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.

How quickly things can change. And how quickly we adapt.

Most of us.

Some of us even manage to sing from our separate balconies.


I’ve wanted to write this week, but find it easier – and comforting – to focus on the students. Getting all my ducks in a row in terms of assignments. And then lining them up again. Neatly. Then, in serpentine lines. Creating a dramaturgy of sorts.

Tweaking until everything becomes more complex than necessarily.

Ornate.

I guess energy demands energy. It doesn’t really dissipate. I fear the students’ nervous energy goes through me, and is delivered back to them in an unhelpful form. I’m afraid that in this case the beauty is in the process, not the product.

We sent the students home on Thursday just after lunch. It’s funny that the phrase “touching base” comes to mind. I wanted to touch base with many of them before they left – many I knew had specific concerns.

No touching. 


I have been aware that I have become “a hugger” these last few years. I think that being a certain age means a whole new kind of freedom with regard to non-sexual touch. I’ve been teaching contact improvisation for years, so the pedagogic and ethical responsibility that comes with creating safe spaces, non-sexualized, organic whole-body movement was often in the forefront of my mind. Now I realize that at some point it was no longer necessary to hold it in my consciousness in the same way. I think having let go of the fear, has made it easier for me to observe. Easier for me to divert the unnecessary tension in the room.

Don’t misunderstand me. My sexuality and sensuality have not diminished as I have aged, but the world – as it is – allows now for all that to be an utterly private experience. Which leaves my arms are free to hold the world in a kind of maternal embrace I had no idea I was capable of.

It seems I have doubled.


Someone on Facebook asked today how people define kindness. I do believe that kindness is this: It is touching base, and offering nothing but the reassurance that we are not alone in the world.

Touching base. And expecting nothing in return.


No touching. 

We need these weak ties that bind us to more than our little, nuclear lives.

Handshakes.
Awkward hugs.

Weak ties that keep us from hunkering down with our xenophobic tendencies.

I worry about the quarantine. I worry that the Prime Minister just told kids to pick a best friend to hang out with through this time.

What about the kids who don’t get picked, Ms. Prime Minister?
When the world pairs up neatly into their tiny tribes.

What about our weaker ties?

Touch base.


No touching.

Maybe language was invented to circumvent a contagion, to let us touch base. Still.
All that extra energy taking shape in ornamental prose, in poetry. Purple and pedestrian, and so very beautiful in the process. Singing.

To remember: we’re not alone.

Again someone asks me why I haven’t written a memoir. If I have ever thought of writing a memoir. Again.

Sometimes I feel like my life story is a bullet point list. Some points are facts. Some points are legends. Or lies. The spaces between are huge leaps of faithlessness.

The first fact is that I don’t know whose story I would tell.

*

I don’t know what age we are when we begin our narratives. Maybe my first conscious bit of autobiography was naming my first dog Troubles because, I said, he always got me in trouble.

That is a fact. I remember the justification. Which could not have been a fact. I named the puppy the day I got him. There was no history upon which to construct an “always”.

The fact was that I was conscious of my own narrative at that moment. As an adult, now, I think that six year-old must have been an insufferably precocious child. As an adult, now, well – I think that’s when all the troubles began. It makes a kind of satisfying sense.

And maybe a good start to a very bad country song lyric.

*

I’ve often wondered if I don’t like children because I don’t like my child-self. After all, the fact that I don’t like children is a peculiar bit of narrative I cling to. A college psychologist told me that there probably wan’t any reason to worry about other children being abused. I had clearly been a precocious six-year-old and the “relationship” was “specific”.

You gotta love Freudian psychologists. Someone does. At any rate, someone will.

*

Palimpsest: When you discover you are the writer of your story – part journalist/part poet – and your script is pulled, redacted, with a sloppy cut and paste job that leaves plot holes and a jarring lack of continuity. Overly-written, overwrought, suspicious amounts of detail inserted by unrecognizable voices from a shifting point of view.

Yeah. I’m gonna leave that paragraph there. No. Scratch that.

At some point palimpsests become illegible. There is nothing between the lines and everything between the lines, and when the lines are no longer there

everything is nothing.

*

When I write “my grandfather” it is a lie. When I write “my father”, the lines continually shift – he said, she said –

And sometimes a fictional framework is all that can create something from nothing. You can build on it. Or let facts settle into a kind of sense.

My grandfather was a good man. At some point he stopped letting me sit on his lap in the Lazy-Boy while the three of us watched Dragnet. Sometimes he would start to snore. My grandmother would shake her head for me to be quiet, and she’d drink-up her cranberry juice and soda water from a wine glass, because she was on a diet.

I was seven.  I lay on the throw pillows in front of the console television.

I wore slippers. We always wore slippers in Grandma’s house.

Grandma’s house was a single-wide. In a park.

The park didn’t allow dogs.

Those are bullet points.

Facts. I repeat facts by rote. Reoccurring – like weekends.

*

Grandma wrote my epilogue before she died. Which was odd because she never offered much by way of narrative. A contradictory footnote here and there. Something about a gas-station robbery. About a forged signature. Or two.

What she told me of her own life was a series of bullet points. A dead daddy. An orphanage. Husbands: one, two, three; unnamed. A dead baby; unnamed.

*

Grandma had a way of saying “your father” and “your father” so that one name could easily indicate the one from the other. The “your father” who’d been – like Troubles – cut and pasted elsewhere, she’d drop into a lower key: the minor chord that runs through everyone’s specific nostalgia.

The other “father” she clipped with a sharp edge.

*

What goes unsaid can be borne.

I learned that early. From her. What’s easier for everyone is the appropriate point of view. Choose facts carefully. Like footholds.

*

Grandpa would mumble “Our Father”, before Sunday dinners. A round sound I imagined made the table vibrate. Then we’d eat. And Grandma’d remind me they’d come to take me home soon.

The emphasis on take, not home.

*

Iambic pentameter can sound like numbing nonsense if the actor doesn’t choose which foot on which to place the weight:

they’ll COME to TAKE you HOME.

The actor is the storyteller. The poet can only do so much.

*

Our lives are filled with unnamed people. Our stories monodramas.

Grandma said: “I wish you lived, closer.” She’d say it every time we talked on the phone that last year she could still remember me.

Maybe the last thing she said to me: “No. You’re better off where you are.”

*

I do know her name, by the way – Grandma’s name.

But she wouldn’t want me to tell you.

And my name? It’s not my name – so there’s that.

*

Memoirs need a reliable perspective.