The Museum

Yesterday I went to get my paintings at the museum. While I was there an elderly couple (80s and beyond), their grown kids and teenage grandkids were there looking at exhibits. The woman had grown up in Del Norte and remembered some of the people — doctors and dentists — whose old time tools are part of an exhibit. The tree had been decorated with old postcards, and one of them had been written by the old lady’s father. K, the woman in charge yesterday, asked the old woman if she’d like to take a photo of it. I think I would have given it to her. It’s just paper.

I thought about the purpose of a museum, especially a small local museum. In one more generation, the old things in there aren’t gong to evoke much of a response in people except as they might remember going there on an elementary school field trip. I wonder how they will see the ephemera, like the Christmas postcards? I asked myself, “Where do our memories actually lie and what do they mean?” Christmas is a nostalgic time.

I didn’t put up a Christmas tree because, honestly, why? BUT…when I pulled out the stained glass box that is a candle holder I found some Christmas ornaments inside it. Well, to cut to the chase, I “decorated.” In front of me right now is my “tree.” It’s a little museum to Christmas past, memories. The ornaments seemed to say, “For the love of god do SOMETHING with us!” I put them all on my tuner in front of me here on my table. The angel, in particular, with her chrome, foil, plastic, pipe-cleaner little self, her wooden ball head with its sweet expression that so enchanted a little girl that her dad bought it for her.

The real museum is probably in our minds, the stories behind the objects, artifacts, ephemera, like the elderly woman in the museum seeing her dad’s handwriting on the back of a postcard from the 1920s. I would have given it to her. “Here. Merry Christmas.” Yep. I would’ve done that.

Gone to the Dogs

Another intense week draws to a close but I KNOW better than to complain about it. It could be a LOT more intense and at least as bad. Yesterday I did the 15 questions, one of which was What are you most looking forward to in 2023? I responded that I had no idea and that, “…it’s all big crapshoot.”

The author of the questions didn’t agree that it’s a crapshoot. That’s OK, but I look back on this year and I could NEVER have predicted anything that happened and NONE of it was anything I looked “forward” to. It seemed that things just happened, mostly randomly. As far as I recall the only thing I looked forward to in 2022 was the arrival of the Sandhill Cranes. I can say the same for 2023, but I’m in no hurry. Soon after they leave, the deer flies arrive.

The past couple of years have shaken us all up, I think. Certainly they’ve shaken me up to the point where I’m afraid even to write something on the calendar like it’s going to happen.

I ended up going to the little art show at the museum. Luckily, I got there after the “crowds” had gone. It was quiet, and I felt, pretty safe from the boogie monsters. The fiddle player was there with his dog, Lola. Lola was actually the draw — I saw a little video of Johnny playing the fiddle, and his dog walked through the frame. I’d heard about Lola at the fancy dinner, so I cleaned up (somewhat) and headed out. Lola is a great dog. It was worth the trip. Not just Lola, but the continual sweet surprise of this community. I will never, never get used to it.

Louise, the former director, used to clear out the museum exhibits and turn the museum into a gallery. This was fantastic. The museum has gallery lighting and big, white walls. Lyndsie chose not to do that. It doesn’t affect where I hang my paintings, but it makes the paintings look like just another museum exhibit and people can’t get close to them to look at them. People LIKE to do that. It’s funny, but I don’t really care. I care enough to notice, but not enough to object. In fact, I don’t object. That old saw about “choosing your fights”? Well I understand it now. That’s not my fight. I know Lyndsie had to advocate with the county on behalf of local artists. I don’t know everything that happened in the last days of Louise other than it wasn’t pretty. I love Louise and I like Lyndsie, but most of all, I appreciate the museum. That is my “job” description. “Hi, my name is Martha and I support the museum.” One thing I would like to do in 2023 is find something to do with my paintings. I don’t know what that would be, but I think it might involve driving. Ha ha…

