Michael Powell’s Stairway to Heaven


I love movies and there were moments over my life when I wanted to be a film director. One of the greatest directors is a man I discovered only a few years ago though his career was a mid-twentieth century thing, and I could have seen his films much sooner in my life. Michael Powell was a true “film-maker” who showed the story through his direction and, often, but not always, the use of special effects. His most famous film is probably The Red Shoes.

He made many semi-propaganda films during and about WW II and they are all beautiful and heart-wrenching. One of them tells the story of German spies in Canada and is a cross-Canadian spy hunt — 49th Parallel. Another (my favorite of his WW II films) is A Canterbury Tale.

One of his WW II was marketed in the US as Stairway to Heaven. Its real title is A Matter of Life and Death. One of its interesting features is an immense escalator that takes people to Heaven.

In A Matter of Life and Death, the main question concerns the future of the protagonist, a British airman who’s bailed out of his plane and has landed on a beach. He doesn’t know what condition he’s in and experiences a long “out of body” experience during which he falls in love with the girl who rescues him. The question becomes one for Heaven and Earth to resolve. Should the airman live so he can experience love and life, or should he make the journey up the escalator to Heaven because, you know, he’s really fatally wounded?

None of Michael Powell’s films address easy questions. In A Canterbury Tale we see Canterbury after it’s been bombed and nearly destroyed by the Germans, yet, the Cathedral stands. The film opens with characters from Chaucer’s work on the old Pilgrim Road. The sense of history, time, literature, and immortality pervades what is a very contemporary-to-the-moment story line of American GI’s (Powell cast real, live American GIs to play these parts) stranded in a little town, a mysterious and mischievous “villain,” an equally mysterious good-guy — but most telling is the city of Canterbury itself where people go on about their daily lives passing bombed out buildings where signs have been erected telling what WAS there, not in memoriam so much as a way to be sure people don’t get lost now that so many ancient landmarks have been reduced to rubble.


Voluptuous or Curvy?


Word meanings evolve — often for the sake of fulfilling marketing goals.

The word “curve” when I was a kid, when it was applied to women, was attached to shapes like that of Jayne Mansfield, Rita Hayworth, Brigitte Bardot,  Marilyn Monroe, Gina Lollabrigida (sp), Jane Russell, basically proportions like those described in the immortal disco song, “Brick House.” Curves were definite things, like the French Curve one might use in drafting. Voluptuous was a close synonym to “curvy” in those dark times. Even Kim (shudder) Kardassian is “curvy” by those standards, though a little freakish in her proportions.


Brigitte Bardot

Now the word “curves,” when it is applied to women, is a euphemism for “fat girl.” I know in this day and age that’s an awful thing to say, but since (today) I fit into today’s definition of “curvy” I think it’s OK for me to say it straight. Chubby, big-boned, larger, “avoirdupois,” there were always lots of ways to say it without using that (gasp!) terrible word, “fat,” without impinging on the right of truly “curvy” women to claim the adjective. Curvy girls today like to point out that Marilyn Monroe wore a misses size 14, but back in the day the measurements for that were 34-26-34. I know this because I sewed my own clothes in high school and anyone who sews reads the back of pattern packages to know 1) if the pattern will fit and 2) what notions are necessary to finish the outfit.  I know for sure those are not the figures of a size 14 today. More like a size 2. Yep. Our sizes are inflated. It’s a marketing thing…


Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell

Tastes in female curvature vary among cultures and historical periods and between individual people. The whole “body acceptance” phenomenon is bizarre to me. I, personally, don’t understand why women are so affected by the media’s portrayal of women, but apparently they are. I think it’s sad, a symptom of superficiality and self-absorbtion. At the same time I recognize it as the female animal’s anxiety over missing out on her chance to propagate the species. What if no male comes courting and, as a result, she is denied her chance to fulfill the biological imperative? Yeah, I think that’s part of it. BUT, tall and slender women are used to model clothes simply because you don’t see the women; you’re not distracted by their voluptuous body-parts; you see the clothes.

Years ago (the 70s) I hung out with a tall, slender woman who was a fashion model. I was short and, uh, curvy, in the old style way, but still not a tall and slender model. I said something to her about wishing I were tall and slender, and she said, “Hey, people don’t get sick when they look at you. Forget it.”

