I think I am afraid of the quiet. Afraid to let my mind rest. I have been binge-watching medical dramas and experienced a bit of panic when I realized I’ve watched all that are available on the streaming networks I subscribe to. I nearly subscribed to another to continue watching one that I am only mildly interested in. Plot holes. Inconsistent characters. Poor dialogue. Questionable moral standpoints. So there’s…

Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Podcasts.

It seems I stay with any particular past-time until I hit a point of frustration that sends me to the next. I’m playing emotional Ping-pong. Looking for affirmations, escapism and getting smacked back. And that in itself is frustrating: knowing what I am trying to avoid, knowing that it’s foolish to try to avoid it, and still looking.

I misread something on my Twitter feed and thought a comment aimed at Boris Johnson was aimed at me. The point is: I flinched. I’m not using a metaphor here. I physically flinched. Even odder is the fact that the comment was part of a tweet I had retweeted myself.

Last year I don’t think I made any New Year’s Resolutions. I thought I was in a good place. This year is different. Everything hurts. I am tired of all of this hurt.

I am beginning to wonder if my need for escapism has everything to do with my reluctance to go for a run, or even a walk in the woods. My reluctance to write.

I’m afraid to make room for thoughts.

But it is like trying to run through an endless mire without getting my shoes muddy. The thoughts creep in. But as I slow down, I realize that it isn’t as bad as I anticipated. B. is dying. And we talk about movies and books and wildfires. We talk about what to do with what we learn (and don’t like) about people we love.

And I listen a lot more than I usually do.

I’m not going to appropriate her story, her lessons. But I am going to stay conscious of the lessons she is teaching me now, through the perspective she chooses to share with me.

“Life is too short” isn’t a platitude this afternoon as the calendar flips to 2022.

What I have learned now, at the close of 2021, is that holding two truths that bump against each other is painful, but possible. Necessary, even.

That an unwillingness to consider/allow for/discuss/listen to another perspective is not a sign of confidence in one’s own knowledge/beliefs/intelligence.

That “all or nothing” is a luxury illusion none of us can afford – not in terms of possessions, not in terms of loyalties.

That, as our worldviews get smaller we cling to our rage and outrage to justify our creeping, ever-narrowing circles of compassion.

I am reinterpreting the myth of Narcissus. I believe he must have been fixated on the tiniest of pools. The world as a teaspoon of sugared water… seen through the eyes of Narcissus while he’s listening to a podcast through his earbuds.

I need to go for a walk before the sun sets.

on the morning that will lead to Christmas Eve. I’m surprised to wake to a white world this morning, after last night’s walk under a clear and starry sky. Something moved through while we slept, and maybe took with it some of the heaviness and left the rough chattering of the magpies.

We have yet to put up the tree and wrap the last gifts. But weirdly all I want to do is make something beautiful. And, as always, desire outstrips both ability and talent. Maybe it is appropriate that Amadeus is a Christmas film in my mind. Certainly a film for the winter season. Maybe the threat of wasted mediocrity can be a drive in-and-of-itself? Maybe some of us need a patron saint of Effort? We need to know less-than-excellence is still worthwhile.

A humble, worn begging bowl is a thing of unique beauty, isn’t it?

This year has been stitched together at points of pain. Losses. Abrupt and imperfect endings. And I suppose beginnings that are easy to overlook if one isn’t attentive to possibilities. I’ve been wondering if there is no such thing as a false start. In the same way that there is no such thing as a “failed” marriage, if one approaches life as growth and change and experience, rather than a map of set mileposts toward an obituary: this is supposed to be your wonderful life. Yeah. That Christmas movie that’s all about shirking your fate if you can’t suck it up through the hard times, give into your circumstances, and trust bow-tied, bushy-browed old men who claim to be angels.

It strikes me as ironic that all of us are storytellers. Ourselves as the heroes in everyday encounters. And yet I can’t seem to write a story. My character isn’t woven into given circumstances, and I can’t seem to plot a satisfying arc.

Maybe there is no arc, though there are arbitrary meeting points that matter very much. It seems to me that waiting for them, letting them come, and having faith in their covert significance is our obligation.

I guess that is why I feel pulled toward poetry. These knots of drama and of peace. Pearls on a string. Life as a room full pre-Islamic “hanged poems”* written by individual ghosts: each of arbitrary length, representing arbitrary lifespans. Each with a qasidah’s lack of plot or narrative.

Here is my search for an artistic home to that inevitably leads me to misunderstandings, accusations, and a keener sense of alienation.

In theatre history class I facilitate discussions on appropriation. But in movement class, I teach square breathing: the alternating states of movement and stillness, and the recognition that there is also life in stillness. In the waiting. I try to explain to my students: just wait. Don’t engage the glottal stop, don’t bear down in your throat, just stay open… and wait.

It’s not even a metaphor for life. It is life.


The snow absorbs sound waves. But the magpie’s bellies chatter like shakers in an improvised concert. The front yard is filled with tension. A drama without narrative.

The magpies are quiet now.

Wait.

They will begin again. Like barren Shakers, they’ll gather and make something beautiful.

Then they’ll be gone. Again.

Just wait.