Another Wonderful Day

Big day yesterday. After my internal conniption fit, I succeeded doing the brave thing. Then I took my four paintings to the museum to hang. As it happened, “my” nails were still in the walls from last year so it was easy, especially because Lyndsie did the the actual hanging, great since I couldn’t find the step ladder. The only bad thing was that when I was writing the titles of my works and prices on my business cards to hang beside the paintings, I wrote the same one 5 times. THAT is Covid brain. THAT is the brain, eye, hand thing that has made me scared to paint. When I saw what I was doing, I laughed, because it IS funny, but it wasn’t funny. It’s frightening. You think, “What if that’s me forever and it gets worse?” AND I’d already written those cards, but I wasn’t sure I had because I couldn’t find them. It happened that Lyndsie moved them, not far away. If I’d looked a little I’d have seen them, but I didn’t. True, I was a little adrenaline pumped from having done the brave, scary thing, but that wasn’t the WHOLE why for that bizarreness… Here are three of my paintings.

When I arrived I saw an old guy (older than me) coming my way. I said “Good morning,” he grunted. “Hmmm,” I thought, and shrugged. Later I learned his name is John. He had never shown his work before. He had about 15 vivid watercolors, pretty nice work, and he turned out to be a very nice guy. Turns out he lives at Homelake, the veterans home that was built here a long time ago for Civil War Veterans. He was so excited to show his work to me. So cool.

Then, another local artist came in — Laura Lunsford — a woman I have always wanted to know better. I walked up to her to say hi and she took my hand. She’s 85. She makes dolls — not normal dolls, but sculptures, really fun and beautiful sculptures with fabric. Other things, too. Her husband — who’s 92 — was bringing in boxes of her things. We ended up in a long conversation about everything — including China! Turns out a person (son?) in their family taught in China, also, married a Chinese woman, long story but that was fascinating. The thing about this place, we might not see people for a year because the “neighborhood” is so far flung. 40,000 people in an area as large as Connecticut…

Lyndsie, the new museum director, bought one of my paintings and left me minding the store while she went to the atm. I made her look at the painting (it was boxed) before I took off with her money. She loves it and was patient with me when I told her about what the paints were made of. Actually, more than patient. Her boyfriend loves rocks and knowing that actual lapis was used to paint Mt. Blanca? Wonderment. “I can’t wait to tell Justin!”

I finally took off for home. When I turned into the road leading to the bank, I saw the little old Hispanic guy who lives nearby was pushing a grocery cart, heading home with food for the week. He’s so small, the cart was nearly as tall as he was. I did a u-y and said, “You want a ride?” He loaded the groceries into the back and I brought him home. He lives in what can only be called the “projects” of Monte Vista — an old motel now apartments. I’ve given him a ride before. I like him. I like the way he talks to my dogs when he walks down my alley.

Finally home, I got Bear alone and we headed to the Big Empty. It was very beautiful — there are fronts hitting the San Juans that may or may not make it over that high-mountain rain shadow. It was wonderful seeing them attempting to crest the mountains and the various atmospheric forces working to keep that from happening. EVERYTHING is written in the skies of the San Luis Valley. The light was beautiful, December light, the low sun and the clouds. Bear got to smell, track and leave scent markings for an hour and I did what I do that might be the equivalent — though for me it’s less about leaving graffiti — pee, in Bear’s case — telling the world I was there than seeing what the world has to say to me.

What did it say? Well, of course, I took the brave thing out there with me to think about, to confer with the great mind. At the very least, doing anything LESS than the scary thing would be unkind. Simple. The light across the Big Empty was very clear about that.

In other news, apparently WP is now posting a daily prompt and calling it that, It was on my new post when I opened it this morning but I found it also on “home.” Well, hmmmmm… Five things I’m good at?

Typing. Listening. Endeavoring. Being outdoors. Hanging out with dogs.

The Fancy Dinner

Among the events last night I managed to get out of the house dressed in black velvet and cashmere without being covered with the love filaments of my canine partners. As I drove to the fancy dinner, the valley showed me all its snowy mountains, the Sangres, draped in the pink of sunset. On the edge of Del Norte I slowed down for a small herd of mule deer.

