Anger Destroys Things

Bear doesn’t have a temper. If she is challenged, she just calmly and with resolute good humor goes after the challenger. It’s something to see but also something I don’t WANT to see. I’ve had dogs who DID get angry. Not pretty.

As a kid I was told had a “bad” temper, and I was often in trouble for losing it. Of course, as a kid, I couldn’t figure THAT out; how, if I LOST my temper, did I still have it???

I seem, also, to have developed the gift of defusing other peoples’ temper tantrums. I don’t know HOW I got THAT unless it was growing up with two angry people and just standing my ground — always with the knowledge that I didn’t really have to STAY there, but if I left, sooner or later I would have to come back because I lived there.

I’ve been the victim of the rages of others, too, and that’s a dark and horrible thing. It’s bad in and of itself, but then the rager has to figure out a way to back-track from that which can result in the victim being blamed. “You MADE me do that. Why do you make me so angry?” I should offer an online course on how people gaslight…

All this has left some permanent damage. This past Saturday when I was at the store I got to experience some of that. I’ve alluded to the Evil X here several times. Well…

Last week, when I was at the store, my groceries were brought out by a tall, gray haired, blue-eyed, good-looking white guy with a nice smile. I immediately found myself in “fight or flight” mode. He was too much like the Evil X in appearance. “OK, I thought, that can’t happen twice.” But it did. This past Saturday the store texted me to let me know they were running about an hour late. I went at the NEW appointed time. I was sitting in my car, waiting and this man knocked on my window. I thought he had my groceries, but no. He just recognized me from last time.

“Hi there!” he wanted to chat. I told him that they were late with the groceries. Of course, I thought he KNEW, and that’s why he was there, but no; he was rounding up shopping carts, not bringing out groceries.

“I’ll run in and see if yours is ready.” He did and came back with my order. “Is it everything?”

“Well, no gruyere, but we knew that.” I laughed. I just wanted out of there so bad.

“I’ll go see if there’s any in the store.”

“No, no it’s OK. Thank you!”

This man did a nice thing for me and I was terrified. I felt icky and weird and couldn’t wait to get home to my dogs and the Big Empty.

Our anger leaves scars on other people. I think it’s important (lesson learned) to feel our anger, to figure out where it’s coming from, and whether or not we can do anything ABOUT the source of our anger. I have friends who will provoke a fight because they need emotional catharsis. I get that and usually I just call them on it. I no longer anger easily as (I guess) I did as a child. What’s the point? It doesn’t usually fix anything and it’s a lousy way to communicate anything but itself.

And that poor white guy at the store? Well, his existence might be the straw that broke my resolution to pick up my groceries rather than go inside the store. Is he a good guy or a bad guy? I have no idea, and I don’t think I need to find out. I’m just a little sad that past experiences prevent me from appreciating an act of kindness.

“What turns a person gay?”

That got your attention…

My friend is disturbed because her daughter-in-law refers to her son (my friend’s grandson) as “beautiful.” My friend is clearly worried that somehow an adjective like that will confuse the kid about his sexuality, maybe turn him gay. As I listened, I chose not to answer. She didn’t say that straight out, but it was what she was thinking. I steered the conversation elsewhere because…

I don’t enter the discussion about the pronouns, either, or the discussion about the difference between sex and gender. Not interested in those things. They’re — to me — as superficial as the “person” vs. “woman” thing from the 70s and 80s. This is really about the private natures of individual people, in my opinion. 

I went to an all woman’s college. What’s sometimes said about all women colleges was true; a lot of my schoolmates were lesbians. I’m not. Why not? I’m not just not and THAT folks is the bottom line of this whole discussion. Calling a boy “beautiful” won’t change him. Sleeping on the breast of the most beautiful girl (a ballerina!) in my college on the long drive back to Denver from Omaha after an art trip didn’t turn me lesbian — if anything would, it would be that, Marbie Ingles was wow, a Botticelli Venus, intelligent, talented — and a lesbian. When I woke up somewhere around McCook, Nebraska, she was gently stroking my hair. I just felt complimented. Then there was another attempt on the part of talented pianist at my school, but no. Then there was the time I was caught sleeping in the same bed as another girl, but that was because her roommate locked her out of their room not because we were lesbians. We were friends, so she came to my room. Still rumors abounded. Do I have a problem with this? None. Love isn’t easy to find and finding it? Luck? Maybe, but definitely a tremendous gift. 

