From my desk, I face a huge window that looks out on the third-floor void between my corridor and the theater pavilion. Light comes in from the glass ceiling. It’s not a view of the outside, but I got that before work when the world was normal. There are far worse workspaces. Some of the offices have windows to the hallways only. It’s a big building with hundreds of teachers.

Depending on what I teach each day, I might be spending most of my time in a black room, with black floors and black curtains. 6 hours maybe. But it’s not as bad as it sounds. On those days, we’re moving around. Literally lifting each other into the air. Or were, when the world was normal.

Yesterday I unplugged my little reading lamp and emptied the bookshelves. Shredded the student’s diaries and doctor’s notes, etc. The whole time unconciously praying that when I come back in August everything will be normal.

If you had told me two years ago we’d be living in a culture where I could be reprimanded for touching a student’s shoulder, it would have sounded like a dystopian novel. I’ve written a lot over this last year about the lack of touch and what I was concerned it would do to me. I’m not at all sure what role this physical isolation has played in my relapse of bipolar symptoms, and I’m not sure knowing is possible or even meaningful in terms of cause and effect. It is interesting though to consider a connection between the two as a metaphor.

I normally teach contact improvisation. We lean on each other – learn to trust each other to hold our weight. We work together as a group to lift one person at a time and “fly” them around the space. We touch in turn, responding to the quality of touch. Not necessarily mimicking: but registering and choosing how to respond.

We breathe together.

Of course, there is a basic trust required in terms of appropriate touch. Our “private” body parts. But there are other layers of trust required, the most significant being care. Does the person I am leaning on care for my well-being in this moment? It’s not an intellectual exercise but a physical communication without a rubric. You can’t measure presence and support by pounds-per-square-inch. Hands tremble, sometimes almost imperceptibly. And often we can “sense” the reason for the trembling. Our mind doesn’t form an explanation, but our body understands first.

A touch on the shoulder can be invasive, a touch on the breast neutral.

Is the heel of the hand pushing hard into the center of the thigh muscle, or is the palm cupping the leg in a lift? Is the person observing the breath for signs of distress?

Do they care: here and now? Are we present together?

For a year and a half, I have been teaching online or focusing on theory in a large auditorium, everyone sitting a meter apart. Even movement class has been all about observation and external expressions. I have had moments with individual students. Individual counseling both in terms of personal lives and academic development. But I am not sure I was present often enough. Am I am not thinking, “for their sakes”, but for mine.

When a student begins crying one feels helpless enough, covering their hand with yours, squeezing their shoulder, offering them a tissue. But to sit there with little but facial expressions and words – so inappropriate in the moment – that is real helplessness. I’m not claiming to have a magic touch to help students feel better. I’m only speaking to my own experience: no one likes to feel helpless.

Being in the present moment is key for me. Probably because I have so many difficulties with my memory. As pathetic as it sounds, I think that teaching is what keeps me tethered to a community in a way that I am comfortable with.

I make few long-term relationships with the students, but in my day-to-day present tense, I experience meaningful connections.

I don’t need to be teaching contact improvisation to do this, but I do need to be in the same room. Less than a meter apart.

Today the number of local cases of Corona19 jumped again. And the vaccines are delayed… again. I have no idea what kind of classroom I’ll be returning to in August. And the uncertainty isn’t easy to sit with.

I am fine with solitude. But feeling lonely in a building where nearly a thousand people wander in and out of doors, is hard.


We weren’t supposed to hug the students last night, but hand them each a rose: this class that laughed when they noticed that last night’s graduation was the first time they were all standing on the stage where the students normally perform a couple of times a year; these drama students graduating without having performed for an audience anywhere in the last two years. I keep telling myself they are stronger for it in many ways. Maybe their laughter last night was proof of that.

I always cry a little on these evenings knowing I will miss them next year. And they head off to parties and to universities and gap year excursions and real jobs. And I relish the thought of a few weeks of self-indulgence before I circle back again.

It has taken me years to shake the end-of-year feeling that everyone else is moving forward while I circle back every August, in a kind of stasis. When former students write and ask me “Are you still at Vågen” I used to have to push down the defensive emotions that rose up: the “Yes, But”s.

But my life is not stagnated.