The dinner was wonderful! Delicious and beautifully served. Every seat was filled. Warm and friendly conversations everywhere. I sat at a table with museum people which was good. I don’t know how well I did as a journalist, but I can fill in blanks since I have a month before the deadline in December.

It’s always going to be a little strange living in a place where people have known each other and each other’s families going back generations. Such a thing would never have been my life no matter what my life had been. I have always belonged more to a landscape than to the people who live in it, but, like the people among whom I live now, I was also a “property” of a large extended family, so this isn’t really alien to me. My family just happened to be in Montana, but their lives going back in a generation or two were similar to the lives of the families of the people around me. Over time, I realized that if I have a “home” somewhere, it’s Montana. Maybe “home” is the place to which you return from wandering, time and again. I know that one reason the valley attracted me is its resemblance to the part of Montana I know best, the big, blue sky, the golden plains, the distant blue mountains.

Over the years I’ve learned that, in a way, every place is the same place and a traveller is a traveller by nature. The I-Ching taught me about that a long time ago. I’m never going to “belong” here except as an accepted outsider, truly a lovely thing, and partly my choice. A traveler — to be at peace wherever he/she travels — has to cultivate a certain attitude and that attitude came pretty naturally to me. Though I am friendly, and sincerely like people, my personality is a little detached. Some people in my life (including my mom) have complained about that, but it’s just who I am. I am private and self-contained. Some of my family understood that, and it didn’t bother them; others felt put-off and rejected. But we are all who we are.

I chose a long time ago to be what I understood to be “a citizen of the world.”

“Hexagram 56: The traveler arrives at an inn. All of his belongings are with him. He gains the trust of a youthful attendant. In this situation, the traveler is a humble and well-mannered person. He understands that for a traveler the only place where he finds a resting point is attained through a constant and renewing introspection of his inner principles. Since he does not find a home in the outside world he must find refuge within himself. Because of his modest and proper approach he will be greeted as a friend. He will find assistance among the others and his purpose will be achieved. He will even gain the support of a person who will become a loyal and sincere friend. This is a priceless benefit for a man who travels through the lives of others. “

The entire hexagram is applicable to me. But this part always strikes home. I’ve been lucky here to find true friends who take me as I am and appreciate — and accept — what I have to offer them. My companion here is the valley itself. Extremely good company and I don’t want to be anywhere else.

The level of “gussied” up here in the San Luis Valley is completely acceptable to me — I was on the fancy end of that. I could’ve worn jeans and a sweatshirt, but… I haven’t been in an environment like that for years. The last time was the student/athlete’s banquet at San Diego State in 2007? Ah, some conferences — 2012, 2013. That too. I thought about that as I drove home with the moon rising half full. Such events were once a part of my life, no big deal. It’s funny that when we retire we don’t first realize all that we retire FROM.

I have a lot to process and some interviews to line up and a few photos to take before I can write the story. I’m happy my deadline is a month away.

More Discussion of Escape from Freedom

Fromm begins his book — and his argument — with his two definitions of freedom — one positive (Freedom To) and the other negative (Freedom From). I’m not sure I buy those as opposites. Freedom FROM hunger is freedom TO eat. Freedom from oppression is, uh, oh, yeah, freedom. But I’m happy to see where he goes with that (to me) rather arbitrary dichotomy. I know one thing for sure about freedom. It’s difficult to define.

Yesterday the ladies and I went to the museum to see the new exhibit which is all kinds of stuff from the olden days. The idea is to figure out what all these strange things were used for. Lyndsie (the new director) made a guide to go with the objects that are common household tools and objects for farming, things like a cream separator and a seed spreader. We had a good time. It was followed by lunch which wasn’t great.

