I really hate giving up on things. But as I sit here, half past five p.m. in a haze, I am calling it quits.

After 11 days of the two-sleep experiment, which was supposed to run 30 days, I have to stop. This morning during a lecture, I said one thing to the students while writing the opposite thing on the whiteboard.

Which would have been a really cool trick, had it been intentional.

Perhaps this “natural” sleeping pattern is tapping into my creativity, but unregulated creativity is not particularly helpful in the world.

Not my world.

E. described the past days as beginning well, but deteriorating each day. He hasn’t felt creative, just increasingly stressed-out.

I have lived the past 5 years or so with a pretty good routine. I run and get at least a half an hour of writing in before leaving for my day job that begins at 8. This past year, my partner and I have also tried to make sure that we dedicate time each day to be together in the same room, actually paying attention to each other.

What began as a way to address my insomnia and to free up time for peaceful, quiet contemplation (which I sorely miss, having had experienced it o the plateau this summer), became a fractured, anti-social, and military-like schedule of alarms and interruptions.

img_20160831_194911I am celebrating the end of this experiment with a glass of wine, frozen grapes, and Dr. Bronner’s Oh-So-Holy Soap for body and soul. Lavender.

I’ll be in bed at nine-thirty and up at four: happy to greet the pre-dawn as my good-ole, familiar, insomnia-plagued self.

A pseudo-scientist has to know when to call off the experiment for the sake of the health and well-being of the subjects involved. It is best for everyone.

Imagine: I might even stop snapping like a turtle at every gadfly on social media.

I just might begin blogging for real.

What I will take with me?
The darkened rooms, and the candlelight after 8 pm. 


A warning for anyone with bipolar disorder. Do not do this. That is all.
Talk to your doctor. 

My birthday is Saturday. A big one, but I don’t recognise all the maxims people toss around about ageing. I’m ageing. I like it. Not only is the alternative death, but I’m happier with myself and in general every year that passes.

jærenme

Slowing down? Getting forgetful?

I’ve always misplaced my keys.

When I was 24 I had a boyfriend threaten to break up with me every afternoon, because I spent at least  half an hour (every afternoon) searching for my car in the university lot. Things like that don’t happen anymore. (Neither that particular form of absent-mindedness, nor that particular unhealthy relationship dynamic.) 

My joints are stiff. They are also stronger. So are my muscles. I have much better balance and trust myself physically in ways that I would have never dreamt of at 30. If I break something, I’ll heal more slowly. I’m aware of that. But I also know how to (and do) take care of myself as best I can, and that there are – and have never been – any guarantees regarding the health of this body. I know now not to take it for granted.

The big difference I have noticed this year (my 50th – during which I hiked a 14-pointer for the first time, and went downhill skiing for the first time) is that I’m learning what is important to me, and choosing more carefully how I spend my time. I’m no longer interested in the latest fads. I don’t need to stay up-to-date and “relevant” because much of that information it isn’t relevant to what is important to me: I don’t need the social clout of celebrity gossip to try to stay in step with my peers.

And sometimes it is just a case of “been there, done that”: Lady Gaga’s mermaid in a wheelchair, anyone?

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My fiftieth birthday present to myself.

I can honestly say I have much less fear and anxiety when it comes to what other people think. (Notice, I did not say “no fear and anxiety”: we all fear the trolls, I think.)

Yes, I’m the only mature adult on the slope with her arms out “like an airplane landing” – but that is not “childish” or “child-like” – it is fearless, make no mistake. 

“I’m too old,” is what people say when they haven’t found the courage to say, “I don’t want to.”

I know what I want.

Now.

And I know that what I want is also likely to change. At least I hope so. 

I’m not bothering with snap chat or vine or whatever the latest social media is, not because it is “too complicated” (like so many people promoting ageism whine), but because I spent a month teaching myself Flash right before Mac decided not to use it with the iPad, and it became suddenly obsolete. All those containers for information become obsolete.

People don’t. The content of life doesn’t.

Choosing where and how and with whom I spend my time on this earth is wise, not a sign of failing intelligence.

I disavow all self-deprecation when it comes to ageing. 

