Getting going in the mornings is like trying to herd cats, as they say. I remember pulling the crockpot out of the corner and onto the countertop to start dinner. Lunchtime I went back into the kitchen to see it there. Empty. Useless. Forlorn.

I’m projecting again.

I keep reminding myself (at the risk of sounding like an inspirational meme) that life is a specific dance. One step back, two steps forward, one step back. And then your partner accidentally kicks you in the shin. (For the record, my partner is an excellent dancer, and only kicks me in the shins metaphorically.)

Anti-climax is definitely a thing. And – although I am excited about new projects – I am trying very hard to move forward. This morning I showered and dried my hair with a blow dryer for the first time in over two months. I put make-up on. Braving the cold winds and intermittent hail, I picked up the binder’s board I ordered two weeks ago. I picked up wine. And some lavender shampoo because I have been feeling very…. pragmatic lately. At least in terms of personal hygiene. I’m ready for some scented candles and soft music. I want to smell something besides sandpaper and pulp. And cuddle-puppy.

Speaking of which, I’m worried about how Leonard will take me going back to work this week. The pup is 35 kilo of adoration and has even taken to crawling up in E.’s lap when I’ve been sewing the signatures for books. Although I suppose E. will be working from home for a while yet. The vaccine roll-out here is shamefully inept. We’re expecting another spike over the next two weeks from the Easter holidays. I fully expect to go back to work, only to wind up teaching part-time online again.

But hey… roll with it? Right now nothing seems quite recognizable and I am beginning to relax a little. To come to terms with that. I suppose it really is a lesson in not clinging – even if it means not clinging to sanity either. I mean in the way that we can only approach these things obliquely. Catch a tiger sliding up alongside with a peach in hand, rather than charging head-on with a net.

Easy-does-it.

I’ve another doctor’s appointment tomorrow. Then heading slowly back to real life on Friday. The most frightening thing is that I am comfortable here in the house. Too comfortable. I’m almost afraid to go out and interact with people. Fragile. No. That’s not right. I am not fragile. Reactive.

Maybe Friday I should bring a crate of peaches to work. Yeah. Good luck finding decent peaches anywhere in this country.

did I say this was
my second glass with dinner
rambling uncensored
stepping right through the surface
of decorum like thin ice

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

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

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

It’s no wonder we reach for supernatural explanations, incantations and spells. Feeling as I do now, so near to breaking, I can’t point to a single overwhelming event, fact, obstacle. Instead, small moments stretch out behind me like a long path of fallen dominoes, and ahead they stand precariously, vulnerable and threatening to fall so quickly one after the other that I won’t be able to keep up.

It is very hard to sit comfortably on the mat, breathe deeply and trust that things will change. My perceptions will change. My perspectives.

This morning the crows’ chatter was grating. It shouldn’t have been. But in the dark, in the drizzle, with my shoulders aching and my mind echoing conversations (that have and haven’t actually taken place), I wanted to shout back.

I’ve always found it easiest to shift my perspective when I shift it in the material world. Stand-up. Run. Leave town for a day. Leave the country for a week. For good. How big is the thing I need perspective on?

I wanted to rush through their gathering
the way the freight train does on most mornings,
so close to the grove you can feel the wind
rerouted by its intrusion.
The trees shake. The crows wait.

I can hear it now, actually – right on cue – passing behind the neighbor’s house, metal against metal in a high-pitched howl. I can feel a cry somewhere
behind my sternum. It presses
upward and is easy to mistake for heartburn,
though not acidic: rounder, fuller
like an over-ripe fruit.

Nothing like metal shavings of the railroad track, actually.
Nothing that can compete with the world’s ills and hurts and
imperatives.

No. This withheld cry will soften into rot
and something new will eventually
emerge. A new fruit – not better – but
a potential. Because
on it goes.

And catharsis? Well, that’s the stuff
of fiction.


On the other hand. Unlike yesterday, this morning I remembered to wash my hair while showering. I found my missing comb under the sideboard in the entrance hall. I remembered to take the pills that keep my blood from clenching into tight little balls of stop.

That’s my gratitude list for a Wednesday. How am I doing? For today: this is good enough.

There are days I feel broken. Worn so thin that I crumbled like an old rubber band someone dug out of the bottom of a junk drawer.

I always assumed the Beckett quote, “You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” was from Waiting for Godot. I figured it was the clown with the bladder issues. Maybe the existential truth in this utterance requires no context at all. It is every story ever written.

This morning we were out of the house an hour later than usual. We caught the first blush of sunrise and passed four men out on their own morning run. We passed them twice actually, and the second time there was enough light to catch one of them smiling. He said, “God morgen!” a second time, and with such enthusiasm that my first thought was that he can’t possibly be Norwegian.