Elizabeth is Australian and she got up early to watch Queen Elizabeth’s funeral. She’s long held the thought (and frequently expressed it) that the United States needs a royal family. On the drive home, I mentioned I was starting to see her point. That led to a front seat discussion about presidents and who did and did not “act presidential.” They agreed Obama acted presidential; there was dispute over whether Biden does. I was in the back so I had the privilege of listening with Fromm’s book still on my mind. I think a lot depends on what a president inherits when he takes office — and Biden inherited a mountain of shit — divided country, an insurrection, a pandemic and its resultant economic challenges, all followed hard on by a war in Europe.

When I was able to pick up Fromm’s book again — beginning a new chapter, “The Emergence of the Individual and the Ambiguity of Freedom” — I was again stunned.

“The social history of man started with his emerging from a state of oneness with the natural world to the awareness of himself as an entity separate from surrounding nature and men.”

Good god… This was a little challenging for me because I think our separation from the natural world is an illusion. We might THINK we’re free of it, but we’re not and, in this particular case, that is to say it seems to ME, that at this juncture in human history, this drive and (its corresponding illusion) is killing us. The other day, MTG said, “AOC worships the climate. I worship God.” All I could think was, “Uh they are one and the same you stoopnagle.”

Too much abuse of our world, resulting from our freedom to create an environment designed for man, might lead us to a very sinister negative freedom, that is freedom FROM life. But the bizarre end-days cult to which she clings might be all about that, after all Revelations says the world will end in fire. I don’t know. I can’t know what goes on in their twisted little minds.

Fromm went on to discuss the emergence of each of us as an individual, a process he called individuation which is the moment in which a person recognizes that he/she is a separate entity, not connected to parents, but a self of its own. As I read I thought about my own childhood and recognized the moment, though it wasn’t a “moment” so much as a process of self-definition that took about three years. It began on a train crossing Wyoming north to south and culminated in a little movie theater in Nebraska watching Lawrence of Arabia and sucking on sour cherries. The first was the opening of the question, “Who am I?” the end was, “I am no one but myself.” A book was an instrument in the beginning; a film in the completion.

I remembered the numerous times my mom said, “You and your brother were easy as little kids and then?”

Well, mom. I thought of all the times I said, “I’m not you. THIS is what I want to do.” I understood at that point that what I did might not work, but I was OK with that, I was OK with failure. My independence mattered more to me even as a kid than success.

It hurt when friends snubbed me (kids do that) and it wasn’t easy for me to make friends, but after a while that was OK, too. I didn’t feel isolated. I came to understand back then, on some level, that all the kids around me were in this process, too. That was one reason kids fight. That was a motivation behind adults organizing us into team sports where each of us would begin to focus more on a skill than in competing for identity. It seemed to me at the time — and I have no idea if it’s true — that girls were generally less determined to become selves than were the boys. Their playground games were more peaceful and sedentary; their games at home seemed to revolve around role plays of adult life. The boy’s games interested me more; I wanted individual achievement. I wanted to get better at things, run faster, hit more balls, see more, know more.

Fromm then discusses how the moment (process?) of individuation affects people (the process is inevitable). Some people are overwhelmed by the sense of solitude in the universe. Others recognize the solitude, but accept it.

“The process of individuation is one of growing strength and integration of its individual personality but it is at the same time a process in which the original identity with others is lost and in which the child becomes more separate from them. This growing separation may result in an isolation that has the quality of desolation and creates intense anxiety and insecurity, it may result in a new kind of closeness and a solidarity with others if the child has been able to develop the inner strength and productivity which are the premise of this new kind of relatedness to the world.”

Whoa. Person 1 — riddled with anxiety and insecurity — will seek submission to escape that painful solitude. Person 2 won’t, having made peace with freedom, or so it goes more or less. I’m not sure, but this seems to be the argument Fromm is building. Naturally, I brought all this home to people I have known. I saw my mom in a completely different way. I saw that she never made peace with the intrinsic solitude of individuality, never found a way to live productively within it. It struck me that perhaps the foundation of freedom is just that. “I’m alone and it’s OK with me.”

Fromm makes that point.

