Sometimes for no particular reason, a season turns and something new begins. A fog lifts, but so slowly that even watching it you can’t pinpoint the moment that has passed. I sometimes slip into thinking that this is the way of the world, but I think the fault is in me: the not-noticing.

I read a book once on quantum mechanics. And while reading it, with each paragraph, with each page, I understood it. I could hold the concept in my head and it made sense. But when I finished the book, all of the ideas were lost to me. It is when I understood my own limitations with regard to that kind of abstract conceptualization. In some ways, I was disappointed in myself. But there was also a kind of satisfaction in finding this one way to delineate my own abilities. Here, but no further. It was a step closer to discovering the shape of me. Now a new direction – running into a new limitation. I wonder if someday I will step back to see an outline of who I am.

There is a kind of security, knowing where the edges of myself lie. It is something I can point to and claim to know.

My point was what I remember from the quantum mechanics book is that things don’t happen gradually and they don’t ease into our awareness. There are sudden jumps. Babies really do grow suddenly overnight. It’s not our imaginations. So it is actually likely that the fog just lifts and we just think we missed it because we are searching for a process. Almost like searching for an explanation. If we can’t explain it we can’t predict it next time – we can’t pretend to control it. The doctors tell us things happen gradually. So gradually that we don’t notice. They reassurance things are “happening” outside of our awareness. But what if they are wrong. What if things are stagnant until they just – inexplicably – change?

Even a metaphorical fog lifting can simultaneously make me feel better and make me feel inadequate. I can’t find a reason for this thinning of the world. For this easing in the atmosphere. I try to track down the causes, but I am rationalizing. A dinner with friends. A morning on the porch without gloves. Who knows. But if I knew, I could squirrel the information away for next time and use it as a treatment. All very scientific.

But here I sit with incantations. But also wonder.

an interruption
a detour from linear
growth – unexpected

Leonard is stretched out on the floor next to me.

And barking at the neighbor’s voices squeezing in through the windowsill. His concern is unconvincing. I suppose it’s nice that he feels a sense of duty.

He hasn’t moved in a half an hour.

I expect this morning’s exceptional walk along the trail was too much for his hound-sized brain. I still can’t run with this achilles tendon, so we walked this morning and took him with us. There were more exciting smells than he knew what to do with. The trail used to frighten him, so this was a big deal. He’s getting over whatever trauma he had as a pup. Slowly.

I didn’t smell stoat this morning, but I am sure Leonard did. Birds don’t interest him, but anything small and furry, or small and spikey does. Some evenings I have to play the guardian of the hedgehog while he does his business in the front yard.

I wanted to say “garden”. The front garden. As though that were a real thing in my life. Garden goes with words like cottage, and teapot. I have an A-frame house built in the 1970s and an electric water cooker. I have a mossy yard with half-hearted flower beds and derelict greenhouses. I wrote neglected first. But derelict relieves me of responsibility.

Time. I think the reason I spend so much of it trying to understand what it is, is because I do waste it. Or spin in place as it passes. All these “free” hours open up like sinkholes in the days. They don’t feel like freedom. They feel free of substance, actually. And inescapable.

Some days I can only get the work done when there is no time in which to do it. To get outside with a plan of some sort. To get upstairs and work with the paints. To fold the damned laundry.

Instead, I have an open afternoon – another open afternoon – and sit here brooding. And chiding myself when E. can hear me.

And it is not very convincing.

the grey heron sleeps
in the reeds-keeps her distance
eye on the canoes

Again last night I thought about something I wanted to explore this morning on the page. Well: screen. And I thought to make a note on my phone, but then figured it was so obvious that I would remember.

Obviously, I did not remember. I bet it was profound, though. And would have lead to a book auction for the small creature taking form from my navel-gazing and ethical brooding. There went that opportunity.

Instead, I sit here on a flat Thursday thinking my glasses really need cleaning. Glancing over at Leonard and feeling guilty again because he is more overweight than I am. Then wondering if he wants some peanut butter. Because I do.

There are nine teaching days left before the end of the term. Before grades are due. Since exams are canceled this year, it makes things more difficult. Every year I remind the student that I am not here to give them a gold star for what they can already do, for natural talent, but to teach them to explore, stretch and reflect.

Sometimes growth doesn’t mean improvement.

A holistic education is not a matter of ticking off the mastery of specific techniques. We can move sideways in our understanding. Moving inward in ways that risk looking like retreating. My job, as I see it, is comprised of mapping out the territory, prompting the exploration, and witnessing. I watch their faces for small signs of confusion. I watch their bodies stiffen when they believe they’ve hit a wall, loosen when they find a new way to engage with the project at hand.

