Family Ties

Long ago I had a family in Switzerland. It’s difficult to explain and kind of a personal story, but among the treasures I’ve carried with me from that time are two plates. My Swiss family wasn’t exactly Swiss; they were Italian. They’d gone to Switzerland at the end of WW II when things in Italy were pretty dire. One of them was from Puglia, the other from Trieste. Pietro and Laura weren’t exactly “mom and dad” — “mom” could have been my mom, but “dad” only a much older brother. I’m still close friends with their son.

I didn’t speak Italian or any form of German, but my Spanish was decent, and my “mom” had taken care of a Spanish woman in Zürich when she first arrived in Switzerland so she and I spoke Spanish together. My listening comprehension in Italian was surprisingly good, I guess from watching Fellini movies over and over for years. My “dad” and I developed a unique language that drove their son crazy. He is multi-lingual as are most Swiss, but Pietro and I did fine with our language and spent hours wandering in the forest with Daisy the dog — talking! He loved cooking and taught me to make focaccia like that his mother sent him north with when he left Puglia at the end of the war. There were no opportunities in war-torn Italy and Pietro’s large family was very poor.

The story of the focaccia he traveled with is at least as good as the focaccia (which is amazing). His sister was already in Zürich and he was going north to join her and, hopefully, find a life. He said he only had a small bag of clothing and a giant focaccia that was supposed to feed him all the way to Zürich. Half was for him, half was for his sister in Zürich.

My experience with Italian trains is certainly different from Pietro’s back in the late 1940s, but one thing that remains is that they are prone to going on strike. When Pietro got to Milan, there was a train strike and he was stuck at the “Monument to Eclecticism and Fascism” — Milan’s main train station — for several days. All he had to eat was the focaccia so, when he finally got to Zürich there as none left for his sister.

My Swiss family was the “reward” for choices I made that were pretty crazy at the time, a leap of very blind faith. That leap took me exactly where I needed to go.

I wear my Swiss dad’s gold chain around my neck and wherever, I live, I hang two decorative plates they gave me for Christmas. The Christmas before my Swiss “dad” died of lymphoma (soon after New Year, 2000 😦 ) I was able to talk to him on the phone for a little while and speak Italian. Laura returned to Trieste after Pietro died, and I visited her there in 2004 when I went to Italy to study Italian. We spoke on the phone often, and, in the process of cleaning out all those old journals, I found her letters and noticed the linguistic evolution from Spanish to Italian. Family is where you find it and I miss them.

“Go Look it Up!”

Behind my dad was a book case he and I had built and on the bottom shelf were the 20 some volumes of the World Book Encyclopedia. Back in the day, encyclopedia salesmen went door-to-door in the post-war suburban neighborhoods, pretty certain the people behind those doors wanted the best for their kids, “Better than we had, that’s for damned sure.” My folks didn’t spring for the fancy white binding, but got the red library binding instead. *”Who cares how it looks on the shelf?” said my dad. “It’s what’s inside a book that matters.”

They had some pretty cool features like clear plastic (?) pages that you could lay one on top of the other and see continental drift — that kind of thing. I spent hours with it on the floor “looking it up.”

Fast forward, Boulder, Colorado, 1974. Fresh out of college, BA in English, married (shudder), employed by Head Ski for the Christmas production rush then laid off. Shit. I was the breadwinner. Not cool and very scary. Scanning The Daily Camera (which didn’t employ me because I couldn’t type fast enough) for job openings. Ah, here’s one. Publishing company. Call for an interview. A few hours later, sunny December day, I’m on Pearl Street, tromping up 20 some stairs, stairs right out of a Bukowski poem, complete with the bare light bulb hanging above the top landing. Knock on the door. There’s another young person — a guy — waiting. I sit down. “Hi.” “Hi.” We eye the competition.

Man in a cheap tan suit comes out, cigarette in his hand, and beckons us into his office — together??? We take seats facing his desk. He begins to explain that we will be going door-to-door selling educational materials. In very oblique language (which I don’t totally get, being a very weak aural learner) he explains the nature of the educational material. Suddenly the “competition” stops him. In the lilting tones of Flushing, NY, he says, “So, you want us to go door-to-door selling pornographic encyclopedias?”

“Welllllllll….”

