Domestic Archeology

Yesterday I spent a little time trying to clean the garage, not just a haul things out and haul things back, but actually getting rid of things that don’t need to exist any more in their — well, now, former — form. I settled on dealing with the letters my mom had saved, those I’d written her from college and from my first apartment in Boulder. I have learned better than to get into reading them, but of course, I read a few. I was also struck by the NUMBER of letters, especially considering that I went home (Colorado Springs) from college (Denver) almost every weekend. I’m sure I called home, too, but not often because, in those days long distance calls weren’t free (not like they really are now…). The few I read? Most of them said things like, “Would somebody please write me?” Yep. Especially my first year in college I hated being there and I hated that empty mailbox.

So there I was yesterday, shredding a whole stack of letters from an 18 year old trying to put a good face on things and knowing there was nothing good there. I saved the one letter I’d written to my dad. I’m sure there were more, but I only found one.

As sometimes happens when a person does personal archeology like that, things that they couldn’t possibly have understood in their personal Pliocene era make sense in their personal Holocene era. I saw the situation at home with new eyes, or old ones. In the letters I read were the normal concerns of an 18 year old mixed in with fears for my family. I saw that I could not possibly have understood my mom’s concerns. I also saw how consuming these events were back in the Pliocene era — problems with roommates, exams, bronchitis — while they are just small bubbles in the continuum of life.

I’m also pondering moving away from the SLV, not today or tomorrow, but at some point in the next few years, so this “archeology” could prove useful when I rent that U-Haul. 🤣

Eureka!!! (More on the Rainbow Girls in Wheatland…)

Ballet Practice, Edgar Degas

Having a “Covid Day” — no energy, lots of hip pain. Decided to see what I could learn about using pastels (in my case, Conte Crayons) over gouache. I found this ^ 😃. What an affirmation! It also has some similarities to the composition of my painting — not the same, but not totally different. Kind of a mirror image.

Then I watched a little video about “how” and it’s just as I thought, and the best part was the lady ended it, “I wanted to show you just how fun it is to use pastels with gouache.”

Degas’ use of pastels has always amazed me [ I suck at them (but maybe I’m learning?)] I read about the shop where Degas’ pastels were made then saw it on a Waldemar Januszczak documentary. It’s still there. “La Maison du Pastel” You can read about it here. Here is their online shop.

Artist Brains…

One of the ideas of God I got in American Baptist Sunday school that I loved as a kid was that God made — carved? — each one of us individually for a purpose. However and whatever we were, we were meant to be that way and, therefore, worthy of respect as God’s handiwork. That is a beautiful notion and I’m not sure I ever fully let go of it.

Over the last few days I’ve read some interesting articles — one came my way accidentally and the other I found more-or-less on purpose. The first dealt with the role of gossip in human interaction; the second dealt with research into the “artist brain.” The two articles — actually more than two — shared as a theme the idea of belonging.

I don’t like gossip. I’ve seen it destroy organizations. It destroyed the artists coop to which I belonged soon after I first moved here. The article explained that gossip is not all bad because it’s a way humans have of establishing identity, belonging and territory, in other words, establishing who is “us” and Who is “them,” a way of reaffirming bonds. Somehow that all seems obvious. I read the article not so much out of a feeling that I needed to learn about gossip, but because it showed up on Social Media and I’d just attended a tea party where gossip was a primary feature. I understood what was happening (the “meta” message?). We hadn’t seen each other in a month or so and were catching up, not only on the news, but on “us.” As I read about gossip I thought, also, about social media. It’s brought the whole gossip mode of human interaction to a new place, given it a new importance, and it threatens the stability of this nation.

The other article(s) I sought brought me some pretty disturbing information/speculation (not sure). I began thinking about “Rainbow Girls in Wheatland, Wyoming, 1957” more than a year ago. Maybe even seven years ago when the memory wafted through my mind and captured my imagination. I wrote about it here “Going to Billings with Hank, Mom and Kirk.” In that post I wrote about the wonder of seeing Aida performed in Verona. The scene in Wyoming has been like a friendly splinter in my mind.

