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JOURNAL

On the Way with Epictetus

Aerial Scuba Diving

Getting Down - Getting up - Going On . . .

LET ‘ER BUCK - The Saga of the Waco Kid

Todo Arriba!

The Graduate - Now what?

Mysteries

My son is a Mother.

The Singer Remembers

Personal Secrets



Finally, the English Edition!
Third Wish
A NOVEL IN FIVE PARTS

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Please Note: This journal contains a wide variety of stuff -- complete stories, bits and pieces, commentary, and who-knows-what else. As is always the case these days, the material is protected by copyright. On the other hand, I publish it here to be shared. Feel free to pass it on. Just give me credit. Fair enough?
June 30, 2015

Seattle, Washington
The last week of June, 2015
Cool weather, clear skies - with a light breeze off Elliot Bay

Back in Seattle – and glad to be – 72 degrees here today, while it’s 104 degrees in southeastern Utah, with an abundance of bugs that bite.

Though writing has been going on in my head for the last two weeks, it has not been going on in my computer. The genie in the machine apparently suffered cardiac arrest in transit.
An inconvenience, not a problem. It’s actually not such a bad thing to be unable to connect to the internet for a time – a forced vacation from the web is welcome.
But – the electronic cardiologist made a house call – did his voodoo – and I’m back in business.

A sidebar:
Whenever I make a long drive across the West, my companion, Louise, the stuffed orangutan, rides along in the front passenger seat. When I was pulled over by a Washington State Patrol cruiser for speeding (only 70 in a 60 zone), the young trooper approached from the passenger side of my car and addressed me over the head of Louise - as if she was not there staring up at him.
Finally, he began to smile, then laughed, and said, “OK, sir, tell me about the monkey,.” And I did.
He still gave me a ticket - but he was very friendly about it.

Not only was I traveling with Louise, but also with a Stoic philosopher, who was luckily invisible to the patrol officer’s eye so I didn’t have to try to explain to him.
But I will explain to you:

ON THE WAY WITH EPICTETUS . . . . .

Though I’ve referred to Epictetus before in my writing, here’s a biographical summary as background to the part he played in my recent travels:

Epictetus (Epik-teet-us) was born an ethnic Greek slave in about A.D. 55 in Phrigia (now Turkey) on the far edge of the Roman Empire. His master, Epaphroditus, went to Rome to serve as the administrative Secretary to the Emperor Nero.

Epicteus’ intellectual ability was recognized early on, and he was encouraged to study with the most famous Stoic philosophers.
He was freed from slavery and taught in Rome until A.D. 94, when many philosophers were banished by the emperor Domitian for encouraging thinking.
Epictetus lived out his days in exile in Nicipolis on the northwest coast of Greece. There he established a school of philosophy.
Though he was crippled and never traveled, students from all over the Roman Empire came to him, including Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, future ruler of all the Romans and author of a famous book of Meditations.

Epictetus never married, though he raised an orphan child in his old age. He died at age 80 in A.D. 135. He never wrote a book, but his teachings were recorded by his students into a collection now usually called The Art of Living.

I often seek Epictetus’s companionship by reading that book - because his way of thinking remains fresh and relevant almost 2,000 years after he first expressed it.
He thought the task of philosophy was to help ordinary people meet the challenges of daily life. Epictetus insisted that philosophy should be a way of life, not just a theoretical discipline. He offered only a Way of looking at one’s experience – one that reinforces my own Way.

When I set out to drive to Seattle, I decided to imagine that Epictetus was traveling along with me, inspired by his admonition that:

There is a big difference between saying valuable things and doing valuable things.

I wanted to go beyond just reading his writing, and try to see my traveling through his eyes and his mind. “What would Epictetus do?” was the guiding question.

Here are six excerpts from my journey with Epictetus in the back seat of my car – playing the role of co-pilot as I drove.