And I did. That was the perfect perspective. I’d know I was in trouble if, by walking down the street, I caused those who cast their eyes upon me to barf. I understood from that that, in reality, people are worried about themselves, not what I look like. Unless I make them sick.


Another Solitude


“…And you should not let yourself be confused in your solitude by the fact that there is some thing in you that wants to move out of it. …. the love that consists in this: that two solitudes protect and border and greet each other. … Letters to a Young Poet Rainer Maria Rilke”


“These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world. Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.

Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”


People enjoy discussing (ironically) the distinction between solitude and loneliness. I’ve heard several of these arguments — first in high school when my teacher was trying to explain the importance of solitude to poets (especially, it seemed, during the Romantic Period). I remember standing up for solitude and trying to explain it, but ultimately all I wanted to do was get home and go for a run in The Bluffs with my dog and my best friend and her dog. I always felt pushed against a wall in those discussions

I’m comfortable with solitude, though when I was younger I felt very strongly the pressure that exists to have friends and a social life. Over time I began to see that’s society’s idea of “normal” because it’s probably what makes most people happy, but I have never been the kind of person that a lot of people even like. I have never really “fit in.” I’ve been accused of being “rebellious” but I’m not; there is just a kind of belief that if a person is not like the others he or she is doing it “on purpose.” I never was. I just always have had a different set of intrinsic motivations. I never wanted a family and children; in fact, that whole idea disgusted me from the get-go. I don’t dispute that raising children well is a major success, but when people complain about the difficulty, my teeth itch and I think, “Shut up, fool. It was your choice.” For that matter, I spent my working years preparing other people’s children for adulthood and I loved my job.

I never got the idea about material success. I just didn’t get it. I am not ambitious, though I’ve had a few ambitions. If it’s because I had the opportunity to watch my dad’s struggle with a degenerative and fatal disease which taught me early the futility of much of human endeavor, I don’t know. I don’t honestly think so. I think it’s genetic. The times I tried hardest to fit the mold led me to my life’s greatest misery, but I fought it a long time, until I recognized that social interaction — at a certain point — bored and tired me and I was happier with a balance; 75% solitude, 25% socialization.



“Most of my wandering in the desert I’ve done alone. Not so much from choice as from necessity – I generally prefer to go into places where no one else wants to go. I find that in contemplating the natural world my pleasure is greater if there are not too many others contemplating it with me, at the same time.” Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire


To him who in the love of Nature holds   
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks   
A various language; for his gayer hours   
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile   
And eloquence of beauty, and she glides   
Into his darker musings, with a mild   
And healing sympathy, that steals away   
Their sharpness, ere he is aware.  William Cullen Bryant, “Thanatopsis”

The friend I could always rely on has been the companion to many in their solitude and that is nature. Nature has always had the power to intensify and open a solitary moment; it seems capable of sharing it. It’s enough just to cross the little Monte Vista Golf Course, into and through the bottom of the driving range (pasture) into the open fields, past the log buildings of the old broken down farm, until there is nothing but sky, mountains, changing light, wind — a storm front or a sweet breeze. Step by step I feel my heart fill, my shoulders relax leaving only joy at being out under the open sky, ringed by mountains, in the infinite space of the natural world. There have been a few friends in my life with whom I’ve been able to share that experience and I’m grateful for having known them. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to share ones solitude.



Illusion Reveals Reality; Fellini

Fellini's death

Warning! This post contains “un-masked” language!

Everyone wears one. I’m about to put on “friendly retiree exuding enthusiasm for Valley Art Co-op Gallery and Gift Shop.” It’s a neutral face, easy enough to wear. I think (anyway I do) we even wear masks when we’re alone.

Interestingly, one of the earliest dreams I had as a kid was of a long hallway with black and white tiles and green walls. I’ve often wondered if this was the hallway in the hospital in which I was born — St. Lukes in Denver.  There were doors on both sides and I ran down the hallway afraid. I tried a door and inside was a face, and the face pulled off a mask, and another, and another, and another. It was a terrifying dream. I woke up screaming and my dad came with a glass of water, took me to the bathroom and tucked me back in. In a sense that is life. There is falsity — malicious and not; chicanery, illusion, pretense everywhere. The biggest question of my life has been, “What’s real, anyway?” I do not recommend asking that one unless you’re ready for a wild ride.

