It is an odd project – to sit down in this little room every day and write. No matter what.

What comes, comes. Like dipping a bucket into a well and hoping you pull up a little container filled with clarity. Reflection.

That’s a shit metaphor. Sorry.

Some days nothing comes on its own. Some days my thoughts are taushetsbelagte, which (nearly) literally means shrouded in silence.

But what is gnawing at me usually finds a way out – indirectly. And it thrills me no end when I hear it speaks to other peoples’ experiences without speaking at all of a specific story. In some ways, it helps me remember the story itself is irrelevant – the (surely there is a good German word for it?)… the ambiance is part our shared human experience.

It helps me remember why I prefer poetry – or the poetry in a story that makes it more than a sequencing of events.

These aren’t the Drakes
you were looking for.

I ran this afternoon between classes, along the creek near the school. Two kilometres out, two in, a shower and back to class. It was on this little stretch of a green lung that I stumbled on a Mandarin duck I mistook for the wood drake I’d gone searching for on Saturday.

That’s how it happens. There’s no point in searching.

I just need to notice when the world turns towards me. And accept what beauty comes.

A Mandarin duck on a Monday afternoon between Theater Production and Theater History. Between a working session and a shower. Then a film version of The Glass Menagerie.

Not one of my students knew who the kjekkis John Malkovich is now. The young man is history.

Because the world is always turning towards us. Spinning under our feet imperceptibly. So stealthily we don’t even realize we are getting carried away with it. 1,000 miles an hour.

I suppose the truth of it would make us throw up.

John Malkovich isn’t relevant for my 2nd year students. Not for Being John Malkovich. But he is relevant enough as a good-looking young man who commands their attention to tell a story of what it is to be squeezed between what someone else wants from you and what you want for yourself.

That grasping –
experience
is always relevant.

My 3rd year students in that working session this morning? Some of them are working on a sequel to The Glass Menagerie. It’s interesting to watch their minds leaping like poetry. Finding what is relevant.

Sometimes it’s a very thin thread of experience. But there is always something…
there.

This Sunday didn’t begin with a Dharma Talk. Which was disappointing. I’d gotten up at 05.15 assuming there existed some unspoken agreement based on a pattern I’d noticed.

I went back to bed. Maybe that was lesson enough for today.

I’m tired. I’m still not convinced that the burden I’ve been carrying the past two weeks is actually gone, but yesterday I allowed myself to slip it off my shoulders – to set it down.

And today, I ache. My shoulders, my head, my heart. The load of “what-ifs” and “but-thens” in the corner of the room like a nest of snakes.

Once my step-father took me to the river to fish, and I wandered along the bank downstream until I stumbled on a log – nearly falling into a nest of baby moccasins. That moment: that “what-if” might have been the first hammered into my brain. “I shouldn’t have to tell you not to…”

What if I dare to wander? These are the worries I carry, the what-ifs that accumulate when one doesn’t wait to be told, doesn’t stay within the circle that someone drew to include you in their muddy little realm.

Aren’t these the worries we all carry? Premature guilt? Premature shame?

After I crawled out of bed a second time and had a cup of coffee, I sat down to work on this week’s meditation prompt – worries and restlessness. I started thinking about the H.C. Andersen story about the red shoes.

I think I have my own pair of red shoes. It is freeing to take this perspective – that all of this restlessness doesn’t come from within me, but as the result of my grasping at something I want so intensely, so simultaneously single-mindedly and absentmindedly.

I’m fine. I’m just wearing a cursed accessory. I have no idea if I am reading Andersen with a Buddhist perspective, but it is a perspective that makes sense to me.

I’ve never walked on coals, but from what I understand, it is simply a matter of not stopping. You walk as quickly as you can, while the perspiration from you fear helps provide a tiny barrier to keep you safe. If you stop? You get burned. I’ve known this for a long time:

Keep moving and consequences can’t keep up with you. Keep moving and you’ll slip through their fingers. States’ lines. Names changed. A driver’s license is freedom. A pressing deadline, a permission slip – hall pass – enigma.

