Still coming to the computer later than I should be this morning. But I slept well and did do some yoga. I don’t recognize this body at all. Doing a forward fold, suddenly I stop a good 10 inches from the floor, my hamstrings tightening with a kind of metallic bite. This will take some time. I move through the Warrior positions feeling impatient. Let’s get this over. I have to work consciously at not allowing this to make me unhappy. When I am done, I feel like I didn’t really do it and should start again. I suppose that is a good sign that I have ambitions to get back to my practice as it was.

It’s funny that this morning doing my 2 minute poem warm-up I wrote about mercury. A liquid metal. Maybe I should use the imagery in my practice. Warming the elements until they flow. Adaptive.

I miss so many aspects of what my life was before things fell apart. And yet, I am grateful for the falling apart. It took me back to my basic drives. Put me in touch with what I know to be true of myself, but have been too cowardly to properly experience.

It’s been 4 rough years. And not a coincidence that I have gone through “the change” during this time. I don’t say that to be dainty. I am not afraid of the word menopause. But it has felt like a change. A metamorphosis. The electric shocks through my arms, the hot flashes and inexplicable waves of shame. The discovery of the mirrored arteries in my pelvis that nearly killed me by choking off my blood supply 51 years into my life. The cancers that seem to be invading every female relative I have. The rejection from the arts council from a book that was much better than my previous books. This is what it is to be midlife. As in: in the midst of real life – the things that have been on the periphery in youth, and easy to set aside, are center stage. This is real. The world gets bigger. My life gets smaller. And then somehow also -overwhelming.

It’s funny. Nothing I’ve been through is as hard as my childhood was. And my optimism is simultaneously waning and blossoming. The faith that I clung to as a child, that in the future things will be different – the trust that my story was heading so a wonderful, satisfying climax – that is gone. In some ways the arc that I imagined did happen. That’s not right. Not in any of the ways I imagined, but I did get a “happy” story arc.

I just didn’t imagine far enough. Who does? All of our culture’s stories end when the protagonist hits age 30 or 40. After that we’re comic relief. Or plot devices for someone else’s story.

So what now?

Now I have a very realistic idea of what is under my control. What I can focus on in terms of making my life better. And by better, I mean enjoying it more.

It’s a matter of choosing. And following through, of course. There are no guarantees of any sort – so it has to be the doing that matters.

I am not considering this a”reinvention”. In fact, the opposite. I am not using my energy to construct or invent a new personae, or a new “life”. All I’m doing is shaking off the fears and concerns for “how it looks”. I’m no longer trying to force a dramaturgy.

I am just doing.

Nothing is as it
should be has been is supposed –
every narrative
truncated.
Epilogue:

There’s sage sausage hash in the crock-pot. And the wind is blowing so hard that the tree branches hitting the gutters on the roof sounds like rain. I’m drinking a cup of tea and thinking this feels nothing at all like spring.

I have a tidy list of things to do, but feel myself splaying across the day like an amoeba – reaching where instinct calls me – five directions at once. Not great when I’ve been feeling worn thin, but on the other hand, it is nice to notice how interesting the world is – so many things to dip into.

I think it is bad advice to say people should do one thing, and do that one thing well. It certainly is a limited – practical – view of what we are “supposed to” do with our lives. Be useful. Provide something of a defined and comparable value to others. From one perspective, it seems that when we move beyond the need to use all of our waking hours to provide for our own – and our immediate family’s – sustenance, we are brainwashed to think we have to use our “free time” to achieve the same kind of commodity-oriented goals. When I saw “we”, I mean “me”. But I am very sure I am not alone in this. There is a huge backlash to the whole productivity movement. But I have yet to see the relinquishing of the “do one thing well” idea. The branding. The minimalism. The easily identified, quantified, and typeset in stone on a grave marker. You get eight words to sum up your life.

Does anyone aspire to the epitaph: She did a great many things moderately well?

Norwegian call people like this potatoes. Here lies Ren Powell, Potato.

I don’t know. Maybe that would be just fine. But I am hoping by the time I fall apart that it will be legal to put me in a sack at the base of a sapling. No “Here lies”, at all. I remember – morbidly – writing a suicide note when I was in my mid-twenties. A poem about finally being nourishing. I think I have felt an enormous pressure to make myself useful since I was a child. A pressure to be worthy. And the consequential need for approval. Justify my existence.

