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…

The app says the moon is 98.5% full this morning. And that is more than I need to know. “Almost full” is fine.

It’s overcast, but the wind blew the clouds away for a few moments while I was walking Leonard. Long enough for me to notice the almost full moon tinging the sky a deep purple.

The new morning routine is already taking hold. Leonard went to the sliding door as usual, but then it must have occurred to him that we would be heading around the block first thing. He nudged the entry door open with this nose to find me wriggling my feet into my boots. He ducked his head to let me slide the harness on. Tail wagging. What a nice way to start the day: tail wagging.

I am not sure how I feel about him adjusting more quickly than I am to the morning walk. It felt good today, but the run that followed was sluggish. No owl. Not even a hopping blackbird in the underbrush this morning. I guess it’s silly to think every morning is going to lay gifts at my feet.

Warriors, bridges, happy babies. Meditation. I should maybe add a bit of tail-wagging to the mornings.

This time last year I was in London, heading to Northumberland for the half-marathon. Wondering if the people on the train to Heathrow were wearing masks to protect me or to protect themselves. No one outside of Eastern Asia was even talking about masks then. The next day, I was wondering if I were stupid to be shivering in a tent with 400 other runners waiting for a bib — knowing someone could be infectious. Maybe. How likely? Two, three cases so far in England?

Three weeks later everything here at home shut down. I’d slipped through a narrow window at the beginning.

Middle-aged people who’d been playing beer pong at a ski resort in Austria set off a ring of contagion up north. Or so I read in the news. But it could have easily been me, having brought it home from that tent.

Scientists keep changing their minds about what makes us human. What makes us unique when compared to other animals. I have heard some say it is our ability to comprehend our own mortality.

This doesn’t ring true to me. I think this fear of death, this awareness of our impermanence is what we share with other species. And our response is as illogical as theirs. Social animals will shun one of their own with a sign of disease. They bare their teeth. Chase them off. So do we. We can be subtle, though: we use shame to run them off.

Wikipedia says that Syphilis is spread by (among other things) prostitution. I find this utterly fascinating: a bacteria with the awareness to know when money is being exchanged for a sexual act. It is so difficult to wrestle science from our moralities.

There’s been a problem in the Norwegians schools with what they are calling contagion-shaming. (It’s a catchier phrase in Norwegian) (Pun intended). When I talked to my students about the randomness of viruses and our very human nature to want to blame people for their own misfortune so we can convince ourselves we are in control of our own fates, I shared with them that two of my family members have had the virus.

A hand went up: “You don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to, but what were they doing? How did they get it?”

Don’t we all want the answer to be: beer-pong?

Not that I am a complete misanthrope. Margaret Mead said the first sign of civilization in ancient culture was a leg bone that had been broken and healed. She says that doesn’t happen in the animal kingdom. I don’t know. I think it may be more complicated than that. I am not convinced compassion makes us unique either. I don’t think we are the only species continually balancing compassion and self-preservation.

At any rate, there’s no run in the north of England this year. There’s only this new beginning. Dusting myself off and not asking myself what I did to deserve this little break-down. Mental illness. No asking what I did to bring it on. What I didn’t do to avoid it. It happens. There is no returning to the way things were. Things will be different. We heal imperfectly. But we heal. If we let go of our previous ideas of ourselves. And remember that imperfection is part of our charm.

Just look at the crooked trees that are so interesting.

The pine tree’s branches
wither with a new rung’s growth
mycorrhizal networks weave
and redirect through hairy
systems laced like spiders’ silk