Quotedium Update 91.007.10×8

This spring has been wet and yes — even — imagine — foggy. All the rain has been sweet and surprising. The fog came up from the ground after a wet snow on warm streets and rose from plowed fields to meet with low clouds.

Now summer seems to be determined to arrive and I have spent two days “farming.” Not really farming, but out there farming. All the beans are up. I planted zucchini yesterday. Mowed the front yard and dealt with last years and, possibly, this years, front yard wildflower gardens. The iris is blooming, the lilacs are extraordinary this year and very fragrant in the night air, especially the white lilac by my front door. I had a poetic thought and a first line. It might have been done before, but here goes, “White lilacs now by the front door bloom…” I dunno’. There’s an echo there somewhere, hmmmm…

Elise (my esteemed colleague in the laundry area, a new washer/dryer combo) continues to perform beautifully which makes me think of clothes. The way she works I could do fine with two pairs of jeans and four shirts unless I had a social life for some reason.

I’m still on a mission to get rid of things. Among my souvenirs is a large manila envelope with a bunch of stuff I published over the years. Why did I save all that? I know why — I was proud of myself and happy to have gotten my words out there where people could read them. I hope people DID read them and, more important, enjoyed them or took away a little something. BUT that pile might have to surrender to the shredder.

I had an interesting conversation with ChatGPT the other evening based on this Rousseau quote,

“As long as we desire, we can do without happiness: we expect to achieve it. If happiness fails to come, hope persists, and the charm of illusion lasts as long as the passion that causes it. So this condition is sufficient in itself, and the anxiety it inflicts is a sort of enjoyment that compensates for reality” Part 6, Letter VII, Jean-Jacques Rousseau,  Julie or The New Heloise

ChatGPT is pretty cool to have a philosophical discussion with because it has no emotional investment in anything. When I first heard that passage read in a film I saw a month or so ago, it resonated strongly with me. I have never “gotten” anywhere. It expresses the idea of being unable to “…get there from here” and it struck me that for some people (me?) what ultimately matters is doing something. Every effort leads to another effort. What do people do when the “get there”? I don’t believe anyone CAN get there. For one thing, the person who set out is not the person who arrives. So now I think I might dispute with Rousseau; that the enjoyment of striving (so-called hopelessly) doesn’t COMPENSATE for reality; it’s enough in and of itself.

I remember some point in school having had to read Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” I don’t remember how old I was, but I think it was 9th grade or so when we had to read such (to 9th graders) incomprehensible horrors as Old Man and the Sea, MacBeth, Great Expectations and The Pearl.

I loved Keats’ poem and I think I have just written a little ode of my own to unrealized possibility:

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone…

VII — the Apprenticeship


It was December. The rain had ended and the valley was green. She looked down on it from the halfway point on the ridge, moved by its beauty, its softness. “God,” she spoke aloud, “why are you so beautiful?”

“So you would love me,” came the answer.

“I do love you.”

“You love me now. I’m green, I’m beautiful, but can you love me later, in my hot months when my ground is hard and my plants are dry and sear?”

“I can love you then.”

“Can you love me with my snakes, my tarantulas?”

“I can love your snakes.”

“Will you come?”

“I will come. I will not miss a day.”

“I will show you things.”

“You don’t need to bribe me. I know that you will show me things. You always do.”

“You will come?”

“Don’t doubt me.”

“Nor you me. This is the real thing. Can you understand it?”

“Not really. What you offer is beyond me, but I will try.”

That was it. I got my job description that December day. Then I went home and set up a pretty Christmas party with toothsome treats for the Good X and his Toastmaster group.

Yesterday afternoon, I was in the front yard raking. I hate yard work, but I do it. I filled four bags with dead leaves and grass, and I will probably fill two more. My street is noisy now with semi-trucks and motor homes. I had my phone in my pocket and I was listening to music. A couple of guys walked past — one heading east, one heading west. We exchanged friendly words. I plan to refresh the wildflower garden I started last year and plant another one soon, adding some iris as anchors.

As I raked, I thought about what happened AFTER this conversation with God. I hadn’t even meant to talk to God (when I write God what I imagine is the great unknowable mystery of the infinite. It’s just a lot easier to spell God). It was just an exclamation like, “God what a beautiful day,” or “Oh God, I spilled a whole gallon of milk.”

When I saw Kris Kristofferson in the mammatus clouds one afternoon, I understood how people got the idea that the Great Infinite Unknowable Mystery was a guy in the sky.

I was pretty shaken, honestly. I told a friend at work who said, “Don’t tell anyone. They’ll think you need to be locked up. That’s schizophrenia.”

