Diurnal Crapshoot

“What are you talking about, Martha?”

“Life, Teddy. Life. What a bizarre crapshoot it is after all. I feel a little disoriented.”

“Huh? Uh-oh. I’m sensing another reflective philosophical blog post coming on. I think I’ll go out with Bear and bark at the neighbor dogs.”

“OK, Teddy. Are you done with my coffee cup? It’s your turn for a w-a-l-k today.”

“What??”

“Never mind. See you later, little guy.”

I was thinking that life is like conglomerate — a big wad of events held together by a more recent geological interval. I choose the local product — Crestone Conglomerate. You have random amazing moments interspersed with all kinds of other stuff, and the random, amazing moments don’t happen twice. I was thinking of that last night when I looked at my FB memories and saw that nine years ago yesterday I woke up, opened my front door, and found a horse essentially in my front yard, and I got to keep it. How often does that happen? Once. It can only happen once.

I look at that rock as a life.

The big mass of it, holding it all together, is time, a life time. And the pretty bits (and maybe ugly bits) all the random stuff that happened to be there in time. I was thinking of attempting to list all of the really incredible moments that make up the rock that is me, but I don’t even know what they all are — just like in the featured photo, we see only one face of the boulder.

I did think, though, that many of the MAJOR MOMENTS we prepare for in our lives turn out to be minor blips or pieces that end up breaking off. I thought of that when I went out to get my mail and saw my neighbor’s Christmas wreath still hanging on their gate. “Wow! Christmas!” fades pretty quickly into a green bit of plastic foliage with a red plastic ribbon. Christmas was no major moment, however much they (newly married) prepared for their “first Christmas together.” What are the major moments? I think they’re often completely unexpected a lot of the time.

I used to tell my students who would insist that their birth was one of the big moments of their lives that it wasn’t; it was big in their PARENT’S lives. They rejected that because, because, because why? Because all their lives someone had celebrated their birthdays. The birthday parties might have been events, but their birth was not. In a way, they weren’t even there for it.

So, my moments, a few. Some are naturally bigger than others — like going to China to teach. That might be the biggest moment. But smaller moments are the main glue in this conglomerate. My 25th birthday, riding in the backseat of my own car with a glass of champagne heading to a disco that turned out to be a lot more (and weirder) than a disco. Getting my MA and having, as I crossed the stage to get the folder, friends who served on the university senate step forward to hug me, then hearing my Aunt Jo and Uncle Hank way in the back yell, “yeee-HAW!” in good Montana style. My grandmother telling me she’s glad I’m not snooty like my cousin who also has a masters degree.My mom in her hospital bed mistaking me for my Aunt Martha and, in the liminal world she inhabited, talking to “me” as if my grandma were still alive, and she and my aunt were young “Are you going down to Mother’s?” she asked me. My brother and me on top of a mountain outside Manitou Springs, eating oranges and singing. Walking in the Swiss forest with Pietro and Daisy (golden retriever) communicating in our own bizarre language on a December morning. Langlauf at Devils Thumb Ranch with a friend, and falling forward in deep snow, arms buried up to my shoulders, poles parallel to my arms; friend skis past, sees me, laughs, loses focus, falls across the trail. My Aunt Dickie writing me, “I’m so proud of your writing.” Running with my friend Kris on a short, narrow bit of the Pacific Crest Trail in the old snow, trying to get back to the car before the trail iced over and then seeing the brilliant red sunset over the Pacific Ocean, 50 miles away. Seeing La Ultima Cena and realizing I really had never seen it before however thousands of times reproductions of it had passed before my eyes, seeing that it’s a force of nature — or something. Reading Italian Journey. Walking into my classroom and seeing my students stand up on their chairs and say, “O Captain! My Captain!” Running on a slick-rock trail in Arches with a friend as dusk turned to dark. Watching hawks hover in the wind as they hunt. And last week, a birthday party with cheesecake and socks. Some of it’s just weird, like my recent experience interviewing a friend for an article and then having him die only a month or so later. I still shudder thinking of that. That’s the crapshoot aspect, I guess.

These things don’t “change” your life. They make it.

Happy the man, and happy he alone
He who can call today his own:
He who, secure within, can say,
Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today. John Dryden

More Quotedium Musing…

After a night of pretty much no sleep (why?) here I am again with the coffee, the dogs, the rawhide pencils and the word for today is recharge. Boy, that hit a chord, but I have no idea how to effect that — though I could definitely use it. (Another gulp of coffee.)

