11821293_1650321128515024_1613060457_nSitting on the train today, on the way home from work, I listened to Jimmy Carter’s press conference, and cried.

And I felt foolish, crying for a man I never met.

I’ve spent the afternoon wondering why this touches me so deeply. Why this ache is vaguely reminiscent of the feelings I had when my grandfather lay dying 2000 miles away, and the nurse on the other end of the phone patiently pieced together my sob-staggered phrases  to understand my questions, and answer them.

There’s no cause for that kind of parallel: I have no claim on Jimmy Carter. I never sat with him in the evening, watching Hawaii 5-0, and eating chocolate ripple ice cream. He never grumbled at me, telling me to hush in church, only to be ribbed himself – just minutes later by my grandmother, for snoring.

I was 10 in 1976. My mother and my grandmother voted for Carter. There was grown-up talk in the living room, that I parroted in the schoolyard with friends. Not deep conversation, not in either venue, but emotional. There was a rare earnestness and conviction in the air. It was the Bicentennial, and earnestness was in fashion. Americans wanted to believe again. We were painting fire hydrants, and celebrating democracy. Carter was a symbol of adulthood and responsibility. I saw, in him, the grown-up for the grown-ups in my life.

This was a few years before Christopher Columbus fell from elementary school grace, and America changed.

But Jimmy Carter never did change.

While the rest of us moved on to irony and cynicism, he literally kept the faith. He was ridiculed and mocked for it. Yes, people would express admiration, but with a fearful kind of foot-in-the-door when it came to his goodness: an assumption that his compassion went likely hand-in-hand with naiveté. “A good man, but a not-so-good president” was a phrase I heard often. As though compassion necessarily went hand-in-hand with weakness.

But he has been around all these years. Is still here, as a reassuring background in (I suspect, nearly all of) our lives. The hum of his humanitarian work has been constant presence in the news, in the world. He is a part of the good I’ve clung to from my childhood memories. The good from which everything else “grown-up” (the cynicism and scepticism) seems to stand out in relief.

Settling down for the evening with a glass of wine and the computer, I lounge on the couch with the old lady. She’s here for two weeks, and it has been more than two years since I’ve had her with me this long. Next week my ex will be back in town to pick her up and take her home with him. To the garden where she has lived her whole life, where she is happy.

But tonight, I’m rubbing her stomach. She smiles. (I can tell).

I can feel the tumours in her teats. They are still growing, but slowly. I rub her shoulder blades, and find new places I’m not allowed to touch her. The arthritis affects more than her hips now.

She’s well over 15. Over 100 in dog years. She rarely complains. And on walks, she still stops in open spaces and challenges me to a game of tag. And she, still, never takes shit from other dogs.

Vulnerability is not weakness. I see that when I look at her.

Right now, she is the reality that makes real the nearness of death. Not Jimmy Carter. To claim that would be an insult to his family and to the people who do know and love him, to those for whom he is not a symbol, not a background hum.

What frightens me about Jimmy Carter’s illness, about his leaving this world before too long, comes from a selfish and cowardly corner in my spirit: when he is gone, there will be no more grown-ups out there for me, maintaining that white-noise goodness. Daring to believe.

I am not sure I am ready to take over that responsibility.

People say that hope and faith are for the young. They are so wrong.

Now, before bed, I’ll go pull Jimmy Carter’s book of poems off the shelf and read it. Again.

I took a lIMG_20150807_141840ot of photos this summer. And spent a lot of time thinking about what can’t be captured in a photo.

Mostly, I was thinking about cicadas. Along the trails outside of Boulder, Colorado in the States. In the trees lining the narrow roads of Perugia, Italy. Electric. There is something other-worldly about these creatures who leave their bodies whole behind every seven years or so, clinging to the branches; and whose buzzing is so loud it pushes into your sleep. Home a week, and I hear them still.

