I was laid off in 1974. That was one crazy year in my life ANYWAY but the night the layoffs took effect was the pinnacle of craziness.

I was fresh out of university with the highly desirable BA in English. After months of searching I found a job on the line at Head Ski. I didn’t realize it was seasonal work (nothing about that in the newspaper ad). I worked swing shift (which I ended up liking) cleaning the edges of finished skis. After a while, because I was talented, I got promoted to measuring flex and camber, pairing skis, burning serial numbers on the sides and bagging them in the cotton fish net (oh baby) in which they were shipped. It was a raise in pay, too, which was good, because I was supporting the First X who was still in school.

This went on a couple of months then the pink slips were passed out during break at 6 pm. “We’ll hire you back as openings become available.”

That last day started early. My mom came to get me in Boulder, all the way from Denver, to take me and my grandmother to Loveland for my great-uncle’s funeral. I was dressed up in a skirt my mom had made me and a nice sweater. After the funeral there was lunch and then hanging around. My mom dropped me off at the factory at 3, and I was still wearing my fancy clothes. I had jeans to change into, but no other top.

Factory work is physical work and there were some pretty extreme chemicals in there. My polyester sweater was soaking it all in, believe me. At “lunch” the plan was we would all — all of us being laid off and those in solidarity with us — were going in the parking lot to get high. Afterwards? Well, we stood for the next four hours filing the throats of the tennis rackets to baby-bottomed smoothness. At 11 we were set free. We were all going to a bar on Pearl Street.

I didn’t have a car, but that’s when I learned that Jeff — the CUTEST guy on the line — was interested in me. He took me to the bar in his red VW, treated me like a date, bought me tequila sunrise after tequila sunrise and ignored everyone else. At 2, the bar closed.

Pearl Street was then just a street in a small city. We got to the car and Jeff opened the door. As he was closing it, four guys who were engaged in a fight, came roiling by. Jeff — who was a little stringy dude — chased two of them away but the other two were still fighting by the car. I sat there in a semi-drunken, exhausted, chemical fazed stupor as one guy smashed the face of the other guy into the window behind which I sat.

“Assholes,” said Jeff, after chasing the guy away and getting in the car.

I thought I should have been horrified by what I’d seen, but I couldn’t summon up horror. I was too tired, too high and too drunk to really care that there was blood all over the window.

We got to the parking lot of my apartment and that’s when Jeff made his move. “I don’t know how things are between you and your husband, but, you know, anyway here’s my phone number.”

And he kissed me.

Fact is, life with the First X was pretty awful, and I didn’t know how to contend with that. Still, I didn’t imagine cheating on him with Jeff or anyone. I went upstairs, took off my clothes and crawled into bed. 3 am. Without meaning to, I woke up my husband.

“Good God!” said the soon to be X, “You stink. Go take a shower!”

The next day I started looking for a job. A couple of days later, I called Jeff.


The protests against the police brutality that killed George Floyd have gone on for 9 days? 10 days? Yesterday I found myself wondering what the goal is. When will protestors know they are finished or is it a thing now that will go on and on and on and on?

Last night is the first night I’ve slept since the protests started. If their goal was to make white people think about things they haven’t thought about before, it worked here. I wrote one blog post about (now set to private) and a letter to Obama (never sent).

There are things related to it that I haven’t thought of for decades, one of which is Louis Farrakhan. It’s a fact that not all white people are racist and not all black people are NOT racist. Farrakhan, who is an extremely angry man — has claimed that it’s impossible for black people to be racists. Any anger they feel toward the white oppressor is justified and any action taken against whites is legitimate. The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies Farrakhan — and his organization — as black nationalist and black supremacist.

He spoke once at the university where I was teaching. It was a hate fueled speech. It made the work of ordinary people — I’ll say ordinary white people — seem hopeless. The next day, when I got to school, I found the ground littered with 4 x 5 inch black and white flyers, printed with swastikas and the words, “White men built this country.”

One extreme brought out the other.

I picked up a couple of those flyers and took them home and stuck them in a drawer imagining a future collage that never happened. “It’s never going to work,” I remember thinking, “as long as entire groups of people categorically hate each other.”


