Positive Thinking

“There’s no one more dangerous than an insecure person,” said one of the Great Loves of my Life one afternoon as we lay sunbathing on the deck behind his second story apartment in an older Denver house. He was speaking, specifically, of a man who was kind of a rival. This was Peter’s way of warning me.

I didn’t really understand his statement because of the context but, in general, it’s true. Peter was pretty secure with himself, though many of the realities of his being were very hard for him to live with.

I’ve always felt that I stood on shifting sand in a stream that’s likely to jump its banks at any moment. I’m always ready to run, uh, er, walk fast. But now I know that’s not insecurity. The stream of life DOES shift its banks all the time. Security is more internal — self-knowledge and awareness. I don’t think it happens overnight.

I think of security as one of the rules of rock climbing without protection which is “maintain 3 points of contact.” There are climbers who break that rule, but generally, it’s a good idea not to. “Reach with the free hand or foot.” The contact is with things inside the self that are reliable, enduring and positive. For me, the word “positive” means “forward moving.” Using the three points of contact (security) allows a person to keep climbing. You don’t stay there.

Stasis is an insecure position.

Once, during a time of great personal insecurity (my brother’s life was a mess, I was involved in [irony coming] unrequited love, work was shaky) a “friend” said, “You don’t like yourself. You need to recite affirmations to yourself every day, Martha.”


“Yeah, tell yourself positive things like ‘I’m beautiful,’ ‘I can do anything’.”

But, I thought, “I’m not beautiful, and I can’t ‘do anything’. Why would I lie to myself?” I looked into this affirmation thing, and it’s not for me. The best affirmation I found anywhere came from Goethe, “Hold your powers together for something good and let everything go that is for you without result and not suited to you.”

When I told my “friend” about the affirmation I’d found, she said, “You just don’t understand affirmations.” That’s humanity for you. As Ralph said on the Muppets as he pounded away at one note on his piano, “One man’s note is another man’s symphony.” Nothing in life — except maybe drink water, breathe air — is “one size fits all.”

Meanwhile, I was teaching business writing which basically has two types of messages — good news and bad news. Bad news messages need to open with a positive message which is called goodwill. These messages need to stress what is possible in a bad news situation, meaning focusing on what’s positive, “what we can do.”

The more I hammered it into the minds of my students, the more I realized that “positive thinking” is not canned affirmations, and it’s not “looking on the bright side.” It’s looking ahead to the future and assessing the best possible outcome given choices I can make today. There’s no cause and effect there. Choices I make now might NOT lead to the best possible outcome, but they increase the possibility.

An example. I KNOW I will need at least one knee replacement. I don’t want that surgery, but I KNOW it’s inevitable if I’m going to keep walking into what might be an advanced old age. Sometimes my left knee completely gives out, sort of like a bridge abutment that says, “Fuck it. I’m not holding up this bridge any more.” Mostly works fine, and it doesn’t hurt. It’s certain that I can delay the surgery by exercising to keep the muscles in my leg strong and by losing weight. After my hip surgery, I lost about 25 pounds and, since I like exercise, and don’t care if it’s always an adventure (hello Bike to Nowhere) I’m good with my positive actions.

The best possible outcome is that I will never need a new knee, but I don’t think that’s realistic. My actions now, however, are effective, and, when the time comes, I’ll be in a better position for the surgery.

So, for me, security comes from the knowledge that I’m doing the best I can right now. I guess that’s kind of an affirmation.

Thank you…

I really appreciate all the care and support while I’ve been having my existential melt down. It helped a lot to write it down, it helped a lot to “hear” what you all had to say, your experiences, your take on it.

It actually helped me figure it out.

Five years ago I saw the handwriting on the wall. My job was being “outsourced” to another department at the university and no one was going to tell us. There were five of us who had 3 year contracts to teach Business Communication. I had a year left. I had every intention of finishing my contact before retiring, but I ended up without the choice. An “under-the-table” deal was made and, since no one went to the union to complain until I did at the last minute, it was, essentially, a fait accompli. But in English. Looking at most of my income gone, I had to retire and leave. OK. Psychologically I was ready. Physically? I was already showing signs of the hip arthritis I had remedied in 2018.

