do what they’re doing, they wouldn’t BE doing it.

Recently I was forced to end a friendship. I would have avoided it. My (now former) friend insisted on talking it over. Her big thing is “communication.” Communication (for her) does NOT involve listening to me. It’s been months, and I still do not think she understands, “I don’t want any more contact with you. I don’t like you any more” — words I would far rather have kept to myself, by the way. It doesn’t always matter what you say to someone. More important is what they hear.

This all began when I attempted to tell her honestly what I felt I had to say — “You’re physically in very bad shape. You need help at home. Your boyfriend is not a trained carer and it’s not fair to him or you for you to use him in that way.”

I would have left it there and kept silent over the fact that her boyfriend is mean and abusive (boyfriend – 80 years old), but she pushed me. Since I’ve been closely connected with her for thirty years and with them as a couple for 20, I KNOW their situation. Finally, after hearing yet another recitation of the boyfriend’s verbally abusive behavior, I said, “Do you love him?”
“Of course I love him.”
“OK, then, well, I have to get dinner,” I said, and got off the phone.

Rationality has NO place in that conversation. It was the end. She loves him. He mistreats her. I have no place or interest in the conversation.

I suddenly saw why, over the years, I’d heard so many conversations complaining about why this or that friend or family member no longer responded to her phone calls, emails, etc. They were just not as dim or tolerant as I. I also knew that she would not let go (she hasn’t) because she can’t lose. I knew I was in for some residual unpleasantness.

Since then she’s gotten real care; she’s written me to tell me. In her letters she’s also told me what I need to do if I want her friendship back. She’s called my other friends purportedly to learn if I’m all right because if I were all right, I’d want to listen to hours of wailing on the phone, right? All of this is bait to get me to contact her if only to tell her to stop it. I don’t like being manipulated. She has turned my feelings from pity to active dislike.

And so yeah. If things reach a point between me and another person where THIS conversation is necessary it is also the moment when I am prepared to give up the friendship. I hope not to, but…

A Cure for Self-Inflicted Misery

Daily Prompt Placebo Effect If you could create a painless, inexpensive cure for a single ailment, what would you cure and why?

Self-inflicted misery is one of the most prevalent ailments. I’d create a cure for that. A cure already exists, but it’s not painless and is not always inexpensive. My cure would allow patients to see things as they really are and to find the power to make choices that would allow them to escape the misery.

Why do I believe this is important? Life brings with it enough misery, miseries over which we have no control and with which we must contend. Adding self-inflicted misery to the misery already existent in life is just, uh, well, masochistic?

Many people who suffer from self-inflicted misery have no idea that they have created their misery culture themselves and are making it worse by identifying with their own suffering. It’s very difficult for these patients to see anything else, another life, other possibilities. They often use friends and loved ones for moments of pain relief and catharsis before they turn around and crawl back to the hell-hole they’re digging for themselves. Sooner or later, friends and loved ones give up, seeing there’s not going to be any improvement and that the patient seems to LIKE hurting themselves.

For example — a young woman is in an emotionally abusive relationship with a boyfriend she’s been with for a decade. She thinks, “Wow, every evening, when he’s about to come home, I get terrible anxiety. What do I do wrong? How can I fix it so he doesn’t get upset with me? I know he loves me and he always calms down after he smokes a bowl. I’ll just do better. Then it will be OK.”

If she had my remedy, she’d think, “Wow, every evening, when he’s about to come home, I get terrible anxiety. Why? OH it’s because he goes apeshit when he gets here, says mean and hurtful things, yells at me, and then he smokes a bowl and calms down. That’s a crappy way to live. He’s either mean or wasted. This is not a relationship. I don’t want to be in this situation any more.”

My cure would make the patient see that — for whatever reason (which doesn’t actually matter) — the guy is an asshole to her. My cure would help her realize that she can find a life without him. My cure would give everyone suffering from  self-inflicted misery the ability to understand that the past is the past, and their life is in the future.

It would cure the incorrigible drunk; instead of thinking, “Oh man, I gotta’ get a drink. I feel awful,” the drunk would think, “Whoa, this shit is killing me. No wonder I feel awful.” The junkie, the meth head and other substance abusers would experience similar epiphanies.

My remedy would be not only a cure but a diagnostic tool. It could be administered to a miserable person and if they suddenly began to seen objective reality as it is, and begin preparing to take action, it would be clear that their ailment is self-inflicted misery.

My cure would save millions of dollars. It would repair broken families. It would empower pain addicts to transcend their solipsistic preoccupations by showing them that suffering is an absurd way for them to define themselves and is no more real than joy, enthusiasm, happiness, peace, generosity or kindness.

“Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Abraham Lincoln.