Fellini was fascinated by the masks people wear even in front of themselves. Maybe especially in front of themselves. The day Fellini died — Halloween, 1993 — I was in the midst of personal upheaval, the beginning of the ripping off of years and years of masks. That night — before I learned about the death of my favorite film director and hero — I was struggling aginst the depression that would ultimately throw me down. It was the beginning of a strange and confusing ride.



My plans for the evening were to meet a good friend at a coffee house downtown (Bassam’s in San Diego) and go from there to a Halloween party at Cafe Sevilla. I’d been out the whole afternoon with other friends listening to Tibetan monks do throat singing.

I don’t know if that comes across as surreal to you as it was to me.

I got home and realized I’d given no thought to a costume. I painted bones on a pair of leggings and put on a black turtleneck. I went into the bathroom and went at my face with makeup, painting an honest self-portrait, and went down town.

Here’s the poem I wrote about that night. The language is rather blue so be warned and the poem is pretty bad, still, it’s an homage to Fellini who strove with all his films to tear the masks away in the most loving and compassionate manner. If you’ve enjoyed his films, the poem might make sense.

To Fellini

I had done my makeup;
The top of my face, Marcel Marceau;
The lower regions, Nosferatu.
I had lost track of time,
brushing the pattern of bleached bones
on black leggings when the alarm went off
telling me to go.

My friend, wearing a slouch hat
Black eye, fake blood, looking like
a railroad bum thrown off at a lonely junction in western Oklahoma
waited outside that coffeehouse, owned by a Palestinian
who always wears berets.
“Jesus! You look scary!”
I had nothing but ennui, incomplete visions,
unfocused depression, hair in my eyes.
I felt the space already, in the places where your films inoculated me
intravenous plugs of sodium pentothal and delight.

My friend ordered me coffee, then, as small talk, he said
“Did you hear? Fellini died.”
My numbness and ennui made sense.
The cappuccino came
The tongue depressor stir-stick stood
erect in the cream.

An old, tired woman wearing a flowered, floppy hat came through the door,
Selling roses; red lipstick sliding down the corners of her mouth.
She peered into my face and jumped back.
“Dio!” she cried and crossed herself.

Your most recent, ultimate news dripped from my painted sockets.
Carnivals and sheets,
Music, tits, lusty buttocks clothed in red wool, on a bicycle,
a peacock (mechanical) in the snow, a beautiful illusion;
roller-skating feminists
Wandering rejection and sex un-sexed
thorny phalluses, spinning dildoes, desperate cunts,
libidinous balloons, children tucked in bed,
the great mass jerk-off in the old Ford,
the immortal romantic dance, the spiraling dream,
the little nun, the tall old crazy uncle,
Volpina — all that we really are, unmasked, all we will always be
the illusion and its never-ending battle.
Silhouettes on the sheet, the Japanese video journalists,
“Bere il latte!” My laughing friend, my radiant self
Gino Soccio, punk teenagers, cabbages, Dobermans,
vaginal vacuums sucking-up coins.

At the party I danced, sad-faced, bored,
to throbbing Brazilian music.
You would have won the costume contest,
dressed convincingly as someone dead.

December, 1993




Intersection in Time


One of the earliest shopping malls in Nebraska — the United States! — was Crossroads Shopping Center. It was the first time anyone had to choose between going to town and going to the mall.

Bellevue in the early 60s

Bellevue, Nebraska as it was when I lived there in the early 1960s

Town was a few things. Our local town — Bellevue — in the 1960s still had a classy women’s dress shop AND a general store as well as a hardware store, a movie theater, a drugstore, a jeweler, two banks, a farm implement store and a liquor store. If nothing in downtown Bellevue served the need, one could drive a few miles north to down town South Omaha. This was most often “town” for us because there was a department store and more choices. And then, if the ladies wanted to make a day of it (a rare occurrence because back then families did not automatically have two cars) they’d go to Omaha.

I have only a couple of memories of that ever happening. One of those events stands out because I was old enough to listen to rock music on the radio (“Summer in the City” by Lovin’ Spoonful in particular because the first time I heard it I was actually IN a city and it was a hot summer day) and have crushes on boys. My mom was going to a garden party at the home of my dad’s boss. She needed a dress. She found a beautiful cotton dress, light green with bouquets of flowers all around the skirt and one in front and one in back. My mom was most impressed with the care that had gone into the making of the dress — the bouquet matched perfectly in back when the dress was zipped.

