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

I have been leaving my phone at home when I walk Leonard. Even though it’s dark. I figure the world is no more dangerous now at 4 am than it was those years ago when it was perfectly normal to not carry a tether in your pocket. Ah! But what if I need to call the police?

Opportunity creates need, I suppose. Or the illusion of need – want. But I want not to have these fears and this steady state of vigilance. This false sense of security in the face of an artificially inflated sense of danger.

I let Leonard lead this morning and he took the back route along the railway. A long, narrow stretch behind the (not so) temporary building for kids’ soccer training. There is something intensely discouraging about temporary structures in decay. But I try not to dwell on it.

No pun intended.

It’s usually deserted this time of morning, but we crossed paths with a young man who was probably on his way to work. He smiled. I’d been humming, somewhere in the middle of my walking meditation. I figure these kinds of interruptions are more like prompts and direction than interruption. Nudges.

Home again, I move through the morning asana flow. Still wondering why, when I get to the bridge, Leonard invariably trots over to tuck his forehead into my neck. Nuzzling. Breathing his own ujjayi – nose pressed against my skin. I try to accept it. The interruption. The nudge.

Then he watches me do a headstand and curl into child pose before he wanders off to wait for me in the library, while I grab a coffee and my glasses. Routines. What is good for the dog is good for the human.

“But flexible,” I remind myself. Be flexible.

I have so much to say on days I can’t make time to sit here in front of the computer. So much to say while I’m running on the beach or sitting on the train. All these thoughts pressing to be sorted and seen. And most days if I can’t catch them, sort them, form them and pin them down in a way that later will seem both true and strange, I worry that I will never have really existed. I will have let myself slip through my own fingers. Wasted time.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t about my thinking I have a gift to give the world, or an obligation to impose myself in anyone’s life. But I fear not taking the time to give myself a true form in the present tense. The blue boxes in the corner, filled with notebooks and scraps of paper aren’t there for posterity. Or documentation really. They are the process of my becoming and the sloughed bits of what I was. And even as I type this, I feel stupid. And self-indulgent.

There are artists who make sand paintings that blow away, wash away, are trampled under the feet or the bellies of creatures as they pass.

This.

And as it should be.

photo: Ren Powell

Two longish walks this morning. But no run. My achilles needs the day off. The sky is cloudy, so the world is soft. So soft that the blackbirds’ voices puncture the dark. Their songs seem to sew the morning to the night, and I know the sun will rise soon.

I hum through my meditation. Sometimes I find myself carrying two thoughts and shake it off and begin again from the last transition. “Let’s take it again from…” In a way, all practices are performative. We teach ourselves. And we meet ourselves in the flow when it comes.

Heading back toward the house, I find a car with county licence plates in my driveway. It’s parked at an angle, blocking the street. The radio is blaring, but the car is empty. Rounding the mailboxes and heading into the courtyard, I see a guy coming from behind the neighbor’s bushes. He’s zipping up his pants. And he’s startled. He literally recoils from Leonard. I let go the leash go just a little looser than I tend to do when I see people are uncomfortable with dogs. I watch the guy make a wider arc, a longer walk back to his car than he’d planned. We have eye contact. I let him look away. For a moment I wished Leonard were still the kind of dog that growled at strangers. These days – because of his diet – his first thought upon seeing any stranger seems to be: Does this human have something to eat?

But this guy doesn’t know that. And while I know I shouldn’t feel a kind of satisfaction in that fact, I do. And I tell myself that “teaching moments” can have all kinds of lessons, for everyone-at-once. The universe can handle two thoughts at once.

I shake it off and return to the hum that calms me, that stimulates my vagus nerve.

It’s about four forty-five. I don’t expect I’ll see that car parked in my driveway again.

Ah-men.


The Christmas decorations are up. And I am reminded again that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. I have to tell myself to relax. The last thing I want right now is a holiday: an exceptional time. I am craving the patterns that are the background ritual of living. The everyday.

I read an article yesterday about how many people are exhausted from the crammed social schedule that the end of Covid 19 restrictions has brought. We’re supposed to be like cows let out of the barn now. Party. Fiesta. Forever.

All I want to do is take the train to work. Touch students on the shoulder. Hug friends. Say, “You look good today.”

I want to sweat in the hot yoga room at the gym, while the instructor makes bad jokes – or the other instructor attempts some little homily about love. (Or Love, as she’d say.) Then I want to take the train home and make dinner, sit with E. on the sofa and read. Or visit with L. where the conversation branches in ways that only seem to lead to more (always unfinished) ideas, where doors are always left open. A vibrating – humming – lifeline to the slightly larger circle, within the slightly larger circle of easy, everyday connections that don’t need an occasion.

Just a few predictable weeks would be soothing. I am not at all in the mood for sleigh-bells.

photo: Ren Powell