Again last night I thought about something I wanted to explore this morning on the page. Well: screen. And I thought to make a note on my phone, but then figured it was so obvious that I would remember.

Obviously, I did not remember. I bet it was profound, though. And would have lead to a book auction for the small creature taking form from my navel-gazing and ethical brooding. There went that opportunity.

Instead, I sit here on a flat Thursday thinking my glasses really need cleaning. Glancing over at Leonard and feeling guilty again because he is more overweight than I am. Then wondering if he wants some peanut butter. Because I do.

There are nine teaching days left before the end of the term. Before grades are due. Since exams are canceled this year, it makes things more difficult. Every year I remind the student that I am not here to give them a gold star for what they can already do, for natural talent, but to teach them to explore, stretch and reflect.

Sometimes growth doesn’t mean improvement.

A holistic education is not a matter of ticking off the mastery of specific techniques. We can move sideways in our understanding. Moving inward in ways that risk looking like retreating. My job, as I see it, is comprised of mapping out the territory, prompting the exploration, and witnessing. I watch their faces for small signs of confusion. I watch their bodies stiffen when they believe they’ve hit a wall, loosen when they find a new way to engage with the project at hand.

It is personal. It requires the privilege shared space and time.

One thing I have liked about the Norwegian secondary education system is that the students get a grade for the year’s work. And then an external examiner comes in on the day to give out the gold star for a presentation, and talent. They have distance. But this year, between Covid shutdowns and my own sick leave, I feel like I’ve failed as a teacher and am taking on a role as an examiner. A very biased examiner.

We can’t have a “do-over”. But it is really what I want for all of us. I feel robbed of the opportunity to have learned from these 22 people. Then again. I know I have learned more from them than I would have otherwise. Maybe that is a selfish perspective.

I keep trying to put this pandemic in perspective. Just a week before most of Europe shut down, I was roaming Mary King’s cross in Edinburgh with a guide who explained how the Black Death hit the area. There were manikins with black, bird-beaked face masks filled with flowers to mask the stench of decaying, but living bodies. One child-sized manikin made me think of the Norwegian legend of Jostedalsrypa, the girl who was the only one to survive when the plague hit her village. I wondered – guardedly – what we were heading toward.

As pretentious as it is to quote myself: Every moment brings somebody/the Apocalypse […] I know that there are people who have suffered greatly in the past year. I wouldn’t want to belittle their loss. But as a culture, where I am: we haven’t. And although I don’t think we are through this entirely, it seems unlikely that the majority of us will experience a plague in the way some-few previous generations have.

I will not appropriate the suffering in India. Neither do I wish to turn away or discount it. But the truth is, I cannot smell death over social media. I can process the visual information, the narratives intellectually and have an emotional response. I can empathize. But I cannot claim their experiences or the kind of knowledge gained from those experiences.

I wonder if the un-sanitized deaths of the 1300s, 1600s were easier to process than our sanitized deaths now: where people slip into white hospital gowns and slip away. I suppose someone has tried to study this: how our physical distance from witnessing so much of death affects the grieving process. But then, no one has invented the time machine yet.

Am I right in assuming that there still seems to be an unspoken consensus that it is better for our mental health to have physical suffering prettied up for us?

And this is not at all what I wanted to explore this morning. It is a winding path to a kind of gratitude I suppose. We’ve been painfully affected this past year. I get angry now and then. But this is what we have. And it is not more than this. Or less.

I have not even touched a student on the shoulder this year when they have cried. I haven’t even squeezed their hand when they’ve been so excited their heart could jump out of their chest. It has been a year of restraint. Acting against instinct. I worry that I am shutting down.

But we are not sacrificing anything. And it is the wrong mindset to believe things were “taken from us” as though those things were our possessions. This is life. And on the scale of things, we face the same threats. The cancers, the accidents, the hate. Most of the crises that have come up among my students have been unrelated to the pandemic, though sometimes exacerbated by it.

