“Interesting Paradox, but How Useful Is It?”

1. a pragmatic attitude or policy.”ideology was tempered with pragmatism”

2. PHILOSOPHY an approach that assesses the truth of meaning of theories or beliefs in terms of the success of their practical application. (How well does it work?)

I like pragmatism. Back in my philosophy studying days (ages 18 and 19) pragmatism (as a philosophy) had almost NO appeal because I was an ARTIST and ROMANTIC and YOUNG and had IDEALS, but that didn’t really matter because, as a person, I had already learned the double-fisted skill of imagination and practical action (if your dad falls getting from the sofa to the wheelchair, pick him up, put him where he wants to be. If he wants to be in the wheel chair, be sure to strap him in so he won’t slide out if he has a spasm). The question, “Should my dad have MS?” might have been interesting, but it was totally irrelevant because he DID have MS.

Beyond that? Reading the Pragmatists wasn’t very interesting compared to some of the more high-flying philosophers whose thinking and maybe writing verged on something that required a Rosetta Stone, guys like, I dunno’, guys like Heidegger who is (IMO) almost unreadable. I “liked” Kant and I “liked” Spinoza, and I “liked” the Greeks, and, of course, guys like Emerson and Thoreau, but those who wrote about the idea of ideas?

Still, I maintained a problematic relationship with the study of philosophy, and the tension between idealistic and pragmatic thought played out in a philosophy class I attempted to take later. The prof said, “If you’re a woman or a Jew you will not pass this class.” I got up and walked out (idealistic) but forgot to actually DROP the class so I got an F thereby proving the professor right (in my case) — a failure of pragmatism there. “It’s fine to walk out, Sweet Cheeks, but remember to DROP the class, OK?” The guy was WRONG but I still had to follow certain rules or I’d hurt myself.

Being a dreamy yet down-to-earth person makes it seem I am, as my mom always said, “straddling a fence,” but being all or nothing doesn’t avail anything. The phrase, “Supposed to” and the other one “Shouldn’t be/Should be like that” are now just kind of annoying. How things are supposed to be vs. how they are? We live here, where things are as they are. Even if we think they could be better, we have to start here. And “shouldn’t be like that?” A lot of things shouldn’t be the way they are, but they ARE that way. It’s already difficult enough to see things as they are. I’m never 100% sure I have succeeded in that.

The question is, “What is a person going to do about it?” That’s a very pragmatic question. If there is nothing to do other than accept it and move forward, that’s what you do. If there are remedies in one’s power, that’s another story.

Still, it took a few years — and a major depressive crisis occasioned by the question, “What’s real, anyway?” — for me to grow into my own essential philosophy, which, it turns out is “I have no fucking clue.” As my personal pragmatic philosophy evolved, I found it here, in a seldom (if ever) quoted part of Ecclesiastes 3, that “to everything there is a season” bit, but verses 9 – 13:

What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth? I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it. He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end. I know that there is no good in them (any of this), but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life.  And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God... (KJV)

I think that pragmatism is summed up in the Alcoholic Anonymous prayer. in fact, if there’s a pragmatic definition anywhere of pragmatism it’s, “…God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Since there came a moment when I walked away from the study of philosophy (what was the point?) I only know what any “Intro to Western Philosophy” student knows about this stuff and, maybe, a little more having read the enormous biography of William James written by my thesis advisor, Robert D. Richardson, Jr., In the Maelstrom of American Modernism. It’s an amazing book.

I remember the day I went to my philosophy teacher — Dr. Ria Stavrides — and said, “I’m changing my major. I don’t see much point in a philosophy major. I’ve thought a lot of this stuff already on my own.” An eminently pragmatic reason for changing majors…

“I understand, Martha,” she said in her Bavarian accent. “You’re an artist, not a philosopher.”

She was pretty pragmatic, too.

*The title of this post is a quotation of something my one-time boyfriend said. Clearly, I never forgot it.

** The featured photo is the pragmatic solution I have found for walking my very large, very powerful dog. I can’t control her completely. If something charges us I will let go, but mostly… Though now she understands the limits of her range and she wants to be with me. The halter is “just in case” because, you know, people.

