The receptionist smiled and proceeded to deliver her patent good-morning-and-how-are-you-today question.  Unremarkable until she added, “And what was your name?”


“My name is Dorothy Martin,” I replied, jaw muscles engaged.  “And it still is.”  To what period of time are you alluding?  When I was born I received my name, printed as a legal fact on my certificate of birth, attested to by the doctor who delivered me into my mother’s arms.  When I woke up this morning and looked in the mirror it was me that I saw.  I was still Dorothy Martin.  As far as I know, I continue to embody Dorothy Martin as a human entity, and plan to continue so doing until as far into the future as conveniently possible.


What is it with younger generations’ obliquity?  Why must they create an angled offset, a safe distance from some perceived confrontation, if not of distance, then of time?  Why must they root their question in the past, where they don’t have to own up to the truth of their own power to ask it?


Why must they enlist my support in performing their job—filling out their form—so we are gathered about our joined perception of an IT task, my attention safely diverted from their own real and vulnerable persona? Their face?  Their eyes?  Their presence daring to assert itself?


Perhaps it is a logical extension of valley-girl speech, where everything isn’t something, but only like something.  As if it were something.  The sure test for this error of cognition is to substitute “as if it were” for the ever ubiquitous “like.”  If it follows as a logical progression of thought, the answer is plain.  It’s sad to remark how this verbal crutch has taken over the language, testament to its’ ability to lower anxiety levels wherever it is inserted.


Turning to another error of cognition, my own is equally suspect.  Why must I analyze commercial conversations, parsing them out for foolish meanings, whether hidden or apparent? It’s no business of mine if a medical receptionist is totally honest, either to herself or to me.  What goes on inside the head of another person falls outside the purview of my own.  Surely it’s all I can do to police my own level of honesty.  Dissecting dialogue suggests its own form of distancing.  How can I even begin to relate to another if I am busy critiquing their performance? I need to focus on giving a civil reply to questions and saving my energy for more productive pursuits.  If I could actually do something about generational obliquity it might make sense to complain.


The Serenity Prayer addresses separating what we can change and what we cannot, citing as wisdom the ability to know the difference.  Good advice!

Lesson Learned

My mother snapped a shot
of two-year-old me.
It was to become her favorite,
the one she chose to install
in the small oval frame
touting the provenance
of the bronzed baby shoes
forever fixed
on right and left sides,
shredded toes attesting to
many miles crawled
before that first upright step
presaged many more to follow.
It captured my authentic self
before the world began
working its will
and having its way.

I like to say hello to this picture,
smile and say,
“I remember you.
You were the ‘me’
that got a hatchling
in your Easter basket.
You loved that fuzzy duck.
He was soft and yellow
and oh so very dear.
He was little; you were big;
You wanted to grok him.

“Your baby book said,

‘Cows go moo;
Dogs go woof;
Ducks go quack.’

“He was a bad duck.
You wanted him
to be a good duck
and say quack.

“You put him on the ground.
You set a board on top of him.
You stood on the board—
He didn’t quack.

“That was the day
that ended your duck’s
days of knowing
and began the long
parade of your own.
The first of
a great many
lessons learned.
“Thank your little duck,
two-year-old that was me.
He was a poor quacker,
but as it turns out,
a consummate teacher.”


“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…”


Timing is everything.  I learned that by changing schools again, and again, and again.  Between Miss Chater’s Newtonville, Massachusetts first grade and Westport, Connecticut’s Staples High School graduation ceremony, I attended twenty-one different schools.  Most problematic was being whip-sawed back and forth between Northeast and Southwest, time after time after time after time.


Most obvious was always being the new girl, the one that others stared at but didn’t engage.  I learned it oh so well.  The school cafeteria was the main battleground.  Entering that dreaded domain, I headed for the nearest empty table and staked my claim.  I ate fast, hoping to escape before anyone might notice that no one sat with me.  Too often, I skipped the cafeteria line entire, spending lunch money for ice cream or candy to munch while hiding in a book.