One:

Fulghum: Epictetus, I think it’s a good idea to plan ahead when traveling – to consult a map – to consider mileage and driving time – to have reservations for lodging – and expectations for arrival in time and place.
I’m good at advance planning.
For example, it’s 224 miles to Salt Lake from Pack Creek Ranch – 5 hour’s drive – one stop for gas and a restroom break – and I have hotel reservations.
And it’s 1,072 miles from my front door in Utah to my home in Seattle.
18 hours of driving, which I will break up into 3 sections in order to get gas, use the restroom, and visit friends in Salt Lake, Boise, and Walla Walla – we will have dinner together.
What do you think of my travel planning?

Epictetus: Interesting – but what about planning for the unexpected.

Fulghum: Of course. I carry a box of equipment and tools for emergencies – I’m a lifetime member of AAA in case of car emergencies – I check weather and highway conditions before I set out – and I have medical insurance.
I carry food to eat in the car so I don’t have to stop or in case my car has a breakdown and I’m stranded.

Epictetus: That’s good - you’re prepared for emergencies when things go wrong. But are you prepared for when things go right?
I’m referring to surprise and delight – to allow time and opportunity to stop and engage with the scenery – or get off the freeway onto a side road just to see what’s there. You don’t have to go far and stay long – but if you don’t pack your sense of curiosity with you, you’ll miss the good stuff. I’m amazed that you will travel more than 1,000 miles and not expect to meet any new people along the way.
Speed does not increase the quality of life.
As I’ve often said, in all events there is nothing to prevent us from searching for hidden opportunities. It is a failure of imagination not to do so.

* * * *

Two:

F: Well, damn, there’s road construction ahead – with a detour.

E: Wonderful! Detours offer surprise. Now you will have to slow down and take an unknown route – perhaps see new things you would never see if you stick to the freeway. Keep your mind and your eyes open.

* * * *

Three:
F: Well, damn, there’s a big flashing sign that says “EXPECT DELAYS.”

E: Excellent! That’s a very powerful piece of advice for all of your life.
Expect Delays. Everything happens in time, but things rarely happen on time.
Much sorrow comes from expecting to get what you want when you want it.
Going to the doctor? Expect Delays. Having dinner guests? Expect Delays.
Waiting for a delivery or a maintenance man? Expect Delays. Looking for a check in the mail? Expect Delays. Hoping for love? Expect Delays. Yearning for happiness? Expect Delays.

And if you do, then when things actually occur on time or early, you will be surprised and pleased. The flashing sign ahead is a profound message from the universe for your peace of mind: Expect Delays.

F: OK, but what do you do while you are waiting? I just fuss and fret.

E: Practice patience – remind yourself that anguish about things over which you have no control is the also a source of sorrow. Use the time to think – carry a notebook and a pencil – always have a small book with you to read. See the time waiting as a gift to be used, not an impediment to be endured.

* * * *

Four:

This exchange happened in a super market in Walla Walla, Washington.
I paid for my groceries with cash – coins were returned by machine into a small metal cup, marked “Please Accept Your Change.”

E: Look! There’s another piece of wisdom for your life. Please accept your change. Don’t forget you are always in process – always changing, hopefully growing in understanding and insight. Be aware of that and let it happen. The flourishing life involves evolution. Please Accept Your Change.

* * * *

Five:

While crossing a busy street in Boise, Idaho, a sign warned us to “Look Both Ways Before Crossing” – with arrows pointing left and right.

E: Now that’s good advice for safety, but the sign is inadequate as life advice.
If I was in charge of traffic signs I would add “Look All Ways – Look Up – Look Down – Look Around – Look Out - Look Away.” Or maybe just replace all those signs with one word: “Look.”

F: Nobody would ever get across the street if they paid attention to your sign.

E: Or they might change their mind about whether or not the other side of the street was a better place to be than where they were.

* * * *

Six:

F: Oh no, another flashing sign: “BE PREPARED TO STOP.”

E: Wonderful! Another wise reminder for your life. Be prepared to stop. In Latin we said “Momento Mori.”Remember your life will end – you will die. Prepare yourself for that, and live well as long as you can. Be prepared to stop.

