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

This month I rediscovered a bit of myself. A shape I thought I’d lost with the years. With diapers and broken bones, with late-night squabbles and hot flashes.

It seemed that with the realization — not an intellectual knowledge, but a bodily understanding that this life — my life — is finite, I began living too widely.

Trying to fit it all in. And too much of it in a two-dimensional form: via screens.

Maybe it’s the forced flatness of pandemic life that has brought all this to the forefront of my mind. Too much of a thing that had been looking good.

Lately when I find myself wanting to respond angrily to a social media posting of some sort — usually by a stranger, a contact of 2nd degree who pops up because I know someone who knows someone who wants to blow off steam, make a clever cut. I block them without fanfare.

(Well, often I still type out the response, delete it and then block — but I am getting better. I’m finding that typing out the response actually heightens my emotions rather than diffuses them.)

Twitter can be like forcing my way through a carnival crowd if I let it be.

A carnival — every day.

Sometimes I think about the party lines that were around in the 70s and 80s. Did anyone really enjoy those`?

I would block Oscar Wilde’s tweets if he were tweeting today (which we all know he would). I’d still love his poetry. I’d still read his books. Dorothy Parker is only fun when she’s a historical figure, and the people you care about are out of her reach.

I’ve un-followed a lot of connections on Facebook to avoid “hanging out” with people in places I would choose not to go to if I’d been invited to physically attend a gathering. I can love my friend, but choose not to tag along to their AA meeting with them. Or their political rally. Or their bedroom.

I still love them.

It’s not a matter of creating a political bubble. I’ve often blocked people whose politics I agree with. Still follow people whose politics I dislike or don’t even know. So if I’m creating an echo chamber of sorts, at least the echos are pleasant, not hateful. Civil.

Respect should be a word for how we behave in the world, not a word to describe what people owe us, or something that we need to earn. It should be the default.

I’m not shutting out ideas, opposing points of view — I’m shutting out the noise and the drums and the elbow jabs and snickers that tighten the bonds of a “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” kind of relationship that lasts until the subject changes and there is a new outrage — a new Venn diagram of opinions.

I don’t believe humans are capable of having thousands of social contacts a day. Imagine if every word came with a touch. How bruised we’d be. How raw.

How raw I feel.

And I miss the freedom that being different people with different people gives us. All the facets of a personality having a place to be. We aren’t authentically any single brand. I don’t want to put energy into marketing myself as a person-of-significance. It’s exhausting. And something I thought I was (mostly) done with at 20.

For many reasons, I’ve never been someone with clearly defined boundaries. And social media has been something of a nightmare for me.

I began this diary entry by saying that I thought these frustrations had to do with aging. But I am more convinced that it has to do with my not maturing. Being dragged back into questions that I’d once resolved — resolved sometimes by comfortably resting in a kind of negative capability.

It’s been almost two decades since George W. Bush said, “You’re either with us or with the terrorists”. A moment in history that could have come and gone in the experience of heightened emotion. But it seems that there’s been no letting-down. Just a constant change of targets.

I’ve not been able to watch A Clockwork Orange all the way through, much less read past the first few pages. But I remember a scene where Alex is strapped into a chair watching image after image after image of horrors.

I don’t think the world has ever been less messy than it is now. That the struggles and cruelties and hates haven’t always been there… somewhere. But there’s also been space for refuge. Not ignorance, but rest.

A little space for all of the tiny creatures that make us who we are to thrive again. And rise again. In a world that’s not a matrix, not a thought experiment.

What I yearn for now may well be something we yearn for more as we age, but it is oddly familiar to what we were given naturally — what we allowed ourselves — when we were very young.

cut roses drying
in the vase — fragments of dead
leaves turn to powder
wedging themselves in the grain
of this old oak writing desk

Where did we ever get the idea that we could “make time” for anything in our lives? I caught myself asking this morning. My inner monologue part self-recrimination, part pie-in-the-sky planning. How can I make time for…

If I am honest with myself, this time I want to make is actually a story of “a time” that I can hold as a token from a past. Most of my thoughts about making time are connected to results of some sort – not to the doing, not to the being in that time – but a story of having done something. Accomplished. Survived. Been.

Time slips through my hands
but like the fish I’d caught
that time at sea
with bulging eyes and razor gills
that stained the hull with blood

That time I was, you
were, we were we spent ourselves
a spell as we caught
ourselves in a well like frogs
like cats, all familiars

We float, we sink, we
die a thousand times too soon

I don’t want to write about how difficult things have been. It feels like I’m hitting a single note too often. I will say: I miss the trail.

This morning I saw a new doctor, and we’re making a plan. Driving home I noticed that most of the snow is already gone, even from the hollows and the fallow fields. The winds have picked up, and I can feel them even while driving the car on the motorway. I’m imagining them pushing me forward. Easy – no stumbling.

One good thing is that it’s safe to run again. No imperceptible patches of ice at the edges of each lamplight’s reach. “Black ice” they call it here, and it sounds very much like a curse word in my ear. The mornings are still dark, but less dangerous. The crunch of the gravel, the occasional snap of a twig. Nothing ominous. Nothing frozen in place. Whatever the foot meets gives just enough. Just enough to make this bit of the world, at this point in time, safe.

I miss the blackbirds that hop along the edges of the path, their orange beaks flashing like tiny flames – living talismans – the sun will rise – spring will come. I need to see them. To share the air with them in a real moment, not in a memory, in poems, in theory, as concepts.

I was listening to a woman on a podcast talking about how this “moment” in time is liminal – a transition. But what moment isn’t?

What isn’t?

What is it about us that we want to label things and order them in categories, as diagnosis, in blacklists, as offenses, and more rarely as joys? Someone’s “Golden Age” is someone else’s liminal Hell, waiting for “progress” to trickle down. Every future is an imagined future. Every past, formed: polished and neutered.

That was “this thing” and we are moving toward “that thing”. Is a construction of the imagination. But there are days when I think any myth will do, if it helps us to hold ourselves together.

After all these years, if I know anything, it’s that pinning down the right words – magic as they are – doesn’t change the phenomenon; any witch will tell you a spell isn’t a cure. And it can’t fix the world, in any sense of the word.

Walking Leonard, I pause while he tests the ice on a frozen puddle in the field. The surface over the yellow grass is smooth, and cloudy. I watch tiny white bubbles sliding away from me, nudging the clouds just under the surface. Trapped air, like fishes moving without moving. I find a reference point. Moving, not moving.

I take thirty seconds of film – and the world is absolutely still.

living memory
is an oxymoron too
familiar too
mythical too true to be
shoved into the lines of a poem