I woke up angry today.

It doesn’t happen often.

I put the gentle lead on Leonard and we headed out into the dark. After I crossed the street, I realised I hadn’t really looked both ways. Talk about self-destructive spite. I have no idea what’s going on. I figure some frustrating dream took hold and seeped into the day.

I sip coffee and hum through my morning meditation. “Let it be.” But it doesn’t change the deep background of six a.m.. I tell myself to let go of the feeling. To open and relax.

My fingernails dig into my palms.

Third cup of coffee. Back from the morning meeting at school. And back online again with the entire third year class in quarantine, 13 of 22 student names pop up in the sidebar of the teams program. All 13 have their microphones and cameras turned off. I turn on my camera – only to realise I dumped my weekend travel bag on the table behind me. There’s a shiny, beige bra visible just above my right ear. I turn the camera off. I should have prepared better. Paid more attention.

I switch to tea. I mindlessly eat a second lunch. Then I come down hard on myself. Idiot. I check the train table, and count backward to see what I can cram into the day before I need to meet up for the car pool drive – under the fjord and over the moorlands to the conference hotel. I make a mental note to switch to wine as soon as possible. I make a mental note of the fact that that is not a very good idea.

I want a hot bath and a good book and a lot of quiet. I want a time-out. An excused absence.

Today I’ve been thinking about that scene from Saving Private Ryan. The hand-to-hand combat. The too-late realisation: this is not a rehearsal. I have no idea why this scene is in my head. I have read it described as harrowing.

It’s as though this harrowing scene is somehow part of what has seeped from my sleep and is what feels sticky as I walk through the day.

This is all there is. All this time, you’ve been playing, preening, posing – but when it comes down to it, this is the now of your soft belly and your brittle bones. The now of your last breath. Your ultimate inadequacy in the face of whatever undefined plans you had for your life. The inadequate planning. Because this is it. This is all you’ve got. This life that just keeps coming at you one laboured breath at a time.

I’m not dying. I mean, not at the moment. And I remind myself that I may be sensing an ending. And that maybe this is a good thing. Maybe I’ll find a better perspective on this ending.

The conference is in Haugesund. Where I spent five months alone in hospital, with no grasp of the language. Where I spent another five months of sleepless nights in an attic rocking chair, with a colicky infant and a dog that looked like Toto. Where I learned that you can never go Home.

Even if you wanted to.

Even if you don’t.

Dead witches, rusting men, snake oil salesmen, shoes or no shoes.

My fingers dig into my palms.

And I just want to call in sticky today, and stay home.

photo: Ren Powell

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.

a leaf wet with raindrops

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.

Tree. Fungi. Forest.
Mitochondria. Cytoplasm. Cell.

Life flows. At some level there is an ease. Something slips through, integrates. It can’t help it. All the shuddering is an illusion of objectivity.

I have been thinking. Maybe the idea is not to move out of the comfort zone, but expand the comfort zone.

acting students dressed as a three-headed troll

The first day of autumn brought the rain and the damp. At 5 a.m., a reluctant Leonard who hates getting his paws wet. Somewhere near the railroad tracks a dog screamed. I think it was a dog. Leonard and I both standing at attention in the dark, in the silence that followed, then both shaking off our helplessness, because what choice do we have but to get on with the day?

The sun rising vaguely, somewhere in the sky behind the opaque weather front. The neighbor down the road, with the lovely garden and who was wearing knickerbockers the first time I saw him, stares at us from the window of his bright entrance hall. I took another mental picture. I wonder if he knows I do that.

He doesn’t return the smile he can’t see.

Out walking once, I told him that he had a beautiful garden. He turned away from me. But the next day he told me I had a beautiful dog. Now we half-smile and nod often in the mornings. Most days this is all I need from other people. And some days it is all I have to give.

I am trying to reframe my situation: to consider all of the obligations as things waiting for me to return to, rather than the things I have fallen behind on. I know the former ascribes these “things” a kind of volition. But really the later does, too. Entities of sorts to whom I owe somehow, for having fallen short in serving them with the proper devotion.

I wonder if I am unique in anthropomorphising the world in this way? Like a child with toys: fairly, mentally kissing goodnight each one before bed. Then a kiss for God’s white cheek.

I let the small bits of the world down. I disappoint the dusty tiffany lamp with the burned-out bulb, the now-chipped coffee cup.

So much comes down to my forgetting. Forgetting as carelessness: as with yesterday’s discarded, wet socks I found on the bathroom floor this morning. Too much of my life is “I meant to…”

What do you mean to do with your life? I think I have meant to please. Sometimes I wonder if I will die while mentally apologizing to the kitchen sink for the bits of onion and garlic stuck in the metal trap.

At this point in my life, I know all of this involves a willing suspension of disbelief on my part. Though I am not sure if it constitutes escaping from real life, or desperately searching for it.

And this isn’t the first time I have wondered if all of human mental activity is a meaningless distraction. By carrot or by whip we will ourselves on.

Leonard and I came in from the rain this morning. I towelled him off and he ran for the treat cupboard. I slid off my rain paints, and E. handed me a cup of green tea.

Some days, by whip or by carrot, we will one another on.

Some days, it is good to be reminded of this simple thing.

It has been so long since I’ve sat here in the library that the roses on my desk have long since died and dropped their leaves – more leaves than I would have thought possible from a dozen red roses of condolence.

The light bulb in my little green lamp has burned out. I type in a relative darkness this morning. In an hour I will leave the house to take the train to work, and I will pass the tall raspberry stalks that lean out over the driveway from the garden and I will grab the ripening berry I’ve had an eye on for days.

Provided one of the magpies hasn’t beaten me to it.

It seems these past weeks I have moved even further away from myself in an attempt to know how to move forward. It is true that death brings change, even deaths that do not spawn grief, but end it. I am “over it”. In a way. Past it, certainly. And now what?

We can do this, you know. We can own our own stories, or just give them up entirely. And we can let go of the need to dictate the stories of others.

We don’t need to be “a survivor” with a constructed story arc that makes us the hero. If we “win” all the battles. We can just live in world with no need to construct a dramaturgy that will bring everything to a satisfying end.

That sets us up to fail.

While avoiding writing, either publicly or privately, I have been thinking again about “whose story”. I have been thinking again about my choice to erase myself from the tidy narrative in my mother’s obituary (which described a woman I never knew): to take that name that is not my name, was my name, out of that paragraph with “[…] is survived by”. Because the truth is that the person who wore that name, who lived that life, did not survive but was born anew, and mothered by so many others.

We can do this. We can give up the need to carry a through-line through the days. Can’t we?

Today I will lecture on Antigone. Creon’s story. And I will ask the students to read the play, translated from a translation that was translated from a translation and handed down through cultures that have come and gone, and were born anew. I will ask them: Whose story is this? Why carry it? Will you somehow make it yours? How?

I learned yesterday that Antigone means “against-birth”.

Can we accept that every considered perspective on every story is a true answer? That all of them are as true as memories?

As true as the dried leaves scattered over a book filled with fragments of poems that I’ve forgotten I’ve written.

I’m off to pick a raspberry.

photo of a ripening raspberry on the stalk