And, still, the melodies of Russian and Italian. The interpreter’s soothing voice, Italian sliding over into English words with no change in melody. No pause to garner attention. Pay attention to it all: how the body speaks, too. The inhalation before. Or the slight shift of weight in the hips when it spills from one form of expression to another.

Going back to the U.S. is always odd. The hyperawareness of sitting between chairs. I am never sure which “we” I belong to. I have a duel identity, and none at all. “America” is loud and lovely, and not. And the people there find it odd I use the word lovely so often. After all, I live in Norway, not England. I have a stilted, halting musicality that sometimes struggles to express its own, self-contained logic. I gesticulate in the wrong language. I shift when everyone else inhales.

In Perugia, Bogdanov spoke about melody every day. How we all have it within us, continually: rhythm, melodies. It is how we move. I have meditated on this. Tried to be honest about it with myself. But I move with words. Staccato or flowing, there are no violins in my head. There are voices.

In a closet in a gym in Perugia, I found roller skates. I can hear them on a wooden floor. I hear, indistinctly, the chirping of my three girlfriends at 12 years-old, voices seeping through the walls from another room of my life. Drowning out the opening melody to “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

And, in case anyone is wondering, I am still loud. Feeling too often like a muffled trumpet, I slip: You can hear me on the trains, a coarse rhythm and a disjointed melody. Electric. I’ve left bodies behind, after all.

Whole bodies.

The last time I kept a blog, I was training for a marathon. I was making major changes in my life, at a point where people generally decide to do it, or not. Midlife crisis, they call it.

I made more changes than I had anticipated, because change never happens in isolation. But there is no such thing as a midlife crisis, really. No one can predict a midway point to any destination. There are, however, lookout points all along the way. If you take the time to pull over, get out for a minute. A rest stop.

It wasn’t the first time I had experienced a “crisis”: took on major challenges, took off into completely unfamiliar territory. It wouldn’t be the last time. Won’t be.

Things are different now, though. Now, four years after running a marathon, I’m restless again. But this time, I’m looking backward as well as forward–and no longer afraid to do that. There are practices and beliefs I’d once nourished, things I’ve dropped or forgotten, that I now understand the value of. For example, the potential for faith. All kinds of faith.

I once knew that living is dying; we should remember that fact, in order to die in a way we choose–no matter how death might take us by surprise. There is a man in Denmark who lives each day dying well. And, I hate myself for my first thought after listening to him: I need to move to a place where I can dig a pond, like he did; where I can fashion my life like his. I use the word fashion deliberately, for all it is worth. I am even considering his eccentric knit strawberry hat.

I am still there. Here. Stuck, trying to make meaningful change, to find meaning, without giving up my life and making a pilgrimage to someone else’s belief system.

Someone asked me not long ago, if I was still running. I take that as evidence I have stopped proselytising. I take that as evidence in my progress towards becoming (authentically being) what I choose to be.

I am still running. Like so many others, asking myself questions I’d stopped asking for a while.414066_359311840791185_1987797442_o-2

And telling myself that the solution is not to buy a knit strawberry hat to wear on my runs.

(Check out the mini documentaries in the links!)

DSC_0384I was listening to radiolab‘s podcast on memory. Thinking about memories as neural constructions, as bridges. In my case, most often, fragments of bridges.

Or hand-me-down bridges, with their romantic patinas.

When not left to our own imaginations, our stories are told to us. Bit by bit, angle by angle. Point of views, like dreams, blending into one another. We piece details together to create our single narrative, but can never be certain of whose truths we are repeating.

I jumped up and down on the concrete steps of my grandparent’s house, to make the frogs jump out from under them. I was three. I was wearing a white romper. What little hair I had was curled at the ends. The world was black and white then.

I remember a broom. But no one ever contextualised that part of the story for me: the broom is like a random illustration tucked into a children’s book. There is a possibility that only the broom is my own memory. There is also a possibility that the broom is some kind of emotional symbolism that I put there because I saw Cinderella years later, and fantasised about chores and fairy god mothers, while sweeping concrete steps. The broom may have come from the photo, corners tucked into place, beside that photo in an album somewhere: my grandfather sweeping the drive.

