Theater of Cruelty

Well, not exactly, and I apologize to anyone landing here who feels misled.

But these past 9 days have felt like a minor ordeal. Every moment that’d been expected to bring a catharsis was just left hanging. I was sick as a dog last week, though my lateral flow tests were negative. Monday I felt well enough to go back to work, only to relapse yesterday (which, weirdly. seems like so long ago). Now I’m testing positive for Covid. I must have had it all along.

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger… eventually. In one way or another. I went to a fortune teller once (only once) with a question about a then-upcoming show I wrote and directed: will it be a success? She answered, “Yes, but maybe not in the way you expect.”

Safe answer. And it would have been a very kind, counseling kind of answer was it to have landed as a fiasco? “Hmmm” (I could say to myself). “But she said… so: In what way was it a success?”

As it was, it wasn’t a fiasco or a success. Just, meh. Like the production this week. But sometimes meh is fine. Sometimes having enough energy/stamina/dedication/obstinance to get through it all is a victory. When the plague burns through everything, no one said what is left standing is going to be a towering superhero. Sometimes it is a tiny, blind inchworm. Swaying just a little. Getting on with it.

The children’s song comes to mind. Measuring a marigold. I know very little about gardening or flowers in general, but I do remember the marigolds in the kitchen garden. How they took over. Beautiful but invasive. They just keep coming up through the soil, self-seeding. Inch after foot after yard.

That’s a lot of busywork for an inchworm.


I have no idea why I’m not sleeping. I doubt there is any use in an interrogation. There are too many factors at play, and I think I have already spent too much of my life inspecting the framework that surrounds it. Looking for weaknesses. Explanations. If I fix this, then…

It seems as though if things settle, they do so on their own and in their own time. Other times I think I just forget to care. I am spinning busywork while I grow accustomed.

We ran again yesterday. We’re trying hard to pick ourselves up. E. first headed toward our usual morning route, but I asked him to drive us to the other end of the trail, where we can cross the bridge and run in the forest.

Two minutes into the run, I was tired. Not sure I could do the short run. I thought about the blood clot that formed in my body five years ago, and I did a mental check to gauge if this tiredness was that tiredness, that sense of being unplugged from an energy source. I felt my heart miss a beat, then felt a sense of disappointment that the fear is still here in my body, fear as tight as a scar running hip to heart.

Breathe. I remember the nurse who would not say, “Everything is going to be fine.” She told me a truth: no one has died on this table during this procedure before.

Breathe. I could – can still – handle this specific truth.

We hit the top of the first hill and then ran down and across the bridge. But three hundred meters into the forest, the forest stopped. Clean cuts across tree trunks. Crossed branches lay entwined everywhere, like an enormous nest for an unknown or ancient bird. We stumbled as far as we dared, then angled off, out of what used to be the forest to find the gravel trail.

I think I just imagined that the birds were louder than usual.

The last time we ran through the forest I’d taken pictures of the newly storm-toppled trees, their root systems upended and taller than three of me. I knew and I know now that this forest is private property and that they cull a section every few years. I know that they are responsible agriculturalists, and they know far more than I do about what is healthy for the landscape, what is possible, what is… fine.

Still, the gaping, empty space is like a brutal statement of fact: there is no going back to what was. There will be scars in the landscape, and there is no longer shelter from the North Wind.

But – or and? – everything you never imagined is possible now.


Halfway through the ten-day vacation. Still waiting for some kind of joy to take hold. Just at the edge of the day. Just a small tug.

There are 4 y’s in that paragraph. Like utterances of frustration.
Three j’s. Like little fishhooks.
Two g’s with their round descenders. Heavy. Resigned.
Where it ends.

Depression is a sneaky creature. Like one of those cats who hang out in your driveway, in your yard, until you find yourself living with a cat full time. Feeding it. Making concessions for it, as though you’re obligated to tend to it.

I keep using external excuses: I need to get away – to the desert’s heat and the intense sunshine that condenses everything vital into granular truths. Uncomfortable, but discernable. Not that I want to stay in the desert. Just learn from it. Take some things home with me.

