Xin Nian Hao!

Not sure about this temptation thing — I guess it’s the feeling I get when I see a puppy of the same stamp as Bear, a puppy who needs a home. “Oh man…” I dunno… I was tempted to ask the Chatbot to write a post for me on this subject, but decided against it. It might be be better than my own writing and then where would I be? Besides, the dogs need their routine and I like writing my blog post every morning.

It made me think about the importance of our small daily rituals. Maybe they are the glue that hold us together in the random small and large tempests of our existence. Writing this blog is a ritual in my daily life. Like my cup of coffee, it’s insurance that, for at least 30 minutes or an hour, I will do something that is meaningful to me. I began it back when I was teaching a lot and had almost no time to myself.

Today is the first day of Chinese New Year, and it’s a year of the Rabbit. I happen to be a Rabbit, though I was born in 1952. I was born before the Lunar New Year changed. At midnight last night (Ontario Canada time) I got a message from my Chinese brother wishing me a Happy New Year. I thought about all the years between now and my Chinese New Year in 1983. I thought about the world in which my Chinese Brother and I were a part for a very short time and the bond that formed. He’d lived his whole life — through the Cultural Revolution — before he met me. And I had lived my whole life with its vicissitudes before I met him.

Our first meeting happened when a big taxi-van brought me and the Good X, two foot lockers and two backpacks — and skis! — to the door of our apartment building. Xiao Huang — a wiry, skinny young guy in a pair of khaki shorts, white shirt and plastic sandals — came out and hoisted our footlockers (one at a time, he wasn’t Superman) and carried them up three flights of stairs to our apartment. Neither the Good X nor I could have done that, and we looked at each other amazed. That was one of the first surprises China had for us.

It was just one year in both our lives, but that year and our contact changed both our lives. How he got to be my brother? I feel pretty safe saying that a lot of Chinese at the time — that I knew, anyway — hoped their American contacts would lead to an opportunity to leave China.

My brother, because he was learning English, was sent to Luoyang in northern China, far from Guangzhou, to work in a factory for the ten or so years of the Cultural Revolution. It was exile, a kind of punishment. He would have been very young. I was 30 when we met and he is a few years younger than I. I don’t know the whole story, but I know that Luoyang is MUCH colder than Guangzhou; the factory was cold, the hours were long, and godnose what his dormitory was like. I know he probably endured hours of “political study,” and had to write at least one “confession.” And why? Because his mom came from a bourgeois family even though his dad was a Party member and part of the provincial government. His younger brother was left completely alone by the government, as far as I know.

But my brother was learning English and who knows? Maybe that was the problem? Ultimately that was why he got his job at my university translating and looking out for the foreign teachers.

When we got to know each other, we discovered that we liked each other. He brought us home to meet his mother and twice she made the complicated journey all the way out to our apartment. Over time she said that I was a good older sister to her son and so I was adopted and became part of the family. It makes my eyes sweat remembering this, but I will persevere…

He made some mistakes in English, and many of them were funny. He laughed at himself; he wasn’t worried about losing face. One of them was calling tears “eye sweat.”

In 1983 no one knew if the Cultural Revolution was really over or what would happen next. My brother accompanied us to Shanghai, our port of departure for our return to America. He was a little intimidated by Shanghai, the fancy hotel in which our university had put us up, everything. After two nights and one day of sightseeing, it was time for us to leave. My brother came with us to the airport where there was the inevitable negotiation over baggage. We’d been told we could have two pieces each and there was a weight limit. We followed the rule. At the airport we learned that together we could have only ONE piece of luggage, but there was no weight restriction. My brother somehow uncovered a gigantic string bag into which we placed two backpacks, two footlockers, a carpet and skis. Everyone laughed but it was fine; it was one piece. China was like that. Even IT knew some of its rules were absurd and whimsical.

The moment came. The plane was called. We stood in line. I looked up at my brother.

“Ma Sa, your eyes are sweating,” he said.

“So are yours,” I answered.

Featured photo: My brother with two men at Waqqas Tomb in Guangzhou. Waqqas was a missionary who brought Islam to China. You can learn more here: Waqqas Tomb.

Copying???

In 1975, I worked in the mail room as my second job at Head Ski in Boulder. What that meant was putting up with Agnes (shudder) who filled a rubbing alcohol bottle with vodka and thought I was after her job (I wasn’t), sorting the mail for the various departments in the plant and delivering it (with Agnes), sending TWX and making Xerox copies. Making photocopies in 1975 was seriously serious, and I had to be trained by some reps from Xerox. Agnes didn’t want to touch that thing. It scared her.