Today I am sitting at my desk and I can see the bookshelves in front of me. I am in the middle of sorting through them – my collection having outgrown the space in this little bibliotekette. After yesterday’s temporary shuffling, right in my line of sight are books on travel writing, on playwrighting, on memoirs. But today I am not seeing them as accusations. I’m not judging myself. I followed those roads as far as they interested me. We aren’t supposed to treat the relationships in our lives this way, but maybe that’s all the more reason we should give ourselves the freedom to move on when a delight becomes a chore. My life is so damn circular, I may well pick the genres up again someday. Why have I been convinced that I have to choose everything in my life and stick with it – or deal with the shame of “failure”. I know myself and I know I don’t give up when things get hard. I follow through. But I don’t continue pushing when there is no desire either.

“If you are doing something moderately well, then stay in your lane. Continue. Try to prove you are worthy of the time you have on this planet, in this form.”

Why?

I don’t believe that the bacteria that will break down our bodies and make it useful for the planet again care what we have done, what is on our CV, what awards we have. Even the history books we long to be included in are fictions and distortions of stories that will suit or not suit the future, but have nothing to do with us at all. What’s in a name? A form of ancestor worship. A system of faith – religion even.

Of course, I want to excel. I want to be renown and respected. But I keep asking myself if that’s the measure of a good life at all.

Right now I’m going to pour myself some more tea and tend to my day job tasks – a job I used to love but now loath. And I am praying that my life will circle around and I will want to do the work again someday … soon.

Me: embryonic
an immortal jellyfish
reverted – not new
but new – translucent under
over the world is endless

I am not as crabby as I am today. These are exceptional circumstances. I am taking deep breaths, and large sips of wine and trying to remember that everything is fine: perfection is not a goal.

I worked only two and a half hours yesterday, and it took everything I had. No lectures, not pressure, but just being there was difficult. I came home to find a message of one of the students wrote to me. It made me cry. It reminded me that the majority of the people in the world are kinder than we want to believe. And by that I mean it is easier sometimes to blame our problems on other people’s callousness, or cruelties, or inconsideration. But no. Sometimes life is just very hard. And the why’s don’t matter as much as the dusting ourselves off to standing tall and try again.

If I were to paint a self-portrait right now, it’d be a small girl with gravel in the bleeding heels of her palms, in her raw knees. Sunburned and dusted with the desert grit. Tear-tracks caked like mud on her cheeks. You don’t give up, you take that red rubber ball of anger in your gut and slam it against the cinder block wall. The same ball the kids use to play cannonball. Sanctioned bullying during P.E. class. The same cinder block that blurs every apartment building from Vegas to L.A. into one porous memory.

I think what I’m getting at is that the world is still unfair. And sometimes I wonder if I have ever learned to cope with that reality.

It has been too long since I’ve run. But I’ve promised myself to begin this week. To give myself that. Sometimes what looks like laziness is deliberate self-destruction. When I do begin running, I wouldn’t be surprised if I wound up with bleeding hands and knees. It takes a lot to remember to lift my knees high enough on those dark mornings. Just in case there are fallen branches. And this body as it is now, is unfamiliar. In the way of itself. I keep telling myself this is a liminal season. Accept and move on. All the bodies I have inhabited. Just now I think of the photos I’ve seen: me at the age of 6 or so, sunburned and bleached. Now I get the occasional flush of red on my face, and my hair, now gray, is pretty much the same kind of pale as then. And I am that kind of rubber-ball angry. You can throw it as hard as your body can manage, and it still is not satisfying.

There are times I wish there were someone else to remember this girl. To tell me about her. Today I am missing my grandmother. As sticking as she could be, she did always teach acceptance. Perfection is not a goal. On the other hand – it wasn’t a goal because one should stay in one’s own lane. There are consequences for over-reaching.

Yesterday I found out that the paper I’d chosen for the paperback books wasn’t good enough. The quality of the actual printed book wasn’t acceptable when taking into account the photography and acrylic prints. I spent the day and evening taking new photographs and then reformatting the book with new paper choices.

It’s all a learning process. A humiliating, frustrating, never-ending learning process.

If you are reading this and have already purchased a paperback copy, please contact me asap so that I can get a high-quality book in your hands (at no extra charge, of course!)


a paper cut
a tiny wound, where pressure
gaping, electric
a whole body singing
in dissonance with itself

Getting going in the mornings is like trying to herd cats, as they say. I remember pulling the crockpot out of the corner and onto the countertop to start dinner. Lunchtime I went back into the kitchen to see it there. Empty. Useless. Forlorn.