My move to Colorado was great. I’m happy to be back, but it was a little freaky that — though a native — I didn’t know how to live here any more. It all came back, but there was a long period of adjusting both to retirement and life in a very small town I’d only visited once.

This blog helped me a lot as did the one I wrote specially about my move. That blog is gone, but it was good for me to write.

The first thing I did when I moved here was get an Airdyne. I knew I was overweight and in terrible physical condition. I wanted to be able to hike in the mountains and do things I wasn’t able to do. I wasn’t me, but I’d had to work so much the last few years I lived in California that there was nothing in my life but driving, teaching and all the things connected with teaching — grading, prepping, meetings, etc. When I finally moved into my house, the dogs and I began walking on the golf course and going 1/2 mile was difficult for me (and for Mindy T. Dog ❤ ) but we got better. The Airdyne was good, I did get in better shape, I was able to do yoga again (meaning getting down onto and up from the floor) and I did lose a little weight.

Still, the struggle to regain my body took so much longer than I imagined it could. I didn’t even realize until the end of 2017 WHAT my mobility problem was. Then came the search for a surgeon.

Meanwhile, I wrote. I arrived in Colorado with a work in progress, The Brothers Path. In 2017 I finished an important book — My Everest which is about my time in California hiking with my dogs. It was a total labor of love to put that book together. Then I sucked it up and finished The Price which was very difficult to write for numerous reasons I’ve already written about. The surgery worked and my pre-op training and post-op training have returned to me a body with abilities I haven’t had in a decade. I still can’t run. Maybe I won’t ever run — I do try, though.

I’m grateful and lucky. But at this point in time there is also the feeling that another shoe WILL fall. I will be 67 this coming Monday.

We always say we want to have no regrets, but I don’t think anyone can reach this point in life without regrets. I’m surprised at what mine are. I wrote about that, and last night a friend said, “Lots of people say they want to write books but they never do. You’ve written 3 (actually 6 1/2 but who’s counting?)…can’t you look at writing them the way you look at all your hikes? You never thought about point B; you just went.” He is absolutely right. That’s exactly how I can look at my books and writing itself. Everything, maybe.

This morning I read Cara Sue Achterberg’s blog post, on “My Life in Paragraphs.” She writes about how she and her husband are figuring out together what they want the next step in their lives to be. They’re about to be “empty-nesters” and they’re addressing this question with colored Post-It Notes on which they each write something they want in their future or want their future to be. Cara ultimately asks, “What do you want?” and my first thought was, “A marriage like yours, but that ship has sailed.” ❤

As I read, I thought about the different transitions — the late-40’s transition and the late-60’s transition. I didn’t notice the late 40’s one because the usual late 40’s physical stuff happened to me a lot earlier. Looking back, the time between 47 and 54 were really great years for me and, thankfully, most of the time I knew it. Physical debility and a bad love relationship set the “tone” for the next decade, neither of which I could possibly have seen coming. I thought, “I had the house I wanted. I lived in the mountains. I had great dogs. I hiked with awesome human companions, too. I had the job I wanted. I had all I wanted and then…”

It’s always a balancing act between what we want and what we get, I guess.

Yesterday I wanted Cross Country Skis. I texted the local outdoor store — Kristi Mountain Sports — and asked the appropriate questions. Today I got an answer. As it happens, I had written things down on a Post-It note.

Basically, what Kristi Mountain Sports has for sale is exactly what I want.

Today I want $550. It’s right there! It’s even on a Post-It Note! 😀 But I also want to know that if I buy the skis (which means more debt until the tax refund) I’ll actually use them. I have this big white dog and she doesn’t ski.

Anyway, I realized that I if I were to continue with the Post-It Notes, that what I want is a new adventure. I feel a little nervous even saying that — let alone committing it to an actual Post-It Note — because the universe might go, “You want adventure? Ha! I’ll give you adventure.” No, universe, this time let me find my own. ❤


Usually on Thanksgiving, I re-post one of my articles about Sarah Josepha Hale and the true story of Thanksgiving, but this year, I have other things to write about. 

