8 1/2


Daily Prompt Fourth Wall You get to spend a day inside your favorite movie. Tell us which one it is — and what happens to you while you’re there. (Thanks for the lovely prompt ideaMywitchkitchen!)

I am Guido. To see what happens to me, watch the film.

P.S. I’m sorry. I just don’t get this prompt. I don’t know how I could be “in” a film that’s already made — it would be a matter of taking an existing part in that film so what would happen to me while I’m there is completely revealed in the film itself. As for this film… There are probably books written about what it means; if not books, there are certainly articles (I even wrote one). As an artist (I don’t mean to sound precious or pretentious there; I’m neither of those things) I have to struggle constantly to remain true to what I want to do, that is, what pertains to me. I relate to Guido (the protagonist) very strongly and sometimes, when I feel like giving up, I watch 8 1/2.

A lot of people don’t “get” Fellini’s work. I personally think it’s pretty obvious stuff. It’s when a viewer doesn’t just sit back and enjoy it and tries to find something in it, some hidden meaning, that he/she is likely to get frustrated. That is also what this film is about. I’d like to share my article, but I don’t have it in any format that makes that possible.



Walking Away?


Daily Prompt Circuitous Paths A stranger knocks on your door, asking for directions from your home to the closest gas station (or café, or library. Your pick!). Instead of the fastest and shortest route, give him/her the one involving the most fun detours.

“What’s the shortest way to your house?”
“I don’t have one.”
“There’s no shortest way or you have no house?”
“No house. Seriously.”
“Wow. So you’re homeless?”
“Actually, yes. Not without shelter but without a home.”
“How did that happen?”
“I retired and moved to another state where I’m trying to close a deal on a house but…”
“But? That’s normal enough?”
“I’ve reached a turning point. I realized yesterday after numerous frustrations with my agent, my lender, the seller, his agent, etc. that there’s really no reason in the world for me to do this. I only went this way because it’s what I’m used to, you know? House, car, dogs… But why?”
“Yeah, right? Why?”
“I shoulda’ just found homes for the dogs or put them to sleep. Gotten rid of my stuff. Paid my debts. Bought a plane ticket somewhere I want to go and GONE. I should be in Croatia or some place on the Mediterranean where I could live on my retirement and NOT BE HERE.”
“That’s kind of drastic.”
“What ISN’T drastic? It was just stupid to come back to Colorado where I’ve already lived. Sink my money into another property and all this bullshit. What am I going to do here, anyway? Be a famous writer? I got news for you, buddy. There are nine-billion wannabe writers out there in the world. There are writer’s workshops out the wazoo. I’m no better than anyone else and less likely to sell, really, since I’m codgerish, and I’ve never ever even found the public pulse. I just went in this direction because I KNOW it, but after a month in this wildly expensive dog crate, I realize, I should’ve thought about it MORE and DIFFERENTLY. I’m going to spend today trying to find out if it’s too late to back out of the deal and take what I have left. I think I can buy a motorhome and the dogs and I can just Jack Kerouac it into oblivion.”
“Wow. Seriously? You’re just going to back out?”
“Naw. I suspect the best solution to this is to let the seller blow it. If he doesn’t get things done by Monday, and the underwriters won’t fund the loan until the contingency of a roof repair is met, I’ll be able to choose whether to go forward or not. My best bet is to lie low and let things play out.”
“If it happens they can’t close when they are supposed to?”
“I have two days to think about this. I CAN leave. I can just put the dogs in boarding and take off on a jet plane somewhere. Even a new passport and I’m OUTTA’ here.”
“So any way I go to your house is going to be circuitous.”
“As far as I know, there’s no way to get there.”


Loss and Ignorance in Milan


Il Cenoculo

“Could there be a more appropriate or better conceived subject for a painting in a refectory than a farewell supper, which was destined to become eternally sacred to the whole world?” Goethe quoting “Giuseppe Bossi: On Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper at Milan”

My first breakfast in Milan was a solitary bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee. I washed the dishes. Taking my map, I left, securing doors and gates behind me with strange Italian keys, sideways skeletons, serious locks. At the bottom of three flights of worn marble tiles–the wearing down of which fascinated me–I stepped into the bright day through a doorway built to admit horses into the courtyard of this 18th century building. Sunday. Quiet streets. I had marked my map with a yellow highlighter, leading to my destination, La Ultima Cena, Il Cenoculo, the masterpiece which competes with the Mona Lisa as Leonardo’s most famous painting. “Dove Il Cenoculo?” asked Elena the day before.

“Sant’Ambrogio,” answered Elisabetta. That basilica was my destination.