*It is interesting that the phrase I found today was “hanged poems”, when I have been taught that the past tense of hang is hung and that the only thing hanged are people. The more common term is “The hanging poems”, which of course is immediate and… haunting.

Sometimes I wonder if the reason I fall into such depressions is the lack of movement. I haven’t run in two weeks. And now I’m not always succeeding in getting my body into the shower. Sadness is one thing. But sadness is like the turn of the key for an engine that will drive me, spinning, into the familiar trench. Spinning and going nowhere. If sadness is a tug, depression is the friction burn where an ambiguous want rubs against inertia.

An object remains at rest until an outside force acts on it. Until the world shifts somehow.

This is the beginning of winter. And really, what that means is the end of endings. This is a season of fallow time, of preparation for what is next. I like the quiet. And how the calls of a knot of sparrows will slide over the ice for blocks on a still afternoon. They rattle the dried leaves of the hedges, revealing themselves. And the crows hop along just ahead of Leonard and me. Unflustered. All of us. Each of us.

A hawk flies overhead.

But then I come back into the house, come back to expectations that I just can’t rouse myself to deal with. Socks to match and fold. Dishes to wash. Christmas presents to wrap.

In the corner of the studio there are a dozen glass jars, candle wax, wicks and essential oils. The second year the lot’s been stacked there. Ambitions. A second Advent that never happened. I told E. that maybe Christmas in July has to be a real thing for me. I need to put the products of a summer’s warmth on Lay-Away.

E. has no idea what Lay-Away is/was. In fact, no one I know does. I’m reminded that in Norway I am not legally allowed to call myself an “immigrant”. So I have no words to describe this kind of alone.

I thought this year I’d drawn a hard line under so many difficulties. “Now, this time, I will get it right.” I’ve cracked the code. Taken the medications. Figured it out. Got past it.

And then there is the guilt that is really self-indulgence.

Can you smell the burning rubber of spinning tires?
I need a shower.

And then I will try again.

This season is for the birds.

It’s late morning and the sky is a baby shower of pinks and blues, and the fields are frosted with fragile crystals that rise from blades of grass and sharp-edged rocks. The moon is full and painted with shadows. It’s odd how this 3-dimensional moon makes everything feel unreal. The world’s Trompe-l’œil. An existential joke.

Twenty minutes into the walk and my fingers begin burning from the cold. My bones ache. Back at the house it hurts to squeeze the release for the clasp on Leonard’s collar. One more day of teaching before Christmas break. Teaching from home again because we are living through a pandemic of fits and starts and dreads. Sometimes I wonder if the virus is nature testing carefully, patiently trying various combinations before mounting a full-on defence against us.

Or whether we are just watching what has always been happening.

Since B. was given a terminal diagnosis she’s been wondering if other people, if given the choice, would rather know what’s coming – or just get hit by a bus. She says she is grateful for the time to wrap things up. I’m thinking (even after having had those moments of thinking, “this is it”), I still don’t know what I would choose.

It strikes me (again) that I am grateful for not having to choose, for the resignation and the ability to rest in powerlessness: accepting the freedom that affords. And the sudden accountability.

There’s no need to meditate on my own corpse. Impermanence is evident. Everywhere.

Yesterday on the morning run I had trouble catching my breath. I began wondering if I’d finally caught Covid. Then I remembered that I always have trouble breathing when I am under stress. I remembered the time a doctor did a full work-up suspecting pneumonia when all I really needed was a proper job description so I could draw a ring around my obligations at work. Get a handle on them.

So on the downhill slope of the interval hill, I forced myself to slow down and take a deep breath. Fill the bottom of my lungs. And on the exhale, it was as though a cork popped and I sobbed for several minutes – loudly – standing still in the dark on the trail, with E.’s arms around me.

Then we finished the run.

Draw a ring around it.

I’ve read that most of us have four or five people whom we can truly count on and for whom we will be there for when they need us. The kind of person who will fly 4000 miles over an ocean to be with you through a divorce, then again three years later to be your matron of honor. The bad times and the good times.

One of my five told me she was seeing blinking rainbows on Tuesday. “Not as cool as it sounds,” she wrote. She was heading in for an MRI. I sent her a couple of voice messages so she wouldn’t have to read them. But she hasn’t opened them yet. Since then I’ve only gotten updates from her husband. From the MRI she was taken straight to the hospital.

It’s not my story. But these are my fears, the ones that literally take my breath away. I googled, because we all do that, right? And under the diagnosis (still to be confirmed) is a long disclaimer about the prognosis. If you want, you can follow the link to the charts with the statistics. Some people want to know. And now I wish I didn’t.

What do you do with numbers? What were the statistical odds for this thing to have taken root in her brain to begin with?

So now I have a handle on it: this weird piece of baggage filled with numbers and uncertainties. And with so much love.

I am carrying it through the days. And I will be carrying it around with me for many more days. Turning it over. Staring at it. Wishing it were a magic portal to take me 4000 miles over an ocean to be with her. Wishing it could somehow gestate a miracle.

I’m sorting through the ever-changing travel restrictions. But for now. Just stuck holding this bag. And wondering if I will ever look at a rainbow the same way I used to.