It’s a quiet morning from the perspective of the world. I haven’t heard a bird calling. Leonard is still sleeping, which is odd. What few sounds may have normally filled the house are drowned out by the white noise of my little space heater. Winter came suddenly. Soft at first with the fat snow flakes, then hard as the black ice that covers the street Leonard and I normally walk in the mornings. If our driveway has ice in the shadow of the holly bush, I know not to take the normal route. I dress like a toddler when the weather is like this. Padded pants and mittens. And if no one is looking, my snowsuit, which was the best four hundred crowns I ever spent at a farming supply store. Maybe the best four hundred crowns I ever spent anywhere. Practical is a kind of freedom that is new to me. A door opening, a gust of fresh air.

Or on a still morning like this, wading into a clear pool.

I’ve eased out of bed this morning and made the mistake of reading the news before sitting down to write. I guess our morning walk and then my run will be all about shaking it off. Jack Kornfield says “After the Ecstasy the Laundry”. But there is also the question of after the Compassion… what then? I suppose it is akin to the obligation we feel to hold on to grief. To “hold a space” for the pain. And there is the guilt we may have when we find ourselves laughing during a period of a new loss.

I remind myself of the obligation to acknowledge the wholeness of the world. I can put down the conceptional understanding of things happening halfway around the world, and I can appreciate the nuzzling of a dog’s snout insisting on breakfast, my husband’s footsteps approaching as he comes in to sit in the chair beside me, drinking his coffee while I write.

Heading out now for a run. I’ll be quiet turning near the edge of the lake. I’ll be listening for the ducks, who invariably laugh just before dawn.

I spent ten minutes looking for the cinnamon in the kitchen. The counters, the shelves. I even checked the refrigerator because finding lost items there seems to be a thing lately. I gave up and sat down to write, only to notice the cinnamon on the edge of the desk.

At least I can start the day with cinnamon in my coffee.

Tuesday mornings are slow. A rest day, so no run. Leonard is waiting for his walk. I wonder if he’ll be just as disappointed as I am now noticing last night’s snow is already gone and the streets are black.

Last night we walked while it was snowing big, fat flakes. We passed three kids rolling snowballs along the sidewalk. They’d already packed two balls big enough to make a 4-foot snowman. Leonard was excitedly pushing his nose under every mound of snow like it was a treasure hunt. I had just finished a weight-lifting class and my body was warm inside my snowsuit. The snowflakes stung my eyes now and then. The night was light. And I was thinking: real life is good. I was looking forward to crawling into bed with a book and some tart cherry and sparkling water. Not as cozy as tea perhaps, but more conducive to a good night’s sleep.

It seems like life is thinning down to just these things now. The sore muscles and the quest for a good night’s sleep. This happens every year at advent. The season makes me feel threadbare and inadequate. I try hard to create the kind of warm, cosy, seasonal atmosphere of candle-lit Scandinavian film sets from the 70s, and the results are amateur. Cheap.

There is a scene in the 60s film version of Genet’s The Balcony: the jury in the mock trial are cardboard cut-outs. I think this haunts me a little because the community is an illusion. Like a child lining up dolls and stuffed animals around a tiny tea set, everyone present is in agreement–and while that part is nice, it’s a lonely setting.

Like most kids, I guess, I used to imagine the toys came to life at night and talked about me. It wasn’t nice. A bit like my mother and my aunts gossiping about one another when the other wasn’t present.

Back in therapy now, my shrink tells me things will come up again. I find it odd, because what’s not “up” almost continually? But I suppose I am blowing the dust off the memories and handling them. I’m not intentional in noticing new things–new textures and crevices in the tiny landscapes–but they are obvious now. Sometimes insistent.

I’m mixing my metaphors.

I finished writing a new play for the students and a colleague asks me why I would do that when I could find a perfectly good script that would work.

I just don’t think I belong in this world sometimes. I feel like a cardboard cutout watching, but looking in the wrong direction, eyes fixed. Try as I might, I just can’t get myself “fleshed out” in the real world with everyone else. I don’t really understand what the judge wants from me.

I find it funny that my shrink refers to a specific work-related event of last year as “the trauma”. I mean, considering my childhood, my mother’s recent death and other serious, personal challenges of the past 2 years, it seems an odd thing to focus on as a trigger. But then yesterday: here we go again. I am looking at this latest bit of contention as a kind of work-in-progress evaluation to see if I have become stronger these past months. If not stronger, then more like a duck.

I slept all of three hours last night and am running on coffee this morning, but yes. I find that a lot more rolls off my back these days – whether that is a result of me growing or me being too broken to care anymore.

I am beginning to consider a third alternative as an explanation: I am finally learning to let go. All these morning meditations and evening shakti mat sessions, isn’t this actually the goal? Am I confusing this faint sense of emotional equanimity with “broken”?

Last week there was an article in the national paper about a woman who retired from television at 42 because she didn’t want people to see her ageing. The next day an older man wrote a lovely little meditation on ageing, referencing so many writers. He paraphrased Knut Hamsun, while keeping Hamsun’s archaic word: egal. I had to look it up.

Hamsun said something like: I find myself surprised by the joys that this advanced age has brought. My mind has never rested in such equilibrium.

I shared the article with E. and his first reaction was to wonder if that word egal implied indifference. It’s an interesting distinction: indifference vs. emotional equilibrium. It’s also a question common in Buddhist discussions I’ve listened to. So it is interesting to approach it again from this perspective.

