This morning I sit with the awareness that I was nearly sucked into responding to a comment on an Instagram post: a post with an excerpt from one of my diary entries about getting off Facebook – about my longing for discussions rather than debates, for something other than slogans and soundbites.

Something other than excerpts.

The excerpt was intended to provoke curiosity, to get people (not readers or followers) to click over and read my whole missive.

The irony is that I still find myself skimming and looking for the bullet points in other people’s texts. Wanting tidy responses in easy packaging, so I can move on with my own opinions. I don’t read an entire article before forming counter opinions and criticism. I think I reshape those opinions and criticisms as I read more of the article, but I don’t refrain from drawing conclusions at any point along the way. At no point do I just listen.

I’m tightly pressed to the writer’s words, hounding them, countering them – blocking them from my own mind. It’s a weird dance.

I read defensively. I had no idea there was such a thing. So I’m now wondering if this is about my age, my education, my social media habits? Am I feeling that the comment section “includes” me in a kind of debate of sorts – a performance arena? Do I feel it obligates me to participate?

Was there a time when I would read an entire book before forming an opinion instead of sketching one as I go? Part of my consciousness taking in the other, part of it very consciously obstructing understanding with these loosely formed, amorphous – but presently forming and reforming – prejudices.

And is all of this connected to a fear of being “irrelevant”? No: really, the phrase in my head is “not relevant”. The contemporary insult. The fear of which seems closely tied to the fear of ageing.

Paying attention is one of the kindest things we can do—for ourselves, for others.
SHARON SALZBERG

I’ve joined Medium. Which is interesting.

Because nearly all the articles I’ve seen about mindfulness, about self-awareness, about spiritual growth, are bullet points of advice.

I am pulling Annie Dillard off the shelf again. I’m looking for writers who are asking questions instead of offering conclusions. I want to see the workings of other people’s minds at the point of their mushiness, their unbaked, reptile-fetal promise exposed.

I want to see moments of negative capability. More poetry please.

And I’m open to suggestions.


I saw a tweet this morning by a person looking for “more intellect, less wisdom” in their poetry. I’m curious what they mean by that, but seriously doubt that a fruitful conversation can be had about the subtleties of those words in soundbites and “threads”.

Just thinking about attempting it in that form makes me anxious. I want a cup of coffee, a deep chair and a long, well-formulated exploration of ideas.

I want to fall in love with the world again.

Empathy is not agreement. It’s about understanding.

Nashater Deu Soheim

The doctor confirmed what I suspected: tendinitis in both shoulders. Then he proceeded to explain what a tendon was, and how the shoulder joint was different from the wrist – as though I’d never heard the basics of anatomy, much less work as a movement instructor for a living.

I told him about the stress I’ve been under, about the daily Ashtanga and diagnosed shoulder impingement. He responded by reminding me of how old I am.

Now I’m trying to put my ego in check: it really is kind of him to take the time to explain to his patients how their bodies work. To remind them aging means to suck it up when it sucks.

I think it’s difficult not to err on one side or the other: to take in the forest as a whole or to see only each tree.

So why did I overreact? Why was I offended? What was it I wanted from him?

It certainly wasn’t a rudimentary anatomy lesson and an explanation for how to google for shoulder exercises for old people.


There’s an eye exercise where you focus on a glass pane, then focus on what is behind it alternately. It’s difficult. It makes my eyes ache afterward.

I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days now, actually. As a metaphor – how it relates to social media, and social bubbles. How it relates to families and congregations and high school cliques, and trying to loosen the bonds without aiming to break them.

How it relates to all social relationships, really. These knotty, woven messes of damage and repair.

The U.S. election results surprised me and I found myself reading a wider range of news sites for a couple of weeks. I found myself reading my Facebook feed from a slightly different perspective.

And I deactivated my account.

Since then I’ve noticed some strange habits that I was completely unaware of – like an urge to share an article before I’ve read it to the end. Like failing to take the time to take a step back from the moment I recognize a shared belief in order to question the validity of that belief – which is something I’ve always thought reading helped me do.

But I see that my social media habit has become an activity where I sort people and products and cement my feelings of belonging: my identity. Not only have I abandoned contemplation for “interaction”, I’ve moved away from a practice of empathy by narrowing my field of vision as to make it virtually unnecessary.

Pun intended.

I began asking myself if I were reading (read: skimming) articles to pass them along as a performative act, rather than out of genuine intellectual curiosity. It’s an uncomfortable question to sit with.