* * * *

Seven:

F: Any other wise words while we travel?

E: I often said to my students – many times in many ways:

We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we
respond to them.
When something happens, the only thing in your power is your attitude toward it.
Circumstances do not rise to meet our expectations.
Events happen as they do.
People behave as they are.
Embrace what you actually get.

F: Look, there’s a herd of antelope out in the desert – shall we stop and look?

E: Of course. I’ve never seen an antelope. I’m curious – we did not have them in Greece. And speaking of unusual animals, I’m curious about the stuffed orangutan riding in the front seat. Her amused silence is very Stoic.

* * * *

https://www.facebook.com/robertleefulghum

For more on Epictetus: The Internet Encylcopedia of Philosophy http://www.iep.utm.edu/epictetu/

Best Short summary of the thoughts of Epictetus:
“The Art of Living” by Sharon Lebell – see Amazon books.  http://goo.gl/8xllsC

link to this story




June 14, 2015

Pack Creek Ranch - Moab, Utah
The middle of June, 2015

The next time you read this web-journal it will be posted from Seattle.
Summer comes now – bringing heat and bugs and tourists to the Colorado Plateau and the high desert. Time for me to migrate back to the Seattle for a season.

My route takes me across Utah into the great Salt Lake basin – into the Snake River Plains of southern Idaho – through the wheat fields of northeast Oregon – across the Columbia River into the vineyards and fruit orchards of the Yakima Valley – and finally, up and over the Cascade Mountains at Snoqualmie Pass into the Puget Sound basin.
Lots to see – lots to think about.

Meanwhile, there’s this – but first note that you may have to click back and forth to my Facebook page to make sense of what I’ve written.

AERIAL SCUBA DIVING

For some time now I’ve been at work in the garden of my mind planting the seeds of poetry, care-taking what grows, and pulling up the weeds that threaten to overwhelm the final flowering.

Here’s an example of work in progress. A week ago I wrote 52 lines in response to the day and my state of being. I kept pruning and pulling weeds – taking out the words and lines that seemed irrelevant or too introspective.
I wanted to carve the text down to the bare minimum needed to provoke the mind and memory of the reader:
I may have over done it – but here is what remained:

summer
sunday
morning
rain

There’s a photo on my Facebook page to accompany the poem. https://www.facebook.com/robertleefulghum

This morning I wrote another poem – a lot easier now:

summer
sunday
morning
sun

Check Facebook again https://www.facebook.com/robertleefulghum – you may think the second photo is of clear blue, empty sky.
But it’s not. 

A one word poem written to accompany this infinite blue says it all:

Bugs.

Within the cubic mile of sky in the photo, there are as many as 25 million assorted bugs – midges and spiders and flies and aphids and butterflies and moths and bees and gnats and mites and beetles and ants and lice and so on and on – suspended in the air like plankton in the sea.
Moreover, the sky is also full of seeds and spores and pollen beyond counting as plants enter the distribution phase of their reproduction cycle.
In other words, it’s alive up there.

I am not making this up.
Serious scientists doing serious research have scoured the sky with collection devices and that’s what they report – bugs and stuff.
The clear blue sky is in fact swarming with life being blown willy–nilly across the planet - we just can’t see it.
But, as you will have no doubt noticed, the swallows and swifts and bats
can easily locate their insect lunch meat.
And sooner or later, everything that goes up still comes down.

Finally, there’s a photo of me way up on a ladder, intending to repair the roof on the house, but impressed by what I can see by just being 10 feet further up in the air – the far horizon – and a squadron of tiny red spiders floating through the breeze, using a single thread of silk as their sail.
I got down quickly – to avoid interfering with their destiny.

* * * *

There’s no sharp point to what I’ve just written – no moral or aphorism.
It’s only that if you were here this morning, this is what we would have talked about – and you would have had a turn up on the ladder – scuba diving in the air.

