Sunday. And still in my pajamas.

The skies are clear and the air is cold, and at some point I will get up from this desk, get dressed and go to the beach. It is one of those days that – in recollection tomorrow – will be smudged across my mind: leaving just a fraction of an hour of something meaningful -something like

squinting against sharp reflections of the late-afternoon light
while watching a tern searching the foam for something to eat.

And this will be better than most days.


Later tonight E. will take a Covid test before heading offshore for another fortnight. I expect autumn will take hold in his absence. And the space between the points of the timeline of my days will stretch wide: Work. Home. Work. Home. I’ll walk the dog. Keep up the routine. And darkness will creep over the edges of the days until there is precious little light left.

Sometimes precious little is more than all the rest.

I like the smell of there having been candles –
I like it sometimes best.

Because the earth is round and its path is round,
we will pass by this way again, one way or another.

The darkness retreats, too . And we always miss it
as well.

Or what I find in the forest; I’ve been trying to speak for myself only.

The pine smelled so sweet and sharp this morning. Somewhere near my solar plexus I felt a heaviness like guilt. I know it must smell this pronounced because the trees have been freshly cut. It’s not the smell of death – but of wounds. I’ve had wounds myself before that have wept, clear and sticky. I should have enough compassion for the trees not to be drawn to this smell. But I inhaled so deeply I had to stop running.

I exhale melancholy.

Someone had raked together all the long, dead branches and placed them around the bases of individual trees. E. told me that it’s a kind of slow fertilizing process. But I think the trees look as vulnerable as martyrs waiting for the flames.

I exhale anxiety.

My mind wanders on these forest runs and it isn’t always easy to sort what to take, and what to leave in the forest. Today I took home four fallen leaves home to make paste paper for chapbook covers. I took home a photo of an abandoned boot someone placed on a tree stump. I took home the reminder that this body is aging and mortal, that each day is made more precious with that knowledge.

I wonder what I leave after these runs? Footprints, certainly. Carbon dioxide.

I wonder if we shed dark matter in our wake, just as we shed bits of DNA.

I wonder if the blackbirds that overwinter here are disturbed by my having been present with them.


We talk about breath being life: inhaling, exhaling. But the pauses between – the effortless moments of waiting – without a glottal stop – are as integral to the flow of life, as death. Or is death, rather, is the hum of existence beyond this constellation of atoms.

These breathless, lifeless pauses are where we touch the dark matter of the universe – these are what is expressed in the leaps in our poetry.

I feel ridiculously self-conscious talking about writer’s block. I am one of those people who believes that all present tense descriptors only relate to the moment as it passes: not the future. And that the past is “history” and not something one can cling to in the present. Though I know we all do that for comfort sometimes.

And sometimes I think “writer’s block” sounds like a humble-brag.

I took enough Spanish in college to remember that there are two verbs used when describing people. You can say: soy feliz or you can say estoy feliz, “I am a happy person” or “I am a happy person in this moment – as the words escaped my mouth”.

The correct way to say, “I am a writer” is soy escritora. But I can’t bring myself to say that if I’m not writing. In these pauses between books, between journal-keeping, between poems; what am I?

I try to tell myself I am not “a what”… Still: what am I dong with my life?

A few years ago I named the problem: the oxpecker who sits on my shoulder and pecks at my brain. My writing practice has always come in seasons, and always with varying production. But the drive to write never left me entirely until three years ago. It’s bound up somehow emotionally with the day E. and I were running on the beach and I just couldn’t seem to find the energy. I wasn’t “tired” or “fatigued”, it was a feeling I’d never experienced before. It was as though I just couldn’t get the engine to turn over, to catch hold and run.

I kept telling E. that something was wrong, but it was nothing I could point to. Until my leg turned purple the next day, and I was hospitalized with deep vein thrombosis.

My body is healed, but the shock having walked around for 51 years, ignorant that I’ve had a weird congenital defect seems to have broken my confidence in so many other ways. And when I sit down in my little library to write, I feel that same sense that something is wrong. That tiny fear of not being good enough – of needing reassurance – has grown and animated itself as this bird that pecks at the wound in my mind. I would say that it feels like my life in on pause, but I see myself growing older. Time is passing.

Yesterday a good friend asked me to join her at a “share your practice” session at one of the local arts centers. A young dancer was going to hold a workshop. It was so much fun. She lead us through a kind of guided meditation dance, and through a series of exercises with gesture work, and partner work with abstracting gestures. I am not a dancer. In fact, I don’t think that I can ever be a performer again really, but her instructions kept me focused and in the moment so the oxpecker was also distracted from her own goal: to protect my ego at all costs.

When the workshop was finished the dancers decided to do a half-hour jam. No rules. No distractions. The oxpecker returned to pick at my wounds. We have a phrase in drama pedagogy: rules as tools. Now I am thinking: rules as distraction.

Now how can I apply that kind distraction to my writing practice?

I keep asking myself if I want to write a memoir. But isn’t that what I am continually doing?

Besides. There’s no one to verify a word.

The first time

a boy

wanted to kiss me

I made him do it

underwater.

