Category Archives: Character

Hiking with The Phantom of the Opera

“I love to go a wandering, along the mountain path; and as I go, I love to sing, my knapsack on my back.” Who hasn’t chortled that song at the top of their lungs whilst trekking with a group of young people? Though I have grown older, I am nothing if not a happy wanderer.

So often the things we love most to do in life dovetail. Hiking and Music. That’s the perfect combination for me. Hiking. Writing about it. Writing a musical about it. Even better.

Nowadays I don’t often sing while hiking. Silence is better in the great outdoors. I embrace it. I think better in solitude. But there are times a tune whistled or hummed is just the right thing to get you through a narrow passage, barren stretch, or energize you for extra effort.

I have learned something about hiking along the Colorado River or its tributary canyons: There be willows – sometimes tamarisk – in riparian areas and sand bars. Willows and tamarisk can slap you, lash you and poke your eyes out.

Further up White Canyon from Sipapu Natural Bridge, the willows tower above my head, yet in the undergrowth, the trail is clear. The animals who regularly roam these paths are short, maybe coyotes. And there, on the wildlife path, I discovered a new way to wield my hiking pole.

Keep your hand at the level of your eye, may be a famous line from Phantom of the Opera but it’s also the latest principle I learned while putting one foot in front of the other.

Take your staff by the hilt, but still pointing down. Now salute with your fist in front of your nose, thumb on forehead, fist, pole and forearm vertical. You can now see around either side of your fist, your walking pole will part the willows from your forehead to your knees and you just might come out of the brush free of most lashes and scratches and without your eyes smarting.

Cue marching music. Let’s go a wandering, friends, with our hand at the level of our eyes

Humans of Hometown

I stopped in at the grocery market on 12th Street and purchased a couple food items. It was Tuesday so the store was filled with Tuesday discount shoppers. In one checkout line four or five group home residents were lined up with an assortment of express lane items. In the lane I chose an older couple (as in, older than me) was slowly shuffling through the mechanics of buying groceries. The checker, a middle-aged high functioning special needs man, was cheerily and patiently providing customer assistance. A bottle blond and hairspray grandma a little younger than me approached with her six year old grandson. He flopped the purchases up on the belt. I reached for the divider bar and inserted it between orders, whereupon grandma said, “Oh. Sorry.” (“no problem”). And the odor of alcohol wafted on the air. Not too whiny and not too impatient, the little boy began to while away the time by singing:

Boy: Baa Baa black sheep have you any wool…”

Checker (as he begins to scan my items): Well all I have to say to that is, ‘yes sir, yes, sir three bags full.’

Grandma: ‘One for my master and dum dem dum, how’s that go? Lives down the lane.

Checker: sings the lines again and gets stuck in the same phrase.

The line has now been joined by a white female of approximately 35 in a tank top and tattoo looking like a muscle builder who needs to loose 50 pounds fast.

Grandma and Boy: Baa Baa black sheep have you any wool, yes sir, yes sir, three bags full. One for my master and one ….????

Newcomer: One for my master and one……dum de dum…lives in the lane. How does that go?

Me (having completed payment): One for my master and one for my dame and one for the little boy that lives down the lane.

Where upon the pleased cashier spins and high fives me jubilantly.

We all slept well that night.



What would you give to be loved?

She was single. At an adult time in life when most would assume and presume to be married. Or is that true? Many of her friends were also alone. Grown children. Estranged spouses. Sometimes more than one. In some cases, a deceased spouse. A lifetime of anticipated marriage and a dream of growing old together had certainly taken an unexpected and unwelcome turn for each of them.

Once in awhile, she and her single friends might discuss loneliness – the dream of actually finding a soul mate. Often, they iterated the good; how really nice it was to be single and independent, to arrange life without regard to the strong opinion of another. Some joined singles groups online or in person in an active bid to find a partner. One or two friends were openly desperate, chasing a string of lovers. Others quietly waited and pined.

Secure in her singleness, outwardly content, with a measure of independence, she still found herself one day in deep longing and yearning.

She was out walking (although it could have been any legitimate hobby or activity beloved by an individual; knitting, painting, golfing, yoga). Minding her own business. Steadily moving forward. Putting one foot in front of the other. She was suddenly overcome by longing and yearning. Articulating the feeling, she said, “I would give anything to be loved!” She sighed and coddled the pangs of longing for a few moments.

“Really?” asked her brain. “Have you not done this before with less than satisfactory result? Would you repeat the past? Hold on to someone who didn’t want to stay? Help someone who didn’t want your help?”

Love is not a thing you can barter and get a guaranteed return. Love cannot be enforced. It is ineffective to say, “Look how much I gave up for you! Now you are obligated to love me unconditionally.”