Anyway, the articles were about research done into the minds of visual artists. Apparently science has found differences between artist’s brains and, uh, other? normal? brains. Two basic differences came out in the articles. First, and most disturbing, is a chemical similarity between the brains of visual artists and schizophrenics. Second, there is a structural difference:

In a study published last year in NeuroImage, researchers looked at the brains of art students and non-artists using a brain scan method called voxel-based morphometry. This type of scan helps scientists look at specific brain structures, and the images from the brain scan look like this:


When the brains of the individuals in the two groups were compared, it was discovered that artists have significantly more neural matter in the parts of their brain responsible for visual imagery and fine motor control. Specifically, those who were better at drawing had more grey matter in the precuneus of the parietal lobe. Unsurprisingly, this region has been linked to creativity and being able to manipulate, combine, and deconstruct visual images. There were additional increases in grey and white matter in the cerebellum and the supplementary motor area, both involved in fine motor control.


There’s also the old song about being an artist and being mentally ill. I read just one article (didn’t want to pursue it) on this topic saying that new “discoveries” connect the brain chemistry of artists to the brain chemistry of schizophrenics. The voices told me not to go into this too much 😉

The popular perception of creative thinkers and artists is that they often also have mental disorders—the likes of Vincent van Gogh or Sylvia Plath suggest that creativity and madness go hand in hand. Past research has tentatively confirmed a correlation; scientific surveys have found that highly creative people are more likely to have mental illness in their family, indicating a genetic link. Now a study from Sweden is the first to suggest a biological mechanism: highly creative healthy people and people with schizophrenia have certain brain chemistry features in common.”


The title of this article is, “The Mad Artist’s Brain: The Connection between Creativity and Mental Illness.” Well that sets it up…

It’s been “proven” that artists have higher rates of mental illness than do “normal” people, but is it a result of their brains or is it a result of the objective challenges artists face in society that non-artists don’t? Is it the result of the way non-artists respond to artists which, I can tell you, is a little strange or, worse, the way artists often respond to OTHER artists? No amount of friendly gossip in the world is going to make artists “belong” with all of these objective obstacles.

I laughed to myself then I thought, “What is it that makes people curious about this at all? Do we smell weird or what? Why is it even interesting? Why am I even READING about it?” At that I took my “extra” gray matter into the kitchen and warmed up left-over enchiladas.

We might not fit in even with excellent gossiping skills; we might smell weird or something, but damn. Without visually creative people I think our world would be greatly diminished. Being an artist is not a pathology, however much science might like to study “it.” Among all the bizarre “determinations” of “science,” they’ve also determined that we can’t help it, which is good. First, our “weirdness” gives the “normals” something to worry about and to keep them busy, and we give the world new ideas, paintings, sculptures, innovations, and visions.

Rainbow Girls in Wheatland, Wyoming, 1957, Sketch 6, Breakthrough

I’ve been really stuck with the “how” of this project even as pieces of the puzzle seemed to come into view. I have really liked the Conte Crayons, how they look and what they’re like to work with. I’ve been practicing on newsprint. Newsprint is a pretty toothy surface, and the crayons like it, but it’s not an enduring surface. It’s two steps above TP. It has given me a sense of how this could work, though. I couldn’t see attempting this on anything other than a board of some kind and my imagination isn’t really “feeling” oil paints. A friend said I’d drawn the “ephemera of motion,” and I realized that that’s it. Movement really IS the story here. The girl and her mom, bro and uncle are only at that gas station for a few minutes. It’s one of those serendipitous things that takes maybe 20 seconds of our lives, but we remember it forever. Oil seemed kind of static (even though I LOVE it). And, this was working every time, and I’m not even good at it. Not sure how to do faces with it, but colored pencils are fine with me. I don’t mind mixing things up at all…

So, a little research showed me that I can get a board for pastels. I’m getting one in gray which will be a foundation for night and will bring the white up which the newsprint does somewhat. The lighting puzzle will be easier to solve on a gray surface and the conte crayons will make it easier. Also, the board will take an underpainting of gouache which is a good way to block in solid areas that don’t want to come forward, like the gas station or the ambient darkness.

I think it will be fun.

