BIG Questions

It seems that for all it’s feet-dragging and lallygagging, this year has gone by fast. Yesterday I went out and picked some apples with Elizabeth. She’s a real cook. I’m not. I only wanted a few. The best thing about it was the beauty of the apples on the tree.

So I took some photos and brought home four or five apples. The birds, deer and raccoons need their fair share, too.

I have so many incredible memories. Some of my discomfort lately is that I don’t want to live in them, but I’m not sure where to go. Yesterday I got somewhat jazzed at the thought of returning to San Diego for my upcoming milestone birthday (who said? Oh yeah, the Bible…) I checked airfares, AirBNBs, planned the trip in my mind and woke up this morning knowing that isn’t happening. I’ve been there and done that. Without a time machine, the trip I would take is impossible.

Last night I read an article about a guy from California who, sight unseen, bought a house in Billings, MT. He was happy because it was so inexpensive ($719,000). That’s NOT the Billings, MT I knew, but nothing is the “Billings, MT” I knew. He has the idea (illusion?) that Billings is healthier than California. No. I guess he hasn’t seen the giant, graphic billboards advising people not to use meth… I’m sure he’s never lived through a Montana winter with two weeks of -40 F temperatures and little sunlight. I love Montana but like all places it’s REAL.

People do so many things based on their idea of how things are. Me too. All the time. He has the idea that Billings is not moving as fast as California; he’s not thinking that every person like him who makes that leap is changing Billings (and all other places…)

Change is the nature of things, maybe particularly (but not only) in the human-driven world of which I am a part. Resistance to change is a huge power in human reality. It’s been a “force” leading to some of the bigger problems we as a species confront today.

I remember when I was growing up there were markers on the trail in front of me. Starting school. Becoming a woman. Getting into college. Graduating (several times). Finding a job. Getting married. All clear markers, markers one could reach, ignore, reject or fail. The marker ahead of me at 70 doesn’t bear thinking about, and I realize that THAT is the kicker.

After Elizabeth and I finished picking apples, we took some to my next-door neighbor. We chatted for a long time together and “the” subject came up. “After 60, stuff starts happening,” said my neighbor.

I’ve often lobbied (unsuccessfully) for humans to be born with a little book that details the health pitfalls and challenges ahead of them. Silly as that sounds, we are born with that. Science is slowly gaining access to the litany of likely health problems waiting for everyone.

I’ve taken a DNA test and it’s pretty much told me stuff I already knew though in many cases I didn’t know there was an actual gene defining it. Here are a couple of things I found very amusing/interesting. One is apparently I am genetically predisposed to consume more caffeine than most people and I am more likely to run very fast in short bursts. The results of the test have been accurate so far but, in some cases, pretty meaningless as, with most traits, I’m “average.” Average based on WHAT??? I have no idea. Most people in the world through all time or most people who’ve taken the test? 😀 It doesn’t matter.

We can see a lot of the content of our personal “little books” by observing the older members of our family. In my family, a lot of things happened, but among those who were not self-destructive, were very long, productive lives.

I’m totally down with that, if that’s what’s in my little book, and if that ISN’T written in my little book, it doesn’t change anything. The thing is, I want the road ahead — even with its single, definitive marker — to be an adventure-filled interval of discovery as my whole life has been. The challenge now is to discover what constitutes adventure at this point in my life? What do I want to discover?

More Dogcor than Decor…

I’m not sure decor has much to do with my way of life. I don’t want to live in an ugly or messy place. I vacuum and dust daily, and I hate clutter, but the idea of decorating a room or a house is a little beyond me. I know a lot of people look forward to their first home that’s theirs and not a rental because they can decorate it themselves, their way. Anyhow, I heard that a lot when I was younger. That requires money and interest in decorating — two things that I’ve never had in plentitude. Then there’s the reality that every new thing starts wearing out as soon as we start using it, and the novelty of things really does wear off. SO…

The stuff in my house is (most of it) inherited from someone. My little antique desk belonged to a friend who was — yep, redecorating. My two Chinese scholar cabinets came from an estate sale via the local flea market/store. My antique Chinese table — used as a coffee table — swap meet in California. My sofa? I bought it already in the house (thank goodness or that first night I’d have no where to sleep!) The antique lawyer’s shelves and sewing machine are family relics. In my room? A bed I actually chose and bought (yep I did that), a Chinese armoire I drove a hundred plus miles to get. Maybe that room has decor. Otherwise? It’s a bunch of bookshelves and books and Chinese carpets. And dogs. They are all cool things, but I’d never call it “decor.”

