A cup of coffee and a clementine.

In the 19th Century, fresh fruit was known to be a treatment for melancholy. I think this explains my odd habit of sniffing citrus rinds. I press them to my nose and inhale deeply. Over and over. Sometimes I forget myself and do it in public.

In the teacher’s lounge at school, for example.

I also salt my coffee. No one has ever remarked on either. I am convinced we are only seen when we are unconcerned with being seen. And I wish that I meant that in the sense that we don’t care if we’re seen — but, no. When we forget to care. When we are vulnerably ourselves. I think then our behavior is so strangely familiar, (and thus) so painfully perplexing at no one dares to inquire: what’s up with you? Because they know there’s a real answer there that no one is prepared to hear.

Nok med sitt. (Their own shit to deal with.) And that’s okay. Sometimes we can find comfort in parallel play.

It’s the last day of February.

The sky still glows now past seven in the evening. A few impatient primroses are up, and there are bird calls I haven’t heard since fall. We sputter towards the summer. A day of snow, a day of hail, a day of blue-blue sky, and a south-westerly wind. Snow again. E. is pulling up the cobblestones in the drive, filling in the hollows with sand, and laying them again. Between the weather systems.

Walking Leonard I have an eye out for the lapwing’s return. I listen for the squeeze-toy call. I thought I heard it last night, but E. said I was mistaken. Anticipation, uncertainty. And the funny thing is, I have no idea why it matters to me. I grip onto this though — the lapwing — like gripping onto a handrail to hoist myself up the next step when I am too tired to just let my body move of its own will. Somewhere in me outside of logic, it means something.

About all I know of the lapwing is that it nests in the fields and is vulnerable to the tractors that drive through them.

If winter’s darkness is difficult, spring’s prodding and unpredictability are a trial to endure. Nothing returning from the dead comes back easily. The rearranging of matter causes morning sickness.

Persephone comes
& spring, her colicky infant
cannot fix his gaze
on the world – sleeps & shudders
– no idea what lies in store

The app says the moon is 98.5% full this morning. And that is more than I need to know. “Almost full” is fine.

It’s overcast, but the wind blew the clouds away for a few moments while I was walking Leonard. Long enough for me to notice the almost full moon tinging the sky a deep purple.

The new morning routine is already taking hold. Leonard went to the sliding door as usual, but then it must have occurred to him that we would be heading around the block first thing. He nudged the entry door open with this nose to find me wriggling my feet into my boots. He ducked his head to let me slide the harness on. Tail wagging. What a nice way to start the day: tail wagging.

I am not sure how I feel about him adjusting more quickly than I am to the morning walk. It felt good today, but the run that followed was sluggish. No owl. Not even a hopping blackbird in the underbrush this morning. I guess it’s silly to think every morning is going to lay gifts at my feet.

Warriors, bridges, happy babies. Meditation. I should maybe add a bit of tail-wagging to the mornings.

This time last year I was in London, heading to Northumberland for the half-marathon. Wondering if the people on the train to Heathrow were wearing masks to protect me or to protect themselves. No one outside of Eastern Asia was even talking about masks then. The next day, I was wondering if I were stupid to be shivering in a tent with 400 other runners waiting for a bib — knowing someone could be infectious. Maybe. How likely? Two, three cases so far in England?

Three weeks later everything here at home shut down. I’d slipped through a narrow window at the beginning.

Middle-aged people who’d been playing beer pong at a ski resort in Austria set off a ring of contagion up north. Or so I read in the news. But it could have easily been me, having brought it home from that tent.

Scientists keep changing their minds about what makes us human. What makes us unique when compared to other animals. I have heard some say it is our ability to comprehend our own mortality.

This doesn’t ring true to me. I think this fear of death, this awareness of our impermanence is what we share with other species. And our response is as illogical as theirs. Social animals will shun one of their own with a sign of disease. They bare their teeth. Chase them off. So do we. We can be subtle, though: we use shame to run them off.

Wikipedia says that Syphilis is spread by (among other things) prostitution. I find this utterly fascinating: a bacteria with the awareness to know when money is being exchanged for a sexual act. It is so difficult to wrestle science from our moralities.

There’s been a problem in the Norwegians schools with what they are calling contagion-shaming. (It’s a catchier phrase in Norwegian) (Pun intended). When I talked to my students about the randomness of viruses and our very human nature to want to blame people for their own misfortune so we can convince ourselves we are in control of our own fates, I shared with them that two of my family members have had the virus.

A hand went up: “You don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to, but what were they doing? How did they get it?”

Don’t we all want the answer to be: beer-pong?

Not that I am a complete misanthrope. Margaret Mead said the first sign of civilization in ancient culture was a leg bone that had been broken and healed. She says that doesn’t happen in the animal kingdom. I don’t know. I think it may be more complicated than that. I am not convinced compassion makes us unique either. I don’t think we are the only species continually balancing compassion and self-preservation.