A few days ago I woke up and realized that the long covid had finally gone. It was a very strange feeling. Little by little over the past six months — that monster has finally completely wandered off.

But now what? I feel a little disoriented, awakening in a different world.

I started cleaning out/up the studio. Not with anything particular in mind. I have no inspiration and the paints are very very very cold, sort of like cold butter or margarine. My studio isn’t heated and it really is as cold as a refrigerator in there. I have a glimmer of a painting in the back of my mind and I think it will probably happen. It will be a landscape, of course. I sense it will have a backstory, though. It won’t be “just” a landscape. I think it’s going to be a picture of my life from last July to, well, more or less, now.

I keep wondering why I paint at all since everything just ends up packed carefully in boxes in the garage, but whatever. I like to paint. I could either work harder to find a gallery or accept that I’m painting things to box up and put in the garage. To be fair, though, a couple are wrapped carefully and kept in the spare bedroom.:-) My house is small; the walls are old-school lath and plaster. Hanging something is complicated AND the walls a pretty full anyway. One of the paintings needs a frame. That will happen when I’m paid for reading the books sometime this spring.

ChatGPT would say (of itself) that it’s designed to do what it does, so it does it. I guess I can look at painting the same way. It’s what I do; maybe I was designed to paint. 😀

Yesterday my neighbors and I met at E’s house for a tea party that turned out to be a birthday party for me. E made cheesecake for the event and gave me a pair of beautiful handmade wool socks. I haven’t really hung out with anyone for the past several weeks other than interviewing people. I’ve been reading books and writing an article oh yeah and getting sucked into ChatGPT. For various other reasons, the three of us haven’t been able to get together since before Christmas.

So… here’s hoping we all get the recharge we need so we can…

Happiness Might Actually BE a Warm Puppy

Yesterday one of my friends posted this on Facebook.

My friend is a great person, talented and brave. She faces the obstacles of her life with grace. She has a sense of humor and passion for right over wrong. She continually attempts new and difficult things. I like her a LOT. One of the things she’s best at is friendship. I noticed that early on because I’m NOT good at it. And, as Vonnegut has written, she’s interesting.

I’ve thought a lot in the past few years (because I’m older) about what my life has actually amounted to. I think that might be a thing we humans do. I have no idea if that’s a cultural thing or not, but whatever. It doesn’t matter. I’m in this culture and I have done it.

There are limits to us. Time limits. Financial limits. Aptitude limits. And the limit of having “no idea what’s going on” which, in my case, is persistent. (ha ha). But I think, at this point the biggest limit is something I didn’t even used to believe in — luck. Luck started to emerge in my frame of reference when I was in grad school, working on my thesis with my thesis advisor, and talking about Horatio Alger’s heroes. “The thing is, Martha,” said Dr. Richardson, “you’ve got it all going for you. You just need some luck.”

Huh? Wait a minute, isn’t this America where we can realize our dreams if we work hard enough? He went on as if I’d actually SAID that. “Those Alger heroes ALWAYS meet someone who can help them materially. That’s luck. The other thing is those Alger heroes don’t aim very high. They just want to improve their lives.”

I thought about happiness over the years, too. It’s not something OUT there. It’s what I do with what I have where I am. I guess I figured THAT out several times over the years and forgot it, but it seems, finally to have sunk in (maybe). I made peace with that “goal” by assessing my life and thinking of the things that make me happy — walking with my dogs makes me happy. Painting and writing make me happy. The profession I held for a long time made me (mostly) happy. I came around to the idea that it is in the things I DO that I find happiness. Because of the nature of those things that make me happy, I’m not great at friendship. Every time I read an article that says friendships and social connections are good for us I think, “We’re not all the same.” That’s not to say I don’t value my friendships and social connections — I do, very much, but…

Nothing is free. One of the happiest times of my life was when I was writing Martin of Gfenn. The evening I finished my first complete draft, I found myself in a dark, empty house I got THAT. “Where is everybody?” I’d been living with all those interesting people for a few months, and suddenly I was in a lonely, dark, and rather chilly house. I’d done something I couldn’t even talk to anyone about, really, without sounding like — at best — an obsessed freak at worst an arrogant asshole. Writing is NOT social. In the process I’d gone places the people around me were not going. It was a great experience and, at the same time, profoundly alienating.

