Thursday, October 28, 2010


Somewhere in the depths of my guest room closet, I think tucked between the 1980-90 tax returns, obsolete photography equipment, a favorite floor length dress my mother made me which I can't bring myself to recycle, and a discarded but still functional bedspread, lies a medium sized light canvas, faded white tote bag. I think Lee bought it for me in the early sixties, long before my two master's degrees and my doctorate. Why? Silk screened in dull brown on the outside: Chronic Student. It was directed towards me, with some humor, because all my life I have been addicted to taking classes. Everything from Birds of the Sacramento Valley to the Call of the Galapagos to Zoogeography of the World. Lee would smile and say "Bonnie is always happiest when she is taking some educational thing." True observation, indeed, and she never growled at my intellectual meanderings, even when they took me to Colorado or New Mexico or South America. Later in life I amused myself with Elderhostels.
So it is with ongoing pleasure that I now indulge myself in watercolor classes, which have taken me to France, Bali, and Belgium, as well as local environs with teacher and friend, Sandy Delehanty, and others.
Currently I amuse myself in a monthly critique class with a painting teacher I like and respect, Myrna Wacknov. This week we met at my house, which was a pleasure, and I displayed the painting above for Myrna's comments. It shows my down-eastern Maine friend, Mason, whom I first met many years ago in a painting class in Maine. Mason and his wife often visit, and I composed the painting from a snap I took of him while they were entertaining me at a snazzy SF restaurant, the Water Bar, this spring. One of Mason's common expressions is the title of the painting, and of this blog. It refers to his attitude! Often its hard to know if he is teasing, or serious, and I often confuse his intent. Myrna thought I did a good job of portraying his attitude, but had much to say of criticism of composition (the background on the left is distracting) and my portrayal (the ears are too small, do more with the eyebrows, avoid hard edges in the background). Its hard to not be perfect, but then perhaps that is what compels me to keep trying, and I hope I always will.
When my friend Anne Watkins died a few years ago I was blessed to receive her painting books and materials. She was a great fan and student of Charles Reid, whose work I distinctly dislike. Spotting a Charles Reid book on my shelf, part of Anne's collection, Myrna assigned me to learn his technique, and repaint Mason in a Charles Reid style, which is the extreme opposite of how I usually paint. Oh, my. This is going to be a hunk of growth-giving. More may be revealed in a later blog. On the other hand, I may just give up my addiction to learning.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Dear Lorraine,

Its almost Halloween, and I'm reminded how you used to escort me around our neck of Magnolia Bluff to gather treats. Usually we wore white sheets with holes cut for eyes. I thought that was grand, and you never complained, though it had to have been a drag, my being four and a half years younger. 28th Ave was where the richest folk lived, giving out the best candy and caramelized apples.

So now I'm asking you to stir your ashes and offer some advice. Your granddaughter, Darcie, now 28, living in Portland Maine, wrote yesterday via email, (something not in your scope of experience) asking for help in planning her wedding. “My mother is not a reliable source of information in this area,” she intoned, “and I want it to be GOOD, since I‘m assuming it will be the only one….”

Its easy for me to remember how very very much you loved Darcie, and wanted to live long enough to see her grown and married. Sadly, leukemia had a mind of its own. I doubt that she was old enough to remember the extent of your devotion and caring.

Now the curious thing is Darcie never called, emailed, or snail mailed me to say that she was enraptured with this ex of hers, and had been keeping it a secret that she was about to be engaged. He’s a problematical choice in my book, but then I only know him through her past disillusionments with him. I learned of the secret tryst on a hunch, by checking on Facebook, which is, as far as I’m concerned, another insanity created by the digital media.

You’d be amazed to see Darcie today, of course. The photo above shows her sitting with me at my 80th birthday celebration in August. Not the tiny preemie you visited every day after work in the hospital, rocking her in your arms begging her to live, even after she lost one kidney.. Not the quiet, sweet, self possessed little girl she was when you died. Nor the reliable surrogate mother role she assumed for her little brother for so many years. Not even the talented and poised star of her high school musical. Not the beautiful and sometimes naughty gypsy vagabond wandering the country for years with various attractive and unattractive men, searching without success for the deeper psychological identity of home, and who am I?