Even more basic than the social confusion of being ever on the move, was learning to speak at correct speed.  Texans take their time expressing themselves, snuggling down into the full possibilities inherent in the diphthong, drawing phrases out and up, often ending as a question where none is asked nor implied.  A Texan owns his time.  He feels safe settling into it and getting comfortable.  In the Lone Star State children are taught not to interrupt while another is speaking.  In a discussion, all will wait until the speaker has completed his thought, and then allow a full beat to elapse before jumping in to interject their own thought.


In the Northeast, especially in New York City the opposite applies; In a friendly discussion, speakers are surrounded by hungry adversaries who pace, salivating, surrounding the teller’s tale, alert for any hint of an incipient pause, wherein they might dart, snatch a word, and supplant their own cuckoo-bird opinion in its place.  New Yorkers talk fast.  Everybody knows that.  I learned it again and again at gut level.  There is an art to interruption, and I have yet to master it.  It can be done seamlessly incurring little offence, but as a born Texan, that perfect act of timing eludes me.  If I interrupt, I draw scowls of derision, even accusations of being impolitic.  My timing is just… off.


An apposite example of NY parlance could be any Woody Allen movie.  There are no pauses.  Each speaker is an island alone.  No one listens, but everyone natters in an uninterrupted arc of verbal vomitus, every response a non-sequitur, non-responsive since no one has listened to anyone else.  I can’t bear to sit through a Woody Allen movie.  It incites a temporary insanity that lasts until I can go home and hide until my heart settles down to a normal southern sinus rhythm.


I tried to moderate my writer’s group once, but was precipitously fired because one of our New York members interpreted my pause for the requisite beat as proof that I didn’t know what to say.  I acquiesced, not wanting to moderate anyway.  Others were better suited to that chore…some really great.


The timing of speech patterns does bring up a vital question: Are fast speakers smarter than slow?  I suspect they are.  Like playing challenging video games, speaking fast must urge people to think in like manner.  I saw this played out in my school-girl musical chairs/schools.  Dallas, Sherman, and Irving were always a year behind Waltham, Watertown, and Westport.  At each move, I had to run to catch up, or settle for a snooze, depending on which side of the Mason-Dixon Line I had landed.  I made good grades, but never the straight A’s to which I aspired, and my checkered performance assured me that whatever I did, no matter how slow or how fast I did it, I would never be good enough.


One saving grace in this comedy of ill-timing, netting questionable performance has been a curious gift of creativity.  No matter where I found myself, I was ever alert and aware, paying attention, and noticing.  Trading school-days for work-days, imagination bridged any gap, whether real or hypothetical.  Rote memory has never been my strength, but a new breaking concept would often save the day.  I trained myself to forget the details of a previous job after settling into the next.  Why devote cognitive real estate to the past? Even the Buddha extolled beginner’s mind.  I have come to accept myself as a Yellow Rose of Texas, retarded in my speech, but a noticer, appreciator, and cultivator of “wild hares.”

Once while living and working on the farm, my paternal family’s homestead west of Ft. Worth, I named the new street to my new home “Jackrabbit Track” to honor the flow of new ideas popping up in remembered conversations with my Grandfather as we enjoyed evening walks, scaring up the occasional jackrabbit, opossum, or armadillo.  The local postmistress informed me that the US Postal Service does not recognize “Track” even if it is made by Texas jackrabbits.  The FEDS renamed my street “Jackrabbit Trail,” but I proceeded to use “Jackrabbit Track” as my return address until I moved to Sherman for a better paying job at Johnson & Johnson.  Bureaucrats drive me nuts.  Maybe it’s a timing issue, as in marching to a different drummer…or dreamer.  The truth is that jackrabbits don’t create trails, those roadways laid down by mindless following, nose to tail the rabbit ahead to wherever some rabbit somewhere up front might be heading.  A jackrabbit zig-zags back and forth, dodging obstacles, anticipating leaps ahead, leaving pursuers behind and befuddled.  Bunnies make trails; Jackrabbits make tracks.




As a pre-teen, I visited for two weeks most summers with my grandparents on that familiar home place.  Given all the moving around, the homestead was a comforting familiar.  In the pasture beyond the fenced front yard there was an ancient oak tree with several generations of farming detritus strewn about its roots.  There were wagon wheels, rims, chain, wire, lanterns, gears, pails, and innumerable miscellany.  Most were rusty, but all were full of imaginative possibility.  It was my own special Skunk-works.


