I was beginning to fall asleep just after dinner last night, but forced myself awake hoping for a good night’s sleep instead. And right before bed I checked my phone to see if any of my students had received positive Covid results. And, yes, to see how many of the Republicans in the United States would be objecting to the election results. And, yes, I wan’t alone in anticipating an actual coup attempt. Or an actual coup.

There are very few moments in my life where I felt or was aware of a kind of quantum leap in my own maturity. But I do remember when I realized I no longer romanticized drama.

Surely I am not the only person who as a kid half-wished to experience an earthquake, a plane crash, or (from my position of privilege) a riot. I remember feeling deprived for not having a Vietnam war to protest. A cause to wear – like a costume. A purpose that would brand me – years before branding was a thing. An experience that would give me and my life a kind of legitimacy.

I suppose having kids helped me understand mortality – and that imagined experience is not experience. And that, despite my fondness for stoicism and Buddhist detachment, life shouldn’t be like watching a movie. You can’t choose to leave the theater, and you can’t forfeit your responsibility.

You are in the room.

I’ve never talked to anyone about this. But I figure we all have been brought up with the same Aristotelian narratives: adversity gives our lives meaning. It makes us significant. It makes us protagonists.

We long for our lives to have an arc, don’t we? Think of every “grown-up” who ever told a young person: you have no idea what real life is. As though we require a satisfying story to justify our existence. As though our experiences aren’t real until they are set in a set narrative framework and everyone applauds. Or gasps.

I know there are people who haven’t felt this. And because of them, I’m convinced that being seen is synonymous with being loved. It’s why unloved children are attention-seeking.

I’m fully aware this isn’t an original thought. But I believe it’s in the moments when we’ve circled around by way of our own reasoning/experience to reformulate cultural cliches, aphorisms, or proverbs on our own, that we are able to see each other as fellow humans. These are the moments when knowledge might become wisdom – and when it should become clear that wisdom isn’t a matter of originality.

I see the paradox in my own thinking: defining wisdom as a matter of realizing that other people think the same way that you do is very nearly defining wisdom as a kind of total immersion into one’s own ego.

But from another perspective, it’s a genuine relinquishing of the ego: understanding that you see things the same way that others have before you. It seems to naturally lead to humility – being late to the party on this one concept probably implies you don’t actually know it all yet. And you may not have really arrived where you think you have.

Can we be loved without being significant? Maybe the greater question is can we love while still believing in the legitimacy of significance.

I went to bed a bit past midnight last night. And have to admit (or choose to admit) to ambivalence: relief and hope on the one hand, a sense of anti-climax on the other.

Trump is no tragic hero. He’s not about to have his moment of anagnorisis, gouge his own eyes out, and wander off to an abandoned Soviet golf course in Kirghistan.

Maybe we make up our stories because it makes it so much easier to love the world. I think that’s what Aristotle as trying to say in Poetics.

“No one ever said life was going to be easy,” said everyone, everywhere.

Love is not a feeling. Love is an action, an activity.

M. Scott Peck

I have to admit to myself that very little of my life has gone according to plan. It would be comforting to claim that this has been for the best. But it has been, such that this is now.

I find myself circling back to old desires that were somehow discarded along the way – like a dream where you are traveling with a baby and then suddenly you’re not. There’s no panic, no regret, just wonder: I wonder how that slipped away so quietly.

Things never look entirely the same when one returns to a place stamped in memory. Buildings are smaller, people are less attractive – or more so. A novel we remember as almost finished is a half-page of notes.

“I want to be a fireman” is an hour’s deep impression, not a long path through childhood. I’m not expressing an original thought when I say that significance warps our perception of time.

The common advice for rekindling a sense of desire is to try to remember what you enjoyed doing when you were younger. What you were doing when time seemed to fly by. But I think the problem is that our memories are biased. We remember what is reinforced. What is stamped in our memories under personal or cultural pressure.

In the past months, I’ve been sorting through notebooks and computer files. So many times I’ve stumbled over declarations and confessions that I don’t remember writing. Poems and outlines for projects that are so like soft-boned babies that somehow slipped away in a dream. These are flashes of desire. The signposts of paths not taken.