Last week one of my students asked if we could continue the “debate” we’d been having the week before. I was taken aback. I thought we’d been having a discussion. In my mind, if not per definition, people win or lose debates. People listen with the goal of finding points of attack, to counter and dominate.

This lead me to try to initiate a discussion about critical thinking, which is at the heart of our national curriculum. I told them about a recent podcast I heard where researchers talk about how people who learned critical thinking skills almost always applied them first as weapons, rather than applying them to personal reflection. I pointed out that is not what we want to teach.

Then I remembered a book I bought at a conference over a decade ago: Peace Journalism. Now sold out and out of print. The gist of the book was to encourage journalists not to use war terminology and violent language in their headlines: “Obama attacks […]”, “Obama takes jab at […]”. These were headlines from this week. A google search (replace Obama with another name) will help you sort a publisher’s political leanings quickly.

I’ve been asking myself how I frame my thoughts. Which metaphors I’m using. Which expletives. Funny how the one we often use when we are angriest with another person, is a word that epitomizes intimacy.


They say we teach what we need most to learn ourselves, and sometimes I feel sorry for my students. I can’t be sure if I am seeing reflections of myself in their words, or whether I’m projecting my more unhelpful habits onto them. It’s probably a little of both, because that is what it is to be human, isn’t it?

The Buddhist teacher I read and listen to talks often about the need for spiritual seekers to be silent – to retreat from the world to focus on their spiritual growth. And this still makes no sense to me. Not within the context of my understanding of the world, of death, and of impermanence.

I believe empathy exists not as an idea, but as a practice. And every practice is in the moment, and within the context of only that moment.

I believe that it would be possible to gain an understanding – empathy – for the beetles and the shrubs of the earth, all by myself on a mountain top. And maybe that practice would lead to my being able to have an understanding of other people when I returned. But I think my ego – my mind -would do better to be surrounded by differing minds, differing opinions, differing moralities. And not silent, with a certainty of someone else’s meaning, but questioning. To discuss, not debate.

But what is the goal of understanding? Isn’t the point to embrace – to hold with care – each individual tree, and the entire forest?

As hard as that is. As painful.


Pain-killers. That’s what I wanted from the doctor.
And that’s what I didn’t get.

Damn. (Yeah, no. That’s not nice, or solution-oriented.)

Wine.

It’s no wonder we reach for supernatural explanations, incantations and spells. Feeling as I do now, so near to breaking, I can’t point to a single overwhelming event, fact, obstacle. Instead, small moments stretch out behind me like a long path of fallen dominoes, and ahead they stand precariously, vulnerable and threatening to fall so quickly one after the other that I won’t be able to keep up.

It is very hard to sit comfortably on the mat, breathe deeply and trust that things will change. My perceptions will change. My perspectives.

This morning the crows’ chatter was grating. It shouldn’t have been. But in the dark, in the drizzle, with my shoulders aching and my mind echoing conversations (that have and haven’t actually taken place), I wanted to shout back.

I’ve always found it easiest to shift my perspective when I shift it in the material world. Stand-up. Run. Leave town for a day. Leave the country for a week. For good. How big is the thing I need perspective on?

I wanted to rush through their gathering
the way the freight train does on most mornings,
so close to the grove you can feel the wind
rerouted by its intrusion.
The trees shake. The crows wait.

I can hear it now, actually – right on cue – passing behind the neighbor’s house, metal against metal in a high-pitched howl. I can feel a cry somewhere
behind my sternum. It presses
upward and is easy to mistake for heartburn,
though not acidic: rounder, fuller
like an over-ripe fruit.

Nothing like metal shavings of the railroad track, actually.
Nothing that can compete with the world’s ills and hurts and
imperatives.

No. This withheld cry will soften into rot
and something new will eventually
emerge. A new fruit – not better – but
a potential. Because
on it goes.

And catharsis? Well, that’s the stuff
of fiction.


On the other hand. Unlike yesterday, this morning I remembered to wash my hair while showering. I found my missing comb under the sideboard in the entrance hall. I remembered to take the pills that keep my blood from clenching into tight little balls of stop.

That’s my gratitude list for a Wednesday. How am I doing? For today: this is good enough.

I am counting the days until the sun turns.

I used that phrase once at work and a colleague informed me that “the sun doesn’t really turn”. So, for the record: I am aware of that.

I’m also aware that when we do hit the solstice, the days will still feel as dark and as long for another two months. The newspapers are encouraging people to put Christmas decorations up early. And I guess most people are cheered by the holidays, but I muddle through them.