“You can ride my bicycle, or you can take the tram, and the subway is just up that street, turn right, then left, then right and it’s there. Remember, the stop is Porto Romano so when you come back you know where to get off.” My first thought–which I rejected–was the bicycle, but it’s difficult to navigate on a bicycle unless you know where you are and where you’re going, and then there were the grooves of the tram tracks. Intimidated by the subway, and wanting to see the city, I walked. Self-consciously solitary, hesitant to publicly read my map, I was a black hopeful shadow on sun-drenched streets, seeking shade beneath the trees along Via Beatrice Este. I wandered past a Byzantine church, breathtaking, mysterious and–to me–irresistible. I walked around it but became confused when I was suddenly on a medieval street. Out of odd uncertainty, I retraced my steps. My goal was to see the one painting I would find at Sant’Ambrogio, nothing else. Seeing a subway stop, I went down to ask directions. I was kindly informed that the Basilica Sant’Ambrogio was directly across the street. I ran up the stairs and emerged in a driven frenzy to find the entrance to the church; still, I couldn’t find it. I walked around the block looking for a likely entrance, and finding none, and further and further from where I wanted to be, I turned back. Each moment increased my self-doubt. This was not, for me, the simple confusion of a stranger in a strange land; for me, all this was failure. I was proving something to someone, to Dario? To his sister, his parents? To myself? That I could do everything myself? That I could give myself a good time, a successful time, that I didn’t need Dario or the realization of his promises, and so I was determined to see La Ultima Cena.  I had to do this without asking any of the questions I really needed to ask, or noticing anything around me.

I should have understood then. I didn’t find the door until I gave up possibilities which (to me) seemed reasonable and went in the only open gate, a spiked iron-clad foot-thick wooden monster that could have confined Satan. This was how I discovered that the entrance to this historic church is through the gate of the tower dungeon which houses Milan’s Museum of Torturous Implements of the Holy Inquisition.

I entered a small square. A one-eyed beggar from Africa sat on one of the benches that lined the courtyard. A couple of punk-rock kids sat kissing on a stone animal (lion? lamb?) outside the church door. The age of the place and its silence struck me; I entered without speaking to anyone. I did not imagine that others would understand even my poor, very poor, Italian, though only the day before I had spoken Italian the entire day, and the day before that, and the day before that and the day before that; my four days in Italy had been–except for the abysmal interludes of broken English with Dario–lived in Italian. Entering this church, I felt excruciatingly, self-consciously, foreign. Church bells rang the half hour.

“A combination of Romanesque and Byzantine architecture, the Basilica Sant’Ambrogio marked an important transition in style,” I was told by a coin operated recording just inside the doors. The recording said nothing about La Ultima Cena. I walked around the sanctuary, looking at the chapels and the paintings, puzzled that I did not see what I came to see, or a line of people waiting to see it, or any indication that it was here at all. I was momentarily entranced by a statue and shrine to a saint called Satiros, and nearly bought him a candle based on the painfully appropriate prayer asking for his help in overcoming “egoismo e indeciso.” The long line of suppliants waiting for a chance to buy these candles and prayers indicated something fundamental in human nature.
I continued to walk around the church, looking, but absently looking; occluded as I was by egoism and indecisiveness, I was paralyzed. All I REALLY saw was that I didn’t see what I set out that morning to see. I did not want to ask, “Where is Leonardo’s painting?” when clearly what WAS all around me was amazing. Finally, I bought a guidebook to Milan from a woman running a kiosk inside the church and from the book I learned that what I wanted was the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Sant’Ambrogio was the simply the closest subway stop. I walked out of the church moments before mass began. I missed that, too.

A destination serves best as a reason to venture out. Until I learned this, I endured the pathology of frustration. Knowing where I “wanted” to be, it became impossible for me to stay where I was, to see the random beauty of a place like this one. A week later, after I had learned how to ask useful questions and how to be somewhere, I tried to return. Sant’Ambrogio was closed for mass, and all that remained for me was to wander through the three dismal floors of torture, perusing devices representing the nefarious side of human nature, diabolically vindicated by “Church” and “Justice. The irony is this. Hell is exactly that, not to be where you are at any given moment. I had damned myself.

Des Lebens labyrintisches irren Lauf,” wrote Goethe in one of his prologues to Faust. “. . .life’s labyrinthine chaos course.”

I continued, through small streets and down some larger ones, reaching, finally, the monastery in which Leonardo had painted to pay for food and shelter.

I could not get in. “We are sorry. There are no more reservations today. Call this number to make an appointment.”

Tourists who were in Milan for only one day crumpled in disappointment or paced in frenzied agitation. “What if someone cancels? Then can we get in?”

“No one cancels.”

I looked around. There are tours in English and Italian; a Korean tour group had all the tickets for the next English tour which was also the last of the day. Next to the door a table was set up selling souvenirs of the Cenoculo experience; posters, maps, postcards, banners, all kinds of junk.

Per favore. Di me il numero.”

Siamo ciusi domani, e martedi non ne piu prenotatti, mercoledi e il primo giorno.”

Va bene. Sono qui per una settimana.”