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June 09, 2015

Pack Creek Ranch - Moab, Utah
The second week of June, 2015
Clear sky, hot during the day, cool at night

GETTING DOWN – GETTING UP – GOING ON . . .

On a shelf at the end of the couch where I take naps, there is a small statue of the Buddha, reclining. Carved out of wood, gilded with gold leaf. It is the last thing I see before I close my eyes to sleep for a little while.

On a trip to Thailand long ago, I had seen many such images of the reclining Buddha, large and small. He lay on his right side, head resting on his right hand, feet crossed, with a contented look on his face.

In my ignorance of Thai Buddhism, I thought he was taking a nap. Such a human thing to do. Such a casual denial of his deity. Taking a nap. And such a contradiction to what I thought was the essence of his doctrine: Be awake.

Being a serious napper, I bought a small example of the resting Buddha.
It appealed to me more than his usual upright sitting position, with the enigmatic expression on his face and one hand raised in blessing.
The napping Buddha was my kind of idol.

Only later did I learn how ill-informed I was.
The image did not portray him napping, but dying.
The traditional account says that, feeling ill, he reclined between two trees in this position, closed his eyes, and passed from this life into another.
I laughed when I learned the truth: Not napping – dying.

Still, going to sleep is a lot like dying – like passing into a parallel world.
It’s always a comfortable place to be for a while, if not forever.

Sometimes, as I began drifting down into my unconscious, I begin telling myself a story – one I have told so many times I know it by heart. It always seems to be the gateway to a peaceful place: 

“More than once upon a time, there may or may not have been a man who was so wise that other people thought he was a god.
The man insisted this was not so.
To prove it, the man would ask, “Do you think a god would eat, or go to the toilet, or bleed, or get sick, or cry, or sleep?
Of course not. These are the acts of humans, not gods.”
He did those things. He was not a god.

One day he lay down to sleep and never woke up again.
But his followers needed him to be a god, and their desire was enough to prove he was divine.
They never understood that it was they who were asleep.
They never understood that it was they who did not wake up.
They never understood what he meant when he said that the source of all grief is unfulfilled desire.
Sorrow comes from wanting to be a god or to have a god.
That’s what he said.  And so . . . and so . . . and so . . . . . .”

Is that the end of the story?
No, but I never get any further before sleep takes me away.
I place the story down now, so that you may pick it up and pass it on – for yourself or for others to hear on another day.
As the Buddha said about his teachings, “It is in your hands now . . .”

https://www.facebook.com/robertleefulghum

link to this story




June 04, 2015

Pack Creek Ranch - Moab, Utah
The first week of June, 2015
Clear sky, hot during the day, cool at night, full moon.

LET ‘ER BUCK – The Saga of the Waco Kid

A young man I once knew left home in Waco, Texas, three days after he graduated from high school.
Off to seek his fortune out west on a working guest ranch.
He aspired to be a cowboy.
To mosey around in a Stetson Hat, Tony Lama boots, 505 Levi jeans, a striped shirt with pearl buttons, a hand-tooled leather belt with his name on it, and a silver belt buckle the size of a coffee saucer.
He’d wear spurs on his boots that had loose rowels that went jingle-jangle
as he sauntered out to the corral at dawn.

He imagined saddling up and pushing cows around all day.

But there was more on his mind.
Since his job was on a guest ranch, he had some hopes of wrangling the young daughters of rich oilmen who flew their planes out from Dallas and Houston to the ranch for vacations.
Being a singing cowboy would increase his attraction – so he thought – and he had learned to play the guitar and wail western songs with a nasal twang just in case.

He arrived for work as a ranch hand on the day of his 17th birthday.
He didn’t realize that, despite his self-image, the rest of the cowboys saw him in a different light – a rookie – a raw greenhorn kid to the core.
He looked skinny, baby-faced, scared, naive, and overdressed.
All of which he was.

His first glamorous week as a cowboy was spent in the ranch kitchen – washing pots and pans and dishes, carrying out the garbage, slopping pigs, and mopping the kitchen floor.
He’d never mopped a floor in his life, and the cook, in disgust, showed him how and made him do it over and over until he got it right.
(He never forgot – just give him a big mop and a bucket of soapy water even now - and stand back..)