P.S. This might be tedious, but I don’t have anyone around to talk about this with. Writing about it helps me process the ideas. The book is just under 300 pages so this won’t go on forever 😜

NOT Broken, Just Slowed Down a Bit

I spent some time at the local museum yesterday talking about plans for the future. Lyndsie, the new director, is doing an amazing job. We talked about Covid — which we’ve both had — and she said she’d joined a support group for people who are still experiencing challenges related to it. I went to their page later and left my small story, just there, like that, in case it resonated with someone. Later a guy commented saying we had been “broken,” “big Pharma” and some other entities were to blame. I didn’t respond because I don’t want to get involved in stupid discussions, but I thought about it. It’s probably natural to look for someone or something to blame, but I don’t think in this case anyone is to blame. If there’s ONE thing we knew for sure about this virus is that it is a virus and it would make people sick. Nobody did that. No wet market in China, not Dr. Fauci, not the CDC, not even the evil Dr. Scarf. Not even the anti-maskers or the anti-vaxxers, illogical though their views might have been (be?). Sometimes things are just bad.

When we read history, we read that the average lifespan back in the day was 40 something. That isn’t even true. It’s an average between the numerous 70+ year olds and the babies who died at birth. When I was studying my own family tree I saw that pretty much everyone who didn’t die in childbirth, birth, or from an epidemic lived into their late 70s and 80s. They blamed God for stuff like the plague and then sought ways to make it up to God for everything, so maybe blame is a human thing we do. In a way it makes more sense to blame God than to blame each other, though. God doesn’t care “Oh you silly humans. I had nothing to do with this.” We have the potential to hurt each other, adding insult to injury.

I think some of it is point of view, too. I don’t feel “broken.” My hip just hurts — some days more, some days less; I feel fatigued more easily (like ever), but my brain is returning. Goethe said that the biggest influence in any of our lives is the time and place in which we are born. Luck. I think he was right, but we don’t like the idea that it’s all pretty random. I just happen to be alive at this moment in time. I just happened to be somewhere where I could catch the virus. It just happened that my unique vulnerabilities caused it to act like it has with me. Nobody “did it to me.” I hope to be able to langlauf this winter, but maybe I won’t be able to. Well, that can be happen from other causes like no snow. Luck.

Yesterday at the museum I enjoyed the new exhibit which is a collection of weird stuff we don’t use any more and which is really hard to recognize. Lyndsie set it up as an interactive exhibit; people can touch the items and explore them. It’s very cool. The lesson from all that is, “We’re wusses.” I KNEW we were wusses, but seeing what our ancestors considered “labor saving devices” brought it home again. Among the items in the exhibit is a VERY old spinning wheel, the kind we saw in kids’ books when we were (well, I was) learning to read. I’m always amazed by that. They got the wool (flax, cotton), spun it into thread on one of these things (or on a hand spool) then wove it into cloth. They did this for thousands of years. Yeah, we all know this, but every once in a while it sinks in, again. I doubt anyone was ever NOT doing something unless they were extremely wealthy, living in opulent mansions with a phalanx of servants bustling about.

Human Beauty

A couple of days ago Elizabeth and I went to Del Norte for lunch and to see the San Luis Valley Quilt Guild Charity Show. It had been Elizabeth’s birthday the day before and I worked out a way to treat her to the show. She’s pretty fierce about paying her own way, but she and her husband do so many things for me that I can never repay — liking hanging a door on my studio. Besides, she’s awesome.

We had lunch which was great as was the conversation. Then she wanted to cross the street and go to Kathy’s Fabric Trunk to see if they had white crochet thread. I’ve been in this store frequently with her. There’s nothing in there for me to buy, but the owner is a lovely, sweet person and there are dogs. Last time I was there was during Covid and I just went to the front door and knocked. Kathy brought out some seam tape I was picking up for Elizabeth. It was — as were most stores that year — a ghost store.

Tuesday was a different scene completely, leading to a beautiful human scenario.

