I’m setting down with some tea. I had wine on Friday night and regretted it – I couldn’t sleep and and had to fight my tendency toward rumination.

Tonight it is Mint Matcha Green.

I took the news apps off my phone this afternoon.
I went to the beach for a run.

I snapped at my husband at dinner, and then typed a running commentary on Telegram to my son – all about how stupid the guy giving a TEDx talk was.

Things go up and down. And most of the time I don’t like myself. I think that is what too much time alone does to me. I circle around myself as my own critic, and peck at myself until I bleed.

Then I look for something beautiful. And I feel sorry for myself.

Leonard is sprawled across the cool floor next to my desk. Sighing occasionally.

And this is my life.

I was thinking today about the gross national product. And about the World Happiness Report that came out last week. About trust and security. And that means I’ve been thinking about faith again.

And wondering why it is so difficult for me to accept that I have faith – that I am honestly an optimist who pretends to be a pessimist. It’s almost as if I hold dire predictions in my hand, fingering them like talismans against the worse happening.

The blackbirds are singing in the dark. I keep expecting that should mean something, but it doesn’t. The blackbirds just sing. They sing when the sparrows are quiet, and the crows have left the trees for the night. They sing after the larks have settled in their nests in the grass along the furrows in the farmland behind the nursing home.

We are waiting for test results again.

Europe moved the clocks forward last night, so it’s later than it should be.

No wonder it’s so hard to catch up with myself these days.

 

 

 

 

An old photo – and out of context – but it felt appropriate. 


I’ve been asking E. for a week now, what do I do with all these numbers?

Two years ago a colleague lost a baby in childbirth. It seemed to me like something that rarely happens now. It should be a scenario documented in a black-and-white photo.

But I learned than an average of 30 stillbirths a year is normal in this town. In any town this size, in this country. Statistically.

I thought if that had been a headline in the paper: 30 Stillborn in Stavanger this Year, it would have been terrifying news. Our realities are limited by what we put our attention on. And I suppose we pay attention day-to-day to what our hearts can hold comfortably.

So what do I do with all these numbers – these past two weeks when I have had too much time at the computer to jump between tabs and read the news too many times a day to count.

I know how many people are on a respirator at the local hospital today. I have no idea what that number means. I have no idea how many were on them in December. A year ago today. Or if that is even relevant.

I look at a map of Europe and we are dark orange where Italy is red. The chart below compares countries and numbers. People, percentages.

I have no idea what to do with these numbers – not intellectually – not emotionally. How do I hold these numbers?

It’s like grabbing at fish. With the same ambivalence about actually getting your hands around one.

What now?  What do I do with this?

I have an odd habit of counting. I think it is a kind of self-soothing. A form of meditation. Sometimes I notice it on long runs. There’s no melody drifting through my mind then: just counting. It makes no sense and sometimes I actually wonder if if is a self-soothing technique I picked up from Sesame Street.

Today is day 14. Which would be the end of a standard quarantine period here, but of course not the end for any of us now: 19 more days teaching from home, and working from home. Many are not working.

In 19 days, we will know more.

Maybe begin a new countdown.

But those are the numbers for the what-if. The take-care. Days as manageable degrees of separation from the normal.

For her now, unable to come home to us – and so for us, as well – the countdown is on hold while she waits for the infection to run its course through her roommate’s body. She can count the meals she leaves outside her roommate’s bedroom door.

Then the counting begins again: 9 days without symptoms. Then, another 14 days of quarantine because they share an apartment.

Temporal degrees of separation.

What do we do with this time now, counting backwards before we can start again?

 

 

 

This is Day 11 of the pandemic. I’ve been lucky to have slept well this past week.

I left the charging cord to my Fitbit in a desk drawer at work, so I’m uncharacteristically un-monitored these days. And getting used to it. I wake rested. Sometimes waking thinking of work-related tasks, or sorting through fragmented ambitions, but never having to remind myself of this exceptional reality.

On Thursday my body itched head-to-toe. That happens sometimes when the creatures under my skin, living in symbiosis with me, notice my subconscious fear and complain. Like tenants banging on the landlord’s door.

E. and I ran in the woods, then I came home and sipped on a neat 18 year-old whiskey. We watched something so silly I forgot what it was.

Then I slept. No one banging on the door.

