Sunday morning. And sunshine. And resistance.

There are so many things I should be doing and choose not to. It starts (or rather doesn’t start) with making my bed. Changing the sheets, walking the dog, vacuuming the entrance hall. All the things I will do today. Grudgingly.

Unless I manage to adjust my attitude and find a way to let go of the resistance.

This has been a week of settling into myself. Not that it has been easy. Friday, walking home from the doctor’s office, I saw two sparrows in the bushes. Ragged-looking, bed-head feathers sticking in every direction, looking hung-over and crotchety.

I’m projecting.

I think settling-in requires a good shaking-up first. Taking a good look around at what you dropped without realizing it. What you didn’t even know you lost but explains the peculiar hollow feeling in your solar plexus.

These things that slipped out of your hands in a moment of weakness — of self-doubt.

When I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror I see a woman disheveled and swollen. Who hasn’t stood up straight and smoothed her clothes, sliding her hands down along her sides — who hasn’t lifted her chin, in months.

Isolation is a complex experience.

I’m filling out a nightly questionnaire regarding how the coronavirus restrictions are affecting mental health. One of the questions asks if you felt lonely today. Another asks if you felt close to another human being. I answer: no, and yes respectively. Near the end of the nightly list of questions, though, is how many minutes you spent socializing in person. 0. It’s been 0 for a very long time. So this questionnaire makes me wonder if I even know what “loneliness” is. If I even recognize it when I feel it.

“Did you avoid social situations today to avoid stress?” Well, now. That’s a stupid question. When have I not done that?

I kind of doubt this little research project by the University of Oslo intended to make people anxious, but I am not convinced it isn’t making matters worse for me. I am not sure I am benefiting from a meta-awareness of my own isolation.

On the other hand. I haven’t been this creative in years. With no one looking over my shoulder (except the ever-supportive E., who serves as a touchstone of reality), I’ve rediscovered a sense of play so far gone, I thought I misremembered ever having had it.

Losing a sense of community can mean losing the fear of judgment, too. Maybe that is why so many poets are loners?

Several places in the New Testament state that no one is a prophet in their own land. And the explanation for the verses is about the people in the community taking the prophet for granted. But I believe that self-censorship plays a role. Why risk a tenuous belonging?

It’s a gamble to stick your head above your prescribed station. It can lead to exile or execution. Just look for yesterday’s tallest poppy. Either way – censored by them or us – we can so easily lose ourselves.

But I think by circling this space, again and again, I am picking up what I lost. Colors, textures, dreams. In this isolation I can forget to look over my shoulder to see who’s looking over mine.

It’s a long, slow route, but I think I’m getting there – wherever “there” is.

tiny, twig-like claws
scratching the palm of my hand
a quiver of down
a ticking-tiny lifespan:
catch it now — quill on vellum

Yesterday I went to the arts and crafts supply store. It has been a long time since I’ve splurged on anything but books. I like the word splurge. The onomatopoeia of it. The bursting and slashing out of an outdoor spigot that hasn’t been used in a while. There is something inherently summer-y about it in my mind’s little associative tangle.

Still, it is a big step from purchasing to actual use. Sometimes I get stuck at the sensuous aspects of a freshly sharpened pencil. I want to write the word “poised”, but doing so would ruin the perfect tip, would dull the bright, jagged lines along the tapering wood.

I know this is absolutely related to the more general tendency of clinging in my life. To a moment, to a potential, to the concept of some imminent — amazing — self.

Of course, I’ve no way of knowing, but wonder if this isn’t something women experience more keenly than men through a great deal of our lifetimes? I’m thinking of words like nubile and events like childbirth. The inevitable destruction of life for life. Of beauty for beauty.

It seems to me that embracing dulled pencil-tips, finding beauty in what is worn and smudged and dulled is necessary for me. And not in a “shabby chic” way, aestheticized with filters — physical or conceptual. Not in juxtaposition with the new and slick, setting oneself up for some kind of self-congratulatory appreciation of the “other” that is past. It’s probably not a coincidence that shabby chic became popular about the same time as “ruin photography”. Or even more telling a nomenclature, “ruin porn”.

Adam Alston writes about immersive theater and talks about the difference between an aesthetic experience and an aestheticized experience, where the former is an experience brought on by observing an aestheticized object/event/bit of language, and the latter is the personal, individual experience reflexively acknowledged as the artwork itself. The object/theater performance/poem is only the conduit for the viewer-audience to create art.