A friend once visited the Saraha on her vacation, and for Christmas that year, she sent us all tiny packets with a few grains of sand. There’s a beautiful innocence in that little crime. An optimism. A desire for magic.

I think of the word charming, the history of the word, and figure before I go down the rabbit hole, it is bound to turn up darkness.

Charming. Charming. Every spell comes at a price. Handwritten letters. Deliberate fonts. It’s all in the details.

So just let it be? J. Like a fishhook.

A second definition for vacation is the action of leaving something one previously occupied. The example given in the dictionary is that of a priest and the “vacation of his fellowship” for marriage. I suppose then, one can have a vacation from a state of mind. And it need not be temporary.

Today I will listen to Edith Piaf and think of Coach, who died this week. I will be grateful for his compassion and generosity. He put a roof over my head. He parented me when I should have already grown up. “Stand up straight.” Seems like a metaphor now.

He gently questioned all the clichè melodrama I dragged into his house, “Do you think you two are good for each other?”

When I moved in, his kitchen was covered with dust. I learned that his bills went straight to the bank, and the paper copies piled high, unopened on the counter. He lived each day as it came. For the easy small talk at the cafè. For the deliberate ease and the joy of theater rehearsals. I swear he was the weirdest bodhisattva that ever lived.

I will remember him sitting in his den: smoking, and listening to Piaf.

I will be grateful for my healthy lungs.

“Avec mes souvenirs/J’ai allumé le feu”.

We go on vacation, we go through the desert, we take our chances fishing, and we burn our pasts to learn how to begin again.

While we can. Rest in peace, Coach.

Waiting for a Compassionate Moon

I had something to say last night. Slept poorly and woke to the blackbirds singing about the fresh snow (I assume that was the topic of conversation).

Now, what do I say in the face of that? Another day slipped by. Along with all the thoughts I didn’t take note of. The hours that I could have filled with – what? – I don’t know: evidence of my being/having been.

At the turn of the year, I counted the full moons in a lifetime, and despite the panic that came with realizing that – even under the most fortunate of circumstances – more moons have passed through my life than will come in the remainder of my time. And still, I have managed not to pay attention.

B. can likely count moons on her fingers and toes. We haven’t discussed it. The word “terminal” comes up as a descriptor, the phrase “I would have been dead by now”. I nearly wrote “I’m dying here”, which is not my usual phrase for being frustrated. The subconscious can reassemble bits of literal and figurative language lying around the neural network in the most awkward and unfortunate ways. There is more than one reason to slow down.

This morning there is a waxing crescent moon over the snow. Filling slowly for April’s pink moon, peony moon. I keep waiting for symbolism. For a meaningful connection between the universe and the tiny phenomenon of my life.

I think I have a title for the wasp project. And am still amazed how the facts and the memories link in unexpected ways. How a constrained poem kicks up the word vortex, which relates directly to the wasp’s ability to fly. And I thrill at the order of it all. As though I’ve uncovered hidden connections. Meaning.

Last week we went for drinks with friends for the first time since the shutdown of two years ago. Catching up, and discussing lottery dreams, and inheritance dreams. I mentioned my dead mother’s estate, and how I am pulping printouts of her hand-written will to make wasps’ nests. J. asked me if I thought it would bring me closure. “You’ve talked about her a lot”. I felt a wave of shame. I had no idea that I have “talked about her a lot”. All these internal hidden connections. I am beginning to think that if I don’t make the connections, it all leaks out in meaningless chatter. There is nothing beautiful about that.

I am wondering when a steady drip of sadness becomes depression. Is there a mathematical formula dependent on how many missed showers? How many empty hours? How many appeals to magic?

In one myth, Paeon, a student of the god of medicine, used a peony root to heal Pluto. The god of medicine became jealous and tried to kill him. To save Paeon, Pluto transformed him into a peony because he knew it was a flower that people would admire and praise. Therefore the peony began to signify compassion.

Pluto was the god of the underworld. The god of the afterlife. But now all I can think of is that Pluto, declared a planet in 1930, is no longer a planet.