I woke up angry today.

It doesn’t happen often.

I put the gentle lead on Leonard and we headed out into the dark. After I crossed the street, I realised I hadn’t really looked both ways. Talk about self-destructive spite. I have no idea what’s going on. I figure some frustrating dream took hold and seeped into the day.

I sip coffee and hum through my morning meditation. “Let it be.” But it doesn’t change the deep background of six a.m.. I tell myself to let go of the feeling. To open and relax.

My fingernails dig into my palms.

Third cup of coffee. Back from the morning meeting at school. And back online again with the entire third year class in quarantine, 13 of 22 student names pop up in the sidebar of the teams program. All 13 have their microphones and cameras turned off. I turn on my camera – only to realise I dumped my weekend travel bag on the table behind me. There’s a shiny, beige bra visible just above my right ear. I turn the camera off. I should have prepared better. Paid more attention.

I switch to tea. I mindlessly eat a second lunch. Then I come down hard on myself. Idiot. I check the train table, and count backward to see what I can cram into the day before I need to meet up for the car pool drive – under the fjord and over the moorlands to the conference hotel. I make a mental note to switch to wine as soon as possible. I make a mental note of the fact that that is not a very good idea.

I want a hot bath and a good book and a lot of quiet. I want a time-out. An excused absence.

Today I’ve been thinking about that scene from Saving Private Ryan. The hand-to-hand combat. The too-late realisation: this is not a rehearsal. I have no idea why this scene is in my head. I have read it described as harrowing.

It’s as though this harrowing scene is somehow part of what has seeped from my sleep and is what feels sticky as I walk through the day.

This is all there is. All this time, you’ve been playing, preening, posing – but when it comes down to it, this is the now of your soft belly and your brittle bones. The now of your last breath. Your ultimate inadequacy in the face of whatever undefined plans you had for your life. The inadequate planning. Because this is it. This is all you’ve got. This life that just keeps coming at you one laboured breath at a time.

I’m not dying. I mean, not at the moment. And I remind myself that I may be sensing an ending. And that maybe this is a good thing. Maybe I’ll find a better perspective on this ending.

The conference is in Haugesund. Where I spent five months alone in hospital, with no grasp of the language. Where I spent another five months of sleepless nights in an attic rocking chair, with a colicky infant and a dog that looked like Toto. Where I learned that you can never go Home.

Even if you wanted to.

Even if you don’t.

Dead witches, rusting men, snake oil salesmen, shoes or no shoes.

My fingers dig into my palms.

And I just want to call in sticky today, and stay home.

photo: Ren Powell

My computer updated and now, along the bottom menu of my screen, it tells me – unsolicited – that “Rain [is] coming”. And I feel bad because I haven’t looked out of the window this afternoon. I did walk around the house this morning, still in my pj’s, picking up dog poop so the lawn mower wouldn’t catch it. But I didn’t take in the morning: not the weather, not the birds, not the scent of autumn. Sometimes I wonder why the Bible lists so many sins and not this one: inattention.

Yesterday I nursed my cold by lying in bed and watching television. There was a moment when I pulled away from myself – consciously – and I suddenly became aware of the room. The space in the room. The colors of the walls. The textures of everything in it. Everything so beautifully foreign, so outside of myself, so dispossessed of expectations, so soulfully free.

I became aware of the distance between my arm and the blanket, my eardrum and the air vent, my mouth and the closest surface in each direction: the painted pressed wood of the nightstand. The coarse linen of the chaise lounge. I sensed my breath filling the room. Together with Leonard’s breath, and our lives overlapping at a cellular level.

There is a spider that hides somewhere behind my vanity mirror. Also breathing. Also alive and intermingling – atomic. Discrete. Intertwined.

We are inextricably tied to everything that frightens us. That thrills us. That makes us aware of our breathing.

I think I have always held on to this fact as a kind of comfort.

These little moments cut me off from the world in one way, but they also connect me to myself. They connect me to my childhood, and to a state of vigilance that was both necessary and habituated, to time when I didn’t have the self-awareness to judge this openness – or justify it, or pity myself for it. There was no – and still is, no – value judgement hovering over this state of being that I fall into now and then, now.

And then I slipped away from myself, back into the day like a fish into a stream.