“Bene. Qui,” and he handed me a small card with the number printed on it. “Chiamare un giorno di anticipo. Abbiamo un tour in inglese cinque volte per giorno.

Grazie. Grazie tanti. Arrivederci.

Clearly, my Italian wasn’t very good, or were there things about the painting I would understand better if they were told to me in bad English? The fact was, I didn’t care if I saw this famous painting or not; I preferred a tour in Italian because, at least, I would improve my listening comprehension. I had seen this painting–as we have all seen it–in reproductions everywhere on everything. My grandmother, in her little house on its gravel street in Billings, Montana had, hanging above her sink, a china plate on which was printed The Last Supper. When I was a kid, I thought that was funny since no one ever actually ate supper off the plate. I inherited it, as it had been a gift from my mother, and when it broke in a move, I felt no loss, either of the artifact of my grandmother’s life or of this painting. The plate was kitsch; the painting, by default, was kitsch. Seeing The Last Supper was just the thing you did in Milan. From my frustrated visit to the Basilica Santa Maria di Grazia, I had a story to tell the girls at dinner, “There were so many people, I couldn’t get in.” I knew I would say that and they would ask me when I could go.

A nineteenth century tourist had raved about Milan, calling it the beautiful progeny of a marriage between Zürich and Rome. I loved Zürich; I had not been to Rome. Today Milan is a city that, apparently, does not attract tourists, only those who want to hear opera at La Scala–which, during my visit was playing West Side Story–or who are passing through to real destinations like Rome, Florence or Venice, but Milan ultimately gave me unhurried, uncrowded experiences in intriguing, beautiful places. I was heading in the direction of downtown, toward the Duomo. Relieved of Il Cenoculo as a destination, I looked in my small book on what I might find on the way. My feet were burning from blisters I’d gotten the day before walking barefoot in hot black shoes, around the Naviglia, and though I was now wearing socks, they were too heavy, and pressed on my blisters.

I continued walking, past a building whose street door was flanked by ancient statues. I entered only the courtyard. I glanced at hacked up dismembered marble arms and legs, thighs without knees or hips, half a face with an ear, scattered in the yard, covered with dust, or resting on fat-legged marble tables like fossilized cadavers of titans; the ancient, presented like this, didn’t interest me. I turned away.

I was on the Corso Magenta. I really wanted lightweight socks. It was Sunday. What would be open? I decided to find something to eat and continued toward the Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II.
I got lunch in an autocafe, one of a chain throughout Milan–all of Italy, for all I know–the equivalent of Denny’s. I found no seat except in the smoking section, across from a junkie who had piled his plate high with ham, pasta, salad and fruit he didn’t touch. I had rigatoni bolognese, worse than American pasta which is notorious in Italy for being overcooked. The bread was stale and my soda was expensive. As I ate, silently looking past the junkie out the window, I decided not to eat there again, even though it had a bathroom. A tourist on foot becomes preoccupied with accessible public toilets, and in the course of that day I remembered reading a description of the convenient public toilet behind the Duomo, complete with showers, run by the Tourist Bureau.
I set out in search of socks. The streets were now packed with people, and I shuffled and jostled my way along, past refugees from everywhere selling everything; Senegalese selling purses, Chinese selling cheap electronic toys, Angolans offering braided bracelets, Filipinos selling truly lovely handmade jewelry made of fishing line and glass. I was ignored; I looked either too destitute or too Italian to approach, and was left to go my way while those more obviously tourists were plagued and pursued down the Corso Vittorio Emanuelle. I found a store open and entering, looked for socks. Milan IS fashion; and the clothes in this store were gorgeous, but in the self-consciousness of my solitude, I had difficulty looking. I found the socks and bought them. I crossed the Piazza delle Duomo, and went for the first time to a cafe that became from that day on my resting place.

Mi dispiace, ma, non posso cambiare,” the man behind the counter was saying to the young Korean woman ahead of me in line who had ordered ice cream and cappuccino and handed him a 300,000 lira note. “Aspetta un momento, per favore,” he continued, then looked at me, “Mi scusi, signora, si può cambiare questo?”

Si. Aspetta.” I gave him change (lira, back then), then I ordered an espresso and soda water. In solidarity with the Italian style, I put two cubes of sugar in my tiny cup of coffee, though normally I take it black, and stirred. It was better sweet. I felt triumphant that I could change that note; I felt that I was more than an imbecilic parasite lost with blistered feet, marching on the streets of Milan purposefully to erroneous destinations, who had come to Italy in pursuit of a man who had turned out to be a lying sociopath.