Muddle is a fun word. So maybe not entirely appropriate. I do like the image of me sitting in the middle of the living room floor surrounded by ribbons and paper scraps and glue and paints and well-wishes. I get that image about now every year and think: this year I will make the time, find the energy. It has even been a recurring two-week event on my google calendar for the past 8 years or so: make the Christmas cards.

I should probably delete it from the calendar. I keep finding myself here.

There is a melancholy stitched so deeply into the fabric of my life that it may well be the only thing that holds it together. But that can’t be true. I am an optimist. And certainly no seamstress.

I may not believe that the next breath will bring joy, but each step is imperceptibly lighter. I look up now and then, and the horizon has changed, and the view is a bit less daunting.

And there is a satisfaction looking back. I could have done things differently, taken an easier path, seen a now-obvious opportunity. But that kind of thinking is a waste of imagination.

I had several imaginary arguments on this morning’s run. I was so earnest in making my point to my doctor that I ran past the turn-back point and E. had to call out to me.

This is also a waste of imagination. I will never have that clever conversation.

Last week someone asked me what I was writing now, and I cannot answer that question. Touching and retouching that tiny thread of imagination before I’m done will fray it to uselessness. For the record: I don’t knit either.

This year, I’m going to meet things as they come. The holidays included.

Yeah – please don’t expect a handmade Christmas card.

Ride the winds of change, unafraid.
LARRY WARD

I am working on poems about crossing borders. I’ve been wondering about what takes precedence to determine the word: immigrant or emigrant. Which perspective, and when?

Is everyone who lets go of a life, crosses a border, seeking?
Wanderlust has no destination. Escape is a closed door at your back.

Now what?

I itch often to transgress the solid lines. And that is odd for someone who is eager to please as I am. So desirous of approval: “flink pike”. I’m not someone who will color outside the lines, cut corners, or bend a rule. But I can – and have picked up and walked away. I’ve burned bridges behind me, too.

Can one ever know if the reasons for our actions are rationales, or rationalizations? The stories for our leavings. It’s funny that I am never asked about those – but for the stories of my destinations. “Why did you come here?”

Why not? It could have been anywhere unknown. Anywhere that smelled of strangers. Anywhere that would allow memories to lie still. Still enough for reflection.

I’ve noticed how the sea smells different everywhere it touches land. In winter sometimes, along Stavanger’s quayside it smells of watermelon. Orre strand smells dark as the rot that brings new life. Along the Canaries, the shore is jagged to inhale. Up north near the North Cape, it’s razor sharp.

I’ve been landlocked before, and lakes don’t breathe on their own. I’ve read that everything depends on the birds that come and go with the seasons, and on storms temperamental enough to drag bits of the world around with them. Transgressions like those of traveling merchants. Or militias.

I’m still pulled to wander, but I’m also learning now how porous the borders are. How even still waters will swell imperceptibly and spill into your path. How storms will drop fish and lizards from another county into your lap. No bridges necessary.

In Norway the name for hopscotch is å hoppe paradis. I have no idea why paradise. But hopping from square to square – chasing small stones, turn and return – does sound good to me right now. Simple. A little naive.

And meditative.

For us to transform as a society, we have to allow ourselves to be transformed as individuals. And for us to be transformed…we have to allow for the incompleteness of any of our truths and a real forgiveness for the complexity of human beings.
ANGEL KYODO WILLIAMS

I wasn’t going to write about this. But the subject keeps coming up for me: this idea of a fixed personality.

In my Facebook feed today I saw two articles with tips for identifying psychopaths – one for doing so on a Zoom call. Another article about recognizing narcissists. I think it’s funny that I see these almost immediately after listening to a podcast about how people tend to weaponize “critical thinking” skills (e.g. logical fallacies) when they learn them – rather than applying the knowledge as an exercise in self-reflection.

Critical thinking becomes nothing more than a tool to win an argument.

I’m not sure what one wins by labeling people on Zoom calls as psychopaths. I didn’t read the articles, because I still have a tendency to assume everyone apologizing for their own behavior is doing so to gently reprimand me for mine. When someone says, “Oh, I’m sorry I interrupted,” I immediately assume that I interrupted them. I might be paranoid. I might also have been hanging out with a lot of passive aggressive people over the years.

But I have to admit, apropos passive-aggressive people: it is so difficult not to get sucked into finding fault in others. It can give me a sense of purpose and a sense of security. Not to mention the personal satisfaction of having a nearly supernatural ability to know how the minds of other people really work.

I can feel like a medieval priest exposing the devil in the heart of the congregation’s wisest crone, wealthiest man, beautiful young mother. Righteous. It is weirdly comforting to see enemies all around.

It’s also exhausting raging at windmills.