When I look at pictures of decorated rooms, I’m drawn to the opposite of my own ambient reality. I like these. 🙂

The only time I attempted to actually decorate was when I was selling my house in California. I think I did OK. They buyers wanted the house and everything in it. I regret that I didn’t bring the tiger chairs with me and the sofa — while it wouldn’t have fit through the door of my house now or in my living room — was the most comfortable sofa in the world.

House in Descanso, CA

Maybe it’s the same for everybody. Real life never fits the ideal. My friends like visiting me and feel comfortable in my house. I think that’s the important thing. ❤

O the Places You Will Go

Today’s “Rag Tag Daily Prompt” is “Tangled Shoelaces” and my fourth thought on this topic is Velcro. When the little girl who lives up the alley comes to visit me, the bright pink laces on her shoes are ALWAYS untied. It drives me crazy. The first words out of my mouth are not “Hi Michelle!” as they should be, but, instead, the first words are, “Tie your shoes!” Then I’m amazed to be an adult telling a kid to tie her shoes. SO my next thought is “How did I get to be that grownup?” and then I understand.

I love Michelle. I don’t want her to fall on her way to see me. I was saying, “I love you, little girl, for the love of god, DON’T FALL!

Among the “souvenirs” I unearthed a couple days ago, and in the same folder with the dog stories, is the first really good short story I ever wrote. I was working at the law firm. My desk and typewriter were in an immense room (pre-cubicle working world) with a dozen other secretaries and paralegals not to mention the sainted word processing machine and its operator. I didn’t have anything to do so I sat there and dreamed of faraway places and wrote stuff, including the story I found yesterday. I sent it to the New Yorker back then. Of course, it was rejected but with a REAL note, “I’m sorry. I tried. It’s a good story.”

I was 27 at the time I wrote it. I was living about a mile from the 17th Street law firm where I worked, and I walked to and from work every day. Those walks are a large part of the story. The story itself is about my dad, my maternal grandmother and my relationship with them.

It was painful to read, not because it’s poorly written (it isn’t) or anything like that, but because so much has happened in the 40 odd years that have passed since I wrote it (for the most part odd) that the very serious things in the story seem far away and juvenile. After I read it I put it away in the folder (but I didn’t toss it!) and thought, “Well, that’s embarrassing.”

Later, I thought about that young woman (I was) and thought, “How could she possibly have KNOWN? She did the best she could with what she had. It’s not embarrassing. What if she were your student? What would you say to her? You wouldn’t say the story is embarrassing. You’d say, ‘Nice work! Keep writing’. Why are you harder on your former self (selves) than you’d be on anyone else? You didn’t pop into the world completely finished, sweet cheeks.”

True enough.

I remembered how she (I) had written and written and written but really had NO story. The reality is that young woman had THAT story, and she wrote it.

“Good for you,” I thought. “That’s what matters. Write the story you have.”

It took years and a lot of scary life experiences for me to find my story. There was no way I could have known it would be where I found it or even that there was such a place in the whole world. I couldn’t have known what it would be. It was far far far away from anything I could possibly have imagined in 1979. The ONE thing I understood in 1979 was that reality is stranger than any imagined world.

Light as a Feather

In the last few days I’ve come to see that the “powers” (whoever and/or whatever they are) has taken me in hand, thrown me onto the ground, forced me to slow down, to ask for help, to return “home”. My friend in Colorado Springs really needed my help as he pulls together the first class he’s taught in a few years and he wanted me to stay longer than the three nights I’d originally planned. Other friends wanted to hang out with me (and vice versa). My short journey turned into a very nice — if painful — week once I resigned myself to the fact I wasn’t going anywhere.

More resonant words by the Bronc Riding Philosopher Plumber, “I’m not going up to Denver. If my family wants to see me, they can come down here. I don’t see any good reason to leave the San Luis Valley. I don’t go up there any more.”

I laughed and said, “Yeah. If I hadn’t gone to Colorado Springs, I wouldn’t have hurt my shoulder.”