I’m projecting again.

I keep reminding myself (at the risk of sounding like an inspirational meme) that life is a specific dance. One step back, two steps forward, one step back. And then your partner accidentally kicks you in the shin. (For the record, my partner is an excellent dancer, and only kicks me in the shins metaphorically.)

Anti-climax is definitely a thing. And – although I am excited about new projects – I am trying very hard to move forward. This morning I showered and dried my hair with a blow dryer for the first time in over two months. I put make-up on. Braving the cold winds and intermittent hail, I picked up the binder’s board I ordered two weeks ago. I picked up wine. And some lavender shampoo because I have been feeling very…. pragmatic lately. At least in terms of personal hygiene. I’m ready for some scented candles and soft music. I want to smell something besides sandpaper and pulp. And cuddle-puppy.

Speaking of which, I’m worried about how Leonard will take me going back to work this week. The pup is 35 kilo of adoration and has even taken to crawling up in E.’s lap when I’ve been sewing the signatures for books. Although I suppose E. will be working from home for a while yet. The vaccine roll-out here is shamefully inept. We’re expecting another spike over the next two weeks from the Easter holidays. I fully expect to go back to work, only to wind up teaching part-time online again.

But hey… roll with it? Right now nothing seems quite recognizable and I am beginning to relax a little. To come to terms with that. I suppose it really is a lesson in not clinging – even if it means not clinging to sanity either. I mean in the way that we can only approach these things obliquely. Catch a tiger sliding up alongside with a peach in hand, rather than charging head-on with a net.

Easy-does-it.

I’ve another doctor’s appointment tomorrow. Then heading slowly back to real life on Friday. The most frightening thing is that I am comfortable here in the house. Too comfortable. I’m almost afraid to go out and interact with people. Fragile. No. That’s not right. I am not fragile. Reactive.

Maybe Friday I should bring a crate of peaches to work. Yeah. Good luck finding decent peaches anywhere in this country.

did I say this was
my second glass with dinner
rambling uncensored
stepping right through the surface
of decorum like thin ice

Here we are in America’s national poetry month, and I find myself not getting to the books on my nightstand. I was ambitious and said I would read a collection a day. But I didn’t anticipate the steep learning curve associated with Facebook Shops and “pixels” and currency converters, and plug-ins that work then don’t work then work again. This side of things is hard. No wonder my Norwegian publisher never really did much of this kind of thing: marketing. I suck at it. And I find social media intimidating and awkward. I am not a cheerleader type. Never the leader of the pink ladies. Never a Heather. And really, I am fine with that. But actually not sure how my introverted “authenticity” translates to functional marketing. The words followers and fans make me sick to my stomach, tied up with all kinds of ambivalence.

I am so grateful for E.’s amazing moral support when I hit the stupid-wall and start thinking: This is what you get for leaving your lane. Who do you think you are? You’re going to crash and burn. I’m trying to get things to a not-too-embarrassing state now, and then let it rest for a few days. Get back to poetry.

This evening I’m going to dive back into Rachel Barenblat’s book Crossing the Sea. (See what I did there?) I’m halfway through and incredibly moved. I’ve been thinking of Dave (at The Skeptic’s Kaddish) who set up a blog as a way to grief his father. Barenblat is a rabbi and this collection is about her mother’s death.

People say that everyone goes through this, but I never will. I say that to point out how powerful these poems are. The speaker draws me into her relationship with her mother and her grief. Her poem “Mother’s Day” begins with: It’s a year of firsts/and most of them hurt.

In “Pedicure”, she talks about the simple thing of removing the nail polish that she had on for the funeral: […] replaced with periwinkle, luminous and bright/like your big string of pearls you do not know/are mine now that you’re gone.

There’s a reason why I couldn’t read this book in one day. It’s like trying to eat a whole mayonnaise cake in one sitting. But I’m looking forward to picking it up again.

But first, there’s housework. And some yoga. Trying to get back into – oh, I don’t know, integrated with the rest of the world here: friends I haven’t seen or spoken with in nearly two months. And then there is work later this week. Students. There’s clothing that isn’t loungewear. Make-up. Shoes.

In some ways I’ve been
in a womb, cocoon, nestled
with the dull sounds of
blunted percussives, every
thing in the world – swaddled