My mostly gay but somewhat bisexual boyfriend, Peter, said it best. “I’m gay, but I hope that’s not ALL I am.” I was a huge confusion in his life — and he in mine. But I cherish every memory of our time together. It was great, intense, inscrutable, interesting — an adventure; he was brilliant, well-traveled, had graduated with highest honors from Harvard after winning a scholarship that had once been awarded to Thoreau. He was beautiful (yes) to look at, fascinating to talk to, irreverently witty, and we were eminently compatible.

From Peter I understood even more deeply that no one “turns” anyone anything. “Would I choose this?” he said one evening, tears streaming down his face during the time he was trying to figure out if he COULD marry me, “and be shut out of every normal human thing? The most basic human thing? A family and a home?” The first serious writing I did was about our time together. He read it and liked it. His words — in a letter — are in a frame in my studio along with other words that are precious to me. Among his words are, “I like it. It has energy. Keep writing!” He was one of my life’s great loves.

As for whether a gay guy can be attracted to a woman? Yes. Some yes, others no. There is no “one size fits all.” I believe that, fundamentally, we love a PERSON.

From these and other experiences I realized that human sexuality may be indefinable. I doubt that the range of possible human desires can even be charted. 

And… I didn’t even mention to my friend that many other languages don’t have two words for male and female beauty. In Italian a handsome man is a “bell’uomo” a beautiful man. Sometimes silence is the better part of valor. 

So, the president signed legislation that, if we were better, kinder, more imaginative and compassionate people, would never need to be codified. 

I posted this, and deleted it. A reader sent it to me because he gets my posts in his email. I’m grateful to him and resolve to be braver.


This morning WP is asking me what one thing I would change about myself (WP, if you’re listening, I really HATE seeing those questions when I open a new page. “Yeah but you’re responding to them!””Shut up, WP.”). That’s kind of an interesting question, and, in its way, jibes with what’s on my mind this morning. I wonder if any of us is exactly who or how we would like to be. I’m not, but when I look at the broken bits or the less than ideal bits and the parts that are OK and the few parts that are WOW! it all seems to make a kind of harmonious whole in the midst of the constant flux that is life.

In China I taught an American lit survey class to fourth year students, students on the cusp of graduating and becoming, themselves, English teachers. One of the poems I taught was Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life” which he wrote when he was 19. In the pronunciation of Guangzhou, Longfellow became Rongferrow. I loved that so much. I heard, “Wrongferrow,” as my students talked about him and read “Rongferrow” sometimes and “Longfellow” most of the time in their essays.

The underlying concept in the poem is that our lives are something we “make.” I explained this by drawing pictures on the board and comparing the idea with a statue that we spend our lives carving, all this based on the lines,

“Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime
And departing leave behind us
Footprints in the sands of time.”

The idea I wanted to communicate to them is that — in Wrongferrow’s view — we make our lives into something comparable to a beautiful statue, an inspiring creation. We do that. Life isn’t random; we have something to say about it, if only in our attitude toward it. I did this by drawing a big, solid rectangle on the board with chalk and taking bits out until it was a person. They loved it.

In China at the time no one had much to say about what happened with their lives. It was right after the Cultural Revolution and my students weren’t there because it was their burning dream to become middle school English teachers; the government had put them there. I NOW think that none of us has complete freedom in the determination of our destiny; we DO have something to say about WHO we are approaching our destiny.

But POETRY, the beauty of that poem — they felt it. Add the fact that someone their age had written it! Those students loved it. Teaching poetry to Chinese students was one of the most wonderful things in my teaching life. They had been tuned into poetry all their lives. There was no need to persuade them that it was worth their time to struggle through the language, metaphors, similes, etc.