With these junk components I conglomerated numerous marvels of invention.  I made a bicycle with wheels that turned in place but didn’t go anywhere.  There was a rocket ship, a loom, and an escalator.  There was even a horse and buggy, but you had to imagine the horse.  I filled the hours in between Grandma’s meals with my serious “work.”


A scrawny child but growing aggressively, I never lost track of the possibilities of breakfast: Eggs, sausage, steaming buttermilk biscuits, fresh churned butter, pear preserves and red-eye gravy.  There were high noon farm hand dinners spread on the dining room table, the old oilcloth clean but sticky and quiet evening suppers, retrospective warm-ups of the noontide feast.  Those meals must have been inspired by memories of men, strong, hot and dripping sweat, just in from the hayfield and powerful hungry.


The hours under my tree were peopled with those laborer’s ghosts and empowered by their implements laid aside just in case someday they might prove useful to the work at hand.  Fortified with Grandma’s cooking, I toiled.  Grasshoppers buzzed.  Dragonflies chased and caught each other, then lit all-coupled on the quiet creek skim, celebrating the marvels of surface tension.  Cicadas shrilled a solid wall of scream.  I had all I needed to complete my task.


Each object had a right place where it fit, each necessary to the whole.  All the parts went together, mechanisms incarnate.  They lived.  Wheels turned.  Bearings screeched.  Rims rolled.  Chains pulled.  Pails frothed with warm buttery milk.  Old harness became pliant and slick with horse and sweat.  Square nails and rusty rings married dreams, as once they had bonded boards and leather strapping.  Time shrank while I embodied happiness.


One evening Grandpa came to visit me under my tree.  I showed him my wondrous creations, demonstrating how each one worked.  We spoke of future projects.  I confided my worry that since everything had already been thought of there would be nothing left for me to invent.  He assured me there were marvels yet to come, and said to keep an open mind for “wild hares” passing.  As light faded to the west and early stars blinked on, we walked together toward the house and rest.  I slipped my hand into his.  “Grandpa,” I whispered, “you know, don’t you, that I don’t really believe my machines are real?  They are ‘just pretend’ like the mud-pies Grandma and I made when I was little.”


He looked down at me, eyes twinkling but with a face full of serious. “Sure,” he said.  “I know. But you can never tell with those jackrabbits.”




That was a different time, a different place, a different perception of self and what propels today’s reality.  Timing, whatever iteration of the real, will always be part of the equation.


The truth is I am an aggregation of lovely bones cunningly festooned with living meat intent on remaining motile to some glorious end .  I could make a final resolution to this puzzlement of being me, but think what I would miss.  There are so many anthems to sing, books to read, so many writing prompts to coax into magnificent bloom.  How could I just stop?  My grandmother Minnie Mae used to moan, “I wish I had ever-thin’ done.”  She said this, rubbing her old hurting hands, like a blessing or maybe a curse on all the things she intended to do, wanted to do, must surely do before this day’s sun set over the calf pasture.  Then she would heave herself up from her wobbly wired-together rocker and head out to the woodpile for an armful of kindling.  Mornings were for serious chopping, splitting the rough oak logs into pieces that stood a chance of fitting into her cookstove.  Men, once here, now gone, men with hard muscle that could man either end of a crosscut, had cut logs into stove length rounds, stacked to wait for splitting, then stacked again to wait for carrying to hearth and stove.  As day followed day, the logs, rounds, splits, and even kindling disappeared, ferried into the house to cook and comfort.  Minnie Mae could never declare ever-thin’ done as long as there was still wood waiting for her.  Her wood.  The coin of her existence.