November 2017 I was diagnosed with severe osteoarthritis in my left hip. I was in a lot of pain and searching for the right surgeon. I found him in March, 2018, Dr. Edward Szuszczewicz (shu-SHEV-itz or Dr. Ed) in Colorado Springs. This was great because my friends live there. He is not only one of the best surgeons in the US for the minimally invasive hip replacement procedure, he’s my kind of person. The surgery went well. I spent the night in a beautiful hospital room cared for by young nurses whom I liked. I came home in the care of my precious friend, Lois, who stayed with me until I was doing pretty OK on my own. She had ten days of giving me shots, changing my bandages, helping me get up in the middle of the night and helping me with chores. ❤

I couldn’t drive, so Karen, my neighbor and friend, and I went to the store together. We had a blast. Who knew that two women in their sixties would find shopping for food to be so much fun? My other neighbor, Elizabeth, took me to my local doctor (14 miles away) to get my stitches out. When I took my daily walks, neighbors came out to walk with me and ask me how I was doing. 

Lori, the owner, Marylou and everyone working at Noah’s Arff, the kennel where Dusty and Bear stayed for six weeks, loved my dogs. They also made sure that if I wanted to come and visit, I would be able to see Dusty and Bear without danger to myself. Lois took me the first time, and as soon as I could drive, I went out to see them on my own. I was still wearing my TED hose and using my walker. 🙂 The kennel gave me a discount on the price for which I’m very grateful, AND an anonymous person chipped in $100. I have no idea who, but WOW. 

Visiting Bear 
Visiting Dusty and Bear at Noah’s Arff. You can see how they love Lori ❤

When the day came that the dogs could come home Lori brought Dusty and Bear to me. 

Besides my great doctor, my friends, the kennel and my town, I had great physical therapy.  I owe a lot to Ron Muhlhauser both before and after my surgery for the fact that I walk WELL now. He prepared me well so I was in good condition before my surgery and he helped me rehab which basically meant learning to walk again. I turned out that I had osteoarthritis in that joint much longer than I knew and I had forgotten how to do many simple things like take a long stride or go up and down stairs. Really.

This year I learned a lot. It’s not easy for me to need people or ask for help. During my rehab, I DID need people, and I HAD to ask for help. It took courage for me, but I got nothing but “Yes!”

My hip replacement was, naturally, the biggest event of my year. I can now walk as if nothing was ever wrong. I am grateful every time I take a step. In my three-month check-up, Dr. Ed said, “No restrictions. Do whatever you want. Run up hills. Maybe I’ll see you on the slopes. Where will you ski?”

In October, Elizabeth and I took a short — but real — mountain hike to celebrate my recovery and living here for four years. 

At the trail head — not even the trail we planned to take, but we had fun.

I decided to spend the “down time” after my surgery working on my novel, The Price. The kicker there was that if I were going to work on it, it needed to be finished before my surgery. I was stuck and didn’t want to go further, so I contacted Beth Bruno whose editorial skills have helped me in the past. I sent her the novel and asked for help. Beth’s response told me exactly what I had to do. I knew already, but I had resisted the knowledge out of laziness? or not liking the characters? I still don’t know. I spent the summer working on it and guiding the characters to an ending that would satisfy readers — and me. I am very proud of it. 

I’m grateful for all the moral support I got from people who read my blog. I’m grateful for being alive at this moment so I can “know” interesting people all over the world through writing, my preferred communication. I’m grateful to all the people who’ve reviewed my books and appreciated them, to my friends for caring for me, to my town for being the beautiful, kind and human place it is.


I was an athlete and the loss of “self” has been a huge challenge for me — probably the biggest. I’ve had to consider exactly what that means now, and what it will mean in the future. I’ve had to face my age — at 52 my hiking pals were two young men, professional athletes in their 20s. One was a 21 year old weightlifter who “used” me as a partner in his aerobic training. The other was a professional surfer who had just learned (from me) that there was a lot of fun to be had on dry land, too.

At 66? I have no idea what’s ahead in that realm. I have cross country skis now, I have a dog who is learning to be a wonderful companion. I’ve also learned the pleasure of a slow walk, looking around me, stopping to see things, where once I covered four back-country miles in an hour. I looked around me then, but there was much less savoring.

