Several times this past week, walking Leonard at night or in the morning, I catch myself in a discussion with my mother. Then I remember: she’s dead. The realization isn’t a moment of sorrow, but absurdity. I am rehearsing for a moment that will never be, a closure that I will never have.
B. gave me a drawing by Story People: “If you hold onto the handle, she said, it’s easier to maintain the illusion of control.” This image is a person clinging to a kind of oar. “It’s more fun if you just let the wind carry you.”
When I catch myself in the discussion, I mentally release my grip, one finger at a time, from the weird fantasy I have had all these years: this running inner dialogue that has become a kind of subconscious tick. Maybe even a kind of hopeful prayer? Against all conscious logic, the conscious acceptance of the situation of the past 30-odd years.
It’s over. It’s never over. I open my hand again to drop the practice, like a prayer bead, like an oar. Only to find it in my hand again.
Maybe this is the underlying conflict/drama in all of our lives: the continuous grasping and letting go. Against our needy, animal nature. Against our cold, intellectual plans.
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among things that change. But it doesn’t change.
Someone wrote that it is pretentious to begin a blog post with a quote. I disagree.
Many someone-elses write that it is foolish to begin a year with resolutions, that we are bound to fail. But I think it’s the beginning that matters – the evaluation that goes into beginnings and the lessons-learned through practice: it’s not success(es) that make the doing meaningful.
I used to sit in meditation and my mind would have wandered off to work or to relationships. Sometimes to breakfast. And I’d only noticed when the final chime sounded. I thought I’d failed and that I needed to sit the ten minutes again to “do it right”. I don’t do that anymore. Oh, my mind still tends to wander, but I can accept and acknowledge that the effort is meaningful regardless of the outcome.
After two years of health issues, mental and physical, E. keeps reminding me that the only thing that is important now and for the rest of our lives, is to begin again. To hold on tight to Stafford’s thread and ask, “What is this all about again?”
It’s become a tradition and a priviledge to spend New Years Eve with L. and B.
L. is the one who invited me to eat 12 grapes at midnight. She and B lived in Spain for a few years. I believe that to make a wish with each grape is her own twist on the Spanish tradition. Today I reread the blog post from 2020 and realize that my 12 wishes last night were nearly identical to those two years ago: synonyms and shifted specifics. New perspectives. New approaches.
I’m not sure what to make of that in terms of my personal growth. Walt Whitman contradicted himself because he contained multitudes. I repeat myself. I think that is because I contain a multitude of threads as well, and am on a dialectical path. Where it ends doesn’t seem to be as important anymore. Only that I keep moving towards something.
The word “ease” had come up a lot over the past two years. Maybe the past three years. But this morning I read the word “gentle”.
I lingered on the word gentle.
I read Dylan Thomas’s poem again this morning with more empathy – and a different understanding – than I’ve had before. It’s wonderful, because for the first time I see the specific context of the speaker’s perspective. I see the words “old age” (would that Death allowed us all that experience), and the speaker’s projecting his own fears onto his father, and onto every other old man’s evaluation of their worth in the world. I think I’ve read this poem always making way for the poet/speaker’s greater wisdom, and I read the advice in the poem as a kind of sutra. I am thrilled no one deprived me of this discovery: that this (projected) perspective is not wrong, but is only one perspective. A true perspective, but not the true perspective. And that is not to say that no one has ever analysed the poem this way, explained it, described it to me. But if they did, I wasn’t able to take the lesson in.
Long live the hyper-realistic beauty of the unreliable narrator.
I want to move gently into this new year. To be attentive to my rage, to learn from it, and to let it then fall away.
I want to move towards… with new resolutions, and let my future selves return to them each day, re-evaluate. Maybe every resolution will fall away by spring.
I spent ten minutes looking for the cinnamon in the kitchen. The counters, the shelves. I even checked the refrigerator because finding lost items there seems to be a thing lately. I gave up and sat down to write, only to notice the cinnamon on the edge of the desk.
At least I can start the day with cinnamon in my coffee.
Tuesday mornings are slow. A rest day, so no run. Leonard is waiting for his walk. I wonder if he’ll be just as disappointed as I am now noticing last night’s snow is already gone and the streets are black.
Last night we walked while it was snowing big, fat flakes. We passed three kids rolling snowballs along the sidewalk. They’d already packed two balls big enough to make a 4-foot snowman. Leonard was excitedly pushing his nose under every mound of snow like it was a treasure hunt. I had just finished a weight-lifting class and my body was warm inside my snowsuit. The snowflakes stung my eyes now and then. The night was light. And I was thinking: real life is good. I was looking forward to crawling into bed with a book and some tart cherry and sparkling water. Not as cozy as tea perhaps, but more conducive to a good night’s sleep.
It seems like life is thinning down to just these things now. The sore muscles and the quest for a good night’s sleep. This happens every year at advent. The season makes me feel threadbare and inadequate. I try hard to create the kind of warm, cosy, seasonal atmosphere of candle-lit Scandinavian film sets from the 70s, and the results are amateur. Cheap.
There is a scene in the 60s film version of Genet’s The Balcony: the jury in the mock trial are cardboard cut-outs. I think this haunts me a little because the community is an illusion. Like a child lining up dolls and stuffed animals around a tiny tea set, everyone present is in agreement–and while that part is nice, it’s a lonely setting.
Like most kids, I guess, I used to imagine the toys came to life at night and talked about me. It wasn’t nice. A bit like my mother and my aunts gossiping about one another when the other wasn’t present.
Back in therapy now, my shrink tells me things will come up again. I find it odd, because what’s not “up” almost continually? But I suppose I am blowing the dust off the memories and handling them. I’m not intentional in noticing new things–new textures and crevices in the tiny landscapes–but they are obvious now. Sometimes insistent.
I’m mixing my metaphors.
I finished writing a new play for the students and a colleague asks me why I would do that when I could find a perfectly good script that would work.
I just don’t think I belong in this world sometimes. I feel like a cardboard cutout watching, but looking in the wrong direction, eyes fixed. Try as I might, I just can’t get myself “fleshed out” in the real world with everyone else. I don’t really understand what the judge wants from me.
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.
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.