I only knew Minnie Mae Reynolds Martin as a grouchy old woman who was glad to see me arrive and probably glad to see me go, though she cried every time, saying that she would surely not live to see me another summer.  It had never occurred to my child mind that she had once been young like me, much less a beauty.  Daddy’s sister, my Aunt Margaret,  disabused me of that silly notion one day.  She pulled a book off her shelf, flipped it open to a hidden for safekeeping photogravure, a tiny image of Minnie Mae in her glory.  I didn’t believe her.  Couldn’t.  How could that alluring visage be my old wrinkled, sun-bonneted, feed sack adorned, foot-scuffing, slouching along Grandma?  Margaret explained that Grandpa, Harry Allen Densmore Martin, was besotted with her, always called her “the best.”


There was a kernel of wisdom lurking among her words that I didn’t want to see.  If Grandma was once young and beautiful, then I too might someday become old and grisly.  But time was on my side.  Eons would pass before such a thing could happen.  I need only nestle into being my supple lush-braided dozen-year-old self and forget about the remote possibility of becoming old.


But old is time relative and relentless.  Tomorrow I’ll be eighty.  After these many years of trying not to be like Grandma, it’s time to get busy reading and writing.  I still have some good years left.  Grandma didn’t kick the proverbial bucket until she was eighty-nine.  That morning she had chopped the morning’s stove wood, baked buttermilk biscuits from scratch, made ham and eggs with red-eye gravy, and only then lay down for a rest before starting lunch.  When the ischemic attack kicked her in the chest, she reached for Margaret, who was sitting beside her watching the newfangled television box.  She could only jerk a bit of Margaret’s hair, so great was the pain in her chest and arm.  Margaret, zoned into the new wonder, ignored her, but gave her a good pinch to settle her down.


Since I haven’t ever touched red-eye gravy and am adhering to the paleo diet, I will surely have another nine years to read and write and learn.  But lacking a woodpile out back to keep me mean and fit, who knows?


The concept of spirit permeates our culture.  Language paints feeling with a veritable palate of emotions.  We are blue today.  We are green with envy.  We see red with rage.   We are in a brown study.  The products of distillation are called “spirits” and purportedly elevate our mood.  Recreational drugs give us a “high”, as does sexual arousal.  Poets call on the muse to speak but wait in vain if given mood stabilizing pharmaceuticals.  Feelings of camaraderie, experienced when a group of people cooperate to support a competitive endeavor, are called “team spirit.”  Attempts to describe our systems of feeling and belief are riddled with metaphors of spirit.  Every culture and mythos includes a Holy Ghost of some spiritual stripe.  I wonder when in our evolution the inner voice actually began to speak.  The catalogue of psychological diagnoses is no more, no less, than a way to parse the riddle of spirit.

Modern psychiatry must be somewhat embarrassed by its history of misrepresenting the flow of human emotion.  How many healthy uteri were removed to “correct” hysteria?

“Female hysteria was a once-common medical diagnosis, made exclusively in women,    which is today no longer recognized by modern medical authorities as a medical disorder. Its diagnosis and treatment were routine for many hundreds of years in Western Europe. Hysteria was widely discussed in the medical literature of the Victorian Era. Women considered to be suffering from it exhibited a wide array of symptoms including faintness, nervousness, insomnia, fluid retention, heaviness in abdomen, muscle spasm, shortness of breath, irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, and ‘a tendency to cause trouble.’  Since ancient times women considered to be suffering from hysteria would sometimes undergo “pelvic massage” — manual stimulation of the genitals by the doctor until the patient experienced “hysterical paroxysm” (orgasm).
(Lifted from Wikipedia)

Was this the basis for perceiving women as less than?  Probably so.  Ladies are the more emotional gender, although it seems that testosterone competes quite successfully with the estrogens when it comes to inciting wacky behavior.

It’s fun to pick up a physics book and trace the ideation of hysteresis.  A clear description quickly clabbers into eye-glazing jargon, as alternating current raises and lowers “flux” density within a magnetic material.  The lag thus depicted on a graph describes a “hysteresis” loop, but even the mathematically challenged of us can see this as another instance of how language evolves in the conceptualizations of our species.  Spirit, as light, energy, flow, color, glee, emotion, life, love, pops up at every turn.

Ancient mythologies incarnated emotional states as heroic persona and created whole pantheons of deities.  We have tried since the beginning to understand the “inner presence” and imbue it with meaning that integrates rather than confounds our own personal and empirical observations.  Religion in human society was inevitable as a response to the reality of spirit that underlies all of existence.  I doubt that anyone with a functioning human brain can truly be an atheist.  Even Richard Dawkins speaks with “en-theo-siasm” about his atheistic conceptualizations.  Is it all just semantics?