I think major surgery is a taste of mortality. I could live 30 years longer, but evenso, will they be years of increased physical ability? Probably not. I might achieve more than I have now, but that won’t last.

Learning to savor a beautiful mile on a bright fall day is a gift from my time adjusting to being unable to walk well and walking in pain. Beauty is an analgesic, and since my surgery, I’ve realized how often my pauses on my pre-surgery perambulations were just to allow nature’s wonder to distract me from the pain I was in. That my dog likes to smell everything along the way was just an added happy quality. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to racing through the hills — even if I’m ultimately able. I don’t want to race any more.

Mortality…death is the end of the journey for every living thing. I don’t know what it will mean. I do know that I love the mountains that surround me, the sky, the things that grow here, their changes, the shadows and changing light, a chance sighting of a fox, a deer, a hawk, an eagle, golden trees in fall, the wind, the smell of snow before a storm, snow on my face, new snow crunching under my feet, snow on the distant peaks, hoar-frost, lenticular clouds, cranes, the sound of cattle lowing in the distance, tracks of elk in the mud, a furtive snake hurrying away pretending I didn’t see him (but I did), the smell of sage, the golden blooms on the chamisa, red dust on my shoe, the potatoes blooming in the summer, the sun setting anywhere…. I love all of it so much that sometimes I feel my heart will burst. I don’t want to miss a single thing by hurrying through.  

This time last year I was in pain, scared, determined, unsure. The year has been a long strange trip, but, literally, the bottom line is I’m grateful for my life.


“No Restrictions!!”

I’m in Colorado Springs. It’s my 3 month or something visit to my orthorpedic surgeon, Dr. Szuszczewiz. Maybe six month. Time has lost meaning.

Beautiful drive over La Veta Pass, uneventful drive the rest of the way, arrived at my friend’s house a little early, drove to the doc. On the way I heard my anthem, “Running Up that Hill” by Kate Bush.

He took three X-rays, one in a position I thought I wasn’t supposed to take. I waited for him in a cold little room wearing a pair of PT shorts (PT — Physical Therapy). He arrived, came in, said, “Go run up that mountain. Go ski. Where are you going to ski?”

“Where there’s snow.”

Colorado girl.

I’m so happy. In my initial exam he said, “You might be able to run, I think so, but no skiing.” Today, “No restrictions. Maybe I’ll see you on the slopes.”

I don’t have words, I’m beyond happy.

What You’re Not Going to Be Again, No Matter What

At physical therapy, I see quite a few people my age (over 65) who have had joint replacements. There’s one lady who had a knee replacement. She comes in with her walker. Since I’ve been going for two months, and I’m hoping to be kicked out next Tuesday, I wonder about her. The other day I overheard the conversation that I expected. “You only have $400 left on Medicare.”

“What will I do?”

This woman with only $400 left on Medicare for physical therapy comes in twice a week. Her son brings her and the grandchildren come too. She’s very nice; clearly a really sweet woman. However, she’s not making a lot of progress, and that was the real message of “You only have $400 left on Medicare.” The therapist said, then, straight out, “You have to do something at home every single day for this to work.”

Back in the fall  I was seriously contemplating ending it all when my hip started acting up. Having been through it before, knowing the pain, the struggle to find the right doc, the challenge of rehab and the fact that I KNOW I’m not necessary to life on this planet any more (I’m retired) all conspired to make me think, “Why bother?” Pain is depressing and knowledge can be depressing and those two were hammering at my will to live. When Bear persuaded me against that (it’s good to listen to your dog from time time) I had no idea where this was all going to take me. What did she say? “If you do that, you’ll have to find a home for me and I’m your dog.” There was more, but that’s the salient part.

I began to see that fixing my hip would mean my walks with her would be a lot more pleasant for me and longer, probably. I started looking at the positive side of it and moral support from friends — here and in my 3D life — helped a lot. But walking Dusty and Bear at the slough even though it hurt, I think that was the biggest thing. My body was telling me in no uncertain terms how much that meant to me.

