Every morning I face the blank screen and wonder if I will ever write again. If this is the day when it all stops. And I do something else for a few years. Starts, fits, fears. And perched on my clavicle is that oxpecker who continually picks at the open wound at the base of my throat that is my self-doubt.

I think of Ariel and her little voice box. Of the blue sea-worms (the poor, unfortunate souls from Disney’s Little Mermaid) that live somewhere in the shelter of my rib-cage — all the projects I began and left unfinished.

I am too old for this perspective.

Where are the old women who don’t creep around the mad edges of the world? Who still play out their own story’s dramaturgy in rising action, allowing themselves their own point of view? It seems our culture’s old women move wickedly through the world — wrapped in bitterness -, if not they are caught in trees, or in mute animals watching and granting favors (like party dresses) as benign helpers and disembodied window dressing. More atmosphere than will.

And where are the old men? They don’t fare better in our stories. Dotting and ineffectual bumpkins with pockets full of small change, or carnival machines dispensing wisdom packed in riddles. Foils for youth.

This is what it feels like to close a book half-way through. A book that’s not worth reading. To move on. And sink into the real world.

It’s ten degrees Celsius this morning and beginning to smell like spring’s thawing rot. Talk about ambivalence. I guess all things beginning are as ugly as hatchlings. Vulnerable things frighten us. We are made aware of our own limitations. I don’t think it is a coincidence that our childbearing years coincide with the apex of our hubris. How else would our species go on?

Outside the kitchen window, the sky is turning pink. The still-unfamiliar patch of sky, revealed when they tore down the neighbor’s dying elm this fall. But I can see in silhouette another tree in the distance, its sparse crown topped with crows. The same crows, I’m sure. 

The blackbirds are singing. They don’t sing exactly. They talk, I guess. Our new neighbor works offshore two weeks at a time, and I am pretty sure the birds are onto his schedule now and are more present in our yard again the weeks he’s gone. I miss them when he’s home.

Before long I will need to clear out the dead leaves from raspberry bushes. Sort the bark from the marble stones, see what the books say about what-needs-to-be-done-when in the garden. And decide whether I will try again this year.

Of course, I will try again this year.

My life has always been more Beckett than Disney.

The trail smells like dog
shit and old bread — the ducks 
beginning to pair
off, running the hens down — loud
as traffic on the motorway

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 grandfathers 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.

Empathy is not agreement. It’s about understanding.

Nashater Deu Soheim

The doctor confirmed what I suspected: tendinitis in both shoulders. Then he proceeded to explain what a tendon was, and how the shoulder joint was different from the wrist – as though I’d never heard the basics of anatomy, much less work as a movement instructor for a living.

I told him about the stress I’ve been under, about the daily Ashtanga and diagnosed shoulder impingement. He responded by reminding me of how old I am.

Now I’m trying to put my ego in check: it really is kind of him to take the time to explain to his patients how their bodies work. To remind them aging means to suck it up when it sucks.

I think it’s difficult not to err on one side or the other: to take in the forest as a whole or to see only each tree.

So why did I overreact? Why was I offended? What was it I wanted from him?

It certainly wasn’t a rudimentary anatomy lesson and an explanation for how to google for shoulder exercises for old people.


There’s an eye exercise where you focus on a glass pane, then focus on what is behind it alternately. It’s difficult. It makes my eyes ache afterward.

I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days now, actually. As a metaphor – how it relates to social media, and social bubbles. How it relates to families and congregations and high school cliques, and trying to loosen the bonds without aiming to break them.

How it relates to all social relationships, really. These knotty, woven messes of damage and repair.

The U.S. election results surprised me and I found myself reading a wider range of news sites for a couple of weeks. I found myself reading my Facebook feed from a slightly different perspective.

And I deactivated my account.

Since then I’ve noticed some strange habits that I was completely unaware of – like an urge to share an article before I’ve read it to the end. Like failing to take the time to take a step back from the moment I recognize a shared belief in order to question the validity of that belief – which is something I’ve always thought reading helped me do.

But I see that my social media habit has become an activity where I sort people and products and cement my feelings of belonging: my identity. Not only have I abandoned contemplation for “interaction”, I’ve moved away from a practice of empathy by narrowing my field of vision as to make it virtually unnecessary.

Pun intended.

I began asking myself if I were reading (read: skimming) articles to pass them along as a performative act, rather than out of genuine intellectual curiosity. It’s an uncomfortable question to sit with.


Last week one of my students asked if we could continue the “debate” we’d been having the week before. I was taken aback. I thought we’d been having a discussion. In my mind, if not per definition, people win or lose debates. People listen with the goal of finding points of attack, to counter and dominate.

This lead me to try to initiate a discussion about critical thinking, which is at the heart of our national curriculum. I told them about a recent podcast I heard where researchers talk about how people who learned critical thinking skills almost always applied them first as weapons, rather than applying them to personal reflection. I pointed out that is not what we want to teach.

Then I remembered a book I bought at a conference over a decade ago: Peace Journalism. Now sold out and out of print. The gist of the book was to encourage journalists not to use war terminology and violent language in their headlines: “Obama attacks […]”, “Obama takes jab at […]”. These were headlines from this week. A google search (replace Obama with another name) will help you sort a publisher’s political leanings quickly.

I’ve been asking myself how I frame my thoughts. Which metaphors I’m using. Which expletives. Funny how the one we often use when we are angriest with another person, is a word that epitomizes intimacy.


They say we teach what we need most to learn ourselves, and sometimes I feel sorry for my students. I can’t be sure if I am seeing reflections of myself in their words, or whether I’m projecting my more unhelpful habits onto them. It’s probably a little of both, because that is what it is to be human, isn’t it?

