“I hope all your students are deep and funny.”

If you’re read my blog for a while you know there are twenty-something large books in my “studio” — journal/scrapbook things that I don’t want to keep but can’t throw out. They take up a LOT of space, and I don’t “use” them at all. (How would anyone “use” them?) A few of them are spread out on my work table now. If you open one and start reading, well, for the most part, they’re just awful.

I went at 1988-89 (Volume I of that year, seriously) yesterday with scissors and an x-acto knife. I cut out sheafs of pages, laughing, thinking that even if I don’t do anything more with it, and never manage to throw the books out, at least I’ll leave behind the “expurgated” version of “The Examined Life.”

For many years I wrote my personal thoughts and struggles in these books. I suppose it’s a pretty common human thingamajig to struggle over and over with the same aspects of personality or the walls that spring up in life, the stuff you can’t get over, around or through. For me, apparently, it was “luv’,” specifically a marriage that wasn’t working and my desire to have a romantic companion. I don’t know why that didn’t seem to me at the time a good reason to sit down and talk with my ex about our “non” relationship. Maybe I did and it just didn’t make it into “The Examined Life.”

There are greeting cards, photographs, funny things students said (like the title of this post) circular meditations on the meaning of life (didn’t find the answer, so circular). On the other hand, some of it is accurately self-revelatory. I did not purge the book of those bits of elaborate cursive.

Those are not trivial problems but, good god, are they boring to read about.

Mixed in with all that verbiage (rhymes with “garbage”) are some good insights, descriptions of moments which I could not have known at the time were major life moments, like seeing my first rattlesnake, watching the swirling gyre of seagulls rising from the ocean, being looked in the eye by a red tail hawk, the beginning of my hiking life in the chaparral, the beginning of my life with dogs and my first dog, Truffle who was then a puppy, getting my second dog, Molly. I could not know in the midst of 1988-89 how important these things were and how unimportant the other stuff was.

I think, though, this whole thing could be compiled into ONE that I really CAN use, another volume called, “How it All Turned Out here in Heaven” or something. Maybe just denouement. “Getting found almost always means being lost for a while.” Annie Lamont

But it struck me this morning how weird it all is. Here we are, more-or-less consigned to our domiciles, as if this were a second winter without the glorious compensation of snow, relegated to tasks our usual “busyness” would have made it easy for us to avoid.


In other news: if your blender breaks and you want a smoothie, the best tool? The lowly dinner fork.


Tabby’s American Cousin

Cuyamaca Mountain east of San Diego is 7000 feet/2100 meters and is snow covered for part of the winter. My second ex and I had lived in San Diego not even a year. We had a VW camper van which was great in snow, so we piled in our back country skis and headed to the mountain. We’d never been there, but one thing about California is that trails are marked. It’s also a bad thing, in a way, but this isn’t that post.

We headed up the mountain trail. It goes straight up for a while then winds around the mountain for a view of the city 30 miles distant and the ocean beyond.

The snow was wetish but nice, about a foot deep, heavy enough to hold our skis, but soft enough to ski. As we went around a curve, I saw fresh cougar tracks in the snow. It was the second time I’d seen them. The first was outside of Red Lodge, MT, when we were skiing in the Beartooth foothills. My ex insisted that we turn around. We hadn’t skied very far, and I was disappointed. I thought the cougar knew we were there, had run for cougar-cover, and we would be fine. A little argument ensued. Strangely, I would have gone ahead, no matter what happened.

It was an interesting thing to learn.

At that time we lived across the street from Balboa Park which is the home of the San Diego Zoo. We always got a membership and we loved the shows. One of my favorites was “Animals of North America” which included a mountain lion whose best friend was a golden retriever. The zoo often put big cats used for shows with golden retrievers when the cats were kittens and the dogs were puppies. They grew up together. The golden retriever was good at making friends with the cat, gave the cat a playmate, and helped the zoo accomplish the kind of relative domestication they needed for the educational programs. The first time I saw this, I got tears in my eyes. I’m sappy. At that time I did not yet have a dog of my own. I didn’t even know I wanted one…