Today, having this morning finished (meaning I know the whole story now) The Schneebelis Go to America, I headed outside to clean up messes that have been lingering since before the surgery, really. I had put the lawn mower under a tarp since it was complicated getting it out of the garage — but now I’ve found a kid who’ll mow my lawn for 20 bucks so I put the mower away. I systematically looked for canine ordure I might have missed when it was not so easy to clean the yard. I spent time weeding and giving thanks to my garden for carrying on without me.



The Scarlet Emperor Bean, Cao Xueqin

I think it’s all very nice and interesting that the birds planted sunflowers for me and that the Scarlet Emperor Bean is 8 feet high and is actually making beans. I’m not going to eat them — though I understand they are yummy — I want more seeds. I love this plant and I want it everywhere next year. THEN I’ll eat it.

And walking is good — I have been doing two dog walks each day since I can’t walk 3 dogs at a time at this point. The Airdyne continues to be good (I’m going 12 miles which is the equivalent of a 6 mile hike, my favorite length for a daily hike in olden times). I’ve managed to do the Elliptical Trainer at physical therapy for 15 minutes which is awesome considering it takes a lot of leg muscle and I have never done it before. It’s almost — but not quite — like running or climbing a hill. I like it.

Inside me I’m me, but outside me, I’m an old woman, and it shocks me. It is a reminder that no matter WHAT I do, I will not be young again. That made me think about what it meant to me to be young. I still don’t know — but it does include some possibilities that don’t exist any more. About the time I turned 50 I realized I was entering the time of life when I would start experiencing the endings of the various stories of my life, in other words, the question, “I wonder what will happen?” would start being, “OK, so that’s what happened.”

  • I wonder if my brother will sober up? No, he’ll die
  • I wonder if I will fall in love and live happily ever after with someone finally? Extremely unlikely, though someone from 25 years ago will realize that you are and/or were “the one,” a denoument you won’t be able to wrap your head around, but that’s OK. You don’t have to. Just say, “I love you, too” and get on with your life.
  • I wonder if Martin of Gfenn will be a best seller? Nope but you’ll be OK with it, and you’ll write other books that won’t be bestsellers, either. You’ll learn that writing itself is the point. Some people will read them and love them. That’s going to be all you need or want.
  • I wonder how I will retire, what the circumstances will be? Convoluted and dishonest, but you’ll be happy with the result and you’ll forget about it quicker than you can imagine

Those kinds of questions. They led me to this very important question:

“What do I want to do with the rest of my life?”

“Oh honey, that’s easy. You want to walk in nature with your dogs.”

“That’s it? That’s all I want?”

“If you think about the actual days of your actual younger life, what made you most happy?”

“Ah… So that’s why Bear was so adamant.”

It has made me wonder what that other lady at physical therapy dreams of for the rest of her life. I hope she, also, has found it.

Undetermined Hiatus

In all honesty, I just haven’t been feeling the blog thing for the past few weeks. And, I can’t say why (maybe because I hate summer? maybe my post-surgery self has other priorities? maybe the Schneebelis want this to be over with? No idea…) I’m a little fractious and frustrated. Also, I have to say, the demise of the Daily Prompt was like, “OK, stop doing this now.” I was impressed that people wanted to pick up the baton, but I also thought “Why?” Still, ultimately, I let people down after volunteering to post prompts for Rag Tag Daily Prompt.

It could be that after five years and nine hundred million blog posts, I’m just finished and have nothing more to say. I really don’t know. But I’m not able to maintain my own rules as a writer and a reader at the moment.

Other bloggers have stopped — I know because there are three whose absence I STILL notice even though it’s been a while. Others have shifted to writing when they feel like it. I don’t know what I’m going to do or where this will take me, whether I’m finished or in a transition.

All that being said, I really cherish the friendships I’ve made here over the years and since most of you have other ways of contacting me and being contacted, I hope that just because I won’t be here any more won’t mean we lose contact with each other.