Xerox copies were expensive — 5 cents a page — so only certain things could be Xeroxed (yeah, it was a verb). and only one person could touch the machine. Me. Agnes didn’t like that I had this “power,” but she’d refused to be trained “on The Machine”. In the pre-desktop computer era we used typewriters, and for non-Xerox copies we used carbon paper. No color copying, either.

One day, when Agnes had given me the task of cleaning up the mailroom, I found a small offset press. It would fit on a TV tray (since we’re in the Wabac machine). I asked Agnes about it and she said they got it for her to make copies but she didn’t like it.

It hadn’t been touched in a while. I lifted it and brought it up to the front where there was some light. Since Agnes wouldn’t let me do anything, I started cleaning it up and I managed to get it running. The original idea behind the little press was that it would save the company money they might otherwise spend on having memo head and other non-fancy logoed paper printed professionally. It had aluminum masters and worked pretty much like a mimeograph machine. I thought it was cool.

Pretty soon the company had installed a ventilating hood for the little press and had gotten me a filtered face mask. We were a factory, after all, and people’s minds worked that way. It was necessary because the main solvent for the press was ether. My reward for saving the company all this money was a very nice dinner in Boulder’s best restaurant and, a little later, a promotion out of the mail room and away from Agnes.

Later, living a completely different life in a different city with an incredible amount of water under the bridge (but only five years later), the photocopy machine was already a big important part of life on this planet, but not very dependable and still expensive. I was a paralegal. It was still before desktop computers. Carbon paper still sat in my desk drawer. The gigantic Xerox machine could collate but it could also jam and it frequently jammed in the process of collating a shitload of pages. We were absolutely NOT allowed to unjam the machine. A specialist was called, a little guy in a dark suit with a briefcase that actually held tools. But a workman doesn’t want to march down 17th street (Wall Street of the West) in Denver looking like a mechanic. Plenty did (and do) but not your Xerox guy.

Because NOTHING ever happened at the law firm except at the last minute, we “girls” (think the movie Nine to Five) stood in a corner hoping hoping hoping hoping that things were not terminally fucked because those pleadings had to be in court YESTERDAY. These time crunches were never the lawyer’s fault, either (actually, they were). They were our fault, so we did what humans have probably done since my Refuge was a lake — we blamed the machine.

But it wasn’t the machine. It was a combination of things. About that time stores where you could take your copying needs were opening everywhere, and my predecessor at the law firm left the job to run a Kinkos. That became a back up for the many, many times “The Machine” (read that in a hushed voice) was down. Kinkos hung around for decades. I just asked the AI (which is Google) what happened to Kinkos and learned, “In February 2004, FedEx bought Kinko’s for $2.4 billion, which then became known as FedEx Kinko’s Office and Print Centers.”

One thing I took away from life at the law firm was do your stuff ahead of time because stuff happens. I’ve finished and submitted my article on the crane festival 3 weeks ahead of my deadline because you never know; the copy machine might jam.

I have a photocopy of a letter my grandfather wrote which is a true PHOTOcopy. It’s faded and pinkish and strange and was made in the sixties. The featured photo is very like — and might be exactly like — the Xerox machine in the mailroom at Head Ski.



As for AI — my research has been a lot of fun. I don’t think it’s anything for anyone to be afraid of, in any case, fear never made anyone a master. We’ve been living with it for a while. My ONE concern was what some of its features and offerings might do to education, and I no longer think there’s necessarily any danger. Like any tool, it depends on the user. People have been murdered with screw drivers, but in a normal reality is there much that is MORE inert than a screw driver? All of us using WP are using AI. It’s how we get those suggestions at the bottom of a blog we just read or the prompts that are now appearing unless we’ve told the AI we don’t want them?

Lots of comments have referenced Philip K. Dick whose work I love — but of all his work my favorite is Galactic Pot Healer which is a story of how a man repaired the Inexplicable (aka God) using a technique similar to that used in Japan to repair broken old pots with gold. You can read it here.

https://archive.org/details/galacticpotheale00dick

Naco

Last night, for fun, I was looking at home prices in the old hood in City Heights in San Diego. For half a million dollars you can get a house in shape comparable to the “fixer-upper” (read crack house) the Good X and I bought for a down payment of sweat equity and a loan of $67k. Seriously. Who can live there?

