The last time I kept a blog, I was training for a marathon. I was making major changes in my life, at a point where people generally decide to do it, or not. Midlife crisis, they call it.

I made more changes than I had anticipated, because change never happens in isolation. But there is no such thing as a midlife crisis, really. No one can predict a midway point to any destination. There are, however, lookout points all along the way. If you take the time to pull over, get out for a minute. A rest stop.

It wasn’t the first time I had experienced a “crisis”: took on major challenges, took off into completely unfamiliar territory. It wouldn’t be the last time. Won’t be.

Things are different now, though. Now, four years after running a marathon, I’m restless again. But this time, I’m looking backward as well as forward–and no longer afraid to do that. There are practices and beliefs I’d once nourished, things I’ve dropped or forgotten, that I now understand the value of. For example, the potential for faith. All kinds of faith.

I once knew that living is dying; we should remember that fact, in order to die in a way we choose–no matter how death might take us by surprise. There is a man in Denmark who lives each day dying well. And, I hate myself for my first thought after listening to him: I need to move to a place where I can dig a pond, like he did; where I can fashion my life like his. I use the word fashion deliberately, for all it is worth. I am even considering his eccentric knit strawberry hat.

I am still there. Here. Stuck, trying to make meaningful change, to find meaning, without giving up my life and making a pilgrimage to someone else’s belief system.

Someone asked me not long ago, if I was still running. I take that as evidence I have stopped proselytising. I take that as evidence in my progress towards becoming (authentically being) what I choose to be.

I am still running. Like so many others, asking myself questions I’d stopped asking for a while.414066_359311840791185_1987797442_o-2

And telling myself that the solution is not to buy a knit strawberry hat to wear on my runs.

(Check out the mini documentaries in the links!)

DSC_0384I was listening to radiolab‘s podcast on memory. Thinking about memories as neural constructions, as bridges. In my case, most often, fragments of bridges.

Or hand-me-down bridges, with their romantic patinas.

When not left to our own imaginations, our stories are told to us. Bit by bit, angle by angle. Point of views, like dreams, blending into one another. We piece details together to create our single narrative, but can never be certain of whose truths we are repeating.

I jumped up and down on the concrete steps of my grandparent’s house, to make the frogs jump out from under them. I was three. I was wearing a white romper. What little hair I had was curled at the ends. The world was black and white then.

I remember a broom. But no one ever contextualised that part of the story for me: the broom is like a random illustration tucked into a children’s book. There is a possibility that only the broom is my own memory. There is also a possibility that the broom is some kind of emotional symbolism that I put there because I saw Cinderella years later, and fantasised about chores and fairy god mothers, while sweeping concrete steps. The broom may have come from the photo, corners tucked into place, beside that photo in an album somewhere: my grandfather sweeping the drive.

Rebuilding bridges with what material is at hand. We are resourceful engineers. We create what is useful, and what is necessary.


I was thirty the first time I went to Rome. I cried when I saw The Sistine Chapel. An acquaintance thought I has having a religious experience. It was so much more complicated than that.

There was the fact that I was there. A bit of trailer park trash whose greatest ambition was to get to New York City someday. I had something akin to survivor’s guilt.

And there was the fact of the chapel itself. Not the one I’d seen in photographs and documentaries. But here, just following the Nippon restoration, was a Sistine Chapel in Marvel Colors.: royal blues and stop-sign reds. It was a metaphor for expectations. An example borrowed nostalgia versus the garishness of reality. Garish because reality can be defined as a bombardment of the senses. The loudness of being in the world.


In Vermont there are covered bridges. When I went there for the first time, in my early forties, I recognised the landscape. I walked through the Children’s Home, where my grandmother grew up. The soft green walls. The now-empty halls. There is a bridge we had built together, between the neurons in my grandmother’s brain, and the neurons in mine. Even now, a bridge that stretches outward from my mind to wherever matter becomes energy.


DSC_0540-2A not-so-random fact: some of the bridges in Paris are collapsing under the weight of expectations.

IMG_20150719_160121Most mornings are the same. A run, a bit of yoga, shower, coffee and thirty minutes of writing.