P.S. WordPress, a placebo is not a cure. It’s the illusion of a cure. I hope you know that, but just in case…


My dog Lily is in her 16th year of life and I know that her days are numbered. Our days together are numbered. She’s weak in her hips. Sometimes she’s confused about where she is. This is compounded because she’s blind and deaf. Sometimes she falls and I have to help her up. She still likes her breakfast and dinner. She’s still happy when I find her and pet her. She likes to do yoga with me (I have to do yoga in my kitchen). She’s not in much pain (good meds) but she gets frustrated when she can’t get up from her bed. Normally all I have to do to make her fine is to stand beside her in those moments; then she gets up. I don’t know exactly what’s going on in her mind, but somehow my being near makes it better.

I’ve had old dogs before. I’ve had to help many of them find their way into the next world where, I hope to God they’re all waiting for me. I imagine this as a forest — a Swiss forest — with a little stone house and all my dogs. That’s Heaven.

I have much less equanimity about Lily’s approaching “transition” than I have had about any of my other dogs I’ve had to put to sleep. I’ve been trying to figure that out so that when the moment comes I’m up to the job. Today, I figured it out.

Lily knew me “when.” We hiked miles and miles together; ran on snowy trails and climbed mountains. When she came to live with me, my arthritis had not manifested symptoms. The first day I had Lily, she and Jasmine, whom I adopted with Lily, and I took a hike in the mountains. It was the dogs’ first mountain hike and they loved it.

Jasmine and Lily soon after they came to live with me. Lily was 3; Jasmine was 8

Jasmine and Lily soon after they came to live with me. Lily was 3; Jasmine was 8

Over the few years we could do this we tracked deer, chased ground squirrels, drank from a well, looked out at the Salton Sea and watched the sun set on the Pacific — all standing in one spot on a wonderful wild trail in the Lagunas that led to Hays Peak. Lily and I once tried a short cut and learned a lot about how mean a chaparral hillside can be — but we had fun.

Lily is the last “person” in my life who knew me when I was “real.” That’s what I thought today. Lily isn’t “real” any more, either. It’s been a while. I have photos of the last “real” hike of her life — and it was my last hike, too, in a way. A former student, friend, from Germany came to visit and he and I took Cody and Lily up Garnet Peak. It was very hard for me to climb down (up was fine) that mountain and when we all got home, I saw how terribly sore Lily was. That was it.

Lily Garnet Peak-1

Lily on Garnet Peak

Lily still loves snow, she just loves it more slowly.

Lily enjoying the snowstorm, 2/22/2015

Lily enjoying the snowstorm, ten years after, 2/22/2015

I realized today that the sadness, for me, won’t only be the loss of Lily, though that will be terrible, it will also be that she is the last link to my own lost joys.

All I can do is have faith that when the moment comes it will be all right as it has been for my other dogs. My job now is to make some peace with my future and develop a new sense of what it means to me to “be real” for myself, but also so that Lily’s last moments in my arms will be peaceful with no sad telepathic messages coming to her from me to disturb her passing.


Personal Gallery

Daily Prompt Wall to Wall What do you display on the walls of your home — photos, posters, artwork, nothing? How do you choose what to display? What mood are you trying to create?

“Dude, I had hoped for something better. I’m proofreading the Schneebelis and it’s tedious and I was hoping for something cool to write.”

“Sorry, Lamont. So what is on your walls, other than you climbing them?”

“This little painting of a Honeycrisp apple hangs in my kitchen.”


“I like that one, Lamont. I think you should paint more apples.”

“I’m down with that, Dude. Painting apples is really fun and not that easy. The painting below, which I’ve come to realize is not only a self portrait but was instructions to me from me telling me what to do with my life, hangs in the living room. It was in a juried show in San Diego; didn’t win, but that was cool anyway.”

“When did you paint that one, Lamont?”

“I think it was 2013.”


The World is Out There


“Giotto’s painting of the Angel Gabriel, The Annunciation, hangs in my bedroom because I love it and one always needs a guardian angel in their room at night. I also got to see this in Padua in the Scrovegni Chapel.”

giotto-di-bondone-the-angel-gabriel“Yeah, I like that one and it’s good in juxtaposition with the one over your bed.”

“I agree. Below is my favorite painting of all those I’ve done so far. It hangs over my bed. It is Danae. I don’t know if you can see the metallic gold paint in the photo. It’s based on a moment in Munich when I was so tired from flying and looking around that I crashed in my little hotel room before I’d even gotten completely ready for bed. ”


Danae in Munich


“There’s other stuff around here. Aren’t you going to write about it?”

“Dude, yeah. Give me a minute. There is a menu — in German and English — from a German ship, featuring Goethe’s picture, hangs on the wall by my door. It’s dated 1932, 100th anniversary of Goethe’s death. A small reproduction of a Monet hangs by a bookshelf. I like the picture, but the main reason it’s there is because it hung on the wall in the living room of dear friends. It connects me to them and to some good times we all spent together 20 years ago.”


