On the plus side

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Ok. I’ll admit it. I’ve used cancer. What a marvelous prop to get rid of the persistent, door-to-door salesman. When a kind deflection and a gentle, “No thank you, I’m not interested in Century Link (AT&T, or insert-the-product)” isn’t enough, I can yank off the cap or scarf that’s keeping my naked noggin warm and spit out, “Look, I have cancer and I really don’t give a damn about any of this, do you get it?” It’s cruel and perhaps not exactly ethical, but it works.

And, btw, another side benefit of losing all that hair is that, contrary to what I was told, it appears that my chin whiskers have also gone on vacation, thank you very much.

Doing well. One more week till next chemo and then I’ll be three-quarters through the regime.

Staying relevant

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I’m that linear person who reads publications cover to cover. It’s a slow process, therefore I subscribe to only two monthlies: The Sun Magazine, and High Country News. The first nurtures my soul and inspires me to think deeply. The second informs me about the land I live on, the peoples, plants, and animals with whom I share this magnificent land, and the intricate interrelationships between us all.

Both publications sprang from humble beginnings. The Sun, an entirely ad-free literary journal, first hit street corners in 1974 with editor Sy Safransky barely able to drum up the courage to charge 25₵ for his manually typed, Xeroxed copies. The magazine survives today with well over 60,000 subscriptions and a stalwart eye for thoughtful interviews, poetry, short fiction, provocative black and white photography, and the beloved “Readers Write.” The editorial board deploys unmatched sensitivity. Even a letter to the editor doesn’t get published without author approval of editorial revisions.

High Country News (HCN) began in 1969 when WWII veteran, Tom Bell, published Camping News Weekly out of Lander, Wyoming. Initially geared toward anglers and hunters, Bell was driven to expand into environmental issues that he saw as a threat to the West he so loved. The early years were tough, and the magazine, later dubbed High Country News, struggled to make ends meet. By 1983, Bell was tired and overwhelmed with the task of keeping the paper going. Transplanted New Yorkers, Ed and Besty Martson, took the helm and moved the paper to Paonia, Colorado, where it flourished.

HCN has evolved rapidly during the past decade. Once, a mostly black and white, semi-monthly, printed on newsprint, it has blossomed into a glossy monthly with color photography and stunning original art. But more importantly, beyond the outer beauty, this publication has expanded its scope and reportage by mining once-unheard voices from the west. In the past year, the business office has decentralized from Paonia, Colorado, utilizing digital tools that make instant communication and document collaboration possible across vast distances.

Administrative, editorial, and reporting work is spread out from coast to coast. Dedicated reporters and content creators are young, fierce, and eager to dig into the cultural and socio-economic aspects of the western political landscape.

Some readers have not appreciated the changes. I freely admit that some of the stories push my buttons, challenge my assumptions, and simply don’t interest me. I don’t like graphic novels or content. I was never a comic strip reader, and that style just doesn’t work for me. But how many young readers might be attracted to a graphic news story? And I confess that every now and then I catch my eyes rolling at the asomatous musings of a 20 or 30-something trans writer. But THOSE are my teachable moments! When my eyes are rolling, my judgement is impaired. I come at text from my highly privileged white background. These voices deserve to be heard as much as my voice does. And that it has taken this long for them to emerge is only proof of how narrow the playing field has been until recently.

Just look at those bright young faces in the Featured Contributors column. They span myriad shades, ethnicities, and gender personas. And each of them is talented beyond belief. My mission is to keep learning. And these two publications help me on the journey.

The magic of Christmas

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Christmas, despite its over-commercialization, has always been my favorite holiday. My mother went out of her way to make it special. There were always many small, but thoughtfully chosen and individually wrapped gifts under our Christmas tree. Mom couldn’t bear to see trees die needlessly for holiday decoration; therefore we always had an artificial tree which could be carefully stowed away each January and reused the following December. And she filled every inch of the house with old, often crumbling, yet always special ornaments and decorations handed down from her mother.

When I was about 14, my new stepfather brought in small trees for me and his daughter, my new sister, to put up in our rooms. This was a huge extravagance, but a wise ploy on his part. He could have written a book about how to endear oneself to a step-child.

I have put up a Christmas tree every single year since then, even the occasional years when I would be out of town during the holiday. Like my mother, if left up to me, I use (and reuse) an artificial tree. And I put old and often crumbling ornaments on the tree and around the house. These items remain special because they see so little daylight. Warm memories spring up as I free them from their layers of tissue paper. Nostalgic thoughts of people who’ve been part of my life—some of whom are no longer present—hover. Putting Christmas away always feels just a tad sad, like watching a kaleidoscope of leaves drift to the ground, leaving trees to face winter starkly naked.

Among my treasures is a collection of ornaments that has outgrown its storage box several times. One of my friends is both craftily handy and artistically talented. Each of her gifts through the years is adorned with a hand-crafted ornament. We’ve exchanged many gifts. Placing these ornaments on the tree is like looking through a stack of photo albums. Her creativity has marked our passage of time and our friendship. It also marks her artistic journey through many styles and creative pursuits through the years.

I gaze at the ornament that proudly commemorates 1980. It is not the oldest of the collection, but oh my, that was so long ago. Cris and I were both so young. And neither of us was aware of just how young we were or how long and deep our friendship would grow.

I hope you all have a love-filled and stress-free holiday filled with pleasant old memories and perhaps making new memories to savor in future years.