Yet.

Where I come from, the words most highly valued are those spoken from the heart, unpremeditated and unrehearsed.
LESLIE MARMON SILKO

Maybe the greatest privilege of this time of my life is the time to circle back. There is a roundness that comes with age, a natural and new returning like a second orbit with a slightly different perspective. And a slightly different perspective can change everything.

A decade ago I left a thousand and one eggs on a blog with the same name. I’d forgotten about them. These things – now uglier and more beautiful than I’d understood. These flashes of desire that I recognize as genuine.

I have a plan to circle back.

These days I’m under far less pressure and I’m excited by
the rough roundness of eggs,
the ugliness of hatchlings –
the fearlessness of flight.

And not a poem.

I’m jumping off here.
I’m not on a journey to improve myself every day.
I’m not aiming for the unattainable ever-better, of self-development’s neat infinity.
I’m a warped impressionist mess

doing the best I can each day
in each moment
I manage to catch myself
laughing: me

as an infant
innocently tasting the poisons
because everything in the world
is so damned inviting.

I’ve been in one place for a long time now. In some ways.
But the terrain keeps changing. I am continually reassessing, reorienting-

Gearing up – or down. I didn’t expect it to feel like this at this point.

It’s not that I expected smooth sailing, but at least a clear direction.
I figured I would have interpreted the signs,
– have plot a course
and taken each obstacle as it appeared
for what it was.

But nothing is ever
what it was.

It is becoming and un-becoming
and shimmering – always –
a mirage.

Nothing will ever be.
Let it change. No. Watch
it change.

or… That’s a load of Latin.

“There is thus a will to live without rejecting anything of life, which is the virtue I honor most in this world.”

― Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

I’ve been carrying a moment of self-consciousness since I read the galleys for my most recent book. (Not that recent, I’m afraid). The translator wrote an essay on how he experienced my development as a writer. He labeled the (then) new work as “late period”.

It was a little like reading my own obituary (flattering as it was). And I feared it would trip me up. And it has.

I wrote Friday that nothing has to try to grow. And today I’m thinking that trying to grow is counter-productive. It’s the tennis player suddenly thinking about her strong backhand, and losing it in the analysis.

I can’t speak for others, but I believe art is created through a practice of wu-wei: art as process and experience, not as product and commodity. And this kind of practice is such a far cry from the zeitgeist of knowing one’s passion/calling/brand.

I spent so many years studying craft. Only to find that my best writing is without craft.

Every time I begin to analyse my process, it stops – usually in a cloud of self-consciousness and shame. A woman once commented on my blog after I had begun writing again: “I was wondering where that woman went who wrote letters to her friends.”

I’ve missed writing letters. I’ve missed the easy, unconscious flow of observing and sharing. Each poem a dharma talk, each reader the sangha.

That’s a bit lofty, I know.

This is my letter to the World

That never wrote to Me—

The simple News that Nature told—

With tender Majesty […]

(pull quote formatting centers the text – not my choice and not likely that of Emily Dickinson)

Maybe tennis isn’t the best metaphor to choose. I don’t want to approach writing a competitive sport. When I was younger, an older lover told me not to work so hard. Still, it was years later I realized that sex could be experiential, not performative. I think of the realization as a gift from this aging body: a strange kind of selfless self-centeredness. A koan.

Maybe I’m learning only now that this experiential aspect is also true in terms of art. In terms of all things. I think of it as a gift from the immediacy of the life and death of the world, as it comes closer into view.

I find often that poems I think to throw out are the ones people like best. Poems where I’ve felt I fell short in terms of craft. The metaphors people say speak to them are usually the metaphors I didn’t choose: it was just me questioning, pointing at something I noticed.

I’ve been listening to Stephen Batchelor’s The Art of Solitude. He talks about asking questions, without seeking answers.

This is my new ars poetica.

I have been wanting a sea change. Craving one, actually.