It’s my secret life. Before I head to work and take on all the roles I have to take on to pay the bills, to stay in the world.

The last six months, I’ve been working on a manuscript. On a theme. And I’ve tried various tools to help me write something on the page besides, “Just keep writing, just keep writing…”.

I have a lot of prompt books, but most of them give “assignments”, which aren’t helpful when I am trying to find new perspectives on a work in progress.

The Observation Deck has worked well for me. But I find myself, after six months, pulling the same cards again and again. So, I was toying with the idea of getting a deck of Tarot cards. I am skeptical when it comes to the occult. Cautious. But I used to use a deck of feminist tarot cards for meditation, many years ago.

Oh, the things we lose along the way.

But I found the Poet’s Tarot, by Two Sylvia’s Press.

Yesterday, I pulled up Denise Levertov, as The World, and I read the guidebook. I am negotiating a turning point, in my life, and in my writing, and the ideas there were inspiring: encouraging me to look at the “wholeness” of my creative work. The aspects of my life that brought new perspectives on the project I am working on now.

Today, I pulled Light Up The Cave off my shelf. In her essay “Interweavings: Reflections on the Role of Dream in the Making of Poems”, Levertov writes:

“[…] just as in dreams we effortlessly receive images and their often double significances, rather than force them into being by a process of will, so in writing (whether from dream or non-dream sources) the process is rather one of recognising and absorbing the given than of willing something into existence.”

I finished Happiness last night. And can’t help but tie my thoughts together. Levertov could be talking about life, not just writing. (And, well, after all, isn’t that the definition of a poet: someone who just happens to point to the world, as they’ve received it? Like a child: Look!)

We should take what is given. Recognising (not in the sense of categorising, but of noticing) and absorbing what is given for what it is, not what we can force it to be. I think this is where humility and gratitude come in. The conditions that allow us to move beyond platitudes to an experience of beauty. Like a cold rain or a hot bath, what is given should bring us to a point of discomfort. Long enough for our bodies, our neurons to build the necessary bridge of memory, experience, that allows us to cross over, for a moment, and accept life.

We shouldn’t try to be happy. To squeeze our life into a snapshot of a toothpaste ad. We can’t will it into existence. It is a word.

Accept what is given, turn it over in our wordless observations, like a child pulled in every direction by the laws of physics, held upright by her intense focus. Ignorance. This kind of ignorance. Nothing in the world demands a measure of value. It demands to be experienced.


 

See more about writers working with Tarot for inspiration at Tania Pryputniewicz‘s webiste.

Today I ran the same 4 kilometers.

20150715_110551But, leaving the canopy of birch branches, heading onto the unsheltered stretch between the lake and the pasture, I looked to the left. I felt a knot in my stomach. The tree was gone.

The solitary tree that stands in the field, that changes day to day. My mind was shuffling through possible explanations. I nearly opened my mouth to say something to E.

“Someone cut down the tree.”

Then I remembered.

There are two pastures on this trail. Two unsheltered stretches of gravel path between water and pasture.

I had let my mind wander this morning. And what I learned was that, even after seven months of running this trail, I still don’t know these fields well enough to distinguish between them when I meet them unexpectedly.

And to think, I’d wondered if I would get bored.

 

IMG_20150721_173959When I exhale pain radiates down the length of my arms.
It’s stress.
And it’s comforting in a way, to feel it like this.
Concretely.
I almost believe I could grab hold of it, and pull it out my fingertips.
Strands of sharp tinsel.


When I posted that on Facebook, a friend expressed concern, reminded me that women’s heart attack symptoms are different from men’s. And since there is always, in the back of my mind, a concern about inflammation and the damage done over the years, I went to the doctor. But the EKG was fine.

For all the meditation and relaxation techniques I know and use and teach, I am still completely out of touch with the way my body deals with stress. My mind still checks out of the situation, but the rest of my body takes it on. In January, with a mysterious spots all over my body, the doctor asked, “Are you under stress?”

“Not really.” I’d said without giving it any thought. Without giving the three mortgages and impending bankruptcy a thought. Without considering the other things in my life, which I won’t write about here.

“I’m fine.”

