On my second cup of coffee and my first sentence. Another night of poor sleep. 4 hours. I figure at some point something has to give. I have no choice but to accept the long nights right now. At least my mind isn’t racing, nor am I ruminating.

E. says that when I do sleep, I snore. Which can’t be true. I tell him that he is the one snoring, really, and that he is incorporating that sound into his own dream. Because we do that

– in the same way that our brains take in visual information in the half-dark and make sense of it. A pile of laundry on the chair becomes an old woman sitting very still… but breathing.

I would love to understand the connection between creativity and depression. Why my dreams become more vivid, why in my waking hours I can see faces in the asphalt and – out of the corner of my eye – catch tree trunks dancing in the orange glow of the greenhouse spill.

But when I have the energy to try to harness it all on paper, with paper or paint, it all stops.

This is my version of the Black Dog. When I turn to look at it directly, it is gone. And then you wonder if it was ever really there to begin with.

I had an idea. A brilliant idea. Now it’s gone. Like that nearly-finished novel you outlined while falling asleep, only to find two half sentences on a scrap of paper on the nightstand in the morning. It kills you. If you look it in the eye – the Black Dog – it kills you.

I’ve stopped jotting notes on scraps of paper on the nightstand in the dark hours.

We weren’t supposed to hug the students last night, but hand them each a rose: this class that laughed when they noticed that last night’s graduation was the first time they were all standing on the stage where the students normally perform a couple of times a year; these drama students graduating without having performed for an audience anywhere in the last two years. I keep telling myself they are stronger for it in many ways. Maybe their laughter last night was proof of that.

I always cry a little on these evenings knowing I will miss them next year. And they head off to parties and to universities and gap year excursions and real jobs. And I relish the thought of a few weeks of self-indulgence before I circle back again.

It has taken me years to shake the end-of-year feeling that everyone else is moving forward while I circle back every August, in a kind of stasis. When former students write and ask me “Are you still at VĂ¥gen” I used to have to push down the defensive emotions that rose up: the “Yes, But”s.

But my life is not stagnated.

I’m embracing the dialectic aspect of being a grown-up. The circling back. My students are my teachers in so many ways. Instead of a deeper education, I am getting a broader education in all that it is to be human. I have let go of the stupid notion that I’ve “seen it all” (at any age) and realize that if I believe that – that I have seen it before – I’m not looking closely enough at the details. What knowledge I have from before might offer itself as a key to unlocking something, but it isn’t the solution itself. There is no one-size-fits-all.

Until this year I struggled with the division of my efforts: nurturing other people’s talents, and making room for my own creative work/practices. I thought that the former sucked energy from the latter. But I am beginning to see how it doesn’t work like that. There is no either-or. That’s an excuse.

The occupation of teaching is the continuing education that is necessary for my vocation as an artist. For my growth. It connects me to a world beyond my own narrow perspective, and it keeps me soft and strong and capable of kneading the big emotions.

When I was 25 I worked the graveyard shift in a bakery. Throwing huge balls of bread dough onto the table. Flipping and curling the triangles of butter-laden pastry dough into crab-shaped croissants. It was surprisingly hard work. And there were nights when it felt simultaneously meaningless, and essential.

We never know how the little snapshots of our memories can rise up and lock into place and make sense without a rational connection.

Maybe this is because the deepest truths aren’t products of our rational minds at all. Because the deepest truths will always be poetry.


(photo: the students’ term papers and the roses they gave me earlier this year turned into pulp and new bookmarks)