Post-Adolescent Expressionism

“I don’t know how you can be so patient.”


“I’d have lost it.”

“Hmm.” You don’t talk about student A with student B, but the comment stuck with me. When had that happened? When had I become patient? Or had I always been? Is patience the ability to calmly put up with shit or the ability to wait?

It’s been a great gift wherever it came from. Teaching post-adolescents definitely helped me develop patience. People between the ages of 17 and 20/21 are categorically out of their minds but they’re also wonderfully entertaining, reckless, enthusiastic and consummately confused without knowing it. I happened to like them – having spent my life around them from the time I was 25 they were my “peer group” in a way.

It wasn’t patience that made them copable for me; it was my sense of humor and perspective. I “got” them. The day one of my students told me to “fuck off” I looked at him and thought, “You just shot yourself in the foot, kid. I sill like you. I get where that came from, but you’re going to be in a world of hurt until you sort that out and apologize to me.”

Unlike the kid, I could see into the future — two or three days of missed class, an embarrassed meeting in the hallway before class, “I’m sorry, prof. I really like you. I don’t know why I said that.”

“You were angry, kid. Watch your temper in the future, and you won’t have to miss class or meet up with your teacher in the hallway to apologize.” Did I say that? Yeah, but I used his name.

I don’t recall if he then tried to defend his anger, but it’s likely. Something like, “I don’t know why you gave me a B.” It’s probable, but not certain.

They were never easy to deal with. That joke about herding cats more-or-less applies to teaching several classes of post-adolescents, but not really. The thing that makes the herd of cats joke funny is that the cats aren’t paying attention to the herdsman, but my “cats” paid attention to me. They were just driven by forces more powerful than the teacher in the front of the room. Their emotional intensity and impatience with life and the future, their raging hormones, their search for identity. the sudden experience of contradiction in a world that was never what they expected it to be. The more sheltered kids experienced culture shock suddenly living in a dorm at a university with more than 30k students with teachers of every hue and philosophy.

I used to eat my lunch on a shady bench near the bookstore and often watched the parade during the first few weeks of school. I could identify the freshman and the type of freshman by what they came out of the bookstore with. There were invariably the tousled hair kid who emerged with a Bob Marley black light poster and the three blond girls clinging to each other in a mixture of friendship and need. Every year. Thinking about it this morning, I’m a little surprised at how similar it was to watching the birds at the Refuge.

I loved it when I taught the lower and upper divisions of the same basic course, though, of course, the content wasn’t the same. Sometimes I got to teach the freshman version of a kid then, two or three years later, the senior. They were often two different people.

It is very difficult to persuade a nineteen year old, though, that all he or she has to do is wait. Patience is an uncommon attribute of that moment of life. I sure didn’t have it.


P.S. As of today I am allegedly immune to Covid 19. I’m still picking up my groceries at the store. It was strange to think that I COULD mask up, run in and get a gallon of milk.


Yesterday I made what I have imagined would be my final pilgrimage to pick up groceries. I remembered the first time when I was apprehensive about even finding the right place to pick them up (easy to find). Now I ace this grocery pick up thing. As I listened to the car radio (which played my favorite song and anthem) I wondered about the future.

I have thought a lot about how relatively easy it has been to develop totally new habits. I remembered before Covid seeing young people, grocery store employees, wandering around the store, picking things up, putting them on three shelved carts and then checking out the stuff. I thought, “Who’s organized enough to do that?” I didn’t know how easy it was. The only thing I’ve missed out on is the rare occasions my store might have something like Swiss Emmenthaler cheese.

I had semi-resolved that next week I will go into the store because my vaccine will have kicked in. As I waited for my stuff in the parking lot I thought about that some more. This is really easy. I go online, I find my stuff, I choose a day and time, I pay, I drive, I wait a few minutes, I get my stuff and come home. I don’t go to any store in the middle of the week because I did a thorough job by choosing my stuff online. I very very rarely forget anything. A trip that was once a two hour chunk of a day + random trips for forgotten items is now an hour. (I have a 20 minute drive to the store…)

I thought, “Why would I change back to the old ways?” Suddenly I knew I wouldn’t. Why should I?

So now I’m curious. What changes have you made to accommodate Covid that you’re going to stick with, other than maybe continuing to wear a mask?

Thoughts from One who “Flits”

Growing up — well getting into high school — it was all about “concentration.” “What’s your concentration?” a question that appeared more as time went on, but it was already there for college-tracked high school kids. Even my dad said I should specialize. “Focus on something, MAK. Make it your specialization.”

My mom called me a, “Flighty little thing,” and said I should settle on ONE thing rather than “flitting from this to that.” The point was (and no one spelled this out for me) that if you were REALLY REALLY exceptionally good at something, your future was secure.

Along with this message, I was getting the OTHER message, also from my dad, that life is in the here and now which translates into “Do what you love.”

