From my desk, I face a huge window that looks out on the third-floor void between my corridor and the theater pavilion. Light comes in from the glass ceiling. It’s not a view of the outside, but I got that before work when the world was normal. There are far worse workspaces. Some of the offices have windows to the hallways only. It’s a big building with hundreds of teachers.

Depending on what I teach each day, I might be spending most of my time in a black room, with black floors and black curtains. 6 hours maybe. But it’s not as bad as it sounds. On those days, we’re moving around. Literally lifting each other into the air. Or were, when the world was normal.

Yesterday I unplugged my little reading lamp and emptied the bookshelves. Shredded the student’s diaries and doctor’s notes, etc. The whole time unconciously praying that when I come back in August everything will be normal.

If you had told me two years ago we’d be living in a culture where I could be reprimanded for touching a student’s shoulder, it would have sounded like a dystopian novel. I’ve written a lot over this last year about the lack of touch and what I was concerned it would do to me. I’m not at all sure what role this physical isolation has played in my relapse of bipolar symptoms, and I’m not sure knowing is possible or even meaningful in terms of cause and effect. It is interesting though to consider a connection between the two as a metaphor.

I normally teach contact improvisation. We lean on each other – learn to trust each other to hold our weight. We work together as a group to lift one person at a time and “fly” them around the space. We touch in turn, responding to the quality of touch. Not necessarily mimicking: but registering and choosing how to respond.

We breathe together.

Of course, there is a basic trust required in terms of appropriate touch. Our “private” body parts. But there are other layers of trust required, the most significant being care. Does the person I am leaning on care for my well-being in this moment? It’s not an intellectual exercise but a physical communication without a rubric. You can’t measure presence and support by pounds-per-square-inch. Hands tremble, sometimes almost imperceptibly. And often we can “sense” the reason for the trembling. Our mind doesn’t form an explanation, but our body understands first.

A touch on the shoulder can be invasive, a touch on the breast neutral.

Is the heel of the hand pushing hard into the center of the thigh muscle, or is the palm cupping the leg in a lift? Is the person observing the breath for signs of distress?

Do they care: here and now? Are we present together?

For a year and a half, I have been teaching online or focusing on theory in a large auditorium, everyone sitting a meter apart. Even movement class has been all about observation and external expressions. I have had moments with individual students. Individual counseling both in terms of personal lives and academic development. But I am not sure I was present often enough. Am I am not thinking, “for their sakes”, but for mine.

When a student begins crying one feels helpless enough, covering their hand with yours, squeezing their shoulder, offering them a tissue. But to sit there with little but facial expressions and words – so inappropriate in the moment – that is real helplessness. I’m not claiming to have a magic touch to help students feel better. I’m only speaking to my own experience: no one likes to feel helpless.

Being in the present moment is key for me. Probably because I have so many difficulties with my memory. As pathetic as it sounds, I think that teaching is what keeps me tethered to a community in a way that I am comfortable with.

I make few long-term relationships with the students, but in my day-to-day present tense, I experience meaningful connections.

I don’t need to be teaching contact improvisation to do this, but I do need to be in the same room. Less than a meter apart.

Today the number of local cases of Corona19 jumped again. And the vaccines are delayed… again. I have no idea what kind of classroom I’ll be returning to in August. And the uncertainty isn’t easy to sit with.

I am fine with solitude. But feeling lonely in a building where nearly a thousand people wander in and out of doors, is hard.

Breathe…

I had to wear gloves again yesterday while walking with E. and Leonard. But the maples were showing off good-sized buds. E. said it is time to start putting seeds into the earth. But first I need to clear out the dead branches from last year. I need to buy a new top for the one little greenhouse that caved in under the snow sometime in February.

Then I have to read up on what’s to be done with the perennials I’ve planted in the yoga room. Sweep the mats and light the candles and remember that everything is going to be okay. Things could not be better situated “lagt til rette” to be… okay. But despite the well-intentioned platitudes people pass around social media, gratitude is not a fix for mental illness. You can’t “grateful” your way out of bipolar genetics.

