The more difficult things become – subjectively – the more I want to make beautiful things, and the more frustrated I become with my lagging craftsmanship. I spend evenings in the studio staring at the paper. Judging. I should have invested more time here. Been patient with myself. I understand now the absurdity of impatience.

M. writes about her diagnosis in a chat message. B. talks around hers over the phone, but on social media, she writes amusing anecdotes about chemo and radiation therapy.

And I find myself separated by one more degree from other – more sudden – death. My brother’s chosen brother, whose parents watched the coffin being carried out of the church yesterday. Put in the ground.

There are places we don’t want our minds to go.

I pull back and assess an angle from which to offer… what exactly? There’s no comfort to offer M. and B., so I offer attention. And I try to comfort the grieving along that chain of sorrow. The people whose pain I understand. Whose helplessness I can relate to. We can choose our connections, but we cannot choose our losses.

I can at least relate to loss.

Yesterday I dug out the last letters to and from my mother. And to and from my grandmother. All the pain came rushing back very unexpectedly. The anger. Fury. Clicking and popped in my chest like a wasps nest as I told myself to keep breathing. To let go of the tightness. There is nothing to brace myself for. It’s over. I copied them and tore them into strips and began the process of making something.

Beautiful is absolutely the wrong word.

Meaningful?

True.

The odd thing is that sorting through this single box of the artifacts of my life, I also ran across love letters from my ex-husband. I couldn’t bring myself to read them but I glanced at some of the phrases on the brittle paper. I’d forgotten the sweetness. The openness. And I mean forgotten in the sense that in reading them I experienced no recognition whatsoever. I am glad I didn’t see these during the divorce process, it would have overwhelmed me to see the whole of what was lost over the years. What good I needlessly let go of. Why can’t I look at these and just think: how lucky we were for that span of time? Without running a post mortem on those twenty-two years. Appreciating, but not clinging, to the people we were.

Nothing is permanent and, for me at least, life has been a series of small but absolute endings that are metaphors for death itself. My mother used to practice for her own mother’s death. That seems superfluous.

Some holy people meditate on their own rotting corpses. But new life begins in the decomposition. The ripping up of the old constellations of parts, making something new of the elements.

For right now: I choose to focus on that. The ripping-up. The making-new. One true thing from all of the lies.

I think that the more I do it, the better I might get at it.

It’s still morning, but two hours have slipped out of use. It’s Parkinson’s law. The tasks I have to do will expand to fill the time I have to do them in. Except with this rare free day, I am sure that the tasks I have to do will expand exponentially and I will get less done than I otherwise would.

Like the morning writing and painting. Running. Yoga. These things that used to click into the routine – a habit chain. One can only blame Covid restrictions for so much. One can only blame menopause for so much. One can only blame grief for so much.

I was complaining about an imposition on my class schedule at work and a colleague said that it was “possible to be more flexible”. I nearly took aim and cast my pencil at her heart. After two years of taking every day as it comes, tossing out curriculums and calendars, teaching to a quarter-class whatever I can justify – on the fly – I am keenly aware that there is a point at which being flexible transitions into an amorphous existence.

Goo. And not the good kind. The kind that doesn’t provide a steady perspective for investing emotionally. For caring.

It is the definition of demoralizing.

Rather than a depressive disorder, demoralization isĀ a type of existential disorder associated with the breakdown of a person’s ‘cognitive map’. It is an overarching psycho-spiritual crisis in which victims feel generally disoriented and unable to locate meaning, purpose or sources of need fulfilment

The New Internationalist

Is it any wonder I am desperate to find my way back to a routine? To find a new focus, unrelated to my employment? To students?

I laughed yesterday. It took me so by surprise I was concerned for a second that I may have “clicked”. The setting wasn’t comfortable. The people I was with were students with whom I have a tense relationship.

It was a silly translation mistake that stuck illogically in my head. “Mus” is mouse, but pronounced “moose”, but I will spare you the rest. The images that I just couldn’t shake, couldn’t make sense of for a full minute or two, brought on a wave of sincere, spontaneous laughter. My whole body felt it. It was a release of tension that I could compare to so many other bodily functions, but won’t.

How rare a moment.

Last night I googled how to put more laughter in your life and found silly lists of suggestions: follow funny people on Twitter, etc. But as important as thoughts are, thinking “that’s funny” is not laughter. Laughter isn’t a thought, it is a physical activity. And like so many other physical activities, maybe it really is best when done with other people. Laughter is a weirdly contagious activity. Like crying.

Maybe part of the problem is that I spend most of my physical time in the company of teenagers who are far more inclined to share their tears than their laughter with me?

Or – you know – maybe it’s just me.

A few years ago I took private lessons from the yoga instructor I still go to. The problem was, I could lower my body into chaturanga, but then my brain couldn’t seem to connect to the muscles that would push me up into upward dog. I repeatedly fell on my chin. It was like someone had cut the necessary wires. I had to re-map my nervous system. And there was no way to “think it” into being. I had to move.

For Christmas this year, I gave E. a scratch-the-peaks map of Norwegian hiking routes. The thing is, the map isn’t the hike.

And I’m thinking: here, I have this map for a better life – one with more laughter, with meaning – but I can’t seem to connect my brain to my foot to take the first step. It’s all just theory at this point. Theory and some falling on my chin.