The first day of autumn brought the rain and the damp. At 5 a.m., a reluctant Leonard who hates getting his paws wet. Somewhere near the railroad tracks a dog screamed. I think it was a dog. Leonard and I both standing at attention in the dark, in the silence that followed, then both shaking off our helplessness, because what choice do we have but to get on with the day?

The sun rising vaguely, somewhere in the sky behind the opaque weather front. The neighbor down the road, with the lovely garden and who was wearing knickerbockers the first time I saw him, stares at us from the window of his bright entrance hall. I took another mental picture. I wonder if he knows I do that.

He doesn’t return the smile he can’t see.

Out walking once, I told him that he had a beautiful garden. He turned away from me. But the next day he told me I had a beautiful dog. Now we half-smile and nod often in the mornings. Most days this is all I need from other people. And some days it is all I have to give.

I am trying to reframe my situation: to consider all of the obligations as things waiting for me to return to, rather than the things I have fallen behind on. I know the former ascribes these “things” a kind of volition. But really the later does, too. Entities of sorts to whom I owe somehow, for having fallen short in serving them with the proper devotion.

I wonder if I am unique in anthropomorphising the world in this way? Like a child with toys: fairly, mentally kissing goodnight each one before bed. Then a kiss for God’s white cheek.

I let the small bits of the world down. I disappoint the dusty tiffany lamp with the burned-out bulb, the now-chipped coffee cup.

So much comes down to my forgetting. Forgetting as carelessness: as with yesterday’s discarded, wet socks I found on the bathroom floor this morning. Too much of my life is “I meant to…”

What do you mean to do with your life? I think I have meant to please. Sometimes I wonder if I will die while mentally apologizing to the kitchen sink for the bits of onion and garlic stuck in the metal trap.

At this point in my life, I know all of this involves a willing suspension of disbelief on my part. Though I am not sure if it constitutes escaping from real life, or desperately searching for it.

And this isn’t the first time I have wondered if all of human mental activity is a meaningless distraction. By carrot or by whip we will ourselves on.

Leonard and I came in from the rain this morning. I towelled him off and he ran for the treat cupboard. I slid off my rain paints, and E. handed me a cup of green tea.

Some days, by whip or by carrot, we will one another on.

Some days, it is good to be reminded of this simple thing.

The little timer begins with a chime. Returning to these quiet minutes in the library with Leonard snoring on the rug beside me. A cup of coffee, a clear head. A sense of openness – knowing that some things will hurt.

The lithium has been out of my system for a couple of weeks now. In some ways it is like having lifted a bandage from a wound. A sense of lightness, a stinging contact with the air. Awareness shifts. But it is good. A kind of healing process. As long as one keeps in mind that “healing” does not mean returning to a former state. Any former state.

Six months have passed in a frozen moment that was something like a swift slap to the side of a television set to stop the vertical roll. But the world is never frozen entirely. Things shift imperceptibly until they are perceptible. You step back and find yourself in the middle of a new program.

I know that is an archaic metaphor. I know that. And I wonder what all these technological changes in the world have done to people like me, who’ve straddled a revolution that seems like magic. That encourages magical thinking?

I think about those years of my slowly-twisting fingers on knobs. These still slowly-twisting fingers that make me self-conscious. Age-conscious, which is nothing more than death-conscious. I think about the last six months, and what has happened along the edges of the bones in my left shoulder. The build-up of minerals within my body. I try to make sense of competing metaphors. My turning to stone, my falling to dust.

Tomorrow I head back to the physiotherapist who will press a bit of metal against my bruised shoulder and send invisible shockwaves through the skin to shatter the build-up of calcium that is biting into my tendon every time I lift my arms into a sun salutation.

I did my homework on the procedure. The statistics for “success”. For an easing of the inevitable transitioning from one body to the next. The non committal language of my GP: “You can try it.”

I have been thinking about the distinctions between organic and non-organic material and our definitions of life causally tied up with these definitions. About the presence of the inorganic elements in our bodies. The necessary presence. The growing presence.

I haven’t seen the moon since Sunday: cloud cover. But I know it is there, huge and low and signaling the harvest. Already my morning and evening walks with Leonard are in darkness. I run late in the day when I can now, to get some sunshine.

Let myself go.

And there goes the final chime from my timer. Just as Medusa enters.

It has been so long since I’ve sat here in the library that the roses on my desk have long since died and dropped their leaves – more leaves than I would have thought possible from a dozen red roses of condolence.

The light bulb in my little green lamp has burned out. I type in a relative darkness this morning. In an hour I will leave the house to take the train to work, and I will pass the tall raspberry stalks that lean out over the driveway from the garden and I will grab the ripening berry I’ve had an eye on for days.

Provided one of the magpies hasn’t beaten me to it.

It seems these past weeks I have moved even further away from myself in an attempt to know how to move forward. It is true that death brings change, even deaths that do not spawn grief, but end it. I am “over it”. In a way. Past it, certainly. And now what?

We can do this, you know. We can own our own stories, or just give them up entirely. And we can let go of the need to dictate the stories of others.

We don’t need to be “a survivor” with a constructed story arc that makes us the hero. If we “win” all the battles. We can just live in world with no need to construct a dramaturgy that will bring everything to a satisfying end.

That sets us up to fail.

While avoiding writing, either publicly or privately, I have been thinking again about “whose story”. I have been thinking again about my choice to erase myself from the tidy narrative in my mother’s obituary (which described a woman I never knew): to take that name that is not my name, was my name, out of that paragraph with “[…] is survived by”. Because the truth is that the person who wore that name, who lived that life, did not survive but was born anew, and mothered by so many others.

We can do this. We can give up the need to carry a through-line through the days. Can’t we?