“Exactly.”

Once I got home? Same story. There was a moment when I actually thought, “Why do all these people want to see ME?” I still think that’s a little odd, but I also think my wonderment is a little odd. It isn’t that friendship isn’t important to me — it is very important to me — but this past year shifted my orientation somewhat from what friendship means.

I can’t speak for every introvert out there, but my need for people is possibly different from the need extroverts have. I can’t even really define it. Random or brief contact is nice. Long, heart-felt conversations are nice. Socializing for the sake of socializing gets a little uncomfortable. So, I live here…

But we do need each other. We need to be able to walk outside our front door, take a quick survey of our personal ambient reality and feel, “God’s in his Heaven and all’s right with the world.” We all know that the “future is uncertain, etc.” We need to know that the present moment, anyway, this one is doing pretty OK overall. It occurs to me that’s exactly what we lost over the past few years.

Is it a luxury, or entitlement, to think we “deserve” that when so much of the world DOESN’T have the slightest possibility of that? When the water heater went out I thought, “OK.” I didn’t see it as a huge problem. I’d heat water on the stove and carry on as long as I had to.

When I called the plumbing company the woman who took my call said, “We’re really backed up (what an admission for a plumbing company!) but, wait. You don’t have any hot water? OK. I’m pushing you up the list, ahead of the leaky faucets.” The plumber was here first thing the next morning because not having hot water was an “emergency.” In China all the showers were cold. Only the “final rinse” was warm, water heated in a bucket on the stove. Of course, in summer, the water tank on the roof of our building heated a bit in the sun and that was nice, but a year of cold showers didn’t kill me. It was what it was and it was OK. Was that resignation or was it acceptance? There’s a fine line.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been striving for in my own tiny little life and the recent hammering by “the powers” seems to be helping me get there. And… in the high country north of here it snowed last night. Oh, I hope “the powers” have a snowy winter in mind this year, not the kind that traps people on the highway or causes avalanches and breaks trees and kills birds, but the normal snow that falls softly on a dry and confused world, slows time, soothes the people, satiates the fields and gives joy to me and my dog.

“Have another hit of fresh air”

I’m about to get a shipment of books to read and evaluate for a contest, I have a ton of plywood out there ready to cut, prime and paint, and it’s looking like a dry winter. Yesterday, in the middle of painting a garden sign, I realized I’ve waited my whole life for the chance to be an artist and nothing else. Part of the liberation of 2020. I heard from my Chinese brother (who lives in Ontario). The last time we communicated was at the beginning of the pandemic and he expressed his great concern that something would happen to me, but it was he who got Covid, struggled a long time and, with the help of Chinese medicine, recovered. I’m drinking my coffee and preparing to go to Alamosa to pick up my groceries, which, until April, I had never done before; just couldn’t get organized to do it as much as I hated shopping. Behind everything this morning, I’m listening to music from 1970 right now thanks to my favorite Chicago radio station, WXRT, a soundtrack to another moment in my life of fast changes. In 1970 I graduated high school, got my first real broken heart, realized that my fight for my dad’s life was probably a losing battle but it would be a couple more years before I could accept that.

I’m enumerating all this because it all seems almost surreal. We are one tiny pinky toe into a new year and it’s going to take a while for us to solve the problems we carry with us, BUT one of the most dangerous things we carry with us is the wish for things to “go back to normal.” It was only “normal” because we were used to it. So, as I turned the page on 2020 and looked at the first month on my new wall calendar (yeah, I use one; it has pictures of Italy) I thought, “All this is arbitrary,” but it’s really more than that.

I don’t WANT to return to the person I was “before.” I don’t want to go back to whatever it was I was doing. I don’t want to forget what I learned about myself during this time. I guess that is as personal a decision as it has been to live a semi-hermit life, mask up when I have to, and generally avoid the Flying Spaghetti Monster as much as possible. So, yeah, hello, 2021. I’m glad you’re bringing a vaccine and the end of Trump’s reign of ignorance and fear. I wish you the best. You have a hard battle ahead of you. And goodbye 2020, I’m not altogether sure you deserve the bum rap you’re getting. You were nothing more than the time required for the sun, as we see it, to return to an arbitrary reference point in the sky. There is no real “hello” or “goodbye.” It’s just seasons and the sun’s apparent motion along Earth’s tropical zones.