Sitting with my coffee, listening to an orchestra playing in the background and looking at the pigeon and tourist filled square of the Duomo, I understood all of it. I opened my book and looked at all the places I could go; I had no destination, I had only to enjoy myself. My one certainty was a plane ticket taking me back to California in three weeks. I did not want to stay so long, but I couldn’t change my ticket at that moment, that day; it was Sunday, and I was in Milan. That reality finally penetrated; I was in Milan, on my own, independent, in one of the world’s great, oldest cities. I leaned back in my chair, closed my eyes, and saw with excitement how little I knew of anything, especially of where I was. I was filled with the sense of magic possibility that is freedom. Adventure; (advent, the beginning or coming of something important).

After a change of socks I decided to see the paintings hanging in the Sforza Castle. I crossed the Galleria and found myself in a medieval market square with posts and rings for tying horses. Families of Italian and eastern European tourists ate picnic lunches on the raised platform of the market; it was a beautiful spot and I was able with my new wisdom to enjoy it, to marvel at it, to picture in my mind the horses tied and merchants bargaining beneath the watchful gaze of burghers and officials looking from the merchant exchange offices above. I bought a gelato, and crossed a traffic circle, entering the drawbridge gate over the dry moat that surrounded a castle from a fairy tale.

Castello Sforzesco vista dallalto

I wanted to see paintings, but the first entrance led me to carefully labeled marble body parts. Outside again, I saw a sign, “Pinocateca.” Painting gallery. The Castle Sforza IS medieval, but inside, the museum is ultra-modern and spare; it’s perfect. The European time machine–of which I had only seen scattered samples in museums–needs somehow to rest within a space so barren of context that each comprehensible jewel can be savored, relished, seen. The Sforza Castle was made — in many places —  into just such spaces. I passed through the first two in which tapestries hung above mammoth medieval chests and chairs, into another, with a vaulted green ceiling on which frescoes of zodiac signs were painted; it was splendid, set off by itself. From there I walked into the next perfectly Spartan room. Narrative and symbolic paintings of the Virgin, St. Sebsastian, St. Gregory, St. Benedict began their education of my eyes. I needed to be taught; I did not know how to see; I was tuned to subject, numb to form, blind to technique. At first I saw only that the paintings were virtually the same; the same subjects, the Last Supper, the crucifixion, insufficient representations of the Biblical reference I love most, the Garden of Gethsemene. There was the first Christmas, the infant Jesus on Mary’s Lap, the child Jesus, then sorrowing, brave Mary holding up the body of her dead son, and on and on and on over and over again from one room to the next. Goethe wrote that these artists, painting for patronage, limited by their patrons to these same subjects, were imprisoned, but there was none of the joylessness of imprisonment in these works; at least, I didn’t see it. All seemed to have been painted with patience, faith and love–and hope, of course, for a few dollars.

But I was learning. Learning of saints, and which ones cried out most for depiction–St. Sebastian with his arrow-pierced young body, his agony. Later, a strange image emerged; a levitating knife, poised to penetrate? or decapitate? There was no clue anywhere as to the significance of this airborne blade. Did it denote martyrdom? I posited this theory hoping to find the blade in a painting of the one man my Protestant background recognized as a martyr, St. John the Baptist. “That,” I thought, “will tell me.” I didn’t object to my ignorance; it was the force behind discovery. Looking for a flying blade seeking John the Baptist, I gasped to see his head on a plate, tongue hanging out, eyes rolled back, complete with blood, veins, nerve endings and a severed spinal chord.

Within these rooms of time I saw the discovery of fixed-point perspective and the effect it had on Christ’s formerly precarious balance on his mother’s lap. I saw men and women of Italy’s streets painted in the backgrounds of the familiar Bible scenes, replacing the anonymous paper-doll faces of the early middle ages. Intricate brocade on the gowns of painted archbishops was accomplished in the same way I use lace paper to create pattern and texture; through a stencil. It was all astonishing; I saw the palpable difference in the floating, light reflective surface of an oil or casein painting and the infused radiance of a fresco; plaster inoculated with color. I fell in love with its passionate immediacy, the vividness of a moment of life, the movement of existence. From that day, I sought them everywhere and yearned to try my own.

At the end, there stood Goethe’s passion, the plastic arts, a statue he could have seen in Rome, but didn’t. Starkly, simply exhibited in a replication of a sculptor’s workroom, without the fastidious self-consciousness of a set design, stood Michelangelo’s unfinished standing Pieta Rondanini. The great work was spot-lit from four directions with benches making a small amphitheater in front. I sat down. I had loved this piece since I saw photos of it in high school art history class.


Pieta Rondanini

There in front of me it appeared to be the fruition of ALL the paintings; in a relative sense they were complex sketches, studies spanning centuries, practice for this exquisitely unfinished work.
I had spent three hours in this palace of delight; I was surfeited.

On my way back I bought a strawberry gelato (é soltanto una fragola) and, savoring its sweet temporality, I slowly returned to Via Atto Vanucci. I had not seen La Ultima Cena, but when I did, three days later, all of this had prepared me for what is much more than a painting; as a work of art, it is a force transcending its many mangled restorations, a force of beauty reaching beyond beauty, a destination. Il destino. Destiny.