It wasn’t schizophrenia. I don’t know what it was — my imagination? Likely, but I took it seriously. I didn’t realize that I had already served part of an apprenticeship. I’d gone blindly into it with no idea where I was going or what would happen. I only knew I’d promised not to run away. I had promised to love it.

Love is terrifying and dangerous. God (Nature?) spelled out the hazards pretty clearly that day, and over time I came to know them well, and more. I learned that two things were required of me in that love relationship. Courage and acceptance/faith. No one who is not afraid needs courage. Acceptance/faith? That’s just keeping your eyes open to the existent hazards so you can keep going.

My marriage was falling apart because there was no love. In time I saw that, holding up my marriage to the promises God made me that day, and what I had agreed to in agreeing to that love. In this apprenticeship, no one is ever a master.

Maybe the same is true of any real love.

These are all stories from a folder I found in an old trunk. As I was busy shredding them, I stopped to read. This turned out to be something I didn’t want to shred. I’m sharing it here and I have also put the stories into a little book. The stories are from the very first years I lived with dogs and hiked on my own, with dogs, in the California Coastal Chaparral of San Diego. The stories are a kind of record of the beginning of the best things I’ve done in my life — hiking in nature with dogs. I wrote these stories in my late 30s.

Compassion Seems Like a Viable Approach…

After the Storm -- double rainbow

The wetlands are full, but the wind is so determined that instead of ripple marks in the ponds we have pretty decent sets coming at regular enough intervals for the spring big wave surfing finals, coot division.

OK, raise your hand if you’re single. 🙋‍♀️

The news this morning alerts me to the fact that the Church of England says being single is OK because Jesus was single. That headline piqued my curiosity (good job, journalism!), so I looked into it. It seemed — at first — a little anachronistic with some odd logic.

The church’s report acknowledged that a growing number of people elect to be single as a result of divorce, separation, the death of a partner, not having found a suitable partner, or as a deliberate lifestyle choice. It said that loving relationships matter to single people just as much as they do to those who are married with families.

“Jesus’ own singleness should ensure that the Church of England celebrates singleness and does not regard it as lesser than living in a couple relationship,” the summary report said, adding: “We have an amazing opportunity to reimagine a diverse society in which all families and loving relationships are valued and strengthened…” Source

I thought about this a little bit and remembered how defensive my Aunt Martha was about her choice not to be married, how many times she was taunted for being “the old maid aunt.” I thought back into a more recent geologic age when my mom pleaded with me to stay with the Good X because “the family likes him.” She even pleaded with me back in the day to stay with the (abusive) Juvenile X because, “you chose him.”

Thinking about this a little more it hit me that this might be the church’ way of moving the thinking toward a generally more inclusive perspective on human beings and their infinite and varied coupling choices/drives. Then I thought of the Bible and the bit about “Judge not lest you be judged also.”

Then my brain started to hurt because I’d only begun drinking my coffee, but it turns out I was right in my conjecture. The Archbishop of Canterbury had more in mind…

The report also acknowledged the increased sense of loneliness and stigma to which LGBTQ people, especially youth, are prone. Noting the heated debate surrounding the discussion of LGBTQ and gender issues in schools, the report took a stance: “Not teaching about these issues isolates the young people for whom this is part of their life experience.” This came after the Church of England issued a statement in January 2023 making clear that, while its churches wouldn’t offer marriages to same-sex couples, they would offer prayers and blessings

“Both personally and on behalf of my fellow bishops I would like to express our deep sorrow and grief at the way LGBTQI+ people and those they love have been treated by the Church which, most of all, ought to recognise everyone as precious and created in the image of God,” Stephen Cottrell, the Archbishop of York, said at the time.

It’s interesting to me as a non-participant — a straight, happily single female with no religious affiliation — that these entities — churches, political parties, etc. — have opinions about this stuff. But I get it, too. People seek approval and permission; those are elements of belonging and community. During the past 10 years, I’ve seen how strong this need is among people because…

Note from Aunt Jo

Sometimes life seems like a blur of color
And sound. Events emerge, retreat, emerge
again. Faces, moments large and smaller,
Once important, now dim in time’s dark dirge.
Old songs, old fashions, worries, memories
family and old loves in faded ink
Safe in small boxes, the past’s treasury,
three-cent stamps, folded paper, the heart’s link.
“Dear Martha Ann. Thank you for the flowers.
Uncle Hank is here, too. Some days we do
OK but on other days we’re slower.
I just wanted to say thanks. We love you.”

“I love you, too, Aunt Jo,” I say, sure she,
in the timeless stream of being, hears me.

