Goethe’s 250th Birthday

August 28, 1999, the end of my first week teaching writing at San Diego State, my teaching dream come true, I was going meet my good friend, Denis Joseph Francis Callahan, at Pacific Beach. Our plan was to eat sausages at a German restaurant. We were celebrating — well, Denis was helping me celebrate — Goethe’s 250th birthday.

Before dinner, we took an end-of-the-day walk on the beach. There in the near distance was an immense beautiful sand castle with candles burning in the windows. Dusk had arrived and the light from the candles reflected on the water left behind when the shallow waves retreated. It was marvelous.

“Goethe’s birthday cake,” I said to Denis.

On our walk back, Denis said, “Would you mind pie instead?” in his Staten Island accent. In Denis language “pie” = pizza. I thought, “Why not? Goethe loved Italy.”

Caveat: I didn’t take the featured photo.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/07/30/rdp-thursday-sand-castle/

Boot Laces

Everything is a project. The tiles fell off the area at the bottom of the bathroom window — three and a half 6 inch tiles — another project. I’m pondering options for repairing that. The BIG problem is it an awkward height for me to work.

Training Teddy is a project. My yard is a project. I picked two Scarlet Emperor Beans (young ones) yesterday and ate one raw. It was incredibly sweet. These are green beans for salad. We’re having good bean weather. Three days of rainy afternoons followed by three days of sunshine and warm temps.

Getting rid of books is an endless project (though I did actually read one — You Can’t Catch Death by Ianthe Brautigan. That was a project, too. As for Richard Brautigan — Ianthe’s father — I never got into his books much though he was one of the luminous voices of “my” generation. His daughter has written rather lyrically about her life with her dad — who was a binge-drinking alcoholic — and how she redeemed herself and him after his suicide. Now I have another book to get rid of.

Reading Ianthe’s book I saw some of the old tropes about writers. Troubled people, seeking solace in alcohol or drugs or both. And male. I thought about my own life as a writer. There are a few huge differences. 1) I’m not successful in any conventional way shape or form. One of the high points of my success as a writer was meeting a buyer of Martin of Gfenn one cold day last January in front of the Del Norte library. She climbed up in Bella, gave me $16, told me she loved my books and got out. It was like a drug deal. 2) I’m not tortured. There might be a connection between those two. Reading Ianthe’s book made me wonder that again.

Once Brautigan published his big hit novel, Trout Fishing in America, he was trapped. It wasn’t his first novel. That was A Confederate General from Big Sur. I found both of those books uninteresting and semi-unreadable, but everyone was reading Brautigan so I kept trying. I bought In Watermelon Sugar at the bookstore at my college, Colorado Woman’s College, in preparation for a trip up to Boulder to visit a high school friend, Malerie, who was attending the University of Colorado. I arrived, went to her dorm, we hung out, ate lunch at the Alferd Packer Grill then, that night, we went up Boulder Canyon to hang out with her then boyfriend, who as “old.” He was 25 or 26, a Vietnam vet, and a drug dealer. He had some opiated hash.

We passed around the pipe — which was a beautiful cedar burl — and I got very, very high. I didn’t do a lot of drugs — never did — so I was a lot more vulnerable to the effects than were the people around me. Everyone thought I was very funny. The boyfriend handed me his marine boot and a shoelace and told me to lace the boot. That was incredibly amusing to all and sundry. It was also very very difficult. Finally, fed up with these sadists, I took my boot (toward which I’d developed a kind of loyalty) and went to a quiet dark corner and went to sleep. When I woke up at 6 am, my arm around the boot, I got my things and took off.

I walked down the canyon to town. I had my bus ticket, my little backpack, and In Watermelon Sugar. I went to the bus station and waited for the first bus, trying to read Brautigan’s book. It just seemed to be more of the same scene I’d left behind me, an inscrutable grim world of unkind people.

I set the book on the bench in the bus station and went back to Denver without it.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/07/24/rdp-friday-project/

Denver Morning

I slept in. Till 9. I think the weirdness tires us out. I was thinking of moments in life that are just slow and beautiful in their strange way.

In my 20s I lived in a “colorful” neighborhood in Denver for a while — Capital Hill. It was a great place to live, and if I were ever to live in Denver again, I’d go back (never going back again). During that time all my creative work had to be done on weekends because I had an 8 to 5 job. One Sunday morning I got up (earlier than 9 because you do not waste weekends when you’re working) and realized I was out of water color paper. At the time I was painting with gouache and watercolor. I had the prospect of a show coming up in a couple months.

At 11, an hour before anything opened, I put my wallet in my jeans jacket and headed up my street — I lived on 12th and Marion — two blocks to Colfax Ave, one of America’s most historic streets and most colorful. I turned left. My destination, Meininger’s, an art supply store, was more than a mile away, beyond downtown a little bit.

This crazy, busy street was almost deserted. The only people anywhere were hookers and partiers straggling home from whatever wild night Saturday had been for them.

The parking lots were empty. The stores closed and shuttered. One or two proprietors were sweeping in front of their cafes preparing for noon. It was solemn, spacious, sweet. If it had a color it would be pale blue and gray. At the end of the street the distant Rocky Mountains reminded me of the transience of this moment. I slowed down. I had plenty of time to get there.