The thing is, while aestheticized experience as an art form would democratize art in the extreme, it would (true to Oscar Wilde) simultaneously create a ruthless hierarchy of the inherent worthiness of each individual’s inner life. The artist would no longer be serving a tradition, or mastering a discipline, or channeling a genius (in the Greek daemon sense). They themselves are the genius, and their private un-sharable experience un-manifested in the world is the work of “art”.

In our world obsessed as we are with commodities, this is perplexing.

But beyond that, if the artwork is inherently “un-sharable” then how can we know it is legitimate in terms of expressing the “human” experience. And if all of it is legitimate as art, then art needs to be viewed as entirely subject and therefore any talk of theory, or commodification is absurd.

But is there a culture anywhere really — has there ever been — that doesn’t designate a few members of the community as “artists”? Who are these people? I know I am circling around what other people have spent entire careers questioning. I acknowledge that. And I acknowledge that there is still value in my layman questions and considerations.

Back to Ashton’s distinction of an aestheticized experience. With all due respect to the expert: I have been to see Punch Drunk’s production of Drowned Man several times. I bought a book of photographs of the installations. What I took away from it was an aesthetic experience of the exquisite craftsmanship, the illusions created by the dancers and actors and set designers. The fact that I was immersed in these illusions doesn’t change the fact that it was an aesthetic experience of an objective nature. Yes, theatre often provides the story, but paintings don’t, pottery doesn’t. We always inject our subjective narratives onto artworks. And we can never know if they match the artist’s own.

To be honest, I am not sure where my mind is going with this. What need I’m exploring. What fear.

Look here: this perfectly beautiful sharpened pencil. How can I possibly create something worthy of wearing that point? Of dulling that wood?

Isn’t that the fear? The pressure of aesthetics? A misunderstanding of aesthetics? Is the appreciation of kintsugi just a form of Orientalism on my part? Or is it an authentic longing for something?

And why in the hell is that even a question I am asking myself?

in my coffee mug
a thin layer of tiny
air bubbles floating
on the surface broken
by void-embryos morphing

Another night of insomnia, but I am holding onto the knowledge that this phase will pass soon. That I will be able to sleep again. Meanwhile, the finches and tits are singing in the garden, and the sky is already beginning to blue when I let Leonard out to drink from the bird bath.

Obviously, that isn’t what he is supposed to be doing.

But this is what spring is for – wriggling loose from the constraints of winter. Bending the rules. I cross the driveway to check the mail in my socks. No need to pull on a coat or brace myself against a wind. I know there will be more snow before summer takes hold, but it is nice to tilt my face to the sun and take a deep breath and allow myself a bit of lightness while I still feel slightly off-kilter.

I have a cotton-filled skull from this lack of sleep. Everything feels like walking on moss. Soft, but the world is too giving. No way to get traction. No oomph.

I drink coffee until noon – then mint tea. And my stomach growls all day. I’m afraid my life has become a catalog of minutiae.

And a to-do list with unchecked items. A calendar that is an accusation.

But I have a plan for the evening before the sun goes down. I’m going to take a little delight safari in the neighborhood. Maybe figure out what Leonard is fascinated by deep in the neighbor’s thuja tree.

Maybe there’s something in there to grab a hold of. A hook to lift me into tomorrow, and the weekend, and these days now stretching ahead pale and shapeless. I know it’s all a mirage, though. I know that if one pays attention, the days are always much more interesting than you thought they’d be from a distance. Never what you expected, hoped for, but interesting nonetheless.

Textured. Colorful. Sonorous.

Shhh. Listen.

Shhh. But right now? I’m going to take a nap.

First the primroses
backing up, into the world
almost embarrassed
by their enthusiasm –
only then, the daffodils

This week for some reason, Leonard has been particularly intense on the morning walks. Birds are grabbing his attention lately. And he keeps burrowing into bushes before I tug him back. Something about spring I suppose. Maybe the rats are already leaving their nests?

He was still wound up when I dropped him off at the house and headed to the trail. This morning’s run was unusually dark. Usually, we can see the lights from the houses blinking from the other side of the lake, but this morning the trail faded to greys and blacks, and then indigo ink where the curves of the stones along the shore meet the nothing. I guess it’s the fog that seems to close down the area, like a bell jar. Instead of getting a sense of an endless, dark abyss beyond the rocks, it felt claustrophobic. As though, if we were to veer to the right we’d not wade into the cold water, but hit a screen of woven night, woolly and coarse. I’m going to think of it as more like a tea cozy than a bell jar.