The cougar came out with the golden. They were clearly buddies. They jumped up onto their platforms, got treats. The zoo keeper gave a talk about the importance of mountain lions in the wild (what else would she do?) and then showed us the mountain lion’s attributes — giant teeth and claws — and discussed his diet and behavior. She explained that humans were not his preferred prey and briefly touched on safe hiking in lion country which was really all around us. Having scared everyone into respecting the big cat, she then scratched his ears. The cougar leaned against her chest and she hugged him, still scratching his ears. She said, “The mountain lion is the only feline, other than your kitties at home, that does this…” She held the microphone to his throat…

The show also showed us common raptors — retail (red tail, you stupid autocorrect) hawk, golden eagle, kestrel, turkey vulture — then a wolf, a coyote and a bear. All but the raptors had a golden retriever companion. Of all the amazing shows at the zoo, I liked “Animals of North America” the best.

My Real life Mountain lion stories…


Did Not Get the Stentorian Gene

I didn’t know my maternal grandfather, but I knew something about him. He ran for public office in Iowa at some point (as a Democrat), knew many poems by heart, had an interesting sense of humor and liked to give speeches. He used to declaim the alphabet imitating a Baptist preacher consigning everyone to eternal hellfire. In the photo above, my grandfather is the one in back, the obviously iconoclastic one. He was born in 1870.

My dad found my grandpa so funny that when he bought a record making machine in the 40s, he took it to my grandparent’s living room so he could record my grandpa’s stentorian tones. That’s how I heard my grandfather declaim the alphabet long after his death.

My grandfather in 1956.

There were ten kids in my mom’s family, though one died at age 12. I imagine they were a noisy bunch around the dining table because they were when they grew up. Arguing was recreation for them. Montana winters are dark and long…

They look friendly enough but WATCH OUT!!!

But…it takes a thick skin, a dispassionate world view, and the willingness to laugh to survive in THAT milieu. Some of the sisters had it, some didn’t. Some had the sense to stay out, some stayed until they were red with rage.

And what did they argue about? Important stuff sometimes, and sometimes just what they would do if they had a million dollars. There was always something. My Aunt Martha, who never married and succeeded in achieving incredible things in her life, never let go of an argument. She would get seriously invested in any argument and was capable (and willing) to take it up the next morning. The most inflammatory topics for her were women in the military (“A woman can do anything a man can!”) and defense of her lifestyle (which needed no defense but in those days, not marrying was considered strange). Sadly, she was also funny when she got on her soapbox and/or high horse (depending), index finger raised in the air, proclaiming, “I get up every morning at 5:30!” or “I can do anything a man can do!”

Watching these women embroiled in these “debates” I could see their entire childhood. Seven daughters jockeying for position in the family? Each with a distinct personality. My mom was the “walk out of the room” type. My Aunt Jo was fierce but, it seemed to me, not all that serious. Still, she was easily hurt. My Aunt Kelly must have been the kid who would cry. I don’t have any memories of my Aunt Dickie embroiled in these heated debates, but she was a woman with a soft heart and strong opinions. Maybe she just didn’t play. As the youngest, maybe she didn’t have to. I also don’t remember the oldest, my Aunt Florence, getting into these either. She frequently averred that she had changed most of their diapers at one time or another, indicating to me that she viewed them as children.

I’d get upset by these things, and my mom or one of my aunts would say, “We fight but we love each other.”

Arguments aren’t entertaining to me. I’m not a polemical person. The only fight I had with my Aunt Martha was about smoking in the car — which I hated. For a minute I thought she was going to leave me there on I-25 outside of Denver, but finally she capitulated. I don’t think she would have if any of her sisters had been there. I fought with my mom a lot when I was a teenager always when I felt my rights were being trod upon — like I felt I had a right to close my bedroom door. She didn’t. I learned as a little kid that my temperament makes such “entertainment” dangerous. 🙂


Too Intense

“The thing, Kennedy, your problem is you’re too intense.

I did not understand what Miss Palos Verdes Estates aka M’Lou was saying at all. Her friend Janet agreed. “WAAAAAY too intense. You need to take it easy. Here. Take this album to your room and listen to it.”