I don’t think I’ve done much in my life intentionally. Things just appeared in the pathway, and I grasped the ones that drew me. My major in college was English not because it was my great passion, but because my mom refused to send me spending money if I majored in anything not recommended by the STRONG Interest Inventory that had been given to me by the government. I was getting the GI bill because my dad was a disabled veteran. The Feds wanted to make sure they were betting on a winner. The exam said I could be a lawyer or a newscaster and English was a good major for me. But it also said I had the aptitude to be a forest ranger and the aptitude to work with animals.

Very clear…

My first choice for a major was art, but… So English it was. I became a teacher after tutoring someone and learning that I liked helping people learn. Most of the other aspects in my life have definitely been “flitting.”

No one explained in those early days that the concentration etc. was about earning a living, not about passion for life. In the midst of being a paralegal in the late 1970s I discovered that important point myself. Besides typing at a law firm and putting up with lawyers (no offense lawyers 🙂 ), I was writing and painting. The job was challenging enough and my colleagues were smart. My SECOND life began on Friday at 4:30 and ended at 6 am Monday mornings.

This by Thoreau has always echoed in my mind, “Let not to get a living be thy trade, but thy sport.” I remembered a description from some point in my schooling about the “Renaissance man” who did many different things well, not just one. Maybe it’s not “flitting” at all but living a meaningful life.

COVID Ponderings (and Akbash Dogs)

Since I got the first shot, I’ve been trying to understand the invisible effects of the pandemic on me. I know, solipsistic, but something’s happened. COVID-19 appeared in Colorado almost exactly a year ago, March 5, though now it’s believed it was here in January. I remember taking a long walk (big surprise) and thinking about what it would mean for me. I believed that my responsibility to the world and my community was simply not to get sick. Our hospitals are small and since I am not obliged to do anything like go to work, and I’m not caring for anyone, I could easily “isolate” and I did.

I’m sure everyone’s “Covid story” follows a pattern and it’s likely our patterns are somewhat similar.

In my small life the pattern is essentially the same as depicted in these memes, but with some differences. The second image (going left from the top) is everyone around me scurrying to make masks for our hospitals and discussing what we all could do. The image bottom left is everyone realizing that this isn’t going away any time soon and feeling haggard, tired and a little betrayed. This isn’t supposed to happen to us!!! The bottom right is resignation. I hit the Nutella in picture two, top, but decided that was a bad idea unless I wanted to buy a lot of new clothes. It’s amazing, though, how many psychological problems are healed by Nutella. I hit the bottom left picture (middle version) a few days ago when I woke up thinking, “I want that damned shot NOW!” I’m still there.

The shot left my arm very sore and me very tired for three days. It also shoved in front of me the reality that this life I’ve chosen, and to which I’ve adapted, is going to come to an end. Since I have come to understand through this year (thanks to the cranes) that what matters most in life is life itself, specifically my life, I’ve been wondering if many of the things we do are nothing more than time fillers and illusions. We need human connection, but, at the same time there is no human connection without human life. That was one of the first things that struck me on those early COVID walks. “If I’m not here any more, then I’m not hanging out with my friends.”

The sudden and necessary prioritization of self was shocking until I realized that we rely on others to take care of themselves. That’s what makes a person trustworthy, knowing that that person is NOT going to throw him/herself willy-nilly into oblivion. That is (I think) why sane people reacted so vehemently to DJT (jokingly?) telling people to inject bleach and Dr. Scarf not standing up for medical science (and herself). Deep inside each creature (I believe) is a small wise voice saying, “There’s a meteorite around every corner. Break the ice in the trough or die.” I see the cattle out there finding the ONE warm place, a pile of dung, on which to lie during the deep cold.

I’m not the same person I was in March 2020, and I’m not sure I want to “return” to that person. I can’t NOT know what I’ve learned in this interval. Are you the same person or has this experience launched you into self-discovery, too?

In other news, here’s a video that shows what Akbash dogs (like Bear) do when they have a job:

Tracking Numbers

I’ve been having bizarre experiences with shipments. I’d say mail but it hasn’t been just mail. It’s kind of funny, really, and in these serious times we could use a little absolute irrelevance…

I ordered art supplies from a large online retailer, several tubes of acrylic paint. First, the package was delivered to the wrong person. They emailed to tell me this and that my package was on the way. Well, since I’m running a store, and it needs stock, I was a little irked but really who cares? OK. Then, the package arrived and it was….

Someone else’s order. A lot of stuff, a couple of things that were useful to me, but no.

I contacted them. In the middle of the night I heard a “ping!” in the distance and saw they’d shipped my RIGHT order. Cool. Now I get to send all that other stuff back. Even the nice brush. Waaaaa. First world problem, absolutely.

The books I read for the contest are also lost somewhere. No one actually KNOWS where. My “boss” says we’re giving it a couple more days.

And then, my dog food shipment has been delayed and the company doesn’t know why.

