A Celebration of the Banal

The dog woke me at a quarter to five.

He’s supposed to do that. But it’s not like I always appreciate it.

I let him out into the yard and start the coffee machine. I pour a cup of dog food into the maze dish for him to root around in later. I fill the water dish. And I whistle for him to come in.

Fresh coffee. Flipping on the timer to write before breakfast. A chain of habits. How the days pass.

On the train yesterday, I chatted with a colleague. He asked me if I think about dying much.

He’s a year older than I am. Not that you’d believe that. I touch my turkey neck before I am conscious of reaching for it.

I tell him about B., and how death has been on my mind so very much. “No,” he says. “Your own mortality”. He talks about getting older. Thinning hair. Aches. Losses. Somehow he rather quickly circles back to someone else’s death, too. His mother is well at the moment, he says, but there is “the inevitable”: Death as it happens to someone else. Death in the abstract.

I think there’s a big (culturally constructed) difference between contemplating one’s own aging and contemplating one’s own death. Or perhaps not. Not culturally constructed, I mean. If death stops all thought, well, then, as my generation would say: we literally can’t “go there”. We can distract ourselves with fantasies, myths, fairytales, and horror films: cathartic escapism that makes us shudder, and for a moment allows us to feel like we’ve “dealt with it”.

My left eyelid fell the other day. It was my “good” eyelid. It happened overnight. I know how absurd that sounds, but I swear it. The skin had become textured, like course-grained leather. Heavy, I guess.

My pale skin is rougher and more and more like a relief: more like an armadillo’s rump. Surely there is something similarly textured that we consider beautiful?

I wonder if there are tools with which to make a rubbing of my face. Well, now, there is an art project for me! Before the gravestone rubbing, I can capture, if necessarily imperfectly, this liminal state. Between the beating heart and the silence is a struggle between the body’s hardening defense and the body’s thinning resources.

The lacrimal gland has slipped and now obliterates my eye crease entirely. “That’s new,” I think.


If you stare at a word long enough it makes no sense. If you think about it long enough “old” becomes “new”. And “new” can take on an entirely new meaning: new as a shift, not a beginning.

I’ve felt these shifts before. Passing a fork in the road and knowing that was that. Poems I memorized as a child take on new significance. Maybe life is a series of ever-more-complex prisms. What seemed singularly beautiful has exploded with possibilities. Smaller, perhaps: like the beauty of a whole world under a microscope: this tiny, present pinch of life, thoroughly examined with an attitude of wonder!*

At 16, I wanted to be a famous actress. I wanted to have an apartment in New York, and to wear shoes too fancy for the subway. But at 40-something, I found myself sitting on the hood of a car at the lookout point over Bishkek with strangers. I ate dried fish, learning how to pop out their eyes with my thumbs.

Then I flew home to a tiny duplex in need of renovation, and a job that left me scrambling for dignity every day. I flew home to the two kids I never planned for; my love for them would stun me sometimes. Still does. Continual, unexpected little bursts of joy/fear/gratitude. These bursts, these overwhelming moments that strike – not always pleasant- have defined my emotional life. Home is a constant ambiguious reality, though every detail is fleeting.

What do they say? The only constant is the laundry?

I traveled a lot in my 40s. I took a lot of photos of other people’s laundry. I have hundreds of pictures of t-shirts and towels drying on clotheslines. I am always a bit puzzled that I find something so utterly banal to be so compelling.

Beautiful. It’s like the photos don’t capture a moment in time, but the flow of a lifetime. A kind of illustration.

I have just as many photos of dead birds on my hard drive. Both my kids have told me they think it’s creepy.

My memori morti.

When we first moved into that little duplex, I found a dying mockingbird on the sidewalk. I asked a man walking by if I should do something with it. Call the wildlife service or something. He looked at me like I was insane.

“They aren’t endangered or anything.”

Typing this makes me cry.

After that, it seems every time I ran on the beach I saw a dead seagull, swan, duck, or tern in varying states of decay.

I don’t know exactly what to do with all these images and thoughts. But I do know that my little alarm went off and writing time is over and It’s time to get on the yoga mat and move these old bones.

*Young people are using exclamation points again. Unironically. I think it’s something to consider.


I have no idea why I’m not sleeping. I doubt there is any use in an interrogation. There are too many factors at play, and I think I have already spent too much of my life inspecting the framework that surrounds it. Looking for weaknesses. Explanations. If I fix this, then…

It seems as though if things settle, they do so on their own and in their own time. Other times I think I just forget to care. I am spinning busywork while I grow accustomed.

We ran again yesterday. We’re trying hard to pick ourselves up. E. first headed toward our usual morning route, but I asked him to drive us to the other end of the trail, where we can cross the bridge and run in the forest.

Two minutes into the run, I was tired. Not sure I could do the short run. I thought about the blood clot that formed in my body five years ago, and I did a mental check to gauge if this tiredness was that tiredness, that sense of being unplugged from an energy source. I felt my heart miss a beat, then felt a sense of disappointment that the fear is still here in my body, fear as tight as a scar running hip to heart.