Part Timer

Ah yes, the part time job. Now that I think of it, most of my jobs were part time jobs. As an adjunct faculty member at a community college or even a full-time lecturer at the university (my highly esteemed job titles) I wasn’t really “full time.” Full time is tenured and it meant “You really work here! Wow!” Still, as a full time lecturer I had an office — which of course I had to share because only tenured faculty got their own offices. There were so many little things like that, almost militaristic in the way they spoke “rank” no not rank as in smells bad, but rank as in Colonel vs. Sergeant. The irony of it was that a tenured faculty member taught 3 classes. I taught 5. Saved the university money, though, not having to pay me the same six figures they paid tenured faculty. They got almost twice as many classes/semester out of me for only 60% the cost.

Life’s full of stuff like that. Another was at K-Mart where I had a short tenure working on the grill. Full time was 38 hours/week. I usually worked 36. Saved the store money. If I went over full-time? I don’t know what would happen. It never did. The only place I had a part-time job that was REALLY part-time was the sainted A&W Drive In in Colorado Springs. 20 hours/week, max. After all, we were all still in high school.

Now I’m legitimately part time. I thought about that yesterday when I had my second (to my knowledge) “senior moment.” The first was 8 years ago when I found the Windex in the refrigerator. Yesterday? I made enchiladas. Preheated the oven, which, after being preheated does its thing by itself, assuming the cook is as smart as it is. When it told me dinner was done, I went to check and found the oven empty. I hadn’t put the enchiladas in the oven. They were on the counter — thankfully NOT right beside the oven, but… So… They were good, though, when they were finally cooked.

In other news, Bear and I sneaked out for a short, sweaty ramble before the predicted storms hit. They never really hit, but… It was noon, hot, muggy, but the clouds offered some cover. It LOOKED beautiful out there and felt horrible, but if you’re going to love something, you have to take the bad days, too.

On our return, we encountered some nice bird tourists from Ohio to whom I gently made the point “The rangers had to put up signs and barriers everywhere because people went kind of crazy to see the Yellow Rail.” Then I told them what I could about where to see what. They were jazzed to see a yellow headed blackbird, and they loved Bear who jumped gently onto the driver’s side door to say hello. Bear loves that. It’s why she’s such a good member of the Monte Vista Crane Festival Unofficial Welcoming Committee. It’s a part-time job.

The tan band in the distance of the featured photo is Great Sand Dunes National Park, about 45 miles away.

In honor of my beans and to cheer up an otherwise kind of dull post…


Surreal is just a word. If you look straight at reality it’s, uh, surreal. Think about it. What’s more surreal than any single day? What’s more surreal than a whole planet going on about it’s (bizarre) business and being hit by a microbe? To add super-surrealism to that, imagine the most affected species on that planet ARGUING about the reality of that microbe while, ultimately, six million people die? What’s more surreal than a species working daily toward its own destruction and then paying good symbolic wealth (in itself surreal) to watch films or read books depicting dystopian futures? What’s more surreal than a tiny, tiny, tiny bird flying all the way from the Yukon to suck nectar from my Scarlet Emperor Beans for a whole 3 minutes? What’s more surreal than any single day on this planet? It’s not surreal. It’s real. Like me, just now, typing “How many people have died of Covid?” and getting the data for the US as if there were NO OTHER COUNTRIES? And why did I do that? Because I confused the number of people who died during the Holocaust with the number who’ve died from Covid. If THAT isn’t surreal what is? Not surreal. Real. Absolutely totally real. OH and that we refer to THE Holocaust. Wow. I don’t think it’s even possible to count — or describe! — the number of historical holocausts. It’s just the “one” closest to us in time. Our penchant for naming things in order to dismiss them or pay knee-jerk respect to them is surreal. That’s surreal. A great poem that demonstrates the surreality of this naming fetish is The Naming of the Parts by Henry Reed.

On top of this reality we create philosophical structures to help us understand it, and they are completely bizarre, then, to add a skosh of total absurdity to THAT we have wars over them. Or are they just what our species would be expected to do by its nature?