The other aspect of luck — Goethe. Goethe wrote a lot of stuff before he became famous, stuff that interested NO ONE. He was crap as a law student. He fell in one hopeless love situation after another. The guy was going NO WHERE. Then, as he was involved in and attempting to recover from yet another hopeless love, one of his schoolmates killed himself. This led Goethe — as catharsis? to write Sorrows of Young Werther. Nothing like it had ever been written before. I’m not sure he even imagined publishing it. BUT it hit the world at exactly the right time and changed Goethe’s life. Suddenly, he was famous and that fame trailed him everywhere he went. The book caused a rash of suicides by lovesick young men in imitation of Werther. Terrible. Goethe had to live with this all his life. So — he got the fame he wanted as a writer and with it?

What if all we ever did was aspire to do the best we can with the hand we’ve been dealt by fate? I don’t consider fate to be the same as destiny. Destiny is out there somewhere; fate is closer to home. It’s the family into which we’re born, the gender we’re born with, the era into which we’re born, the culture — all the so-called external realities of our lives. Add to that whatever mental and emotional equipment we happen to have. I truly believe I was BORN wanting a dog. Similarly, I started writing stories before I knew how to read. I always drew pictures.

So what’s a successful life? It’s difficult in our society which remains absurdly competitive. No one would feel like a failure if — having done the best they could with what they have — there weren’t some kind of external conditioning about success. I hate that competitiveness. It makes it impossible for us to take others as they come or not to be resentful of someone who’s achieved something we think we should have achieved. We judge others and believe they’re judging us. What if we weren’t judging others? What if we’re NOT? I don’t know.

I once knew a Turkish guy — a junkie, as it happened, who was a very famous (in Turkey) photo-journalist. He’d gotten into heroin while he was photographing the Turk’s war against the Kurds. He told me a lot about the horrible things he’d seen, and I saw some of his photos. Good god, and was the world interested? I don’t remember that it was. He wasn’t a “good person,” by any means. In fact, as much as I liked him, I’d say he was a bad guy — conscienceless and driven by his addiction, but he was very very interesting and the moment we met we felt kind of an electric connection. During our conversation he said, “No one knows another’s pain.” Obviously that has stuck with me. I only saw Oktay once though we had many later phone conversations. Encounters like that are, I think, sometimes thrown in front of us to give us information we sorely need. Since no one DOES know another’s pain, who the fuck are we to judge anyone, even ourselves?

At this point I believe that the purpose of our individual lives is to enjoy the life we have. “Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?” Ecclesiates 3:22


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Rock

Bear, Teddy and I were out yesterday for a while. No snow to speak of except on the mountains which are sitting around the edges of the San Luis Valley like a come-on from a tourist brochure. Starlings in one red willow bush. Tracks the dogs could “see” but I could not. I gave Teddy my birthday because he was six months old when I got him one June day 4 years ago, so we were celebrating.

As they walked, sniffed and pulled their leashes to get to the next scent, I had the thought that if we didn’t “measure” time we wouldn’t “know” things like that. Funny how we make up stuff and then “know” it as if it were a discovery — that said, the movement of the earth around the sun is regular enough to say “clock” to any human. It’s a system that pre-exists any human “knowledge” and we are obliged to follow it if only because it’s really dark at night.

I’ve sat in on a lot of arguments/disputes/discussions about whether time exists. They tend to get extremely abstract and most of them end in “Oh my god, it’s late. I have to get home.” Some of these disputes started with the idea of a “time line.” “It’s not a line,” was often the opening…So there’s that. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a side in these discussions because 1) I don’t know, 2) I wear a watch. Right there is a conundrum. There’s the argument that there is no “time,” there is only duration. There’s the argument that since all time exists in the universe simultaneously (we can see the beginning of the universe if we look far enough into space) there is no time. I tend to think the problem is the word, “time,” there being a difference between the “space time continuum” and “what time is it?”

At this point in my life, even when I look at the solid form of Mt. Blanca I KNOW it was once a much bigger mountain in located near the equator. Interesting paper on the history of the Sangre de Cristo mountains here.