Rebuilding bridges with what material is at hand. We are resourceful engineers. We create what is useful, and what is necessary.


I was thirty the first time I went to Rome. I cried when I saw The Sistine Chapel. An acquaintance thought I has having a religious experience. It was so much more complicated than that.

There was the fact that I was there. A bit of trailer park trash whose greatest ambition was to get to New York City someday. I had something akin to survivor’s guilt.

And there was the fact of the chapel itself. Not the one I’d seen in photographs and documentaries. But here, just following the Nippon restoration, was a Sistine Chapel in Marvel Colors.: royal blues and stop-sign reds. It was a metaphor for expectations. An example borrowed nostalgia versus the garishness of reality. Garish because reality can be defined as a bombardment of the senses. The loudness of being in the world.


In Vermont there are covered bridges. When I went there for the first time, in my early forties, I recognised the landscape. I walked through the Children’s Home, where my grandmother grew up. The soft green walls. The now-empty halls. There is a bridge we had built together, between the neurons in my grandmother’s brain, and the neurons in mine. Even now, a bridge that stretches outward from my mind to wherever matter becomes energy.


DSC_0540-2A not-so-random fact: some of the bridges in Paris are collapsing under the weight of expectations.

IMG_20150719_160121Most mornings are the same. A run, a bit of yoga, shower, coffee and thirty minutes of writing.

It’s my secret life. Before I head to work and take on all the roles I have to take on to pay the bills, to stay in the world.

The last six months, I’ve been working on a manuscript. On a theme. And I’ve tried various tools to help me write something on the page besides, “Just keep writing, just keep writing…”.

I have a lot of prompt books, but most of them give “assignments”, which aren’t helpful when I am trying to find new perspectives on a work in progress.

The Observation Deck has worked well for me. But I find myself, after six months, pulling the same cards again and again. So, I was toying with the idea of getting a deck of Tarot cards. I am skeptical when it comes to the occult. Cautious. But I used to use a deck of feminist tarot cards for meditation, many years ago.

Oh, the things we lose along the way.

But I found the Poet’s Tarot, by Two Sylvia’s Press.

Yesterday, I pulled up Denise Levertov, as The World, and I read the guidebook. I am negotiating a turning point, in my life, and in my writing, and the ideas there were inspiring: encouraging me to look at the “wholeness” of my creative work. The aspects of my life that brought new perspectives on the project I am working on now.

Today, I pulled Light Up The Cave off my shelf. In her essay “Interweavings: Reflections on the Role of Dream in the Making of Poems”, Levertov writes:

“[…] just as in dreams we effortlessly receive images and their often double significances, rather than force them into being by a process of will, so in writing (whether from dream or non-dream sources) the process is rather one of recognising and absorbing the given than of willing something into existence.”

I finished Happiness last night. And can’t help but tie my thoughts together. Levertov could be talking about life, not just writing. (And, well, after all, isn’t that the definition of a poet: someone who just happens to point to the world, as they’ve received it? Like a child: Look!)

We should take what is given. Recognising (not in the sense of categorising, but of noticing) and absorbing what is given for what it is, not what we can force it to be. I think this is where humility and gratitude come in. The conditions that allow us to move beyond platitudes to an experience of beauty. Like a cold rain or a hot bath, what is given should bring us to a point of discomfort. Long enough for our bodies, our neurons to build the necessary bridge of memory, experience, that allows us to cross over, for a moment, and accept life.

We shouldn’t try to be happy. To squeeze our life into a snapshot of a toothpaste ad. We can’t will it into existence. It is a word.

Accept what is given, turn it over in our wordless observations, like a child pulled in every direction by the laws of physics, held upright by her intense focus. Ignorance. This kind of ignorance. Nothing in the world demands a measure of value. It demands to be experienced.


 

See more about writers working with Tarot for inspiration at Tania Pryputniewicz‘s webiste.