To this day, it’s one of the best albums I’ve ever heard. ❤

A few days later, Janet and M’Lou showed up at my dorm room door. “We’re gonna’ go hitch and see if we can score some weed.”

“Too bad we’re not in LA. All we’d have to do is go down to ‘the strip’.” M’Lou sighed. They were homesick.

“Scoring weed” wasn’t easy. Pot was VERY illegal. A jail sentence could result from smoking a joint in public, but it was a glorious September early evening in Denver, we three were pretty cute and Stapleton Airport was a short walk away from Temple Buell College, originally Colorado Woman’s College.

We headed down Quebec St. toward the airport and before long a VW camper van passed slowly. Janet stuck out her thumb. The VW stopped. We got in. I ended up sitting on some hippy’s lap. He had shoulder length brown hair, a beard and a flowered shirt. He was OLD! 25. We laughed and talked and scored half an ounce. I went out with that hippy a few times. He was a really nice guy.

Anyhoo, they let us out at an open field by Stapleton Airport. We were high. M’Lou had the weed stashed somewhere on her person because she had the most common sense of all of us (she claimed). We hung around in the field and watched the sunset.

Weed was pretty much just weed then. It wasn’t usually very strong and after a few hours it was gone from my system. It made me silly, but not all that high, not ridiculously high, not immobilizingly high. Most of all, I dampened down the intensity. Janet and M’Lou were right. That WAS my problem. I AM very intense. But then, the fall of 1970, I was probably EXTREMELY intense. I wasn’t in the best place psychologically when I went away to college. I had a recently broken heart. My dad was very sick. My brother was a total mess, living on the street. The world was falling apart and somehow I felt it was my job to “patch things up and hold them together.”

That first semester at college I experimented with being a hippy, but the dark side of hippy-dom showed itself over the passing months. Janet had a very bad acid trip, freaked out and ended up hiding in my dorm room while I talked her down. “I don’t feel safe anywhere else, Martha. You have to let me in.” Over Christmas I went home and when I got back to school, sober, I saw that the profound poetry I’d written while high was very stupid. “Uh, wow, my hand,” stupid.


Teen Daze

“Honey, I’m not hemming this skirt way up there. It won’t even cover your behind. People will get the wrong idea.”

“What’s the ‘wrong idea’?”

“That you’re cheap.”

“What does that mean?”

“No man wants used merchandise.”

Elizabeth shook her head. That didn’t make sense either.

The usual fight with mom over fashion. Elizabeth was petite. Any dress or skirt she bought at the store had to be shortened. On top of that, she made a lot of her own skirts and dresses. Mom HAD to mark the hems. There was no way out. Elizabeth shrugged. They’d reached a compromise; the middle of Elizabeth’s knee. Elizabeth wasn’t exactly happy about it, but the option was somewhere below the knee and seriously?

Elizabeth had found a way around mom’s puritanical totalitarianism.

By 7 am every morning she was out the door, books in hand. She raced down the short cut through the yards to Kathy’s — Kat’s — house. They had 20 minutes to get to school, a daily adventure that took them over an old trestle, across an open field, sideswiped the new mall, down two neighborhood streets, into the high school’s back door.

It was cold. February was fusty and ambivalent as ever, shooting them sharp snowflakes one minute, gusts of cold aggression the next, and blessing them with sun the next. Halfway through the field they looked around to see if anyone was looking. But who would? They lived in the furthest reaches of the city in a brand new neighborhood with brand new schools. They set their books on the ground and put one foot on their book pile in case the wind came up. They heisted up their coats, grabbed the waistband of their skirts and carefully rolled them. “Is it straight?” asked Kat, turning so Elizabeth could see her back.

“Yeah. Mine?”

“Looks good.”

They were set. The only danger was if they happened to sit on their skirts during some class or another, unrolling the back.

It was years before they understood why the boys liked sitting in discussion circles so much or why they were so clumsy with their pencils, always dropping them on the floor.