The “competition” takes my hand. “C’mon. Let’s get outta’ heah.” We ran down the stairs and into the bright afternoon, still unemployed, but also not pushing pornography on unsuspecting parents. What?

Fast forward, 1992. My best friends are adolescent boys who live in my “hood,” a whole gang of them (5). We’ve spent all day at the BMX jumps working on our movie, then one of them, Jimmy, says, “Martha, can you help me with a report for school?”

“What’s it about?” He tells me.

I look at my watch. We have an hour before the library at San Diego State closes, and we’re only a few minutes away. “Sure.” I think of all the encyclopedias in the reference section. We park and run across the campus. We have 45 minutes.

These boys’ lives have never imagined a university. One of them even said once, “You’re just like us, Martha, even though you’re a lady, and you’re smart, and you work at a university.” That’s a compare/contrast essay I would LOVE to read. So, there you go. I was just like them even though I’m a lady, I’m smart and worked at a university. Fact is, I agree with that. I never had a group of friends with whom I felt so comfortable and authentic. Go figure.

As fast as I can, I teach them to use an encyclopedia and they — in all their post-bike riding afternoon blood and dust fall on the books in wonderment. Jimmy takes notes on the little papers left on the desks for writing down call numbers. He uses the stubby little pencils that go with the scraps of paper. It’s all we have.

A librarian, seeing us, comes over with a troubled expression. “Can I help you?”

I smile and say, “My son has a report for school.” She nods and hovers, but never bothers us again. A voice comes over the loudspeaker “The library will close in 10 minutes.”

“You about done, Jimmy?”

“Yeah, mom.

*Looking online for a photo of these books, I find they sell for $200 on Etsy as “shelf decor.”

Memoir vs. Autobiography

Yesterday when I wrote about memoir, I didn’t think about the difference between memoir and autobiography, but there is one. Generally, a memoir is a story or collection of stories from one’s life. An autobiography is a life story. Just to make sure that in the fullness of time, since I last taught this, that hasn’t changed, I checked. “An autobiography is a first-person account of an entire life, while a memoir uses a person’s life story to elevate a larger theme or idea.” (Source)

That’s an interesting explanation of the difference and not exactly how I have always seen it, but it works.

Every year when I do my job as a judge for an Indie book contest, I end up with a LOT of memoirs (and a few autobiographies). Usually they fall apart exactly there, on the “larger idea,” and are recitations of events that the author doesn’t want to forget (?) or wants her (it’s almost always a woman) grandkids to know. They often fall into the category many of my oral stories do, “Stream of tediousness,” a genre no one wants. Luckily for me, I’m not a judge specifically of memoir, so I get to evaluate them based on one of the categories I DO judge.

The source above makes this point, “A reader might pick up a memoir because they’re interested in the theme, rather than because they want to read about the writer.” That’s exactly it. My little memoirs are very tightly focused. As a Baby Duck Listens to Thunder is ONLY about one year of my life and the focus is my own personal experiences teaching in the People’s Republic of China just a few years after China opened to Americans. It’s a verbal photograph of China and the people I knew, a moment in time.

My Everest is focused on my dogs and hiking trails during the years I lived in Southern California, “exiled” from Colorado. People who’ve read it — and commented — get the bigger picture, and one comment called me a “Modern day Emerson,” leading me to one of those “take me now, Lord, it doesn’t get better,” moments. Memoirs focus on the reader at least as much as they tell a person’s life story.

My other memoirs? They are strictly for me. Back in the late 1970s when I realized I was a writer, I started writing. I’d actually been writing all my life. My life was maybe a typical late 20’s life, maybe not, but I knew I had to write about it and I did. That story was a teething ring for me as a writer. Sometime after I moved here, I found that old manuscript and read it. I thought about that young woman — so far from the woman I am now — and I felt tremendous love for her and this effort of hers, something she’d entitled, “A Vast Chain of Dancers,” quoting Aristotle, as it happens. My boyfriend at the time — to whom I sent a draft — wrote that he liked it but had problems with a “chain” being “vast.” OH well, you can’t please everyone.

Having found this thing I felt I owed her something. So much had happened in the looonnnnngggg interval and yet? I sat down and edited, having resolved not to change her voice or reveal anything about “what happened next.” In a way, it was like ghost writing. I ended up with a beautiful little book I don’t especially want anyone else to read. I sent a copy to the ONE person who would appreciate it as it was and understand the project. She read it in one sitting and definitely “got” it. Part of the book, now, is what she wrote to me.