I’m embracing the dialectic aspect of being a grown-up. The circling back. My students are my teachers in so many ways. Instead of a deeper education, I am getting a broader education in all that it is to be human. I have let go of the stupid notion that I’ve “seen it all” (at any age) and realize that if I believe that – that I have seen it before – I’m not looking closely enough at the details. What knowledge I have from before might offer itself as a key to unlocking something, but it isn’t the solution itself. There is no one-size-fits-all.

Until this year I struggled with the division of my efforts: nurturing other people’s talents, and making room for my own creative work/practices. I thought that the former sucked energy from the latter. But I am beginning to see how it doesn’t work like that. There is no either-or. That’s an excuse.

The occupation of teaching is the continuing education that is necessary for my vocation as an artist. For my growth. It connects me to a world beyond my own narrow perspective, and it keeps me soft and strong and capable of kneading the big emotions.

When I was 25 I worked the graveyard shift in a bakery. Throwing huge balls of bread dough onto the table. Flipping and curling the triangles of butter-laden pastry dough into crab-shaped croissants. It was surprisingly hard work. And there were nights when it felt simultaneously meaningless, and essential.

We never know how the little snapshots of our memories can rise up and lock into place and make sense without a rational connection.

Maybe this is because the deepest truths aren’t products of our rational minds at all. Because the deepest truths will always be poetry.

(photo: the students’ term papers and the roses they gave me earlier this year turned into pulp and new bookmarks)

And counting down 2, 1… summer break. So rarely have I wanted it so badly. Begrudgingly doing the few tasks left, sitting through the few meetings, trying hard not to be negative. There’s a little mantra in my head: Next year will be better, next year will be better.

Please. Let it be better.

16 months of uncertainty and skewed norms. I have learned this about myself: I am a person who likes clear guidelines and rules. I thrive on ticking off the boxes. I am reliant on being able to say I have done something as required – that I am good enough. I have proof.

Before Corona, I had no idea that I saw every day as a kind of multiple-choice test I had to pass. No wonder I was exhausted even before the lockdown. And no wonder the chaos of every day this year has all but shredded my tissue-paper self-esteem.

I think this explains my taking on all kinds of projects. Ballasting myself with boxes I can tick off: at least I can do this today.

It’s not the same thing as being in control. It’s more pathetic than that. It’s nearly the opposite. I can achieve an expectation. And therefore I am useful. Worthy of the oxygen I’m sucking in.

Maybe this year will be enough to make me throw my hands in the air and give up trying. Let go of the concern. I know that is a healthy thing to do. And I doubt it is going to happen. For those of us who were not given the scaffolding we need, we do what we can to scrape together the things that help us get through. Day to day sometimes.

The popular wisdom, the “party line” is that you don’t need to justify your life. But that isn’t how we work. We not only judge ourselves and each other, but we also judge the natural world: what good is a mosquito? A wasp? We concern ourselves with conservation projects often only when we understand how valuable the resources are for our own use. We want our children to see a tiger. From a distance. Maybe in a zoo?

We evaluate. According to our own needs. So, to stop trying to tick off the boxes that make you useful to other people is to pull out of the social network. Only the privilege of strong ties can allow you to do that and survive.

It used to be if your family had a history of suicide, you could forget marriage. No one even pretended that there were other reasons. These things still exist. I’ve heard people talk about how they caution their children not to get involved with someone who has weak family ties. “There’s something wrong there.” We shun.

Despite all the platitudes and pretty memes, people are not compassionate when it comes to unconditional inclusion. Taking on a human as a pet project may look like compassion, but it’s not. It’s useful. It makes us feel good about ourselves. And it keeps people in their place, striving to deserve attention.

Considering what I believe about human nature, I think my interest in deep ecology is linked to these ideas regarding “good enough”, and my obsession with being “useful”. If I can accept that the wasp has a right to live regardless of its usefulness to me – either directly or in terms of its contribution to an ecosystem that I benefit from – I can accept that maybe I don’t need to be useful either. That every day is not another entrance exam to the community.

But it is. Isn’t it`?

The platitudes sound nice, though.

This afternoon on the massage table I had so many good ideas. Writing prompts, poems, books. But I can’t recall any of them. Maybe I was sleeping. There’ve been times when I’ve lain in bed half-asleep and thought out an entire novel. Even rolled over to make a few notes in the book on the nightstand. But then in the morning realized those two scribbled phrases were all there was to the whole novel: a theme. That had been enough to trigger the feeling of creative accomplishment – a good dream.