“Have another hit of fresh air”

I’m about to get a shipment of books to read and evaluate for a contest, I have a ton of plywood out there ready to cut, prime and paint, and it’s looking like a dry winter. Yesterday, in the middle of painting a garden sign, I realized I’ve waited my whole life for the chance to be an artist and nothing else. Part of the liberation of 2020. I heard from my Chinese brother (who lives in Ontario). The last time we communicated was at the beginning of the pandemic and he expressed his great concern that something would happen to me, but it was he who got Covid, struggled a long time and, with the help of Chinese medicine, recovered. I’m drinking my coffee and preparing to go to Alamosa to pick up my groceries, which, until April, I had never done before; just couldn’t get organized to do it as much as I hated shopping. Behind everything this morning, I’m listening to music from 1970 right now thanks to my favorite Chicago radio station, WXRT, a soundtrack to another moment in my life of fast changes. In 1970 I graduated high school, got my first real broken heart, realized that my fight for my dad’s life was probably a losing battle but it would be a couple more years before I could accept that.

I’m enumerating all this because it all seems almost surreal. We are one tiny pinky toe into a new year and it’s going to take a while for us to solve the problems we carry with us, BUT one of the most dangerous things we carry with us is the wish for things to “go back to normal.” It was only “normal” because we were used to it. So, as I turned the page on 2020 and looked at the first month on my new wall calendar (yeah, I use one; it has pictures of Italy) I thought, “All this is arbitrary,” but it’s really more than that.

I don’t WANT to return to the person I was “before.” I don’t want to go back to whatever it was I was doing. I don’t want to forget what I learned about myself during this time. I guess that is as personal a decision as it has been to live a semi-hermit life, mask up when I have to, and generally avoid the Flying Spaghetti Monster as much as possible. So, yeah, hello, 2021. I’m glad you’re bringing a vaccine and the end of Trump’s reign of ignorance and fear. I wish you the best. You have a hard battle ahead of you. And goodbye 2020, I’m not altogether sure you deserve the bum rap you’re getting. You were nothing more than the time required for the sun, as we see it, to return to an arbitrary reference point in the sky. There is no real “hello” or “goodbye.” It’s just seasons and the sun’s apparent motion along Earth’s tropical zones.

I had this in my mind when I woke up this morning, from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, my dad’s “Bible.”

And that inverted Bowl we call The Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop’t we live and die,
Lift not thy hands to It for help – for It
Rolls impotently on as Thou or I.

My experiences in and with 2020 have enforced my idea that our lives are what we make them. We’re handed circumstances and what we do with them, how we live with them, makes the difference in our lives, revealing and making us who we are.


Ode to a Quixotic Pumpkin

“Give it up, Faith. It’s inevitable. You got a late start.”

“I can’t ‘give it up’. Seriously?”

“OK, but you’re breaking my heart.” I wanted to explain that our elevation is 7500 feet/2200 meters. That the growing season is barely 8 weeks and by starting out in July? But why? Why daunt an undaunted pumpkin? Besides, who knows?

I know not everyone talks to the Australian pumpkin growing in their garden or to pumpkins of any other nationality for that matter. I loved her Quixotic determination not that she really had a choice. Given good soil, the right amount of water and sunshine and a decent seed to begin with, a plant is going to grow. It’s not exactly an act of will.

And every single day Faith grew. For a long while she was a little plant, most occupied with establishing a durable root system. Then she was four feet long, and then six and then eight and then the bachelors began to appear and the drama, “Will she put out girls?”

She did! “Hand fertilize!” said a friend in Australia, familiar with Australian pumpkins. So, each morning (September!) I was out to see if the girl’s had opened and when they were? I helped twice with successful pumpkin sex. Faith kept making hot girls and handsome bachelors up even as recently as a week ago, but my thought was that she should focus on the two pumpkins who were most likely to make it to adulthood. Kind of pumpkin birth control, but there’s a metaphor there.

So Faith’s two little daughters grew and grew. Then…

Last week, a mild frost hit the upper leaves. Undaunted, Faith sent up new leaves to take their place, but Jack Frost’s handwriting was on the wall, so to speak. Two nights ago, a real frost hit, and yet…

I might have covered her if my foot hadn’t been so incredibly painful at that juncture, but I was not about to walk in the uneven dog-hole riddled ground that is my yard, besides, Faith is more than 20 feet/6 meters long.

Still, the roots have not yet frozen and yesterday Faith sent up a couple of yearning bachelors. One of the large girls succumbed to frosts but the other, in a more sheltered spot, is persevering. I don’t think Faith will give up until the roots freeze — which will be Thursday when temps are slated to hit 17 F/-8 C.