In other news, the hike I’d planned with my friends yesterday didn’t happen. I texted everyone at 5 am yesterday and said, “I haven’t been sleeping. I’m going to keep trying.” or something. I finally went to sleep and woke up at 8:30 to see their texts. They answered immediately planning between them an alternative way that we could get together. It turned out to be a “Bring your own cuppa'” tea party in Elizabeth’s beautiful back yard.

The other thing on my phone when I woke up was a voicemail from the Good-X. I listened and then I screamed. He’d had a major heart attack and was in the hospital but he said, “They fixed me up.” I called him back after I’d had some coffee and got the whole story and answered some questions he had for me. As we were saying goodbye, I had to hold myself back from saying, “I love you.” How would he understand those words? Two people can have a terrible marriage and yet form a functional and mostly happy life together. We did for 12 years. His younger son is “my” son and between his family and me all the “I love you’s” are said often. In the “I love you” that I did not say are all the experiences we shared — China being one of them. Part of it, also, is “I get who you are now.” Instead of “I love you,” I said, “Come back and visit me. That was fun last time.” He and his step-grandson came through Monte Vista a few years ago on their way to Durango to meet his wife who was at a dahlia conference.

“I will. That was fun,” he said.

I told my friends about it at the tea party later. When I told them about wanting to tell my ex “I love you,” they understood. We talked about C-19, our encounters with people during this time, the weirdness, the beauty.. We laughed and did all the things that make friendships and, I think, for all of us, it was an incredible relief. None of us has been sleeping and as we talked about it, it seemed that our sleep was taking the same trajectory. Going to sleep, waking up thinking and then either getting up ungodly early or going to sleep a few hours later. I asked if they’d like to go on a evening hike to the Refuge with me when the skies and light are beautiful and the breeze is calm and fresh. Now we sort of have a plan.

Elizabeth’s husband, Bob, came out of the garage where he’s building a 1957 T-bird. I like talking to Bob and he likes telling me stories, so as my friends went off to cut rhubarb (some for me) Bob told me stories about airplanes. I don’t know that he always has a willing listener and the words just poured out of him. Later he came over and installed a new pneumatic spring on my storm door.

The day went on with curious intensity, culminating in a 1 1/2 hour phone call with my formerly lost cousin, Linda. We’re catching up on each others entire adult lives. She wanted to know about how my brother’s death affected me. That’s a long story. We talked about the deaths of the people we loved, a strange coda to my morning.

I was struck again that all we really have in this life are dreams, memories and the love we bear for others. That’s it.

Two Months In…

I’ve reached a turning point with this virus and it seems many other people in this country have too. How that turning point turns might be an individual thing. I’m not angry, I’m not looking to get back to going to bars and clubs (what?), nothing like that. I know that because of my age and because of my pseudo-allergy which causes asthma, sometimes called Samter’s Triad and sometimes called Aspirin Exacerbated Respiratory Disease, I’m part of the vulnerable population. I also feel that because I have an income and I do not need to go to work, I should not be out there taking chances that could potentially take a hospital bed away from someone less lucky than I am.

But it’s getting to me. The other day — Memorial Day — when Bear and I got out of Bella at the Refuge, I started to cry. There was no reason. It was a nice morning, a cool day, a beautiful day. I had things on my mind. A demonstration/parade was being held and there was a chance it could turn ugly (it didn’t). Businesses in my valley are hurting and desperate to open up with the argument that there are just not that many cases down here. In fact, the number of cases has been steadily rising and people without symptoms can pass the virus along. I’ve decided not to deal with a couple of businesses who have publicly denied the reality of C-19. It’s one thing to want to reopen and willingly follow the guidelines; another to deny science and reality.

The last normal weekend before this started was the weekend of the Crane Festival, Monte Vista’s second biggest whoop-dee-do. The biggest whoop-dee-do — the Stampede — has been cancelled. My friend Lois and her son Mark were here for the festival and we had a great time. At the festival craft and nature show, I saw some people I like very much but seldom have the chance to see. There was much hugging and catching up and physical proximity. I spent a long time talking to a woman from Albuquerque who was there with a variety of raptors. It was great. Perfect human contact.