When not working in the kitchen, the lowliest stable jobs were assigned to him – mucking the horseshit out of the stalls, feeding and watering stock, cleaning the saddles and tack, washing the saddle blankets, and milking an irritable Jersey cow.

Not quite his idea of being a cowboy – no romance in any of that.
Not the image of a cowboy in the minds of the cute guest girls, either.
No romance there, either.
He ended up his working day greasy, sweaty, and smelling like pig slops.
He wouldn’t attract a female fly if he was dead.

To the rest of the regular ranch hands he was a prime target for practical jokes.
They called him “The Waco Kid” behind his back.
They put spiders in his boots and snakes in his bed.
And told him he would never be a real cowboy until he had ridden in a rodeo.
But that . . . could be arranged . . .

Not far from the ranch was a crossroads honky-tonk roadhouse called “Crider’s Rodeo and Dance Hall.”
The favorite watering hole of cowboys and dudes from nearby ranches, and staff from the summer camps on the Guadalupe River.
The rodeo was held on weekends – open to all comers.

The Waco Kid was entered in the bull riding contest by his rodeo mentors.
Did he think he could do it?
“Well, hell, yes!”

With enough fear-driven adrenalin pumping through his body to fight a bear,
he settled on the back of a bull named “Mother’s Milk” – said to be the most fearsome beast in the bucking string.
A black and white spotted creature that looked more Holstein than Brahma.
He cinched up the rope on his hand – gritted his teeth – screamed “Let ‘er buck!”
The chute gate swung open.
Nothing.
Mother’s Milk just stood there.
Until a cowboy hit the bull in its testicles with an electric cattle prod.
AIRBORNE!

Bull riders are supposed to hold on for 8 seconds.
The Waco Kid hung on for a short length of time that could not be measured.
Mother’s Milk went one way and the Waco Kid went another.

He’d learned an important life lesson in that nanosecond:
Sometimes one needs to let go of losing propositions and bail out.
But he’d made the first payment on his dues to be a cowboy.
And lived to tell the tale.

Bull riding wasn’t the end of his rodeo that night.
His cowboy mentors had also signed him up for the wild mare milking contest.
That involved a lactating lady horse that had recently had a colt – which meant she could produce milk if you knew where and how to find the faucet.
One cowboy was supposed to hang on to her halter, grab her ear and bite it – so she’d stand still.
Meanwhile, the other cowboy was supposed to grab a tit and squeeze milk out of it into a Coke bottle – then run to the finish line.
(I’m not making this up.)

The mare was not enthusiastic about the contest.
And she ran the length of the arena, dragging both cowboys through the muck until she reached the fence and stood still just long enough for the Waco Kid to start squeezing her tits.
Well . . . you can imagine . . .

By the end of the rodeo, the Waco Kid was a wreck: broken finger from bull riding, bloody nose from horse milking, torn shirt, trampled hat - covered with mud, blood, and manure – smelling of sour mare’s milk, bull piss, and horseshit. There was a dance afterward, but nobody would dance with someone who looked and smelled like he did.

He rode home banished to the back of the pickup truck with the dogs.
He fell into bed without taking off his clothes or boots.
He hurt all over - in places he didn’t know he could hurt in.
But . . . . but . . . he was a rodeo cowboy.
And that made mopping floors in the kitchen the next morning easier.

The rest of the summer went better than it began.
The Waco Kid finally got to take dudes out riding.
No oil millionaire’s daughters took a shine to him.
He still looked skinny, baby-faced, naive, and overdressed.
But his status had risen a little – “Do you ride in rodeos? Yes, Ma’m, I do.”