We were lucky in that most of the work we had to do was cosmetic — like sanding down the floors, painting, that kind of stuff, but we did remodel the kitchen and have the house re-stuccoed. Ultimately I replaced the roof and got a new garage door.

When we first walked into the house we couldn’t believe it. Room after room filled with trash — including needles. Every door had a deadbolt lock. There were wrecked cars all over the yard — one hanging from the palm tree in front of the house. We did most of the work ourselves, and the Good X hated finishing projects. Once I asked him why and he said it was because he always wanted to know he had something to do. Some of the repairs were stop-gap fixes, which in Mexican slang was described as “naco,” or low-class. Colloquially it also implied “a stop-gap repair that we’ll fix better when we have the time and money.”

We had to haul out mattresses, broken furniture (the tenants were angry when they were evicted) foam — just foam, piles and piles of foam, that filled a veranda. It was a long hard job. Some friends of ours — house fixer-uppers, property managers, etc. — showed up one Saturday to see the house and found me sweeping. The husband said, “This is way past sweeping.”

Ironically, the very people who’d lived in that house and were evicted by the Good X’s friend, from whom we bought the house, were instrumental in cleaning it up. One guy came by one day and said he’d tow away some cars (the ones with wheels). Using a Saws-All, the Good-X cut up a VW and hauled the steel to the junk yard. We rented a tractor so we could grade the back yard. It was crazy.

Honestly, the “naco” never completely went away. With the Good X never finishing projects and, ultimately, me living there alone for almost 2 decades, working three jobs, “naco” became my “style” — not as bad as the featured image, but never perfectly maintained and fancy. Here either. Life is short and dogs are, well, dogs… So I don’t know… Still, half a million dollars. Sometimes I regret that I ever sold that house. At the same time, I wouldn’t be here now if I hadn’t sold that house.

There’s no way to know — the photo below is one I took off Google street view a few years back of “my” house the last time it sold. When I lived there, I had a hedge of red hibiscus, a ginger plant against the garage, a bird of paradise in front of the bedroom window and roses, but the person I sold the house to pulled them all out. Somewhere along the way some owner joined a home security company and pulled the bars off the windows. Seriously; it was a high-crime neighborhood. The garage was my “studio,” and it was great. Otherwise, the photo is how my house looked when I left it for Descanso. The featured photo is of one of the houses currently on the market in the hood for $470,000. Yikes!

Amo Mexico

It never changes, even after 8 years of retirement. I still dream about teaching, about being hired at a new school, about planning classes, collecting materials, going to meetings. Some of my earliest community college classes were in the town of San Ysidro which is on the border of Mexico. It’s hard to tell if it’s a suburb of Tijuana or San Diego. Late in the 19th century several immigrants from Switzerland settled there and built dairies, so who knows. Maybe it’s just a suburb of the world. San Ysidro back in the 90s was essentially a single street with minor streets leading off it.

Though over time I stopped teaching English as a Second Language, my first classes as a legit college teacher (as opposed to instructor at an international school) were ESL. My first class was an early evening class in San Ysidro, a 40 mile drive RT from my house and a little farther from San Diego State where I was still teaching at the language school.

I loved it. A room full of Mexican adults who want to learn English is about as good as it gets. I never let on that I could speak any Spanish, but they figured it out. They were enthusiastic to practice, and they would try anything, even my method of getting my students to write a poem. We met for 3 hours twice a week, and while that gave me an exhausting schedule, it also gave me money and a good time.

The school was a satellite of Southwestern College — one of the first community colleges in America. In those days (mid nineties) the school was a couple of double-wides but over time they built fancy buildings. Kind of a loss in a way, a loss in atmosphere and lightness. A couple of blocks from the school was a tamale restaurant. THAT was, well, incredible. More kinds of tamales than I knew existed, and they were all delicious. Next door to the school was Yum-Yum (Jum-Jum) Donuts where the students would usually take their break.

At times the border checkpoint would be backed up, and students couldn’t make it to class. No one had cell phones so the secretary would call the border patrol to find out what was going on. No one was ever penalized for missing class.

The last day of that first class one of my students gave me a present — an 8 foot lemon tree in a pot. He was a gardener and that’s what he had.