The little room smells like tea and nail polish. Rosemary oil in the burner: for memory, they say. Somewhere deep in my chest there is a melody taking form. Ophelia handing out flowers. “I would give you some violets, but they withered all [ …].”

Last weekend I ran along the shore and the air was still. But the sea was still churning from the storm that had passed through. Tall waves, dark and edged with a white so opaque I could imagine I was running through an oil painting.

Sometimes writing is like wading into a stream where others have left all the stories to flow together, to flow through your hands, around your waist and into new ribbons of currents of hot and cold shining with the tiny creatures that give the world life, that take the world’s life. There’s nothing to claim here. Not really. It all runs to the ocean.

I miss writing.


Leaving in an hour for London. With Maeterlinck’s Bluebird haunting my thoughts. It is a good place to be now. Ready for a new season.

a leaf wet with raindrops

Leaving the house this morning to walk Leonard, I caught a glimpse of the sliver of old moon before the thin clouds covered it. There will be a new moon on Wednesday. Maybe that’s why I feel an urge to make everything new.

To the south the sky is clear and black. I can see the stars, even here from the new subdivision. We’ve having a break in the weather, a bit of quiet between the hailstorms and the rain. I hum as I walk. Om four times: ha, ri, ni, sa. Amen.

There is a proverb about washing the bowl after you’ve eaten. But picking up the dog shit is far more humbling. Carrying it home to the bin, a much larger metaphor.

I’ve a second appointment with the new psychiatrist today. We left the question hanging: What do you hope to get from these sessions?

This morning, after my habitual meditation – a mash-up of Buddhist philosophy and Christian hymns tweaked ever-so-slightly towards pantheism – I was thinking about the paradox of pursuing ease while pushing to grow beyond of one’s comfort zone.

In another life, I translated what was pretty much Tor Obrestad’s life’s work with poetry (up to that point). I was new to the language. New to translation. We are too different as writers – as people – for it to have been a great match. But one image that remains with me is his description of a waking boy: with the white tips of new growth. In my mind a life’s work with poetry can be a single image if it is that perfect.

I think about the translucent edges of new. I imagine the nerves that grow suddenly, impulsive and vulnerable – the quantum surge of life that is too fast, too eager to be held back. Protected.

The wind burns when it blows over a wound. New cells, shining and wet. And we breathe through it. Everything in movement, as it should be. Don’t clench. Don’t cling.

This week my students do their last performance of the Three Billy Goats Gruff. I’ve been focusing on an acting style that is staccato. The information is conveyed in snapshots, moments. I could describe it as stop-motion theater. (Oh! I like that! Move over, Lecoq).

It’s difficult for the students to master. Even with mirrors, even with mechanical analyses: Thought. Execution. Expression. Thought. Execution. Expression. It is an unnatural style. It is unnatural in its artificial segmentation. My acting students are almost always motivated by a desire to bring stories to life. This is academic.

Tree. Fungi. Forest.
Mitochondria. Cytoplasm. Cell.

Life flows. At some level there is an ease. Something slips through, integrates. It can’t help it. All the shuddering is an illusion of objectivity.

I have been thinking. Maybe the idea is not to move out of the comfort zone, but expand the comfort zone.

acting students dressed as a three-headed troll

It’s raining this morning. I think it may be why I slept late.

Sitting on the sofa looking out the window, a slipped ray of sunlight coming from behind my house, over my roof, hit the white trim on the neighbor’s roof to set it glowing against the slate sky.

This happens often. I sit on the sofa drinking my coffee and petting Leonard and I see this phenomenon. I know the sun is there. Momentarily. Then the eaves stop glowing and I know the clouds have covered the sun again. I feel my mood sink as though it were directly connected to the lux measurement of the neighbor’s eaves.

This happens so often on the weekends that I have begun to see this little moment of reflection like a kind of meditation practice. My mood is variable. And I can step back and notice its own nature, which is something my conscious mind can pull away from and observe. In the same way I can observe my hand. Or my aching achilles. What is a part of me is not the whole of me.

If there is a me. There is the image of the rider and the elephant in Buddhist symbolism. But I am thinking most days I feel more like a dog walker with a pack of variously trained dogs of wildly varied breeds. Today I’m being dragged by the loudly complaining husky, but tripped by the yappy chihuahua.