Einstein wrote, “The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious.  It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science.  He who knows it not, and can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle.  It was the experience of mystery—even if mixed with fear—that engendered religion.”

There is something amazing and mysterious that accompanies living as a discrete form of life in our universe.  Much as electromagnetism is generated about an electric wire as electricity flows through it, a spirit flux must be engendered about every living nerve cell that conducts electro-biologic stimuli throughout a living biome.  The totality of that flux might well be identified as the spirit of that life form.  As life on planet Earth evolves, perhaps it is co-creating spirit in the very image of God.  To what better purpose?


I opened my front door and moaned, “Just look at this mess.  There’s no way I’ll ever get it set to rights.  It’s impossible!”  That’s a lie we tell ourselves all too often when presented with a formidable task.  Of course a large and complex assignment is daunting.  Big jobs are like that.  They challenge; they intimidate; they terrorize, but they all have a secret weakness that is waiting to be exploited.  They can be subdivided into accessible units.  I learned this gem of wisdom from my genius inventor father when, during one joint endeavor, I quailed at the prospect of turning a complex electronic schematic into a printed circuit board etch pattern.

“I’m not that smart,” I protested.  “It’s too complicated.”

“You’re smart enough,” Daddy insisted.  Anyway, you don’t have to be smart—just tricky.  He slid a pen from his always-at-the-ready pocket protector and began laying lines on the drawing.  When he was finished, the fraught circuit was understandable as several simpler, much less intimidating ones.  He labeled them for me so I could visualize how they interacted: Power Supply, Splitter, Invertor, Oscillator, Amplifier.  Suddenly I perceived the job as something doable.  Divide and conquer is more than an art of war.  It can focus energy to accomplish otherwise impossible tasks.

Back to the mess, detritus of a human family doing what it does so well.  As I dealt with the inherent mayhem of parenting three small children, I often reached back to access practical guidance remembered growing up in a tech-savvy household.  Daddy analyzed everything; only then he proceeded with what must be done, but he always gave it his own unique twist.

A typical example was fly-catching in the Martin household.  When the annoying drone of the buzzing invaders reached exasperation level, Kelsey Martin, fly-tracker beyond compare, donned his safari hat, plugged in the Hoover Porta-Vac, with its’ extra-long extension tube and set out on the hunt of the nasty critters.  He delighted in this creative ploy, experiencing the thrill of the chase, the suspense of creeping up on an oblivious prey, and the final denouement of the kill, one more dastardly house-fly sucked into oblivion.  He would crow with triumph at every protesting winged trophy swishing down the tube, through the hose, into the dust bag of history, consigned to non-existence as an entity that had lived for the sole purpose of annoying Kelsey Martin.

This escapade always attracted a following.  As Daddy prosecuted his war on flies, we kids trailed behind, a rowdy retinue, cheering, jeering, getting in the way, tripping over power cord and vacuum hose, wanting only to be part of this Pied Piper’s parade.  It didn’t matter that there was only one vacuum cleaner, and that it was only Daddy who wore the safari hat; Our merry band followed, laughing all the way.

Any task that Daddy despised, he redefined.  He turned boring into fun.  Perhaps most memorable and long reaching was putting on his pants.  I would have learned the best way to put legs into trousers long before I was fifteen had I not been living with my aunt and uncle in Texas.  Soon after arriving at my new Long Island home, Daddy enlightened me with respect to the art of putting on pants two legs at a time.  “It’s an improved method,” he explained, “More efficient, easier on the low back, and fun to boot.”  He demonstrated: Sitting on the edge of the bed, positioning trousers waist agape, folding knees to chest, he leaned far, far back, thrusting both feet into their proper pantlegs as pants sailed aloft.  When he rolled forward into starting position, his pants were as good as on.  All that was needed was to stand, draw up, button, zip, and buckle.  “There,” he exclaimed.  That’s how it’s done.  It works the same for under drawers or panties.  Leaning forward while articulating first one leg, then the other, can strain the back.  Not good!”

