Heading toward a quarter moon. The light is slipping away. I’m not sure I’ve ever noticed the moon as often as I have these past weeks. I suppose in part because we run under the cover of trees so often on the dark mornings. And I suppose because conversation is distracting.

Leaving my phone in the house while I walk Leonard now first thing each day, the quiet can be intense. Especially these days with the clear skies.

Shaking up the routine is a good thing. Leonard sniffs more intensely along the edges of the bushes. I think the hedgehogs are likely still moving around. Yesterday we ran into a cat whose eyes I saw coming from a good distance. Shiny, metallic full-moons in the light of my headlamp. I suppose she was stalking us, and only veered off at the last minute when Leonard’s bark told her that he was onto her.

I remember being surprised that I wasn’t startled. I’m normally scared of the dark. In an odd way, it was disappointing. No adrenaline rush.

Last night I had a nightmare. Graphic, bloody, and… awful. The details still sit in my memory, but I am no longer moved by nightmares like before. I no longer wake in a sweat or have trouble shaking a feeling of premonition. I know this has something to do with age. I know there’s research on this aspect of aging. And I know that in so many ways I should be (and am) grateful not to have to endure nightmares as I once did.

But in an odd way, it’s disappointing. Maybe I’m afraid that life might lose its intensity?

I’ve always had the most wonderful, colorful dreams when I’ve been depressed. An almost inverse correlation between the vividness of those dreams and the dullness of my days. I’ve always believed this fact reveals a deep optimism – despite what I think I think.

So maybe there is a logic – or at least a rationale – in believing that since my dreams are getting duller my days must be getting better? No need to compensate my heart for the fear of emptiness?

Last year I had an intention to create a more spacious day-to-day. And while it has felt like a year of torsion and grinding, maybe things are finally settling. Or revealing.

When I was a kid my grandfather took an archaeology course at the local college. He took me out a couple of times on his “dig”, and taught me how to use the screen to sift through the desert earth to reveal the tiny bone fragments. Years later I married an archaeologist and once again tagged along on digs. It was astounding to watch the professor spot remnants of a fire pit even before the surface gravel had been wiped clear. I suppose it is about learning to discern the relevant details from the noise. At the time, I remember, I was skeptical. I figured he was seeing what he wanted to see. Working backwards to construct the past. But believing it with all of his mind and heart.

Maybe that is what we all do? Construct the past by sifting through rubble. Casting bits of imagination to connect what doesn’t connect naturally? Like dinosaurs in the museum. We’re pretty sure the thigh bone connected to the hip bone.

Or wing.

Maybe what I’m experiencing now is connected to discerning the relevant from the irrelevant. The useful from the useless. Maybe even in my sleep, I can spot what it is important to take away from the dream – and that not being the cold sweat.

The takeaway from last night’s dream was that we can lose so much and still be alive. Our grandfather’s die. Our marriages splinter. We get used to the pain of living and we keep on.

We learn to spot the veins of gold in the wounded walls of dark mine shafts, and we learn they are common enough not to need to get ourselves worked up over them.

The past year has been unexpectedly difficult. And then, maybe not. I’m still sifting through the rubble. Still discovering.

It would make more sense to me to begin a new year with a solstice or an equinox. Even a full moon would have been nice this year.

And with that sentence: my first resolution of the year is to stop fantasizing that things could be different from what they are in any given moment. I find myself using a bizarre amount of energy on things that aren’t even important to me. An odd kind of diversion and procrastination – that is also a practice in dissatisfaction. I have no need to practice this. I’m already much better at it than I want to be.

It’s not likely I will change the things I can change if my focus is on irrelevant details. When I choose to begin again is irrelevant. I just need to choose. To live consciously.

Camus said it is our human condition, and what is worthwhile. Imagine Sisyphus happy knowing there is no winning. Imagine Sisyphus content.

Hell, even choosing not to choose is living consciously when you acknowledge what you’re doing. I figure, even if it is all one big illusion, it’s the illusion that makes us human.

Get on with the adventure.

On our annual January 1st beach run, E. and I watched the sunset, red sinking into the sea. It was a promise of at least a day or two of clear skies, and it has been clear. And cold. Yesterday the edges of the lake were frozen, and this morning, walking Leonard at 4 am, I loved the way each step across the grass was cushioned. The ice-covered blades giving in slowly. Letting me down easy – which seemed considerate considering the early hour.

Leonard must have eaten something he shouldn’t have yesterday. He’s resting now on the sofa with a stomach full of chicken and rice. I hear E. using the coffee grinder in the kitchen. And here I sit with my fingers on the keyboard whose M,N,L, S and V keys are completely without lettering.

This morning I am grateful my mother made me take touch-typing in high school: “data entry” they called it by then. She made me believe I had no choice in the matter.