There is such a thing as strong, healthy self-respecting, other-respecting self- sacrificial love. There are things you give up, willingly out of your love for others. For family you love. You self-sacrifice willingly your goods, your desires, even your life to directly love someone else. But, when you give, or give up, in a bid to get that other person to love you because you so desperately need love, that is unhealthy.

So. What would you give for love? Would you give up your writing? Your music? Your goals? Your successes? For a time, yes, to care for a dearly loved one. But for life? For the whims of others?

“Love,” said wise counsel, “is not 50 / 50. It is 100% / 100%. You bring 100% of who you are into a relationship. But if you give up all you are, you no longer have 100% to give. You have nothing to give.”

She reconsidered the ancient parable of the 7 foolish and 7 wise virgins. Be wise. Be always prepared. She got that part loud and clear. For decades she was perplexed by the fact that the wise virgins did not share with the foolish – did not give up their provisions self sacrificially. And Jesus, who was telling the story, thought that was okay? Yes.

Why? Because to split their oil would, a few miles down the road, cast everyone into darkness and make all 14 of them the loser. How much better for the seven wise to hold their torches high, full of oil, and spread light on everyone – even the seven foolish. In this way the wise, the prepared multiplied their effectiveness and shared light with everyone.

“So. Be it known,” she said, “I will not again sacrifice who I am and who I am designed to be in a bid to get someone to love me enough. I will bring my 100% and shed all my light on the relationship until my oil is spent and my light extinguished.”



What are you really worth?

“Am I qualified for this job?” she asked as she read through the requirements. Yes. Abundantly so. Every last detail. The education. The experience. The demeanor. The personality. The work ethic. The mission. The dress code.
It seems like a lot of work, she thought. I am accustomed to work. I do not want to be idle. I like to rise to the occasion. I am analytical. I am resourceful. I can put the right people and the right programs in the right places.
Do I want this job? Perhaps that is a better question.
Enough to pursue it wholeheartedly?
Remember, we are not called to do everything we are qualified to do.
Perhaps the purpose in writing a résumé is not so much the goal of receiving a job offer. Perhaps the purpose is to remind yourself  who you are, where you have been, and just what you are capable of. Don’t just get by, aim high.
What are you really worth?

A hiking mentor

I live here, but I am new.

She is my guest, but she has been here many times before.

I am getting acquainted with all the trails and only take the long ones on weekends – days off from work.

She knows this place like the back of her hand.

I live in housing with four walls and have not yet camped seven miles out under the stars.

She has spent many October birthday weeks 4 X 4 camping at the end of Salt Creek and taking daily forays further into the wilderness.

Salt Creek is closed to wheeled vehicles now, open only to those visitors on foot. But she remembers exploring after hearty dinners around the campfire.

She is older than I – not much-but her memory is sharp. Her memories are good. Very good. This is her favorite place.

Now she is showing me around, introducing me to my own neighborhood. “Right over this hill,” she says, “right around this rock, I found a couple granaries and pictographs I don’t think the rangers know about. Over there, you can see a panel if you have binoculars. The ranger pointed that out, but I have never seen it.”

There are other things she teaches me too, like how to eat well while hiking or camping. What to prepare. Which items to bring. What footwear to choose.

Hiking alone is always inspiring. Wandering is fine. But sooner or later you need a hiking mentor to show you the good stuff.

I doubt I will ever attain her status – the ability to cook chicken cacciatore for eight and then pack it to the hut on Nordic skis.

But I do aspire to her confidence and belief in the abilities of others. Also, her calm patience when backtracking for a lost camera. The camera that carelessly slipped from my pocket and to the ground right after I took the eagle picture. The backtrack that added an extra mile to the ten for which I had steeled myself. The backtrack that we felt acutely in the heat of the day on the last two miles that terminated our trek and restored us to hot running water.

Never-the-less, we venture on another trail today, unflagging. Well-guided. Mentored. Ever learning.



Prejudiced in their favor

Some workplace advice from Jane Austen

“Elizabeth had much to do….those to whom she endeavored to give pleasure were prepossessed in her favor. Bingly was ready, Georgianna eager, and Darcy determined to be pleased.”

As a friend recently admonished me, you can’t ever really get away from people. When you leave one workplace for another, you are merely changing one set of challenging officemates for another set. If you move on from one town, the same types of idiosyncratic bothersome people are alive and well and already living in your new village – waiting for you.

There’s one in every crowd. Archetypes exist. One must greet new office acquaintances or neighbors with a positive mindset and openness. It might help to go in a bit open eyed and philosophical like the characters in the above quote from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Be ready.

Be predisposed in their favor.

Be eager.

Be determined to be pleased.

To be fed by ravens

“Vaya con Dios,” Friend said.

“Who is this Dios of whom you speak?” She asked. “I will go out into the desert to find him. Perhaps I will be fed by ravens.”

And Friend replied, “40 days and 40 nights?”