I have been thinking about the effect we have on each other. Yesterday Elizabeth came over to buy Christmas cards. I don’t have many any more because I can’t afford to have them printed, I haven’t completely solved the printing at home problem, and I haven’t had time to work on it. Later on I realized it wasn’t about Christmas cards. It was about socks. She came over armed with two $20. The price of two pair of socks at the boutique where I bought two pair of the socks she knits (and are the best for walking the dogs and dressing up and and and OK just generally the best). We’re neighbors, but friends, and kind of family. She didn’t want me to buy them, but the Holiday Boutique is a craft fair. We don’t carve these stones alone.

I woke up this morning with the idea that maybe life is going to push us in this stone carving business to, after a long process of carving and overcoming, to the point where we are faced with the THING, the monster in the closet, the bit of stone that has resisted everything, the bit we don’t even want to LOOK at let alone start carving. And I’m there. I can see it and I find myself marshaling all the tools I’ve acquired in the meantime that I didn’t know I had. I might succeed in finishing this thing the way I want to, but it’s a little scary.

And then, there’s Goethe, whose work Rongferrow translated. But this, “Have the courage to be what nature intended you to be.” Thanks for listening to my yammering. 😀

Wrestling with Precious Papers, and Time…

Just shredded all the letters but one from my life’s first great love. They go back all the way to 1971 and stopped sometime in the 80’s. There were some emails in the early 2000s. I last saw him in 2004 at the airport in Atlanta. It was a wonderful meeting wherein we said what we needed to say to each other.

At first I wasn’t sure what to do with this manila envelope filled with airmail letters from Europe, Asia and Africa covering all those years. I found a way to contact him to see if he wanted them, then I thought, “You’re REALLY going to email this guy out of nowhere and ask him if he wants those letters?” I imagined doing that, letting it play out in my mind in all the ways it could and decided, “No. Do both of you a favor. Go shred them.” I saved one he wrote when the Good-X and I were in China. It is a reply to the first letter I sent him from China and it’s wonderful.

I shredded letters from me to my mom and my mom to me when I was at Colorado Woman’s College in 1970, but I saved the note she sent to my high school asking them to let me go early so I could help put my dad in an ambulance to take him to Penrose Hospital for cortisone treatments for his MS. It brought up a vivid, vivid image of coming home that afternoon to find an ambulance in the driveway with the doors open and the light flashing on top. Why? It wasn’t an emergency. I don’t remember how I helped. The paramedics did the work. I think it was moral support. My mom and I rode in the ambulance to the hospital with my dad. The ACTH therapy helped him and when he came home his life was less of a struggle for a little while.

There were a couple of letters from my mission trip in 1968 to Crow Agency where my mom taught in the 1940s. 16 year old girls are pretty silly 😉 I was thinking of that trip the other day as I was scraping flaked paint off my deck. I imagined someone asking, “Where did you learn to do that?”

I’d say, “On a church mission trip to the Baptist Mission at Crow Agency, Montana.”

The trip was absolutely magical BECAUSE of my mom’s connection and because I went there with that connection. I looked for the people she had known and met some of them. Our group got to attend a Crow funeral service (Crow + Catholic) at the St. Xavier Mission at sunset one June evening — and a June sunset after a thunderstorm in south central Montana is incredible, golden and slanty with a rainbow — all beyond words. The service was all in Crow.

My mom spoke Crow adequately, and when I was a kid she used Crow words to (secretly) get my brother and me in line when there were other people around. Two of the first words I learned in any language were “Stop that” and “Come here” in Crow. I learned more words when at Crow on the mission trip, and I haven’t forgotten all of them.

The whole thing was a strange journey for me first, because I’d been at Crow often. My aunt and uncle had run the general store there for many years. And then, we weren’t there to learn about the Crow or “fraternize.” We were there to live our very white segregated lives and paint the church. That made no sense to me.

I got in trouble on that trip because I took off with an Indian kid (really a kid about 10) on horseback. We rode along the Little Bighorn River. When I got back from that ride, I was in terrible trouble. Because of me the planned trip to Yellowstone Park on the way back to Colorado Springs was scrapped. Peculiar thing to punish everyone for the actions of ONE person, but there it was.