It’s just so strange that a week later, everything changed. I made my last in-person, walking around the store visit to the supermarket that week. It was eerie and awkward. Systems hadn’t been devised yet. No one really knew what to do or how to do anything. The push to sew masks hadn’t happened yet but was about to. Then there was this intense and hopeful and determined effort to help the hospitals and support the lockdown. People seemed to have been behind the whole idea of “flattening the curve.”

Six weeks in, people are “over it.” “The curve is flattened, let things get back to normal,” as if the governor of our state had made everyone stay home, at gun point. As if “flattening the curve” was a “cure” or vaccine for C-19.

In reality my life hasn’t changed a lot, but the strange political landscape and knowledge that this is going to go on for a while, well, it’s affected me. I’m going to have to figure out a way to “re-open,” so to speak, my own creative life because I’m figuring on this lasting until next spring. Summer’s are never easy for me anyway, and at least I have winter to look forward to.

Then, maybe???

This evening the sky was beautiful, golden, intense, and summery. The wind was fresh, and I went outside to talk on the phone with a friend. I would have taken Teddy for a walk, but I rode the bike-to-nowhere VERY far across some Spanish mountains, and I’ve learned that riding the bike FAR and walking don’t make for a very comfortable night’s sleep. I went back to watching a film I started last night and that I was enjoying. Bear came in from the back yard and I asked, “Do you want a cookie?” I got up to get her one. She didn’t stop in the kitchen. She went back outside. I followed her. There, in an orange, golden pink and azure sky from which a light rain was falling, was a rainbow, the first one of summer.


Life’s little pitfalls. I have learned to thaw my frozen fruit over night, pour protein powder on it in the morning, add the banana, add the yogurt (which I forgot this morning) smash it together with a fork, smash it further with the electric beater, add OJ and VOILÁ! A smoothie. But the thing about life is just as you cope well with one major adversity (ha ha) another one hits you.

Here I was yesterday afternoon, minding my own business (wondering what my own business was, actually), and I heard a huge crash outside. If you recall (since the events of my life are certainly topmost in your minds) I live on a major US highway. I thought it was just another semi pulling an empty cattle trailer but OH NO. Someone crashed into my mailbox, kept traveling, took part of the mailbox with them leaving behind some Kia body parts, and knocked over the no parking sign before heading off west, leaving behind part of my mailbox at the cop shop.

My neighbor knocked on my door. I went out to see this. We called the cops who came promptly, took our oral reports, looked at the scene, took off again. “We’ll find him. He left a trail of oil.”

OK this is just a big pain in the butt because, you know, mail.

A few years ago the snow plow knocked over my mailbox. I stuck it in the perma- drift made by the snow plows for the rest of the winter, then I bought a plastic one that had a sleeve that slipped over the post. The post cover is at the cop shop, covered with oil right now, but the box part is fine and sitting in my yard.

It would seem I don’t live in a mailbox safe zone

I called my post office. Here that means you get to talk to someone in the actual post office in my actual town. I was referred by Mark, who works at the counter, to the postmaster. She said they could hold my mail. I asked if they could deliver packages (some of which are heavy) and hold flat mail. She said no but that, since I’m home, I can just watch for the mailman. He was delivering mail on a nearby street when we were standing around staring at debris and calling the cops. My guess is that he already knows…

The police officer came back and got written reports from my neighbor and I. A bit later the city came by and cleaned things up. I asked if they would replace the mailbox post (which was city property) and they said they’d ask the boss.

Kia parts and a 12 inch remnant of what was once the steel post holding up the mailbox

I love living in a small town.

All this is Andy of Mayberry stuff, I know, but here’s the big deal.

My neighbor has a security camera. Last night she and her husband looked at the whole thing on their video. They saw that, just minutes before this all happened, another neighbor, who lives across the alley and down one from me, who is a friend, had pulled out of the alley and turned left onto my street, US Highway 160. That’s some serious guardian angel action. Without the tape, we would not have known — or have been relieved — by what DIDN’T happen.

Tedious Quotidian Update 8.23.aii

I think we need a break from these extraordinary times. Maybe I just need a break. Maybe just a good night’s sleep. I don’t know about you, but my emotions are so close to the surface all the time. Every small lovely thing brings me to the brink of tears.