You were always more romantic than I, Lorraine, so I suppose you’d tell her wear orange and white flowers, your favorite colors, in her lovely hair. And to make it a beautiful day and a beautiful ceremony. Your own two marriages, neither of which included the presence of me, your little sis, were disasters although I imagine your first one to a military officer was full of pomp and circumstance.. In retrospect, I was never invited to attend the weddings of any of your five children or many grandchildren, a sadness to me. Why did they reject me? I could never understand it but it hurt at the time. With a couple of exceptions, most of these joinings did not last, anyway . Our own mother was married so many times I could not keep track of her changing last names. I never attended any of those weddings either, did you? Poor Darcie, she doesn’t spring from a family with a good track record.

So what my heart wants to tell Darcie is this: weddings are not all they are cracked up to be. Costly, and phony often. There are rare exceptions, of course. Until very recently, legal vows were something of heterosexual privilege, not available to me. Anniversaries, on the other hand, are sacred. Five years slips to ten, with luck, and both partners have figured out roles, and who does which chores, and how powers of decision play back and forth. Both partners have learned joy and pain. Soon 25 somersaults to 50, if health allows, and that is rare. Anniversaries stand for loving and giving and sharing, and all that is really growth living. They are to be cherished.

I’ll be sure to remind Darcie that whenever, however, and wherever she decides to exchange rings, you’ll be there in spirit adoring her as always. For me, I’ll stand in the wings and try however briefly to swallow my skepticism. I'll wish her happiness, of course, and mean it.

Your loving little sis,


Friday, October 15, 2010

Reflections on Fear

Today my primary care doctor told me that the best thing I could do for my atrial fibrillation was to avoid fearful situations. Now just how does one do that?
Fear is something we face uniquely, of course, based on our life experiences, and to some extent, I believe, our genes. When television brought the one by one rescue of the 33 copper miners in Chile to our living rooms this week, I was clutching at the arms of my recliner, like so many others.
When Lee and I were young, visiting friends in Bisbee, Az., they took us hiking deep into the "lavender pit" an abandoned copper mine there. Well, to me it seemed deep, but it was probably no more than ten or twelve feet. When I expressed fear of the walls falling in they laughed and said that the greatest fear would be rattlesnakes, who might have crawled in to escape the summer heat. I still have a huge crystalline rock in my garden that we hauled from there, though the intense green color has faded, like my hair, to dull grey.
My particular interest in Chile hails from my connection with my former pilates teacher, and surrogate granddaughter, Alejondra, who is now living back in her native land, having arrived in Santiago with her husband the night before the earthquake. The tales Alejondra has told me about the Atacama desert, the site of this week's mine rescue, are so spine chilling that I will never forget them. This is the largest and driest desert in the world, for one thing. It is in the desolate and remote north. There are places where it has not rained for 400 years.
Following the bloody coup de'etat in '73, in which Pinochet became the dictator until 1990, some 80 thousand Allende sympathizers or military personnel were cruelly interned. According to Alejondra their wives and daughters would often "disappear" in the night. It is now known, but not widely publicized, that they would be driven to the Atacama desert, raped, and abandoned to die of thirst. A shovel dug into almost any sand dune there will reveal the parched white bones of these poor victims.
Just how the 33 survivors of the copper mine cave-in faced their fears and survived, is indeed a story that needs to be told.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

All Things Are Sacred

In search of fall color, and even more in need of an emotional lift, I decided to venture for the 4th time in ten years to Hope Valley, south of Lake Tahoe. Climbing cautiously over Carson Pass, 8900 ', in my new Malibu, Kodi dozing in the back seat, I wondered how we would get along? The doctors tell me my atrial fibrillation is still not controlled, but heck, what more stunning land in which to pass eternity. I just don't want to endanger any one else. It turned out that I felt no more shaky than I do at sea level. My friend Dottie from Fernley, Nevada, offered to meet me there and host Kodi on wades in the river, which he adores.
Hope Valley is famed for its fall brilliance. At the peak of color, up to 100 photographers can be seen at one time lining the road, tripods at ready. The task is to find the perfect day for the peak color. Alas, I was probably four days early. Lots and lots of yellow quaking Aspen, but shy of the brilliant oranges and reds.

This land, along the West fork of the Carson River, was originally peopled by the Washoe tribe, and in fact, our log cabin at Sorensons was named after them. The Washoe Indian people consider themselves the original inhabitants of the Lake Tahoe Basin. Moreover they view all aspects of the environment as sentient, and hold all things as sacred.
Today the Washo (Washoe) language is only spoken by a handful of elders.

I returned home weary, but happy, with another array of color on the emulsion of my brain, albeit crimson.