The Monster on my Desk

Little kids love monsters — love them, or love to hate them. When I was really little, my ‘monster’ was a huge, black-&-silver, shiny Remington Rand typewriter that lived on the tiny desk in my room.

It was definitely love at first sight. One touch, of just the right force, was enough to create the most astonishing miracles — letters, symbols, words, poems, stories — the only limit was my imagination! And my touch.

As soon as I was old enough, I started writing stories. Half the fun of creating them was getting the touch just right, hearing the authoritative clack of each metal key as it struck the platen, smelling the oil and metal and new paper, fresh out of its box.

The ribbon was the star. Everything depended on it. As I struck a key, the small cage-like metal square that held the cloth ribbon would rise like a hiccup, just a smidgen, barely visibly, and the long metal bar with a letter or symbol at the end would strike up and pound the ribbon onto the platen, around which I’d rolled a beautiful, clean sheet of paper by twisting it slowly, one click at a time, until it was placed just perfectly to receive my words.

It was magic!

Writing has never ceased to be magic. Writers don’t choose to write; it chooses them. We have no choice but to comply.

While I was still teaching, I wrote for newspapers, magazines, publishers, local, domestic and international. But as any language teacher can tell you, teaching someone to speak a foreign language is more than a full-time job. (In fact a teacher of just about anything can corroborate this.) So I never had a moment to myself. If I complained about my frenetic schedule, my mother-in-law was always quick to remind me that if I didn’t write, I’d have lots of free time!

She was right, of course — except that if you’re a writer,il_570xN.330210452 you can’t not write. A climber climbs, a runner has to run. A writer has to write. It’s not a choice

What drives you?



My Newest Language: CSL

CSL – Computer as a Second Language. Like ESL (English as a SL) but oh-so-different! It’s not my second language. I speak (and have taught) several languages — but this one is proving the most…elusive.

Normally when I learn a language, I try to surround myself with native speakers, so I can become a little kid again, learning to talk — listen, listen, listen, then repeat, babble and ask lots of questions. It’s how we all learned our native language, and the most effective way to learn a foreign language. But it doesn’t work here.

Here I sit, alone, at my keyboard, trying to learn to set up a website. I’ve tried all the forums, but usually find — after hours of searching, scrolling, guessing — that no one has ever asked my question, exactly. So I ask it. And wait. And wait. How long must one wait to get a forum reply? Days? Weeks? I’ve done both.

For a real language, I ask a question and get an immediate answer, to prove or disprove a conclusion I might have come to about what I hear around me. Now, I get no answers, and there are no native speakers around me to offer any.

Lots of books offer insights… Indecipherable, mind-numbing books, for someone who has no computer inclinations. And, of course, there are forums…which have proven more frustrating than helpful.

I guess that’s the price for wanting to do it myself. When I became an independent publisher, I talked with other indies and got answers. When I wanted to start conducting an orchestra, I mined the expertise of my father-in-law, who had played in one for years and who had taught music. Answers — real, human answers — were always abundant.

But now, most of my questions go un-answered, sometimes for weeks, sometimes forever. Most of the time, I don’t know what things are called, which makes it impossible to phrase the question right.

A couple months before I left on a climbing trip to Greece, I found a website where I could learn some more Greek (I had learned some as a kid). Every evening, I conjugated verbs, copied vocabulary, memorized grammatical forms. But the most important, the most effective teaching tools were the conversations I listened to and watched. I could stop, re-play again and again, watch other people saying the same things…. But in this new endeavor, CSL, I can’t stop someone who just said something to ask them to repeat, or to explain. I’m on my own.

So even though learning languages has always been one of the biggest delights in my life, this one, CSL, will never find a place on my list of favorites! I’ve learned some of the basics, enough to do this thing you’re reading now, but I’ll never be a ‘native speaker.’ In terms of life’s pleasures, it will always rank right up there with going to the dentist.

So if you see something here that could be prettier, or more functional, or clearer, please let me know…but when you do, please tell me what it’s called and how to fix it!

Not just climbing

Last time, I wrote about starting to climb late in life. At 58, I started going to the climbing gym. Alone, I’d wander around looking for odd-numbered groups of climbers, and I’d timidly offer, “Need a belay?” And some of them did! Thus began a very eclectic collection of new friends — and a new life.

But there’s more to life than climbing, so this blog isn’t about climbing — it’s about life. The reading here will be eclectic. And it won’t be chronological, either. Life — or at least what’s important in life — never is. DSCN2648 copy – Version 2

My life has caromed from one passion to another, and another. Foreign languages have always been a major influence — French began at age 2, Italian at about 4 or 5, Greek at 6. All the ‘old’ people in my family when I was a kid spoke only Polish. My university degrees are all in languages.

Music entered my life at the start, in many forms, and through all the ups and downs of life, my piano has often been my main solace. That will always be true, I think. (Do you use a musical instrument to stay sane? If not, what’s your key?) Other instruments got added to the mix over the years. Conducting an orchestra filled a great chunk of my life for years, too, and I miss that enormously. So I guess it’ll appear here, too.

DSCN1829 copyAs will traveling, and running, and painting….Probably others, too. It’s been a wild ride so far, and I hope you’ll enjoy coming along on the journey — and add your own voice and your own experience to the adventure!

Why Wait? — Starting at 59 (or even later)


First, one of my favorite quotes:

“There is a sweetness in surrendering to something you will never be good at, and still finding pleasure in doing it.”  — Sue Bender, “Everyday Sacred

I love that one because it kind of sums me up. I love trying stuff — so I do a lot of things, and will probably never be an expert at any of them. But, oh, the sweetness! The pleasure! Thanks, Sue. 🙂

When I was 59, during the Christmas holidays, my son, a rock climber, was home with an injured arm. He couldn’t climb. That was my chance!

For months, I’d been seeing little articles in magazines and newspapers, small mentions of things he’d been doing ‘out there,’ wherever it was he went when he “went climbing.” I didn’t know what that meant. I wanted to find out.

So I asked him to take me to Pipeworks, the indoor rock-climbing gym where he trains when he’s home (Sacramento, CA). I figured I’d learn the vocabulary (highly specialized — I never knew what he was talking about!), find out how to tie some knots, maybe try climbing a half a wall and I’d go home happy, with some more understanding of what my son did all the time.

Not exactly how it played out.

We did go to the gym that afternoon, back in December of 2008, and he showed me how to tie in (complicated, at first), how to belay (terrifying!), and taught me some of the vocabulary (still learning). But then things changed.

My stomach has always insisted on tying itself into knots when I’m up high in some exposed place, looking over the edge. Knowing that, I knew that climbing wasn’t for me. Too afraid of heights, as most people say.

But that day, after he’d taught me some of ‘the ropes,’ I tied in, checked our knots, stepped up to the artificial climbing wall, grabbed a handhold, and started upwards.

Seven years later, I’m still climbing!


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Since then, I’ve had life-altering adventures on mountains, walls, ledges, crags, fjords…the kinds of adventures I never could have imagined, before. Rock climbing has changed my life in so many ways that I really envy those who start younger. I started when I was in what the French call my “third age.” Past middle age. I find that it’s hard to build the required muscle mass, at this age. I work pretty hard at it, but I still can’t do a push-up or a pull-up. But then, I’ve seen interviewed climbers say that you don’t ever have to do that, up on the rock wall. So there’s hope.

Ah, the “sweetness,”: the “pleasure”!. . .

But climbing is only part of my life. Stay tuned for more in our next visit.