However . . . there was a tall, blond, beautiful Norwegian waitress at the ranch, who was in her third year of nursing school at the University of Minnesota . . . an older woman - twenty one – and she taught the Waco Kid what she knew about anatomy . . . and her taught her what he knew about country dancing.
Her name was Marilyn.
She must be 82 years old now – but in his mind, she lives on, as lovely as ever.
The memory of the summer of 1954 remains vivid as well – especially that night in June at Crider’s Rodeo and Dance Hall, when the Waco Kid became a cowboy.

Happy birthday to him.

( https://goo.gl/CCgC6m – images for Crider’s Rodeo and Dance Hall )

https://www.facebook.com/robertleefulghum

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May 29, 2015

Pack Creek Ranch - Moab, Utah
The crease between May and June, 2015
And the fourth week of “unsettled weather” – thunderstorms and
rain showers every afternoon. There’s so much water in the wetlands
down by the Colorado River that alligator sightings have been reported.

Tango has been much on my mind this week.
That’s odd because I’ve been in far southeastern Utah for the last nine
months, and there’s not a lot of tango dancing happening here.

There are two reasons for my state of tango mind:
First, the musical made from my tango writings, which opened in Prague two years ago, has been extended to run for another two years.
(See my Facebook page for photos before you read on. https://www.facebook.com/robertleefulghum)
If you want to read my tango novel and tango memoir, they can be downloaded from the sites on the left hand side of this journal page.

The other reason for my being in a tango mode is a sign I’ve posted alongside the door to my studio – so that I will be reminded of its message as I come and go.

Come – sit down on my porch – and I’ll unwrap the story for you – from my experiences learning tango in Buenos Aires.

TODO ARRIBA!

The language barrier was higher in Argentina than I expected.
The Tex-Mex border Spanish of my childhood and the Castilian Spanish courses taken in college were inadequate preparation for the language of Buenos Aires – Rioplatanese - a unique mix of the regional dialects of Spain, and coastal Italy.

A friend who had lived many years in Argentina explained the language and culture problem this way: “Americans think Argentina is just South Mexico. That’s like saying New England and New Zealand are neighbors and speak the same language.”
Moreover, English was not as common in Argentina as I hoped.
In sum, I could get by and get around, but I could not get connected.
Senor Fuljumero needed a cultural assistant.

Enter Maria-Jose, Senorita Arriba!
We met when she substituted for my instructor for a few days at the
Mansion Dandi Tango Academy.
It soon seemed wise to employ her as the literary and cultural attaché of Senor Fuljumero.
She was the perfect answer to my needs.
A tiny, vivacious brunette, whose mother ran an English language school in Uruguay. Fluent in Rioplatanese, Spanish, Italian, and English.
Culturally astute, streetwise, and adept at navigating both the day life and night life of Buenos Aires.

Maria-Jose could unlock and open doors for Senor Fuljumero when he could not even locate the handle. His ability to relate to Argentina was increased exponentially. Now he had easy access to music, dance, food, art, history, and venues where tourists never go or even think to go.

And – best of all – the very best of all – Maria-Jose was a dance gypsy – a professional show-tango dancer, as well as a teacher of tango.
Her professional life was financially fragile and unpredictable.
She needed a flexible job to augment her dancer’s income.
And Senor Fuljumero needed help – supervision – a tango nanny.
Deal.

Not only did Maria-Jose have a broad knowledge of tango and tango culture, she had fiercely high standards as a teacher.
That’s why Senor Fuljumero called her Senorita Arriba!
Arriba means “upstairs” – but it’s a shorthand slang admonition:
As in “Arriba! Stand up straight!” – “Arriba! Look up!” – “Arriba! Head up!” - or even “Arriba! Cheer up!”
Everything was Up, up, up! with Maria-Jose.
I will elaborate.

Here’s Senor Fuljumero in his studio, with his back in a corset-like brace.
The middle finger of his left hand is in a splint, bound with tape.
He walks tenderly with a slight limp – his ankles and feet are sore.
He is obsessively humming or whistling the “Colonel Bogey March” or “The Stars and Stripes Forever” as he goes about his day.
Pity him not.
A bus did not hit him.