Two copies. That’s the entire publication run. Another one, the same, a compilation of essays about hanging out with the Boys on Bikes. I recognized it as an amazing, unique experience even as it was happening and I was having fun. How many 40 year old English teachers “belong” to a group of 14 and 15 year old boys? It was strange but it was wonderful. I was called upon to explain it many, many times (like when they rode their bikes to my school and went looking for me) so I wrote about it. I was going to send a copy to one of the boys (now a 45 year old dad with his own company and kids of his own) but I haven’t sent it. Reading through it in its “book” form I saw it was less about the boys than it was about me. Another VERY limited publication run.

Early this year I compiled and edited my blog posts into a memoir about my experiences dealing with the Pandemic. Someone asked me to — who? I don’t even remember, honestly. Since I spent a LOT of time alone at the Refuge, I naturally named the book, Finding Refuge. Is it a good or useful book? I don’t know. I think I sold 3 copies, and so far it has no reviews. It’s fine with me. It was a project I did mainly for myself, but I also thought, “You never know. Someone else might find this useful, helpful, meaningful.”

Writing is sometimes an end in itself and that’s fine. However a person might hope for fame and/or fortune from their writing, ultimately, anything we write is self-expression. Even an autobiography, which seeks to tell everything factually in chronological order, is going to fail at that. Every human being has a voice and an editor (self) who is going to regard some events as more important than others. Some things people write are expressly for a particular market, but markets change over time. Back in the day, I was very interested in American popular literature of the early/mid 19th century. That journey is where I learned how ephemeral is popular art, and, at the same time, recognized how perfectly popular art reflects the people living along the vast chain of dancers. In writing about my life, I haven’t found myself reliving anything, but I have understood events more deeply.

And, of course, there are stories I will never ever ever write — at least I think I won’t. 😉

Learning to Langlauf

The first time I went X-country skiing was with the first-X. Our marriage was over, but we hadn’t divorced each other or even faced the reality. He was a terrible husband who hit and kicked me from time to time, but we got married young and never sought the help we needed. I was in graduate school in Denver and he, believing I would use his money to get my MA in English and then leave him (because an MA in English leads to SO MANY lucrative careers), left me for grad school in Laramie at the University of Wyoming. Up in that wild and woolly world, he started X-country skiing. When I went up to spend a weekend, he rented me skis and took me to the Medicine Bows west of Laramie.

I hated it like I’d never hated any sport before. I don’t know if it was just that I didn’t know how or the company I was with, but I ended up soaked to the skin (back then long johns were cotton waffle weave = sponge).

I vowed never to do it again.

A few years later I read about “skinny skis” in Outside Magazine and it struck a spark. I decided it might be fun if I had lessons. I found lessons in the flyer for Denver Free University and signed up. I bought skis from the LLBean Catalog (Karhu Bear Claws fish-scale skis) poles, boots and the bindings — 3 pin bindings — came with the whole thing. Strangely, the day they arrived, my X showed up at my apartment. His new wife was visiting friends and he decided to visit me. We had three or four such visits over the years and I saw — and he saw — that it probably should have worked. We just didn’t know how. I’ve known him since the 9th grade.

The first class met in a classroom and the teacher was great. He was friendly, passionate about X-country skiing. When the actual DAY came, we all got in a big Chevy Suburban and headed up to Devils Thumb Ranch over Berthoud pass and more or less across the street from Winter Park Ski Area. Devils Thumb Ranch is pretty fancy now, but back in the late 1970s it was a big one story wood and log building with a few motel rooms, a kitchen and a dining room. Out the back was a deck, a “bunny slope” where little kids could learn to downhill ski and a rental area. Behind it were miles of X-country trails, none of which were groomed trails (I never saw groomed trails until I moved here in 2014) but all of which were well marked. The trails wound around meadows, through aspen groves and pine clusters.

It was a crystalline clear Colorado mountain winter day with ice crystals in the sky and virgin snow everywhere. The teacher took us through exercises so we got used to the skis. We played tag running with those boards on our feet, falling, laughing and learning. Best class of my LIFE. Then we skied. We learned to kick and glide, how to do a stem turn and even had the chance to try the beautiful and classic telemark turn.

