Heading toward a quarter moon. The light is slipping away. I’m not sure I’ve ever noticed the moon as often as I have these past weeks. I suppose in part because we run under the cover of trees so often on the dark mornings. And I suppose because conversation is distracting.

Leaving my phone in the house while I walk Leonard now first thing each day, the quiet can be intense. Especially these days with the clear skies.

Shaking up the routine is a good thing. Leonard sniffs more intensely along the edges of the bushes. I think the hedgehogs are likely still moving around. Yesterday we ran into a cat whose eyes I saw coming from a good distance. Shiny, metallic full-moons in the light of my headlamp. I suppose she was stalking us, and only veered off at the last minute when Leonard’s bark told her that he was onto her.

I remember being surprised that I wasn’t startled. I’m normally scared of the dark. In an odd way, it was disappointing. No adrenaline rush.

Last night I had a nightmare. Graphic, bloody, and… awful. The details still sit in my memory, but I am no longer moved by nightmares like before. I no longer wake in a sweat or have trouble shaking a feeling of premonition. I know this has something to do with age. I know there’s research on this aspect of aging. And I know that in so many ways I should be (and am) grateful not to have to endure nightmares as I once did.

But in an odd way, it’s disappointing. Maybe I’m afraid that life might lose its intensity?

I’ve always had the most wonderful, colorful dreams when I’ve been depressed. An almost inverse correlation between the vividness of those dreams and the dullness of my days. I’ve always believed this fact reveals a deep optimism – despite what I think I think.

So maybe there is a logic – or at least a rationale – in believing that since my dreams are getting duller my days must be getting better? No need to compensate my heart for the fear of emptiness?

Last year I had an intention to create a more spacious day-to-day. And while it has felt like a year of torsion and grinding, maybe things are finally settling. Or revealing.

When I was a kid my grandfather took an archaeology course at the local college. He took me out a couple of times on his “dig”, and taught me how to use the screen to sift through the desert earth to reveal the tiny bone fragments. Years later I married an archaeologist and once again tagged along on digs. It was astounding to watch the professor spot remnants of a fire pit even before the surface gravel had been wiped clear. I suppose it is about learning to discern the relevant details from the noise. At the time, I remember, I was skeptical. I figured he was seeing what he wanted to see. Working backwards to construct the past. But believing it with all of his mind and heart.

Maybe that is what we all do? Construct the past by sifting through rubble. Casting bits of imagination to connect what doesn’t connect naturally? Like dinosaurs in the museum. We’re pretty sure the thigh bone connected to the hip bone.

Or wing.

Maybe what I’m experiencing now is connected to discerning the relevant from the irrelevant. The useful from the useless. Maybe even in my sleep, I can spot what it is important to take away from the dream – and that not being the cold sweat.

The takeaway from last night’s dream was that we can lose so much and still be alive. Our grandfathers die. Our marriages splinter. We get used to the pain of living and we keep on.

We learn to spot the veins of gold in the wounded walls of dark mine shafts, and we learn they are common enough not to need to get ourselves worked up over them.

The past year has been unexpectedly difficult. And then, maybe not. I’m still sifting through the rubble. Still discovering.

A waning gibbous moon at 9 o’clock this morning as I walk Leonard to the park and back. Crows pass overhead in noisy, staggered murders. A year ago, they would have used paused here in the neighbor’s tree – and I miss them. I miss the crows and the tree.

And since the new family moved in next door this fall it has been all too quiet. The blackbirds no longer gather in the driveway at 5 a.m. I have to admit, sometimes I felt a bit like a mash-up of Snow White and the Queen of England having them sing outside the window in the mornings to wake me.

Letting go of these fun little daydreams involves a kind of grief.

When I was six or seven, I would lie alone in the grass in my grandparent’s tiny garden with the one braced sapling, and I’d imagine I was Alice in Wonderland. Those kinds of flights of fancy, as secretive as they are, you’d think you could hang on to them as an adult. But I have those kinds of playful moments rarely now. I miss them.

To be clear – I would not be a kid again for anything. The “go outside and play” refrain from adults still rings in my ears when I find myself in awkward social situations. It felt like a declaration of exile every time they said it.

Go find something to do. You don’t belong here.

And oh my goodness, the boredom. But then… then the flights of imagination.

I don’t think it is my age that is the problem. I don’t think there is anything wrong with my imagination. I think it’s the clutter of adulthood. There is no space in which to be bored enough to let my mind go wandering. There is always something to do. Some should do. Even if that is the novel I should be reading. I can easily avoid boredom while believing I’m behaving virtuously by doing so.

I line all the shoulds in my life up like ducks along a rope across a lake and I focus on all the ducks: Meditation, running, writing, reading. Work. I can’t see the lake for the ducks.

I find order comforting. I find creating order comforting. After the chaos of the DVT it took me four months to find my way back to the familiar rituals. At night the fear of death is still very much alive in my subconscious, but during my waking hours, order keeps me calm. Rituals are like handles on the baggage I carry around.

But carrying baggage around is an unnecessary habit.

When we hike, E. often takes a much bigger pack than is necessary. When people comment (and they have) he shrugs his pack and says people go to the gym to lift weights they technically don’t need to lift. He says it’s the same thing, and then he’ll pull out a huge thermos of coffee that I’m grateful for.

But I don’t believe hanging onto this baggage, no matter how kettle-bell-like, will make me stronger. I think it will wear me down. I also think tending to it is an excuse, a constant and convenient distraction from boredom.

I suppose boredom is like so much else in life – it is painful to begin – we’ll do almost anything to have to face it – (including poking at familiar wounds in a perverted act of self-comforting). But we can fall into a spacious momentum, and in the end, we rarely regret beginning.

Beginning a new year – I will try to welcome the unpleasantness of boredom more often. I will try to put the loose shoulds of my life in boxes – in dedicated rooms for dedicated attention. I won’t answer emails from students ticking into my phone at 11 pm. I will be sleeping.

And I won’t answer on weekends because I will be lost in some magic forest where tiny faeries live under the shelter of mushroom caps and sing dirges for the trees that were. They will be cruel and kind and tell me stories more true than any I’ve ever heard.

Last year I ate twelve grapes and wished for twelve things for the new year. This year, I am eating twelve grapes and making room for twelve muses.