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.