Thomas Hardy vs. Grief

In Tenebris

Thomas Hardy

Percussus sum sicut foenum, et aruit cor meum.” —Ps. ci.

Wintertime nighs; 
But my bereavement-pain 
It cannot bring again: 
Twice no one dies. 

Flower-petals flee; 
But, since it once hath been, 
No more that severing scene 
Can harrow me. 

Birds faint in dread: 
I shall not lose old strength 
In the lone frost’s black length: 
Strength long since fled! 

Leaves freeze to dun; 
But friends can not turn cold 
This season as of old 
For him with none. 

Tempests may scath; 
But love can not make smart 
Again this year his heart 
Who no heart hath. 

Black is night’s cope; 
But death will not appal 
One who, past doubtings all, 
Waits in unhope. 

Long long ago in a dormitory not so far away — five hours — I was confronted with this poem. At the time my dad was in a nursing home in Colorado Springs, his life suspended between a reclining wing-backed chair and a coma. Most Fridays I got on the Continental Trailways bus which I caught at the terminal in downtown Denver. Thinking about it, I can still smell the winter air and diesel wafting from the cold garage into the bus terminal waiting room with its chrome-armed benches and light green plastic upholstery from which the original pattern of pale ice cubes remained only on the sides where no one sat. $1.85 to get to Colorado Springs. I always had that, whatever expenses the week brought.

I stepped up the three steps with my little blue suitcase carrying homework and underwear (backpacks hadn’t become “the thing” yet), and handed my ticket to the conductor and took my seat by the window. Sometimes there was someone sitting beside me with stories to tell, often not. I wondered if my boyfriend would meet my bus or my mom. Usually it was my boyfriend, a man I later married, but that’s a subject for a blog post that will remain unwritten.

“Go see your dad,” said my mom when I walked in the front door, as if I needed to be told.

Whatever I found at the nursing home, I stayed. If he were lying in a coma, I did homework. If he were sitting up, we talked. By that time his speech was very garbled and he often used a Ouija board (imagine!) as an alphabet board to spell out the words he wanted to speak. He would point with his finger — spastic though his hands were, frustrating though it was for this short-tempered Irishman — and we would talk, sometimes for hours. He would tell me what to buy my mom to give her for Christmas, birthday, anniversary from him. His gifts to my mom were always something lovely. I would go to the new mall, The Citadel, filled with importance, carrying the checkbook that was our joint checking account, make the purchase and buy a mushy card on which Dad would scrawl what he could of the words, “I love you, Bill.” I always hoped that a gift would fix everything. I wonder if my dad hoped that, too.

Then the day came when I learned once and forever that hope is not enough. That paradoxical human thing without which we cannot live, but which cannot, in itself, keep anything alive, except itself. Hardy’s poem, which had been completely incomprehensible to me when I studied it the year before my father’s death, suddenly made too much sense, but it had a message I’ve retained all my life, “Twice no one dies…” followed by, “

… But death will not appal 
One who, past doubtings all, 
Waits in unhope. 

I spent the next three months pretty much alone at school, avoiding friends, studying, trying to make sense of life without my best friend. My dad’s death was a rocket that shot me into a universe none of my peers seemed to inhabit. I could see them from a distance, but I couldn’t hear them.

It took a L–O–N–G time to understand hope, and, again, Thomas Hardy (whose poetry I had in a HUGE book, The Poems of Thomas Hardy, by that time, not just in my even HUGER anthology of Victorian poetry) spoke to me in his poem, “The Darkling Thrush”

I leant upon a coppice gate
      When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
      The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
      Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
      Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
      The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
      The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
      Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
      Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
      The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
      Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
      In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
      Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
      Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
      Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
      His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
      And I was unaware.

Featured photo: Bus station in Colorado Springs back in the day… My dad had multiple sclerosis, diagnosed when he was 27, died when he was 45. I was 20.

“Thank you, Lord, for thinkin’ ’bout me. I’m alive and doin’ fine.”