“The presence of works of art, like those of Nature, makes us. . .wish to express our feelings and judgements in words, but . . . in the end we return to a wordless beholding.” Goethe Italian Journey

No Words, Literally…


Daily Prompt Reverse Shot What’s your earliest memory involving another person? Recreate the scene — from the other person’s perspective.

My earliest memories involving another person are from a pre-verbal time in that person’s life, and almost in mine. He would have been far too young to comprehend anything around him. He was only two days old, wrapped tightly in cotton flannel receiving blankets and lying on my “lap,” a lap that was just my nearly two-year-old legs stretched out in front of me as I sat on the sofa. Did I push him away? I remember feeling confused. I heard, “That’s your brother, Martha Ann. Take care of him.” What did he hear? Did he see me? “That’s your baby,” they said. “You have to love him.” I had FELT my mom’s belly when he was in there but made no connection between the being on my lap and the strange lurch of my mother’s flesh. “That’s the baby,” she had said.

For Christmas that year (about six weeks later) I got a baby doll so when my mother cared for Kirk I cared for Tiny Tears.

P.S. This is a good prompt! Sorry I cannot actually do it.


Night Out in Milan



“The pair introduced me to a young lady from Milan. . .the Milanesa had light-brown hair, a clear delicate skin, blue eyes and was more outgoing, not so much forward as eager to know about things.” Goethe, Italian Journey.

“She’s my best friend, but she’s kind of married, you know? What about you? What do you like, men or women?” Nicoletta snuggled against Tina, who looked dishy in a white gown. Elisabetta, in black silk parachute pants and a skin-tight yellow t-shirt, sat beside me. I don’t remember what Nicoletta wore; only that she arrived on a Vespa and when she took her helmet off, in a graceful, elegant gesture, honey-colored hair fell to her shoulders, then we all had entered the restaurant under a blue neon representation of a cuttlefish.

“Men. But I think this way. I don’t think we fall in love with a gender; we fall in love with a person. I think I could love a woman, and if I loved her, I would want her. It hasn’t happened, but it isn’t impossible.” It’s only a polite theory. Though I have had women friends I loved, I couldn’t, well, I couldn’t. Close contact with female bodies in crowded gyrating rock concerts has already told me how repelled I would be embracing that plowed field; its proper role is the germination of seeds. I know this in my own animal heart of biological morality.

“I am in love.”


“It’s agony. You know about that, don’t you?” Nicoletta looked into my eyes. I wondered what she had heard of me, if anything.


The little “train”, as Elisabetta had described it, passed by my right. Its “cars” were small plates carrying sushi. I was worried about dinner because it would be expensive and I had no idea–yet–what the money in my purse was worth. I said something about it, and Elisabetta quickly said, “You are our guest.” That didn’t make it better, but I would return the favor another night. I took a small plate of nigiri sushi–hamachi–from the train. Tina took some, too.

“Is this what you want to do? We can order, we can order the big boat. Tina, do you want to do that, or this way?”

The boat was ordered. So much for the train.

“Tell me your love story,” I said to Nicoletta who continued to look at me with a focused inquisitive earnestness. It was the easiest way out of telling mine.

“For a while we were friends. Then, he fell in love with me, but I was not in love with him. After a while, we were friends again, but then he fell in love with someone else, and I fell in love with him. Then he finished with her and fell in love with me, but I was not in love with him any more and was with someone else.”

“And now?” I asked.

“We have decided to try.”

“Where is he now?”

“He’s on Capri.”

I smiled, thinking of Tiberius. “When is he coming back?”

“In two days. You know what I feel, don’t you?”

“I do. I know exactly.”

“I see it in your eyes. You must have stories.”

I didn’t answer. I didn’t want to tell my stories. None of them were happy, anyway. That love is endlessly, consummately, interesting is not surprising. It is always the missing piece. It is the missing piece of contentment for the lonely; the missing piece of contentment for the miserably paired. “Soltanto una fragola” that easily smashed, quickly rotted, juicy, sweet, biting, heart-shaped, inimitable, longed-for fruit, inedible when picked too soon, regardless of its enticing red color; that strawberry, love.

“How old are you?”


“That’s impossible. I thought you were, thirty-three, thirty-five at most.”

“You’re my best friend forever.” I grin at her. She is 28 and beautiful; she shames the models in Vogue.

“No, Christine, listen. I’m not making a compliment to you. Elisabetta, Tina, doesn’t she look much younger? Did you know she was so old? I don’t believe it! You don’t have any wrinkles!”

I don’t mind that she is flattering me. I need to believe it, so I do.

“I lived in America,” she says, “in New York.”

“Doing what?”

“I’m a photographer.”

“Did you like it?”

“Very much. It’s an exciting city. I was going to stay there. But, I came back.”