My second? That the other men in his company were psychiatric nurses from the nearby assisted living center.

I’m quite serious. This kind of extroverted greeting of a stranger is anti-social behavior in this region. And I began to brood on this, and then on my still-peculating fears for what is happening in my homeland. The hostility. The splintering of culture, the splintering of sub-cultures.

I keep thinking of colony collapse disorder. Adults losing the ability to navigate in the world.

This morning, counting on the exhalations: 1, 2, 3, 4. Relax the shoulders… I stopped to tie my laced that had worked loose, and I thought of Beckett and of recognizing the universal condition of human beings without cultural context.

Yes.

But there is also this:

“God morning!”
An unrestrained smile.

Context is always an understanding –
and always a speculation.

First thought is already
a rationalization
of the past.

Today I realized that I haven’t bothered with my appearance since the pandemic began. Not that I think that vanity is a virtue, nor have I ever been someone who checks my lipstick at lunchtime during the workday, but I have had a healthy baseline of care and pride when I’ve been well.

I’m aware that slacking in terms of grooming and hygiene are markers for depression. I once was shocked to get copies of a year’s-worth of my psychiatrist’s notes to see that he recorded little more than whether I’d combed my hair. I remember thinking it was the 90s. Did we comb our hair that decade? I forget.

Friday morning I showered, did an easy yoga flow, meditated, wrote for an hour, drank a kale smoothie – then ran out the door to work. No bra. I am not sure I’ve left a house without a bra since I was 10. I’ve been thinking about what this might mean – so many possibilities after all: dementia, stress, depression, laziness, age.

Bras have always felt like a kind of armor really. It wasn’t that I should wear them to be modest, but rather to be safe. An extra layer of psychological protection from the world. So maybe my thoughtlessly leaving the house without that kind of protection is not such a bad thing. And maybe it does have to do with age – and still not such a bad thing.

At lunch I went to the bathroom. No lipstick. Not that unusual. But I had bits of kale in my teeth. So, yeah, maybe there is more to this just being a newfound sense of the safety invisibility provides. Maybe I am sliding into a depression.

Many years ago I read an article in National Geographic about how women in care homes who had their hair done every week lived longer. No one knows for certain why. It could be just a matter of the physical contact with another human. But they also thought that it has been an aspect of human nature from the beginning: the impulse to adorn ourselves. And that bothering to adorn ourselves was a sign of health, both individual and communal.

When I was small we would go to church on Sundays and Wednesdays. Our church had a vaulted ceiling and I thought it was so high to make room for the Holy Spirit to look down on us. On Sunday mornings, I’d sometimes watch my grandmother get dressed. She’d stand in her pointy bra and silk half-slip. She had a small, round mirror on a wire arm that wrapped around her neck so she could see the back of her head in the big mirror while she used both hands to slide the bobby pins into the waves in her hair. She’d put on lipstick – only on Sundays. Then nylons, and a polyester dress that belted at her trim waist. I am guessing she was probably the age I am now.

I don’t remember what I wore. But I know we dressed up for the Holy Spirit.

When I was a bit older, the youth groups in the church became more visible among the general congregation and they would sometimes wear jeans to church. Neither of my grandparents approved. If you’re not going to bother to get dressed up for God, who will you bother for?

Vanity is complicated: finding that fine line between caring too much and not caring enough. My grandmother would criticize her daughters for being overweight (ie lazy and undisciplined). But she would also criticized the women her own age who would wear blue eye-shadow and kohl: who do they think they are?

I once had a boyfriend tell me he was ashamed of me because I didn’t iron my blouse. I once had an aunt tell me not to worry about a run in my pantyhose because if people were looking that closely at me “they deserve to find something wrong to gossip about”. (I now count the latter as true words of wisdom, but at the time thought: well, that’s fine for you to think – you’re old.)

I have overdressed and I have under-dressed when attending social functions. A hemline just too short to be”appropriate” sexy, just too long to be trendy. Social anxiety isn’t high on my list of mental health challenges, but this can still be a numbing experience.

I have simply never properly deciphered these fashion codes. Or even cared to for stretches of time.

It is always easier to stay home than it is to choose the clothes by which you want to be judged.

“Is this too much cleavage?” “Do I look like I’m trying to be 18?” “Do I look like I’m trying too hard?”

Once a colleague glanced down at my harem pants and said, “Oh, you’re one of those people who likes spiritual things”. What is the proper response to that? Another day, another colleague said, “My, those are a lot of pearls today.”

And?

Apparently on Friday I was one of those people who has completely given up.

It is easier to stay home.

And if I didn’t have bills to pay, I would… which maybe means I should make an appointment to get my hair done? Maybe try again to schedule an hour with my therapist?