It was expensive, though. $20 for a cotton dress. The inflation calculator says that’s $150 today. My mom’s friend was stunned. Such an extravagance was beyond her husband’s income. The odd and wonderful thing about this dress is that I saw one like it — or maybe it! — in a used clothing boutique in San Diego fifteen years ago. It had pride of place in the front window and a price tag of far more than $20.

It’s great being a kid because you are OK with having NO idea of what’s going on in the “grand scheme.” In the case of Crossroads, I’m not sure even my parents perceived the grand scheme. It was far from where we lived, so we didn’t go there more than two or three times. I don’t know if it occurred to anyone that the advent of the mall marked a crossroads in American retail and the death of down town all over the US.

Monte Vista, Colorado, with its empty shop fronts and near dead economy, is one of the casualties of the shift in the way people buy. People who’ve lived here a long time say that well into the 70s Woolworths, J.C. Pennys and other stores did good business on Adams Avenue (the main shopping street). But with Walmart only fifteen miles away, I’m sure the small downtown shops had to hang it up. Now it is at least 50% empty buildings. The hardware store persists, barely. There are two thrift stores, a couple of beauty shops and a few other things including the art co-op where I store my paintings.

My dream is to open a bookstore/coffeehouse/music venue downtown but I have no capital with which to do it. In a perfect world, the owner of one of those empty buildings would offer me a store front at some ridiculously low rent and I could form a little cooperative to pay the rent and staff the coffee house. Maybe we’d only be open Thursdays through Sundays at first, to catch the movie “crowd” and be there for kids to do their homework on Fridays and Saturdays. I’ve even thought of offering tutors — I’d tutor in writing and I am sure a couple other friends who are retired educators would tutor in their areas of expertise. I think I can put together a starter stock of used books and could maybe start up a warm and friendly place for people to meet and gather. But rents for retail space in the near ghost-town in which I live are high.

Greed kills from both directions.


Blue Spruce


The last limousine (pickup truck) was leaving the country club (nine hole golf course on the edge of town with a pasture for a driving range) when I set out with Bear. She was insisting on a walk and I had been trying to avoid it all day to rest my Achilles tendon. OH WELL.

The last bit of sun hit the white peaks of the Sangre de Cristos in the distance and lightly touched the white bark of the aspen trees. Furtively we crossed the small fairway leading to the 8th and 9th holes. We dashed (limped a little faster) across the bridge and noted how deep and fast ran the river (irrigation canal). Soon we were in the wide area of three long fairways where in the glorious days of snow, before I hurt my tendon, we “ran” FREEEEEE!!!!

Bear caught scent after scent on the ground, golfers, certainly, who’d left their phantom vaporous residue on the grass along with a smashed cheese and cracker sandwich. My interests are often higher up than the ground (which, except for snake vigilance, I leave to Bear). I watched a night hawk fly over then take a position on the highest viable branches of a cottonwood tree above the river (irrigation canal). Gusts of cold wind came off the snowy San Juans from time to time, barely noticeable to one such as I who is inured to cold and wind by this point. Gusts of wind here can be very narrow, 10 feet wide or less, little lines of invisible force. Such a little blast came through and met the newly resilient branches of a teen age Blue Spruce. I stood wrapped in calm cold and listened to the “whispering pine.”

We reached the edge of “civilization” just as night met day. The Sangres looked as transparent as ghosts in the liminal light. Pink tinged the west facing ends of clouds. Bright orange/pink lingered then faded over the San Juans. Bear leaned against me, somehow understanding that I had to take in all this.

I thought about all our walks, Bear, a giant dog, who has to be a house pet. “It’s all I’ve known,” she seemed to say. “It’s fine by me.” Stopping and looking off at nothing has been part of her daily drill — but I think these dogs were bred for that, to sit on high hillsides and look off in the distance for creatures who might prey upon the flock they guard. Not me. I’m just looking. Sometimes, though, we see something, like last week we saw the fox.

To the casual observer, it might seem to be just a nine hole golf course in a small mountain town, but for us it’s a little wilderness of changing light, animal scents, the chance to see critters and our opening to the big empty that stretches forever.