The Ancestral Rockies

The first Rocky Mountains, called the “Ancestral Rockies,” began to rise about 320 million years ago during Penn- sylvanian time. Like the present Rocky Mountains, deep fault-bounded basins separated individual ranges of the Ancestral Rockies but, unlike the present Rockies, these basins were filled with shallow seas. Geologists continue to speculate about how the Ancestral Rockies formed, whether by compression and thrusting of the crust or by strike-slip faulting, or some combination of these, perhaps when two large ancient continents, Laurentia (North America and Europe combined) and Gondwana (South America and Africa combined) collided. However they formed, the Ancestral Rockies were largely worn down by erosion by the end of Permian time, about 250 million years ago. 

Think about that…a whole mountain range gone. Not exactly “poof!” but still gone… And before that? A whole lot of stuff no one really knows much about. The paper says, “The first 30 billion years are largely unknown…”

Yesterday my cousin, Tom, called me. Tom and I were good friends in our childhood and teenage years. We’re the same age, well, he’s one month younger. But time (ha ha) marches on and people grow up, get married, move on and on and on and on and things happen to them. Last time I talked to Tom was in 2008. The first thing he said was, “Are you really 71 years old?” I cracked up.

“You’re not far behind, sonny.”

RDP Sunday: follow




Very Strange Experience…

Without going into details, I have a VCR in my house at the moment. I took advantage of the opportunity to get one of the tapes of the much loved and never finished film, “Boys on Bikes.” When one of the boys killed himself, I lost heart and gave most of the tapes to the various boys’ mothers who had never seen the amazing things their kids were doing — amazing and dangerous. The kid who died shot himself. It wasn’t the bike. Still, that was my greatest fear; that one of them would break his neck. These were vulnerable kids and that boy was especially so…

I shoved the old VHS tape into the VCR and there I was and there was an old boyfriend — a really GREAT boyfriend, as it happened with whom I had a lot of fun during and after our relationship. We remained good friends and had fun riding mountain bikes and hanging around together after the thrill was gone. Our friendship and fun is obvious in the film. What struck me, however, was me.

In the film I’m in my late 30s. I’m wearing black jeans, a pair of VERY heavy hiking boots that I was glad to get rid of at some point, and a white T-shirt; not a woman’s t-shirt, a man’s t-shirt. I was also sporting a straw c’boy hat. I had glasses that had wires you could wrap around your ears so they wouldn’t fall off. I liked them. I wasn’t skinny, but not exactly fat but leaning somewhat in that direction. The boy friend was easily 15 inches taller than I which made his film of me a little strange.

The conceit was that Mike was out there looking for birds and found me lying in the dirt holding up a video camera. The first shot of me is lying in the dirt working on the movie, “Boys on Bikes.”

The woman in that video is a very strange person. And she is me. I am still her. It was a total Robbie Burns moment to see myself as others see me. There it was. Watching “me” answered so many questions in a way. I was then — and am still, usually — totally wrapped up in something, consumed by it. The woman in the film wasn’t ugly or anything, but completely sexless. Her whole focus was on something else completely. I thought about it later (obviously) and about the man in the video. He was 12 years younger. Our relationship had some complexities — age for one and I was married for another though Mike knew — and I didn’t — that my husband was involved with someone else. Mike would ultimately make the move that would reveal that to me and my marriage would end. Why the Good X would be involved with someone else was totally clear to me watching that film.

We have a lot of noise in our world today about genders, but what about someone like me who is female and heterosexual but who, a lot of the time, would really rather make a movie and lie around in the dirt with a video camera? Mike “got” me; he was in his 20s and still a kid himself. My friends at the time were teen age boys. Yeah, that IS weird, but I didn’t feel it was. We were all interested in the same thing — going outside and doing cool stuff. For Mike and I, “foreplay” was taking our bikes up to the mountains and riding on a new trail. I’m not machismo or anything. I don’t compete at all. It wasn’t that, it was just that that was fun.

I don’t know. I stand by my earlier idea that “gender” or “sex” or whatever it’s called is possibly unique to each individual. The Good X left me for a woman who is more overtly “female” in a conventional sense. I get it. Masculine identity might depend on that for a sense of security in itself. I understand, now, how scary I can be to men without ever wanting to be. I’ve been TOLD more than once, once in an 11 page letter. How do we get to that point? How did people get this way? Is it social convention or something else? “I know you’re a woman because you…” I don’t know. But I saw something today that I never fully understood before. My mom used to lecture me about this and I didn’t understand her, but now I think I do.