It seems like the lifestyle changes wrought by the virus bring out strong emotions in a lot of people — some wholesome and some not. Watching the “Liberate” people on the news, all I could think was that what they want to be liberated FROM is not the government. It’s a sub-microorganism. They’re striking out against oppression but the oppressor is not their governor or a “Closed Beach” sign.

Last evening I took Teddy out for a walk. He needs more of those, but that’s not the point. Stopped and talked (Teddy met) the young couple who live next door. He enjoyed meeting them and eating grass. They were courageously setting out squash plants, and I dunno. I don’t even know where I want to put mine, never mind the real possibility of more frost. Then we headed toward the golf course and there was a whole train of carts filled with girls. The high school girls’ golf team (which wins championships). I’ve been walking past the golf course and around the high school in summer since I moved here, and I sense I’ve become kind of a benign legend. So it was all, “Hi! How are you!” from them, their eyes twinkling in happiness.

“It’s nice to get to play again isn’t it!”

“YESSSS!!!” came resoundingly from the carts.

In any case, I’m going to have to take the dogs out later in the evening if I’m going to walk there. It IS a golf course, after all. At one point, just before twilight, Teddy and I found ourselves on a fairway in front of a couple of young players dragging their own cart. I don’t want to do that. I sincerely LOVE that golf course and I WANT people to play golf. I’m thinking that when the cool hours arrive, we’ll just go back to the Refuge. “Just.” Ha ha ha. Like that’s consolation not the entire big world. At sunset it should be amazing. Mosquitos, but probably the wind will be blowing.

In other tedious and marginally interesting news, the new method of buying groceries is great. I went into the Big City (Alamosa) yesterday and picked up my stuff. It had been 3 weeks since the last trip. That’s good. Instead of a two hour expedition it’s a one hour expedition. Then I come home and wash all the stuff I bought, wondering if I have a dish drainer or a food drainer. Yesterday I wondered if kids in the future will wash their groceries you know, like we put our cups and glasses up-side-down in the cupboard because our grandmothers lived through the dustbowl.

But seriously. All I have to do is pull into a parking space. Call the number on the sign. Some nice person comes out with my stuff and goes over what they don’t have and what they substituted (as if I cared, which I don’t). I say “Thank you!” and load my car. I open a new “cart” as soon as I think about something I need or will need in 3 or 4 weeks (my new goal) time and add to it as things occur to me. I’m spending less on groceries and definitely less on gas (which I need to drive to the Refuge).

It really cracked me up a few weeks ago when the Buffoon in the White House said, “Gas prices are down. That probably makes you happy!” I thought, “Uh, douchebag, we can’t GO anywhere.”

The featured photo is Tu Fu, Li Bai and Li Ho, my Scarlet Emperor Beans. They spend part of each day holding audiences in various gardens throughout the estate.


I can’t bear a journey to the village–
I’m too contented here.
I call my son to close the wooden gate.

Thick wine drunk in quiet woods, green moss,
Jade gray water under April winds–
and beyond, the shimmering dusk of the wild.

Tu Fu

Brief as Dandelion Floss

Wednesday was the little boy’s — Connor’s — birthday. He’s 7. His mom texted me yesterday to see if I wanted some birthday cake. I knew they were on their way down the alley by Bear’s and Teddy’s happy barks along the lilac hedge. Michelle had a tennis ball for Teddy. The little boy brought his favorite birthday present to show me.

We stayed out in the front yard talking (virus), all the while Michelle asking, in various synonymous sentences, if she could see the dogs and me answering, “You won’t like it.” At one point Michelle stood beside me in her “grown lady” hat, her pretty dress and her gold, glittery Uggs, blowing the floss from the dandelions. I was struck by the beauty of that image and thought, “It’s never a big thing.”

Finally Connor said, “Can we see your house?” I didn’t mind, but there’s this virus thing… I looked at their mom.

“They’re used to ‘no’.” I knew that. I never knew two kids so willing to roll with that little word.

“OK, but only the living room. I don’t want to give everything away. You need stuff to look forward to.” They only heard “OK.” The rest was for their mom. I have learned, over the years, the value in saying stuff that doesn’t make sense to kids but communicates to adults. Mom laughed. Maybe I learned that skill from my own parents.

“I’m going to let the dogs in. They will be VERY VERY VERY excited. You have to sit down and be very quiet and calm.”