I ran slower than usual. Which is as slow as sleepwalking. Thoughts moving too quickly – out of sync with my breath and my body. I’m still feeling disconnected.

Back at our regular hour now, we see familiar faces. And a new one. Someone got themselves a shepherd puppy. “Good morning”. People here don’t acknowledge one another at the train station, at the store. Even at work, the administration has to remind us to say hello to one another in the corridors.

But walk those extra 300 meters from “civilization”, once you hit the trail: “Good Morning People”. It’s one more reason to force myself out the door at 5 a.m.

I have a week of winter vacation now and the timing couldn’t be better. I’m hoping that the quiet will help me fill my ballast again. I’ve been slowly destabilizing since long before the pandemic. Looking for something to hold on to. Even during meditation I can be side-swiped by a random thought and find myself knocked to my metaphorical knees again.

I’ve been thinking a lot about time. How we move through the world only seeing what has been. Only seeing an illusion of what has been. The story we weave as events pass under our arms and through our hands

time flows like water
from behind, around our ribs
under our armpits
and through our hands, as we weave
one of a million stories

possible

The app says the moon is 98.5% full this morning. And that is more than I need to know. “Almost full” is fine.

It’s overcast, but the wind blew the clouds away for a few moments while I was walking Leonard. Long enough for me to notice the almost full moon tinging the sky a deep purple.

The new morning routine is already taking hold. Leonard went to the sliding door as usual, but then it must have occurred to him that we would be heading around the block first thing. He nudged the entry door open with this nose to find me wriggling my feet into my boots. He ducked his head to let me slide the harness on. Tail wagging. What a nice way to start the day: tail wagging.

I am not sure how I feel about him adjusting more quickly than I am to the morning walk. It felt good today, but the run that followed was sluggish. No owl. Not even a hopping blackbird in the underbrush this morning. I guess it’s silly to think every morning is going to lay gifts at my feet.

Warriors, bridges, happy babies. Meditation. I should maybe add a bit of tail-wagging to the mornings.

This time last year I was in London, heading to Northumberland for the half-marathon. Wondering if the people on the train to Heathrow were wearing masks to protect me or to protect themselves. No one outside of Eastern Asia was even talking about masks then. The next day, I was wondering if I were stupid to be shivering in a tent with 400 other runners waiting for a bib — knowing someone could be infectious. Maybe. How likely? Two, three cases so far in England?

Three weeks later everything here at home shut down. I’d slipped through a narrow window at the beginning.

Middle-aged people who’d been playing beer pong at a ski resort in Austria set off a ring of contagion up north. Or so I read in the news. But it could have easily been me, having brought it home from that tent.

Scientists keep changing their minds about what makes us human. What makes us unique when compared to other animals. I have heard some say it is our ability to comprehend our own mortality.

This doesn’t ring true to me. I think this fear of death, this awareness of our impermanence is what we share with other species. And our response is as illogical as theirs. Social animals will shun one of their own with a sign of disease. They bare their teeth. Chase them off. So do we. We can be subtle, though: we use shame to run them off.

Wikipedia says that Syphilis is spread by (among other things) prostitution. I find this utterly fascinating: a bacteria with the awareness to know when money is being exchanged for a sexual act. It is so difficult to wrestle science from our moralities.

There’s been a problem in the Norwegians schools with what they are calling contagion-shaming. (It’s a catchier phrase in Norwegian) (Pun intended). When I talked to my students about the randomness of viruses and our very human nature to want to blame people for their own misfortune so we can convince ourselves we are in control of our own fates, I shared with them that two of my family members have had the virus.

A hand went up: “You don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to, but what were they doing? How did they get it?”

Don’t we all want the answer to be: beer-pong?

Not that I am a complete misanthrope. Margaret Mead said the first sign of civilization in ancient culture was a leg bone that had been broken and healed. She says that doesn’t happen in the animal kingdom. I don’t know. I think it may be more complicated than that. I am not convinced compassion makes us unique either. I don’t think we are the only species continually balancing compassion and self-preservation.

At any rate, there’s no run in the north of England this year. There’s only this new beginning. Dusting myself off and not asking myself what I did to deserve this little break-down. Mental illness. No asking what I did to bring it on. What I didn’t do to avoid it. It happens. There is no returning to the way things were. Things will be different. We heal imperfectly. But we heal. If we let go of our previous ideas of ourselves. And remember that imperfection is part of our charm.

Just look at the crooked trees that are so interesting.