The store had more stock than I’ve ever seen — quilting season (winter) is approaching — but even then there was MORE. In the “back” (not really, it’s another full sized room beside the main store) were tables around which sat maybe six women. OK, I’m going to say they were all larger women, most in dresses?! It doesn’t matter but I’m painting a scene here. Elizabeth was looking at a crochet thread. There was no white, only ecru which led to a big deliberation about that. Her goal was crocheting angel tree toppers for the upcoming craft boutique. She stood there with the thread deliberating and talking with the women who were all involved in sewing projects.

At the end of the table in a very helpful wheelchair sat Kathy’s very disabled daughter and, beside her on the floor, was the black lab who never leaves her side.

On a high shelf was a cage with a parrot who talked to me. “Hi! How ya’ doin’?”

To my right, in another space, marked off by shelves, a woman measured fabric. As the parrot and I chatted, a yellow lab came to check on the ladies to see if they were dropping any of their lunch and get pets from me. I was mesmerized by this sight. All the women were so happily engaged with each other and their project. They were interested in Elizabeth’s project and her deliberation. It was so beautiful, enchanting. I wanted to pull out my phone and take a photo, but I thought it might be rude.

I learned later that Kathy now holds classes — conducted by experts in particular sewing and quilting techniques — at her store. I’m sure one of the reasons those women were so buoyantly happy (besides being together) is that they were learning something. From there we went to the Rio Grande County Museum.

As we walked to the museum door, I saw that Elizabeth had her money ready. Lyndsie, the director, waved away the money, “You two are good. You don’t have to pay.” I’d arranged to take income from notecards to pay our donation, but it ended up that Lyndsie paid for us. She gave me the $10 someone paid for a pack of notecards. ❤️ A few minutes later, I gave the $10 “back” by buying a Christmas present that benefited the Quilt Guild. High finance among little ladies…

The quilted sign telling people where their donations go. Tu Casa is an organization that helps adult and child victims of domestic violence. Probably the other two categories are clear. The featured photo — the quail quilt — was done by one of the guild members and hangs in the show.

The quilt show was great, and we got to vote for “best quilt” in a few categories which we like doing. Then, draped over an old sofa (I mean OLD), we saw an amazing quilt, an antique “fancy” quilt a crazy quilt of luxurious fabrics. The legend going with it explained that the quilt maker had been born in 1815. Elizabeth and I kind of agreed that we’d lost something over the years.

There are dozens of 10 inch squares joined together and each square is an elaborately pieced and embroidered work of art. You can see some of it in this photo.

Good news from the museum? Looks like the Holiday Art Show will happen. They were finalizing the document — contract — artists will have to sign releasing the museum for liability. Dates are already being considered. I was happy to hear that and grateful to Lyndsie for advocating for me (us).

I don’t know where I fit in this amazing valley. I think, like a lot of things in life — singing in public for example — my primary role is that of “appreciator.” I wouldn’t be the first “alien” to commit to a life here, as this immigrant’s trunk from Sweden reminded me.

UPDATE: I just got home from the doc. I’m not an expert but I saw my X-rays and everything looks good. The doc explained that joint inflammation seems to be a fairly common post-Covid problem. It’s possible that someone will read my X-rays differently, but I sincerely doubt it. I was so relieved when I saw them, I almost cried and the radiologist hugged me. I needed that hug.

Uh…good thoughts appreciated — I’m off to the doc for hip X-rays. I don’t want to endure surgery again. The extreme inconvenience, pain and complications of it? Just not in the mood. No, it’s nothing like being a refugee from the Russian army or the innumerable worse things that can happen to us humans, but it’s still not fun.


Yesterday was the first normal day in a month. Well, kind of normal. OK. The first time since I got Covid and recovered that I sat and talked with a living, breathing, human being face-to-face other than the two kids I chatted briefly with when I picked up my groceries. I took four packs of notecards to the museum and chatted with the new director for a while — mostly about politics, strangely. While I was there, an old man came in — a really interesting old man who turned out to have been a retired archeology professor from Indiana — Purdue.