Intimations of Mortality from the Living Room Floor

You can end up alone and old in a lot of ways. My way was simply that I had no kids, and I was never able to make a long term relationship work. I honestly didn’t want kids, so when it happened that I didn’t have any, that was OK with me. As for the LTR? I don’t know. That’s a lie. I do know. I didn’t learn the skills when I could have, should have. Instead I learned how to survive in the family I was born into. Ironically, that family did not survive me. So, in my case it’s not just that I don’t have a husband and kids, I don’t have siblings. When you’re in my position and have medical problems, there are systems designed to help you out. Yet, somehow, I feel that I failed. I sense that people — medical people — speak to me of these systems in whispers, though they probably do not. Innocent questions sound like accusations, “Do you have someone to take care of you when you go home?” (“Otherwise you’re a loser.”)

But… It doesn’t matter. Many people are going to survive everyone. My grandmother, in her 90s, told me how hard it was to be the last one among her friends. There were no people left in the world with whom she could share the memories of HER life. She lived with her daughter — an arrangement that was good for both of them — and had lots of contact with grand and great-grandkids, but we had not shared her young days with her. The life we shared with her was OUR lives, not hers.

My little fall and minor rib injury this weekend prompted care from the people around me ❤ and from friends at a distance, one of whom was worried that if something happened to me she couldn’t get to me fast enough to help.

It haunted my sleep. I might live in Heaven, but Heaven is a not place where I can sell my house and make any money. I am going to stay here for the duration. And where would I go? I have a really small income.  But in my dreams, I headed north looking for an affordable home closer to friends. I kept trying to wake up, but there was no way that was happening. I thought (in my dream) that I am really old and frail. I thought, “No, I’m not. But I look that way because I have white hair and I’m small. People who haven’t known me longer than five years might think I’ve shrunk.” Still, I acknowledged that my will and spirit are much younger than my body. I thought about attempting to reconcile the two, and saw quickly which has the upper hand. It’s the one with the actual hand (ha ha).

This morning I’ve decided this isn’t worth thinking about. Dusty is older than I am and HE’S not thinking about it. I’d be astonished if he did!

An homage to my dad who did not get to live long enough to deliberate these problems or dream these nightmares, but who was right in giving me the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam as a lesson in what matters in life.

Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
Dust into Dust, and under Dust to lie
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and–sans End!

Alike for those who for To-day prepare,
And those that after some To-morrow stare,
A Muezzin from the Tower of Darkness cries
“Fools! your Reward is neither Here nor There.”

Why, all the Saints and Sages who discuss’d
Of the Two Worlds so wisely–they are thrust
Like foolish Prophets forth; their Words to Scorn
Are scatter’d, and their Mouths are stopt with Dust.

Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same door where in I went.

With them the seed of Wisdom did I sow,
And with mine own hand wrought to make it grow;
And this was all the Harvest that I reap’d–
“I came like Water, and like Wind I go.”

(The whole poem is here)


La Vita Mia

Wow. Seems like I’ve written about courage a lot in recent months. It’s been good; it’s helped me think, and I’ve been grateful for the insight of my readers and (often) moral support. ❤

But all that leaves me here without a lot left to say on the subject. I have always before been very lucky and had (sometimes desperate) necessity to propel me along. I’m good in a crisis. I find courage is a lot, uh, scarier, than necessity.


It requires choice. With necessity there’s no “Oh, fuck it,” option. With courage there is.

For me right now courage is exerting my will, mind, desires against a bearable status quo. It has required looking at the world differently, looking at myself differently. It’s luxurious, in a way, to have options. I can continue to walk with a limp, to be looked at with pity, to be unable to do things I love, to regard riding a stationary bicycle as a “sport,” OR I can have hip surgery. I can look at the life ahead of me and say, “Oh well, the best is behind me anyway,” or I can work toward — hope for — something else.

With necessity, you don’t have to look at anything except the consequence hanging in front of you if you don’t act. Now I have to look ahead and consider what I WANT and who I AM. Whoa.

Yeah, I know, poor me. 😀

Visiting Han-Tan: The Dancers at the Southern Pavilion

They sang to me and drummed, the boys of Yen and Chao
Lovely girls plucked the sounding string
Their painted cheeks shone like dazzling suns;
The dancers’ sleeves shook out like blossoming boughs.
Bringing her wine, I approached a handsome girl
And made her sing me songs of Han-tan.
Then lutes were played, and coiling away and away
The tune fell earthward, dropping from the grey clouds.
Where is the Prince of Chao, what has he left
But an old castle-moat where tadpoles breed?
Those three thousand knights that sat at his board
Is there one among them whose name is still known?
Let us make merry, get something in our own day
To set against the pity of ages still unborn.