Dinner is cooking, work looms, body parts ache, I’m a little sleep-deprived, and no doubt Leonard with scramble off the couch any minute, in a whining rush for the door.

And all is right with the world.
There’s time for poetry.

Everywhere joy in relation and nowhere grasping;

world in abundance and earth enough.

Rainer Maria Rilke (trans. Joanna Macy & Anita Borrows)
from “I Lift My Eyes”

A waning gibbous moon at 9 o’clock this morning as I walk Leonard to the park and back. Crows pass overhead in noisy, staggered murders. A year ago, they would have used paused here in the neighbor’s tree – and I miss them. I miss the crows and the tree.

And since the new family moved in next door this fall it has been all too quiet. The blackbirds no longer gather in the driveway at 5 a.m. I have to admit, sometimes I felt a bit like a mash-up of Snow White and the Queen of England having them sing outside the window in the mornings to wake me.

Letting go of these fun little daydreams involves a kind of grief.

When I was six or seven, I would lie alone in the grass in my grandparent’s tiny garden with the one braced sapling, and I’d imagine I was Alice in Wonderland. Those kinds of flights of fancy, as secretive as they are, you’d think you could hang on to them as an adult. But I have those kinds of playful moments rarely now. I miss them.

To be clear – I would not be a kid again for anything. The “go outside and play” refrain from adults still rings in my ears when I find myself in awkward social situations. It felt like a declaration of exile every time they said it.

Go find something to do. You don’t belong here.

And oh my goodness, the boredom. But then… then the flights of imagination.

I don’t think it is my age that is the problem. I don’t think there is anything wrong with my imagination. I think it’s the clutter of adulthood. There is no space in which to be bored enough to let my mind go wandering. There is always something to do. Some should do. Even if that is the novel I should be reading. I can easily avoid boredom while believing I’m behaving virtuously by doing so.

I line all the shoulds in my life up like ducks along a rope across a lake and I focus on all the ducks: Meditation, running, writing, reading. Work. I can’t see the lake for the ducks.

I find order comforting. I find creating order comforting. After the chaos of the DVT it took me four months to find my way back to the familiar rituals. At night the fear of death is still very much alive in my subconscious, but during my waking hours, order keeps me calm. Rituals are like handles on the baggage I carry around.

But carrying baggage around is an unnecessary habit.

When we hike, E. often takes a much bigger pack than is necessary. When people comment (and they have) he shrugs his pack and says people go to the gym to lift weights they technically don’t need to lift. He says it’s the same thing, and then he’ll pull out a huge thermos of coffee that I’m grateful for.

But I don’t believe hanging onto this baggage, no matter how kettle-bell-like, will make me stronger. I think it will wear me down. I also think tending to it is an excuse, a constant and convenient distraction from boredom.

I suppose boredom is like so much else in life – it is painful to begin – we’ll do almost anything to have to face it – (including poking at familiar wounds in a perverted act of self-comforting). But we can fall into a spacious momentum, and in the end, we rarely regret beginning.

Beginning a new year – I will try to welcome the unpleasantness of boredom more often. I will try to put the loose shoulds of my life in boxes – in dedicated rooms for dedicated attention. I won’t answer emails from students ticking into my phone at 11 pm. I will be sleeping.

And I won’t answer on weekends because I will be lost in some magic forest where tiny faeries live under the shelter of mushroom caps and sing dirges for the trees that were. They will be cruel and kind and tell me stories more true than any I’ve ever heard.

Last year I ate twelve grapes and wished for twelve things for the new year. This year, I am eating twelve grapes and making room for twelve muses.

This year I learned that romjul – the time between Boxing Day and New Year’s Day – is traditionally 5 days of no holds-barred. A kind of winter Mardi Gras without the parades or brass.

I have no idea if romjul is somehow related linguistically to rumspringa, but I’ve been staying up later than usual, drinking a bit more than usual, and not keeping to any kind of routine.

I’m feeling incredibly irresponsible.

And somewhat sulky.

More adolescent than menopausal. Is that a good thing?

S. preparing the Feuerzangenbowle on a Christmas Past

In recent years we’ve been lucky enough to have been invited to two gatherings of friends that have marked the start of the season for us. Both were cancelled this year to keep us all safe.

International quarantine rules meant I had no family members here on Christmas Day. E. and I ate takeaway, and I’m a little ashamed.

I haven’t even put the New Year’s beef in the brine yet. I keep saying I’ll do it “later”. I believe I may have procrastinated my way right past a decent corned beef this year.

We’ve run along the trail sporadically over the past week. We ran on Christmas day, but now that I think about it, we didn’t even say Merry Christmas to people we passed. We were focused on not slipping on the ice. (Note to self: time to pull out the yaktrax.)