“Oh, you know. I was in love with the man I was working for, but he didn’t feel the same. We shared an apartment, see? Because I had very little money and you know, New York is expensive. Anyway, I worked for him. One night he was out with a woman and he didn’t come back. I couldn’t stand it. I put everything in a bag, walked out of the apartment. I got in a taxi and went to the airport. My mother was shocked, you know? I was wearing pajamas!”

“How long, Nicoletta? How long did you live with that?”

“Two years. Are you in love now?”

Elisabetta looks at me, concerned. I’m disconcerted. I take a deep breath before I answer, “No, not now. I’m not in love with anyone.” Perhaps I lied or perhaps I was only trying out the sentence for the future, when it would be true.

Inequality is the Law of Nature


Daily Prompt Unequal Terms Did you know today is Blog Action Day? Join bloggers from around the world and write a post about what inequality means to you. Have you ever encountered it in your daily life?

Law is one of humanity’s best inventions. It has the power to rectify some of the “mistakes” of nature. Everyone will always be “unequal” in nature, but (assuming society is functioning properly) equal under the law. “Justice” is blind so that she will not be influenced by the superficial attributes of those being tried — race, gender, size, education and so on. That says it all. It is also an ideal.

Have I encountered “unequality” in my daily life? Of course. I’m part of nature and part of human society. As such, I’m confronted daily with my “inequality.” I’m short, for one thing. Female, for another. White, so in some of my teaching experiences I’ve dealt with the negative expectations of some students. I’m “older” (at this point) so I deal with the ageism of those who’d really like me to get the hell out of the way so they can run the world instead of me (that’s hyperbole) and who assume because I’m older, I am unfamiliar with “technology.”

Being short and female means I’m “cute” and I’ve actually been patted on the head by big, strong men. Back in the day, when I was pretty along with being short, it was hard for me to be taken seriously, especially by men. I’ve had a few African/American students accuse me of being racist because the material I required in my class was too difficult for them. In spite of the fact that I had been using the same computer consoles since they were installed (and through every upgrade) and was very familiar with the foibles and idiosyncrasies of each one, I’ve had students actually push my hands out of the way as I attempted to troubleshoot the problems they were having as setting up their (flawed) presentations; others have asked me if they’d like me to set up the DVD player to show a movie to the class.

All of these episodes angered me and all of them were unfair. What did I do?

Well, the third time one particular big strong man stood too close to me and patted me on the head, I stomped on his foot and said, “Stop it. I’m not a child or a toy or a doll,” and walked away. In the cases of the African/American students — well, very unpleasant and desperately unfair, but I felt it was best to let those situations rectify themselves. It really was not my fault that Brave New World was over their heads and that no teacher had ever made them reach before. Importantly, it was not MOST African American students; it was only a few. Perspective was everything. As for the technology thing? A kid at the bank the other day asked if I’d like him to show me how to use the ATM.

I don’t think there’s much we can do about this. Social inequality is based on fear, competitiveness, stereotyping, lack of imagination and stupidity. Education can help, I suppose, but in this case I’m with the bumper sticker, “You Can’t Fix Stupid.” For that, I’m grateful for law. Flawed, certainly. Better than nothing? Absolutely.


Another Segment of the Story “Smokes”

Pan Xi Restaurant

I posted this story some time back, but since I’d only started blogging, it kind of went unnoticed. So, for those of you who’ve liked other segments of this story, this is my favorite part.

Pan-Xi, 1982 by Martha Kennedy

Fourteen middle-aged and elderly Chinese men in a private dining room of the Pan-Xi Restaurant. I, the only woman, am a disappointment to them all. I am small, surprisingly juvenile for thirty, and pretty. At least I brought this husband who is tall, gray-haired, dignified. My husband is compensation because, obviously, I’m either insane or frivolous. September, Guangzhou, People’s Republic of China. As hot as noon in Hell if Hell is a sauna. The restaurant is very old, famous for at least five centuries, but I don’t know that. I don’t know anything. They sit in a circle, with me in the position of honor, to the East, where the sun rises. All below me, in chairs lower than mine. This, of course, I don’t know, either. A waiter comes with packs and packs of cigarettes which he sets in the middle of the table on a lacquer tray. Each man takes a pack, opens it, and begins smoking ferociously. The whirling fans shift the smoke from corner to corner, moving the air a little, too. Waiters bring food, fantastically displayed in impossible shapes, nests of noodles which look exactly like the nests of robins, hummingbirds, sparrows, vegetables cut into the shapes of birds, but there is no aroma, no flavor. The wafting smoke continues filling the room. The fans struggle with the weight of the air. Tea. Here comes orange soda which we all mix with beer. All bottled drinks in China contain saltpeter. Nothing is cold, nothing is hot. It is the Chinese way, not to challenge the fever mechanisms of the body during the hot months. Scalding jasmine tea, after several pots, draws, the heat into the center of the brain where it disappears as an idea and you are left, surprisingly cool. We get lessons on using chopsticks, fried peanuts, plates of soft cold noodles with sugar and peanuts, then green vegetable and garlic, mysterious chicken served with bones we repel by putting the whole piece into the mouth, sucking the meat off, then spitting on the floor. Belches, one after the other, more smoke. More dishes, frogs, called “chicken of the field,” and soup with floating noodles, dumplings and intestines. In the middle of the banquet, I’m presented with the menu, beautifully written, just for me, to mark the night. I have no idea what I’ve been given. The room is blue with smoke now, nearly obscuring, certainly dimming, the orange walls. Outside tinny recorded music plays. The artificial lakes and magical bridges of the courtyard seem remote and impossibly cool to me; this is why they are there, to offer the illusion of space and coolness in a place where there is neither space nor coolness. I have no idea that I am looking at what is remains of a rich man’s pleasure garden from the seventeenth century. The magnitude of history in China is beyond the imagination of most Americans.