I was teaching in San Ysidro at the end of my mom’s life. I missed class for a week or so to go to Montana to take care of her post-hospital living arrangements — a nightmare, really one of the nightmares of my life. When I returned to class everyone came up to me with hugs and kind words all of which I sorely needed.

My first teaching experiences were as a volunteer at a literacy program in Denver. My first student was a Hispanic man who wanted to learn to read so he could read bed time stories to his daughters. Within a year I’d moved from tutoring single students to classes. My first classes were made up of people from Mexico one way or another — a couple of women were born in California, but had not learned English. An old vaquero with an amazing sense of humor was deported twice while he was in an 8 week class — he always made it back. Somehow it was a joke. These classes were absolute beginners in English, and from them I learned that learning a new language can be scary. People are truly frightened of making mistakes and looking stupid.

Once my mother — in one of her moods — was giving me a rundown of my many faults. One of them was that I don’t have the cowboy personality. You have to remember, Montana, etc. I know what that is supposed to be and I DO have it to some extent. Essentially it’s rigidly stoical, looks reality square in the eye, and doesn’t show emotion. She said, “You’re no cowboy. You’re more like a Mexican.” My mom didn’t have an especially bad attitude toward Mexicans; she was afraid of emotion.

Pero, para mí, las palabras de mi madre fueron un cumplido.

Merry Christmas!

This is my annual Christmas post. I don’t think I’ll ever have a better story. Merry Christmas, everyone, however you observe this season.

Linoleum cut print on rice paper 18 x 24 inches
Linoleum print on rice paper, 14 x 20 inches

Part One, 1956

I am 4 or 5. Small enough to sleep in two arm chairs pushed together, facing each other. One of the arm chairs has velvety grey upholstery in a swirly design. The other, my favorite, is red velvet. I sleep the strange sweet sleep of that place, of childhood. Outside the window is cold Montana, the clear dark pierced by stars and lit by a distant radio tower. Some nights there’s dance music coming from the Red Barn down the road. Among the songs is Gene Autry singing “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Trains whistle through the night.

It’s still dark when I hear her, coming out of her room, humming softly, tying on her apron, buttoning her sweater. She walks to the kitchen and lights the stove. I smell the fire catch. She comes back singing.

It came upon a midnight clear, that glorious song of old.

“Are you awake, Martha Ann?”
“Yes, Gramma.”
“You want to go with me to get the eggs?”
“Yes!”
“Well, get up then. Put on your socks and your boots and your coat. Be quiet!”

Peeeeeaaace ON the Earth, goodwill to men

In the back room she reaches for her coat and a wool head scarf. She ties it over her ears.

“Put this on your head or you’ll catch your death.” She hands me a paisley scarf. Well, she has good reason to warn me. Already by then, I’d nearly caught my death in more than one Montana winter.

Of angels bending near the earth, to touch their haaaarrrrps of GOLD!

The snow crunches under our boots. She opens the hen-house door, “Shoo, shoo,” she says to the hens, “Shoo!” She reaches under the sitting birds, putting their eggs in our basket. “There now. We can make breakfast for Helen and them when they wake up.”

“Helen and them” is my mom, dad and brother — and anyone else who showed up for breakfast.

The snow crunches on our way back to the kitchen. The light comes through the small window of the back room, yellow and human. All around is cold grey/blue light of dim December Montana morning.

And through the cloven skies they come, with peaceful wings unfurled, and still their Heavenly music floats, o’er all the weary world.

I open the door. The kitchen now warmed by the stove is friendly in the light. “Set the table, baby. There are,” she stops to count on her fingers, “there are four of you, and Jo and them will be down, that’s four more, set it for nine.” I still have to climb on a chair to reach everything. The big table fills the kitchen with its chairs and benches from all epochs of Montana history. I love the chairs. Even then I know that they are chairs with stories.

Gramma’ lays the bacon slices carefully in the black iron skillet. The December sun struggles over the horizon, appearing as a golden gleam. Blue shadows stalk the trees. Morning.

And all the world send back the song, which now-ow the angels sing!

Part Two, 1979

I snarl at the lousy weather, the hanging gray cold, and all the people, I push through the crowd on Seventeenth Street. After two blocks, I catch up to a crippled blind guy banging his cane against the two-by-four supports of the narrow entrance to a construction sidewalk.

“What is it? What is it?” he screams frantically, “Would somebody please help me? Help me!”