It is personal. It requires the privilege shared space and time.

One thing I have liked about the Norwegian secondary education system is that the students get a grade for the year’s work. And then an external examiner comes in on the day to give out the gold star for a presentation, and talent. They have distance. But this year, between Covid shutdowns and my own sick leave, I feel like I’ve failed as a teacher and am taking on a role as an examiner. A very biased examiner.

We can’t have a “do-over”. But it is really what I want for all of us. I feel robbed of the opportunity to have learned from these 22 people. Then again. I know I have learned more from them than I would have otherwise. Maybe that is a selfish perspective.

I keep trying to put this pandemic in perspective. Just a week before most of Europe shut down, I was roaming Mary King’s cross in Edinburgh with a guide who explained how the Black Death hit the area. There were manikins with black, bird-beaked face masks filled with flowers to mask the stench of decaying, but living bodies. One child-sized manikin made me think of the Norwegian legend of Jostedalsrypa, the girl who was the only one to survive when the plague hit her village. I wondered – guardedly – what we were heading toward.

As pretentious as it is to quote myself: Every moment brings somebody/the Apocalypse […] I know that there are people who have suffered greatly in the past year. I wouldn’t want to belittle their loss. But as a culture, where I am: we haven’t. And although I don’t think we are through this entirely, it seems unlikely that the majority of us will experience a plague in the way some-few previous generations have.

I will not appropriate the suffering in India. Neither do I wish to turn away or discount it. But the truth is, I cannot smell death over social media. I can process the visual information, the narratives intellectually and have an emotional response. I can empathize. But I cannot claim their experiences or the kind of knowledge gained from those experiences.

I wonder if the un-sanitized deaths of the 1300s, 1600s were easier to process than our sanitized deaths now: where people slip into white hospital gowns and slip away. I suppose someone has tried to study this: how our physical distance from witnessing so much of death affects the grieving process. But then, no one has invented the time machine yet.

Am I right in assuming that there still seems to be an unspoken consensus that it is better for our mental health to have physical suffering prettied up for us?

And this is not at all what I wanted to explore this morning. It is a winding path to a kind of gratitude I suppose. We’ve been painfully affected this past year. I get angry now and then. But this is what we have. And it is not more than this. Or less.

I have not even touched a student on the shoulder this year when they have cried. I haven’t even squeezed their hand when they’ve been so excited their heart could jump out of their chest. It has been a year of restraint. Acting against instinct. I worry that I am shutting down.

But we are not sacrificing anything. And it is the wrong mindset to believe things were “taken from us” as though those things were our possessions. This is life. And on the scale of things, we face the same threats. The cancers, the accidents, the hate. Most of the crises that have come up among my students have been unrelated to the pandemic, though sometimes exacerbated by it.

What I have witnessed is their resilience. Their growth. It seems absurd to think about “grading” anything this year.

and when we inhale
the flower we taste it too
like earthworms, we eat
the world passing through our days
– so much you don’t want to know

This morning seems like yesterday. And I don’t know where the hours have gone. It’s like time is a huge monster with deep pockets who swipes things from me as he passes through. Enthusiasm. Motivation. The ends of sentences.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to tackle him and empty those pockets? I wonder if there is a cave somewhere brimming with shiny riddles?

It rained just a little at the end of this morning’s run. Fat drops from a white sky. But the sun is out now. Leonard is stretched on the rug next to me. Snoring. And I have a cup of tea, an empty head, and aching achilles tendons. It feels good to be getting out the door again in the mornings, but my body has fallen apart in some places, tightened in others. It will probably be another week before my achilles can handle the four kilometers without complaining.

Push through. That is what I keep telling myself. But most days it feels like I can only push through one thing a day. It takes all my energy. I don’t remember the last day when I hit everything on a to-do list and sat back in the evening feeling… I was going to write productive, but that isn’t the word I really want: feeling capable.

I joked yesterday with E. that I want to move back into my 55 square meter apartment so I can’t escape the laundry that needs folding. Out of sight out of mind. What happened to my discipline? Do I need to go that far back in time to recreate the conditions in which to find it?

I have friends who used to tell me I was neurotic about my self-discipline. That to cut out yoga one morning wouldn’t be the end of the world. That I was too strict with myself. But you never know what the linchpin is in an ordered life.

And trying to put things back together, you never can guess what the stable center pillar will be. If I try to pull all of the elements together that defined my life 14 months ago, I will probably wind up crushed under the weight of it all. So I am trying to upright one thing at a time. Figuring out what has fallen apart and needs to be tightened, and what has tightened and needs to be stretched.

It’s slow going, this sorting. And it is okay.

only mallards now
iridescent in the reeds
nature’s sleight of hand