I think the use of the word here is similar to the use of ambivalence, which seems to be losing its distinct definition, to feel two strong and opposing feelings about something, and is more often used colloquially to mean indifferent. As though a resistance against falling on one side or the other with a sense of righteous passion is a bad thing.

I have spent far too much of my life rushing to judgment. Defending myself from judgment. Most often from a place of insecurity. It hasn’t served me well. I am going to try to give myself permission to deal with a tempered ambivalence and equanimity in my thoughts and in my feelings. I am going to resist the pressure to pick a pre-defined box for my perspective on the things that happen in my life. No more, clicking in place and responding with predetermined and “appropriate” feelings – actions.

It feels somehow relevant that I was lecturing about Sartre’s No Exit and how “Hell is other people.” just this past week. This kind of Hell is just an illusion – a perspective – isn’t it?

I guess this is a pledge to myself: to unlearn how to respond to events. Triggers. Whatever one calls them.

E. walked Leonard with me this morning. The moon is still nearly full and somehow comforting. I love how the blackbirds sing so loudly in the dark. Home again, I made a huge breakfast salad with fresh chilis, broccolini, spinach, and the last bit of kale from the derelict greenhouse. Two soft boiled eggs and a splash of olive oil. More coffee.

This is self-care.

And now I need to go to work.

how I hate the word “journey”

E. is putting in a new ventilation system in the house, which means he has taken down some of my bookshelves in the little library. Books are piled on my desk. The little rug is folded and laid on my chair. And the floor is littered with power tools and bits of shiny who-knows-what.

And it has been an excuse for me not to write in the mornings.

Now I find we are well-past the midpoint of November and my mind is months behind in terms of getting myself together. Leonard is still struggling with the fact that E. and I are back at work most days. He’s still having accidents if we leave the house in the evening, or – weirdly – when I am gone for days and then return. He’s taken to pinning me down on the couch and refusing to let me even look up.

I get it.

I pull the thunder-shirt tight across his belly. Then I wrap myself in a huge sweater and sit down in the office to try to write. The walls are white, not the deep green of my library. I hear the traffic, not the blackbirds. And I tell myself that this is okay. I tell myself to take a deep breath. I inhale the damp from the rosemary oil. What are the morning requirements, really?

I walked Leonard at 4 am, slipping twice on black ice, but righting myself in time. Then E. and I ran alongside the lake, where the gravel is dusted with ice, but still easy to negotiate in the dark. But walking back to the car, E. slipped on the black ice and he knocked his knee on the asphalt. He’s icing it in the other room while he drinks his coffee.

My alarm goes off to remind me to take a pill. I am back on the salts.

And I am wondering how one climbs out of a morning like this. Maybe with the sunrise?

morning with a nearly-full moon… nearly-full is good enough

I woke up angry today.

It doesn’t happen often.

I put the gentle lead on Leonard and we headed out into the dark. After I crossed the street, I realised I hadn’t really looked both ways. Talk about self-destructive spite. I have no idea what’s going on. I figure some frustrating dream took hold and seeped into the day.

I sip coffee and hum through my morning meditation. “Let it be.” But it doesn’t change the deep background of six a.m.. I tell myself to let go of the feeling. To open and relax.

My fingernails dig into my palms.

Third cup of coffee. Back from the morning meeting at school. And back online again with the entire third year class in quarantine, 13 of 22 student names pop up in the sidebar of the teams program. All 13 have their microphones and cameras turned off. I turn on my camera – only to realise I dumped my weekend travel bag on the table behind me. There’s a shiny, beige bra visible just above my right ear. I turn the camera off. I should have prepared better. Paid more attention.

I switch to tea. I mindlessly eat a second lunch. Then I come down hard on myself. Idiot. I check the train table, and count backward to see what I can cram into the day before I need to meet up for the car pool drive – under the fjord and over the moorlands to the conference hotel. I make a mental note to switch to wine as soon as possible. I make a mental note of the fact that that is not a very good idea.

I want a hot bath and a good book and a lot of quiet. I want a time-out. An excused absence.

Today I’ve been thinking about that scene from Saving Private Ryan. The hand-to-hand combat. The too-late realisation: this is not a rehearsal. I have no idea why this scene is in my head. I have read it described as harrowing.

It’s as though this harrowing scene is somehow part of what has seeped from my sleep and is what feels sticky as I walk through the day.

This is all there is. All this time, you’ve been playing, preening, posing – but when it comes down to it, this is the now of your soft belly and your brittle bones. The now of your last breath. Your ultimate inadequacy in the face of whatever undefined plans you had for your life. The inadequate planning. Because this is it. This is all you’ve got. This life that just keeps coming at you one laboured breath at a time.

I’m not dying. I mean, not at the moment. And I remind myself that I may be sensing an ending. And that maybe this is a good thing. Maybe I’ll find a better perspective on this ending.

The conference is in Haugesund. Where I spent five months alone in hospital, with no grasp of the language. Where I spent another five months of sleepless nights in an attic rocking chair, with a colicky infant and a dog that looked like Toto. Where I learned that you can never go Home.

Even if you wanted to.

Even if you don’t.

Dead witches, rusting men, snake oil salesmen, shoes or no shoes.

My fingers dig into my palms.

And I just want to call in sticky today, and stay home.

photo: Ren Powell