The dog still needs to pee at 6 am. He still comes in and gallops to the cupboard pre-zoomies energetic, waiting for his treat that is like a starting gun for him to dart around the living room like a whirling dervish. 90 pound Tasmanian devil. Silly hound dog expression so at odds with his enthusiasm.

Yesterday, walking Leonard,  I remembered this past autumn – when the dogs were dying of some unidentified cause – all over Norway. No one knew why, and we were told to avoid other dogs until they could sort it out. We traced large arcs around the neighborhood. They never sorted it out. And the concerns seemed to fade away.

Now we walk large arcs to avoid other people.

I woke at 2 last night. Then at 4.

As I write this I don’t even want to try to remember the details of the dreams I had.

Just casting my mind in that direction, a coldness that wraps around my chest – high, up under my armpits. It makes me aware how vulnerable my center is. Just above my belly button, a hollow burning. Some kind of hunger.

I eat frozen grapes.

And that is seriously not helping.

 

When I took the Heathrow Express to the airport, heading to Edinburgh and then south to the Northumberland trail run, it has already started.

A woman sat down in the seat beside me wearing a face mask. And I wondered if she was protecting herself or protecting me. I wondered if she was being paranoid, or considerate.

We didn’t make eye contact during the 45 minute trip ( – counting delays –  I counted them by my inhalations). Which – considering there would be no way of knowing if she were offering a friendly smile – was probably for the best.

In Bramburgh, in the cold wind, 400 hundred or so of us were crammed inside make-shift tents, all wearing wristbands with sensors, sporting numbers pinned to our jackets or our tights. Dancing in place –  a little to keep warm,  a little to distract ourselves from the concern that the lines for the toilets at this last minute might be too long.

The next day I booked massages for the two of us at a spa in Edinburgh. Then I wondered if I should cancel the booking for the massages at the spa in Edinburgh. Wondered if E. would think I was silly for considering it.

We got back to Norway 2 days before the line was drawn on the calendar to mark quarantine for those who’d travelled to Italy and Austria during winter vacation. Still, I took my temperature every morning before going to school – figuring international airports are, well, international.

It seems like thing change suddenly, but the world creeps. It is our noticing that is sudden.

The last ten years I’ve had an itch for a kayak. I have this romantic idea of my own slow, steady effort –  while watching the birds nesting in the reeds.

I could take it all in – observing every little change during every long hour – during the days – the weeks. Not to document it, but to experience it.

Life doesn’t need to be exhilarating. I want to crawl in from under, away from all the chatter – and listen for the background noise. Just floating, attentive to the rise and fall of the water in a tiny lake. The sunlight glowing through my eyelids when I tilt my head up in the breeze.

The thing is, I know very well that I don’t have the balance required for that kind of solitude.

 

 

 

My great grandfather died 99 years ago from the Spanish flu. That was the beginning of what there is of family history, as my grandmother told it. He died when she was 9. When she was 10 her mother sent her to work for – and live with – strangers. By 12 she’d been sent to a children’s home, and she said those were the best years of her life.

She liked the predictability. The rules. The gathering of children – some orphaned, some – like her -… not. What can I say that doesn’t sound judgmental? I know “times were hard”.

No. The truth is, I don’t know.

I do know that my grandmother stood apart.

The story has a ragged start, and it ravels from there. In my story family isn’t a tree, it’s a snapped string of glass beads scattered over a wooden floor. And wanting anything else is absurd. Bits glued together don’t create a whole.

But each bit is whole alone. Ground smooth – scoured by conflicts and time.
Nothing left to catch on anything, they shine brightly and slip out of sight.

I was always the “new girl”. Until I’d slip away. So immigrating wasn’t difficult. One can get so used to difficult. It’s a familiar shape the body adjusts to. There are people who sleep on the floor with a block of wood under their head. They aren’t martyrs. They are creatures of habit, like all of us.

Like all of us. Like us.

On September 11, 2001, I called friends from home to talk, and they all told me “what Americans are going through”.

Communities circle the wagons in times of crisis. Funny, how things like that can take you by surprise.

Yesterday I got an email from my writer’s union. Norwegian writers are invited to contribute to a project about living in Norway during these surreal times.

If you write in Norwegian.


I’ve lived here for 26 years. Reared my children in the culture. Taught in the public schools.

But there are shapes we cling to. Because – like it or not – it’s who you are. And who you aren’t.

No matter how hard you try.