Breathe. I remember the nurse who would not say, “Everything is going to be fine.” She told me a truth: no one has died on this table during this procedure before.

Breathe. I could – can still – handle this specific truth.

We hit the top of the first hill and then ran down and across the bridge. But three hundred meters into the forest, the forest stopped. Clean cuts across tree trunks. Crossed branches lay entwined everywhere, like an enormous nest for an unknown or ancient bird. We stumbled as far as we dared, then angled off, out of what used to be the forest to find the gravel trail.

I think I just imagined that the birds were louder than usual.

The last time we ran through the forest I’d taken pictures of the newly storm-toppled trees, their root systems upended and taller than three of me. I knew and I know now that this forest is private property and that they cull a section every few years. I know that they are responsible agriculturalists, and they know far more than I do about what is healthy for the landscape, what is possible, what is… fine.

Still, the gaping, empty space is like a brutal statement of fact: there is no going back to what was. There will be scars in the landscape, and there is no longer shelter from the North Wind.

But – or and? – everything you never imagined is possible now.

Taking up Space

Yesterday on the train home from work, I sat in the center of the carriage as I usually do – where on each side of the aisle four seats face one another. I prefer the awkwardness of avoiding other people’s eyes over the claustrophobic press of industrial material in front of my face – that’s like having my nose pressed against a stranger’s back, like queuing for something necessary but shameful.

But yesterday I was alone in the little conversation pit. My knees angeled into the center of the space, one arm draped across the turned-up seat next to me, the other lying along the bottom of the window. Three teenage boys started walking toward me. I didn’t move, and they walked past without eye contact, though they scanned the pit. Another young man headed toward me, averted his eyes, and kept walking. Honestly, I was just too tired to make the proper adjustments to my body to wordlessly invite, or make room: to offer or to defer. I was too tired to even consider it as something expected or normal. The thought didn’t occur to me. But when it did, I wasn’t ashamed of myself. I was curious. My first thought was to observe my own body (still too tired to make an unneeded adjustment). It was unapologetically taking up a lot of space. I was being territorial, I was simply taking up the space I was in at the moment. I wasn’t making myself as small as possible. I wasn’t anticipating another person’s desires. I didn’t feel obligated to.

Not that I would have objected had they been expressed! I wasn’t feeling inconsiderate – just more responsive than predictive.

It wasn’t until that moment that I was conscious of my public habits. That, even on a train with plenty of available seats, I habitually, unconsciously, perform physical cues of submission.

And at 55, not doing so is an entirely new experience. A new behavior. Part of me wondered, is this what it is like to reach “a certain age” and let go of some very specific fears? To stop moving through the world continually trying to please? Is this what it feels like to acknowledge one’s own right to take up space in a public setting? To not apologize for one’s own physical presence.

I am here. Deal with it. YOU smile.

I will always smile back.

Once I got home I sat on the cushion and did a metta meditation. Just to make sure it all doesn’t go to my head.

Not Sure I Want To Do the Hustle

I am certain that I have written on this topic before. Certain because I have had the same exact prompt for exploration of the subject again and again.

And again someone offers advice that to make myself more visible as a poet I should teach workshops on this or that (sometimes the suggestion doesn’t even involve teaching poetry). It is interesting. And it is unintentionally demoralizing. I already have a job that isn’t writing.

There seems to be this idea that if people like you personally, they will like your poetry. “They just need to get to know you.” That seems odd to me. I don’t know writers whose work I admire. And in some instances, I dislike writers whose work I admire. And I wonder if the genre writing “community” is as similar to a cult-of-personality?

I asked my Canadian publisher which of her titles sold best. She didn’t take a beat: those who are very visible on social media.

It is interesting. And perplexing. I have a full-time job. I write daily, hand-bind books and make broadsides from handmade paper. I’m writing the newest manuscript, keep two Instagram accounts, a Twitter account, and a Facebook page (I spent weeks setting up a shop there, which has yielded 1 view). I have even begun to delve into Etsy and Pinterest. I have a dog, a husband and – despite Covid – friends. The last two things I mention require me to shower, too.

Where do people find the time to do more? I am impressed!

“Serve the Community”. It’s common advice to writers – and to visual artists. The marketing advice is almost identical to the advice offered to people selling workshops about marketing. To people selling pilfered quotes on t-shirts and coffee mugs.

The word “ingratiate” keeps coming to mind. I am not saying people who are popular ingratiate themselves, but any conscious attempt to become popular on my part would be.

I have never been someone who (successfully) vies for attention. Four people in a room, and I will press myself against the wall to watch. I think it’s why I am a writer. And a writer who has on occasion had much more to drink than was wise at conferences, just to be able to make small talk.

I am naturally more of an (amateur) social scientist, watching discreetly from the corner of the room noting observations about the fascinating gaps between spoken language and body language, than I am someone who dances on the table. I can control a classroom, but when all the teachers are in the room at the same time, the only thing that tells me apart from the students is my gray hair and drooping skin.