Someone commented recently that I seem happiest out in nature. Maybe it’s the distraction. The aches from the backpack, the sting from blisters, maybe they give my body something else to dwell on. The electric pain down my arms stops. Yes. It’s all in my head: the head bone (dis)connected to the neck bone, as the song goes. I need to take another look at the way I’m meditating. The way I am disassociating mind from body. It’s dishonest.


Flørli
is 4,444 steps up to the top of the cliff.

4,444 steep steps. And about halfway up, someone has carved into the wood, “Now, you’re tired.”

But you have to push on. Because the alternative is going down the 4,444 steep steps, which is a frightful thought.

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So you keep moving.

There are two distinct moments in my life that I recall – where I thought realised: “Now: I am happy.”

It wasn’t on this day.

In fact, neither day was a day where I felt that I had accomplished anything. That isn’t to say there weren’t days where I was overjoyed. Proud. Happy, in my experiences.

But on these two occasions: one, quietly driving home from work, planning dinner for my two small children and my (then) husband; the other, sitting on the couch in my own apartment, my kids grown and living elsewhere, my life comfortably poised for something new – I felt a slow wave of emotion, like settling into a pool of warm water. A conscious pause, halfway up a staircase, looking around and enjoying the view, the breeze, the feeling of muscles slightly torn and strengthening. Realising that, time was not standing still. Things were good now, but they would change, and even that was a good thing. The way things are supposed to be.

This feeling is my definition of gratitude. It involves an element of submission, an acceptance and appreciation. It is lying in Savasana, palms up and open.

And it’s letting go.

It’s about letting go of contexts mostly. Definitions of myself, and definitions of my perceptions.

I have a fear of growing old. Not growing older, mind you. I am mostly fine with that. It’s the rigidness that some people take on with age. They close down on their experiences. Solve the puzzles for themselves (and, they think, everyone else). Form opinions. They stop reading the article after the author gets to a point with which they disagree. They are afraid to push themselves, to tear all those muscle fibers just a bit.

“Now, you’re tired.” It’s a taunt. Keep going. Because it is a really bad idea to stay there, resting until darkness takes you. And an even worse idea to head back down the way you came. That soreness in your legs, is just them getting stronger.

I’ve only read three books so far this year.

20150718_183402“Busy”,  yes. But I’ve promised myself not to use that word anymore. I am not busier than I choose to be, and how I choose to be busy with my time (consciously or not) is my responsibility.

I’ve read that our attention spans have shortened to 8 seconds. I remember reading that. The headline promised 5 ways to deal with that fact. So I’m sure I skimmed down to the numbers. The bullet points.

But I don’t remember any of them.

I find myself simultaneously offended by, and drawn to articles with numbered lists. While it is true that I have always had a thing for exact numbers (my poems can testify to that), this is different. This is the speed-reading of our culture. Power Points. Facebook articles, shared and discussed on the basis of a headline. (At least, that appears to be the case on my feed. People sometimes admitting they don’t have time to read the article, but they’d like to add that…).

5 Things I’ve Been Doing All Wrong

1. Using Facebook to provide superficial feelings of belonging/approval
2. Surfing through the social feeds as a procrastination tool (to avoid working on projects that might carry with them the possibility of failure)
3. Not reading a single point of view for more than two minutes
4. Not thinking about a single subject for a more than five. Not ruminating – meditating – arguing (with myself)
5. Not trusting myself to move slowly and deliberately among the big ideas

It’s time to devote more time to Arts & Letters Daily. To full articles. Books. The Long Form.


 

I googled the article. I was wrong. There are 3 ways to deal with it:

(in reverse order)

3. Avoid electronic devices
My typewriter, despite valiant efforts by my son, is still busted. I am a lefty. Ink smears. Want more excuses?

2. Exercise
Seriously? The explanation: “Men who were part of a Spanish cycling team responded seven percent much faster than the less fit group in a computerized task.”
Anyone else seeing some serious logical gaps here?

1. Drink More Fluids
Wait. This one works for me. There are three bottles of wine in the kitchen.

I’m going to grab a glass of merlot and a book, and go read in bed. Next up: The Adventures of Henry Thoreau by Michael Sims. I’ve been looking forward to this. 
I have more than five minutes before bedtime.