Outlier?

Yesterday I had a phone conversation with a guy from National Public Radio. It was in response to a long phone message I had left at their request — on Facebook they’d posted a bulletin saying they wanted to hear from people in rural areas to find out what we need. I called.

He had to look me up in order to contact me, and he found my email. He emailed to see if the email reached the woman in Monte Vista who had left the message and asked for my phone number. I sent it, then tried to reconstruct what I’d said in a rather impassioned phone message. I wrote down all I remembered (I don’t have strong aural learning skills even with my own words) and then found the sources that had informed my understanding of the problems in the San Luis Valley. I was ready.

I was surprised when he called and wanted to know how and why someone would move to the Back of Beyond from a place like San Diego.

It’s true that San Diego is high on the list of “most desirable cities.” When I lived in San Diego, it was NOT in the “most desirable” part. It was a barrio known to have the highest crime rate in the city. It was San Diego’s version of East LA, in fact, it was East San Diego. After 17 (happy) years there, I moved to a mountain community 35 miles east, 45 miles from the airport. I had a great house and I lived in the mountains. If I’d had the money to stay there after retirement I probably would have. It was a life that worked. I’d been in Southern California for thirty years and it was, kind of, home. But it was expensive to live there. The cost of living had shot up during the recession and just heating my house for one winter cost nearly $2000. I couldn’t stay.

Meanwhile, I had been out here. I had given a couple papers at conferences in Colorado Springs, reconnected with old friends and made new ones. I had not wanted to leave Colorado in the first place. That happened because of marriage… The moment I knew what I had to do, I was in Colorado Springs. I filed my papers and knew that I would make big changes soon and it would be terra incognita.

So I explained to the man that my choice of Monte Vista was actually random. I knew how much money I had to live on and there was a house here that I wanted to live in. I told him I’d never been here before, but when I came through the San Luis Valley on my way to see my house I knew I wanted to live in this beautiful place ringed by mountains. Monte Vista — as I saw on that first journey — seemed to be a livable small town not too far from hospitals and stuff like that.

I knew back then that I had to go somewhere. This place was beautiful. I’d meet people in the course of time, meanwhile I’d write, walk my dogs, shake off 35 years in the classroom and find my feet. I had friends 3 hours away. It was up to me if the thing turned out good or bad.

“How did you pick Colorado?”

“I was born here.”

“In that area?”

“No, no, I’m from Denver.”

“Did you find it hard to make friends?”

“No, not at all. Here I have a social life. Back in California that was difficult because I worked so much. People here are friendly and we need each other.”

“Have you and your neighbors helped each other out?” he asked.

“Yes, it’s how things work.”

I wasn’t very lucid on the phone because I was so stunned and I don’t do phone if I can avoid it, anyway. I don’t think of my decision as extraordinary at all and was a little taken back that he did, that he thought there was a story in my story. I found it very difficult to describe the beauty and wonder of this place, not just (just?) the landscape but the human scenes I witness — and am part of — often. The tiny congregation of the Episcopal church, faithful and lovely, my friend playing the organ in the golden morning light streaming through the stained glass window — a church built by English pioneers so their children could go to a “proper English village church.” My friend’s husband putting the blade on his AWD and pushing the snow out of the alley so I can get out of my driveway after a big snow. Getting a ride to the Ford garage 20 miles away in my neighbor’s 1955 T-bird that he’s had for fifty years!!! Three older ladies (my friends and I) standing in the cold, clear water of Medano Creek beside the sand dunes, laughing like children at how funny our feet look in the water, the cowboys on horseback in the distance with their dog who — I think — should’ve been named Shorty. Sunsets that defy both photography and description. 20,000 sandhill cranes hanging out against a backdrop of snowy peaks. Bald eagles flying over me, their shadows grazing my shoulder beside the Rio Grande where I walk my dogs almost every day. The guy at the post office who hands me a package and says, “What is it?” and I tell him it’s a cable to hook my computer to my TV and he answers, “Que suave!” The small herd of bison out by the hospital, munching grass at the end of a summer rain storm. Horses in a pasture, kicking up their heels in the snow. Snow.

