How Are You in the San Luis Valley


Years ago when I was teaching ESL in an international school, I heard (mostly from Swiss and German students) that Americans are ‘superficial.’ I asked why and the answer was, “Ja well you say ‘How are you?’ but you don’t really care about the answer.”

I don’t think that makes an entire people superficial but whatever.

I thought about all the various greetings I had become aware of. In China, Chinese people don’t greet each other with “Ni hao?” which is “You good?” they ask if you’ve eaten. “Chi baole ma?” “Did you get enough to eat?” In Switzerland the greeting seems to vary by dialect but often it’s a regional variation of “Good God” “Grüss Gott” connoting “Good day.” I imagined greeting people in the US with “Good God!” (Take the literal as it’s more interesting). Italy, of course, Buon giorno, good day, Buon di, good day, Ciao, ciao… And on it goes…

Some of my German students ended up in the US for a while (I still know a couple of them) and when they returned home, they missed the “superficiality” of “How are you?” Still, in San Diego, though it’s a generally friendly city, “How are you?” is really just three random words used to smooth over an awkward moment and to prevent hostility and conversation at the same time. “How are you?” “Fine.” Finito.

My store in Alamosa is adamant about friendliness. Jobs are scarce in the valley and people want to keep theirs. I like my store (City Market) a lot, partly because it is a very friendly place to shop and there are employees everywhere who really will help customers find what they need. Good for sales, of course, but the store has real competition in the Safeway not far away (that, incidentally, has the ONLY Starbucks in town). Today at the store I was struck by how many times store employees said to me, “How are you?” or “How are you, ma’am?”

I usually answer with, “Great! How are you?” Often, down here in the miraculous San Luis Valley, I get an answer to that question. Today I got:

1) “How are you today, ma’am?” (High school kid stocking shelves)
“Doing good. How are you?”
“Oh, I’m a little sick, but I’m doing what I can to make the store look good.”
“Yeah, I hear it in your voice,” I said. “Get well, OK?”
“Thank you,” he said. “I’ll try.”

2) “How are you, ma’am?”
“Great! It’s a beautiful day.”
“I know, right? What a great change! Can I help you find something?”
“No, I’m good, thanks.”
“Take care of yourself!”

3) “Hi, how are you?”
“Great! How are you?”
“Oh, I’m ticking along. Glad all that snow is finally melting.”
“Oh man, me too.”
“Have a lovely day!”

4) “How are you? Did you find everything you wanted?”
“I did, thanks.”
“How is it out there?”
“It’s a beautiful day, glad to be able to get out, finally.”
“Oh, I know what you mean. I live on a ranch and we have holes you wouldn’t believe. Well what can you do?”
“Just wait it out, I guess. Can’t change it.”
“No, we sure can’t. Do you want two of these packages of English Muffins? They’re two for one.”
“Not really. I wouldn’t eat them.”
“Tell you what, I’ll do these half off, OK?”
“Oh that’s really nice of you! Thank you!”
“No problem.You be careful out there, OK?”
“I will. Have a great day!”

And THAT is “How are you” at the supermarket in the San Luis Valley.





Daily Prompt Just a Dream You’re having a nightmare, and have to choose between three doors. Pick one, and tell us about what you find on the other side.

“The dream depends on the dreamer, Dude. If it’s Sartre, there’s no exit.”

“Yeah, but what if it’s you, Lamont?”

“I used to have this dream when I was VERY young. Two years old? Three years old? I was in a long hallway with checkerboard tiles, green and black sometimes and white and black other times. On both sides were doors. I was running. I HAD to pick a door and SOON. I finally grabbed a doorknob, opened the door, and there was the face of a clown inside. I stared at it for a few moments and it reached up and pulled off that face revealing another, and again, and again, and again…”

“That’s pretty freaky.”

“I think it was a dream of my birth. I was going to go into some mom somewhere. I picked one in desperation and she was exactly that — a false-faced clown. Maybe the dream was a warning, but since I was already THERE it was a bit late — so not a warning, just information about what I’d ‘chosen’ as a mom. But not just a mom. That’s been one of the biggest challenges of my life. I’m easily fooled by the ‘face’ someone presents and more than once I’ve learned the hard way that they are not what they appeared to be. In short, I’m a con’s mark.”

“You didn’t choose your mom.”

“Hindu mythology says we DO choose the parents for every particular incarnation. If that’s true, I chose those two, I chose Bill and Helen and all the ensuing events.”

“Why would you do that?”

“If I’m going to follow that line of thought, I chose them because through this life I could best fulfill my karmic debt and/or learn a lesson I need to carry to my next life.”

“Do you believe that?”

“It’s an interesting idea, but this lifetime has taught me skepticism, right, Dude?”