I think I tried that. Every morning I meditated, I focused on loving kindness, on gratitude until this big ball of love swelled like a balloon, until it burst. That rubber, silicone – whatever – hurts like hell when it snaps back on your fingers and the world gets ugly.

It’s ironic that I had been focusing all year on the middle path. But I am finding it again, because nothing is permanent, and everything changes and I am not who I was a year ago, not who I was three months ago. It is only natural I should find it again – if only by accident in wandering.

If I could I would stay in this little bibliotekette, in the studio upstairs, in my yoga room and never leave the house but for runs along the trail and in Njåskogen‘s spongy underbrush. I find myself watching the clock and counting down until I have to get to the train station, and to the school, to the classroom. I fight the pinch instead of just relaxing into the discomfort.

I feel like a kid at the edge of the swimming pool. I have dived in before, I know it’s fine. You know – not like on an overcast and humid day when the water is almost the same temperature as the air – but on a hot day, when the water is cold. But you’ve had to shower first because of public pool rules, so you are shivering and your teeth are chattering and you know that once you’re in the water – in a half a minute or less – you’ll be warm again. Still… You can’t force yourself to jump in. Something in your brain says it’s a very bad idea.

At the beginning of this school year the teachers tried virtual reality. It was a problem that had the user walk a plank out the window of skyscraper, hundreds of meters over a busy city street. I was intellectually aware that it was not real. However, another part of my brain was telling me this was wrong – my whole body was telling me this was wrong. I couldn’t see any point in overriding a self-preservation instinct that is there for a reason, that is working well.

Going to work shouldn’t be like walking a plank high above a city street. I shouldn’t feel like my job requires me to be one of the flying Wallendas. But I am having a difficult time finding perspective. I can’t write more about this: confidentiality clauses and such.

So instead I will say that at home life it good. Painting, writing, reading, learning new skills. There is a balance to be had. I know this.

I need to wriggle out of the time-out corner and be okay again. Okay. Right. And. Yep. Okay. (Can you hear my teeth chattering?)

earth worms abandoned
half-eaten on the asphalt –
Spring’s little singers are full
as old, full throat-ed mezzos
and their conflicted, dark arias

Getting going in the mornings is like trying to herd cats, as they say. I remember pulling the crockpot out of the corner and onto the countertop to start dinner. Lunchtime I went back into the kitchen to see it there. Empty. Useless. Forlorn.

I’m projecting again.

I keep reminding myself (at the risk of sounding like an inspirational meme) that life is a specific dance. One step back, two steps forward, one step back. And then your partner accidentally kicks you in the shin. (For the record, my partner is an excellent dancer, and only kicks me in the shins metaphorically.)

Anti-climax is definitely a thing. And – although I am excited about new projects – I am trying very hard to move forward. This morning I showered and dried my hair with a blow dryer for the first time in over two months. I put make-up on. Braving the cold winds and intermittent hail, I picked up the binder’s board I ordered two weeks ago. I picked up wine. And some lavender shampoo because I have been feeling very…. pragmatic lately. At least in terms of personal hygiene. I’m ready for some scented candles and soft music. I want to smell something besides sandpaper and pulp. And cuddle-puppy.

Speaking of which, I’m worried about how Leonard will take me going back to work this week. The pup is 35 kilo of adoration and has even taken to crawling up in E.’s lap when I’ve been sewing the signatures for books. Although I suppose E. will be working from home for a while yet. The vaccine roll-out here is shamefully inept. We’re expecting another spike over the next two weeks from the Easter holidays. I fully expect to go back to work, only to wind up teaching part-time online again.

But hey… roll with it? Right now nothing seems quite recognizable and I am beginning to relax a little. To come to terms with that. I suppose it really is a lesson in not clinging – even if it means not clinging to sanity either. I mean in the way that we can only approach these things obliquely. Catch a tiger sliding up alongside with a peach in hand, rather than charging head-on with a net.

Easy-does-it.