I go with friends to a restaurant. There’s live music. The retarded guy who lives nearby is at the restaurant. He goes up to the singer and makes a request. The singer smiles. The retarded guy takes a seat on a stool beside the singer who strikes a chord on his guitar. It’s a song I thought was corny and stupid back in the day. I learn it’s been made the Colorado state song. The retarded guy sings with all his heart, smiling a broad smile. The friends beside me sing, too. As I watch that duet, aware of the gentleness and familiarity behind it, I can’t believe my good luck at landing here.

That feeling has not changed.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/outlier/

Discoveries

I retired. I moved into a small town where I didn’t know anyone. There was — and still is — so much I didn’t/don’t know. For example, I bought a small economy car that gets good gas mileage, but I hardly ever drive. I was still living in the life of 100+ miles per week and $4/gallon. I could have bought a truck, but I didn’t know… The house I really wanted? I could have offered half what they were asking and gotten it. I didn’t know. I was used to the extremely competitive seller’s market I’d moved away from. I didn’t know that within two years I’d be walking two miles and more at a good clip or that the stairs in the house I really wanted wouldn’t be such a big deal. I didn’t know that I would frequently have company and need the numerous bedrooms and two baths in the house I really wanted that this house doesn’t have.

I also thought I knew myself, but I didn’t. I’ve made a lot of discoveries since I started this life of retirement and solitude. I thought I knew where I was, I mean geographically, on the map, but I didn’t. I didn’t realize until recently that I moved to the part of the map where I had, long ago, dreamed of living. My whole focus when I found my town was north, east and west. I hadn’t thought “south.” But I am very close to the border of New Mexico, very close to Taos and Santa Fe and the high road that connects them. I live here, at the north end of the land of the Conquistadores, New Spain.

Sometimes I can’t believe my internal compass brought me here.

Again, I thought I knew those places — irrespective of the changes that are inevitably wrought by time, but I didn’t know those places, not really. I still don’t. Among the discoveries has been the Rio Grande Gorge, a little Grand Canyon, a place I had heard of from one of the men I have been in love with during my life as a great place to raft.

rio_grande_gorge_bridge_taos_county_new_mexico

Now I’ve seen it and it’s one more amazing thing in this strange new life. I’d say that pretty much every single day I discover something new about where I live and I’ve come to understand that this transitional moment (which has been longer than I expected it would be) is more about learning who I am and where I am than anything else. I thought of how long it took me to actually LIVE in San Diego. It was a five year process, bridging the distance of self and place. I think this discovery process will take at least that long.

P.S. I didn’t take the photos… I wish I had. They had to have been taken from a helicopter. 🙂

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/bridge/

Existential Questions Never Go Away :(

I’ll admit. Since retiring and moving and going through some huge changes, I have not known a lot of things that we all take for granted. Like who am I, what I stand for, what I am doing — that stuff.

I expected that. I don’t think you can leave a career of 35 years without losing some sense of your identity. One thing about being a teacher is that one is needed INTENSELY. Part of my sense of self has always been “People need me.” I grew up in a household with a sick dad and a little brother — “We need you, Martha Ann.” Being needed = being loved. Perfect training for a teacher. But who was I without that?

My first year after retiring was a year of experimentation — and growth that I wasn’t even aware of. The self was still amorphous, cloudy, lacking direction and presence.

Not long ago — really just in this past month — I had a sudden strong, visceral reaction against some things and some people with whom I’ve been involved almost since I moved back to Colorado. It was bewildering and demanded some consideration. Then I realized that at 65 the question is the same as it is at 15 but the context is different; there is some urgency. The cloud was dissipating.