Colfax, 2019 on a Sunday afternoon

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/07/19/rdp-sunday-easygoing/

Examples of the Gross Food My Mom Cooked

OK, I know a lot of people like these dishes and I’m not dissing you. But I hate them.

“What’s for dinner?” I might ask home from school.

If one of these was the answer I knew I was in for a salt-laden hell.

“Tuna casserole.” My mom never used noodles. She used potato chips.

“Creamed chipped beef on toast.” It didn’t just taste like someone had stirred pieces from the bottom of the Great Salt Lake in a pan with flour and milk, it looked horrible.

“I just can’t make you happy,” she said when I groaned or (oh my god!) didn’t eat (much) of the portion on my plate.

My dad called creamed chipped beef “army food” but he liked it. My brother liked it. My mom liked it, but I hated it. “You’re just fussy,” my mom.

There were other gross looking dishes that weren’t quite as terrible to eat. Creamed hard boiled eggs on toast.

Hamburger gravy on mashed potatoes.

Then there was boiled beef and potatoes which stank up the house. Even after all day in the pot, the beef might still be chewy. It might also fall apart. No way to know. When I was very small and didn’t understand three dimensions, I tried to hide it by sticking it under my plate where, at least, I couldn’t see it.

“Take that good meat out from under your plate, put it on your plate and eat it.” Followed by, “You’re going to sit there until you finish your supper.” It was a test of wills at that point.

I think my mom was a good cook, but the foods she enjoyed were just different from those I enjoyed. In order to make this blog post a little bit more interesting and less about my own personal experience, I did a little research into why taste preferences vary between people. I didn’t get any surprising information. Some of it is based on the associations we have with a particular food.

My mom grew up on a farm during the Depression, and I think creamed chipped beef on toast might have been both a treat and a kind of comfort food for her. In my mom’s world, as she was growing up, there were no refrigerators. Dried, salted meat was safe meat. I took a survey years ago. Not a Facebook quiz, but a legit quiz to determine what people believed was the greatest invention of the 20th century. Among the choices was refrigeration.

The boiled beef and potatoes? Home food for my mom. She lived in a world replete with vegetables but where meat could be scarce, and definitely not the fancy cuts.

I can’t speak to the tuna casserole except maybe she didn’t have taste receptors as sensitive to salt as I do. I guess that could be a product of our individual DNA, or her chain smoking.

My mom liked to cook and over time she tried out a lot of new recipes and made many delicious meals, but the memory of these old standbys from my school years could never be erased by prime rib and Yorkshire pudding. The was the ever present possibility of their return. I started cooking at age 7. My mom knew a good thing when it happened to her. She took advantage of what seemed to be my aptitude for the culinary arts and started teaching me. I was able to make stuff I liked like tacos and spaghetti (not together).

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/06/29/rdp-monday-salty/

Cloister

When I was a little kid I lived in Nebraska in a town whose eastern border was the Missouri River. This means that “my” Nebraska wasn’t the Nebraska of myth and legend — flat, treeless, grassland — but forest, bluff, and butte. Almost literally across the street from our house was a forest. It belonged to the Columban Fathers, the branch of the Roman Catholic Church that is concerned with books, publishing and missionary work.

The geography was a narrow strip of deciduous forest, a wide open meadow ruled over by an ancient oak tree, then a kind of road. To the right the road went past many strange relics of an arcane faith that had little meaning to a kid brought up American Baptist. At the end a life size Christ hung from a giant cross. Along the way was a “grotto” made of concrete to look like natural rock. Now I know it was meant to be Jesus’ tomb. If my memory is right, there was an angel somewhere on that very convincing concrete climbing wall (how we used it). The passage was lined with trees and, especially in fall, it was very lovely.

My brother took this from the top of the grotto. 1965


Beyond this passage was a real road but I never saw a vehicle on it. It led to the buildings of the cloister. We never went there. Instead we crossed it and went into the REAL forest. This is where things got good. There was a ravine across which we rigged a rope and tire. My brother rode that across the ravine — and I’m sure others did — but it wasn’t my thing. There were mulberry trees from which a friend and I once shook berries. There were my favorite; narrow trails to run on and, in winter, on which we could ride our sleds.

Above: a drawing I did a few years ago of my brother and me sledding at the Mission.

From time to time, we would see a monk walking between the trees, reading from a small book. I never thought they minded us being there, but in time a high fence was erected. We just went under the gate and went on as always. In the intervening years, the cloister has been built up and some of the forest is gone and the meadow is now an area filled with buildings, but…

Years and years later, when I read the life changing book, How the Irish Saved Civilization I learned something strange and wonderful. My “mission” was home to the spiritual descendants of one of the Irish monks who, with St. Gall, crossed the channel to bring books to Europe in the 6th century. Columbanus.

We live in innumerable parallel universes and are oblivious to many of those in which we live. “Here, Martha Ann, this will be very important to you someday.”

“What?”

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/06/20/rdp-saturday-cloistered/

“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.


https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/05/11/rdp-monday-thingamajig/

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.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/02/19/rdp-wednesday-traffic/

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.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/02/10/rdp-monday-skimpy/

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.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/02/06/rdp-thursday-explosive/

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.”

“But…”

“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.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/09/25/rdp-wednesday-purloin/