My dreams started there. The next class was in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area where I loved to hike in summer. That was the day I met the Good-X, but that’s not what this post is about. The snow was front range snow which isn’t really easy for me to describe other than to say it had been through more changes than the holy snow at Devils Thumb Ranch had been. It was a wonderful day.

I wanted to go all the time, and began experiencing the reality that most people I knew didn’t want to go all the time and NONE of them wanted to X-country ski. It wasn’t “cool” and it wasn’t fast. Most people thought Nordic skiing was just walking around in snow, but it’s so much more than that and it CAN be fast. Most of all, it can take a person into the “real” mountains away from the crowds. I’d been reading A Moveable Feast in which Hemingway decries ski lifts and lauds the times when people were strong skiers because they had to make their way up the mountain under their own power. I thought getting up the mountain under my own power was the definition of cool.

So, one Sunday morning I got up, looked at my 1970 VW bug with its low-tech ski rack (basically giant rubber bands stretched against a frame that held onto the car with hooks that went inside the doors) and thought, “Fuck it. I’m going to ski to *Lost Lake.” I got dressed (I had learned about wool long johns by then), put my precious Karhu skis in the rack and headed to Boulder, then up Boulder Canyon to Nederland, to the Fourth of July Campground and parked as far up the road as it was safe to park. VW bugs had very high clearance. I took my skis off the roof, put them on and headed up the mountain.

I’d hiked this trail dozens of times. I knew it well. At first it’s essentially a gravel road that turns into a stream in spring. It goes past a ghost town and an old campground. After the road, there’s a trail head and soon the trail goes up very quickly, does a little turn and then a person is on the main trail which is a steady climb, part of it up an old corduroy mining road. It runs beside then crosses a stream over a small waterfall. A little while later, there’s a fork — go straight to several glacial lakes or up to Devils Thumb. Turn left, Lost Lake, the lowest of this cluster of glacial lakes.

I made my turn and skied the sweet flat trail to the lake which was frozen and covered with snow. The mountains that held the lake as a cup holds tea were too steep to hold any snow themselves and the tracks of small avalanches were apparent on the eastern slopes.

There wasn’t much to do up there when it came to it. The main event was getting there. I drank some water, ate a granola bar, considered my adventure and turned around. The only challenge of the experience was getting down the steep little bit at the beginning of the trail, but I did it. I loaded my skis back on the top of my VW Bug and headed home to Denver.

It was my fourth time on X-country skis.

That winter there were more experiences on my skinny skis. My neighbor (guy in the photo above) and I headed up to Devils Thumb ranch one Saturday and had a blast that included me falling forward into four feet of snow and burying my arms. I laughed so hard I couldn’t get up. My friend came whizzing by, saw me, cracked up and nearly hit a tree before he crashed. BUT it also happened that day that in the stillness of the snowy forest a jay ate a bit of granola from my hand. I lived in momentary hope that this neighbor — newly moved into the apartment across the hall — would want to go ALL THE TIME but he didn’t. It was the first lesson I had that guys will do stuff with you not because they like what you’re doing but because they have a condom in their wallet. Dark times. 😉

My Karhu skis were not back-country skis. They were just simple and cheap waxless skis. I would own more appropriate skis as time wore on and ski some other dramatic places, but never that adventure again.

I’m not that girl any more — not physically, obviously, but in more profound ways. I understand where she wanted to go back in 1979/1980 and I’ve been there. That’s enormous. When I think of how long it has taken me to learn what anything actually IS I’m dumbfounded.

And maybe I still don’t know.

*There are at least three lakes named “Lost Lake” in Colorado which could explain how they got lost. This is the Lost Lake I’m referring to here. It was once fairly remote but a lot more people live in the towns around it now, so the trails are now sometimes closed due to over use.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2021/01/23/rdp-saturday-spark/

“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.


https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/05/11/rdp-monday-thingamajig/

Teen Daze

“Honey, I’m not hemming this skirt way up there. It won’t even cover your behind. People will get the wrong idea.”

“What’s the ‘wrong idea’?”

“That you’re cheap.”

“What does that mean?”

“No man wants used merchandise.”

