Yesterday I went shopping. It has been a while. And for the first time – for a split moment – the plexiglass in front of the cashiers at the clothing store reminded me of the bullet-proof glass at convenience stores in downtown Louisville. Shook me. I didn’t really shrug off the thought – I let it hover without looking too closely at it.

Threats and deterents.

Is it me, or do words like “deter” and phrases like “fend off” imply “try to” or “tried to”. There’s an undercurrent of overwhelm in the conversation.

He managed to fend off his attackers. Against the odds. A miracle.

Every time I found myself in one of those stores with bullet-proof glass, I recognized which side of the glass I was standing on. Where I was being sorted in the potential categories of victim and perpetrator. So finding myself in the clothing store, on the contagion side of the glass, all I wanted to do was go home and take a shower.

It’s hard living in a world where we sort strangers this way. I thought I left that behind as a major cultural feature when I left America. Talk about privilege. It took me a long time to let down my guard.

Last weekend we had dinner with friends. One of them is a bit older than we are and she moved in to embrace us saying she’s fully vaccinated. We aren’t. I later giggled about the image that came into my mind of a cuttlefish embracing its prey. An uncomfortable giggle.

It’s odd how the unthinkable becomes the norm. Recoiling from a friend’s arms. Responding to an overture of warmth with suspicion. I believe that our body literally shapes our behaviors which create our thoughts. Not the other way around. Goosebumps are the result of the body responding to the environment, not the mind relaying a thought to the skin.

I wonder about all these precautions we are taking with one another—to protect ourselves or to protect one another—in the communication loops of body-mind-body/mind-body-mind, what kind of a groove are we forming in the soft pathways of our neurons?

The brain is plastic. For good and for… change?

Scientists proclaim
the solitary creatures
but waters run deep

I don’t want to write today. My computer screens’ backgrounds are black instead of showing the photo I have had on them for four years. It is one of those days. Everything seems to be slightly out of its respective groove. Out of focus. Grinding. Even Leonard, who is lying on the floor next to me, is breathing more heavily than usual. Arhythmically.

On the walk this evening I was thinking about work. Already playing out autumn term scenes in my head that are unlikely to happen and unnecessary to itch about. What’s wrong with me? I’m trying to breathe easily and to listen to the blackbirds. And the train that is passing. And the truth is that once it has passed, the fading sound is pleasurable to focus on. The quieting to a hush. The world goes on. Is going on.

Someone outside is scolding. Leonard takes notice. Stands up. Figures it’s none of his business and lies down again.

These tiny things make up my days now. Sometimes it is difficult to find meaning in them. I mean, isn’t that what we have to do when our lives are stuck: find meaning in/for the small, meaningless things?

I write. I suppose that is an attempt to make meaning. To dig up what’s needed from memory to construct a story I can be satisfied with. That will justify the extra glass of wine, the extra hour of sleep, the dropped obligation.

Dropped obligations – so many of them – swept up into closets and threatening to topple on my head like a bit of slapstick if I ever go there in my mind.

And yet. Walking in the sunshine felt good this evening. It’s been a year since I felt the sun on my face like that. The grass in the field has grown past my waist. A dozen or so oystercatchers were calling while they skimmed the surface of the pond.

I am trying to be patient with myself. Things take time to circle back. And I want to believe all things do. Though there are still no signs of ducklings in the area.

So tonight I will construct a better story. Blackbirds and strawberries, ginger tea and a soft chair. A good book of poetry and faith in the world’s changing seasons.

Leonard is barking softly now. Growling. I wonder if it were hare he smelled on the walk. I wonder what story he’s constructing in his sleep.

It seems everything is taking more time than it should. The wheels turning slowly. The system gummed up. If my life has been like this before, I am not sure I noticed it in this way. But I am trying to accept this. At least for now.

I was listening to a Radiolab podcast the other day about how lithium works in the body. How the salt mimics and replaces the normal sodium in the brain. But lithium is less efficient and it slows the connections of the neuropathways. The thing is, I don’t feel like I am going slower. The world is slower – and more stubborn. I am fine.

Really.

I move through downward dog and upward dog easily but feel my hamstring taught and dangerous in a side lunge. Breathe. Count on exhalations. Give in, while extending in all directions. Yoga is all about contradictions, about holding several truths at once while trying to find a comfortable equanimity. In out the stillness in-between all flowing together.

Stay in the present. Yes, but on the other hand, there is a query deadline on Sunday and packing to do for next week. Reviews and newsletters and housework. And everything feels as choked and sticky as my hamstring. And if I can’t rush through it, I just want to hop off. I am struggling to hold both truths, and leaning toward either/or. Or nothing: I want to pour a glass of wine and watch soap operas. I tell myself I deserve it. As though life should be like that: work and rewards in turn. Rewards like those flimsy gold foil stars that teachers would stick on our foreheads in elementary school. Making us feel proud and ridiculous in turns. I wanted one, and I didn’t. At any rate, they’d fall off before we got home to show the grown-ups.

