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.

Parkinson’s Law.

Tuesday mornings I have a late start at work, and when the alarm goes off at the usual time, and when E. isn’t here with his own obligations, I find myself negotiating with myself. My morning routine takes 2 and a half hours, and I start counting backwards to see if I can lie in bed another half hour.

The thing is, all this math wakes me up anyway but now I am in the wrong groove. It takes me a half hour to tie the bows on my running shoes. And because E. is offshore, I start my run from home and head to the lake: the first kilometer on the sidewalk, dogging sulky teenager, and mothers with their six-year-olds walking to school three-abreast, forcing me into the street.

It isn’t until I hit the trail that my breathing eases. It takes me even longer before I hear the birds. Even longer before I fall into a gentleness of spirit.

This morning I’ve been meditation on being less judgmental. “Haaaa”, I chant. And I imagine a storm in a teacup settling into a clear reflection of the real problem: my own thoughts in a teacup.


Everyone is talking about the documentary about the man and the octopus. But I spent the first hour focusing on how he managed to do all the filming himself, on the miracle of his having found this one octopus who lived an entire, heroically dramatic life cycle under his gaze. I started to wonder if anyone would know better had he pieced together footage of twenty octopuses to make a story. I wondered why the credits included two writers when the narrative film clips seem confessional.

I wondered why I am such a jerk.

Where is the middle way when it comes to questioning what we are told? Between unhelpful skepticism and unhelpful naivetè?

I suppose it is about the source from which the questions arise. Even knowing that I can sometimes be arbitrary for the sake of being arbitrary – looking for an opportunity to be oppositional – but that is still not the source of the impulse.

At this point in my life – self-analysis does little more than foster self-pity, self-loathing and shame… which sends me looking for a way to bolster my ego. Looking for the source of the need at this point seems like little more than justification and permissiveness. Fake spiritual work.

Maybe I need to come at it all from the other end. What – in the present tense – do I need to let go of?

Maybe all that matters is stopping to ask the question,
Is this helpful?

Or am I just throwing chum in the water to avoid my own discontent?


The blackbirds are singing in the driveway.
That should be enough for the next few minutes.
The sun is rising.

Ann E. Michael writes about practice. She’s been writing since she was 10, and though she’s lost the pages, she has the memories.

Sometimes I wonder if all these gaps in my life – the seasons lost from memory – have been lost exactly because I didn’t take the time to write them into being. There are long stretches where I wrote nothing, and there have also been long stretches of forced “morning pages” that went round and round each day, and I remember then my life going round and round in meaningless circles.

But I was present in those days – going round and round.

There were also seasons that I choose to identify as the authentic me – the person I long to get back to when I am feeling out-of-sorts. I have no objective basis for identifying these periods as the real me, and I am certain people who have known me do not see it that way, and quite possibly believe the authentic me is the anxious and odd one. But I have very few memories of her. She is not real to me. She is the warped-with-sickness me, the smudged and painful reflection of overwhelm, a torrent of noise.

Only the writing seasons are etched into my memories and – agreeing with Ann – this doesn’t mean these were seasons of well-crafted sentences, or of searing insight. They were nothing more than seasons of consciousness.

I am always pleased with the woman I write into being.

It is easier for me to make changes in my life when there are large shifts in circumstances. Two weeks ago I committed to a new and specific practice. Practice is something that reinforces itself. The psychological power of cycles: a day, a week, a season. A foot pushing the bicycle pedal down on the way up a hill. Momentum isn’t enough, but it still matters.

As a teacher, one of the first things I do – looking over my student’s shoulder at their screen – is scan their document and hit return again and again, separating the thoughts into paragraphs so I can take in their ideas in at a pace that allows me to find meaning. There are days when I wonder if my doing so – my providing white space – is actually imposing my meaning on their lives.

I guess this is what makes me a writer. This need to use writing as a tool for understanding the world. It has nothing to do with producing texts, or thinking deeply about everyday matters. It’s not about a gift at all, it’s simple a matter of which vehicle I require to navigate the world.

When one meditates, one experiences the consciousness that watches and interprets the “I” who is in a mood, whose knee aches, whose mind wanders. The “I outside the I” narrating an ego into existence.

New paragraph. Here is a transition. Here, something changes.

Sunday. And still in my pajamas.

The skies are clear and the air is cold, and at some point I will get up from this desk, get dressed and go to the beach. It is one of those days that – in recollection tomorrow – will be smudged across my mind: leaving just a fraction of an hour of something meaningful -something like

squinting against sharp reflections of the late-afternoon light
while watching a tern searching the foam for something to eat.

And this will be better than most days.