I had this in my mind when I woke up this morning, from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, my dad’s “Bible.”

And that inverted Bowl we call The Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop’t we live and die,
Lift not thy hands to It for help – for It
Rolls impotently on as Thou or I.


My experiences in and with 2020 have enforced my idea that our lives are what we make them. We’re handed circumstances and what we do with them, how we live with them, makes the difference in our lives, revealing and making us who we are.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2021/01/02/rdp-saturday-goodbye-hello/

And NOW???

It’s going to be a new — but sweet — challenge to figure out how to use that part of our brains that’s been taken up with the daily DC chaos for the past four years. It reminds me a little — so far — of what it was like when the Evil X finally left. My brain was really tired and one entire focus of my existence was gone. I think a lot of Americans — and maybe people all over the world — are going to experience that strange combination of euphoria and letdown.

I enjoyed watching Biden introduce some of his appointees yesterday. I liked them and felt so strange that I don’t know anything about them and don’t think I have to. That was a kind of shocker, “I don’t have to react to this AT ALL.” I just listened to them talk and considered how their superficial appearances resembled the population in a preponderance of my California classrooms.

It was a struggle for four years NOT to pay attention to someone who was so blatantly playing for my attention. I failed (as we all know) but not all the time. Sometimes I succeeded but as time wore on it was more and more difficult. Maybe that was true for all of us. There was just so much swirling around out there, so much deserving justifiable outrage, so much that pointed to incipient totalitarianism.

One of my friends in Europe said that 45 did a good job not involving the US military in more wars and that’s something 45s supporters say, too. My friend is afraid Biden will start more wars in the Mediterranean. What people seem to forget is HOW all that started back in 2001, and what a shit-show it’s been, what a tangled up, incomprehensible, insoluble mess. I’ve have no idea anymore who’s where or what, but I kind of think my friend’s fears are groundless. Anyway, like him, I hope they’re groundless. All of us are tired of the endless wars.

So where is that energy going to go? It’s going to be interesting — and kind of wonderful — to find out. One place it went yesterday was in moments of spontaneous weeping. You can hold a lot of stuff inside, but it isn’t going to stay there.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/11/25/rdp-wednesday-preponderance/

Life As I Know It These Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/10/21/rdp-wednesday-fantasy/

Manibus

I should have waited to write the blog post I wrote yesterday, when I came home from a beautiful walk with Bear. Definitely fit today’s Ragtag Daily Prompt. Those glorious moments are pretty uncommon these days, and this morning I had to laugh. When I grabbed my jeans to put on, I noticed I’d sat in bird shit yesterday. Glory is grounded in shit after all, something reinforced when “traffic” (three cars) on the “highway” to the Refuge was slowed by a tractor pulling a manure spreader into a hay field.

Teaching “art” to the kids has inspired me to think about my early years in school. I’ve realized that a LOT of what “they” were doing to us had nothing much to do with what they told us they were teaching us. Neither of the kids writes — prints — halfway decently and the little girl doesn’t even write legibly. Seeing this at first I was shocked and a little worried then it hit me.

Keyboards.

I thought about all the hours in school we just sat there with special lined paper and practiced printing letters, then, in second grade, we learned to “…write like grownups” — cursive. As I watch the little girl struggle with her hands when she does anything, I think about how they taught us to control and use the small muscles in our hands. We THOUGHT we were learning to write and it was annoying that we had to keep practicing, but that wasn’t what “they” were doing at all. I thought about how these amazing tools at the ends of our arms contributed to make us human. I wondered if our word “man” came from the Latin word, “manibus,” or “hand.” (I don’t really care what the answer is.)

A person can think a lot of things watching kids make ghosts from tissue paper and egg cartons.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/10/17/rdp-saturday-divine/

Trapped in a World…

The difficult thing about our times is its mixture of seriousness and absurdity. It is a LOT like the cover of the Howard the Duck Comic, the one I saw in the window of a comix store on Colfax Avenue in Denver on my way home from work one day, the one I bought and framed and hung in my bathroom in my apartment on Humboldt Street in Denver back in the day.

wait a minute, hold on…

It wasn’t a Howard the Duck cover, it was a cover from a Bizarre Sex comic that I bought at the same time, also because of the cover. At the time, it struck me as hilariously funny, but I can’t share it here, but the words on the cover are enough, “It came from Alpha Centauri Looking for Love.”