Yesterday I did some cleaning and found (again) a bunch of old letters I have saved. I guess I saved them so that when I clean, I can find them again. 😀 Among these letters, I have the letter from my dad to my grandmother enclosing a train ticket. The ticket, obviously, is not in the letter. The event was my birth. I was very small when I was born and they were afraid… well here I am, so… That letter is the one that says “Air, special delivery.”

They had spoken on the phone before that, but my grandmother never liked the phone and she was on a 3 party line anyway. Whenever the phone rang in her house she would jump up, startled, and say, “My lord.” Long distance calls were (to my grandmother) very expensive. It’s hard to fathom that in these days when people carry their phones around with them everywhere and spend a LOT of time on them. The top letter in the photo is a birthday card from my grandmother on my first birthday.

The note from my Aunt Jo was thanks for a Christmas present — plants that she could grow at “the home” where she and my uncle had gone to live in the last two or three years of their lives.

This is a Shakespearean sonnet and here’s a very complete and somewhat annoying explanation of what that is. I write them because they’re easy and I don’t have to think that much about the form. I’m also not very fascistic about following iambic pentameter since English more or less forms itself into that rhythm pattern anyway.

The Real Thing

The dogs and I headed out this morning for a ramble. No one around. The silence was broken only by the call of a raven after I said “Hi” and he flew over me to be sure it was me. I saw two muskrat huts — maybe one that’s a work in progress — along a deep stream, ditch. The big pond is drying up and the shallow water is frozen. A few tracks of deer, a few goose feathers carried by a the wind from a kill spot I noticed a few days ago.

So much of the country is experiencing uncharacteristic cold. We’re not here in the San Luis Valley. When I looked at a map of the front, I saw exactly what had happened. The front with its heavy cold air had been stopped by the wall of the San Juan Mountains, a massive range with many high mountains in the Rockies. It and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains form a kind of basket that is the San Luis Valley. The front seems to have been too heavy to cross them.

Our day down here was on the warm side — a few degrees above freezing. I wore a sweatshirt and a down vest as I walked my dogs.

It’s the season of metaphors, all these holidays celebrating a belief or another, even the return of light after the longest night of the year. I was thinking about that, all the ways humans have developed to understand — even (at least in their minds) control the earth which really STILL seems immense and random — this cold spell for example.

We are facing a climate change crisis in which we humans are part of the problem. Then here is this place, this Refuge for the animals — even the small ones — where nature works its work with only benign interference from humans. Hopefully benign. Nature being nature isn’t always pretty — my raven friend is hungry. Some goose met its end at the “hands” of a coyote or fox or more than one. There’s a spot on the road where I remember in September encountering a garter snake who’d been dropped by a hawk. I wanted to move his corpse off the road so it wouldn’t be run over, but I didn’t get the chance.

I thought of that as Christmas approaches, the metaphor of Jesus, the light of the world. Dark at the Refuge is VERY dark. It will be very dark — and cold — for at least four more months. And in that darkness creatures will find a way to stay warm and alive.

As I was leaving, driving slowly, looking for ungulates out there, I suddenly got the idea that this earth holds every human metaphor just as it holds every human being. I have always felt on my hikes and walks, even since I was a little kid, that I’m walking on the hand of God. I don’t have an image for god in my mind. I tend to cringe away from religion; dogma has always felt to me like a prison of limitation, a way of eliminating people and possibilities. But this planet, the tiny parts of it that I have known and walked on and loved? It’s all of us, all of time, cataclysmic change, silence, wonder, the tiger salamander that arouses Bear’s curiosity, the lenticular cloud forming and vanishing. Snow on my nose, a deer in a thicket, staring at me, tracks of mice and voles in the snow, the smell of black sage after a rain or white sage after I brush against it, the hawk who stares into my eyes, the eagle I had never seen before, the gyre of Sandhill Cranes helping one another climb into the sky, the wild lilac in March in the chaparral, the annoying deer fly, the sweet Mayfly, the black and white fox disappearing in the mist and snow, the Mule Deer staring at me from under the train cars, the neighbor’s friendly horse, the kid running down the street, calling my name, the boys hoping to get a ride to the jumps, the baby hawks in the box who ride on my arm to the vet, the red diamondback, sleeping in the early morning sun, warming up, the rabbit butt hanging from Molly’s mouth, the fog from the ocean turning the chaparral hill into the Scottish highlands, the rain shadow that puts my left arm in the desert and my right in a spring shower, the pond that pulls the snow to it as the moisture comes up the ravine, the bare trees lit white by the sun breaking through the clouds JUST THERE, the red tail hawks mating in the dead cottonwood tree, the family of owls, the tarantulas looking for love, the hummingbird finding what it needs on the bean flowers in my garden, the neighbor who comes to tell me about the book she’s reading…

I am walking not merely on matter, but on spirit.