It’s nice to appreciate good dreams when we have them. But not to grasp at it, or mourn what never was, or regret the feelings because they were “really undeserved”.

There is a kind of general understanding that if we learn we were happy where the circumstances – if we had known them – would not have warranted it, it wasn’t real happiness. I think it is fascinating that we do this.

Someone happy in a marriage discounts their happiness if they find out a partner had cheated. As though new information not only changes their present emotional state but somehow retroactively changes past experiences. I get that our memories of the experience would be different – that our perspective has changed when we recall/relive/remember. But It seems to me that it’s meaningless – in the strictest sense of the word – to say “I thought I was happy.” We don’t think our emotions except with this kind of retrospect and reconstruction, which is completely ripped from both the present and the past. “I was happy. I just hate being ignorant because it means that I’m out of control.”

If a mother is told her child is dead, but the child walks in the room two hours later, the damage of the two hours of grief is not erased from that woman’s heart, from the cells of her body.

Happy counts, too.

Can we not accept this “done is done” because we have a need to control the narrative of our lives? We want to see ourselves as the playwrights and novelists of our story. In control – even retroactively. Perhaps especially retroactively. I’ve known a fair number of people with mental disorders and trauma that cause them to live in a state of constant concern: is what I am seeing real? I am one of them. A fear of “losing it” and not knowing what is true.

Am I allowed to be this happy?

I’ve had days where I’ve asked myself that. I feel a rise of warm “good dream” feelings when I’m wide awake, and can’t for the life of me rustle up reasons for it. I worry that I’m losing it.

Today I think that there on the massage table today the “undeserved” feeling of contentment was due to the decreasing adrenaline and increasing endorphines. The reduction of inflammation. The quiet.

Since I haven’t been able to run for a while, I haven’t had a massage. I have always seen massages as a reward and maintenence perk for running. Maybe I have it backwards.

I think often picking things apart to try and figure out what is causing us to feel this way or that way is just a mental exercise. A bit of storytelling.

I think I am going to try to stay in the moment. Feel what I feel. And let go without weaving it into a story.

Like that’s going to work.

I am thinking today about how things can change suddenly, when nothing has changed. An interior reality that moves independently from the weather or circumstance.

Now, in this moment, I am angry or content or want to pick up and begin again new somewhere that smells differently. Spin the wheel. I latch onto reasons for my shifting moods but am wholly unconvinced they are causes. I’m just grabbing at the random facts while the merry-go-round spins. I am my own fortune teller and blue-eyed dupe making “sense” of it all. Lining up the cards and making up a story to explain why I am where I am.

I’m heading north in three weeks – to stay for a week in a tiny, rough house on the fjord-side of the island. To look for porpoises and puffins through my binoculars. Maybe without them. I’m bringing a wetsuit. Wool socks. And wine. K. says we need to trek to the opposite side of the island to see the midnight sun.

What I am looking forward to is the smell of the ocean. Above the arctic circle, the ocean smells… clean. Scrubbed. Ragged. I can’t help but hope it will clear my head. But I know nothing is ever as we imagine it will be. I know the mosquitoes up there are the size of wasps. I know the damp cold of a holiday cabin.

I could pull out my tarot cards to try to figure out how I got myself into this. I’d get the hanged man. I am in a period of indecision. Suspended.

In a time of contemplation.

The brain is amazing. We can always make it “fit”. Whatever it is. The omens. The signs. Today walking Leonard we passed a hedgehog on the sidewalk. Dead. In the middle of the sidewalk. I walked Leonard a big arc on the lawn to avoid it. I watched three people walk by it. I wonder if the body will lay there until the birds take it away bit by bit. The gulls, most likely. Where are the gulls today?

We passed the field where last week the duck couples were coupling in the tall grass. Someone has driven a lawnmower over it all. I wonder where they went? Where will they brood?

In films and in books, people have little epiphanies that get all their ducks in a neat row while on a vacation. After facing death. Getting a sign.

All these external changes that shake up their inner realities. Does it ever really happen that way?

a fetus gestates:
dog, fish, shark, venomous
a year to decide – yes