I’ve another doctor’s appointment tomorrow. Then heading slowly back to real life on Friday. The most frightening thing is that I am comfortable here in the house. Too comfortable. I’m almost afraid to go out and interact with people. Fragile. No. That’s not right. I am not fragile. Reactive.

Maybe Friday I should bring a crate of peaches to work. Yeah. Good luck finding decent peaches anywhere in this country.

did I say this was
my second glass with dinner
rambling uncensored
stepping right through the surface
of decorum like thin ice

A deep breath this morning as I sit down. Salted coffee, and blackbirds outside the window. I didn’t write yesterday, but spent a full day with a new printer: learning to adjust for paper weights, manual feed, and double-sided pages. A lot of trial and error. Small steps forward. Or sideways.

No: I am moving forward again.

I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I got my first pair of glasses. But I remember looking at a tree and realizing that you are supposed to see the individual leaves on trees. My eyesight had deteriorated so gradually I hadn’t noticed what I had lost of the world.

This week I feel like I can see the leaves on the trees. It’s not that life is less crowded, but it is more vibrant. Distinguishing the foreground from the background, wresting meaning from it all is easier.

There is a saying that things having gradually then all at once. But these past years, things happened all at once, and then so gradually that I thought changes were improvements, or at least adjustments. I didn’t see the signs of depression because the everyday problems were so tiny compared to the crisis that began it all. How could I be having trouble getting through the day when the worst was over a long time ago?

My world is popping back into three dimensions. Other people seem more substantial. I realize how odd that sounds. I don’t mean that in comparison with how I perceived myself, I have been insubstantial, too. That is what depression does. In my case the desperate search for meaning and pleasure can look like business, like creativity or a “spark” of joy. But the spark is just me bumping against the metallic edge of panic. Wheels spinning, and life is just so much harder than it needs to be. Pinched.

When the doctor asked me if I was depressed, I said I didn’t think so. I said I was overwhelmed, hypomanic. But now I see.

Now I feel like crying. And that is a very good thing.

Last night walking Leonard in the dark, I heard the wheeeEEE of the pterodactyls lapwings. They are back, so it is officially spring. Officially a time to mark new beginnings.

under the streetlight
wet paw prints, footsteps glisten
temporarily
like loved ones gone by morning
after a crossing over

I sat down in front of the wrong computer this morning. Starting the day off the tracks makes it nearly impossible to get things running smoothly. And this Tuesday feels like a Monday, what with everything going just slightly wrong. I ordered the wrong paper weight, the vellum buckled like crazy even when I put the wet glued pages under three coffee-table books, and now it feels like there is a tightening vice pressing my temples.

And Leonard is begging for peanut butter, nudging my arm so that typing is impossible.

I think my lithium levels might be slightly off. So I keep eating on an upset stomach, as though weighing the nausea down will help. I’m eating Leonard’s peanut butter.

And I’m not supposed to eat peanut butter.

So: how do you take yourself by the ears and whip yourself crisp like a sheet coming off the clothesline? How do you unwind when you’ve turned yourself in circles like a bit of twine that’s begun doubling down, vertical knotting into horizontal, tight wriggling.

Becoming Cordage would be a nice title for a memoir if anyone knew what that meant.

Last night we walked on the beach. I wondered what got into the world since the usually vacant beach was bustling at six in the evening on a windy Monday. The fresh air was relaxing. But I wonder if the wind and the wild surf roused something in me. Or roused an awareness.

I can’t shake a sense of urgency. The word impending keeps coming to my mind. And so I put off all the things I’m supposed to be doing. Staving off… who knows what? I’ve a to-do list of tasks, projects. I have a stack of books on the floor that need to be shelved. The living room needs vacuuming. Leonard’s claws need clipping. But I can’t move.

I play with Gimp. With PhotoScape X. I write a twitter poem.

Failure.

That’s what’s impending.

Why is it that every time I circle back to the same damn fears, they are unrecognizable?

ocher paint on cream
paper – a stippling of blue
because wrong turns happen
like a maple’s samara
falling into the birdbath

stillborn