We live so many lives in our lifetimes. Anyway, that plastic bin the size of a boot-box was the hardest one to deal with — to my knowledge. There may be other booby traps as I continue this shredding operation, but none like that. As I shredded, it occurred to me that the papers and souvenirs aren’t my life, anyway. They are just a kind of reassurance that all that really happened and that all those beloved people were real. I feel a little melancholy, but I know in a day or two I’ll just feel lighter.

Show Hanging Update

You never know what’s going to happen in the San Luis Valley (or anywhere else). The year I moved here, I joined an art coop. This led to the fierce enmity of a local artist. She verbally attacked me twice in public and then scraped some of my painting off the window of the coop. She wasn’t even a member. She just didn’t want anyone but her painting windows. That is her claim to fame here in the San Luis Valley.

It was a nightmare for me because I hadn’t done anything to her and it kept happening.


I arrived at the museum just as she had finished putting up her work and had gotten into her car. I got out of Bella. The woman turned off the engine and got out of her car. “Can I help you haul stuff in?”

“Sure,” I said. I needed help. She’s also tall and I’m so short that it’s a little tricky for me to wrestle the boxes that hold each of my paintings up the stairs. Seriously. Between us we got everything inside. Then she said, “I’d stay to help you but you might be like me. You might want to do the hanging yourself so you can really think about it. I like to really think about where I put my paintings.” She had four, one of which took my breath away and I told her so. “I don’t even like people around me when I’m painting,” she said. “It’s kind of meditation for me.”

“Me too, ” I agreed. “Drawing is really meditation.”

“I love to paint,” she went on, “get into the zone and let the whole thing happen.” We talked about about our painting processes.

“You know, when I retired I only wanted two things,” I told her. “I wanted to do whatever I wanted, and I wanted to be nice to people…” I was going to say, “no more arguing with students over grades, just being myself.” She interrupted me and said,

“I guess I made that hard for you.”

Oh my god, I thought, she’s still thinking about that. We’ve been in the same place at the same time a lot since those days seven years ago!

“It’s OK,” I told her.

“I was really not OK back then. I was really messed up. I’m just so sorry.”

“It’s OK,” said again. “I’ve been really messed up, too. I get it.” I spread my arms for a hug and she fell into them. I could feel her relief.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, again. Then she got in her car and drove away.

Inside I looked around at “my” space. I have a whole large room just for my paintings. I got my work up and set up a little table for cards and tree ornaments. I forgot to take a photo of the show once I got it hung. I guess that will give me something to write about after the opening on Saturday. I had all the help I needed, too. ❤️🎨

Here’s how it started, though…

Where is “The One” When You Need Him?

Back in the olden days people had a lot of colorful phrases, such as “Whatever blows your hair back,” “Don’t rock the boat,” and “Paddle your own canoe.” I don’t hear things like very often any more. When I was a kid, they didn’t always make sense to me. The optimistic point there is that maybe I would understand them now? No guarantee. I feel more every day that it’s difficult to understand anything.

I’m about to go hang my show. I don’t even want to. The odds of actually selling a painting are close to zero. With my shoulder it’s going to be pretty difficult to manage. Sometimes I wish I had found “the one” who would, for the purposes of today, be tall, strong and cheerful with nothing else to do but hang my paintings on the wall in the Rio Grande County Museum. In fact, he’d be excited about it.

“The One” always emerges when I need something like that. He’s kind of more function than human which, I realize, is terrible, but there we are. Maybe that’s the point of a human life partnership. One person’s good at this and the other one is good at THAT. In real life I’d probably still be hanging my show by myself, which is one reason there is no “the one” here at Casa di Marta.

“I can’t help you on Tuesday! I told you.”

“I never mentioned this before. I just found out.”

“You told me about it a week ago.”

“Yeah, I told you about the show, I didn’t ask you to help me hang my paintings.”

“It was implied. You wanted me to volunteer.”

“I didn’t know then WHEN I would hang my paintings? How could I ‘imply’ anything?”

Then they criticize a person (me) for being “too” independent.