The pine tree’s branches
wither with a new rung’s growth
mycorrhizal networks weave
and redirect through hairy
systems laced like spiders’ silk

Or – What Writing Isn’t to Me


My ex-husband used to call my writing a hobby. I had a Ph.D. in Creative Writing, and five traditionally published books at the time. I’d been vetted to become a member of the Norwegian Authors’ Union. I read my work at international festivals and translated and collaborated with great writers*.

But it didn’t pay the bills. So: Hobby, he said.

Last year I decided that I am not even going to try to write to pay the bills. I made that decision at the same time I decided to focus much more of my energy on writing and bookmaking.

But yeah, still feeling caustic when I hear someone talk about my “hobby”.

I’m not the kind of person comfortable with saying things like: I write because it is who I am. I honestly believe writing is a doing thing, not a being thing. It’s a very metaphysical argument, so no worries, I’m not out to convince anyone to see it my way. It’s just what I believe.

And I would not die if I didn’t write. I have more than a passing acquaintance with mental disorders and I take that phrase quite seriously: I would die. I seriously doubt I would die. I’ve other ways to express myself if that’s the crux of this expression. I can shout a lot of curse words. Or at least a choice few over and over.

And I giggle.

I know that writing can make things better, and it can also make things much worse. The reformist and orator Dorothea Lynde Dix wrote in her diary rather cryptically that she knew she shouldn’t write poetry because it would be the end of her. I am paraphrasing wildly here, but you get the gist. As a mature woman, she limited herself to letter-writing and to the genre she helped establish: oration.

I may be projecting, but I believe I recognize Dix’s fear. Poetry can be like alcohol. Like an opiate. So, yeah, I get it: I would die. But, no. Poetry, and writing in general, is a tool I can utilize — with great care — for my mental health. But it is not a cure.

When I think of a hobby, I think of something that soothes you, something that takes you out of your difficult life. Like recess for grown-ups. I have hobbies. Drawing. Running. Photography. And maybe if I were a storyteller, I could embrace writing as a hobby. Might even have ambitions to become a professional. But I’m not that kind of writer.

Writing every day is a practice for me, the same way that some people practice their faith. Like prayer. It’s like the way I practice meditation. Yoga.

These daily activities differ from my routine morning run in their focus. It’s not inward at all. And it’s not a diversion.

It’s not as much about personal growth as it is about transgressing the boundaries of my person. It’s about trying to accept the world. To really see it — and my place in it — on its own terms.

It’s evening as I type this, and that may be why this missive is not an example of my practice, not a piece of literary prose. This is navel-gazing, at best.

But it’s also a bit of sharing, for anyone else out there bristling at the word “hobby” when it’s used to describe their practice.

I don’t know. Actually, now that I have the word for it in my own vocabulary, I don’t feel quite as bristly about it. It’s all practice, isn’t it?

perspective does not
shift with a clearer perception
the same ham-fisted 
man adjusting the TV’s
rabbit ears for reception.


*Someone on Twitter informed me that bragging “isn’t a good look” for a middle-aged white woman. Well, I can’t win for losing either, so I blocked him. I considered getting off Twitter. But I’m still there.

A quiet morning. So quiet E. startled himself saying good morning to someone jogging by in the opposite direction. Another kilometer along the trail, an owl swooped in from the trees and flew in front of us and into the dark. Just the sound of our shoes on the gravel.

Until we get back to the park and the grove filled with crows. I haven’t thought about this before – the way the trail breaks in two at the bridge, where most people out with their dogs turn back toward the parking lot. Where most runners turn back to hit the steep hill once again for their morning intervals.

We shouldn’t be surprised to glimpse an owl out there. I held the image in my head while I moved through the morning flow: warrior one, two, retreating… a bridge to open my clenched heart.

Tawny in the lamp-lights, from my perspective her wings spanned the entire width of the path. Then she lifted. And was gone.

I was awake at 1 this morning. Obsessing over something from years ago. Fighting magical thinking. Wondering if self-deception is morally acceptable in the attempt to hold on to sanity. Fears take on their own lives. And they wander in and out of ours as they wish.

I’m filling out a daily mental health questionnaire for a Corona study run by the University in Oslo. Every day it asks if I am disturbed by unexpected events. It is actually revelatory for me to consider that unexpected and disturbing are not near-synonyms.

So I think of the owl now. Unexpected this morning. This bird of prey, this silent flyer, regurgitated tiny, ravaged corpses. So matter-of-fact in its nature. The self-deception is that our lives are anything other than this: matter-of-fact.

I’ve questioned before
whether imagination
is a good thing –
whether our bodies’ fluid
facts aren’t the better shelter