We were just kids, didn’t know our asses from our elbows, and were all about to take the big step into the big world where things were not ordered and interpreted by the deacons of First Baptist Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Some of us were excited for the BIG ADVENTURE of the REAL world which, in the late 60’s and early 70’s was a pretty flash place rife with sex and drugs and rock’n’roll. We were a close knit bunch, most of us honor students, and I had the supreme honor of being elected President of the BYF (Baptist Youth Fellowship). Unfortunately, I made some miscalculations about the motives of the church leaders and ended up being thrown out of my youth group but still “allowed” to attend church. Pretty damned white of them, don’t you think? You can read about that event here. My long ago post about an unctuous deacon at my church It’s a good story.

Many of the church leaders felt that “shunning” and “ejecting” me was unfair and attempted to bring me back into the fold. After all, I had a demonstrably fucked up family, dad rushing toward death from MS, mom on drugs and booze and a little brother who was headed for the dark side. There was every possibility that I could be saved from perdition. I clearly had a good heart, a good soul, knew my Bible, had made some big contributions to the church and the youth group from which I’d been ejected, and Jesus didn’t want to lose the members of his flock.

The local Baptist summer camp — Black Forest Baptist Assembly — needed counsellors and one of my “allies” talked my mom into letting me be a counselor for a week at a kid’s camp. I wasn’t really aware of it at the time, but I needed to be away from my mom. My mom, on the other hand, needed me at home to help with my dad. The Pastor came, talked to my mom about it and I got to go. I was 18, just out of high school, had suffered my first serious broken heart, was about to start college. It was 1970.

That week counseling a group of Jr. High girls at Black Forest Baptist Assembly in a primitive camp was absolutely wonderful fantastic life-altering and redemptive. I had never had a summer camp experience. I had never slept in a tent. I’d spent a lot of time in woods and hills, but had never had the chance to share that with anyone. The Pastor who ran that camp was great. He loved the outdoors, was generous-hearted, funny and the kids loved him. A few weeks afterward, I started college.

The next summer I was invited back. It seemed that in spite of my questionable allegiance to Baptist tenets, I was a gifted summer camp counselor. My mom was persuaded to let me spend most of the summer as a CIT, Counselor in Training, which meant that I would counsel a few camps, work in the kitchen preparing meals for the primitive camps, and share a cabin with a friend. I’d also have a chance to lead arts and crafts if any of the camp leaders wanted it.

I had my second run-in with “unctuous deacons” that summer.

The same Pastor who had been so great the year before ran one of the camps in which I would be working and he specifically asked if I would be counseling that summer. I didn’t know that in the intervening year, he’d become “born again” at a revival meeting. He’d experienced a visitation of the “spirit” and had spoken in tongues. His orientation to the camp experience had changed completely. Rather than games of “steal the bacon,” nature hikes, campfire songs and s’mores, the kids were rounded up and made to sit for HOURS in the ONE enclosure in the primitive camp while the pastor pushed toward a “charismatic” experience with the Lord. It was awful. The kids were junior high kids, not all from a church, some just there because it was truly the best camping experience in the area (usually).

Finally, one rainy evening, after dinner, as a thunderstorm broke all around us, a group of kids and I ran away to take a hike. As the storm ended, we climbed a ridge. The sun was dropping behind the mountains, hitting the mammatus clouds with golden light. The same light reflected on water droplets all around us. It was a shimmering, glimmering, light-filled, brand new world of sublime beauty.

“We should have communion,” said one of the kids.

“We don’t have any bread or juice,” said another kid.

“I’ll go down to the main camp and get some.”

“OK,” I said, equally enchanted by the beauty of the moment from this high place, the rapidly changing light and the authentic fellowship of a dozen kids (including me) on a hard hike. He ran down the hill, raided the kitchen, stole a pack of Chips Ahoy cookies and a bottle of fruit drink.

There on that hill we shared a spiritual experience in Nature’s holy light. Instead of Kumbaya or some other hymn-like thing we joined hands and sang a pop song…

“And then?” you might be wondering… Well the Pastor complained to the camp director who then called me in and asked me what happened. I explained it all, expecting to be ejected and shunned yet again but no.