What I have witnessed is their resilience. Their growth. It seems absurd to think about “grading” anything this year.

and when we inhale
the flower we taste it too
like earthworms, we eat
the world passing through our days
– so much you don’t want to know

This month I rediscovered a bit of myself. A shape I thought I’d lost with the years. With diapers and broken bones, with late-night squabbles and hot flashes.

It seemed that with the realization — not an intellectual knowledge, but a bodily understanding that this life — my life — is finite, I began living too widely.

Trying to fit it all in. And too much of it in a two-dimensional form: via screens.

Maybe it’s the forced flatness of pandemic life that has brought all this to the forefront of my mind. Too much of a thing that had been looking good.

Lately when I find myself wanting to respond angrily to a social media posting of some sort — usually by a stranger, a contact of 2nd degree who pops up because I know someone who knows someone who wants to blow off steam, make a clever cut. I block them without fanfare.

(Well, often I still type out the response, delete it and then block — but I am getting better. I’m finding that typing out the response actually heightens my emotions rather than diffuses them.)

Twitter can be like forcing my way through a carnival crowd if I let it be.

A carnival — every day.

Sometimes I think about the party lines that were around in the 70s and 80s. Did anyone really enjoy those`?

I would block Oscar Wilde’s tweets if he were tweeting today (which we all know he would). I’d still love his poetry. I’d still read his books. Dorothy Parker is only fun when she’s a historical figure, and the people you care about are out of her reach.

I’ve un-followed a lot of connections on Facebook to avoid “hanging out” with people in places I would choose not to go to if I’d been invited to physically attend a gathering. I can love my friend, but choose not to tag along to their AA meeting with them. Or their political rally. Or their bedroom.

I still love them.

It’s not a matter of creating a political bubble. I’ve often blocked people whose politics I agree with. Still follow people whose politics I dislike or don’t even know. So if I’m creating an echo chamber of sorts, at least the echos are pleasant, not hateful. Civil.

Respect should be a word for how we behave in the world, not a word to describe what people owe us, or something that we need to earn. It should be the default.

I’m not shutting out ideas, opposing points of view — I’m shutting out the noise and the drums and the elbow jabs and snickers that tighten the bonds of a “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” kind of relationship that lasts until the subject changes and there is a new outrage — a new Venn diagram of opinions.

I don’t believe humans are capable of having thousands of social contacts a day. Imagine if every word came with a touch. How bruised we’d be. How raw.

How raw I feel.

And I miss the freedom that being different people with different people gives us. All the facets of a personality having a place to be. We aren’t authentically any single brand. I don’t want to put energy into marketing myself as a person-of-significance. It’s exhausting. And something I thought I was (mostly) done with at 20.

For many reasons, I’ve never been someone with clearly defined boundaries. And social media has been something of a nightmare for me.

I began this diary entry by saying that I thought these frustrations had to do with aging. But I am more convinced that it has to do with my not maturing. Being dragged back into questions that I’d once resolved — resolved sometimes by comfortably resting in a kind of negative capability.

It’s been almost two decades since George W. Bush said, “You’re either with us or with the terrorists”. A moment in history that could have come and gone in the experience of heightened emotion. But it seems that there’s been no letting-down. Just a constant change of targets.

I’ve not been able to watch A Clockwork Orange all the way through, much less read past the first few pages. But I remember a scene where Alex is strapped into a chair watching image after image after image of horrors.

I don’t think the world has ever been less messy than it is now. That the struggles and cruelties and hates haven’t always been there… somewhere. But there’s also been space for refuge. Not ignorance, but rest.

A little space for all of the tiny creatures that make us who we are to thrive again. And rise again. In a world that’s not a matrix, not a thought experiment.

What I yearn for now may well be something we yearn for more as we age, but it is oddly familiar to what we were given naturally — what we allowed ourselves — when we were very young.

cut roses drying
in the vase — fragments of dead
leaves turn to powder
wedging themselves in the grain
of this old oak writing desk

I’m still searching for a comfortable way to be in the world. I’m still struggling with wanting to be seen, while wanting the freedom to keep growing in ways that being seen prevents.