Negotiation is soul-sucking. BUT I just figure it went like this because I never married “the ONE.” The ONE would have helped me. 🙂

OH well. That’s the way the cookie crumbles…

BUT once upon a time, a friend, Wes Kennedy, did show up pretty much out of nowhere to help me hang my show. 1981. Wes had been very angry at me for having gotten a show AT ALL. He was also an artist, and he worked for a year tromping the streets of Denver trying to get a gallery show with no luck. I didn’t look for a gallery show. I was happy with a coffee house (that would be the salient point here). When I got a show at the first place I tried, I thought Wes would never speak to me again. “I work YEARS to get a show and you go out ONE DAY and what happens?” He stormed out of my apartment.

BUT he knew when the show was and he knew I drove a VW bug and that my paintings — all on paper, covered with glass — well, it wasn’t going to be easy.

He pulled up in front of my apartment at 6:30 am the day of the hanging — and opening — in his Volvo Station Wagon.

“I’m sorry. I’m an asshole. I’ll hang your show. I don’t think you can even do it.”

Wes hanging my show at Cafe Nepenthes

I have been watching a French crime series, Alex Hugo, in English it’s called Mountain Detective. Sadly, there’s only ONE season and I finished it. I loved it, most of all because the protagonist was eminently relatable. He’s a guy who lives in the mountains. He hikes, climbs, draws and lives by himself. One of the “bad guys” (who’s not all that bad) says, “No wife? No children?”

“No,” says Alex. “I’m free.”

They are sitting in one of the most beautiful mountain valleys I’ve ever seen.

… and I think, “How is that not enough for everyone?” Well, obviously because sometimes you have to hang paintings and you have a bad shoulder. Or two. OH well. Suck it up, sweet cheeks. You have to take the bitter with the sweet (huh?).

Flowers Never Bend

“There is no ‘I’ in team!” Was that the 80s? I think so. I remember one of my more obnoxious colleagues at the international school blasting this from his ego-driven position of assistant director. The thing is, it bothered him that he was the assistant director. Wasn’t he a MAN? BOTH directors were — gasp — female.

I sat in that meeting mumbling to myself in my mind, “No but there’s ‘meat’ in team. And ‘eat’ and ‘ate’ and ‘mate’ and ‘tea’ and ‘mat’ and ‘tam’. ‘Team’ is full of words.”

The meetings were boring and pointless. I think I got through them by playing Tetris on notebook paper. Seriously. Don’t ask me how I did that, but I did. Then I’d be cut loose and I’d hurry home and I’d get Truffle, Molly and Kelly and head for the hills and begin the process of expunging or exhaling the accumulated human noise in the comparative silence of the hard chaparral hills of Mission Trails Regional Park.

A friend recently sent me a poem that very beautifully and sadly defines our mutual experience. It’s a poem about transience and how we cannot properly know until the moment has long past and the illusion of its return or future has vanished. Still, the experience has changed us and is permanently an aspect of our identity.

It’s difficult to fully understand all that might be wrapped up in a moment. Among other things there is potential. Potential is lovely. There is a kind of rapture in “tomorrow.”

The other side of this? Perhaps the important thing is not fulfilling the potential of something, but the awareness that something has transformed us. Whether or not we understood it, it happened and it was precious, amazing.

Parental Advice

I don’t know how many girls get relationship advice from their dad more than from their mom, but I did. My dad had only ONE piece of advice and it found many ways to give it — little talks when we were in the car together, pop songs, at the supermarket, probably more. His words of advice were, “With men, MAK, follow the Monroe Doctrine.”


“Well the Monroe Doctrine, honey, established the policy that the United States would not enter into binding contracts with foreign powers. It would form ‘no entangling alliances’.”

“What’s an ‘entangling’ alliances?”

“It’s an alliance that you can’t get out of. Remember, MAK. No entangling alliances.”

My mom, on the other hand, when she DID give advice, just said, “Your dad doesn’t understand that women are different.”

I think he’d figured that out, wink wink.

Then this song came out and my dad bought me the 45.

“I hope all your students are deep and funny.”