“I agree with you, Martha. That’s what camp is for. Enjoying the beauty and blessings of nature, God’s gift to us. I don’t approve of this charismatic stuff. It’s not for everyone, and certainly not for children. As you know, a lot of our campers are not Baptist or maybe any faith. Browbeating them into believing something is wrong. I’ll talk to him.”

The upshot was that I worked two more camps that summer, and met the boy who might have been the great love of my life (last time I saw him was 2004). Then a day came when my mom showed up out of no where and said, “You have to come home. I can’t take care of your dad myself. We have to take him to a nursing home.”

But I had that sunset and it lit my heart forever.

A story on this subject you might enjoy is Langston Hughe’s “Salvation.”

É Quanta Nostalgia…

I love Denver. I was born in Denver. I lived there until I was 8 and returned to Denver at least twice a year to visit my Aunt Martha when I was a kid. When we moved back to Colorado, I took every opportunity I could to stay with my Aunt Martha in her apartment in Capitol Hill in Denver. I moved to Denver for college, left for three years to study in Boulder and returned to Denver. Denver was my home and also the world from which I fledged.

I also hated Denver. It was small. The world I wanted was so much larger and I wanted it so badly that I had to get out of there. I left for good in 1984 and didn’t return often. But it was always Denver whether I wanted to go there or not, and as long as my Aunt Martha lived there, I had a reason to return.

I haven’t really been back since I returned to Colorado five years ago. I have had a couple of peripheral jaunts to the general area, but not to see the personal sites that are engraved on my heart, places where I lived, where my family lived, streets that were my home streets. For some reason Denver felt like an alien place and I didn’t feel welcome there. I don’t know why. It had changed? Of course it changed, and somehow it felt like a betrayal (as if I had not changed? Ha ha)

So, having arranged to have lunch with a very old friend and his awesome wife, having found a spot on Colfax (America’s Main Street) that looked like a good spot, and The Who having cancelled and the whole trip suddenly becoming much simpler, my friend Lois and I went up there today.

We didn’t take the freeway (which Coloradans call “the Interstate”) we took the old back roads and our drive was peaceful and beautiful. We arrived at the suburban periphery and I began to recognize landscapes, though now covered with houses. Lois was subjected to a lot of that, “This used to be” and “We used to go” and all that stuff we humans do in the throes of nostalgia, and she was patient.

I still know Denver. It’s still Denver. I drove to my places as if I had never stopped driving to them, routes as familiar to me as the palm of my hand.

I have a lot to process and cannot write well about it yet, but we went past many of my old apartment buildings and my Aunt’s townhome and saw Mt. Evans and had lunch on a street that really defies description, still. I’ll probably write a post sometime about Sundays on Colfax, but not now.

Some of you might know Denver as a city where Kerouac hung out with Neal Cassady and on the building where we had lunch was a mural of Jack and Neal. It reminded me of a mural that used to be on one of the outside walls of City Lights Bookstore in North Beach in San Francisco. So… Colfax is mentioned in On the Road.

“I pictured myself in a Denver bar that night, with all the gang, and in their eyes I would be strange and ragged and like the Prophet who has walked across the land to bring the dark Word, and the only Word I had was ‘Wow!”

― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

I used to walk to work every day (because, you know, air pollution and global warming and stuff) and every day I passed the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. But back then I didn’t enter Catholic Churches.

It happened that today the church was right across the street from our restaurant and after eating, we all went into the cathedral which was an oasis of cleanliness, peace, light and gentle baroque music on that strange dingy street that is Colfax on Capitol Hill. I thought to myself how much life has passed since the days I walked home past this church without ever entering and how now, among other experiences including writing about Catholicism in a very friendly way, I have heard mass in Latin at the Basilica San Ambrogio in Milan.

It turns out that the first Monsignor of the church was originally from Milan and educated in Switzerland. My friend’s wife brought this to my attention and I felt a chill, as if a circle had closed and I could not have entered that building before that moment.

And then I thought of how we begin — how I began — and decided a life spent overturning biases and ignorance is a pretty good life. And it’s a pretty good life that allows you to return with your sister/friend down country roads to visit your deepest personal roots on a sunny Sunday. To have lunch with a man you’ve known for 52 years and his soul mate, all wrapped up in the city of your heart.