T-N-T Boxes

Wooden boxes with T-N-T stenciled on the ends. I wish I could tell you what my dad was doing exactly. I can’t. I was just a very little kid, but I THINK they were using balloon bound radio receivers to determine how far into the atmosphere sound waves traveled. All I really KNOW about it is that the by-product of this research were these boxes which formerly held high explosives. My dad thought they were GREAT.

What’s also great, is that I wrote about them three years ago. It’s a good story. And here it is. T-N-T boxes.


One of My Life’s Lower Strata…

“Don’t make the joke. Don’t. Purloin is not a steak made from the side of a cat.”


“Not even funny.”

Now the prompt is out of the way… 😉

My old speech stays in a black leather notebook my dad gave me in the sixties when I started writing poetry. I don’t know when or where the notebook entered my dad’s life, but I’ve had it since, I imagine, 1964. The very first poem I wrote (on a typewriter) is in here. It’s a paean to nature (big surprise). The Rod McKuenesque love poems I wrote in high school are also here. The poems that so impressed my middle-aged college poetry instructor (so much so that he tried to kiss me) are in here.

There are love letters. A few letters from students. A letter from my best high school friend (with a poem). Seems like we were all poetry crazed back then.

There are two poems by my dad.

One of them he wrote by hand when he was in the hospital getting ACTH treatments for MS. I guess my mom had been there most of the day. I must’ve finally gotten my drivers license because I was there alone with my dad. He handed me a paper. “Can you type this for me? It’s a poem.”

I read my dad’s tight almost illegible scrawl. His hands were not responsive to his will any more because of the MS, but I was used to that and used to his distorted speech, so used to it that I don’t think I even noticed it. “Read it to me,” he said.

At sixteen I only fully understood some of what my dad had written. It takes maturity, heart-breaking disappointments and extinguished hopes to get all of it. But it was a poem about his marriage and his family. He evoked a few beautiful memories. He ended it with a call to action — to my mom! — that maybe they could resurrect their original love and continue onwards.

Well, they fought a lot and had for several years. My mom’s only outlet for her anger was the people in her family.

It was a very sad poem. That much I got at 16.

“Don’t let your mother see it,” he said. “I’ll give it to her when the time is right.”

I am not sure, but I don’t think my mom ever saw it.

Another poem by my dad had been hidden in this notebook for at least fifty — but possibly sixty — years. I found it a few years ago when I had the idea that I would throw out all my journals and attendant embarrassing and bad writing. I thumbed through the back pages of the notebook, empty sheets I had never examined, and there I found a poem in my dad’s writing, a song. As a poem it’s pretty bad, but it was a very sweet discovery.

My dad really wanted to be a poet. His hero was Omar Khayyam who was both a mathematician and a poet. My dad had the mathematics part going, but the poetry part? I’m not sure quality counts as much as the writing. There is a flip-cartoon my brother must have drawn when he was 10 and some other random bits of a long-ago life. It’s a pretty cool artifact.


Back In the Day when Friday Mattered


Friday was a big deal back in the day. Not so much when I was teaching — teaching college and university writing is a 7 day/week job — but when I was living the clerical life as a paralegal at a large Denver law firm, the very one started by Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch’ grandfather. The name was Gorsuch, Kirgis, Campbell, Walker and Grover. Try saying that very fast on the phone with marbles in your mouth.

Friday could mean a dash across the street to a restaurant known as The Broker for all you can eat peel and eat shrimp with my friend Eve, who was a young attorney, her husband, an accountant and his accountant buddies. It involved lots of shrimp, lots of booze and lots of laughing. Then I walked home to my efficiency apartment on Humboldt Street. It was in one of those faux Spanish buildings built in the 70s with lots of faux wrought iron and faux plaster in the hallways, so over-the-top it looked like bat guano.