Even my meditation has been haphazard this week. I’m feeling a bit disassociated from my own life. Off track. Maybe at a juncture?

In a strange way this romjul-feeling may be the only thing about Christmastime that is familiar this year: the chaotic-slightly frightening-freedom. Waiting for the world to get back on track. Back to work. Back to routine. Back to practice. Back to it.

And questioning what it really is.

This morning I got up early, filled a thermos with coffee, and walked Leonard down to the park in the moonlight. I left the phone at the house.

It feels as though I’m approaching this new year from an odd angle. A bit like hesitating on the diving board: here I go… in a minute. Later. Tomorrow. Do I want to do this? Really?

These last few days have expanded exponentially in my mind: into a huge space filled with should-haves. I should have hung the new blinds in the kitchen. I should have cleaned out the closets. I should have written a whole damn book to justify all this emptied space.

Instead I’ve been watching gimp tutorials for days.

When Leonard has been sleeping, or when he’s been intensely sniffing after another dog’s trail, he shimmies. It’s like a reset button.

Looking toward a New Year

It’s what I’m telling myself this morning afternoon: Shake it off!

Running isn’t enough right now. Maybe I need some loud music and a bit of real shimmying? Something extraordinary to force me to switch tracks?

And then approach to my practice with renewed intention.

The key word for our time is practice.
We have all the light we need, we just need to put it into practice.

Happy New Year. I’m gonna ask E. to put on some music.

I read an article the other day about döstädning. It means death cleaning. But a literal translation from Swedish through Norwegian to English in my head is: standing in death.

And this is exactly what I feel a need to do this week.

For a couple of months now E. has been toying with the idea of moving. He doesn’t really want to, and probably doesn’t understand what a teasing his daydreaming is for me. He’s just been frustrated with the (previously) leaky roof and the shorted-out shower cabinet. (Who on earth wants disco lights in the shower to begin with?) I, however, am overdue for a move.

It’s my nature, or habit — which is the same thing I guess — to pick up and move every year or so. Sometimes 2 or 3 times in a single year. Not being entirely sure of how many moves I had been through before the age of 6 — I can count at least 53 to this point. I am itching to move again. I am 54, after all.

But the fact is, I really do like this place. The location is convenient for the train and for the trail, and this house is probably the nicest I’ve ever lived in. Three years ago I paid a student and his gym buddies to move a free piano from a dining room across town to our dining room. The piano is as far as I’ve come for my retirement plan, I’ll learn to play it when I hit 70. E. and I have talked about how we can convert the atelier to a bedroom and live on the first floor when we are too stiff to climb the stairs in the mornings. When we hit 85 or 90 — if we are lucky.

We built a new entrance hall last fall and closed off the third floor — already set to rent out the upstairs apartment when E.’s daughter moves out. This house is full of potential. The problem is that it’s also cluttered with abandoned ambitions.

Yesterday I found a cardboard box with six bottles of essential oils, almond oil, and a fancy glass perfume bottle. I never found a blend I liked. And, well, to be honest oils don’t really work as a replacement for perfume. In my experience, the scent of essential oils lasts about a half-hour unless I’ve dropped it into a burner in my little library.

Christmas Tea and Cinnamon Oil

My closet is full of blouses I never wear, shoes I can’t walk in, and coats with missing buttons and torn pockets. Stacked on the bookshelves, I’ve got empty ring binders — I’ve forgotten why I bought them. Novels I haven’t read. Schedules I haven’t kept. Charts with career plans that I do not even remember making. It is difficult to believe that this is only 5-years-worth of clutter.

When you move, you take a good look at everything you once started. You evaluate, and you choose what to let go of. It’s this deep-cleaning that comes with moving that I really want. It’s the fresh start. The moving on.

It hurts to be reminded of flashes of joy/optimism/vitality that became catalysts for self-recriminations. Everything changes. Grieving for what was, and for the hopes that were attached to what was is natural. We do it when a loved one dies: we compassionately sort through what is left in the wake of their life. We relish some things, forgive others.

A move is like confronting your own death. You relish, you grieve, you forgive yourself for whims that you let become unmet obligations.

One of the Buddhist teachers I listen to suggests that if you are approaching Buddha’s teachings as philosophy and not as a religion, the idea of rebirth can be a metaphor for every day of your life.

My greatest fear with regard to not moving from this house is that I will not continue to explore. That I will settle. That being content, which I long for, will come to be synonymous with complacent.

But it is all metaphor, isn’t it? My packing cardboard boxes again and dragging them into another house, making another house into a home could just be an illusion of moving on. It’s the thought that counts. It’s the moment of a rebirth, which will always begin in accepting a kind of death.

Wanderer, there is no path, the path is made by walking.