Young people are amazing and have a lot to offer. But, as far as I can tell, teenagers don’t need pandering to.  The ones that are bright have moved into the realm we know of as “knowing we don’t know” anyway. Let’s be smart enough not to undermine or discount our own value. If you have lived 50 years and think you have nothing to teach a 16 year-old, or that you-at-50 have nothing to learn from an 80 year-old, well…. I’m really not sure what to say. 

I’ve been lucky to have a few wonderful role models to prepare me for this shift. The people who, after life stops forcing changes on you (education, job, kids), still seek out change and growth. I love you/them for that. They’ve made me realize that, beyond the curtain where media doesn’t venture, there must be a pony*.

If I am “slower”, it’s because I take  more time to rummage through all the prerequisite knowledge I’ve gathered before drawing conclusions. Hell, I should probably aim at being slower in that way. That would be the wise thing.

Maybe the wisest thing is no longer being afraid to write a friend – or my kids – and say, “I miss you. I want to see you.”

I will slow down, slowly and surely, but the turtles that hold up our place in the universe are damned wise – all the way down.

I believe I have just written my middle-age manifesto. 


*Yeah. A reference to an episode of a very bad 80s sitcom. The little girl suspects that all good things happen after bedtime. She’s right. There was a pony.

I was listening to an On Being interview with Robin Wall Kimmerer on my way to work Wednesday. She says:

Children recognize 100 corporate logos and fewer than 10 plants. That means they aren’t paying attention.

But, (as she points out earlier in the discussion) children always pay attention, and I think they pay close enough attention to intuit the difference between what we say is important and what is truly important to us. The problem is not with the children.

I’ve been thinking about my role as a teacher. My role as a student. And that something, in between the two: a facilitator.

Since I see poetry as a form of facilitation, I’ve been thinking about why I write. For whom, and then again, why? To communicate, to preach, or to gain approval?

In an interview with Maria Shriver, Mary Oliver talks about not getting the mother-love she needed; the resulting “neediness” she had in terms of her relationship with her life partner. She doesn’t say whether this neediness influenced her poetry. She does say she tries to focus on the positive while writing. She explains that poetry is, for her, not therapy.

But this could also be question of the definition of “therapy”. Oliver’s focus on the positive is a deliberate choice. And, arguably, a choice that has had benefits in terms of her work, and her personal life. Her life’s story has not been swallowed by the difficulties of her childhood. Or her more recent bout with cancer. She gestures towards them in her poems, and we see the wisdom of her moving on, in the larger narrative.

At least that is how I read her work, and admire it.

But am I still writing letters to my own mother? Is my neediness what has me in a bind regarding submissions and publishing? My need for approval? For mother-love?

After not having thought about poetry-as-business, the poetry “community”, about submissions or publishing for over 5 years, returning is odd. After having published (soon) 6 collections and earning a doctorate, the idea of paying a reading fee is something I can’t really get my head around. Having had my poems published in journals before, I can’t see that it led to sales in my books. This means I am considering, after having paid for my education, my computer, I can now pay to have the opportunity for people to consider whether they will present my work to an audience who might read it.

This is why I need to answer the question of why I write, and for whom. I already paid a shrink – for years – to give me the mother-love I’ve lacked.

I do know I’m still looking for a replacement for the childhood God I lost when I discovered He was too into irony to worship. In my less self-conscious moments of writing, that is where the poetry takes me. This search.

I’ve been thinking about what Kelli Russell Agodon said about the way she weaves the details of our daily lives into poems about our common concerns.

Spanx and angst, I guess.

The first time I wrote about this, I misspelled Spanx. I am actually more than okay with that. My daily life is more often filled with words like togforsinkelser and boblejakke. But that is another challenge all together.

Angst. Yes. The question is where to focus. Angst or answers. And yet, if I am looking for answers, will I need to articulate questions? Or isn’t that exactly what poetry is? Unarticulated questions.

snowbellI may not learn to identify all of the plants along my running route by name, but I can begin with the goal of knowing more than ten. I can begin to be honest with myself about what I am making important in my life.

The snowdrops are resurrecting now. I can begin here. And I will write for anyone with same, unarticulated questions that I have.