Li-Bai (trans. Arthur Waley)



Anti-Nazi Movement

I’ve read and seen so much over the last few days that my head hurts and my heart aches. So much of it is based on incomplete knowledge (not that my knowledge is complete) selective memory, stupidity and blatant desire. Most of it ignores the fundamental fact that we are all on this planet together. Those of us in the US are in this country together, black, white, yellow, pinkish/red and speckled (that’s me), young, old, rich, poor, smart, stupid… We’re here. Right now. We all have to make a life. We all want a good life. We all know that shit happens all the time. There are booby traps down the road — sinister ones like cancer, car accidents, dead children, loss of work, divorce. We all know this.

I’m bewildered by the lack of pragmatism in some of my fellow citizens.  If my life is good YOUR life is improved. It’s really very, very, very simple. My desiring a better life for my neighbors (and working toward that in some small way) takes NOTHING from me but enhances  my little world.

For this reason, I do not understand racism. What’s the point? When I hear discussions about race, they often turn on little points of definition, semantics. The long term goal of our society should be the best life possible for all the people in it. What doesn’t work in that direction should be questioned by everyone.

I’ve never felt “white guilt” or been ashamed of being white. That just seems absurd. Some of my ancestors owned slaves. Some of my ancestors stood on board a ship and waited for someone to buy them so they could get off the ship. Some of them died on the way. Some of them died in servitude. They weren’t me. Universally all of them worked toward a better future for their children. All of us look at our lives and say, “I don’t want my kids to live with this.” We have all done that. Generation after generation has worked in its small way toward improving life for the next generation.

I think one of the most appalling things that is happening in the US now is that forward movement has been stopped by the fuckhead who “leads” the country. 

So what is forward? Peace is forward. Prosperity is forward. Education is forward. Medical care for all is forward. It’s not hard to know which way to go, and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want these things. Each of us works in our own way toward these things for ourselves, our families and our neighbors.

It has nothing to do with politics, race, religion, age, nothing. It is human nature when it is allowed to blossom. 

My black students cared more about my skin color than I cared about theirs. I got that. My brown students, also, noticed my whiteness more than I noticed their “brownness.” In China, of course, I stood out like a sore thumb, but I also forgot about my own skin color at a certain point until I was reminded by a green-eyed man from Sinkiang.

Sometimes I feel caged by my whiteness. I grew up in a world in which Spanish was spoken and Mexican people were loved and admired. I was shocked to find out that wasn’t the same everywhere. I wasn’t conscious of my “whiteness” until my Mexican neighbor in CA pointed it out by saying, “You’re the first nice white woman I’ve ever known.” Wow. In one sentence I learned that I’m white and that whites can be assholes for no other reason than that they’re white.

I’ve been in the middle of a family broken by “La Migra.” I’ve seen what black gang fights and the desperation of poverty can do to people of all ages. I’ve taught young people with PTSD returned from fighting the hopeless war against terror. My life has shown me that every person needs compassion. Every person deserves the respect of curiosity about who they are as individuals. 

I taught a black kid about a hundred years ago. It was an English class. Rap was semi-new (it was the early 90s). My students wrote a weekly journal. This kid wrote about his favorite music. They all knew mine (because they interviewed me). I don’t remember his words exactly but he wrote something like this, “Hey Martha, you won’t believe this because I’m a black guy, but I also love punk rock music. I’m not sucking up. I mean really. I like hardcore, just like you. I got to see Jello Biafra last summer and it was amazing.” He felt he had to prove he was telling me the truth and offered creds to legitimize his claim. I slipped a Sex Pisols sew-on patch I’d bought but hadn’t used into his journal so he’d know I understood. It appeared on his hat the next week.

I believe it’s human nature to seek commonality — and we will as long as we have honest interest in others.