Elizabeth shook her head. That didn’t make sense either.

The usual fight with mom over fashion. Elizabeth was petite. Any dress or skirt she bought at the store had to be shortened. On top of that, she made a lot of her own skirts and dresses. Mom HAD to mark the hems. There was no way out. Elizabeth shrugged. They’d reached a compromise; the middle of Elizabeth’s knee. Elizabeth wasn’t exactly happy about it, but the option was somewhere below the knee and seriously?

Elizabeth had found a way around mom’s puritanical totalitarianism.

By 7 am every morning she was out the door, books in hand. She raced down the short cut through the yards to Kathy’s — Kat’s — house. They had 20 minutes to get to school, a daily adventure that took them over an old trestle, across an open field, sideswiped the new mall, down two neighborhood streets, into the high school’s back door.

It was cold. February was fusty and ambivalent as ever, shooting them sharp snowflakes one minute, gusts of cold aggression the next, and blessing them with sun the next. Halfway through the field they looked around to see if anyone was looking. But who would? They lived in the furthest reaches of the city in a brand new neighborhood with brand new schools. They set their books on the ground and put one foot on their book pile in case the wind came up. They heisted up their coats, grabbed the waistband of their skirts and carefully rolled them. “Is it straight?” asked Kat, turning so Elizabeth could see her back.

“Yeah. Mine?”

“Looks good.”

They were set. The only danger was if they happened to sit on their skirts during some class or another, unrolling the back.

It was years before they understood why the boys liked sitting in discussion circles so much or why they were so clumsy with their pencils, always dropping them on the floor.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/02/10/rdp-monday-skimpy/

T-N-T Boxes

Wooden boxes with T-N-T stenciled on the ends. I wish I could tell you what my dad was doing exactly. I can’t. I was just a very little kid, but I THINK they were using balloon bound radio receivers to determine how far into the atmosphere sound waves traveled. All I really KNOW about it is that the by-product of this research were these boxes which formerly held high explosives. My dad thought they were GREAT.

What’s also great, is that I wrote about them three years ago. It’s a good story. And here it is. T-N-T boxes.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/02/06/rdp-thursday-explosive/

Memories…

Twenty years ago yesterday, Molly, my Malamute/Aussie mix, and I took off from San Diego to go to Denver to spend Thanksgiving with my Aunt Martha. We got to Cedar City, to a Super 8 I think. It was dark, cold, beginning to snow. We were BLISSFUL. We both loved snow and we liked traveling.

We also liked Colonel Chicken (only on road trips) so we went through the drive thru and shared it in our room. Molly got some white meat, no skin. After eating, we both wanted a walk in the snow, so we wandered around town, finding Southern Utah University with its Old Globe style theater and a little monument to great thinkers, statues, of philosophers, scientists and poets.

The snow continued to fall in wet, fat flakes and we were happy. We walked back to the motel, went to sleep and the next morning learned that the Eisenhower Tunnel — which is on I-70 between us and Denver — was closed due to an immense dump of snow. No idea when it would be opened. We had planned — well, I had planned since Molly was a dog — to get to Denver that day, Tuesday, turning south at Frisco/Dillon Lake, going over the mountains on the 24, and stopping in Colorado Springs to see my brother. That wasn’t going to happen.

We headed south through Zion then dropped down through Monument Valley and hit the 40 toward Albuquerque. It was a breathtaking, beautiful drive. We spent the night at Albuquerque then headed to Denver the next day. I stopped to see my brother, my niece and her grandmother with whom my brother was then living. Then I got to Denver.

My Aunt Martha and I had the most wonderful time together. When I got to her place, she was all ready to cook her favorite dinner — T-bone steaks, fried potatoes and onions, and salad. We ate and stayed up late talking. It was a conversation I feel privileged to have aged into. My aunt talked candidly about her life as a single professional woman, not about work, but about her life. That conversation was a huge gift to me. The next day she sent me shopping with $50 (why?) and I bought a sweater I never liked but kept because she bought it for me. We had Thanksgiving dinner in a Swiss restaurant. I don’t know why but that’s what we did. It was good, but most of all, we enjoyed ourselves; we enjoyed each other.