It was a start, anyway. They both sat down. I went to the back door. The dogs raced in, knowing already WHO was in our house. OH BOY!!!

The kids never believe me that the dogs are WAY to exuberant for them, but yesterday they learned. Teddy’s joie de vivre (Aussie puppy) is too much for most people. But he is learning to sit to get pets. Bear — as a livestock guardian dog — reacts to the nervousness and fear in people she loves by wanting to climb on them to make them safe. So, because Michelle was afraid, Bear thought she had to go to work, making it worse. Really how many little girls in pretty dresses want a big dog who weighs more than they do to jump up on the sofa with them? It was kind of a circus. I got dog cookies and the kids managed to get Bear to go “Down!” And Teddy even managed once or twice. “Will work for cookies.”

Their mom — who grew up here near the Refuge — recognized immediately what I had painted years before I moved here in the painting below. “That’s the valley!” she said. “That’s the exact view from my grandma’s window! I guess you were meant to be here.”

When the dogs had calmed down, and the moment was over, there was much hugging. I know all about the virus but sometimes you have to weigh mortality against the spontaneous affection of children. 

I’m going to have Bear write the little girl a letter and explain how dogs behave differently than cats.

My Grandparents were Tougher than Yours

“My Grandfather was storming the beaches of Normandy and now my patriotic duty is just to stay home.”

First thing I heard on the radio this morning, DJ talking about her grandparents. My first reaction was, “Oh yeah? let me tell you about MY grandparents!” not seriously, but you know, sort of like Monty Python’s “Four Yorkshiremen.”

My Grandmother Beall filling the cistern from the well which then the team of Percherons will help her haul home. Laundry day.

It’s easy for us to feel overwhelmed. I’m overwhelmed by that space of dirt to my right as I write this, but that’s because I really hate yard work. I hate it because nothing lasts. You work very, very hard, and as soon as you set something up, and it’s all nice and stuff, it immediately starts breaking down. Weeds emerge. Some plants are more aggressive than others. Dogs dig. The wind blows. I prefer enjoying the changing seasons out in the wild.

But, it looks as if I will soon have a little deck out there on which to set my table and chairs and erect my umbrella. I decided to stimulate the economy by hiring the kids’ parents — who aren’t working now — and buying wood at a local lumber store. It’s going to be great having a deck and it has helped me focus the “design” of that big mess out there. I suspect I will plant grass. I have a bag of seed and will be out of stimulus funds once I pay my car insurance.

Anyway, I was hoping Lamont and Dude would show up this morning, but no such luck.

Random Quotidian Thoughts 4.2.ii.b

I have given up the painting of the tree, in fact, I don’t want it in my house. It’s an incredibly disturbing piece of art work. I don’t want to spent hours in my little “play room” painting something I don’t want to happen. A few weeks ago it would have been a painting of a woman, a tree and the sky. Now? And, the panel is a really weird shape — FAR larger in one dimension than I think it should be. My will to paint something after I begin is not infrangible. In fact, until today, nothing in my life has been infrangible. Indomitable, unbreakable, determined, resolute, sure, but never infrangible.

Otherwise? I just hope everyone is doing as well as they can under the bizarre circumstances. The broken plumbing seems to have made it easier for me to have some perspective. Hearing OFFAL speak yesterday — and seeing him appear authentically confused and far less self-centered than usual — gave me hope (hope is often illusion) that he’s finally heard what the smart people around him have been saying. Anyway, the doctors got equal time on his daily rally and that was a little something. Dr. Birx showed us charts that I’ve seen before (really?) but they’re still good. Concerned about what will happen — most people can’t stay at home forever — I looked around until I found a decent explanation “Social distancing can’t last forever. Here’s what should come next.”

I hate the way people write now that we’re not relying on print media in which space on the that page costs money. I think back in the day, the inverted triangle made it possible for people to find out what they needed to know and then, if they chose, to move on to details if they wanted them. Anyway, the inverted triangle leads to clear, information-centered writing. If I’d written this article it would have had the bottom line at the top, but I didn’t. It’s possible to OVER-explain something. Still (having said my piece there) the article spells it out and is well worth reading.