Lately for no particular reason I can discover, I get flashbacks of events of my life – arriving from another perspective. It’s uncomfortable. It requires an active application of self-compassion to get through the moment. And sometimes through the day.

I also find myself rebelling against social currents now in a way I don’t think I ever have before. When I was younger, my rebellion was personal. Within the reach of my body. I was in a hurry to get past it all.

Past it, I don’t want to learn the language of the public stockade that is social media. I don’t want to memorize the list of new cultural crimes where the more subtle the context, the more hamfisted the punishment.

I thought I understood what “the personal is political” meant. Now I feel that the political is – has always been immediate. Awkward perspectives: a meritocracy of hurt.

Nothing is ever
and for-ever is enough
for every-a thing is
the passing storm and the breeze
already and never been

Slipping out of the room where the grown-ups are fighting. Someone always gets hurt. Someone always feels shame. And there’s always too much to go around just once.

I need a shower and a good cry.

Then a run along the lake.

Yesterday after work I took a long bath without my mobile phone. Without earbuds. No podcast, no music, no news.

I can’t remember the last time I did that.

I had a rush of ideas. Most of them related to work, but that was fine really. Creativity feels good regardless of the arena. I got out of the tub, dried off, and worked at the computer until bedtime. I have a separate chrome browser for school-related bookmarks. At eight o’clock I closed it for the next 12 days.

Today though, I’m thinking about work again. About how I teach first-year drama students to be conscious of personal props, the items that become the habitual gestures and defining physical characteristics of their role’s personality. Glasses, scrunchies, cowboy boots, soda bottles, toothpicks. By the third year we are talking about Richard Schechner and our social behaviors related to personal props that prompted him to insist for a time that his Performance Group play in the nude.

For years now I’ve used my keys as an example of a personal prop. I have work keys. I don’t have a car, so I don’t have a car key. We have a code on our front door, so I don’t have a house key either. When I pull my work keys out of my backpack, I take on a role: teacher. My work keys are incredibly symbolic. Students will ask me to unlock the costume storage room, or a rehearsal room. Or by the third year, they may ask to borrow my keys so they can do it themselves.

At some point years ago, I became hyper-aware of my work keys. How I would actually cling tightly to them when I felt a class of 30 restless students taking control of a situation that should have been under my control. Weirdly, my noticing this – stepping back and taking on the role of the director in relationship with my “character” – I was able to access when control was necessary and when it wasn’t. I could make more conscious choices about my “role” as an instructor. These days, half the time I have no idea where my keys are – which I’m certain is not something my boss wants to know.

Yesterday finding myself in the bathtub without my mobile phone, I had the same kind of epiphany. We read and talk a lot about social media and how we can passively allow it to define us. But the phone itself – the device – has come to partially define me. My mindless connection to this object, and its ability to connect me to a world of ideas to occupy my thoughts every moment, is shaping my behavior. It is determining how I move in the world. Literally: in the bath, one elbow propped on the edge of the tub to hold the phone dry. My shoulder twisted slightly. My neck under stress.

I’ve believed for a long time that we are nothing more than what we do: what we think and how we interact with the world. And that thinking and interacting with the world are interconnected in such a way that one defines the other – reinforcing or challenging who are “are” at any moment. I believe this is how we can change. How we do change.

I’m going to stop grasping at my mobile phone. Stop clinging to my sense of self: the productivity shoulds and ought-tos.

I’m going to dare to be truly naked in the bathtub.

Maybe dare to drop my character more often, wherever I am.

Empathy is not agreement. It’s about understanding.

Nashater Deu Soheim

The doctor confirmed what I suspected: tendinitis in both shoulders. Then he proceeded to explain what a tendon was, and how the shoulder joint was different from the wrist – as though I’d never heard the basics of anatomy, much less work as a movement instructor for a living.

I told him about the stress I’ve been under, about the daily Ashtanga and diagnosed shoulder impingement. He responded by reminding me of how old I am.