I saw that the kind of compromise I was happy to make at 40 something is absurd now. For one thing, THIS is how the story turns out for me. I’m not building a life any more. I’m living a life. If I were to die in 10 years it would already be old age. Regardless of how long I live, I do not have a long stretch of physically fit years in front of me; I have some and I need to make the most of them. I asked myself, “Who do I want to be during these 10 years? How do I want to live my life? Who is the person I want to be when I step out into the world every day?” And it was all suddenly very clear that all I need to do is be certain that every day I am the person I want to be; I do the things that rightfully pertain to me; I do not surrender to habits of being that no longer fit.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/clouds/

Retirement

I think about all the times in my life I’ve thought I knew what I was doing only to look back and see that I had no clue. This is another one. I was a little less occluded than in times past when I retired but occluded nonetheless.

I’ve been learning all these months. Like a lot of newly retired people I have a work habit meaning I’m used to a certain level of work all the time every day. In my case it was pretty intense. When I quit the co-op I plead something like “PTSD” from teaching. I don’t think I was understood. I don’t think anyone here really gets what it is like to be a “freeway flyer” in California and teach at more than one “institute of higher learning” and patch together an income, often with little or no job security.

One of my new friends here — a wonderful woman that I really like — made a point about that. “College teachers don’t know what it means. I taught all day every day.” She was a public school art teacher. I listened politely and got the “hidden” message which was “How can you as a college teacher begin to know what REAL teaching is like?” I’m not sure but I think her model is the normal college teacher with tenure who teaches 3 or 4 classes/semester and doesn’t some committee work and gets a sabbatical every seven years or so.

That was never me. I taught 7 classes most semesters, 2 classes most summers, and all were writing classes which is an immense grading load. I usually taught six days a week and often drove 40+ miles to teach ONE class. I was also expected to maintain my professionality at a higher level than my tenured colleagues. To remain competitive I had to be ahead of the curve learning the necessary educational software and I had to be able to adapt very quickly to any changes in administrative policy anywhere I taught. I was obliged to publish and to attend conferences, but on my own dime. It was hard work. And, as time went by and it became clear I would never have tenure and that the people I taught were turning into unrecognizable creatures thanks to No Child Left Behind, it became absolutely painful to walk into a classroom. I lived for moments of light and fresh air, an intelligent engaged student, a student who would accept a challenge to learn, someone who was simply nice. I had learned the difference between sucking up and genuine interest, and the sucking up made me angrier than being told to “Fuck off” did. I’d long loved teaching, but at the end, I thought it was a complete waste of my time. I wasn’t, personally, going anywhere with it. It had become a dead end.

Relentlessly. I had no status anywhere I taught and yet as obliged to get along with everyone, never rock a boat, make all my students happy etc. etc. When I wasn’t teaching I was prepping or grading or learning how to use new software or examining texts. I was ALWAYS teaching.

For the most part, I’ve come to a peaceful place with teaching since I retired. I had things I wanted to say, and I’ve said them on a different blogging site (Medium) and, I think, reached a few people with some points that might be useful. And I was done…

But “PTSD”? Sure. Besides having dealt with physical threats and attacks of other natures — complaints from students to, no less, the President of the university once, verbal attacks, the frustration of students unhappy with their grades, the criticism of bosses who knew nothing about what I taught and couldn’t possibly have done it (didn’t do it, when it came to it), I have endured thousands of chaotic meetings. There are few things I hate more than being trapped in a small space around a table with a bunch of people who are pushing their own agendas.

I taught business communication which included how to have a good meeting. First rule, consider the comfort of the people there, ie. don’t meet at dinner time without eating. Second rule, limit the amount of time people can speak, including discussion. All of this enveloped in that most important thing; respect each other.

So now it seems once again Goethe’s words are my best friends…

“Hold your powers together for something good and let everything go that is for you without result and is not suited to you.” Conversations with Eckermann

Last Year…

I wrote “today’s” post last year and at the time I was at a conference and I was looking at homes in Colorado springs. I found one I liked and would have bought if I’d been able to. It was very well priced and in my first-choice town. I loved it. I would have enjoyed living in the house. However, I couldn’t really make an offer with no money down and a house not yet on the market. It was a dismaying moment because I knew prices in Colorado Springs were going to rise when summer came (they did) and that this house would sell. It did.