These are self-inflicted conditions and symptoms of the syndrome
that might be called “arriba tango-itis.”

Senor Fuljumero’s posture, especially in dancing tango, is unacceptable to Maria-Jose.
She calls him “Senor Slumpy.”
Because he stands slightly stooped-shouldered like an old man.
He dances in a crouch.

Worse, he is always looking down at the floor monitoring the moves he is trying to make with his feet.
And Maria-Jose shouts Arriba! at him constantly.
She’s even stuck a big sign on his wall: “TODO ARRIBA! ROBERT!”
Stand up! Dance up! Head up! Cheer up! ARRIBA!

The back brace was Senor Fuljumero’s idea.
To force him stand up straight while practicing dancing at home alone.
The finger splint is also his idea. He wore it all day when he was out and about in Buenos Aires.
To remind him to improve his posture, and stand up straight and proud no matter where he may be.

He marched around to military band music in his head because he wanted to move like a Marine Sergeant in a parade ground review.
Proud! Confident! Dignified!
He wanted people to look at him and think: “There goes a dancer – one of those legendary tango jubilado milongueros.”

Arriba Man, not Senor Slumpy.

I even started going to sleep in an Arriba! posture – back and body straight, arms to my side, face up. I may look like a corpse laid out in a coffin for a funeral, but I sleep in tango mode.

My inner condition was in conflict with Maria-Jose’s standards.
She wanted me:
To learn the basic steps and the classic postures so well that they become innate – to dance without thinking or planning:
To lead a partner with intelligence and subtle shoulder suggestions, not by watching feet.
To know the difference between the musical styles of dance - a tango, a milonga, and a vals.
To move with style.
And to keep my mind focused on the task at hand and not race ahead or throw in little decorative foo-foo jackass moves, which is my habit.
And above all -above all - Todo Arriba!

She was patient.
I was not.
She kept a firm hand on the reins of my inclinations.
I did not.
In my mind I knew she was right.
But in my heart I want to whirl around the room like Fred Astaire, create all my own steps and moves - Tango Fuljumero - and, at the end of a lesson, tap dance up and down the stairway of my apartment and take a bow.

Perhaps that time will come.

But the brace on my back and the splint on my finger were a reminder that discipline is required; right habits must be acquired; that exuberance must be grounded in skill; that passion requires confidence, and that when dancing up and down stairs, it is useful to know where and how to land well at the bottom. Otherwise, limping will always be my lot.
One is in life, not in a movie.

My eagerness was restrained by the knowledge that I remained a tango klutz - a rookie with mostly dreams and ambitions as qualifications – and that competence in a dance form is a life-long ambition, not a destination.

Day after day I addressed myself in the mirror in my hall:
“Arriba! Rise up, Senor Fuljumero - up out of your trench of fear - up and over the top and into the fray.
Trust Maria Jose!
TODO ARRIBA!
And I did.
And still do.

* * * *

That was then – this is now.
As my 78th birthday approached, I noticed myself as I passed back and forth in front of a big mirror in my wife’s painting studio.
My posture sucks.
I could hear the voice of Maria-Jose calling me “Senor Slumpy.”

Her wisdom rose up out of the back room of memory into the present day.
Maria-Jose said I must stop thinking about my activities as practicing tango. It’s about living life in a self-aware way.
“Zen-tango” she called it.
The spirit of tango from the inside out.

I can hear her say, “Focus! Do the best you can do for the time being.
Do what you are capable of on this day.
Arriba! Stand straight even when alone.
Walk out your door and down the hall with the dancer’s countdown, “…5,6,7,8, dance!”
Think of life as a dance – an all-day tango event – a milonga.
TODO ARRIBA, ROBERT!

I was in town early this morning to get a haircut and groceries – the most ordinary of activities.
Maria-Jose was on my mind as I walked into Alberta’s Hair Salon and into City Market standing tall and straight, listening to the tango in my head.
If she had seen me, she would have smiled – and asked me to dance.

https://www.facebook.com/robertleefulghum

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