“Damn it,” I think. But I squelch my inner asshole, not because I’m a good person but because clearly going WITH this obstacle is more productive than fighting it.

“It’s a new building,” I tell him, catching up. “They’ve built a covered sidewalk. It’s like a tunnel. Here, take my hand and we can go through it together.”

He tells me he is catching the Colfax bus which is now a block behind us, loading passengers. He is about five feet tall, if that, a little shorter than I. I look at him and see that every aspect of him is wrong. His watery pale sightless eyes, his pinkish hair flattened from sleep, his crooked, red, too-large nose, his feet twisting toward each other just enough to make his stride unsteady. Some of his teeth are gone and his fingers are gnarled. He seems to be my age, in his mid-twenties. His helplessness compels my trust.

“Can you run?” I ask. “Your bus is behind us at a red light. I’ll hold your hand. I think we can make it. There’s no ice on the sidewalk here.” We have a half a block to go and the traffic light behind us has just turned green.

“OK,” he says, and we run to the bus.

“This is fun!” he laughs a snorting little laugh.

The bus driver must know the blind guy because he holds the bus at the corner. The man struggles up the steps and shows his pass to the driver. He turns around, facing me. “Merry Christmas!” he says, “Thank you! See you again!”

I raise my hand to wave goodbye, but at the last minute, I put it in my pocket. “Merry Christmas!” I say.

I reach the Presbyterian church on top of the hill just as the carillon begins;

“It Came upon a Midnight Clear, that glorious song of old, of angels bending near the earth, to touch their harps of gold. Peace on the earth, goodwill to men, the Heavenly host proclaimed. The world in solemn stillness lay to hear the angels sing.”

Suddenly my grandmother is alive, singing in her kitchen, and I am only four years old, stretching awake on the bed made for me of two easy chairs pushed together. A Christmas tree stands in the corner of the tiny living room. My mind’s eye sees her in the dark Montana morning wearing her egg-gathering jacket and hat, putting wood in the stove.

“Are you awake, Martha Ann?”

Rubrica

I was up at sunrise (7 am ha ha ha). It’s great that in winter my habits look much less degenerate though maybe getting up at 8 isn’t really very degenerate?

I’m well into reading the books at this point though by FAR most of them remain. Yesterday I had the experience probably shared by every judge of everything everywhere through all time, one I have experienced over and over in my life, even in the brutal task of grading papers. “Am I fair or am I blinded by prejudice?” That leads to questions like, “What if my prejudice is fair?” (It happens; prejudice is not categorically mistaken) We will go to great lengths on THAT question. An author had written about what’s wrong with education. I have a few opinions about that, so I was interested in what the book would tell me. I was reading along, finding the book interesting, the writing elegant and articulate, all the while asking myself the age old question, “OK, I know what the author is hoping to say — nice clear thesis statement — but when will this book get to the point?” when I hit something I cannot ignore. “Shit.”

Then I had to question myself, “OK, is this really SUCH a big deal or is it just a big deal in my little world?”

I stopped to think about it. I thought about the identity the author had claimed. I thought about the thesis of the book which had been clearly stated early on. I thought about education itself and its higher purpose which is to enlarge the minds and thereby the worlds of the people in the classroom through teaching skills and information.

One of the biggest axes I grind (futilely) is against the way people look at the past. I will never understand — well I might understand someday; never is a long time — why so-called culturally enlightened people can’t look at the past with the same generosity of heart they look at unfamiliar cultures. Why do people compare the “progress” of one world with that of another? Values and understanding of reality are not universal, not across the world, not through time.

I think of the world, its history and its people, as a unit of knowledge, and if everyone could just get it together?Wow. But we focus on differences because we’re busy little pushers of shopping carts doing comparison shopping. What if we actually need ALL of it because (wow) ALL of it is here.

My friend E came over the other day for a chat and to bring me fruitcake. She had some interesting news. She’s Episcopalian and goes to the beautiful little church built by British pioneers to resemble their village church in England. I’ve loved that building since I first drove around Monte Vista and I’ve gone to services a couple of times. I even gave a presentation on the Swiss Reformation. It’s a very open, warm, friendly and tiny congregation. E told me that a “competitor” — she used the word without feeling comfortable about it, obviously — had opened in town a schism Anglican Church based on its dislike of the fact that the Anglican Church (big letters) is cool with investing gays and lesbians as clergy. To this new schism, this is not to be borne.