A long time ago I had an idea for the museum and then let it go because of 2020 and the life situation of the former director, my friend Louise. After seeing him, I flashed back to my idea and presented it to the new director. I think we might try to do it. My idea was holding a Chautauqua at the museum in the summer.

Chautauqua is a VERY late 19th century educational movement, that didn’t fade away until the 1930s. They still exist — particularly in their original location in Chautauqua New York. They were a movement, a really beautiful movement with the kind of objectives I think we could really use right now.

During my university life in Boulder attending the University of Colorado I was very immersed in the 19th century. I was an American Literature major. One of the cool things in Boulder is that it was a historical home to a Chautauqua every summer — the old buildings are still there along with the original cabins. When I was a student, the cabins were used as married student housing. In 1997 my best hiking pal — who’d moved to Tennessee — and I met in Colorado. I drove from San Diego with two dogs and picked her up at the airport in Denver. We did a bunch of hiking and stayed in a cabin at Chautauqua. In recent years it’s been gussied up and programs have begun again.

Anyway, it occurred to me that the museum could be a small Chautauqua with speakers like the retired archeologist I met yesterday. There’s a guy in Colorado who does Hal Holbrook type costumed representations of historical figures who might want to be invited, and I would do that; I would “become” Sarah Josepha Hale for twenty minutes as part of the whole thing, talk about Godey’s Lady’s Book and why she pressured Abraham Lincoln so hard to set aside a Thanksgiving Day.

The museum director loved the idea and we’re going to start planning.

“How Did the Reading Go, Martha?”

Thanks for asking! It went great and pretty much as I expected it would — all according to the pattern of life in this remote place as I’ve come to know it. Small audience because it was a POETRY reading and because Del Norte is a small town. When it was time to begin I had to get the attention of the people who were there to listen and I said, “Hi everyone, I’m Martha Kennedy and I’ve been asked to read some of my poems. I don’t know if that’s a threat or a promise!” It took a few minutes for people to take their seats, but soon we were set to go.

I pretty much stuck to my “script” — anyway it kept me on track. Years of teaching (which is performance) trained me to be alert to my “audience,” so the talk was a little chattier than the script. When you have a small group sitting on folding chairs looking eagerly — and a little doubtfully — at you, it’s a small club not an auditorium. I watched their faces and saw what made them smile or what touched them with each poem . Most of the poems have stories and, of course, each poem was bracketed in a story. My goal was for them to have a good time and to get the idea that good things happen at the museum.

Two great things happened. One was that they wanted another poem after I’d finished. Encore???? So I told them about my beans and read the bean poem.

This Year’s Beans from Last Year’s Seeds

Reaching for the sun from the first moment 
Pushed into soil, shrouded in darkness 
Each unique being stretches roots, foments 
Life, seminal, integral and artless.
The future. Water, dirt, light harness 
life; some seeds too small to see. Wind-born 
and plumed, or saved from summer’s long morn 
Each fulfills itself from the light it holds inside. 
Every green sprout brings last year’s loss transformed
from buried hope that in our hearts resides.

Then? Applause? Huh??

When it was over I sold my copy of Cats I’ve Known. “God Makes the First Cat” was everyone’s favorite poem, I think. No one asked about the title of my poetry book, which was a little disappointing.

Afterward someone said, “I liked the way you introduced your poems. Those stories were the best part.” Another person said, “I liked your poems. I’ve been to poetry readings where I didn’t understand anything. Maybe the poems meant something to the writer, but…” Which made me think of how English teachers kill poetry for their students. I know. I’ve been in both ends of English classes. It is REALLY a lot like Dead Poets Society.

Last night I couldn’t go to sleep. I felt like all the dead people I loved — mostly family but one friend — had gathered to tell me I did good. Denis Joseph Francis Callahan (RIP) — who loved poetry as much as I do — stuck his head into my memory and said, “You did good work in there.” It was so strange because reading those poems yesterday, to an obviously friendly audience, was no big deal by any standard, but I guess, somehow, somewhere inside me, it was a very big thing.