I suppose there’s an irony in the fact that I believe people throughout history have not changed, yet I believe people themselves do. I believe we are what we do, and that habits are hard to break – but not fixed. There are so many studies on personalities, but how many people in the world have picked up and left an established life to begin again in an entirely new context?

Confirmation bias. Negativity bias. Unreplicated results. Cultural myths.

Don’t get me wrong: I accept science. I believe in the value of accepting (and acting upon) our best knowledge of the mechanics/logic/patterns of our universe at our point in time/context/space. But I believe we may not even have the ability to objectively observe other creatures, much less our own species.

I also believe in change.

After 22 years together, my ex-husband told me, “I am who I am.” He said he didn’t want a divorce, but he also said he didn’t believe he could change. It felt like I was simultaneously being accused of having an unstable personality, while expected to adjust it to align better with his.

My ex is a loving and kind man. This is not an assignment of blame. But surely over those 22 years we both made choices to change or not to change our habits as the context of our lives changed. It is one thing to say, “I’m not the kind of person who eats broccoli” and another to say, “I am choosing not to eat broccoli because I didn’t like it in the past.” I don’t think self-awareness means having to dismiss previous life experiences out of hand, but it does mean taking responsibility for the reality of choice.

It’s a cliche, after all: not choosing is in itself a choice. Conscious or not. I consciously chose to end a marriage. Not everyone does.

I read once that prisoners in America often find God – whether they do or not – because many of the people in charge of determining their sincerity in terms of “rehabilitation” don’t believe people can change but by divine intervention.

I often wonder how much leaving my family of origin has changed me. How much leaving my country, my culture, my language has changed me. I know that the way I speak changes my personality so drastically that my ex was once furious with me for being “so fake” when we hung out with a woman I met who also came from Southern California. He claimed it wasn’t just my accent – it was all of me that changed. But, while he accused me of putting on an act, I was completely unaware of even picking up the very old accent I’d once used habitually. I have no idea what other habits I may have picked up again in those moments – no doubt that some of them were ugly. I have compassion for who I once was, but can’t say I liked her much either.

It’s easy to slide into old habits. But that doesn’t mean it’s inevitable. It is possible to grow through the discomfort of stopping and choosing.

And there is something very comforting about knowing that the man I married at 27 wouldn’t have been attracted to the girl I was at 13.

For so many reasons.

Yesterday I shared something on Facebook, without really tracking down the truth of it – and without really thinking it through. I’m regretting it today.

It’s not an aphorism, really – more like an aphorism couched in an anecdote that may or may not be true (google is getting me nowhere in verifying the source of the story).

[H]e said something then that I will never forget and which absolutely blew my mind because no one had ever said anything like it to me before: ‘ I don’t think being good at things is the point of doing them. I think you’ve got all these wonderful experiences with different skills, and that all teaches you things and makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do them.’

And that honestly changed my life. Because I went from a failure, someone who hadn’t been talented enough at anything to excel, to someone who did things because I enjoyed them. I had been raised in such an achievement-oriented environment, so inundated with the myth of Talent, that I thought it was only worth doing things if you could ‘Win’ at them.”

No citation found: unsourced blog posts and Facebook memes.

This is attributed to Kurt Vonnegut. And for all I know he said it. But I do know this carries more weight because it is thought to be something he said – he being someone who is a winner in the arts.

Someone culture holds up as interesting.

I sat with this idea for a while yesterday, until I began questioning the phrase: makes you an interesting person. Because how can this not mean that other people will find you interesting? I mean, can one be “interesting” to oneself? And is that something we strive for? Should strive for?

I reject the idea that we should work with the arts so other people will be drawn to us – to our interesting ideas, our interesting trivia. Doesn’t this kind of thinking still give the measure of contentment with our lives over to someone else’s evaluation?

In our culture “winning” really means little more than our hierarchy in terms of the attention we gain from others: a popularity contest. This seems like striving for the same goal from a different angle: if you can’t be “good” be “interesting”?

Being interesting is not the same thing as being interested. Could the purpose of working with the arts be to make you a person who is interested in life? Interested in other people’s experiences, other species’ talents? Couldn’t the purpose of working with the arts be to cultivate a sense of awe – precisely because you don’t “win” at it? And then maybe live a life of compassion and community – via the arts?

I’m not denying that it’s human nature to crave attention. It’s key to our survival from infancy. But – yeah: this middle way thing again.

Still thinking about this. Still wishing I’ll grow up to be Vonnegut.


Edit: Twitter tracked down the origin of the (mis)quote. Thanks to Kamilah Reed for the heads-up on this.