Long long ago I was accused of having a hot temper. I was told that it wasn’t charming and would get me in trouble as I got older. I guess as a little girl, I was quickly infuriated by things. I don’t remember it that way, but I do remember being in trouble — and receiving a lot of lectures — for getting angry. My dad was a model for a short temper, but everyone just said that the “got his Irish up easily.” It wasn’t, as my mom said, such a big problem for a man, but for a woman?

I don’t know about this double standard of temper, but somewhere in all that modeling and lecturing something might have sunk in. It’s been years since I’ve lost my temper. I think what buffered it was teaching. When you are obliged to be the adult in a room filled with post-adolescents you learn patience and how to keep your emotional distance. From that distance you can see that often the stuff that pisses you off is funny.

The last time I was infuriated I got very sick. My students (some of them) posted a sign on my classroom door saying my class was cancelled. When I headed to the classroom I saw some of my students going down the steps away from the building. “What?” I said.

“Professor?” they said, “we thought class was cancelled.”

“It isn’t,” I said. In the classroom, a few students. were sitting around looking bewildered, not believing it (I always posted on BlackBoard and emailed my students if I were going to be absent). One of my student picked up his phone to text some of his classmates, a message I knew later said, “Get back here. She’s pissed.”

I was angry at them but not profoundly. It was more a matter of needing to remind them why they were there, what the policy of absences was (I didn’t care). And there was a big rock concert in the desert that weekend, and class was on a Thursday, I expected absences anyway. Their stragedy was unnecessary. I didn’t count absences against students. I figured they were adults and could make their own decisions about their lives including attending class.

I was angry at whomever had posted the sign, however. That was just WRONG because it could hurt other students, but even then I would get over it. I wanted to find those students so I could tell them they had every right to miss class, but no right to affect the decisions of their classmates. If they didn’t want to go to class, great, that was their decision but cancelling class and pretending to be me? No.

I told my boss (who, from this episode I learned was a piece of work beyond description) who asked me who did it. I said I had suspicions and told him who. They WERE on their way to the rock concert I learned from their Facebook page. He called them into his office the following week. Afterward he said to me that I had had no right to look at their Facebook page and said, “They’re good kids,” and some other stuff. He then proceeded to accuse me of all kinds of things that these students had said, all of which were untrue — that I was often late for class (NEVER), that my lessons were disorganized (NEVER) and that I didn’t know the subject I was teaching (had taught for 10 years, had published juried articles about, etc.).

I was, obviously, furious and trapped. He’d criticized me to my students and had taken their side. A good boss should have the backs of his teachers. I have never been more angry or felt more impotent.

In the middle of that night, I had my first ever asthma attack. It was so bad — and completely unfamiliar — that I was terrified. I could not breathe. These episodes didn’t stop. They went on every night for weeks. One night I really thought I was going to die. I finally went to my (incompetent) doc who threw steroid inhalers at me and then complained when I didn’t get well. More than a year later. I was diagnosed by two specialists (working as a team) with a rare pseudo-allergy called Samter’s Triad or Aspirin Exacerbated Respiratory Disease, given a bunch of meds and was finally able to breathe and taste food again.

The thing is… I don’t seem to have it any more.

Psychedelia, Hippies and Me

I was in junior high when psychedelia hit the modern world — or my modern world, anyway. My aunt was heading to San Francisco for a business trip and my mom teased her by singing, “If you’re going to San-Fran-Cisco, better wear some flowers in your hair.” Psychedelia had an enormous impact on music but it was also really pretty exciting for fashion and pop culture. It affected decorating all through the early 70s (if you don’t believe it Google “70’s wallpaper”). At bottom, though, it wasn’t about flowers or decorating or music or even peace and love.

It was about drugs. Psychedelics were seen as a conduit to a spiritual experience. I can’t answer to that.