My aunt had a beautiful cat named Amiga, and I had brought this big dog. We didn’t know what would happen when we were gone, but we were sure Amiga would take care of herself, even if it meant climbing to the top of a closet. When we got home, Amiga was sleeping on my bed with one paw hanging over the side, resting on Molly who slept on the floor beside her.

Molly sleeping in my Aunt Martha’s garden a couple of years earlier…

The next day I went back to the Springs to spend a little time with my brother, but returned to Denver for the night. When I left on Friday I didn’t imagine that would be the last time I visited my Aunt Martha at her house, a house we’d picked out together.

I also never imagined that in the ten years between 1999 and 2010 when I next returned to Colorado that Colorado would have changed so dramatically, that Denver would have grown like a MF. In 1999, I drove home on I-70. It was still the relatively uncrowded four-lane highway I’d always known with the large, friendly rest stops with their hiking trails along the rivers and shady spots for picnics. Molly and I probably hiked three miles at rest-stops that trip, still made good time, and spent the night in St. George

All this hit me today when I was driving to the museum in Del Norte. We’re not always conscious of the passing of time and at first I thought, “It’s been ten years!” and then my brain said, “No, idiot. It’s been TWENTY years. Aunt Martha died eleven years ago.”

On my way to Denver from Albuquerque on that journey, dropping down the hill from Trinidad, this song came on Mohammed’s Radio. It’s amazing how resonant it is tonight. I am so grateful for every moment of that journey. I’d relive it if that were possible, but the important thing is that I DID live it.

The featured photo is my Aunt Martha and me Christmas Eve 1964

P.S. I guess a blogging break means you get three at one time. 😀

Inspiration vs. Love

After getting punched by a dirt road yesterday, I seem to have awoken to this shining day not much worse for wear. Roads appear to be, overall, inert, passive, and mostly helpful, but you never know when you might suddenly find yourself road wrestling. All you can do is hope for the best. I suggest you think twice before sending someone that famous Irish blessing about the road rising to meet you. It might not work out like you want it to. My poor judgment yesterday seems to have left me not too damaged.

A couple of nights ago I dreamed about a man who was in my life back in 1981/82. It might have been meant to be a great love story, but the timing was wrong. In a vague way, I was looking for something. I didn’t really know what, but it wasn’t love. I thought I was looking for the world, for adventure, for a reason for my life. He, having had the world and having had adventure, in which he’d found the reason for his life, was looking for a wife and family.

Then, too, like most of the men who’ve been in my life, he was pretty inarticulate. Of course, at the time, I thought I was articulate, but I wasn’t. I was at least as inarticulate as any of them. We groped toward each other, but I think we knew (partly from the words we actually managed to exchange) that we were ships passing in the night. He was a wonderful man, really everything I could have wanted if I’d wanted a life partner. But I felt that my horrible first marriage had stolen 6 years of my life. I was focused on what I’d missed out on, even without knowing what that was. And, I was always ambivalent (to say the least) about having children.

It seemed that the dream was about making amends. Sometimes we hurt people inadvertently in our rush to get on with our lives. Because the dream was filled with a very broken house we’d bought (??? don’t ask me. It was a dream) and various other dream-driven quotidian crises, the opportunity to talk never arose. I woke up thinking I should tell him things.

But what? I thought about that yesterday. I doubt I’m going to hunt him down for the purpose of telling him whatever things my dream told me I should, but I realized how much I got from knowing him. At the time we met, I was recently divorced, an escape from an abusive marriage that left me afraid of men. I was also nearing the end of a relationship with a gay guy who was also my best friend and, possibly, my life’s great love. My life was interesting, but it didn’t feel real; it didn’t feel like it belonged to me. Something about it was off but I had no idea what. I was lost. I was struggling to make my life right, but I didn’t know how.

I’d heard of this man — he was a college friend of my boss — and even read one of his letters, sent from India. In the letter he wrote about how he’d finished his expedition up Annapurna II on which he was a support climber. He was wandering through northern India and probably on his way back to the US soon. He sent my boss a breathtaking photo (he was a professional photographer and filmmaker) of a snowy high mountain trail with a single line of footprints. It evoked a dream I’d had and, for that reason, was kind of eerie.