Just as when the dirt is removed, the real substance is made manifest; just as when the darkness of the night is dispelled, the objects that were shrouded by the darkness are clearly seen, when ignorance [Maya] is dispelled, truth is realized. —Vashistha, Yoga Vasiṣṭha

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 1 Cor. 12

Dewey Decimal System


“…create three 3-digit numbers using your selections from the first step. Next, visit this Dewey Decimal System website and find the subjects that match your three digit numbers.  If one of your results turns up “not assigned or no longer used,” you may create a new 3-digit number to replace it from the original four you selected.”

1952, the year of my birth. 529, 195, 291 Let’s see what happens now! (Sorry, I couldn’t see any point in making multiple four digit numbers, bpuppies)

529 = chronology

195 = Modern Western philosophy; Italy

291 = Comparative religion

Anyone looking at the chronology of human culture is going to find themselves staring into the looking glass tunnel of world religion. Like ocean waves, the themes recur and recede. Here humans worry about caring for the poor; here they worry about salvation; here they worry about the exact meaning of whatever scripture they follow. The study of comparative religions shows this, even with its intrinsic philosophical flaw. Comparisons are, by definition, the search for similarities, so over and over we find virgin births and baptisms. These facts emerging through the chronology of the development of human culture become “evidence” for one argument or another. The central assumption on which the comparison turns — that there is a supreme being — is often ignored. Since comparative religion is used to bolster arguments, we forget that religion is also humanity’s attempt to make sense of chaos, to fence human experience within the chronological parameters of a human life. It’s difficult to accept that while our lives begin and end, they are not complete sentences. They are fragments of something larger and, perhaps, eternally incomplete.

In Milan, in the Stazione Centrale, I’ve had some of the greatest moments of my life. I didn’t know much about the station and its history until I bought a tourist guide (in Italian) and read that the station had been built by Mussolini as a testament, a monument, a palace to “liberty ed eclettismo.” Pondering that bit of modern Italian philosophy, what is liberty but eclecticism? And what a world that would even think of that? And isn’t it in that eternal incompleteness that we find liberty? In eclecticism we find the most possibility? The irony is that this was part of the philosophy of Italian fascism.



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…



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.


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

Write MORE


After my epiphany some years back (5?) with Martin of Gfenn and Truman Capote, I began to write in a more minimalist way. I try to let a story carry itself and I try to let the characters live their own lives without a lot of step-by-step commentary from me. However…

Wanting to sell a novel, I decided to find out what publishers expect a historical novel to be in the most mechanical terms. One of those very mechanical terms is length. It seems strange, it seems arbitrary, but a historical novel is “supposed” to be at least 80,000 words. The irony is that for most writers this is a target to which they need to edit down their work. I’m having a hell of a time reaching it. I’m a writer who believes in letting characters speak and reveal themselves; I’m a writer who likes the in medias res approach to action.

Where does the number come from? It comes from several places, I think, but one is what buyers expect when they plunk down their $20 for a paperback book. Savior is just about 70,000 words, and I’m sure that’s one reason it was ultimately rejected by a publisher who expressed very strong interest in it after my query.

One thing I learned in my short-lived participation in the writer’s workshop is that what I think is good writing is obscure and difficult to others. I also learned that there is a certain reciprocity to that which isn’t the result of bias since my classmates had no features (no photos) and I was not able to keep them separate in my mind. But, the work I read by classmates that I did like was seldom the work written by the classmates who didn’t like my writing style. It appears that readers are two-way mirrors. We look for ourselves and look at ourselves.

So I’m struggling with the Schneebelis, now just at 60k words, to get their story to the 80k mark. There are places to which I’d always planned to return, elements I’d always planned to include but did not have the historical background when I blocked in the episodes. I’m hoping that as I wander through the manuscript, making these changes and adding some development, that I’ll reach the mark.


Why Aren’t You Married?


Daily Prompt Plead the Fifth What question do you hate to be asked? Why?

Why don’t you have kids? Why aren’t you thin? Why don’t you just go along with it? Do you know anyone here?

Most of the time, I’ve learned, it’s not the question. It’s the questionER. All these questions can be neutral; asked by the person who’s after the soft-underbelly of my peace of mind, they are offensive. More objectionable to me than questions are assumptions.

My First Ever Class

Martha Kennedy:

RIP, Leonard Nimoy. You were an amazing man and made a difficult character live and breathe.

Originally posted on Teaching a Generation:

University of Denver

I had no classes in education, not theory, not classroom management, nothing. I started grad school having taught Ramon Hurtado to read and that was it. Our graduate department offered a one unit, once a week seminar on teaching composition and that was absolutely NOT impressive but deeply informative. I have never forgotten that first meeting. I was desperately afraid of teaching because I have an almost pathological fear of public speaking, so I wanted to get every benefit from that I could.

An experienced grad student, a year into his PhD so at least three years in the classroom, conducted the seminar. The first thing he said was, “You’ll be shocked at what they don’t know. They don’t even know how to use a semi-colon.”

Right then and there I determined my teaching philosophy which was, “I wouldn’t have this chance if those kids didn’t need me to teach…

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