Watching for signs from my body: what causes stress, what releases it. I’m trying to carve pockets into the days to focus on intentional redirection.

But this time there can be no packing up and moving house. There’s no new job, no new relationship, no new discovery of a foreign country. This time things are different. It will take more effort. It will mean more deliberate choices.

I read an article yesterday that related the findings of Norwegian scientists who claim that people lose their drive (which they defined as the combination of grit and passion) at the age of 54. Decline, they call it. And have several suggestions to prevent it from happening. God forbid we lose our competitive edge.

I am 54.

I have long thought that the idea that people “slow down” in terms of curiosity or ambition is absurd. I think this because I have been teaching teenagers for over 20 years and know that there is a huge part of my modest sampling of the human population who are pushed through life: life happens to them. You are pushed to graduate from school, find a career, start a family, etc. Then there comes a time when nothing comes on its own. There’s no next predetermined rung on the ladder that society is pushing you up.

Believe me: society stops pushing you up. Your family no longer has set milestones for you. No expectations. Neither do employers, communities, researchers.

I believe the men and women running marathons and swimming the English Channel at the age of 70 are the same people who were pulling themselves up all along. The minority perhaps. And who knows, I may discover that I’m not even among them. Maybe this is when all is revealed: what in me is intrinsic, and what is contextual.

There are so many factors not taken into consideration when people draw conclusions about “grit and passion” and aging. There is a wisdom that comes at mid-life that can alter the appearance of grit – and temper passion, knowing the price it can demand.

Sometimes there’s a realization that your bluster and arguments – no matter how clever – will not change anyone’s mind at the dinner table. You are a storm in your own teacup.

Sometimes we realize that neither our victories nor our failures rearing our children really made any difference with regard to their victories or failures.

Sometimes we realize that all that applause we thought would fill us, doesn’t. All the spinning of the wheels isn’t getting us anywhere.

Just as countries measure their production and profit – not their sustenance – we as individuals measure our “wins”, not our contentment. So much so that contentment is not only undervalued, it is disdained. Maybe ambition changes into something we refuse to recognize. Something that looks less like profit.

Maybe we observe history being forgotten and realize that there is value in every present moment and that betting the now against a legacy is a strange act of an even stranger faith.

I’ve been craving a sea change and am trying to find a spell.
A narrow creek. An eye of newt.
A single branch of knotted pine.
Five silent terns, and a hooded gull’s cry.

It is a private act. This conjuring.
This particular ambition.

This morning things seemed to edge into a familiar groove. E. is home again, and Leonard stuck his cold nose in my face just before the clock went off. Dog bladders make the most urgent alarm clocks.

I let Leonard out to pee,

E. and I pull on wool clothes and running shoes
and head to the lake where our clocks are synced up
again with the crows’ morning congregation.
So loud and so lovely this morning. Lovely
in its own way. Earnest chatter.
Energetic and contagious.
My legs lose a little of their heaviness.

The lake has spilled over its banks,
but is still now. And dark.
A duck laughs.


We passed a man in his mid 70s. A woman somewhat older going in the opposite direction. This means so much to me: this reminder of what the path of the fortunate looks like.

Maybe literally.

After the run, the asana practice. And after the third chaturanga today my left shoulder began complaining again. After meditation and a shower, it started in yet again as I combed my hair. Loudly and unlovely.

I’m realizing that this is a conversation I will be mediating between my body and my id for the rest of my life. It’s weirdly like negotiating with children. Is this unpleasant feeling really “pain”? Or is it just a yellow flag: Be aware.

Take care.

Keep moving.


Every Sunday morning I sat 65 minutes on a smooth, cold pew next to Grandma. Pastor Garanger talked and gesticulated, sometimes mumbled with his eyes closed. Sometimes Grandpa’s breath would catch in his throat to jerk him awake.

I sat still.

There was a lesson lost on me. And there was a lesson under that one: the sitting still.

The “stop your twitching”. The “pay attention”.

The “okay now: just go outside and play”.

Maybe nothing is really lost, since the world circles around in its lopsided orbit.