A few months later he showed up in the office. No man had ever affected me like he did. From our first meeting, I’d have followed him anywhere. He was beautiful, graceful as a cat, soft-spoken. We began a correspondence and, months later, I went to visit him in Albuquerque. It was a strange visit — but during that trip, he showed me photos and books of the places he’d traveled, snowy mountains, long walks, trails, far away towns filled with faces that usually looked out at me from National Geographic Magazine. He was in the process of applying for med school and when I asked him why, he actually thought about the question then, answered, “Inspiration, I guess.”

I doubt it was his intention, but he confirmed and intensified my wanderlust, turning it from mere yearning into determination. He’d also decided from the (innumerable) letters I’d written him (a pile that he called “the archive”) that I was a writer. He was the first person (other than my dad) who said to me, “You’re a writer.” When I left his house the next day (yeah) after we had gone to the balloon festival, I was a lot less lost. I knew I was a writer, and, the next morning I immediately sat down and began writing seriously. I also knew that without mountains and trails, some kind of exploration, my life was empty.

Not all that long ago a former student (10 years younger and a friend) wrote me some long, passionate, love letters. Where they came from I had no idea. I found them confusing, but lately I’ve realized that he means that our time together (hiking, talking) inspired him to do most of the things he’s done in his life. He, too, is a world-class mountaineer. He’s written three books about his life and adventures. I’ve read bits and pieces of them (it’s difficult reading Italian). He put the credit for all his adventures on me, on the things we did together long ago, on the fact that we’re still in contact. Then I came to understand that what he meant was not “I love you,” but “You inspired me.” I wonder if our lives are not a chain of that, if we’re lucky, we are inspired by others and inspire others in turn?

More about the man who inspired me here: https://marthakennedy.blog/2018/02/09/minimalism/

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/11/09/rdp-saturday-punch/

Tins of New Zealand Butter

As soon as you go out into the world after a semi-sheltered life in the homeland, you’ll start seeing things you’ve never imagined.

Of course, that’s WHY you go out into the world. You expect to see different people, different buildings, different customs, different food, all the stuff in National Geographic and all that, but you don’t expect the changes in the ordinary stuff of your life. Butter for example.

Butter comes from cows, OK, we know that. But otherwise it comes from a refrigerated shelf at the supermarket. It’s wrapped in waxed paper in an 8 oz sticks marked off with 1/4 and 1/2 and 3/4 cup lines making it easy to measure. It sits next to three others of its ilk in a cardboard package until someone buys it and does something with it. Cookies, maybe or just to spread on bread and jam in the morning. Who knows?

But out there in the world you have to go questing for it. You take a train, then a subway, and find yourself in a little supermarket on a Hong Kong street where you know they have good Havarti straight from Denmark. But butter? Where is it? There must be some here. This is Hong Kong, where everything is available even mango milkshakes at McDonalds.

Finally, not far from the canned tuna (which you also need) you see large, golden cans of — butter. “New Zealand?” you think, looking at mysterious can, “What about cows in New Zealand?” You know nothing about New Zealand, but you’re about to find out something rather intimate about the cattle who roam New Zealand’s pastures. You know that, whatever the fodder on which these cattle feast, French toast cooked in the resultant butter will be better than French toast cooked in peanut oil and you’ll be able to use that biscuit recipe your mom sent you. You load up your shopping basket with the necessaries — this mysterious antipodal butter, several cans of tuna, a jar of mayonnaise, five pounds of Danish Havarit, a can of cocoa.

When you’re finished you have a several pounds of food that will go into your backpack for the return trip. Two nights in Hong Kong and the main purpose is a hot shower and the grocery store. You laugh, thinking that for some this is an exotic destination and you do your share of sight-seeing, too, wandering the labyrinth of streets that circle the mountain on Hong Kong, but you stay in deep in Chinese Tsimtsatsui where hotel prices are lower. You love the Star Ferry, the sight of ocean-going junks with their butterfly sails on the bay, the enormous freight ships with their containers and the cranes lifting them so easily onto the wharf.

The next morning, you hoist up your backpack, get on the subway and head for the hovercraft landing. It’s a wondrous journey on this “boat” that floats above the Pearl River for 75 miles. Along the way — all green hills, rice fields and an occasional old pagoda, perhaps once a lighthouse — are memories, not your memories, but memories belonging to the land, memories of opium pirates and war. All this you expect but a tin of butter? That’s the big surprise.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/10/22/rdp-tuesday-butter/