“What do you think?” she asked me.

“Well, to me it falls in that mote vs. beam argument.” E agreed.

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. Matthew 7:3-5 KJV

That’s the thing with judging anything. In teaching — and the contest — I had a rubric. The rubrics I used in my writing classes I had designed for each class and each level and it told the students specifically what their grades were based on. I have one for the contest as well.

Only recently I learned the etymology of the word “rubric” and it’s beautiful. I learned from a series of videos from the British Library on “How to Make a Medieval Manuscript.” The word “rubric” comes from a red pigment “Rubrica” — an iron oxide red often used to outline letters before they were painted in. “Rubrica” is iron oxide red. It is long-lasting, easy to make, readily available, and inexpensive. Once I knew this, it was obvious, but I never “saw” it before. Rubric. Guidelines.

That’s a perfect example of how we go around thinking we know stuff, but we only know a very little bit of it, the surface of it, what we’ve heard, or what someone else has said.

The featured photo is a painting I did on a friend’s sweatshirt a long time ago. It’s a red tail hawk (bringer of morning) flying over a solstice circle that was once on a flat mountain at Mission Trails Regional Park in San Diego. The hawk is coming from the south, like the winter sun. It was a VERY cool place to stop with my dogs for a drink and a granola bar. The solstice stone was in the exact spot of the Solstice sunrise.

One day I headed up there, and a Boy Scout troop was dismantling the circle. I asked the leader, “What the fuck are you doing?” without the word “fuck.”

“Oh we found this witches’ circle. It goes against the teaching of Jesus, so we’re taking it apart.” I wanted to spit in his stupid face, but I just shook my head and moved on. Anyway, I knew what it was. They failed to move the solstice stone, and when my first three dogs died, I put small mementos of them under the stone, tags and, in Molly’s case, ashes. In this photo, it’s the large pointed stone just above Truffle’s (brown dog) head.

Solstice Party

In 1981 I was in Law Firm Limbo looking at a map of the world on the wall of one of the law partners and dreaming of far away places. In 1982 I was in a “faraway” place — China — dreaming of home (it was Christmas time, after all, and I had the flu). In 1985 I was in San Diego teaching the world. Crazy cascade of events and adventures. I loved teaching international students. It was as if the whole world had come to meet me.

That year I decided to have a holiday party — a solstice party. I invited everyone I knew — students, colleagues, friends. It was a great party. But the highlight was at about 9 pm when a taxi rolled up and one of my students came to my door — Mohammed Ali Assyri. He was dressed in his Toub and said, “Come Mrs. Martha. We are going back to Saudi tonight, but we wanted to say goodbye. Majda is in the car.” He and his family — his wife and two little girls — had been sent over by Saudi Airlines as were many of my students at the time. The Good X and I were especially close to Mohammed and Majda. We had done a lot of things together during their year in San Diego. I was really going to miss them. I knew they couldn’t attend the party, so seeing Mohammed suddenly appear made me happy. We lived in a beautiful 1920s apartment near the San Diego Airport, so it was on their way.

I grabbed a dish of cookies — the ones like my Swedish grandmother made and are made in some variation all over the world — little spherical butter cookies with nuts. The only ingredients are butter, flour, a little sugar. Mine are almond. Some cultures use pecans. Mexican Wedding Cookies have spices. I had nothing to give them for the trip, so I grabbed that dish.

I went down the steps to the street. Majda was sitting on the backseat of the taxi with the smallest little girl asleep on her lap. “This is for you, Mrs. Martha.” She handed me a small, weightless package.”

“These are for you,” I handed her the dish. She took one and bit into it, smiled at me, and said, “Like in my country. We have the same.”

We had a few moments together, and they had to leave. In the present were two beautiful glass Christmas tree ornaments.

Heard it in a Love Song

This morning my radio station is playing songs from 1975. As I made my coffee I tried to remember WHAT I was doing that year. The pieces fell into place. This time that year I was working in a print shop in Boulder, Colorado. I loved the job but I got fired. In 1974 I’d graduated from university. In 1976 I would start graduate school. I was still with the Juvenile X and, inside myself, very, very lost. I wasn’t paying much attention to the music of the time, some but not a lot. It was the background of the car radio as I drove to work, across farms and fields that have probably been turned into McMansions and walking paths in the interval — nearly fifty years.