Is it my fault that 40 plus years later I conflate my two favorite comic book covers in to one and have Howard the Duck climbing the Empire State Building? I think not.

Back in my late twenties I realized MY life was a mixture of seriousness and absurdity, but believed that the world outside my life was probably OK. Now the tables have turned and my life is probably OK and it’s external reality that’s gone off the rails.

As for the inside of these comics, nothing special. I’m not a big fan of comics, but the covers. They seemed to say everything.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/10/07/rdp-wednesday-serious/

Kids

When I was in my late 30s and early 40s I found myself surrounded by a bunch of boys who were the right age to have been my kids. They ranged in age from 10 to 15. They were ALWAYS at my house except to sleep. They went hiking with me. I took them to the BMX jumps. We went out for pizza together. We talked about life. We went to the mountains. We made a movie about BMXing. They had free run of my fridge. The youngest one, Mikey, was 10 and soon learned that I loved to see a hawk and that I called them, “My love.” He would point at them high in the sky and say, “Martha! There’s your love!”

Most often I’d hike for several hours and then walk back a 2 mile road to my truck which was parked near the BMX jumps. In the cool of a late summer afternoon, sweat drying on my back, my dogs beside me, tired and happy, I’d look up at a particular rock and see a kid watching for me. Then I’d hear, “She’s here!” By the time I’d reach them, usually their stuff would be packed up and they had loaded it into the truck. I remember one day feeling, “Wow. I always wanted to be part of a group of friends. Who knew they’d be adolescent boys and I’d be 40?”

Today I loaded Bear into the car to go to the Refuge, but when I got to the end of the alley, I noticed the golf course was pretty empty. The little boy came running to the fence. I rolled down the car window. “Miss Martha! Miss Martha!” His mom followed. I asked if I could park there, thinking I’d just take Bear to her happiest of happy places — the golf course. Then, deciding it was probably illegal, I decided just to drive back up the alley and park in my driveway.

“Can I go with Miss Martha?” he asked his mom.

“If it’s OK with her.” It was. He ran out of his yard like this was the GREATEST THING EVER TO HAPPEN, hopped up in Bella and fastened the seat belt.

We drove a ways up toward the golf course so I could turn around legally. There was a HUGE crane truck there with an IMMENSE boom.

“That’s the biggest boom I’ve ever seen,” he said.

“Do you remember the first thing you said to me?” I asked him. “You said, ‘There’s a crane!'”

“Well I never saw one that close before.” That was two years ago and he was five. A crane was lifting the roof from the pump house belonging to the golf course, and he was in his yard, in the snow, watching it.

We took Bella home and walked back with Bear. He got permission to go with me. His mom said, “Maybe I should go get his sister,” but I said no, that the little boy and Bear were all I could handle. Maybe that wasn’t completely true, but his sister has a much larger personality, and the little guy needs his chance, too, an adventure all his own.

We walked across the golf course, I took his picture by the crane truck, I explained why there are “sand holes” and what kind of club you use to get the ball out. He exclaimed over the REALLY tall cottonwood trees that would “…take all day to climb.” I answered his questions about how a golf course works. He’s lived across the street from it for 2 years and never saw it before, except the hole beside his house. He worried that his mom couldn’t see him, but he wanted to keep going. She’d prepared him with a hat and a full water bottle.

We headed back and I noticed a beautiful aspen leaf. I said something. He picked it up and found a couple more pretty leaves on his own to go with the golf ball and tee he’d picked up. We stopped and listened to the wind blowing the leaves of an aspen tree.

When we got back to his house he ran up to his sister and said, “I got to ride in Miss Martha’s car and go to the golf course!” like all that was Disneyland. He gave the leaves to his sister and showed her his golf ball and tee. I chatted a bit and headed home. Then I heard, “Miss Martha! Wait!” I stopped. He caught up and said, “Here’s a cookie for you.”

I thought about this when I got home. It’s true that us old people have more time for meanderings of a childlike nature than does the generation currently holding up the sky, but my values have always been these. Maybe that’s why my first group of friends was a bunch of teenage boys. 🙂