Nature is the boss of the possible, but Faith is the boss of dreams. Faith says, “Do it anyway,” which is, if you think about it, the only possible choice.


A Warm Puppy

This might be very hubristic, but here goes. I’m writing this down for myself (because I need reminding) and anyone else who’s struggling with some personal problems, the angst of our times, or the inscrutable pain of depression.

  1. Not every day is great. Most days are neither great nor lousy.
  2. Often the greatness of a day depends on a person’s outlook.
  3. Sometimes a good outlook is an act of will.
  4. If you go outside for thirty minutes and walk around, you’ll see something beautiful that will cheer you up.
  5. Change is constantly happening and often disorienting. I’m experiencing that now. Somewhere deep inside me, in a repository void of logic, I thought getting my hip fixed would transform my life. It only transformed me. Transforming my life is my business, not my surgeon’s.
  6. That serenity prayer from AA is actually pretty good. There’s a lot of stuff out there that can make us miserable but we can’t change it. We can change our perspective on it.
  7. Everyone is fucked up one way or another so compassion is important.
  8. Everyone is afraid others are judging them.
  9. Smiling at people can improve their day and yours. Where I live, an idle and obvious comment on the weather is a big part of communicating goodwill. We’re all equally subject to the vicissitudes of weather and here weather is often extreme. In CA, we commented on the traffic, Santa Anas or the surf. In China, after the Cultural Revolution, the most common greeting between friends was “Have you eaten?” because food was — and had been — scarce.
  10. Doing something for others — even a very small something like holding the door for a lady who’s taking two dogs and a big bag of dog food to the vet — can help us see where we truly are in the world.
  11. A good way to fight depression (yes, folks, I’ve suffered from it off and on since my teens) is to do one thing every day that materially improves one’s life whether it’s cleaning out the garden for winter or washing your clothes. It tells the psyche that it’s NOT impotent, but has the power to improve something.
  12. Bad stuff happens. If we survive it more-or-less intact, that means we get to plant another garden, pet another dog, make another friend, smile at another stranger, look at another snowy mountain range, take another hike, write or tell another story.
  13. We lose people we love all the time. Sometimes they die, sometimes they move away, sometimes we grow apart, sometimes we don’t like each other anymore. It’s just how it is. We might miss them forever, but the good part is that we knew them, they were part of our lives for a while, and we don’t forget them. It sounds like cold-comfort but it isn’t. There’s a Brazilian Portuguese word for this emotion, Saudade. It means missing someone and feeling sad but, at the same time, being happy that you know them.
  14. Loneliness is a choice. My mother died of loneliness. She thought all the time about how my dad had died and she was alone. This blinded her to the love of her daughter, her sisters, and her friends. Maybe nothing could make up for losing my dad, but with 20+ years left on her personal horizon, it wasn’t a very useful world view. The presence of another person cannot fix our lives. See number 3. 😉



1 Bear and me at Noah's Arff

Going to the boarding kennel to see my dogs a few days after my surgery



“Life is an Overcoming”

“Life is an overcoming,” said Nietzsche in Thus Spoke Zarathustra 

I was sitting at one end of the sofa. My very crippled and messed up dad on the other. I was “dad” sitting. He was watching TV and occasionally suffering a leg spasm. I was in high school, going through my sophisticated phase and reading “forbidden” or questionable books. Nietzsche was questionable to my teacher, Miss Cohen for reasons that I think are now obvious. We talked about the book and in it, she explained, came Hitler’s idea of the ‘Übermensch’.

That isn’t what I found at all.

From the first chapter, it’s clear that he has a different view of things, a human centered view. One of the first things he says as he prepares to walk down to the village from the mountain is directed at the sun, “Oh great star, what would you be if not for those for whom you shine?”

And down he comes.

Still no “Übermensch.” I found all kinds of ordinary, simple people and a half-mad oracle. I got the impression that the oracle was a little out of his mind, still, he brought a message of stoicism and hope to the village people (YMCA!) who were struggling with misery and darkness that was, in Zarathustra’s mind, mainly in their heads.

“You tell me your lives are hard to bear, but if it were otherwise, how would you have your pride in the morning and your resignation in the afternoon?”

My dad had a more severe spasm and nearly slid off the sofa. I was there to catch him. He motioned to his urinal. I said, “No problem, dad.”

He said, “Errrrwwa errr eading?”

I said, “Thus Spake Zarthustra,” handing him his urinal.

“Werrr ooo ike it?”