We moved a lot when I was a kid. And that is an understatement. We once fit 4 lives into a U-haul. A drugged cat wrapped in a bath towel bit my ankles all along Route 66 (and then some) – then we crammed ourselves into an already-occupied two-bedroom mobile home: 4 adults, 3 children and a vengeful cat.

Every corner filled with snakes.

The drive to always look for something better carves a very deep groove in the heart.

Momentum. An object in motion stays in motion…
but the world is not a vacuum.

The eternity machine doesn’t really exist. Something is fueling the motion. There’s a guy in the back room getting paid less than minimum wage to keep the thing going – to maintain the illusion.

In Andersen’s Christian perspective, Karen cuts off her feet when she can’t pry them out of the cursed shoes. A sacrifice as payment for her sins. But I’m thinking, there must be at least fifty ways to take off your dancing shoes.

Right?

Isadora Duncun died when her scarf caught in the wheels of her car. It’s probably very unfair to Duncun that this fact now pops into my head.

I started looking for a new job again last week. I’ve been browsing the housing ads.
But it’s time to just dig in.

To go ahead and burn – to burn an ever-widening circle of my own in this damned over-grown field.

When I was a teenager I saw myself in New York City. That was it. After a childhood on the wrong side of the tracks in the OC (yeah, no one called it that), in the searing heat of Vegas, in the middle-of-nowhere Bakersfield, in the cold isolation of Kentucky… New York City was a metaphor for having it together. I’d wear fitted, linen dresses with suit jackets and dangerously high heels. I’d stride down the streets.


I made it to New York City in my early twenties. I put on a pair of dangerously high heels and I strode down the street. A homeless guy whistled and told me I had nice legs. I turned to smile and he said, “Too bad your face is so ugly.”


When I was about 8 or so, I had a babysitter for a brief time who had a house that I thought was a mansion. She had sliding glass doors, and flowing drapery – and a player piano. She played show tunes for me every afternoon after school. She knew all the words to all the songs. Her family had season tickets to the theater. It was all a metaphor for having it together.

“Putting it together, bit – by – bit”.


My grandmother took me years later to see my first actual stage production at a local university theater. Major Barbara of all things. By then I had been saying I wanted to be an actress for a couple of years. This was largely due to Lesley Ann Warren and John Davidson having it all together on the big screen when I was a kid – all those films where everything went right .

I’d become thoroughly convinced that I was meant to be an actress as a tween, when I’d read Helen Hayes’ memoir/anthology Gift of Joy. I’d felt an uncanny kinship with her based on her fascination with the spoken language. (It never occurred to me that she was an extrovert and I am most definitely not.)

I only understood two-thirds of Major Barbara, but I was fascinated. My grandmother asked me if I could imagine myself on that stage. I said, yes. But I know now that I wasn’t imagining being on the stage – I wanted to be part of it all. Somehow. This make-believe space where we could create, recreate and watch the world from a safe distance, – and watch it all work out.

I still think there’s something magical when everyone already knows the words, but the performance makes every word immediate and raw nonetheless: when a room is filled with the breath of a hundred strangers, and the energy of every body preternaturally focuses on a single point of experience. Shared experience.

We are all children clapping for Tinkerbell.


How did I wind up here?

So very far from New York city. I haven’t put on a high heel in years. Instead, I have three pairs trail shoes, and two pairs of mud-encrusted hiking boots in the small “dog closet” in the entrance hall. I have four Stanley thermoses, and at least 5 foam squares called “sitteunderlag” to keep me from getting a bladder infection when we pause for coffee at any of the nearby mountaintops looking over the Jæren landscape to the North Sea. A far cry from glamorous. Who even knew about the cold stone/bladder infection connection?

Who even knew about the magic of reaching a cairn?

My instragram account is filled with trees. And more trees. On a bad day I go to the woods to listen.

This life is unexpected. I accepted long ago that I’ll never be able to dance like Lesley Ann Warren. But I also remembered that I can run.

I didn’t do a very good job of designing my life. I’ve become something of a beachcomber who collects what washes up with the tide and arranges it on the windowsill.

Where I live.



Bit by bit, putting it together
Piece by piece, only way to make a work of art
Every moment makes a contribution
Every little detail plays a part
Having just a vision’s no solution
Everything depends on execution
Putting it together, that’s what counts
…”

-Sondheim, of course.