Later tonight E. will take a Covid test before heading offshore for another fortnight. I expect autumn will take hold in his absence. And the space between the points of the timeline of my days will stretch wide: Work. Home. Work. Home. I’ll walk the dog. Keep up the routine. And darkness will creep over the edges of the days until there is precious little light left.

Sometimes precious little is more than all the rest.

I like the smell of there having been candles –
I like it sometimes best.

Because the earth is round and its path is round,
we will pass by this way again, one way or another.

The darkness retreats, too . And we always miss it
as well.

“I want to be such a conversation”… is what Neil Reid said about what can become of us when we witness someone else’s examination of the world (which includes one’s self), and then take those questions into our own examination of our own world.

And if one takes note of that process – could there be a richer conversation? And isn’t this really the definition of poetry?

I haven’t been making space for good conversations, and I miss them.

There are a lot of reasons I was lonely as a child. All of them were paths to books, and thus to “conversations” with people too far away to touch. Often too dead to be moved.

Though never too dead as to be fixed in regard to their significance.

If I have any faith in any thing, it is that our lives can be meaningful – and only in ways that we cannot control – and only in the sense that others will create meaning for the random juxtaposition of their lives with ours.

What is history but a series of perspectives, created by the juxtaposition of our worldviews with those of the dead? For good and for bad: heroes become villains, villains heroes.

Heroines become.

Reading someone’s journal – someone’s story – is like meeting them in a secret forest where anything wild might breathe in your ear, might open your veins, leaving you weaker – but wiser.

“I knew that was true.” But didn’t want to face it.

Witnessing someone else’s nature is witnessing our own. It can be frightening. But it can also be reassuring in the way that the idea of life-after-death can be reassuring. Whether that is a heaven from which we look down, or atoms that create new constellations of life. Things continue without us: most likely because they were never dependent upon us in the first place.

I find that thought freeing.

I have been reading too little poetry lately. Allowing too little poetry into my life, too much social media – where conversations are almost non-existent. I have been thinking about the word social and why nothing is called “conversational media”.

Social is a descriptor for “society”, and a society is an “aggregate of individuals”. Aggregates form a consensus. And isn’t that how social media functions for the most part: not sharing, but shaming, posing, labeling, sorting, “canceling”. It is the hard work of keeping people “in line.”

I failed Social Skills 101. And to be honest, I am okay with that now. I’m okay with having been something of an urban nomad, half-hermit – an emigrant/immigrant. I am content being someone who misses the social cues that weren’t illustrated by the likes of Judy Bloom, PG Wodehouse, Anais Nin, and Stephen King. (Imagine them coming to a consensus). With good conversation, loneliness can soften into solitude. And that kind of solitude can be freeing in that one can fearlessly look outside one’s self.

I suppose one could charge a kind of narcissism in the reader who takes on the “both” roles in a conversation found in the written word. But maybe they (we) are just playing the long game: those readers having become writers who are hoping the conversation continues once they have left the world.

There is a difference between believing you have something to give the world, and believing you have something to contribute to it.

It’s worth entering a conversation on the subject.

Be humble for you are made of Earth. Be noble for you are made of stars.
SERBIAN PROVERB

I’ve been writing all morning. Things I don’t want to put into the world. But I need to get the words out.

In No Exit, Estelle says that when she can’t see herself, she wonders if she really exists.

It’s not a flattering comparison on any level, I suppose. Not in the context of Sartre’s intentions – at least not in the context of traditional interpretations of the character.

But I can only examine the validity of my thoughts when I dare to make room for a sort of reflection.

Inez tells Estelle to see herself reflected in Inez’s eyes: “I’m so tiny.”

There is an assumption that Estelle uses the mirror to make conscious adjustments to what she thinks other people see.

But what if what she sees is both the “ugly” truth that keeps her grounded and strong, and the acceptable facade: a kind of complexity of existence that requires reflection – a large-scale, unobstructed reflection.

Estelle is diminished without the mirror.

I find it odd that so many approach No Exit with a collective sense of morality that Sartre himself rejected. If Sartre can get behind Stalin’s choices, surely he can get behind Estelle’s?

Maybe Garcon and Estelle are in Hell only because Inez convinces them of it. “I’m watching you,” she tells Garcon when he decides to have sex with Estelle.

Yeah, that’s a problem for him now? It wasn’t before.

How bourgeois.

A collective sense of morality exists in Hell.

Inez is the torturer after all.


Funny how, once a character is on the page, the author loses control.

Sometimes I stumble on my own writing – an old poem, or a bit of a journal entry – and it is completely foreign to me.

I wrote a draft of a novel once.
And realized that I am a poet: fragmented.

Shattered.


All these truths that rise and dive beneath the surface like sharks.