In high school (’68-’70), psychedelia lurked around the edges of our “time.” I vaguely remember discussions about Huxley’s Doors of Perception. Many of the people I knew “tried acid.” It was a pretty common question for a while, “Have you tried acid yet?” like it was inevitable. I never did even though, as most high school kids, I was concerned about being “cool”. I’d promised my dad WAY back in 1966 (psychedelia had reached our world, just not my little world of softball and summer days) I’d never do anything to my mind because, as he explained, “Even if your body doesn’t work anymore, MAK, if you have your mind, you can still work.” He had MS. My dad loved Aldous Huxley and I suspect that — besides the usual research done by this man with his questioning mind — he’d read Doors of Perception.

By the time I finished high school and entered college, psychedelia was entering its decayed phase, but it was definitely still there. It had been around long enough to have begun garnering consequences. The saddest of these were the involuntary or accidental suicides and the runaway kids who ended up on humanity’s rubbish heap sometimes right then, sometimes decades later.

Obviously, music was a huge part of psychedelia. Bands I didn’t like, couldn’t like, still can’t like — but some I liked such as Cream and Jefferson Airplane.

For a while anyone who wanted to sell albums in the rock genre had to have, at least, a psychedelic album cover. My two favorite bands — The Who and Steppenwolf — were not psychedelic bands but did have a couple of album covers that nodded to psychedelia.

And then there were all the rock-stars who “choked on vomit.” Booze — sometimes mixed with downers — still seemed to have been the “drug of choice.”

Once I was in college and away from home I did give being a hippy a decent shot, but it wasn’t for me. I found it very boring, got tired of being stoned and knew that in my deepest core, I’m not a peaceful person. I’m a fighter. I have felt alienated several times in my life, but those three months were some of the most alienating. I wondered if being a hippy weren’t just an affectation. It’s OK. Experimentation and self-discovery define the post-adolescent period of life.

Because I was not a drug user, my dorm room was sometimes the destination for friends who’d dropped acid. I seem to have had the ability to “talk people down” from a bad trip. I can still see in my mind’s eye the sleeping forms of tortured souls on the empty bed in my double dorm room.

It wasn’t until I was in my 40s that I knew anything about what was behind psychedelia. It was very interesting and it was science. My roommate — a post-adolescent — was very curious about drugs and resolved to try them. Stanislav Grof’s book, LSD Psychotherapy hung around in our bathroom for a while. I found it fascinating, scientific and persuasive, but I still didn’t “try acid.”

Or any other psychedelia. I think a person needs to know his or her own brain and I always suspected that there was something different — glitchy? — about mine.

There were — are — also many, many, many hippies in my life most of whom would have answered “yes” to the question, “Have you tried acid yet?” they’re great people. BUT…along with telling me to protect my brain, my dad encouraged me to retain my individuality no matter what. My experiments with “belonging” never worked out, so here I am, still believing that individual diversity makes the world work. Those who “belong” and those who stand outside have equal value in human social evolution. And while love really isn’t ALL you need, what are we without it?

Sometimes I look at the cultural schism in this country, and I see hippies on one side (liberal Democrats) and I forgot what we called the other side — Fascists? — on the other side. This is same divide that existed in my youth. The young progressives who despise the oldsters are still basically shouting, “Youth is truth!” and they’re just as ignorant as the hippies were and as likely to change the world in the direction they wanted to. The late 60’s and early 70’s were violent. The rosy lens of nostalgia sometimes obscures that, the pipe-bombs, the broken glass, the beaten bodies, the shootings on college campuses. The big issue was the Vietnam War and the draft.

The upshot of that, for me, is the all volunteer military which we cannot protest because anyone in the armed forces today signed up; they weren’t drafted.

So I dunno’ about this psychedelia thing. Far more honest to me in terms of music related social movements are those which came later, punk — even disco. Disco was about random sex and punk was about senseless noise and social protest. I can definitely get behind either of those.

Refugees, Asylum, Exile

Once upon a time in a faraway land I was a young girl. At 14, I was on the brink of LIFE and I knew it. “What’s OUT there? Whatever it is I want ALL of it. I want adventure, faraway places, love, romance, exotic locales, art, beauty, truth, give me the WHOLE thing! What? I have to come and get it? No? Just meet you halfway? OK, whatever it takes, I’m down with it. What do you mean I don’t have a choice?”