Today I will lecture on Antigone. Creon’s story. And I will ask the students to read the play, translated from a translation that was translated from a translation and handed down through cultures that have come and gone, and were born anew. I will ask them: Whose story is this? Why carry it? Will you somehow make it yours? How?

I learned yesterday that Antigone means “against-birth”.

Can we accept that every considered perspective on every story is a true answer? That all of them are as true as memories?

As true as the dried leaves scattered over a book filled with fragments of poems that I’ve forgotten I’ve written.

I’m off to pick a raspberry.

photo of a ripening raspberry on the stalk

Sleep. I really could use a good night’s uninterrupted sleep. Sometimes I wonder if my life doesn’t balance out somehow through sleep. As though I have a preferred, set point of stress that my body will work to maintain. If my days are relaxed and pleasant, my nights will be filled with pinched dreams and ominous atmospheres.

They say that our memories are not recorded like video snippets in a file system somewhere in our brains. But rather: each time we “re-member” we construct a new version of the memory. I wonder then if each incidence of a specific memory is significantly altered from the last without our noticing? Without us having an ability to notice. It must, right? This is what we know to be true. And not only are we not able to be objective, but that our subjective truth has no through-line in time. It is immediate and ephemeral.

We re-member rather than dis-member our memories. Our stories.

A few days ago I was captured by a video clip of a dancer. Utterly charmed. I shared it with students as a way to illustrate some of Laban’s ideas about dynamics in movement. Then I had a dream. And now I can’t look at the video. Or think of the video without becoming physically and emotionally upset. Something – some gesture, some facial expression: a smile – stitched itself into an atmosphere of a childhood memory while I slept.

A present memory and a much older re-memory are bleeding from a nightmare into my days. I suppose this is where the idea of repressed memories comes from? As though the present sends a hook down into the past and pulls up a fragment of a story along with the will to make sense of it.

This dark and stormy night. Fill in the blanks. But I know that – I believe that – there will never be a way to know the objective truth of a re-constructed memory. So I let it be. I admit I am tempted to try to name the atmosphere, a bit like recollecting a taste – the sweet, the umami, the mouthfeel – to shape it into something that can be put safely in a box. Identified and controlled. Like an ingredient in the recipe that makes us who we are. In this case: This darkness. This ambivalence. This vague childhood fascination of knowing there is an unknown something present in the energy that is as explosive, rich, and mesmerizing as death.

Is this a wisdom that only exists in the lifetime before rationalization becomes a habit? A trigger for sense that ushers us to a different kind of innocence/ignorance? A mature and willful distance. The illusion of control that we are so afraid to lose.

If this atmosphere of my memory is real, maybe it has no name because I had no name for it: for a sense memory connected to a psychological process but not to language. So it slips around the traps in my mind and flows into moments of my day, unexpectedly. Darkly.

And I am still fascinated. Like touching a wound. Like sticking a finger deep into the bloody gash to expose the mystery as… mystery.

Here is something as dark and textured as mushrooms. As sickness and birth and sex. Something true that cannot be contained.

And here is the rub: how to let it be. How to know that there is this dancer’s smile in the world and know that it will rush over me as sticky and ambivalent as menstrual blood – and just let it be, making no attempt to tame all this wildness with a story?

Nothing is a clear shot. Or at least if there is such a thing it is a rare. And maybe it is an awful metaphor no matter what.

Metaphors are interesting things. How often we use them when the vehicle of the metaphor is something we’ve never actually experienced ourselves. Making it, what? An embedded metaphor in a way? An effective way to remove the idea further from the body rather than bringing it back to lived experience?

I woke up cold this morning and pulled on long wool underwear and rain pants to walk Leonard around the block. At 4:30 it is still completely dark now. I am surprised to pass three men in work clothes, plodding along through the suburb carrying plastic grocery bags. Heads down. Not in a group. Three individual encounters. Leonard stays quiet and calm, so I consciously breathe.

Home again. And in the library with a cup of coffee. I find my butt slipping off the desk chair. “Butt in the chair”. It’s not a metaphor is it? “Difficult to keep your butt in the chair”. Just write.

But the truth is, if you are still wearing you rain pants your butt will not stay in the chair.

E. is laughing at me. With me. Leonard stretched over the little rug with his eyes closed.

This is my life. A random, mundane moment. Sometimes I would think I would trade all the highs for more of these relaxed moments – before the news-site headlines creep into my thoughts, before anyone needs more from me than I can provide with a slow stroll through a damp morning and the opening of a treat-cupboard door.

E. brings me coffee. I slip off the plastic pants and am suddenly mindful of the texture of the wool underwear. It is such a silly thing – this illusion of comfort and the connection to something so simple/difficult, to a past culture that I have never experienced and can only imagine where every morning is as cold and damp as this one, but warm with breath of dogs and sheep and maybe a goat. It’d be fun to think this was some sort of genetic memory. But I am sure I have seen too many films, read too many books, wished for a life other than the one I landed in.

What would it be like to wake and move a body through a series of motions – lift, twist, tug, heave – without dwelling on horrors halfway around the world over which you have no influence. What would it be like to have to focus on the immediate, present, physical world. The daily tasks repetitive motions, rituals of will: order, comfort, sustenance. It’s it a form of prayer? A metaphor for what we wish for the world? A vicarious effort to make things better for everyone, by staying alive – contributing? By tending what we can touch?

Scott Peck wrote a book long ago and tried to define love strictly as a verb. It changed the way I thought about my life. About the people who “loved” me, and my responsibility in loving. I am thinking about compassion. As a verb. Maybe the term compassion fatigue is all wrong. Compassion isn’t what is wearing us down.

What is wearing us down is helplessness.

The world is too big. Our reach?… is not a metaphor.