Life with the Juvenile X was pretty awful. It would be two more years before THAT situation would come to a close, not with a bang (thank God, that was a change) but a whimper. Bad marriages are interminable, even if they only last six years.

As I spooned the coffee into the filter of my Bialetti this morning I thought about that marriage. I met the Juvenile X when we were both in 9th grade — 14 or 15 years old. We went through high school together, had some classes together, didn’t date until after we’d graduated. We’d been friends during that period, and I had the idea that someone I’d known THAT LONG (ha ha) had to be a good boyfriend.

I’ve seen him since, a couple of times. The last time was 2000 I think? He was in San Diego for a conference (he grew up to be a fairly renowned biologist) and wanted to see me. He had so many things to tell me. I was astonished. We had dinner, and he talked about his life and marriage– everything as if I were really his best and oldest friend. We talked about our marriage — or he did. I already knew he was sorry for what he’d done to me. Our two other post-marriage meetings had brought that out of him, but he made a very serious point of telling me again. I looked at him as I listened, and I thought, “It should have worked.”

That’s when I realized that young marriages might need help. We were 19 and 20 when we married. I remember going to talk to my mom about it and she just said, “You go back there and work it out. You married him. You need to be a better wife.” That was, I realized, cruel. A more helpful thing might have been, “You guys love each other. I think you need to talk to someone who can help you.” But counseling? In my mom’s world that would have been admitting inferiority. She didn’t even trust the school guidance counselors.

My mother-in-law was more helpful, at least giving me some understanding. “I wouldn’t have thought M. would be like his dad.” That’s when I learned it was — spousal abuse was — a family problem. It didn’t help me figure out what to do. My biggest help was my brother who saw bruises one afternoon when we went to a lake near Denver to swim. “I’ll kill him.”

The marriage disintegrated (that’s irony) and we went our own ways. The divorce was a universal celebration for me and my friends, but I was permanently damaged.

Over time, these experiences turned out to be teacher training. Plenty of girls came to me over the years with visible signs of problems at home and it wasn’t always the husband or boyfriend. Latinas in particular, some of them, had to fight with their fathers just to go to college (I taught on the US/Mexican border). That was an even sadder situation, IMO. The only solution for them was to move out, but a lot of times they were babysitting younger kids while their moms worked. Money was a problem for them, too.

It happens that the government has good programs for financial aid for students who desperately need it — we don’t hear much about them because the programs work, so they’re not newsworthy. I sometimes took those girls to the financial aid office to talk to — Oh my god — a counselor who could sometimes find a way for the girls to move out of the family home and stay in school, combinations of government aid and work-study.

Sometimes it hits me (again) how incredibly complex our world is. Each individual is a unique culture with its own language and perceptions of life. I never stopped liking the Juvenile X as a person. I still like him. Not long ago he sent me a sad little poem about a towel that had been given to us as a wedding present. He had rolled it up and used it to keep a cold draft out of his office. For him it was a metaphor for the good parts of a marriage that didn’t work but should have.

Featured photo: the day before my marriage to the Juvenile X. I’m in the middle. The girl to my right is my maid of honor, my cousin Lee. The other girl is her sister, Betty. 1972


Little art show coming up at the local museum this week. I have two projects to finish before that — framing the sunflower painting and varnishing the river painting I did early this past summer, a summer that seems like it was more than years ago.

Long Distance Radio — Time and Space Converge

Yeah, I know this photo is out of focus, but I was just learning how to use the camera and how to hold it still. It’s a posed shot of my dad sitting at his desk in the den that he and I built in the basement of our house is Nebraska. It was just finished. The machine behind him is an enormous adding machine and next to that is one of my dad’s favorite possessions; a Trans-Oceanic radio. We used to try to tune in Russia because we thought it would be cool to listen to stuff we couldn’t understand. More often my dad listened to Juarez or Tijuana.

Anyway, my dad’s favorite things to wear (got that prompt again when I opened this) were t-shirts and Bermuda shorts. All seasons. Yep. OK, not usually outside, but…

SO for the Facebook group I joined that posts prompts to draw to, no not like a saloon where “That’s a pair to draw to” has a completely different meaning, but draw like in draw. The prompt was radio. I decided to use a medium I’m not good at or experienced with and that constantly frustrates me, that is, pastels. I bought a tablet of black drawing paper and I used the first piece. The radio itself is full of tiny details, and I knew with the pastels I wasn’t going to get them. Here’s my version. I’ve decided to keep the model in my studio.