It’s not like I ever had a problem attracting boyfriends, but something else. There always seemed to have been an unbearable compromise with those I did attract. Oh well, it’s water under the bridge at this point. I still have the VCR. I might watch the rest of the tape tomorrow. Maybe not.

Featured photo: some of the “Boys on Bikes” that the movie was going to be about.

“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.

Stream of Tedium — and Language

Yesterday was strange. I went out to lunch with the ladies, but because I’m not being very adventurous with food yet, from the food standpoint it was pretty boring. It’s been a long time since we hung out together, and I saw clearly how important maintaining consistent connection is between people. I also got to remember what an unrelatable freak I am. OH well.

On the way home Elizabeth expressed some opinions that I would have been better off not hearing — the “he, she, they” fracas and objecting to using feminine adjectives such as “beautiful” to describe boys, but I like her very much so I just said, “Well, you know, Elizabeth, we’re old. This isn’t our world now except to enjoy it as well as we can. It’s THEIR world now, and if they want to do something grammatically incorrect with pronouns, who cares?”

I know perfectly well that I’m not on the public pulse, and I’m OK with it, but sometimes, like now, when my resources are low, it’s tiring.

There are a lot of things about the current use of language I don’t like — phrases using the passive voice like, “You are loved” basically just says, “Someone, somewhere, who knows who, possibly me but maybe not, loves you.” “Gift” as a verb? Makes my teeth itch. “Reach out” — hate it, and I have frequent contact with someone who uses every egregious term of the modern era. I like her, so I don’t pay attention — but I notice.

Once home, I got Bear alone and we headed out to the Refuge for refuge. Not much snow left, but Bear found one decent sized chunk within reach. And, reluctant to criticize the ONLY opportunity, she mentioned that it was pretty hard. There were so many good smells and she had all the leisure in the world (until dark) to savor them. The light was beautiful, the Sangres shimmered in the distance under a dusting of new snow. It’s getting cold now in the Bark of Beyond and it will get colder. It’s the time of year when I get up, look at the thermometer for outside and say, “Yay! Two digits!”

The dogs are both VERY furry at this point. 😀

The word today is “terete” and while I respect the Rag Tag Daily prompt, I got nothing, even after looking up the word to learn what it means. It’s not that it’s not a cool word, it’s just that in the frozen tundra of my current life, anything botanical is a subject for imagination and mine is pretty dormant right now. I’ll do better next time. 💚

“The World Is Too Much With Us…”

It seems like we all reinvent ourselves over and over during our lives. I know retirement pushed me there. Being unable to run pushed me there. Divorce pushed me there. I never invented anything — but the reinventions demanded by life’s changes might involve the same trial and error an inventor experiences trying to come up with something like, say, the telephone.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the past year, a year filled with events that have pushed me to reinvent myself at least once. Right now I just want to stop the whole reinvention madness — “Stop the world, I want to get off!”

I am not completely sure, but I think inside all of us may be a thread of consistency that it’s important to hold onto, remember, even nurture? Maybe that’s the point of tradition — to maintain a thread of consistency within a culture. I’ve really wondered about that this year as the city and my neighbors put up lights. The ONE missing decoration is the banner of lights across my street for people coming into Monte Vista. “Happy Holiday” — not enough room for the “S” so there it was forEVER, imperfect and perfect. Gone. We have a new city manager, and she’s moving and shaking, apparently. More lights downtown for the parade, a bigger parade, using the event center for the Christmas craft fair instead of the hall of the Nazarene Church. There was a sweetness to the old things, but nothing stays the same, and my town appears to be reinventing itself.

Are we humans like that, too?

Yesterday the president signed a bill legalizing all kinds of marriage. I read that, thinking, “This was never anyone’s business.” And I thought, “If we were better people it wouldn’t be now.” A little voice said, “But we’re not better people. We’re us.”

And godnose, we’re flawed. Recently I got a phone call from the artist about whom I wrote an article last summer, the one who didn’t follow through and left me feeling disrespected and very angry. I finished the article anyway — the magazine had saved space for it and $$. She called, I answered, I listened to her laments about her health, her body, her marriage then she asked me about the show at the museum. Early on, she’d called the museum saying she wanted to participate. “The show is up,” I told her.

“Why didn’t they call me and tell me when to bring my work?” she said. Notices had been emailed and posted on Facebook. Maybe she hadn’t seen them? Didn’t care? Was lying?