One Friday afternoon walking home from work, I noticed an apartment building I had always liked had a for rent sign in the window. I went in, talked to the manager, got the apartment. It was more money and more space (it was a one bedroom!) than my efficiency and I had no furniture, but I loved it. My house in Monte Vista is very similar. Still faux Spanish (what is this, a theme?) but less faux, if that makes sense. The building (The Dalton) has a lot of history and is now owned by a company. If you Google “The Dalton, Denver”, you can see my actual apartment. Fancified and so on for these modern times, but…

In that apartment I made a lot of art — paintings and linoleum cuts. I wrote stories, too. I had dinner guests and held a couple of parties, but usually Friday nights were MINE. I loved living there. It felt like a haven of “Martha” in the vast sea of people making money and getting married. I wasn’t doing either. I chronicled one of those Friday nights with my Kodak 35 mm. By the time I was doing linoleum cuts (inspired by those done by Picasso I saw at the National Gallery in DC when I went for the second part of the Foreign Service Test [which I failed])  I had taken apart my bed, rolled up the futon and set it against the wall. Someone had given me a daybed and I converted my bedroom into a studio because I needed the space to lay out the prints to dry.

Says something about priorities, I guess.



Hooked in Utero

“C’mere. I want you to try something.”

Turned out, Doug was a species of “first time free man.” Doug was Malerie’s boyfriend. Malerie was a kind of a bitch. I knew them both from high school, but the contact lingered a few years longer.

I followed Doug out behind the house to a grassy knoll. We sat down like a couple of smugglers.

“You’re gonna’ love this,” he said. He took out a package of pipe tobacco. “Borkum Riff. Cherry flavor. It’s SO good.”

All I’d every smoked up till then was pot. The cigarettes my mom chain smoked were odious and odorous and I wanted no part of them. BUT at this moment I wanted Doug to think I was cool. Clearly he thought I was cool enough to be out here with him while everyone — including Malerie — was inside. He rolled the tobacco in a Zig-Zag paper and lit it. He took a drag and handed it to me. I took a hit, the cherry tobacco went deep into my lungs. For a moment everything in the world slowed down in happiness. Little neurons in my brain said, “Thank you. We’ve waited 19 years for this.”



Getting the Boot

“I’m not a toy. I’m your sister!” So said my 3 1/2 year old step-granddaughter to her 1 year old little brother who was suddenly fascinated by her foot clad as it was in a rubber rain boot. I am sure to him it didn’t feel like a sister, but what the heck was it?

She pulled her legs under her, folded her arms around her chest, turned slightly away from him and pouted as she should at 3 1/2. The kid has NO problems setting borders.

This morning Bear (2 years old) was playing roughly with Mindy (10? 11? years old) and I  had to say, “Bear, stopas it was bordering on elder abuse.

I was really tempted to say, “That’s not a toy. That’s your sister!”

When I was the age of my step-granddaughter, I had a book about a little girl who went to the store with her mom to buy boots. Back then (I’m saying back then, good god) we put boots over our shoes, hence overshoes. The little girl and her mom got on a city bus and went downtown. They walked down the city sidewalks to a shoe store and went in. The clerk was eager to help them. They sat down and the mother said they needed new overshoes. The clerk brought out two pairs. Only two pairs. They were identical, but one was red, the other was black. The little girl wanted the red ones. They were VERY lucky that day because by the time they left the store, it had started to rain. Mother pulled on HER overshoes and the little girl had her NEW overshoes, and under mother’s umbrella, they went to the bus stop and then home.

It was a beautifully illustrated book; I remember the pictures even now. They were watercolors that went with the story and the story was told in four or five lines on each page. Both the little girl and the mother wore grey-blue coats and hats, not warm hats, but the kind of hats women wore in the 1950s. The city was not unlike downtown Denver (where I went sometimes with my mom, dad, Aunt Martha) and, as my mother read the story, I could imagine going to Denver and buying overshoes.

But when my turn came, we went to Downtown Englewood ( a LOT closer ) and it was my dad who took me. As MY overshoe story unfolded, it was mixed with the story in the book. I knew what would happen because of the story. We went to a shoe store. My dad asked to see overshoes in my size. The man was eager to help us and brought out three or four boxes of overshoes. I expected two. There were no red ones. All of them were black, some with zippers, some with buckles “Those are for boys,” said my dad and he pushed them to the side. And some  were boots you just pull on.

I was a feminine little thing back then and I chose black zippered boots with fur around the top. I wanted to wear them out of the store — of course — and I strutted down the street on that sunny October day in my new overshoes.