I didn’t listen to that last bit… I also didn’t know that eventually in life we learn how our stories turn out.

Among the goings on in my life when I was 14 were piano lessons. My first teacher was a nice young man who came to our house every Wednesday to teach my brother and me. My second was an elderly and frustrated concert pianist at the prep school I attended. Her fingers were gnarled by arthritis, and no doubt she was in physical and psychological pain. BUT she was too ready to hurt the hands of the child who made mistakes. My fingers were often scraped along the keyboard after a failed arpeggio, or crushed in her sad claw when I made mistakes. When I left the prep school I needed a new teacher. I was also terrified of piano lessons by that point, but (strangely) I had talent for the piano. My mom found Mr. Baer who had a small studio in the back of the music store in the small town where we lived.

.He turned out to be one of my life’s great gifts.

Fast forward a five decades. A few years ago I wrote about Mr. Baer in this blog, a post that I apparently deleted in the Great Post Purge of 2019. But THAT post attracted a German historian at the University of Hamburg who was working on a project collecting the stories, brief biographies, of the many German Jewish musicians and artists who lived in exile in Shanghai during WW II. I didn’t have much help to give her, but I learned some things myself from doing research. Mostly I learned how Mr. Baer, his wife and his mother ended up in Bellevue, Nebraska. Our news is very much about us. The old newspapers reported mostly about the church group that brought him to Omaha.

Last night, after reading Korea in Shanghai on I. J. Khanewala’s blog, I thought of Mr. Baer again. I commented that it would be great if, on one of his trips to Shanghai, Mr. Khanewala could go find the old Jewish neighborhood where my teacher had lived. I then Googled Mr. Baer and found the biography this historian wrote. It is the story Mr. Baer told me so long ago, but more. I was able to learn all of the things he did and was in Germany — Berlin — before Hitler. Among those things was that he fought for Germany in WW I. As I. J. Khanewala commented today, “It must be specially disheartening to fight for your country in a war and then be declared first a lesser citizen, then a non-citizen, and finally an enemy of the country.”

Besides the music of Chopin (which Mr. Baer and I both loved) I heard the story about losing one’s home in a way I never forgot and that engendered in me a particular sympathy for people forced from a homeland they love. I was learning a Mazurka, having learned from my second piano teacher Chopin’s Polonaise Opus 53 (it was my audition piece to be accepted by Mr. Baer. I can’t believe now that I could ever play it but I did…) “A Mazurka is a Polish folkdance,” explained Mr. Baer. “Do you know Chopin’s story?”


“He was forced to leave Poland, his home country, and he was never able to return. He missed it all his life.” Mr. Baer spoke with a very thick German accent.

That evening I learned a little of his story, how his daughter had been killed by Nazis, how he’d refugeed through Italy to Shanghai then to New York and finally to Nebraska. I heard the names of these exotic places and I wondered how it could be for him to live in our small town (fewer than 10k people) in Nebraska.

“Ja, so it looks very much like the countryside in Germany,” he said. “And my wife, she is here and my mother. We must make our home where we are.”

Was Mr. Baer Chopin? I wondered. Yes, of course he was, but?

My dad had been trying to get reassigned by the Defense Department from Nebraska where he worked at SAC (Strategic Air Command) to a posting in Colorado and finally it came through. We were to go to Colorado Springs and dad was going to work for NORAD (North American Air Defense Command). I went to my piano lesson thrilled to be moving back to the mountains. I didn’t count on how that would actually FEEL after it happened, and I had left my friends, my first boyfriend, my school, my forest behind and was living in a bigger city and knew no one.

I wrote Mr. Baer and he answered. His letter said, “Think of the mountains and how much you missed them and how wonderful it is to be there now.”

I had my answer.

But I also saw how a man like this, who had experienced so much LIFE — the horror and the beauty — could still enter into the feelings of a young girl with sympathy, understanding and kindness.


Here’s a link to Mr. Baer’s biography. I didn’t have too many problems reading the German, but I couldn’t get all of it — Google Translate was a good helper. It’s worth reading.

Mr. Baer

Here’s the Polonaise. Of course I never played it like THIS.