Some good stuff has come from this, for me, anyway. I haven’t shopped for groceries for three weeks, as of yesterday. I think that’s awesome. Even in the best of times I don’t like shopping. I’ve relied on Amazon, yes, more than usual, but not that much.

Older person shopping is from 7 to 8 am, and I’m 30 minutes away from the store and like to sleep until 8 so THAT’S not happening. Instead, I’ve also compiled a list of groceries that I will pay for here at home. Then I will drive to City Market (Krogers) in Alamosa to pick it all up at an appointed time. Someone will put it in Bella and I won’t even get out of my car. Putting the list together was not that difficult because I always shop there, I have an account (for extra gas points!) and when I started it came up with a checklist of stuff I regularly buy. All I had to do was click on boxes and tell them how many. I saw more clearly what stuff costs, too. It could happen they’re sold out of some stuff, but so what?

I haven’t submitted my list yet, but I’m aiming for Friday.

The San Luis Valley has 8 known cases of COVID-19, but there are probably more. The majority of people here live in the country and the only thing anyone can do now is stay home with their symptoms unless they are grave. This isn’t a place given to sensationalizing anything.

Monday, after the plumber and I had derived the maximum enjoyment from the compelling video of my sewage line, we were talking toilet paper (the subject of the hour) and he said he’d cleaned out some lady’s system and found she’d been using paper towels. “She was an older lady, but,” then he looked at me, “not that that matters.” TMI about TP but I’m a single ply person having lived with a sensitive septic tank for 11 years.  And then I thought, “Do young people REALLY think we older people are so dumb? Sure there are plenty of examples around of dumb older people, but seriously? How did we GET here at all with the level of intelligence often imputed to us?” Then I thought, “He forgot he was speaking to ‘an older lady’.” 

And so I flopped between feeling insulted by his expectations of older people to feeling complimented that he’d forgotten I was one and back again. Then I thought, “What exactly is wrong with being older? I earned it. It wasn’t easy to get here and now there’s a new challenge.”

The human mind is a strange labyrinth… 

In honor of this April Fools Day I give you Ambrose Bierce:

n. A person who pervades the domain of intellectual speculation and diffuses himself through the channels of moral activity. He is omnific, omniform, omnipercipient, omniscient, omnipotent. He it was who invented letters, printing, the railroad, the steamboat, the telegraph, the platitude and the circle of the sciences. He created patriotism and taught the nations war — founded theology, philosophy, law, medicine and Chicago. He established monarchical and republican government. …in the twilight he prepares Man’s evening meal of milk-and-morality and turns down the covers of the universal grave. And after the rest of us shall have retired for the night of eternal oblivion he will sit up to write a history of human civilization.”
Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

  • The featured photo is the dog’s yard. You can see my bizarre old garage which is frame/wood covered by steel panels ala the style of the San Luis Valley. Anyway, it has a new roof and protects my car. We love steel panels down here. In truth, my entire yard is the dog’s yard at this point… Sigh.

The Tunnel

Long long ago in a faraway land a young woman wanted to find herself. “I have to find myself,” she told everyone. That was cool because back in those days everyone else was trying to find themselves.

It was amazing how many people were lost back then, but, whatev’…

So in the process of finding herself she set out into the world not knowing that she would get to know herself by what she did in the actual world. As she bumped around, OK, bumped and banged around, she didn’t feel like she was getting anywhere. She let the wrong ones in and kept the right ones out over and over.

Once in a while she managed to do something that was in harmony with her nature, but ultimately the tug-o-war reasserted itself, and she was back in the dark. Then, through a series of very crazy events covering the better (“better” is questionable) part of a five years, she had a complete nervous breakdown, a major depressive crisis. She was told not to come to work, put on disability and sent to a therapist who gave her the DSM-IV.

The therapist sent her to a shrink and told her not to drive as she was a danger to herself and others. Luckily (luck has two sides, right?) she wasn’t living alone. Life was just dark for her in those days. The hole in which she found herself was covered with a perpetually gray sky. Black fingers of dead grass and dry branches reached across the hole. Some days her roommate almost had to drag her out of bed. Sometimes the smallest life stress would cause her to pass out.

The big challenge was that she had no insurance, and it took weeks to find a shrink who would take her without it. Without a shrink, she couldn’t get the antidepressant the therapist told her she needed. Finally she found one.