Now I’m trying to put my ego in check: it really is kind of him to take the time to explain to his patients how their bodies work. To remind them aging means to suck it up when it sucks.

I think it’s difficult not to err on one side or the other: to take in the forest as a whole or to see only each tree.

So why did I overreact? Why was I offended? What was it I wanted from him?

It certainly wasn’t a rudimentary anatomy lesson and an explanation for how to google for shoulder exercises for old people.


There’s an eye exercise where you focus on a glass pane, then focus on what is behind it alternately. It’s difficult. It makes my eyes ache afterward.

I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days now, actually. As a metaphor – how it relates to social media, and social bubbles. How it relates to families and congregations and high school cliques, and trying to loosen the bonds without aiming to break them.

How it relates to all social relationships, really. These knotty, woven messes of damage and repair.

The U.S. election results surprised me and I found myself reading a wider range of news sites for a couple of weeks. I found myself reading my Facebook feed from a slightly different perspective.

And I deactivated my account.

Since then I’ve noticed some strange habits that I was completely unaware of – like an urge to share an article before I’ve read it to the end. Like failing to take the time to take a step back from the moment I recognize a shared belief in order to question the validity of that belief – which is something I’ve always thought reading helped me do.

But I see that my social media habit has become an activity where I sort people and products and cement my feelings of belonging: my identity. Not only have I abandoned contemplation for “interaction”, I’ve moved away from a practice of empathy by narrowing my field of vision as to make it virtually unnecessary.

Pun intended.

I began asking myself if I were reading (read: skimming) articles to pass them along as a performative act, rather than out of genuine intellectual curiosity. It’s an uncomfortable question to sit with.


Last week one of my students asked if we could continue the “debate” we’d been having the week before. I was taken aback. I thought we’d been having a discussion. In my mind, if not per definition, people win or lose debates. People listen with the goal of finding points of attack, to counter and dominate.

This lead me to try to initiate a discussion about critical thinking, which is at the heart of our national curriculum. I told them about a recent podcast I heard where researchers talk about how people who learned critical thinking skills almost always applied them first as weapons, rather than applying them to personal reflection. I pointed out that is not what we want to teach.

Then I remembered a book I bought at a conference over a decade ago: Peace Journalism. Now sold out and out of print. The gist of the book was to encourage journalists not to use war terminology and violent language in their headlines: “Obama attacks […]”, “Obama takes jab at […]”. These were headlines from this week. A google search (replace Obama with another name) will help you sort a publisher’s political leanings quickly.

I’ve been asking myself how I frame my thoughts. Which metaphors I’m using. Which expletives. Funny how the one we often use when we are angriest with another person, is a word that epitomizes intimacy.


They say we teach what we need most to learn ourselves, and sometimes I feel sorry for my students. I can’t be sure if I am seeing reflections of myself in their words, or whether I’m projecting my more unhelpful habits onto them. It’s probably a little of both, because that is what it is to be human, isn’t it?

The Buddhist teacher I read and listen to talks often about the need for spiritual seekers to be silent – to retreat from the world to focus on their spiritual growth. And this still makes no sense to me. Not within the context of my understanding of the world, of death, and of impermanence.

I believe empathy exists not as an idea, but as a practice. And every practice is in the moment, and within the context of only that moment.

I believe that it would be possible to gain an understanding – empathy – for the beetles and the shrubs of the earth, all by myself on a mountain top. And maybe that practice would lead to my being able to have an understanding of other people when I returned. But I think my ego – my mind -would do better to be surrounded by differing minds, differing opinions, differing moralities. And not silent, with a certainty of someone else’s meaning, but questioning. To discuss, not debate.

But what is the goal of understanding? Isn’t the point to embrace – to hold with care – each individual tree, and the entire forest?

As hard as that is. As painful.


Pain-killers. That’s what I wanted from the doctor.
And that’s what I didn’t get.

Damn. (Yeah, no. That’s not nice, or solution-oriented.)

Wine.