And there really is Leonard. Nudging my arm off of the keyboard. Putting his head between me and the mobile phone. Standing in my way, leaning his head on my thigh: notice me, sit with me, breathe with me.

This morning I was scrolling through Instagram and saw a film clip of a sea turtle eating a jellyfish. There was something profoundly disturbing about it. The vulnerability of the jellyfish’s beautiful body. The turtle’s leisurely matter-of-factness. It’s unrushed hunger. The small fish swimming around the jellyfish’s tentacles, even now as the turtle rips off parts of the body. The fact that someone observed and filmed the scene. This is life. Look at it. What do you do with this knowledge?

Maybe the point is to do nothing at all. Learn to look for the perspectives and try to hold them all at once? The jellyfish’s perspective. The turtle’s. The baby fishes’. The shrimp’s, and crabs’; the sharks’.

I don’t have to always take sides. Even if, or maybe especially when, I identify emotionally with one. Empathy isn’t wisdom. Empathy alone can’t determine the “right” side.

This morning watching the effects of the clouds covering the sun again, feeling my mood sink, I thought of the rash of grassfires we’ve had in the county this past week. Some quite serious.

Rain’s a good thing todayfrom that perspective.

a strong wind carries
you effortlessly along
in one direction

Now, it seems like every morning I sit down in front of the computer I second guess myself. I wonder if I have already written down the ideas that are bouncing around my head. I am sure I have. My life is all about repeating myself (and maybe repeating what’s handed down in DNA somehow?). Variations on a theme. Every bit of writing a piece of a kaleidoscope image of the same small life. This sliver through this filter. Now turned at this angle.

I don’t know why I’ve become self-conscious about this. It could be a consequence of my restlessness. Feeling like there little that is novel in my life. In the past 16 months, I have not been more than a 45-minute drive from my home. I haven’t sweat just sitting on a beach in the sunshine. I haven’t stopped to listen to buskers in the Bank tube station tunnel or gotten lost in an unfamiliar city. Though yesterday walking back from my vaccine shot at a local jr. high, I got lost here: a 20-minute walk from the house. (I am surprised how many of my neighbors have bright poppies in their stone hedges.)

Part of me would be happy to pack up and move somewhere new. But E. has ties here. And I am as happy as I have ever been. Restlessness aside. Pain aside. I am holding several states of being in my heart at once more easily than I have before. Me packing all my belongings won’t stop the hurt. I am thinking it’s a superstitious impulse. If I make a major change the whole world will have to change. The butterfly effect as an emotional placebo. A half-baked bargain with God. I’ll make it right now. I’ll change and the world can right itself.

I turn my life over and over in my hands and stay curious. This is my life as a worry stone. I suppose it is a kind of sleight of hand or misdirection. Rubbing the stone does little. It’s an eternity project: smoothing a groove with my thumb. But I am doing something in the face of my own uselessness.

It seems to me our culture ridicules self-soothing of any sort, as childish—if not infantile—behavior. We should be stronger. But meditation is a form of self-soothing. Running. Dancing until the sweat of your lower back stains your shirt. Lit candles at the dinner table. A dog in your lap. I am strong enough to hold all the good and all the bad—and not need to pretend I can vanquish the latter.

I keep telling myself.

I am asking myself again whose story it is to tell. Any child, any parent, any lover. Where do we draw the line where empathy & witnessing cross into personal appropriation. Respecting their secrets, their pains, their right to speak for themselves—or choose not to.

These days I am circling an outer ring of something more difficult than I have ever had to bear. The unimaginable. No. That’s not true. It’s the imaginable that your mind toys with like a specter like a hazy figure on a polaroid. The slender man among the trees in the fog. But it is something else when he walks into your bedroom and sits on the quilt so his weight pins your legs. He puts his hand on your sternum and breaths in your face. And he says he’ll be here for you until you die.

Only it’s not me there on the bed. I’m in the doorway. Helpless. Rubbing a worry stone. Wishing it were me on the bed. Surely I could make a pact with God? This is my story. And this is not my story. I am in the hallway. My finger making slow circles on a bit of stone.

a leaf’s edge is sharp
up close, the periphery
can slice you in two