If you’re read my blog for a while you know there are twenty-something large books in my “studio” — journal/scrapbook things that I don’t want to keep but can’t throw out. They take up a LOT of space, and I don’t “use” them at all. (How would anyone “use” them?) A few of them are spread out on my work table now. If you open one and start reading, well, for the most part, they’re just awful.

I went at 1988-89 (Volume I of that year, seriously) yesterday with scissors and an x-acto knife. I cut out sheafs of pages, laughing, thinking that even if I don’t do anything more with it, and never manage to throw the books out, at least I’ll leave behind the “expurgated” version of “The Examined Life.”

For many years I wrote my personal thoughts and struggles in these books. I suppose it’s a pretty common human thingamajig to struggle over and over with the same aspects of personality or the walls that spring up in life, the stuff you can’t get over, around or through. For me, apparently, it was “luv’,” specifically a marriage that wasn’t working and my desire to have a romantic companion. I don’t know why that didn’t seem to me at the time a good reason to sit down and talk with my ex about our “non” relationship. Maybe I did and it just didn’t make it into “The Examined Life.”

There are greeting cards, photographs, funny things students said (like the title of this post) circular meditations on the meaning of life (didn’t find the answer, so circular). On the other hand, some of it is accurately self-revelatory. I did not purge the book of those bits of elaborate cursive.

Those are not trivial problems but, good god, are they boring to read about.

Mixed in with all that verbiage (rhymes with “garbage”) are some good insights, descriptions of moments which I could not have known at the time were major life moments, like seeing my first rattlesnake, watching the swirling gyre of seagulls rising from the ocean, being looked in the eye by a red tail hawk, the beginning of my hiking life in the chaparral, the beginning of my life with dogs and my first dog, Truffle who was then a puppy, getting my second dog, Molly. I could not know in the midst of 1988-89 how important these things were and how unimportant the other stuff was.

I think, though, this whole thing could be compiled into ONE that I really CAN use, another volume called, “How it All Turned Out here in Heaven” or something. Maybe just denouement. “Getting found almost always means being lost for a while.” Annie Lamont

But it struck me this morning how weird it all is. Here we are, more-or-less consigned to our domiciles, as if this were a second winter without the glorious compensation of snow, relegated to tasks our usual “busyness” would have made it easy for us to avoid.


In other news: if your blender breaks and you want a smoothie, the best tool? The lowly dinner fork.

Solitude or Loneliness?

The idea of “introvert acceptance” was floating around a few years ago. Articles were written about it, explaining it to extroverts and hoping, I think, to find better understanding from society in general. Science (through personality testing which is NOT the same as a horoscope or a Mewkid ‘test’ on Facebook) has determined that Introverts make up only 35% of the population. It’s difficult to know how accurate that is because a lot of introverts might have been in the basement setting up a model train and didn’t know any of that was going on.

I found the idea of “introvert acceptance” paradoxical. Does it mean we’ll be invited to parties? Because we won’t go… I wrote at length about introversion on this blog post, Introverts R Us.

Since the virus (new era, BV and AV. We’re in DV) there have been a lot of memes about introverts (see below) but it really is a situation in which a person like me is unlikely to feel “lonely.”

Loneliness. I HAVE felt it. It’s pretty rare, though. I was a kid in my room (with the door closed!) reading a book — probably I was 14 — and I read something that set me to pondering the difference between solitude and loneliness. I can remember the MOMENT, the carpet, my hair, a book on the floor, stuff like that, but I can’t remember the BOOK. Anyway, I went to talk to my dad about it, and the upshot was that solitude is comforting and loneliness is miserable. I found I can get lonely for someone in particular or a place; for me it involves yearning.

I know a lot of people feel loneliness DV. I am sorry for you. It has to be miserable. Just know the people are still around and 65% of them are feeling just like you are. This confinement probably wears you out, leaving you feeling directionless, low energy and depressed like introverts at a large party.

But, if you’re having a hard time with this, here are some ideas… (The “links” aren’t real. This is a photo of an email I got this morning from my Internet service provider). I would add exercise to this list.

Here’s an OOOOLLLLDDDD song…