“Did I know you then, Lamont?”

“Of course, Dude. You’ve always known me. Over my sofa is the family talisman, about which I’ve already written, a painting by Leroy Greene, the Montana artist my grandfather loved. All of us grandchildren inherited a painting. Otherwise, there are some paintings and an engraving done by friends, but as they are not my work, I don’t want to overstep my rights in putting them up here on my blog. I’m really looking forward to getting to a stopping point with the Schneebelis so I can paint, but that doesn’t seem like it will happen any time soon. As for what “effect” I’m trying to create? My walls are not crowded with artwork because I like space and light and I want my work — and the work of my friends — not to have to compete for attention.”

“What about the picture on top here?”

“Oh, a little watercolor of the trains in South Fork in a September snow. I did that soon after I moved here.”

“Do you like it? I see you haven’t framed it.”

“It’s OK. Lots of other people like it so when I get my act together to approach a gallery, I might submit it. We’ll see. Anyway, here’s a link to my online gallery.”

I Don’t Even Want to Know

In these days of extreme polarization of opinions (often poorly informed opinions) and the rampant belief that everyone has a “right” to their opinion, I usually don’t even want to KNOW what my friends think about controversial topics. Religion and politics are often matters of personal belief which can’t be argued since belief exists outside of rationality and cannot be proven or disproven regardless what someone brings to bear (“Can’t you see the beauty of nature all around you? That’s proof there’s a God!” or “Can’t you see the beauty of nature all around you? That’s proof that the universe is benign” or “Can’t you see the beauty of nature all around you? That proves that Satan is attempting to snare our hearts by tempting us away from prayer.”)

True beliefs can be at odds with spoken words. They appear in actions and I build friendships on the actions of my friends more than on their words. (I hope for the same for others; I know I am also, as a human being, a living, breathing, walking contradiction.) So…I guess my position with everyone I care about is “I agree to disagree with you.” And, unless invited, I don’t share my beliefs with others. Taking this position, however, is a good way to piss people off, so I try to be quiet about that as well. I personally like facts and I like science and I am comfortable with the statement, “I don’t know.” I am even able to love the idea of God without being sure there is one.

Ticket to Paris

Daily Prompt Sparkling or Still What’s your idea of a perfect day off: one during which you can quietly relax, doing nothing, or one with one fun activity lined up after the other? Tell us how you’d spend your time.

“This is no good. If I sleep in on Saturdays, I miss the day. From now on, not happening, I don’t care what I do on Friday night. Nope. ”

She shoved aside her covers and got up, shaking off a mild hangover and her persistently aching heart. February, and cold, but the sun was shining. 9:30. She went out to her kitchen and poured a glass of grapefruit juice and made a Carnation Instant Breakfast in her blender.

By eleven o’clock she was on her way downtown to her office. Not to work, but because of the typewriter. An IBM Selectric II with an erase feature. In every way it was a lot easier to work with than the Smith Corona portable her mom had given her for high school graduation. She liked her job, anyway, working in the development office for a large university’s college of law. Besides, working on her thesis at the office was a sure way not to be interrupted. Her friends would call her at home and there were no message machines, no cell phones, so she would not know. She liked the idea that by her not being home, if a friend did call her, it would seem that she had an interesting life.

She was so restless. There was a whole big world out there — she knew it — some of the people with whom she worked had been there. She had friends out there, too. But she wasn’t out there. She was stuck in a job that barely paid her bills writing a thesis that seemed never to be finished. Yeah, she wanted it to be as good as it could possibly be. What revision was this? Ten or something. It was due in two months if she wanted her MA this year. She did. She wanted out. They wanted her out.

She looked at the two shoe boxes of alphabetized and annotated references, all handwritten on index cards, that made up the bibliography. No one had ever indexed this source before. “Your bibliography alone is worth the MA,” her adviser said. “You should publish it.” She’d already figured that she’d never be able to type that with any accuracy. She’d hired a professional to do it. Pricey. $140. At least that was done and she had the cards back. A twenty page bibliography. “Too bad this isn’t a dissertation,” her adviser said.

“Should I apply for the PhD program?”

“Why? You want to teach English?”

“Well, yeah, I like teaching English.”

“No. You don’t have to teach English. You can do other things. You should write.”

Years later she would wonder about that conversation. Was he trying to let her down slowly? To tell her in a kind way that she wouldn’t get into the PhD Program? (She wouldn’t have gotten in. She’d been more or less ejected from the MA program, not given that precious third year teaching assistantship with its classes to teach and its monthly stipend.) What was he saying? But at the time she took his comment at face value, thinking, “He might not like teaching any more, but I love it.” Nonetheless, she was, even then, trying her hand at freelance writing.