The Buddhist teacher I read and listen to talks often about the need for spiritual seekers to be silent – to retreat from the world to focus on their spiritual growth. And this still makes no sense to me. Not within the context of my understanding of the world, of death, and of impermanence.

I believe empathy exists not as an idea, but as a practice. And every practice is in the moment, and within the context of only that moment.

I believe that it would be possible to gain an understanding – empathy – for the beetles and the shrubs of the earth, all by myself on a mountain top. And maybe that practice would lead to my being able to have an understanding of other people when I returned. But I think my ego – my mind -would do better to be surrounded by differing minds, differing opinions, differing moralities. And not silent, with a certainty of someone else’s meaning, but questioning. To discuss, not debate.

But what is the goal of understanding? Isn’t the point to embrace – to hold with care – each individual tree, and the entire forest?

As hard as that is. As painful.


Pain-killers. That’s what I wanted from the doctor.
And that’s what I didn’t get.

Damn. (Yeah, no. That’s not nice, or solution-oriented.)

Wine.

We change.

At least that has been my experience of the world. Everything in it changes – even if our conceptions don’t change accordingly.

We cling to our understandings. Even when they are destructive. We know it of others, railing at our parents for not seeing who we have become when they see us as a six-year-old child, when we are sixteen, or 26. Or 50.

Every seven years I am a new constellation
wearing a hand-me-down
story that so easily slips off
in sleep – in the moment
of perfect attention
to the naked truth

But I find it difficult to question my own filing and labeling system that helps me orientate myself in the wild. I find it difficult to let go of the illusion of control that it gives me. Security.

When I know that I’m often wrong about my own motivations – how I can catch myself by surprise but rationalize a “meaningful” reason for a behavior – it’s ludicrous that I can for a moment believe I know what is motivating someone else. I think we each create our own mental matrix. Not in regard to events and phenomenological cause and effect in the physical world, but in terms of our understanding the how and why of it all. The wills.

This is how I am coming to understand the illusion of self, of illusion in general: within a great paradox of consciousness. The ouroboros of logic destroying itself.

I’ve been thinking about swimming lately. The water here is so cold I never wade past my knees. So it’s been years since I’ve allowed myself to lie on my back and float. It’s a thrill that I miss: the simultaneous terror and relief of relinquishing control. Or the illusion of control. I miss that brief moment of quiet, feeling the warmth of the sun on my face. This for me is an example of being in the moment. But for me, these fearless, fractions-of-seconds interspersed through the years are as rare as astatine is on this earth.

You don’t have to work so hard, I tell myself. But not working so hard takes a ridiculous amount of effort.

How long can you lie on your back will the swells rising and falling under your body before the stories creep in? The toothy creatures rising from the deep – as though seeing it coming and bracing for the bite would make any favorable difference to the experience of being eaten alive.

Can you let go for a second? Two?

I find it fascinating that these moments for me have probably never lasted a full second, yet are so significant to my life experience. I don’t think of them as moments of “trust”. I’m not trusting in a supernatural being to protect me, not trusting in the earth’s compassion or the ocean’s goodness. I am just… being in the world.

When I think about this I think about those moments of being newly-in-love. The high that falling in love gives us and makes us utterly and deliciously reckless.

Is wanting more of these moments a grasping? Another paradox. Another lesson in coming at the truth at a slant?

It’s funny that trusting someone is always a matter of trusting one’s own judgment of that person. Trust is a narrative. A fiction. And how helpful is it? When I say that someone betrayed my trust, I’m assigning motives that are very likely non-existent. I’m trying to shift the blame. Trying to assign blame. Then I’d have the power to forgive. To feel righteous. To feel a sense of control.

I was listening to a podcast yesterday about a sociologist who studied a culture that he claimed had no practice for trusting one another. Conflicts arose and then fell away. Relationships continued.

I was thinking that this was possible because by not needing to trust each other, they didn’t need to cling to preconceived identities for one another: prescribed rules of conduct that – when not followed – would be interpreted as personal betrayals requiring some kind of moral compensation – some kind of ethical capitalism.

It seems to me that a society without trust may well be a society will more room for loving compassion.

I wonder what it is like to truly be in love with the world instead of coming at it speaking softly but carrying a big stick.

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.

Suffering is not enough. Life is both dreadful and wonderful…How can I smile when I am filled with so much sorrow? It is natural–you need to smile to your sorrow because you are more than your sorrow.
THICH NHAT HANH

If that is not the perfect definition of real “self-care”, what is?

So many years ago a therapist told me to imagine myself as a child, and to comfort her. It’s interesting to revisit this now. Back then, I was in the position of an older sister. And now – I’m old enough to be a grandmother to her, and the exercise is an entirely different experience.

It’s funny to notice how easily my attention turns back to my current self and my current “sorrows”. Even in the midst of the exercise: “Oh, but what child takes an old woman’s words seriously?”

But I do notice this happening, and I can smile at myself – at both the my sorrows and my silliness. I’m counting this as a sign of maturity, as well as proof that I am still gloriously fallible, i.e. human.

Tending to wounds becomes habitual. So habitual that we learn early how to make them ourselves, to serve our tending.

We cut ourselves down to be able to experience nurturing. Even if we are alone in nurturing ourselves.

And maybe this isn’t a wholly bad thing: maybe this is how we learn to recognize our better selves.

This morning I’m thinking I don’t want to lose this complex relationship with myself. I’m not ready to even aspire to be singular – as the wisest version of myself. It’s enough that I glimpse her now and then these days. I’m not ready to give up childishness entirely. What if that means an end to growing –

when I’ve so much still to learn?