I would love to hear your thoughts on who you write for, what your approach to publishing is…

 

I saw this on facebook today and it seemed to lock into place something I have been thinking about this week.

I find myself nearly every week telling at least one hurting teenager that it does get better. That these are definitely not “the best years of your life” for everyone. I hated high school. Even college was a struggle. But I love my life now. Every year, things got better.

Except that, well, maybe they didn’t.

I saw a quote going around instagram or twitter or facebook – I don’t remember. And I don’t remember to whom it had been attributed either – as if that matters when it winds up as a meme on instagram or twitter or facebook. We all know Meryl Streep said it.

Basically, the quote was about how life doesn’t get better; we get better at handling it.

I’ve been lying to my students. Things get increasingly complicated as we grow up. The choices we make are more complex. We no longer only have parents and friends to consider, but children and careers, when making plans for our future, when deciding whether to post that photo on instagram or twitter or facebook.

There are bills. And insurance. And taxes. Pension plans and adult diapers. And office politics are as nasty as playground politics.

I’m not going to lie to my students anymore. I don’t think it helps them to think that they really are on the receiving end of all the world’s meanness. They aren’t. They are learning to deal with their little share of it. They’re learning to do it better.

We all are.

I was probably 6 or 7 when I first remember making something. I made my grandfather a birthday card; rhyming couplets in my own handwriting, and a watercolor of the two of us fishing from the side of a lake. It was on thick, cream paper. I can’t remember where the paper came from. I remember the wonderful fuss he and my grandmother made over my artwork.

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My youngest made this years ago. I would have panicked had I known he was in the other room with a knife. That same year, my oldest made me a calendar with his own artwork. Best Christmas Ever.

My grandfather used to take me fishing. I always use the phrase “used to” loosely. There wasn’t a lot of consistency in my childhood and if I did something more than once, it feels like a “used to”.

So, it follows that I “used to” make handmade cards.

In reality, I don’t think I was much older than 8 or 9 when I decided I wasn’t a good enough craftsman to give handmade gifts anymore: they were childish, imperfect, “charming” with a bright smack of condescension from Aunt S.’s lips.

Teachers pointed out that I should use the left-handed scissors to avoid the sloppy, jagged edges that I always seemed to wind up with. Left-handed scissors made no difference. Cramped my left hand.

I studied art in school. In college. I won little, local awards for poetry. But unless it was sanctioned by the gatekeepers who put monetary value on things, it was amateurish in my mind, and amateurish was a bad word. I was aiming higher. I always prefaced, and undermined, my attempts at crafts by explaining that I was a lousy at it.

I was an idiot.

In my twenties, I met a woman who became a mentor to me. We had talked a lot about being kind to our inner little girls. I decided to make her a doll for Christmas. It felt like an important thing to do. A process that honored what she meant to me.

I was dating her son at the time, and he made it clear he thought that was a childish thing to do. So I didn’t show him. I sewed the doll from scratch. Set her hemp hair in corkscrew curls with wood glue. I have a photo of the three of us. Two of us have faces a bit red from crying.20160216_175720

Even my boyfriend had to reluctantly admit it didn’t turn out as crappy as he’d imagined it would. (We all go through our phases.)

But it was many years before I made another object. I wrote books. But they were published by other people, illustrated by other people.  Once I told an artist friend of mine that I was going to start making paper. She smiled and said that people spent years learning how to make paper. She’d been to Korea and taken a workshop on paper-making, but didn’t do it herself out of respect for the craft.

I didn’t make any paper.

I decided to learn Flash instead. I made interactive poetry videos. But after hours and weeks of work, I felt that I had put nothing real into the world. Nothing I had put my hands on, nothing that other people would put their hands on. It matters to me for some reason.

So, four  years ago I took a bookmaking course. I told myself and everyone else that I was doing it because craftsmanship was something I knew I sucked at, so I couldn’t take it seriously, wouldn’t be competitive about it.

Who knew that it would take me so long to learn that what it takes for me to make things well, is a desire to put them in the world that has nothing to do with my own ego. It has to be an act of love.

After just three months of dating, I gave my now-fiancé a handmade book of poems.

A flash file just wouldn’t have been the same.


 

Thanks to Suzi at Blue Car Painted Green for the prompt.