I got it. During the ensuing sixty-five years, I have, every morning, put on my panties, bloomers, leggings, jeans, shorts, or slacks two legs at a time.  It’s impossible to daily reenact this bit of whimsy without a smile, as I remember my dad earnestly explaining to a wide-eyed adolescent, how taking a mindful approach to life and living can be the birthright of even a lost- and-found daughter.

All these many years later, I still despise housecleaning.  It’s boring.  It has to be done over again day after day after day—a quotidian quagmire.  No-one asks you to take a bow for how well you scrubbed the floor or folded the diapers.  It’s a thankless task and not in the least bit fun.  But then I invented “The Housecleaning Game.”  It changed everything.  Since it was a game, I convinced my children to play it with me, Tom Sawyer style.  That contrived to assure their cooperation, and the cleanup was easier and faster with help.  I did learn from my Dad that work ought to be fun.  Any way a job can be restructured to achieve that goal is worth any amount of up-front creative sweat effort.

So—I drew a floor plan layout of the entire house, including furniture, and then superimposed a grid over the entire drawing.  Next, I labelled each grid square.  Those labels, I also copied onto paper squares, and loaded them into a tall, opaque vase, along with additional whimsical assignments such as: eat three M&M’s; take a 20 minute nap; mop the kitchen floor; sing a song; run around the house twice; have a spot of tea; count three of your many blessings.

So far so good.  Each player must choose, eyes closed,  a slip of paper from the dark interior of the vase.  There’s the possibility you may be instructed to munch candy or do push-ups.  More likely you will get a numbered grid square.   This is the point at which you feel the weight of the impossible task lift from your shoulders.  You must address what is in your grid square and only that.  You must not do any work extrinsic to your chosen square.  Like an observant Jew savoring the Sabbath, you are relieved of the guilt that naturally accrues to not performing the whole impossible task.  Even God rested on the seventh day.  Must you do more?  I remember the fun of carefully making up the lower right quadrant of my bed, carefully eschewing the remaining three quadrants, which must in the benevolent order of things await their turn.

Most things aren’t impossible, only lacking imagination, an ingredient which is always in generous supply.


Body is a fine instrument,
tuned to frequencies
of time and light.
It plays; I rise,
ungainly cobra that I am,
uncoil from warmth of bed
to clarity of smallest hours,
in wait of gathering streaks of dawn.

Together-music fills
what’s left of time and night.
I sing along with morning stars.
No bouncing ball directs our song,
but lit on lacey screed of mind,
northern lights sweep aura,
morph to pink, then purple,
mauve, to teal, to green.

I want to dance,
a two-step urged by frequencies
of light and sight,
slip-sliding round the edge of night,
the bend, the lip,
the definitive event horizon,
of that deep-deep-darkest
of black holes.

Cringing from what must come,
I cry, “What’s next?”
Am I rugged-individually alone?
Should I ally myself with “All,”
or invest in beingness of things,
Toll-House-cookies, roasted-beast,
gluten-free-non-GMO pancakes,
or grand-ma’s apple-pies?
How ‘is’ is is?
Can I trust it to be real?

Who would incarnate
should stand solid,
safely fixed aground,
hidden from that lovely light,
inured to spirit’s mad delight.
Granite shoes are safe,
a resolute embrace.

Silly poet that I am, I float,
a winged dragon,
flitting to-and-fro,
in aerial do-si-do,
way too charged with life.
Hijacked by beauty,
like Hubble snaps
of Magellenic clouds,
my eyes are full of stars,
and stars are full of me.
Lucky stars! Lucky me!

When morning comes at start of day.
Realities of breaking-fast intrude.
Oatmeal needs a bowl and spoon.
Teeth hanker for a brush.
Throat wants minty gargle.
The throne I sit would flush.
Such quotidian ilk
demand their daily due,
as toll I pay to even play
their stupid silly game.
Well worth their price,
such gentle gauche accoutrements
call me back from titillating
tantalizing edge-of-mind.
“Put feet to floor,” they bray,
“and join life’s lovely lively fray.”