That’s when I knew

I was amphibious.

from “Red-eared Slider, X”.
Powell, R., & Lodén, E. (2004). Mixed states = Rødøret terrapin. Stavanger: Wigestrand –
and selected poems, Mixed States. Phoenicia Publishing.

If I did write a memoir, I would write it with water, on water, in water.
Water makes the world simultaneously lighter – and darker.
It clarifies and it distorts.
Soothes and terrifies.

I’ve been having vivid dreams. Usually that happens when I’m depressed. But now I think it is menopause – this crossing over. Crossing through.

There is a place in Skagen, Denmark, where two seas meet and the sky is soft. Once I watched a friend swim there with seals. It’s dangerous, though. One helluva rip-tide.

Envy leaves a deep wound in the soul.

I dream about my sore hipbones, where my six-year-old wraps his skinny legs and holds tight – anchoring me. He is giggling while I try to pry him off, tugging at his long arms: Monkey child, I giggle too, but my bones ache.

And I wake to a different kind of ache.
It’s like I’m underwater most days – sounds are muffled. I push my jaw forward, trying to clear my ears.

Nostalgia takes me by surprise. It’s yet another concept I prematurely believed I understood.
Prematurely dismissed.

There are roses on my desk. The stems are refracted.
What’s underwater is magnified.
What is above is withering and should have been tossed in the compost a week ago.


Postscript: Weekly writing prompts at NothingButMetta4. I hope you’ll check them out. And I hope they are inspiring. #nothingbutmetta4

January 14, 2018.

Playwrights are poets who get lonely. –  Joy Gregory

I’ve written poetry as long as I can remember writing. And early on, I never saw a distinction between poetry-as-genre and the poetry found in a text of any genre. I intuitively understood poetry as a way to communicate something that transcends the specific, by means of the specific.

Yes, I’m aware that my definition is by no means universal. And I’m not trying to convince anyone to agree with me. I’m aware of the debate between the timely vs. timeless aspects of art, the universal vs. the specific. I respect that debate. But I’m not participating.

Neither am I precious about poetry. I don’t say that it is something I have to do, or I would die. I wouldn’t die. Though I suppose I’d be even more messed up than I am.

I aways return to it – even after having sworn if off more than a few times. I can’t avoid it – writing or reading whatever genre I stumble into.

When I ask myself what a poetry community might mean to me, I’m at a loss. When I was a child, we moved so frequently, and carried with us so many secrets, I found companionship in books. Dr. Seuss and A.A. Milne. Judy Bloom and Stephen King. Dickinson and Millay. It was a diverse community. Millay wrote plays. Helen Hayes wrote a memoir-cum-anthology-cum-love letter to the dead authors who wrote for her.

There was Shakespeare.

It’s always been about writing to the dead, I think. Even when addressing the living, I looked over their shoulder, with the faith that the people who spoke to me – I could speak back to, just as clearly. Eventually. With practice. Even if I’d landed on the wrong planet, at the wrong time to fit in. It is a comforting delusion that is difficult to walk away from.

I am the imaginative version of Emilie Dickinson – shouting from the top of the stairs. Genuinely happy for any company, desperately suspicious. Scared.

I am a Norwegian citizen. But not a Norwegian writer. I am not an American writer. A few years ago, I was excited when an American colleague wrote to tell me one of her students wrote about one of poems in her term paper. It turned out she mentioned the poem to criticise my use of formalist terminology.

Yay.

What is a writing community? Am I looking for the salon, or the table where the powerful people sit and write each other into the history books? Am I looking for commiserators, or competitors by which to gauge my progress and commitment?

Am I listening with an ear to conform or with the intention to empathise and learn? Learning to what end? Why do I need/want to be seen, and why do I fear it?

I question my own decision to return to playwrighting. All this time, all these years in a chosen self-exile, comfortably writing to the dead.

And what do I want from the living? Is it that, now, at mid-life (when so little about death is theoretical) I need someone to breathe life into the words while I’m still here?

Am I losing faith?

Am I lonely?


I’ve been considering the spring reboot of This Choice.

I’ve been thinking about what I wanted when I started, what I found fulfilling, and what I didn’t.

I’d wanted conversations. And I did have some really lovely conversations. (One left me in tears!) But when I did get involved in the discussion, I would edit it out – concerned that any listener would think the project was about self-promotion.

As a result, my original idea of podcast “conversations” quickly evolved into straight interviews, in which people talked about themselves, promoted their work. When people asked me my opinion or about my experience, I’d say, “Oh, but we are talking about you” and I’d edit it out.

Several times, when saying goodbye, people thanked me for the “service” I was doing for the community.

Funny that a project I began as a way to reach out and find a sense of kinship became even more isolating for me as a writer.

Something happened lying in the hospital bed this summer. I learned it is important that I am honest with myself about how I spend my time – and why.

IMG_20171121_093440_587I want to try again.

It was never my intension to provide “a service to the community”. As crappy as that sounds – I just wanted to talk with writers I admired.

So. I am the imaginative Emilie Dickinson.

I just might suck it up–and come
down the stairs to meet you-