All part of the process that resulted in my moving to Heaven, the San Luis Valley and into the little house at the top of this post.

I love it here, but I have friends in Colorado Springs. Moving here I had to start completely from scratch. If you have never done that it’s similar to and different from starting a new school in the middle of 9th grade. It took me months to get ready to go out and meet people. That was a long period of self-discovery. Now, I have accomplished that and have met people I like very much — and I know it’s mutual. It’s very sweet but, at the same time, it’s still stressful. I’m shy and in the midst of so much change, a person is challenged with rediscovering and even redefining one’s identity, like in the witness protection program?

Anyway, as is the case with wishes, some come true exactly as they’re wished. Some com true in ways we could never have imagined. Some don’t come true at all.

Here’s last years post:

Daily Prompt: Three Coins in the Fountain, by Krista on March 21, 2014. Have you ever tossed a coin or two into a fountain and made a wish? Did it come true?

picture-uhbf65e0e7214acd2bb679cfb0daac4e-psa53bc1894cba39d721a53eb5707adef1-809-e-costilla-st-colorado-springs-co-80903Yes.

No.

That really is it. I stopped doing this when I was a kid. “If wishes were horses, everyone would ride.” Wishes and nickles and close your eyes tight and make a wish and blow out the candles and what did you wish for? Don’t tell or it won’t come true. The best use of a wish is the clarification of desire and direction.

Yesterday I looked at houses. My retirement income is going to be small so I’m looking at houses only slightly above the bottom of the barrel. That’s OK. I’ve never (since home ownership began) lived in a “nice” house. They’ve both been odd houses other people wouldn’t want that needed some work.

Yesterday I “made a wish.” Anyway, it felt like it. I filed for retirement. For real. I almost felt like I had closed my eyes and was blowing out the candles on a birthday cake as I filled in the little blanks on the two forms. Perhaps I held my breath. But the “haggis is in the fire” the “Rubicon is crossed” there’s “no turning back” and a million other appropriate clichés.

So…my wishes are mixed. I wish I hadn’t been pushed to this decision. I wish I had a slightly larger income (but I can find a job teaching part time here, maybe). I wish I hadn’t had to make this decision alone — but we really make all decisions alone except maybe pregnancy, and I have good friends and allies and was lucky to meet a realtor yesterday who’s motivated to help me find a home and I have choices. And there is this. We all have knowledge inside about our biological selves and I’m 62. This decision, this moment, is more the result of that than anything else. I made it because I COULD. It’s an option I didn’t have last year or the year before. There’s a twilight zone in which a person is too old to find new work and too young to retire. All a person can do is put the bit between their teeth and GO as long as he has to, steering the way between obstacles, loading up the cart if he has to (I had to) to keep a life together. It takes courage when the options change to stop and look around when everything has depended on hard running. “What if I COULD change my life? What if I COULD have more time for things and people I love?”

A little voice whispers, “You can.” Terrifying, disorienting savior of a little voice.

Yesterday I looked at a little house. It is in the part of town where Italian immigrants lived back in the day. Against the porch leaned an old concrete statue of St. Frankie. I IMG_1029straightened him. I’m not Catholic but I like St. Frankie and all the other statues who are there to remind us to have some faith, hope and compassion. I don’t think there can be too many of these. The house was very pretty inside. I could imagine a Calabrian couple, happy to have their own home, maintaining it with the particular fastidious of which I’m familiar and fond. The house had been cared for all it’s 100+ years. I wish, hope that maybe I’ll be able to live there.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/three-coins-in-the-fountain/

B-O-B, Bob

Daily Prompt A Dog Named Bob You have 20 minutes to write a post that includes the words mailbox, bluejay, plate, syrup, and ink. And one more detail… the story must include a dog named Bob

After a long career in public service all over the world, it was time for Linda to retire. Things at the government agency where she’d begun working as a young-middle-aged idealist had changed and there was no longer room for idealism. Or maybe she’d become jaded. Or maybe she was tired, she didn’t know, really, only that she wanted to go home, if she could find it.