My “Borrowed” Pal, Shoetoe O’Dog

Shoe and Bear

She’s not exactly “borrowed” but she is here only temporarily. This is Shoetoe. She’s (apparently) a mix of greyhound and border collie. She belongs to my friend L who’s off in the wilds of America in a broken down RV. That wasn’t L’s choice; she had other plans but we can’t control the insidious designs of our vehicles.


Shoe is one of the most interesting dogs I’ve been around. She’s very smart, very observant, a little high-strung. She spent the first afternoon and evening seeing how things work around here and since then she’s just fit in. The first day I gave them all cookies, and she gave hers to Dusty, acknowledging his male supremacy. He, in turn, left his for her. Shoe communicates in complete sentences. She’s an alpha female at her house but the only thing she’s sought to dominate here is one end of the sofa.

Slumber party

The girls having a slumber party. Evidence of “Shredder’s” recent conquest visible in the upper left-hand corner.

She’s not good on a leash which is a problem for me because I’m still dealing with an injured Achilles tendon, but I let her borrow a Halti — a gentle leader that fits over a dog’s nose — and after a couple minutes of fighting it, she figured it out and walks beside Dusty and Bear calmly and happily. In her real life with her real people she gets to run off leash, but I don’t do that with her. I’d hate it if she didn’t come back.

Shoe’s one of my favorite dogs ever and I’m enjoying her quiet, intense, and intelligent energy. She gives me sharp little kisses and curls up behind me to sleep. She’s there now.❤




Pop Music and Other Cliched Remedies


Last night I dreamed that some of my dreams came true. Francesco (read this for a romantic story of star-crossed love) got his act together (twenty years ago) and we ran off together to the mountains where we hiked and climbed blissfully forever. Then I dreamed on was on the Swiss National Ski team. Yep. Who wants to wake up from THAT?

I’ve been disappointed a lot in life, but that does not make me unique. It makes me like everyone else.

There are about nine million and a half cliched homilies for dealing with disappointment and as itchy as those things are, they’re pretty right on. The most annoying is “When life give you lemons, make lemonade.” The Rolling Stones even got in on the disappointment train telling us that we don’t always get what we want but we just might find “you get what you need.” Yeah, well, that’s easy to see in the rear view mirror.

My mom was always trying to protect me from disappointment when I was a kid. “Don’t get your hopes up,” was one of her mottos. By definition, HOPE is UP, but… I got her message which is really that no matter how good hope feels, it’s not reality, and, uh, uh-oh, another rock reference, “future is uncertain and the end is always near.” And, anyway, not hoping doesn’t protect you from disappointment. It just prevents one from hoping and hope is necessary to humans. Of course, my mom had a pop-music axiom for when I came out all disappointed on the other side of hope, “I never promised you a rose garden.” I hated that but I’ve  wanted to use it a few times on other people, my niece for example.

My biggest disappointment lately was Bygone Era Books going out of business after it had agreed to publish The Brothers Path. Honestly, that upset me a lot. One thing worse that disappointment is betrayal and that icky little factor was a pungent ingredient in my disappointment. Betrayal makes me angry and anger is more difficult for me to contend with (especially when it’s useless) than simple disappointment. But.no one promised me a rose garden. I struggled through that with the help of a Michael Murphy song, “Cowboy Logic” where it says, “If it hurts, hide it. Just pick yourself up and get back on again.” I knew I’d have to do that and I knew I would. It was just a publishing contract. People lose their loved ones, their lives, body parts, their aspirations, their homes every minute of every day on this planet. Even the publisher was in a worse place than I; he’d been forced to abandon his dream.

So there you are. I have nothing new or meaningful to add to this topic of disappointment. I hope that’s not too disappointing. The best cure I’ve found is to look around at what is NOT disappointing and count your blessings as my Aunt Jo taught me years ago after my cousins hung my Tiny Tears Doll from a branch of a cottonwood tree.



Touch the Sky: two voices

Writing a blog post every day for the last couple of years has brought into my world some marvelous people I may never meet in real life. Susannah is one of these people. In this post Susannah has brought the hearts of two friends together even though we are thousands of miles apart and will likely always be so. I feel very grateful, not the least because the technology we have today has this kind of power for good.❤

Susannah's Journey


Mountain-Top-Beauty green border

High Flight

“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds — and done a hundred things
you have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
high in the sunlit silence.  Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
my eager craft through footless halls of air….

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