Forget a mere month and 10 days; it had been over 40 years since the two friends had actually talked face-to-face. This cogent Facebook exchange was fraught with meaning. One friend was tired, exhausted, the journey too much. She was moving to the desert, hoping to reclaim a portion of her spiritual and emotional health – to find herself. And with this four-line dialogue, she had communicated an identification with the emotions of the Prophet Elijah.

A minor prophet from ancient Hebrew literature – not even major enough to have an entire book of the Tanakh (Old Testament) named after him – Elijah stood up to a wicked Queen Jezebel (1 Kings 19). He called fire down from heaven (1 Kings 18). He succeeded in his ambiance beyond wildest dreams and expectations. Yet, after the fact, exhaustion and depression nearly pulled him under.

She knows there have been great victories. Victories huge enough to be followed by great desponds. There have been supernatural successes. Successes rewarded by jealousy and threats.

Now, she is in the desert for healing and nourishment. It may take being spoon-fed by ravens. It may merely take daily hikes into the wild and beautiful. She has enough faith left to believe this will happen.





Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But Words Will Never Hurt Me

Un-true! She knew it from the bottom of her heart where the remains of what had been her dignity, self-esteem, confidence-the energy with which she encouraged others-lay trampled, and mutilated.

In one page and less than 100 words someone had stripped her of a lifetime of achievement, shot down every success, touted her strengths as weaknesses, labeled those weaknesses evil, assaulted her personality and denigrated her very person.

Words have the power to uplift and launch the spirit to soar. Words have an equal and opposite power to destroy. Destruction is what she felt. Her ship and her lifeboat were swamped. She became physically ill. She was pierced to the heart and the stress from the untruths bled dry her creativity.

To make matters worse, she scolded herself. Instead of saying, “Self, I’ve got your back.” She said, “Self, what’s the matter with you? Where is your inner strength? Get hold of yourself. Have you forgotten? ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.’ Rise up! Get a grip! Nobody died. Nobody hit you. It is only words.”

Only words. Yes. Only words. But she was a writer. Words were her love language. All love and all language deserted her for days. Then she remembered. Somebody posted a silly little meme on Facebook. “Good friends help you find important things when you have lost them, your smile, your hope, your courage.”

And she decided to start being a better friend to herself.


How to Set New Year’s Goals That Work

How to Set New Year’s Goals That Work

You should do it, niggled the inner voice as her eyes scanned the title of the article. Set some goals. It was a voice she had learned to trust. You want to be successful. You want to move to the next level. You know goals help your focus, your self-esteem, your decision making. Think it through. Do it. “I will,” she said. “But first, I want to ask the God of the Universe some questions. There is something I have been pondering for quite awhile and I need an omniscient answer. The answer will have a bearing on the goals I set.” So. Ask your all-knowing oracle already, but make it snappy. The new year is advancing. “I’m a little bit fearful of the answer,” she said. “Because, no matter the answer, yes or no, it will disturb my comfort and my plans.” Maybe I should just go on not knowing, not asking and not setting any goals – you know-take life as it comes and kind of putter around at enjoyable things I like to do. Maybe something good will happen by accident. After all, that’s been my habit for more years than not and I don’t want to ruffle the waters or risk failure by aspiring to something unachievable. “Pull the tooth!” the voice fairly shouted. For goodness sakes, the subject came up, you didn’t court it, you were fine in your resignation, you merely read a best-selling book in which the main character said, “Someday you may think of marrying. Pick someone who thinks you’re the only person in the room.” Go ahead. Ask the question of the Universe. Do it.

The question

“Does such a man exist?” she asked. Let me restate the question,“ Is it possible there is such a man who thinks you are the only woman in the room? – for a lifetime?” “What?” squeaked the voice. “Romantic relationship is your New Year’s resolution?” “No,” she said. “Relationship takes two. Realistic goals are achievements that depend only on me. I cannot control another person. But if there is such a male, of course, I want one. Doesn’t every woman? I have always wanted one. In that case, a realistic goal would be to get out and meet more people. But that is not why I asked the question. An affirmative answer only begs a second question: What have I been doing wrong all these years? How do I fix me? Heal me? Frankly, that sounds like a lot of work. Yet, I must know the answer. But fixing me is not the goal. That is not why I asked the question.” “Then why did you ask the question?” queried the voice. “I am a writer of fiction,” she said. “But I will not write what is not truth.” Maybe all those stories I love to read with near perfect men or men who finally see the light and change are just wishful thinking, romances written by women. As a writer, I will not allow myself to perpetrate false expectations or false hope. If the answer is no; no there are no men capable of thinking you are the only woman in the room. “What then, do I have to write?” she asked. Yea or nay, either way, I must be able to write a woman who grows, who keeps on living, who knows herself, who overcomes obstacles and changes for the better, who keeps on loving – maybe even a woman who sets and achieves realistic goals.