My welcome dinner concludes, and we move outside, through the dreamlike garden. I want to look around, but my escorts don’t think there’s anything particular to see. They march purposefully across the bridges, out of the restaurant and onto the street. They got their free dinner (state paid) in the expensive restaurant. I suspect I am a failure.

On the bus, I sit alone by the door because it’s broken and air rushes through it. I want to breathe and look out at everything as we pass. I want to ask questions of someone, but I’ve learned already that everyone gives the same answers. “It is nothing, it is old, it doesn’t matter.” Then the old Dean, Kewey Tseng, a bear-like handsome man in his eighties comes behind me and sits down. He leans forward, shaking a cigarette to the front of the pack. “Here Martha. You’re among friends now.” Had they thought it was my good manners, my femininity, that made me the only one not smoking at the table? Had they expected someone less old-fashioned, a modern woman, with a cigarette hanging from her mouth? I turn to look at the old Dean and in spite of my ignorance, I see what was in his eyes. Watery, red-rimmed, rheumy, old; liver-spotted forehead, white, white hair, yellow smile, but in the dark abyss of his eyes gleam secrets. “I know who you are,” they say. “Can you see who I am? Can you?” There were to be many secret meetings like this for me in China; this is my first. “You must know,” those eyes say, “that I remember other days, when beautiful women in red silk dresses danced in that boring old restaurant, when real music played all night, when there was money here. I remember the luxury steamer I took to San Francisco where I studied as a young man. These memories I have; I have known your world, and because of that, I’ve suffered all my life. I would do it all again, for the memories alone. You are the same as I; you have come all this way for a memory worth having.”

I take the cigarette. We sit there, he leaning forward on the back of my seat, smoking silently together as the breeze comes through the broken door.




Daily Prompt Avant Garde From your musical tastes to your political views, were you ever way ahead of the rest of us, adopting the new and the emerging before everyone else?

My music taste has always been ahead of the pack and I have no idea why. One of the most amusing bits of evidence for this is in Fellini’s City of Women which came out in 1980. For a while I’d been listening to Gino Soccio’s album, Outline. My friends thought I was a freak. It’s synthesizer/disco music. “Why do you listen to that?”
“I like it,” was the predictable response.
“Why?” was the predictable followup (and very absurd) question.
Liking something is reason enough, right?

So my friends and I went to the Vogue (RIP) theater to see City of Women, a thought provoking and hilarious film, “poking” fun at feminism, gender stereotypes, and hyper-masculinity. I loved it.

Kim Allen, Denver Photo Archives, http://denverphotoarchives.com/blog/2010/june.html

Kim Allen, Denver Photo Archives, http://denverphotoarchives.com/blog/2010/june.html

I’d often said that at a certain point in my life God abdicated the job of directing my destiny and gave the job to Federico Fellini. The movie gave credence to my entire theory when a particularly surreal scene of young girls, cars, headlights and airplanes was backed with this song by Gino Soccio, “The Visitors.” “My God, Martha,” said my friend, “You’re right. The only other place I’ve heard that song is at your house!”




Writing Challenge Genre Blender Pick a genre from column A, a style from column B, and blend to create your own delightful concoction. (Tiny paper umbrellas optional.)