Getting PROZAC was fairly challenging and involved many trips to Tijuana to pharmacies on the border. It was cheaper there. No insurance, remember?

She read Listening to Prozac and puzzled over the fact that some people would rather be a danger to themselves and other than to lose “themselves.” She knew she wasn’t THIS, but what was she? She got more useful information from Touched with Fire. Years later she wrote one of the two fan letters in her life to this book’s author, Kay Redfield Jamison.

As the PROZAC began to work, she started drawing and painting and thinking. The climb out was slow and interesting. The morning she got up on her own and washed the dishes felt like a triumph (was a triumph). “This is great,” she thought.

What she didn’t know is that she had found herself.

“Don’t be afraid of falling backward into a bottomless pit. There is nothing to fall into. You’re in it and of it and one day, if you persist, you will be it.” Henry Miller, Nexus

Normal life attempted to begin, again, and she returned to work that fall. As she walked down the hallway to her classroom, her co-workers stood back against the walls, and one of them said, barely under his breath, “Lazarus!” The stigma of mental illness? It was as if the thirteen years of sanity (was it really?) and all the contributions she had made to the school had never happened. Little by little her hours were cut. It became almost impossible to make the ends of the month meet. The credit union threatened foreclosure which she staved off somehow. But with her new clarity of mind, she was able to act with conviction in her own defense as she’d never been able to before.

Pulling her shit together from a breakdown had given her — or revealed to her — power she didn’t know she had. The next few years were rough financially but at least she wasn’t lost any more. In case you’re looking within, hoping to find yourself, don’t. Actions speak louder than words. We know our friends by what they do. Same with the self.


“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive,
but in finding something to live for.”
from The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

In my thirties — when I went through my Dostoevsky period — that quotation would have taken my breath. I would have questioned what I was doing, spun into a life-examining journal writing frenzy about it. I think, in fact, I did that, over that very quotation.

But now, my children (ha ha) I’m not the same person. I KNOW what I lived for and it’s the same thing I’m living for now.

Long ago, back in Denver, during another presidential election, I worked hard for an independent candidate. I wrote speeches, TV ads, organized events. It was fun and I believed in him. He didn’t win, but his campaign garnered 10% of the vote in Colorado. One of the events I planned was an expensive fund-raising dinner at an elegant Indian restaurant called, appropriately, The Bombay. Entertainment for that evening was a popular Denver jazz band featuring a fantastic saxophone player named Tom. It was an elegant and successful evening.

Back then I was well on my way to being a ‘mover and a shaker’ in Denver, and I knew Tom pretty well.

Time passed — two and a half years. I went to China, and I came back. Four months after the return, I was emotionally evacuated. I was homesick for China. I had also realized that my husband didn’t like me. I’d come back to the states because he was sick and I shouldn’t have. My beautiful dream was over and I was left with a bad marriage.

I walked down to the King Soopers nearest our Capitol Hill Apartment to buy stuff for supper. It had begun to snow. Outside the store a man in a wheelchair was playing the saxophone for tips. I got closer and saw it was Tom. I sat down on a bench to talk to him.

“Where you been, lady?” he asked.

“China. I went to China to teach.”


“Yeah.” How did I ask the question without hurting Tom? Finally, “What happened?”

“Oh, babe, you won’t believe it. I got the flu.”

“The flu??”

Tom chuckled at the amazement in my voice. “I know. It don’t make sense. It attacked my spine. I was flat on my back, for six months, paralyzed. They said I’d never walk or play the saxophone again, but, a man gotta’ eat and a man’s gotta’ play, right?”

My heart was in my throat.

“I could live without walking, but, honey, I wasn’t living without my sax.” He gently pressed the keys and levers on the shining instrument. I knew how he felt about it. It was both his livelihood and his life.

Just then a young woman I’d worked with some years before approached the door. “Martha? My god! It’s been forever!!! What are you doing these days?”

Tom looked at me and saw I was about to cry. I was but at this moment I don’t know exactly why. There were plenty of reasons in that cold early-winter Denver moment.

Tom answered. “She’s livin’. She’s jus’ livin’. That’s all any of us do and if you think otherwise, you’re wrong.”

After that, I knew the goal of my life was to live. To live for life itself. It’s not so easy, either.