Waiting for My Prince

“Someday, my prince will come!”

We don’t sing that any more, now that we have digital cameras. I used to take rolls of film to a nearby drug store that was a member of a now defunct drug store chain and fill in a paper and and put each roll of film in an individual envelope and drop it in a box and wait a week or so. It was honestly kind of cool not to know how the pictures came out until, uh, they came out. And then, since you had to wait, the experience was a little distance from you when you saw the photos.

If you wanted to edit them, you had to use scissors.

Lots of people preferred slides. I never understood why. First you needed tons of equipment just to look at them. You had to sort them — more equipment — and label them. I don’t know of anyone who ever just sat down on a rainy afternoon and thumbed through, oops, set up the projector and screen and reminisced about that time whatever it was. Having recently sorted through hundreds of slides and converted them to digital pictures, I remember well how annoying that all was — and then, a lot of times, you’d look at a slide and say, “Oh! I want prince of that!!!”

I also thought of my Aunt Martha and sitting through hours of slides of her trip to Africa. “There, you can barely see it, but there, there’s a lion!”

One fun thing we did with slides when I was a little kid was project them on the front of our neighbor’s house from the front stoop of our house in Nebraska. Their house was white and they weren’t home.

P.S. The prince above are Stein am Rhein and Stoos, two lovely spots in Switzerland.

Camping Daze

I’m not interested in camping at all. I’ve done it. The last time was sometime in the early 80s, but even then, I wasn’t “camping” any more. The ex and I had a 1972 VW camper van and that’s paradise on wheels, actually. If I had one now I’d use it. It was great. It had higher clearance than does Bella, my Jeep. Among other places, we took it all over the Anza Borrego Desert in California on weekends. It was unlikely it would get stuck in a sandy wash, either. The engine was over the back wheels. Sadly it died, as many of them did, from a giant crack in the block. That crack was so big that when we stopped on the 15 because of black smoke coming out of the tailpipe (we were on our way to Big Bear to ski) and opened the hood, we could see the crack and the oil oozing out…

Dark times. Dark times.

I wish I had it now. I think. Yeah.

For the part of a couple summers I was a counselor at my church camp. I was a counselor in the “primitive camp,” and while that name might give you visions of atavistic Baptist rituals or because it was a camp for middle schoolers, it just meant we slept ten in a big Army tent on cots, used an outhouse and cooked some of our meals over an open fire. I liked it a lot. It might have been my favorite job.

I might go camping again if I had a VW camper van, though. That was just great. From time to time I look at them on some car sales site and think, “What if???”

Bass Speaker

I’ve been away at college for two weeks. I’m waiting for something to happen, for the great adventure to begin. My roommate is a freaky rich Jewish girl from Texas whose father owns a woman’s clothing line. I don’t like her; she doesn’t like me and worse still, she’s taken up smoking. I’d specified a non-smoking roommate, and here’s Ellen, smoking. Not because she likes smoking but because the older girls are cool and flick their ashes into the little hole in the top of the Coke can.

It’s announced in a dorm meeting that the school is holding a “mixer” with Regis College, a men’s college. This is how we were supposed to meet boys and date and fall in love and get engaged and get a ring so we could have a “ringing” ceremony. This is an event in which a girl orders a candle and corsage (or the dorm does it, I don’t know) in her favorite color. There is then a small party with cake and everyone sits in a circle. The ring is slid down the candle and the candle, corsage and ring are passed from girl to girl so everyone can see the ring. Even at 18 the phallic allusions are completely obvious to me. To them?

Anyway, I dress up for the mixer — cute tweed jumper made by my mom. Shades of green to bring out the color of my eyes (they are green), and go with my suite-mates and evil roommate. I’m nervous and irked. Something doesn’t feel right to me; I don’t think anyone will ask me to dance; I’m not looking for a boyfriend. I’m looking for adventure and change and action. I have already suffered my first real broken heart and boys are scary. I also don’t see me going through the process and ending up at a “ringing”. I am simply confused.

The mixer is in the college dining hall — where we also had our formal dances. It is a beautiful room, in fact the college is beautiful. After I leave, I’ll realize what I left behind.