“You teach English, eh?”
“I teached it.” Lilian smiled. “I gave up. Just three months ago, as it happens.”
“Good. I could never date an English teacher. They’re always at you about your grammar.”
“Pretty much ONLY when you’re in their class and they’re paid to do that. The goal is to help students write and think more clearly so other people can understand them should they ever wish to you know? Communicate something?”
“I’ll tell you about English teachers. They’re punctilious anal superficial hyper-critical sadists, if you want my opinion. They get off on throwing red ink around and hurting peoples’ feelings.”
“I didn’t want your opinion. But thanks. Glad I retired so we can be on this date. So, where we going?”
“I thought we’d go over to the laundromat and watch the clock.”
“I already did that on a date, back in high school. Boyfriend – Tony – had no money. I don’t know why we did that, parked his old Ford in front of the laundromat. He said it was so we could be together, which, I admit, was sweet, but it was so cold and the laundromat wasn’t even open. It had this phosphorous-green kind of light inside coming from the green neon circling the clock. I dunno if you’ve ever seen one like that.”
“Where was that?”
“Colorado Springs. It was winter, too. I was home for Christmas break.”
“I guess you didn’t go out with him long.”
“I married him.”
“Are you going to marry me?”
“Doubtful, very doubtful. In fact, I don’t see much point in your wasting the gas to drive over to the laundromat. Just let me out here, OK?”
“Yeah. I’ll call a cab.”
“Baby, c’mon. Let’s try to work this out. Sure we will have had our differences…”
“Wow, now you’re hitting me with arcane conditional verb tenses? On a first — and only — date?”
“We might have had our differences.”
“We just met!”
“I know I will have felt regret over this for a long time. Can’t we start over?”
She felt dizzy. She felt as if she’d been in a long-term dysfunctional relationship with Ralph for years. She could almost remember their breaking up and making up and starting again, repeatedly — even for the sake of the children! A whole lifetime of strange little arguments.
“We haven’t even started, Ralph. Like I just said. I just met you.” Lilian sighed. “I knew internet dating wasn’t a good idea. I wish I hadn’t let Lana push me into it. I know she had her reasons and they had NOTHING to do with my happiness.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I think I’m talking to myself, Ralph. Look, please stop the car and let me out. This isn’t the way I want to spend my evening. I’d rather walk all the way home in the rain than do this. It’s not for me. I’m too old.”
“Don’t be silly. Age is just a number.”
“No it isn’t. Age is a lot of things. It’s experiences and a knowledge. It’s finally ‘getting it’ you know? Answers to questions about who you are?”
“I think you just need to get laid.”
“Let me out.”
Ralph pulled over to the side of the road. Lilian collected her purse and wrapped herself in the brightly colored blue and lavender shawl that drew attention away from her wide hips (liability) to her shining blue eyes (asset) and got out of the car.
“Can I call you?”
“We could go out again.”
Lilian closed the door and stepped up on the curb. Not much traffic here. She couldn’t expect a taxi to come zooming by looking to pick up a late evening fare. She fished around in her purse for her cell phone and then realized she’d taken it out to call a cab while she was still in Ralph’s car. “Shit,” she thought. “Wait, there’s a pay phone.” She hurried down the street where she found only the dangling remnant of a long-lost communication device. “All the quarters in the world won’t help me now,” she thought. “Oh well.”

She walked along the sodden street. The rain had stopped and reflections of the streetlights made glimmering images on the sidewalk. The  damp, fallen leaves were fragrant when she stepped on them. “I’d have missed this. Life is certainly surprising. I’d have missed this.” The moon was breaking through the dissipating rain clouds and the night took on a magical quality, like a story in a kid’s book.

A car came up behind her, slowed, passed by. Something flew onto the sidewalk in front of her. She reached down and picked it up. It was her cell phone, wrapped in a note. “I can’t believe you didn’t recognize me, even when I invited you to go to the laundromat and watch the clock. I thought for sure you’d know then. I know it’s been more than fifty years, but I thought there might be a little something familiar. Still love you, Tony.”



I don’t know if I did as I was told. Romance is definitely not my genre (but I had fun trying to write Romance before) and I wanted to add irony and magical realism. I’m afraid I didn’t choose to write a different genre — fiction is my main thing and this is a short story, but it could be the first chapter of a novel.

The Worst Daily Prompt EVER


Daily Prompt Sweeping Motions What’s messier right now — your bedroom or you computer’s desktop (or your favorite device’s home screen)? Tell us how and why it got to that state.

Who ARE you, O conjurer of absolutely stupid daily prompts? This is the WORST and I thought there could not be WORSE than I’ve seen up till now! What’s messier in YOUR life, your bedroom or your computer screen? How and why did it get into that state?

Who fucking cares?

Listen. WordPress you are a for profit business. You put ads on my blogs that get you money. Plenty of people pay for their blog so they don’t have ads or because they want to have a customizable site. It’s in YOUR interest that people get up in the morning and sit down and look for the Daily Prompt and write a post. You get MONEY that way. You should WANT people to blog daily (more money for you) and for this reason you should be delivering a better product.

Why haven’t I invested my own money in a blog-site? I’m still only tentatively invested. You should be wanting to SELL me on the wonders of WordPress. I am EXACTLY the person you want. I am a writer, I self-publish, I need to publicize my work, and writing a daily blog is part of a good stragedy for that. Prompts like this, day after day, don’t help me become a better writer or increase my engagement in WordPress. It’s not hard to write a compelling prompt. If you want help with that, I’m here — for now anyway.