It seems to me that the main assignment of mail order companies is making sure the right stuff gets to the right people, but… Even my stimulus payment got set to the wrong bank account. Now it’s here.

Life just requires a lot of patience in the midst of absurdity.

One thing that’s VERY horrendously absurd is the little piece of patootie who was elected to the US House from my district is a Q-Anon follower. While the Capitol was being attacked, she was Tweeting the locations of various Dem house members to people involve in the insurrection. The way I feel about her is not a way anyone should want me to feel about them.

I’ve contacted a person I think would make an ideal representative, and he’s responded. He’s currently serving in the Colorado General Assembly and is an awesome guy. I think he’s perfect to represent a district that’s immense in square miles but short on people, mostly farms and ranches, punctuated by one fairly large city and a few smaller cities and a LOT of small towns like mine. Meanwhile I am trying to figure out exactly when and how to circulate a recall petition. I hate politics, I don’t want to play, but sometimes…

One Person’s Leftovers Are Another Person’s Treasure

I am very happy with the leftovers from my neighbor’s construction projects. I have a LOT of very nice plywood to paint on. I don’t have a fancy saw — or even an electric saw — so everything I paint will be rectangular, but I have learned to saw a straight line which is no mean achievement. I’m happy, also, with their leftover flagstones that, last summer, we built a pathway from the deck to the little gardens at that end of my yard. Now that it is winter, Bear loves the flagstones, too. On the north end of the yard there is, for her, a constant very cold patch for her to lie on. I also enjoyed painting signs on their leftover cedar fence boards. I’m grateful for all these materials that I couldn’t have gotten on my own.

You just don’t know but what your leftovers might be someone else’s projects!!!

In a few days the books for the contest will begin arriving. THEY will leave leftovers that are a little more difficult to deal with, though just as I wrote that, I thought of all the “book art” I’ve seen on Etsy. Who knows?

“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.

Run away! Run away!!!

When I first retired from teaching in 2014 and moved to Monte Vista, I had the idea of becoming a substitute English teacher at the high school. When I looked into it, and imagined walking into another classroom, I shuddered. That wasn’t happening. The whole idea gave me chills. I wondered how I could be THAT done with something I’d loved for the bigger part of 35 years?

I recently read — and reviewed — a novel that another reviewer called a “coming of age” novel. That’s kind of an important “tag” for a book, so I gave it some thought and decided the book Blind Turn is not a coming of age novel, not really, though the teenage character DOES a lot of growing up. The “mom” character in the book “grows up” every bit as much as her daughter does. “Coming of age” normally refers to that turning point between immaturity and maturity, something that happens in the late teen years, but in real life we do it all the time at all different stages of our lives.

I’ve done a few of those just in the past 10 years. The life I left behind 7 years ago seems very unreal to me. I have tried to identify the moment when that life ended (it was before I moved here) and I can’t pinpoint a precise moment. It was just a long process of discovering that it didn’t fit me any more. It had become too difficult and the rewards too few. What’s more, I saw it.

Why cling to one life
till it is soiled and ragged?
The sun dies and dies
squandering a hundred lived
every instant
God has decreed life for you
and He will give 
another and another and another”

Rumi, The Mathnawi of Jalalu’ddin Rumi, Vol 5, Persian Text

Or, in Goethe’s words: “Hold your powers together for something good, and let everything go that is for you without result and is not suited to you.”

But, I did end up spending a lot of time at the high school. It’s truly Bear’s favorite place to walk.

Njal’s Saga

Until my neighbors got cats, I had a mouse problem. Every September they would send advance scouts. I would discover their presence, set traps, trap them, kill them and throw them out. Having lived in the California mountains in a house so infested with mice when I bought it that it attracted snakes, I have a zero tolerance policy toward invading rodents. In that, house, however, I had the advantage of Siberian huskies who are GREAT mousers. Lily T. Wolf once caught a mouse in the air as it dived from on top an armoire toward the floor.

Not the case here. None of my dogs were mousers. Dusty, Mindy and Bear would show me where the mouse was hiding, but that was it. It was helpful but seriously…

Then the ultimate mouse found his way into my house. I couldn’t trap him, he was so small. He was EVERYWHERE. I’d see his little shadowy form scurry along the baseboards, not even sure I’d seen something. I was into Icelandic Sagas then and I named him Njal for a great Icelandic hero.

Then one evening things got a little too close. He’d taken up residence in the blanket on top of my sofa. I was watching a movie on my lap top and had the strangest feeling I wasn’t alone. I sensed his presence (we’d gotten to that point) and sure enough. He was watching the movie over my shoulder.

When December came, friends came to visit and one of them brought his Australian shepherd, Reina. Reina used to be my dog back in California and understood the mouse drill very well. Within minutes she’d found and devoured Njal. I felt a small, very small, Njal-sized, pang of regret for a noble and friendly mouse, who, I think, really wanted to be a pet.