The fun part of the thesis had been the research. The hardest part was typing without errors. The most important part in the long term was that it taught her to type fast, but learning how to do research at that level added a great deal to her life down the road when she found herself writing historical fiction.

The sun came in the window behind her, giving the lie to the chill-struck and glittering February afternoon. She edited. She typed. The afternoon wore on. Around five, there was a knock at the door. She got up and there was her best friend, a law student, “You wanna’ get dinner?”

“Absolutely. What are you doing here?”

“Oh, bar exam review and I’ve been working on that brochure. Thesis?”


“Are you about finished?”

“You mean finished-finished or for now?”

“Finished finished.”

“I hope so. I see Dr. Richardson next Saturday. I need a whole draft by then.”

“How many drafts is this?”

“Ten? You want to go now? I still need a few to finish up this part. Just a couple of minutes. You can wait?” She noticed her friend was already wearing her parka, hat and mittens.

21010-2“No problem. I’ll go check out the executive toys in your boss’ office. I never knew anyone really BOUGHT those things.”

“I know, right? Check out the Executive Sandbox. I had a lot of twisted ideas for that, but I wouldn’t. It’d freak him out too much.”

“Like what?”

“Tootsie-rolls. It looks like a catbox to me.” She went back to her typewriter and the paragraph she was writing. She did what she could to make the point clearly. The thought of “style” had not yet crossed her mind. That would not happen for years. She finished and turned off the typewriter. She carefully placed the finished pages into a box that had held a ream (now used up) of bond typing paper and slid it onto the shelf under her desk. “Let’s go. Cisco’s?”

“Sounds good!”

She got her coat and hat, turned off the lights, and locked the door behind them. They rode the elevator down ten floors, left through big glass doors and walked into the frigid night, thinking of guacamole.

*Tasked to write about my perfect day off (sigh) I wrote about a Saturday afternoon at the beginning of the ride, back in 1979. The title comes from something my boss did when I expressed my frustration at being stuck in Denver when I wanted to see the WORLD. He got on the phone and reserved a seat for me on a flight to Paris. His goal was just to show me that it was THAT easy.


Daily Prompt Buyers, Beware? The year is 2214, and your computer’s dusty hard drive has just resurfaced at an antique store. Write a note to the curious buyer explaining what he or she will find there. (Thank you for suggesting a similar prompt, Auntysocial!)

Most people — if they think of San Diego — think of Sea World, the zoo and the beaches. It’s a very military city, in fact, and without the Marines and the Navy it might have remained a sleepy backwater on one of God’s most inspired bays. However, during WW II, the Navy opened a training facility where even Marines were trained.

And so… Time passed by and WW II became a distant memory even for those who fought in it. The various military bases in the area had to “repurpose” themselves to some extent, and one of these was the Navy Training base.

What to do with a ton of Spanish-style duplex houses built in the 40s? What to do with an old hospital and a fake ship? What to do with a gym and barracks and a dining hall? What to do with all these buildings that played such a huge part in the building of San Diego and to which so many people are attached through the unbreakable strings of nostalgia?

Much discussion was given to this. The buildings were already there and that was good — or was it? They weren’t exactly modern, were they? People arrived in meetings wearing their power suits, red ties and very ugly dresses and decisions were made… And the buildings remained.

And I could not have cared less, but people like to be busy, like to go to meetings, like to put on the clothes one wears to meetings and like to be written about in the paper.

Then one evening I met my friend Sally for dinner at a vegetarian restaurant we both liked called “Kung Food.” I liked the name for obvious reasons but also because I could sing, “We were Kung Food fighting” and I could imagine slamming people with hands full of green jell-o. I was earlier than Sally who is always late (and no one knows why). Sally was going through hard times health wise (NOTHING compared to now). She was suffering hives, and stress, and heart palpitations and why was her eye twitching? Well, stuff at work had gotten ugly for Sally, no question, and she was angry. I thought of the great Chinese novel, Red Chamber Dream in which I learned that anger that is not released can attack the body in hives, twitching, heart palpitations, etc. She had reason to be angry about work — and some personal stuff, too. We talked about it and ate our spinach, tofu and walnut lasagna (good, by the way; I figured out how to make it, and though I don’t — I have).

“Well, I’m being proactive,” she said (proactive was a new word then and I couldn’t figure out what the difference was between it and simple active but I held my peace, though I did still try in those days to control the language). “I’m starting Kundalini yoga practice on Saturday morning. They’re holding it at the Naval Training Center. Isn’t that wonderful? That place used to train boys to fight is now a place to teach people to be more peaceful.”

I barely heard the end of her story, I was laughing so hard at the thought of her taking a Kundalini Yoga class at the Naval Training Center.

If you get how this story relates to this morning’s prompt, please let me know. It’s a true story, by the way, and I thought it was quite apropos…