“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.

Little Words…

Inside my address book — a Moleskine book I bought in 2004 — is written in tiny letters, “I’ll meet your flight.” These lovely words arrived in an email I got from a man I first met at summer camp when I was 19 and he was 16. I am not sure even now who he was in my life. It was a connection that lasted decades, and was, in my mind anyway, a great love. He grew up to do incredible things with his life.

We planned to meet at the airport in his city — a hub city. I was on my way to Italy to study Italian; he was returning home from DC. Our plan would work because he would already have been through the TSA ordeal. We met. Had lunch. We talked. We had not seen each other in nearly 20 years. In a very short interval we managed to say things we needed to say to each other. I knew I would never see him again.

I loved those words, “I’ll meet your flight.” Not “I’ll be there.” or “I’ll meet your plane.” but “I’ll meet your flight.” Two birds in the air. Two old lovers meeting in the timelessness and placelessness of an airport. It spoke of ephemera and the essence of life to me, but he just might have meant, “I’ll meet your flight.”

They are why — even though the book has been chewed by puppies and the covers are falling off — I keep the book.

“The Wedding is the Easy Part”

Seeing the prompt today — “Wedding” — I realized that the only weddings I’ve attended have been my own. I’ve been part of some pre-wedding stuff for my cousins, but otherwise? No. The only person saying “I do” in my life has been me, and as we know, I don’t. I should have said, “I might” not “I do.”

My first wedding was the whole shebang with expensive white dress, people in the church, reception, all of it. I was 22 and had known my husband since 9th grade. Our meeting in Mr. Morland’s biology class was one of those movie things — eyes meet, sparks fly but it was years (four) before we went out together. We’re in some classes together throughout high school. Various girlfriends and boyfriends and finally we find each other. I seriously think this might have been made into a Hollywood movie… Hmmm. ANYHOO it lasted 6 pretty miserable and scary years.

No, I wasn’t that innocent but nice photo…

Looking back I don’t know if it was a mistake or not. Back then, marriage was one of the “easiest” ways for a girl to get out of the family house.

The second wedding was a lot simpler. It happened in my mom’s backyard. I guess I shredded the photos of that in the great Purge of the Evidence of the Examined Life. BUT I had a GREAT dress and everyone had a good time. The only downside is that the man I probably SHOULD have married showed up a couple days before the wedding. I hadn’t seen him in years. He lived in Europe. He’d just packed up, crossed the “pond,” got a job delivering a new car across the US so he could get to me economically. Long story… Anyway, the Good X and I got home from ordering the wedding cake and found him on the steps to our apartment building. The day of my wedding, even my mom said, “So who IS the groom?”

When the universe speaks to me, even shouting isn’t loud enough.

The Good X and I had 12 mostly OK years together. We’re still friends and a kind of family.

There was a third wedding, and it was my favorite. Extremely low-key. It even had a reason beyond “luv'”. In fact the witness — my good friend — took me aside and said, “This doesn’t have anything to do with ‘luv’ does it?”

“No, god no.”

“OK. Then I’ll do it. Let’s go.”

Destiny designs rollercoasters for each of us and these were some of the “thrills” on mine.

Some weddings lead to happy, if complex, lives together. I admire that. Here are two that I know of. ❤

The featured photo is a car in Guangzhou decorated for a wedding back in 1983.

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.

Real Love Story in an Old Journal

I know how love is supposed to have been,
But my love didn’t turn out that way.
I have a stack of letters, tied with green
And every letter came from Italy.
A fall afternoon on a chaparral
hill became a lifetime’s love story.
Moon rise, while twilight held the day in thrall.
The lovers’ hearts remained a mystery
in that eternal moment. Letters filled 
These six thousand miles and thirty years.
Journeys, losses, loves; time does not stand still. 
Their two hearts hid predicaments and fears,
Written here, in my handwriting. Turning
pages, I read bewilderment — and yearning. 

I’m sorry. I got so wrapped up in this I forgot to use the word of the day, clink. Too bad, too, it’s pretty easy word to rhyme.

This is another Shakespearean sonnet (sort of) but it’s actually (OMG!) about love. I’ve been cleaning out and shredding journals and journal pages, but I found one yesterday I will not touch. For the most part, my journals are full of really dumb stuff. They aren’t “my past,” so much as me attempting to contend with some trivial problem in a former present. They are really mind-boggling examples of stream of tedium. As for my past, I’m its product, the fruit of it. I have kept things that I really do not want to part with — but it’s amazing after going through 7 of the 27 volumes of The Examined Life, the pile is pretty small. The question I ask as I work is, “How often have I needed to see this?” And most of the time the answer is, “I never need to see this.” ❤