Tonight we should be able to see the aurora borealis. There is a website with the forecast, but this part of the country isn’t included there. We are too far south of the arctic circle. Today, however, there is a solar flare and the sky is supposed to dance all over Europe. I’ve got an eye on the window. Watching the clouds. The sun sinking.

Last night I met with L. What should have been a leisurely dinner, had I not been so hungry for injera and chilies. She actually told me to slow down. Take a breath. She’s feeling grief now, flowing in like a tide. She’s aware of her own breathing. Her mother-in-law has been moved to palliative care. A matter of days. A matter of hours. The kind of uncertainty that crowds the present with future sorrow. We are both twisting and untwisting – in varying tempos. She’s having trouble sleeping. I understand.

After dinner, we went to see Elizabeth Schwartz dancing several of Isadora Duncan’s works. Schwartz began studying Duncan’s work in 1977. Before that she studied under Merce Cunningham. She is now 72.

She performed the pieces first with music, then with a narration of words to describe each movement: wave, wave, sustain, splash… Then again. With music.

She wore Duncan’s thin, Grecian dress. Two tears in the front panel, running up along her thighs. She desired. She reached-toward. Then she skipped, hopped, arched her back and surrendered. A bacchae, a mother, a comrade. She is exhausted.

Her body wore years of experience, a wisdom in the movements, an aesthetic in the presentation that touches deeper than ornamentation: This is not for you. It is more than you can conquer. It has already survived you and your desire to possess. It beat you to it. Mocks you for your tiny reach. Tiny desires. It is a glimpse of your future. Your impotence.

Doesn’t that scare you? Doesn’t she scare you?

The indigenous people of the Pacific regions say that humans walk backward into the future. I don’t think they mean that as a criticism. Though I do.

I write. Glancing towards the window occasionally. One thought for next week’s doctor’s appointments. One reminder to pull my shoulders back and lock the root – mula bandha for a moment. Breathe. Hum. Ah-men. So be it.

A new thought: L.’s mother-in-law is 72.

Duncun did not dance at 72, her bones were bare in the grave by then. What we get – what we leave from this life is so arbitrary.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the question: Who tells your story? And whose story do you tell?

There were about forty people in the audience last night. And when invited, about a third of them took to the stage to learn one of the dances. To make it theirs. As usual: I observed. And I found myself close to tears at this play-acting of what used to be the transference of memory – long before film, before Laban notations. When memory was a living entity that evolved in the physical, metaphysical transference. When it wasn’t faithfully preserved as a single story mediated by the cognitive abilities of a single brain. When gods were greater than humans. Myths greater than fame.

Maybe that time never was at all. Maybe this is my pathetic recognition of mortality, a pathetic still-longing for a union with something lasting.

Meanwhile, I prepare for this year’s production, an adaptation of Maeterlinck’s Blue Bird. I am trying to stay in the moment of flow. “Yes, and…” I say to myself, acknowledging all that washes in (the doubts, the obvious) without becoming overwhelmed. Trusting. Wondering at the Blue Bird‘s diamond hat that allows the children to see the living soul of everything on earth. Water’s wantonness, Fire’s temper. “The soul of sugar is no more interesting than the soul of pepper”, says the fairy. But what of our souls, I wonder?

There is a line from the original Blue Bird just as the trees of the forest, and the animals – domesticated and not – distraught and desperate move to kill the humans in an act of vengeance and self-defense, Light advises the frightened child: “But, my poor boy, didn’t you know?… Turn the diamond! They will return into silence and obscurity and you will no longer [need to] perceive their hidden feelings.”

In other words: Walk backward into the future.

But no. I’m going to look. Even when the darkness comes – with the aurora borealis, whether I see it or not.

Every story ends, is picked up, and reborn.

Right?

photo: Ren Powell

I feel ridiculously self-conscious talking about writer’s block. I am one of those people who believes that all present tense descriptors only relate to the moment as it passes: not the future. And that the past is “history” and not something one can cling to in the present. Though I know we all do that for comfort sometimes.

And sometimes I think “writer’s block” sounds like a humble-brag.

I took enough Spanish in college to remember that there are two verbs used when describing people. You can say: soy feliz or you can say estoy feliz, “I am a happy person” or “I am a happy person in this moment – as the words escaped my mouth”.

The correct way to say, “I am a writer” is soy escritora. But I can’t bring myself to say that if I’m not writing. In these pauses between books, between journal-keeping, between poems; what am I?

I try to tell myself I am not “a what”… Still: what am I dong with my life?

A few years ago I named the problem: the oxpecker who sits on my shoulder and pecks at my brain. My writing practice has always come in seasons, and always with varying production. But the drive to write never left me entirely until three years ago. It’s bound up somehow emotionally with the day E. and I were running on the beach and I just couldn’t seem to find the energy. I wasn’t “tired” or “fatigued”, it was a feeling I’d never experienced before. It was as though I just couldn’t get the engine to turn over, to catch hold and run.

I kept telling E. that something was wrong, but it was nothing I could point to. Until my leg turned purple the next day, and I was hospitalized with deep vein thrombosis.

My body is healed, but the shock having walked around for 51 years, ignorant that I’ve had a weird congenital defect seems to have broken my confidence in so many other ways. And when I sit down in my little library to write, I feel that same sense that something is wrong. That tiny fear of not being good enough – of needing reassurance – has grown and animated itself as this bird that pecks at the wound in my mind. I would say that it feels like my life in on pause, but I see myself growing older. Time is passing.

Yesterday a good friend asked me to join her at a “share your practice” session at one of the local arts centers. A young dancer was going to hold a workshop. It was so much fun. She lead us through a kind of guided meditation dance, and through a series of exercises with gesture work, and partner work with abstracting gestures. I am not a dancer. In fact, I don’t think that I can ever be a performer again really, but her instructions kept me focused and in the moment so the oxpecker was also distracted from her own goal: to protect my ego at all costs.

When the workshop was finished the dancers decided to do a half-hour jam. No rules. No distractions. The oxpecker returned to pick at my wounds. We have a phrase in drama pedagogy: rules as tools. Now I am thinking: rules as distraction.

Now how can I apply that kind distraction to my writing practice?