Surreal isn’t all bad. I have a 90 year old pen pal in Seattle. How did I get this penpal? Well, the woman who ran the museum in Del Norte’s husband’s cousin, who became my penpal, wanted my notecards, and preoccupied with the museum and her husband’s extremely surreal death (not surreal, real), she didn’t send them to him. He found my business card and called me. Where did that lead? Well, among other things, the gift of a thermal cup from Starbucks at the Beijing Airport. Not surreal; real. An old man, on the trip of his dreams, through China with his daughter, bought souvenirs that he would have no use for, but he has a friend in the remote valley where he grew up who might value them. Real.

My dogs? “So, Martha, what do you want to do with your life?”

“Thanks for asking Walter (Cronkite). I want to walk dogs.” Everything else has been ancillary, apparently.

Surrealism in art is another thing. “I’m going to paint weird shit to show the world as it really is,” or something. I don’t know, but other than Dada which set out (partly) to depict the horrific reality of WW I to counter the (surreal) propaganda, I don’t think surrealism is nearly as “surreal” as daily life. When my friend, looking at my paintings, made the comment, “What’s your obsession with reality?” I thought, “You’re blind.”

Nowadays when someone says, “That’s surreal,” I just shrug. Clearly they were just born. Our ability to perceive reality? Never expressed more clearly than by Towelee in this episode of South Park

Featured photo: me with a torn ACL back in 1992. The evening after this photo was taken, the Boys on Bikes took me to see Jurassic Park and to dinner at McDonalds. They’d scraped together all their money so I didn’t have to pay because they respected my injury and loved me. Surreal? Or the fact that the hospital refused to repair my ACL with surgery because I had no health insurance?

Palden Lamo

It’s a long story how she came to live with me. She is my companion when I paint. Her story is wonderful and important to me.

Where did I get it? On eBay. Yep. In 2004. It is from Tibet via Beijing. The package it came in was almost as wondrous as the painting. Palden Lamo is the guardian of the Dalai Lama.

No Hard Feelings

Even though I wasn’t in a great mood at bean planting time and wasn’t even sure I wanted to deal with it, I planted beans. A few inside, a few outside 3x too deep, a few outside the right depth. ALL of them came up and I gave 3 plants away. There are now 23 bean plants in my garden and they are the happiest beans I’ve ever grown even though none of them were named or got to “write” any poetry.

I guess they knew all along that they were beans, not Tang Dynasty Chinese Poets, and that being a Scarlet Emperor Bean is quite enough, thank you.

Last night I got to eat the first small handful from these plants. It was as delicious as were their forbears.

Today I was out watering their besties — the sunflowers on whom they rely to help attract pollinators and on which they wind the later vines of the summer. The sunflowers seem to like them, too. There were dozens of bees and then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a very tiny hummingbird of a type I had not seen before. I was pretty sure he was a Rufus Hummingbird, but not being a legit birder, how would I know?


Hummingbirds love the red flowers. The little guy fed on the nectar of the highest flowers, enchanting to watch. I didn’t move, I just kept watering. Later I did my research (like a good non-birder) and learned that I was right about the type and that he’s migrating. I thought of the wonder of how my beans reach 10 or 12 feet and bloom their hearts out just at the moment hummingbirds are traveling through.

Nature’s clock is so much more subtle and wondrous than spring, summer, fall and winter. Each being has its clock that tells it where it needs to be and what it needs to do. When things go haywire — like the blizzard we had on September 9, 2019 — every being suffers. Bear and I didn’t suffer, and Teddy hadn’t known enough Septembers yet to know it was a little odd, but I did have to deal with downed trees in my yard. That was a kind of pain. $$$

I remember being out at the Refuge and seeing a mountain blue bird hovering at eye level, looking me as if he were saying, “Help!” There was no food for him and he wasn’t supposed to be there. That year was a massive die off and what blew me away is that it took so long for people to see the obvious reason. Millions of migrating tiny birds caught in a blizzard.

But here’s my new “friend.”

I love these beans. They’ve taught me so much. I think they “know” me and my role in their existence. I look on the green pods I pick, cook and eat as a gift. “Thank you, Martha, for saving seeds and planting us so we can grow and do our thing.” After 5 generations I guess they’ve specialized to my yard. Every year they are taller and more productive. Their little garden is a small bean cathedral.