When the Nazis (or the KKK, or the MAGA douchebags) dress in a uniform they are saying, “I have subsumed my individuality to the morality of this group. I am the lowest common denominator. I have abdicated my right to self-determination. I am no longer responsible for pursuing the highest good.” They are no longer fully human — by their own choice.

It’s a huge responsibility being fully human. We work hard all our lives to achieve that. There’s an old man at the end of my block. He’s Hispanic. His kids are junkies, so he is raising his grandsons. He’s a lovely, noble, gallant, old-school Hispanic man of the San Luis Valley. He rides his bike every day for exercise. He tips his hat when I’m outside and he goes by. “You’re working hard,” he said one day as I was sweating and mowing the lawn.

“I’m the only one here to do it,” I said.

“I know what you mean,” he said. “Have a beautiful day.”

The fuckhead in Washington knows NOTHING about these individual people, but we all do. That’s where we live, in the grainy reality of human effort and ordinary kindness.


Ski Bum Revelation, II

Those of you starting out in life or making your way over the GREAT BRIDGE of life’s productivity, saving the world (I, for one, am grateful) well, maybe this post is not for you, but I think it is. I retired three years ago and moved back to the Rocky Mountains which I had missed more than I can ever describe for the 30 years I lived in someone else’s paradise. Don’t get me wrong. I was very happy in Southern California and found a Coloradoesque life for myself in the wonderful mountains that rim San Diego. I learned to see and love the coastal sage and chaparral, my great teacher in so many ways, but I always, always, always missed the mountains.

Once I retired and came back, I launched myself right into what I thought I’d want to do as retired person. I have arthritis in my knees, so I figured I needed surgery and/or I was a cripple. I never had enough time to paint, so I figured I was an artist. I had an unfinished novel, so I figured I was a writer.

Over the course of this three years, my understanding of myself has changed, shifted. Images of myself that I held up there peeled away. You might think it’s all about self-discovery when you’re young, but I’d say for me there’s been more of that in the last three years than any other time since, well, ever. I don’t have that stuff in front of me, all that “Que sera, sera,” stuff. A lot of my stories have ended and I know how they turned out. For example I know I’m not going to be anyone’s mom and I’m not going to make a million bucks or save all the people in an impoverished country. No one expects anything of me any more, except to creep inexorably downhill physically, to be more out of touch with technology than I am or ever will be, to be not all that bright. It’s funny, but after you do a pretty good job through your working years, there will be people (usually younger) that don’t realize that you once were where they are and YOU MADE IT THROUGH.

There was a point in life in which dreams turned into imperatives such as “Holy shit, do I earn enough to make my house payment?” I remember, sometime in my 40s, telling my brother that all I did in my life was “patch things up and hold them together.” He, for his part, was impressed that I could do that! 🙂

So now…the other day, riding the stationary bike and watching a movie, The Last of the Ski Bums, I realized that I was happier skiing than doing any other thing in my life, ever. And I wasn’t very good at it. That’s important. Skiing, in and of itself, was just great, sublime, exciting, beautiful. Snow, high mountains, speed. Wow. I decided then and there that in my next life no one’s going to hijack my aimless existence with their idea of purpose. No sirree.

Then… Well, I work out a lot. Simply being able to walk requires that the muscles of my legs are strong so my knees work like knees should. I don’t know what I was doing, but I found myself in a skiing maneuver. And I thought, “Damn. I can do this. Godnose that next life idea is unpredictable. I might come back  wombat or armadillo or something. Or a child in the tropics where there is no snow and no hope of any. I can’t hang my ski bum dreams on some next life. I missed out this time, but putting my money on my next life is really too big a gamble.”

So I did research. Lots of people ski with arthritis. Since I was never any good, I can probably have a pretty good time on the baby slopes, maybe even blue circles! There are braces people wear on their knees. Then I remembered reading something on the website of the local ski area, just 50 miles away and no mountain pass involved, Wolf Creek, (which, BTW, usually gets the most snow of any ski area in Colorado). Their ski school has classes for “Baby Boomers.” A lift ticket for “seniors” is $25. I might not be the only one living out their Late-life Ski Bum Dreams