The girls stand around and the boys stand around. Back then boys looked like young men and girls looked like young women. Today, it seems, girls often look like experienced hookers and boys look like eighth graders. Sure, the counterculture is alive and well, but not everywhere and certainly not at a Catholic men’s college where the boys come from nor at my college. The “kids” are well-dressed, clean, attractive and shy. It isn’t quite high school, but it isn’t quite NOT. There is no alcohol served (it is a Baptist college) and few people in that milieu use drugs. The only ones I know are two girls from California, from LA, Palos Verdes Estates. In the heart of Colorado these girls insist California skiing is better. Sacrilege. I’d gotten high with them a couple of times, walking down the street to Stapleton Airport, sitting in an empty field and watching the airborne planes change color as the sun set.

In the corner, on an elevated stage is the band, a local band. Sugarloaf. They have a decent kit — the best I’ve seen, anyway in my no-rock-concert adolescence. As for the band? Not Steppenwolf, Tim Buckley or The Moody Blues, but the best I’ve seen so far. And, you know, their one hit is about a lady with green eyes. That would be me. Is it me?

I  won’t dance. I am short, dark haired. I wear glasses. I do not look like the girl a guy would walk into a room and dance with. At least (at most?) I don’t think I do. My California friends get bored and leave, stopping to ask me if I want to get high. My roommate finds a nice Catholic boy to dance with and I see him, later, lighting her cigarette. My suite mates vanish at some point, but later I will help one of them puke out her first Boones Farm overdose. At a certain point in this, my first college mixer, I realize that the best thing there, for me, is the bass speaker. I sit down as close to it as I can. I try to look as if I am in love with the band (I can hardly stand them) imagining that if I look like a groupie I might become one and my adventures would start.

Love vs. Life

I haven’t been reading blogs for the past few days — I’m sorry. The project I have been “typing” (my first “novel” written in my late 20s) has turned out to be absorbing. I did not expect that. I expected it to be writing practice, typing practice, but it’s turned out to be very compelling and educational.

I don’t know what it is, though. It’s 40,000 words — not really long enough for a novel, and I don’t know if the structure, premise, idea or whatever I had originally will work at all. I’m about to print the thing out and read it. I think that will tell me something.

It’s slightly maddening NOT to be able to comment on the story, not to be able to write “And here’s how that turned out” especially as the protagonista’s main drive in life is to escape Denver and see the world. I cannot write, “And then I went to China” because that was three years down the road. And I cannot write, “You’ll leave Denver, sweet-cheeks, and 30 years later, when you want to go back, you’ll find it gone. You will have learned what Shakespeare meant by ‘time’s fell hand’.”

It’s been interesting to think about young life’s dreams, too.  Everyone in the story is around 30 – the protagonista is 27, the loves of her life are a couple of years older. They are ready to settle down, but because the protagonista got married at 19, and the marriage was a nightmare, she is in a very different emotional space than might be other women her age.

I’ve been troubled for a while over my lack of interest in writing a female protagonist. The installment of the Schneebeli saga I’ve been peripatetically working for the past year struggles to find its “hero” and I’ve resisted the possibility that the hero might be a heroine. But here in this old manuscript, I have a definite heroine and she’s contending with existential questions, mainly, “What is the point of my life? How can I make it what I want it to be? Who the fuck am I, anyway?”

She won’t find any of the answers, but she will (I know) find purposeful work that she will love. She will see some of the world, and what she will not see will find her. Love will elude her, but it seems, even at this young point in her life, she had lost faith in it even though she will keep trying.

I think the “book” might actually be worth reading — ultimately it’s the story of a young woman trying to figure things out and she does NOT choose marriage and family. I have not seen a lot of that story with a woman as the center of the action.

AnyHOO, I’ll be back reading blogs soon, I hope. And, once more I am grateful to high school English for forcing me to read a sonnet I could not then comprehend. Now I can and it makes me weep.


Sonnet 64: When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defac’d


When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defac’d
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-ras’d
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the wat’ry main,
Increasing store with loss and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay;
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate,
That Time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.