She did her retirement paper work and sold her house making enough to pay cash for a house in a less expensive somewhere. She got out the map and picked a place in the state from which she’d come. “I always thought Raptorville was a beautiful little town. It’s close enough to my sisters, but not on their laps. It’s near many things I remember having loved in another life. I guess that’s a good place from which to start my new one.”

The movers came and packed her things. She, herself, packed the plates she’d inherited from her grandmother, the collection of beautiful tea-cups. She bought a new car — nothing fancy, a Ford Focus — and she headed west, all the way west, all the way across America.

Her younger sister put her up while she looked for a house. There wasn’t much selection in Raptorville, so she looked in other even smaller towns. One afternoon, her realtor took her to a house in the little town of Bluff Chute. The house was in the early 60s style — open ceilings, split level, nothing inspiring. The realtor saw on Linda’s face that she wasn’t impressed. “Well, anyway, you have to see this.” She slid open the door from the dining room onto the deck.

The backyard was virtually a park, with towering redwood trees, a network of lovely paths, secluded nooks for reading, and in the very back, a sunny spot for a vegetable garden. Bluejays — well, scrub jays — swooped between the trees.

IMG_0063

“I’ll take it,” said Linda, surprising herself.

The closing was quick. Her possessions were unloaded and placed in the house. They fit. She put her name on the mailbox.

Then she went to the shelter and got a dog. Just a dog, an ordinary dog, white with patches the color of maple syrup on pancakes, short hair, 30 pounds. “What are you going to call him,” her sister asked.

“I don’t know,” said Linda. “It’ll come to me.”

Soon she met her neighbors. There were only two other houses on the cul-de-sac that backed up to the mountain. In each of the houses was a couple about Linda’s age. The wives were both named Linda — the result of the same generational fashion that later led to innumerable Brittanys, Tammys, and Heathers. Both husbands were named Bob.

That’s when Linda knew what to call her dog.

***

This is not fiction! 🙂

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/a-dog-named-bob/

719

This is written in response to Bumblepuppies prompt on Blacklight Candelabra. I’ve linked it to the Daily Prompt because it’s far more interesting (to me).

July 19 (719) was the day I retired from a career of more than 30 years.

Two months later, having sold my house, I took off in a rented van (never driven a van), with three large old dogs, some possessions (the book on how to move across country said put irreplaceable possessions in your car, not in the truck) expensive art supplies I got in Switzerland years and years ago. I set off across the hot southern Arizona desert, up the lush corridor to Flagstaff to a nasty Motel 6 that did, at least, allow all three dogs in my room. From there up and out through Arizona’s hypnotic northern desert, with its wild horses, wild rocks and a sweet Navajo waitress in Dennys who said, “You look tired.”

I was driving through the American landscape, driving to freedom, driving from what I perceived as failure and betrayal into a larger world dominated by natural landscape. Shiprock rose ever higher on the horizon to the northwest. Herds of tame horses ran alongside the van. Small flocks of sheep lounged on the low slopes of a butte. Then…

1

North.

Green fields. Neat farms. Slo-mo McDonalds in Cortez. Young Indian cowboy dad says to me, “This is taking forever,” he’s worried about his hungry kid and I’m worried about the dogs in the car.

Small town, small town, green valley, a Colorado I’ve never seen. A Colorado I want to see, but I must drive. South Fork tonight, a cabin, sleep, a place to walk the dogs. Mancos, Durango — no, this is not where I want to live, I erase the glimmer of possibility. Bayfield, Pagosa Springs (beautiful!). Many of the places I pass are possible homes though my sights are set on Monte Vista, I am not locked in yet.

The pass, Wolf Creek, lingers in my memory of other people’s conversations as being “dangerous” “Yeah, yeah, we had to go over Wolf Creek!” “Oh God. How was it?”

Beautiful, smooth, even, empty. My pass. On the west end a fantastic waterfall, on the east end? Home? Maybe?