Yeah. I know all the words. Maybe I do have it all together, after all.

“[… ] I come to into the peace of wild things / who do not tax their lives with forethought / of grief.”
from “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry

This morning E. stops me in the kitchen and wraps his arms around me, and I find it annoying – this intrusion into my mood. I’m in a familiar groove and flowing quickly, and he is blocking me.

I’m impatient, but I let him hold me. Probably all of 4 seconds. He tells me I’m not breathing from my center. He points out how I’m only breathing with my upper chest, simultaneously holding so much tension that even my upper chest is barely moving.

The pain in my shoulders and arms is back. Creeping up my neck, and I panic thinking about the months of sleepless nights this spring, when I held a constant ache from my ribcage up.

I want to cry.


Last night I chopped onions and garlic and chilis to make salsa. The tears ran down my cheeks and I just let them. That is as close as I’ve come to crying in a very long time.

I know this sounds bizarre, but it seemed like my cheeks were grateful for the tears. I felt my whole body relax a little while I squeezed the limes, and cut the slightly-wilted cilantro.

I was relaxed when I turned off the lights at ten. But then as sleep crept in, so too the nocturnal imp who demands I work it all out before dawn. He sits on my chest, and I find it difficult to breathe.

For a while, I wonder if it is a symptom of Covid 19. If it’s a heart attack. If it’s Rumpelstiltskin. But I’m dreaming and it’s just after one.


It’s another flat day. The sky without depth. I hear the cars driving through puddles in the street outside. I’m going to fold the clothes that are piled-up downstairs and put them away in the drawers and closets. I’m going to finish my tea. Then –

I’ll go to the forest
and sit for a while.

I’ve seen wood ducks there – only rarely.
But it’s certainly worth a shot.

And if nothing else,
I can listen to the wind
rattle the branches of the trees,
and I can breathe.


Practicing contentment is a radical act in a consumption-driven society.
ROBIN WALL KIMMERER

It’s interesting that after years of charting my moods on the advice of therapists with various degrees, the Buddhist teacher I listen to now talks about “feelings”. In this system of categorizing, there are only three feelings: pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.

Moods on the other hand are conceptual interpretations, applied meaning based on an understanding of context. Understanding in this context being an understanding, not knowledge in any objective sense.

This works for me.

I have no idea if this is “right” but I think about all the studies of the reptilian brain – the idea that organisms of all kinds exhibit either attraction, aversion, or disregard to phenomenon. How scientists continue to argue whether an aversion response is an indication of “pain” – or of what we call “suffering”.

This has changed my yoga (asana) practice entirely. It has also ushered in a brutally honest confrontation with my own psychological pain. There is a pleasantness in the familiar. That is a truth. Though not particularly noble.

It’s pleasantness in a dark groove of melancholy; pleasantness in naming a scapegoat for what is uncomfortable.

I find this kind of sorting of language and concepts pleasant, too. It somehow makes familiar ideas shiny and new. I think this pleasantness conceptualizes as pride: “I’m so smart.”

At dinner tonight E. and I were talking about the difference between delusion, hallucination and illusion. His curiosity about the language. Mine about my own ignorance of specifics.

Every year I have a few students in movement who complain that the exercises hurt. I ask, “Does it hurt, or is it just uncomfortable? Because each of those states requires a very different response: stop, or breathe.”

Only now, with my own children grown and my mistakes made – only now as my body is edging closer to limits and requires more attention – do I surrender to the truth of subjectivity.

Does it hurt? I hold the world

crying
as if it were my own newborn.


I’m still thinking about contentment: a mood. And how maybe contentment isn’t pleasant at all – but neutral. It’s a place to rest after the highs of gains, and achievements, and moments of wonder – but free of any fear of loss, and of any desire to accumulate more.

It requires an odd kind of faith, I think, to be content: faith that the continually changing world will bring both horrors and wonders into our present.

And we can learn to rest between them.

Breathe in.
Rest. (Wait – don’t hold – don’t clench with a glottal stop – ssh – just wait.)
Breathe out.
Again.

I tell my students if you’re never uncomfortable
you’re never learning, but

nothing in the world must try
to grow.