“So far.”

My dad finished. I took the urinal to the bathroom, flushed the contents, rinsed it out in the tub. Back in the living room, “Listen to this, dad. It’s beautiful.”


I read the beginning, the prologue.

WHEN Zarathustra was thirty years old, he left his home and the lake

of his home, and went into the mountains. There he enjoyed his spirit and his solitude, and for ten years did not weary of it. But at last his heart changed, and rising one morning with the rosy dawn, he went be- fore the sun, and spoke to it thus:

You great star! What would your happiness be, had you not those for whom you shine?

For ten years have you climbed here to my cave: you would have wearied of your light and of the journey, had it not been for me, my eagle, and my serpent.

But we waited for you every morning, took from you your overflow, and blessed you for it.

Behold. I am weary of my wisdom, like the bee that has gathered too much honey; I need hands outstretched to take it.

I would rather give away and distribute, until the wise among men once more find joy in their folly, and the poor in their riches.

Therefore must I descend into the deep: as you do in the evening, when you go behind the sea, and give light also to the underworld, you ex- uberant star!

Like you I have to go down, as men say, to whom I shall descend.

Bless me, then, you tranquil eye, that can look on even the greatest happiness without envy!

“Isn’t that beautiful, Dad?”


“That’s just the beginning!”


I loved Zarathustra. I knew nothing about who or what he was supposed to have been, but I liked the idea of his going off by himself to figure out his right relation to the universe. The message of life being “an overcoming” really struck home for me given the situation we — my family — were all living at the time.

As for Hitler, all I could guess  was that he didn’t really understand it. I suggested this to my English teacher, Miss Cohen, and she nodded. “Possibly that’s true, Martha,” she said. “But what horror that misunderstanding unleashed.”


So this morning I revisited ZarathustraIt’s still beautiful.

You tell me, “Life is hard to bear.” But for what purpose should you have your pride in the morning and your resignation in the evening?

Life is hard to bear: but do not affect to be so delicate! We are all of us fine beasts of burden, male and female asses.

What have we in common with the rose-bud, which trembles because a drop of dew has formed upon it?

It is true we love life; not because we are used to life, but because we are used to loving.



Dr. Mueller

“Fair is for soccer,” said the Intro to Religious Studies professor. He said this every semester, maybe to every freshman class he taught. There are things that must be said to university freshmen, and that’s one of them. “Don’t expect ‘fairness’ out of life.”

“Yeah, but…” sputtered a long-haired blonde girl in the front row.

“There’s no ‘yeah, but.’ It’s how it is. Fairness is something humans have made up. It’s why we have laws.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” said a kid in the third row from the left, toward the back.

“It doesn’t? Why not?” asked the Prof.

“Justice comes from God.”

“Does it? Tell that to the mother of the baby born dead. Tell that to the family whose husband/father is killed by a drunk driver. There are plenty of people who believe God ‘did’ that to punish those people. Is that what you mean but ‘justice comes from God’?”

“Well, the 10 Commandments.”

“Law. Those are laws.”

“But they came from God.”

“They came from someone who didn’t want to give his name.” The professor smiled. This is how it went every semester. “Anyway, law is our attempt to create fairness in an unfair world where some people are just plain luckier than others.”

“I don’t believe in luck.”

“You don’t think you’re lucky to have a chance to study at a university while that mentally retarded guy two doors down from you is lucky to tie his own shoes? You don’t think that’s luck?”

“I didn’t think of that.”

“Maybe human ethics means we’re able to equalize the unfair portions of luck just a little bit. Let’s say you discover, through your time here at the university, that you want to do research on the human brain or you want to be a social worker or teach special ed. Any one of those things could change the life of that mentally retarded guy two doors down for the better. Your luck could improve someone else’s. That is higher justice. See what I’m saying?”

“There’s no law that says I have to help that guy, Professor.”

“No, there’s no law. Laws are for the lowest common denominator of human behavior. The laws forbid you from hurting him and tell you that you’ll be punished if you do. There is no law that says you must help him. There can’t be.”

“Why not?”

“That’s a question I want you to answer in your journals for Monday. I look forward to finding them in my office by 9 am.”


P.S. Dr. Mueller is/was a real professor. His lectures were so well delivered, so animated and engaging, that I used to sit in on them. Lecturing was not my strong point as a teacher, but it was a necessary evil especially in the beginning of a semester. I saw this dialogue play out three or four times and it always amazed me.