 

 

I arrive in South Fork at the cusp of fall. Aspens turning, first higher in the San Juans, then gold creeps down the elevation to the Rio Grande valley. The river flows not far from the field where I walk my dogs. I watch it change color from black to blue to golden in the light. I love it. Rio Grande. The words are romantic and beautiful. I love the drive down from South Fork to Monte Vista when I have to shop or look at a property. Tense times; where will I live? But the beauty around me is a balm on my uprooted soul.

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In the Dewey Decimal system 719 is “Natural Landscapes.”

That turned out well 🙂 And, what’s more, 719 is the area code here!

 

You might like a map!

You might like a map!

Morning alpenglow

Morning Alpenglow from my front porch.

Wildlife refuge

Monte Vista wildlife refuge, August, 2014, south of my town

 

https://blacklightcandelabra.wordpress.com/2015/03/02/the-dewey-decimal-system/

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/circle-of-five/

Nuts and Soft-Centers

This is a response to bumblepuppies’ Black Light Candelabra prompt. If you’re looking for an interesting weekly writing challenge, check out blacklightcandelabra.wordpress.com

Write “…a dozen mini-pieces in a single post.  Each mini-piece should be 25-35 words and be self-contained…Whatever strategy you choose, the twelve pieces should look like a coherent whole when they’re juxtaposed in your post.”

——–

The first day, they’re all the same, though they try to stand out, one from the other, striking the predictable poses of late adolescence.

“OK guys, if I pronounce your name wrong, let me know? Jesus Martin? Good. Oh my god, this is funny. Jesus, looks like your dad is here. Joseph Martin?” Only Joseph laughs. “Hi son!” he says.

“Hey prof!” “Whoa, Joe! I hear you made pro!” “Yeah. Come meet my girlfriend. She’s over here.” Joe picks me up and carries me across the library. Is that why I never got tenure?

“Your quizzes are hard and you’re mean. It says so on Ratemyprofessor. You make students cry.” “Have you read the chapter?” “I don’t have a book yet.” I think, “Fuck off,” but I say nothing.

“Remember me? I was in your class four years ago? I dropped out to join the Marines? You tried to talk me out of it? I’ve been in Eye-rack.” I remember. War is easier than breaking up with a bad boyfriend?

“Professor, guess what? I got a marketing job! I work in Vegas. I stand beside cars!” She pulls up her tube top. Mensa level IQs are wasted on long-legged blondes with store-bought tits.

“Dude! Dude! Wait, DUDE! Professor Dude!” He grabs my jacket. “You know that ‘Allegory of the Cave’ thing you made us read?  Dude, that’s my LIFE.” “I know, Chris. It’s everybody’s life.”

“I’m retaking your class. This time I’m getting an A.” “It’s easy. Just take all the quizzes, do the homework. Show up.” “Thanks for failing me. You woke me up.” “Are you sucking up?” “A little.”

“Why do we have to read this? It’s boring.” “That book changed the world. You need to know what it says or you’re going to live in a future just like that. How far are you?” “Two  pages.”

“Professor, can we talk? I can’t talk to my parents. The thing is, I’m gay. My parents don’t know. They’re Christian. Being gay is a sin.” I think, “They know.” I say, “Give them a chance.”

“Don’t quit just because of one bad class. You’re a great teacher. You really care about us and you want us to learn.” “Thank you,” I write, “It’s time for someone else to carry this baton.”

“Professor, I hope you like Colorado. I wanted to tell you I’m going home to Iraq for the first time since we moved here. I’m scared.” “Don’t be. Write me when you get back. Tell me everything.”

————–

https://blacklightcandelabra.wordpress.com/2015/02/09/a-box-of-chocolates/

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/the-transporter/

First, and THEN…

Firsts are pretty easy. It’s the work involved AFTER the first that makes life, really. I guess I got up and walked when I was 13 months old (fine with how things were on the ground, I guess). After that? I had to keep doing it. After a while, I forgot the “first” and was completely wrapped up in winning a race, hiking a trail, getting to class, walking on the beach with a friend, playing catch with my dad.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/first/