I didn’t have the kind of grown-ups around who would fuss over gold stars, or even say things like “work is its own reward”. I had “that’s nice, but stay in your lane” grown-ups. But part of me has always wanted the gold stars. External rewards only abstractly connect to an actual achievement, because there’s no risk involved that way. Really being seen is dangerous.

A gold star is just a little shot of dopamine. A bit of chocolate. A glass of wine. And then it’s over. No vulnerable hopes, no expectations, no disappointments. Just a bit of pleasure. And back to work. The baseline is familiar and easy.

But I am beginning to think that tiny wins can be like pebbles in a jar. Over time, they can add up, overflow the jar and fill the whole room. Maybe the trick is to get to the point where holding a pebble, running a finger along the pocked surface, measuring its weight cupped in a palm, is as satisfying as chocolate. But more enduring.

These things – foil stars, chocolate, pebbles – mean what we decide they mean. Maybe it is possible that we are continually being rewarded by the world for just being here. If only we’d only take the time to look closely.

And breath in a continous flow.

The longest day. There is something about that phrase that speaks to me of weariness, instead of sunshine. A “Here: but no further”. A gentle “We’ll take this slow” turning back toward the inevitable darkness.

And the waxing moon brings with it the melancholy of condolence. The sky is pink and the blackbirds are singing. The wind carries a chill that pricks my arms, my neck and brings my attention to my body. Alive. Responding.

These are moments where the words in my head swell together into absurd phrases: Oh, Love; this beauteous; If but when… Is my subconscious so desperate to fix my experience into a greeting card cliché? A patinaed aphorism? Because these are not my words. How does becoming aware of my body cause me to attempt to escape it, to dissolve into something “bigger” and far more abstract?

The immediate world is enough. The wind, the goose skin, the smell of the crushed grass under my shoe. The moon, pale in the bright night, transparent at tissue paper. These things speak in the vernacular. They are as down-to-earth as a bloody childbirth, as the planting seasons coming and going, as death itself.

Tomorrow the sun will set almost one minute sooner. And like tonight, it will bleed into the sky for hours after while the moon waits patiently to be noticed. This is just the way of things. Whether we will be here to notice it again. Whether we bothered to notice it now.

the crab sheds a shell
hard and twisting, slick inside
as white as the moon


Written for a haibun prompt – dVerse.

I’ve made a list of all the things I used to do habitually, and with pleasure, before that afternoon we were all sent home from our non-essential workplaces.

I’m not sure which is the better metaphor: were these the bones that my muscles and ligaments would stack and pull to move the whole of me around in the world; or were they the ligaments and muscles that move my bones, that move me and give me a specific shape.

I’m not sure that it will even matter to know which was the kingpin that fell and allowed everything that was my life to fall as well. Or if it was even related to the lockdown. After all, we are all changing all the time regardless of pandemics or personal tragedies. Or newly-found pleasures.

Like a neglected garden, things both fall away and run rampant without attention. Maybe attention is the wrong word: diligence. Because I suppose it would have been possible for me to have paid attention, to have witnessed the destruction of my day-to-day patterns without having prevented what has happened. If mediation practice hadn’t been the last thing to whither, I might have paid more attention. I might have noticed a shift that warned of the relapse before I got sick.

It is an interesting phrase: to pay attention. And that this phrase existed before we had an attention economy. We pay for services, for goods and we invest with payments. It is worth asking, when we pay attention to our own lives, what we are investing in. This thinking seems to require a kind of split in one’s concept of one’s “self”. The rider and the horse?

I’m not a horseman/-woman by any stretch. But I have ridden enough to have been on the back of a horse while it stepped through loose rocks on a narrow ledge along a canyon wall. The horse knew more than I did about where it was safe to put our weight. But it isn’t easy giving over to the animal. To the wisdom of a corporal body that speaks a language that our conscious brain doesn’t understand. Expect perhaps sometimes in translation – via metaphor – but by then it is too late.

I wonder if better relationships with/among animals mean a less constrained relationship with one’s self? If it fosters respect for non-rational wisdom? I’m also wondering if this is related to the calm so many people who tend gardens regularly feel. Proselytize about?

Today is the first day of summer vacation. And the longest day of the year. From here this part of the world leans towards darkness again. And I am thinking I have a serious vitamin D deficiency. And have to become much more conscious – and diligent – about the details of my life.

I was looking at the department of health’s guidelines for hygiene. And even though hygiene is defined as “conditions or practices conducive to maintaining health and preventing disease” the guidelines are exclusively about washing one’s body, hands, teeth, hair, food. As though health would be maintained if someone were in a constant state of quasi-sterility with fresh breath. No mention of social contact (except to wash your hands and not sneeze on others), of nutrition, or stress reduction. Laughter?

I am asking myself a lot these days: Am I healthy?

I think today I am going to make my own list of good hygiene practices, based on my own definition of health.

Laughter is one. Running at the lake is another.

Right now: heading to the physiotherapist to deal with this sticky achilles.