At any rate, there’s no run in the north of England this year. There’s only this new beginning. Dusting myself off and not asking myself what I did to deserve this little break-down. Mental illness. No asking what I did to bring it on. What I didn’t do to avoid it. It happens. There is no returning to the way things were. Things will be different. We heal imperfectly. But we heal. If we let go of our previous ideas of ourselves. And remember that imperfection is part of our charm.

Just look at the crooked trees that are so interesting.

The pine tree’s branches
wither with a new rung’s growth
mycorrhizal networks weave
and redirect through hairy
systems laced like spiders’ silk

Or – What Writing Isn’t to Me


My ex-husband used to call my writing a hobby. I had a Ph.D. in Creative Writing, and five traditionally published books at the time. I’d been vetted to become a member of the Norwegian Authors’ Union. I read my work at international festivals and translated and collaborated with great writers*.

But it didn’t pay the bills. So: Hobby, he said.

Last year I decided that I am not even going to try to write to pay the bills. I made that decision at the same time I decided to focus much more of my energy on writing and bookmaking.

But yeah, still feeling caustic when I hear someone talk about my “hobby”.

I’m not the kind of person comfortable with saying things like: I write because it is who I am. I honestly believe writing is a doing thing, not a being thing. It’s a very metaphysical argument, so no worries, I’m not out to convince anyone to see it my way. It’s just what I believe.

And I would not die if I didn’t write. I have more than a passing acquaintance with mental disorders and I take that phrase quite seriously: I would die. I seriously doubt I would die. I’ve other ways to express myself if that’s the crux of this expression. I can shout a lot of curse words. Or at least a choice few over and over.

And I giggle.

I know that writing can make things better, and it can also make things much worse. The reformist and orator Dorothea Lynde Dix wrote in her diary rather cryptically that she knew she shouldn’t write poetry because it would be the end of her. I am paraphrasing wildly here, but you get the gist. As a mature woman, she limited herself to letter-writing and to the genre she helped establish: oration.

I may be projecting, but I believe I recognize Dix’s fear. Poetry can be like alcohol. Like an opiate. So, yeah, I get it: I would die. But, no. Poetry, and writing in general, is a tool I can utilize — with great care — for my mental health. But it is not a cure.

When I think of a hobby, I think of something that soothes you, something that takes you out of your difficult life. Like recess for grown-ups. I have hobbies. Drawing. Running. Photography. And maybe if I were a storyteller, I could embrace writing as a hobby. Might even have ambitions to become a professional. But I’m not that kind of writer.

Writing every day is a practice for me, the same way that some people practice their faith. Like prayer. It’s like the way I practice meditation. Yoga.

These daily activities differ from my routine morning run in their focus. It’s not inward at all. And it’s not a diversion.

It’s not as much about personal growth as it is about transgressing the boundaries of my person. It’s about trying to accept the world. To really see it — and my place in it — on its own terms.

It’s evening as I type this, and that may be why this missive is not an example of my practice, not a piece of literary prose. This is navel-gazing, at best.

But it’s also a bit of sharing, for anyone else out there bristling at the word “hobby” when it’s used to describe their practice.

I don’t know. Actually, now that I have the word for it in my own vocabulary, I don’t feel quite as bristly about it. It’s all practice, isn’t it?

perspective does not
shift with a clearer perception
the same ham-fisted 
man adjusting the TV’s
rabbit ears for reception.


*Someone on Twitter informed me that bragging “isn’t a good look” for a middle-aged white woman. Well, I can’t win for losing either, so I blocked him. I considered getting off Twitter. But I’m still there.

A quiet morning. So quiet E. startled himself saying good morning to someone jogging by in the opposite direction. Another kilometer along the trail, an owl swooped in from the trees and flew in front of us and into the dark. Just the sound of our shoes on the gravel.

Until we get back to the park and the grove filled with crows. I haven’t thought about this before – the way the trail breaks in two at the bridge, where most people out with their dogs turn back toward the parking lot. Where most runners turn back to hit the steep hill once again for their morning intervals.

We shouldn’t be surprised to glimpse an owl out there. I held the image in my head while I moved through the morning flow: warrior one, two, retreating… a bridge to open my clenched heart.

Tawny in the lamp-lights, from my perspective her wings spanned the entire width of the path. Then she lifted. And was gone.

I was awake at 1 this morning. Obsessing over something from years ago. Fighting magical thinking. Wondering if self-deception is morally acceptable in the attempt to hold on to sanity. Fears take on their own lives. And they wander in and out of ours as they wish.