Questions and some Answers

I saw these questions on Judy’s blog and thought it might be fun to try it. You can find them on Question Time over Coffee
Have you ever slept on / in a hammock?
No. I’ve BEEN in one but didn’t like it much.
Do you find it easy to maintain friendship with other people?
Yes and no. I have some life-long friends, but very few. More casual friendships based mainly on proximity usually fade pretty quickly. I don’t consider myself good at “friends” because a lot of things I like to do such as writing and painting aren’t done socially. Even walking in nature with my dogs isn’t very social. I’ve found very few people in my whole life who think THAT’S fun.

I also think that as we get older friendship is a different thing. We’re not “out there” as much or in the same way. We don’t need to form alliances or transactional relationships because we’re not working. What’s called being ‘set in our ways’ seems to me to be that we are more self-aware and knowledgeable about the amount of ambulatory time we have remaining, and we might be less likely to be profligate with it. I come from a long-lived family, and I’ve seen it. BUT I would really like to find another woman around my age and ability who wants to go X-country skiing but so far no luck.
Are you a person of ethics? 
I believe in being kind.

If so, how does that impact your daily life?
I think ethics are part and parcel of who we are, so ethics wouldn’t so much impact our daily life as determine it.
Are you decisive or indecisive as a person?
It depends. 😀

What is your process of writing a new post for your blog?
I get up in the morning, make my coffee, feed my dogs, drink my coffee as I write my blog. I write to a prompt every morning and have for 9 years now. It’s fun, it’s built a community and helped me as a writer.
If you were asked to create a Top Fifteen Book List holding books that you felt everyone should read at least once in their life and would never regret reading what titles would you include?

I honestly don’t know what everyone should read. My neighbor loves mysteries and comes over to tell me what she’s reading. I would never read them, but she loves them. My 15 favorite books? I can write to that, but I don’t know. I’ve read so many books I can’t even remember…

Stones of Silence by George Schaller
Candide by Voltaire
Italian Journey by Goethe
Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
Emerson’s essays
Sections of Thoreau’s Walden
No Horizon is So Far and Skiing Into the Bright Open Liv Arneson
Red Chamber Dream by Cao Tsui Chin
Eiger Dreams by Jon Krakauer
Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki

So many books and parts of books — I can’t list them all or narrow them down to 15.

I like my own novels 😍
How important is it for you to know a person’s real name? 
[Be this online, off line, social media or blogging] 
I don’t really care
When at school what were your top five subjects that you were passionate about?
Art, English (literature), Physics — truth be told, I didn’t like school very much

Why was this – what did you love about them?

I love art. It was the only subject I was passionate about. I was good at English. Physics told me something about the external world.

Are those five subjects still present in your life today in any form?

I’m a writer and a painter. And physics is an inescapable aspect of life.
Are you a photogenic person?
Depends who’s taking the picture. My friend Lois takes good pictures of me even though every time I look like one of my maternal aunts. What’s up with that?

Are you eager to appear in family or friend snap
s?
I don’t care. I’ve learned it can mean a lot to the person taking the photo.

Are there many photographs of you from and over the various stages and ages of your life?

No.
With regard to the paranormal do you choose to not believe because there is nothing to believe or because you feel it is safer to not believe?
“There are more things in Heaven and Hell than are dreamt of in all your philosophies.”

Are you a non-believer or a believer?
Yes.
How are you with meeting strangers/new people who might or could become new friends? 
I’m an open, friendly, curious person. I give people second chances and the benefit of the doubt.

Is there a process you adopt to identify if they are the right fit for you?

Generally if we hang out more than twice I think there’s a shot at friendship. If we have common interests then there is definitely a shot. If they can engage in conversation that’s NOT about other people, that’s a good sign. If they have a sense of humor and understand how to converse for amusement, then I’m in. I avoid people who like to show off or are unnecessarily polemical or competitive. I’m a good listener so a lot of people will use me for that. That’s their thing, but it is usually not a two way street.

Featured photo: Selfie after I came back from X-country skiing for a couple of hours. I don’t look happy in the photo, but I was VERY happy — and tired. I was trying to get a photo of my eyes to go with the China book in which there’s a chapter about how my green eyes surprised the people in Guangzhou, where I lived. It’s not a flattering photo, but somehow I like it.