Literally, I have been an alien for nearly 30 years. Figuratively for much longer. I tried very hard to fit in in high school. And gave up entirely my junior year. All that contorting was very painful. And I never could figure out what I would win from it. Is it possible for life to still be like a bad teen rom-com when you are over 50?

I’m not going to win any popularity contests. And I am going to be okay with that.

In 7th grade, I did win a dance contest. The hustle was on the way out, but disco was still in. All the boys were named Steve or Greg. All the girls were Rebeccas and Pams. I do remember some things. A Halloween party and I tripped and got an ironic nickname for my performance. The nickname meant I belonged – for about four months. Then moved again. To start over in another town. You can’t bring nicknames with you. Especially when they’re ironic.

It’s weird I remember that nickname. Those people.

I’ve been thinking about how I have carried on a pattern of starting over throughout my life – even when it wasn’t necessary. Sometimes I circle back. And even though I get distracted, “Ooo – wouldn’t that be fun to do!”, I do think I am moving in an ever-tightening circle. Sort of zeroing in on a kind of contentment that isn’t dependent on other people’s responses. Not there yet. But closer.

I have a tattoo on the base of my neck. It is one of those Eastern-inspired Western designs that are about life’s path. I asked my (then) teen son to design it for me. It has a strange hard turn in one of the concentric circles. I’ve never asked him what it was. I assumed it was the divorce in his mind, though it was something else to me. Or maybe: AND it was something else for me. So when the tattoo artist assumed it was a mistake and asked me if I wanted him to “fix” the design. I said no.

My older son keeps reminding me to stay true to my joy. He doesn’t use those words – I have no idea whose words those are, actually. He says, only do the marketing as long as it is fun.

I haven’t submitted work to journals in over 5 years. I want to have my head together before I do. I want to have my personal guidelines clear before I even look at the calls.

Writing is my practice. It is not my livelihood. I’m going to try to dance, not hustle.

what feels like a hard
turn – decisive and brutal
will turn back again
in time imperceptibly
softening in the distance

The Graviton Theatre

E. says often lately that “beginning again” is everything now that we are getting older. We are guaranteed to have trip-ups that will keep us off the trail and make it difficult to lace up the shoes and get out there. The key now isn’t to aim for improvement, it is to aim for continuation, to get up again. To keep getting up again.

The last two days have begun with beautiful sunrises, while the weather is clear and cold. The fire-bright bleed before the sun actually rises. The still water that mirrors the sky. All this makes it easier. I lift my chest and drop my spine into the center of my back, shoulders relaxed. I let go of thoughts about work, or about books, and I notice the birds. The mourning dove this morning flying unusually low to the ground, perching on a low branch in the same tree where the small squirrel lives now. Three grackles were tussling mid-flight.

The strangest thing was that we passed a group of people, 7 maybe, walking in a tight cluster. It’s unusual for people to be out so early, but it has been a year since so many people have walked to closely together. It’s a sign that the county has finally stepped up the vaccinations. It’s odd that I feel almost an apprehension about things returning to the way they were. I am ready, and I’m not. I think it’s because I feel that I’ve failed at this Covid society so far. I need to figure it out before I have to move on. I feel like I’ve missed something important. I have no idea what it is, but there’s something. A lesson? An accomplishment? An epiphany?

Maybe I am thinking that if I haven’t found the time to calm down and do things like read for fun, go for long walks more often – when will I when things speed up again? I am not ready for things to speed up. Am I alone with this feeling? Stop, stop, stop until I get my head wrapped around all of this.

Of course I’m not alone. Again, I think we can hear something over and over and think we understand it, until we experience it. “Get off this rollercoaster” is so general it can be applied over and over in our lives, and mean entirely different things: Oh! NOW I get it for real. Oh, no, I didn’t really get it! But NOW!

But what is the name of that ride where you stand, back to the wall, while everything spins and plasters you to the edges while it tips sideways? The Graviton Theatre. How could I forget?

That. Who knew the designers of carnival rides were poets working with physical metaphors for our lives to come?

When I was about 6 my mother was trying to sweeten the pot when leaving me with new babysitters: They’re making tacos for dinner. But the couple was from Mexico and their “tacos” were something I’d never seen before. Creamy, greenish, bland chicken, soft tortilla shells. No cheddar. No jalapenos. What?! I remember thinking it tasted very “grown-up”. There is little worse (to this day) than anticipating a dish then being presented with some twisted version of what you know and have been salivating at the thought of.

I have no idea why that popped into my head. I suppose we learn that words aren’t always a reliable indicator of a shared reality. I suppose it has something to do with the five aggregates, staying in the moment, and not clinging to expectations.

And I think the five aggregates have everything to do with poetry.

A good poem (in my opinion) works through all of them: form, sensations, perceptions, ideas, and discernment. Maybe poetry is nothing more than the attempt to overcome the limitations of words through metaphors.

My love is like an overripe peach
too soft to touch without
bruising in spots – sweet
maybe, but too round
on the tongue, too