I’m filling out a daily mental health questionnaire for a Corona study run by the University in Oslo. Every day it asks if I am disturbed by unexpected events. It is actually revelatory for me to consider that unexpected and disturbing are not near-synonyms.

So I think of the owl now. Unexpected this morning. This bird of prey, this silent flyer, regurgitated tiny, ravaged corpses. So matter-of-fact in its nature. The self-deception is that our lives are anything other than this: matter-of-fact.

I’ve questioned before
whether imagination
is a good thing –
whether our bodies’ fluid
facts aren’t the better shelter

This morning the broken ice rang out like cowbells where the water runs from the fields and spills into the lake. It rained last night. And is still drizzling. But I slide the hood of my jacket down from my head so I can better hear the morning.

The ducks and the crows laughing. I always like to think they’re laughing. Probably not though. At this time of year, they are probably squabbling over territory and partners.

I take a deep breath. This is beginning again. My thighs a little sore from the previous run. The trail seems just a little bit longer than I remember. And afterward, my body moving through the yoga flow sputters and spits mild curses.

Leonard’s wet nose on mine while I’m trying to chant and visualize a still, blue body of water. I guess routine is something that we all need to wriggle back into. It’s ironic that by the time my medications kick in, it won’t be possible to know if it is the medication or the strict routine they require that will make all the difference. Not that it matters, and not that I care. All that matters is finding the middle path again. Away from the jagged edges, the thorns and the ice.

I wrote “I pour a cup of coffee” and then deleted it. I put a cup under the shiny spout and press a button, actually. And for the first time, I think about that tiny, lost ritual: pouring the coffee.

Don’t people in movies and books always say, “Shall I put the kettle on?” Maybe I will buy a tea kettle that whistles, just to listen to the hot water gurgle from the spout when I pour a cup. Loose tea leaves in a metal cage that clinks against the ceramic. A greenish haze in the water, escaped bits of stem. The word “shall”. Yeah, so a bit of appropriation — anachronism at best -: a bit of play-acting. But there’s comfort in that.

Instead, the coffee machine grinds the beans with a rude noise. Dumps water into the little glass coffee cup embossed with IKEA on the bottom.

There are some changes I would like to make in my life.

Every winter there are weeks we stay away from the morning route, to avoid running on ice and risking injuries. The dry cold never lasts long. February softens. The snow disappears. But always, we see clearly along this tiny stretch of landscape, that the earth is changed — every time. The path floods at different spots. The hen moves her nest.

We know we need
the familiar we crave
the novel and 
the woods provide attention
demands participation

Every morning I face the blank screen and wonder if I will ever write again. If this is the day when it all stops. And I do something else for a few years. Starts, fits, fears. And perched on my clavicle is that oxpecker who continually picks at the open wound at the base of my throat that is my self-doubt.

I think of Ariel and her little voice box. Of the blue sea-worms (the poor, unfortunate souls from Disney’s Little Mermaid) that live somewhere in the shelter of my rib-cage — all the projects I began and left unfinished.

I am too old for this perspective.

Where are the old women who don’t creep around the mad edges of the world? Who still play out their own story’s dramaturgy in rising action, allowing themselves their own point of view? It seems our culture’s old women move wickedly through the world — wrapped in bitterness -, if not they are caught in trees, or in mute animals watching and granting favors (like party dresses) as benign helpers and disembodied window dressing. More atmosphere than will.

And where are the old men? They don’t fare better in our stories. Dotting and ineffectual bumpkins with pockets full of small change, or carnival machines dispensing wisdom packed in riddles. Foils for youth.

This is what it feels like to close a book half-way through. A book that’s not worth reading. To move on. And sink into the real world.

It’s ten degrees Celsius this morning and beginning to smell like spring’s thawing rot. Talk about ambivalence. I guess all things beginning are as ugly as hatchlings. Vulnerable things frighten us. We are made aware of our own limitations. I don’t think it is a coincidence that our childbearing years coincide with the apex of our hubris. How else would our species go on?

Outside the kitchen window, the sky is turning pink. The still-unfamiliar patch of sky, revealed when they tore down the neighbor’s dying elm this fall. But I can see in silhouette another tree in the distance, its sparse crown topped with crows. The same crows, I’m sure. 

The blackbirds are singing. They don’t sing exactly. They talk, I guess. Our new neighbor works offshore two weeks at a time, and I am pretty sure the birds are onto his schedule now and are more present in our yard again the weeks he’s gone. I miss them when he’s home.

Before long I will need to clear out the dead leaves from raspberry bushes. Sort the bark from the marble stones, see what the books say about what-needs-to-be-done-when in the garden. And decide whether I will try again this year.

Of course, I will try again this year.

My life has always been more Beckett than Disney.

The trail smells like dog
shit and old bread — the ducks 
beginning to pair
off, running the hens down — loud
as traffic on the motorway