A light went on in my brain. So that’s how she is. It’s up to OTHERS to manage her possibilities; she doesn’t see that as her responsibility. It wasn’t just me and the article. It’s everything. For a moment I thought of saying something about that, like, “If you wanted to be in the show, you should’ve kept track,” but I didn’t. Everybody is whoever they are. Then I told her about John dying. They were kind of friends. She was shocked and sad and cried. She then had a strange little breakthrough. “We have to be kind to each other.”

Today I have to socialize, but tomorrow? Back to the studio whether I can paint or not; back to the Refuge. I’m tired. I wonder what our world would be like if we could stop fussing and just settle down and BE in our world. Change is the nature of life. It seems to me that makes the one still point all the more important. BUT if I could anything in the world, right now I would be in California, hiking on the Garnet Peak Trail with Bear and Teddy, looking down on the Anza Borrego Desert in the winter light.

Synchronicity

 

You just don’t know. I got the news that John Patterson — the “Farm Art” guy about whom I wrote an article published last month — died this morning. I want to close the book on this for now so I’m writing this post.

When I saw John at the Potato Festival on September 8, I was sure he recognized me as a person he kind of knew but not really. I mentioned this to my friend Lois who’d just bought something from him and she used my name, “Martha something something.” Then John knew who I was. We chatted — not small talk though still the usual thing about how I ended up here. Everyone is curious about that. I told him that I felt I’d been put here somehow. I told about having painted the area that is the Refuge before I’d seen the San Luis Valley. He said he thought that kind synchronicity happened a lot but people weren’t aware of it. As we were walking back to my house, I thought, “I’ll see if the magazine wants an article about John.” It seemed very important.

As we know, I’m afraid of men at a certain level of my being, and I was a little leery that John might think something that wasn’t the case. I was actually nervous about that when I went out to interview him. He had a strong and magnetic personality that most people felt. I felt it. But ever onward… Still, I couldn’t explain why I felt I MUST write about John. It was a feeling propelled by a kind of urgency.

Our interview lasted two hours and we had a lot of fun talking. He was just that kind of guy who probably never met a stranger. The article wasn’t hard to write even though I had nearly 2 hours of verbiage to condense into about 1000 words. I didn’t make that and the editor asked me to cut 400 but I kind of made her meet me in the middle and it ended up 1200 words.

And so, John, who was in a terrible car crash on November 12, and who has been in the hospital most of this time, died today. The cause of death is not known. I suspect his heart might have given out resulting from the challenges he’s had getting enough oxygen, but I don’t know. And now my article is a eulogy. It’s creepy, like a giant mind — the one that brought me here — reached out and said, “This person has only a couple months left, but he needs his story told BY YOU.” The story helped raise some money for what will now be final expenses. Is that why?

The world is full of good people who are loved by others, most of whom no one ever knows about. They’re not famous except maybe locally. They’re not empty fucks like Elon Musk or the younger royals or the Kardashians. People like John are legitimate human beings, good people, who work, and love, and create from the lovely vision of their minds and eyes. They are part and parcel of their community, home and family. Brilliant, thinking people who aren’t jonesing for empty notoriety. Some call them “ordinary people,” but there’s nothing ordinary about them. There was a moment — after I had written a novel that is actually fucking brilliant, complex, meaningful, inspiring, and beautiful — that I knew that I was one of THESE people. I knew that there were millions of us all across the generations and I was proud — AM proud — to take my place among them. As a young person, I maybe had different ideas, but 38 years in the classroom taught me some important lessons.

A lot of people will miss John. I will. His family is planning stuff like the now popular Life Celebration somewhere down the road (literally). As for me, I’m stunned by the inscrutable power of what John called “Synchronicity” that drove me (and my car) down the road to spend a couple hours with him just two months before he died. Crazy, but that I’m here in this place is also a little crazy.

Here’s the article I wrote about him and shared here on WordPress not long ago. 

To find a little solace, the dogs and I headed out to the Refuge. As we were leaving I was struck by the changing light over the San Juans. I stopped Bella — my Jeep — to watch it, and Cheech and Chong’s silly Santa bit from the olden days came on the radio. I put the Bella in park and took photos of the changing light through my windshield while I listened to that antediluvian silliness and laughed. 

That helped more than anyone would expect.

 

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Tools…

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. 😀