Warning: Blue Language, Rake

I had to look this one up,

louche /lo͞oSH/ adjective

  1. disreputable or sordid in a rakish or appealing way.”the louche world of the theater”

My all-time favorite television series is the Australian series Rake. I saw it first a few years ago, and, when Covid and hip pain hit, I started it again. It’s hilarious and intelligent satire. The protagonist — Cleaver Greene, played by Richard Roxburgh — personifies “Louche,” the Rag Tag Word for the day. It’s not a show for everyone — for one thing, the word “fuck” can’t bother you — nor can drug use, nudity (partial, it’s TV after all), or a lot of other things that our world doesn’t usually find funny. Cleaver is a defense attorney only a few inches away in character from those he defends. There are even a few episodes when he’s in jail for murder.

The acting is amazing. Not everyone is beautiful or sympathetic; some have no redeeming qualities at all. Others are complex (like real people?) and unappealing in their complexity yet… As absurd and extreme as it is, it’s absolutely relatable…

Rake straddles the high/low cultural divide. Cleaver frequently quotes Yeats, is a fan of Balzac, but remains distinctly Australian, asking one character: “What in the name of Bob Menzies are you doing here?” In the very first episode of the series Cleaver says of Lord Byron: “Bugger me, he was good.” And in the seventh episode of the most recent season, Cleaver tells a priest: “I could out-Nietzsche you at five paces.”


Apparently someone tried to remake it for American TV. It didn’t work — how could it? The article cited above gave this explanation for the show’s failure, “The series was remade for American television in 2014, with Greg Kinnear in the title role, renamed Keagan Deane. Like many Australia-to-America remakes, it fell flat without the humour or darkness of the original, and was cancelled after one season.”

“Humour and darkness.” Yep. I never saw the American version. Until this morning I didn’t even know of its brief existence. The closest I think American TV might have come to the kind of satire in Rake is South Park, The Simpsons and the sainted Beavis and Butthead. It seems that we Americans only mock ourselves with unabashed satire in 2 dimensions…

One of my favorite episodes involves a retired English teacher who’s made it his mission in life, a personal crusade, to destroy the kind of language that’s all too prevalent in our world, mushes of words — jargon — used in business and politics, language that says absolutely nothing, in fact, attempts to obfuscate everything. He sneaks into high level corporate meetings and passes as a consultant. Things go sideways for him when he sneaks into a VERY high level, secret meeting between a leader in the British government and the Australian. He’s picked up, accused of espionage and sent to the highest level of secure prisons. Cleave wants him to appeal, but the retired English teacher just says, “No, it’s all right. My wife is dead. There’s no reason for me to fight this. Look at all the time I’ll have to read!”

If there is a “mission” in this series it’s the exposure of the “shadow-show” of the reality in which we live.

I’ve known men like Cleaver — not as extreme but definitely the same general cut of person. My brother, my friend Denis Joseph Francis Callahan, even my dad to some extent — charming, vulnerable, angry Irishmen who could rant eloquently and get angry over godnose what. I think of Denis one afternoon when I arrived at a community college where we both taught. Our job that day was to read infinite compositions, placement tests telling us which level the students should be placed in. I got there at my appointed hour only to find Denis coming toward the parking lot. I got out of my car.

“Don’t go in there, Gus (nickname). You won’t like it.” He hit a tree with his fist.

“Why? What’s going on?”

“Steaming feminist sacks of shit sitting there holier than though with their little master’s degrees (Denis had a PhD from Notre Dame) pronouncing judgement over a fucking comma! ‘He doesn’t use commas properly.’ Well fuck them. The fucking essay said something. Pedantic, sanctimonious fucks. A comma doesn’t make a writer. Any fuck can learn to use a comma. Ideas make a fucking writer.” He hit the tree again, then pulled back his fist and looked at his scraped up knuckles.

I knew everything then, everything that had happened. Denis got into an argument with a couple of women — the kind of women he did NOT like — got mad and walked out.

“Let’s go get a burger, Den’.”

I knew how to defuse that rage.

“Good idea.”

Another reason I like Rake so much is a lot of the things that annoy Cleaver annoy me. And, like Cleaver, my response to bullshit is poetry.