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

Moving closer to the Finisterre-


Afterthoughts on a month of focused meditations. Our guide asks us to consider what lies under our actions.

Underthoughts – it should be a word. Norwegians have the world baktanker – literally back-thoughts. I like the image of thoughts that push us through the world. But google translates the word as ulterior motives, which is the what it really means, of course. Still, I like having this literal understanding of the language as a kind of tool for thinking.

One of the delightful things about having learned a second language as an adult is how an ignorance of connotation invites me to took more closely into how language is inseparable from context. And how context so often is a matter of attributing intention on other people’s actions. So not knowing connotation gives me an almost scientific tool for my ruminations. But translating the ideas into a functioning language can be difficult.

Speaking of rumination, the cows are still in the barns. It seems odd to run along the lake in the early morning –  the sun already up – and find the fields so empty. The cattle have to eat all the harvested feed from last autumn before they’re let out to graze. These days away from routine – sporadic runs at odd times – have pulled me out of the flow of the seasons. The route is a shocking green.

Today we didn’t get to the lake until the crows had left. I’ve never considered their cawing ominous, but I have to admit the songbirds provide a might lighter soundtrack for the morning.

I decided to join this virtual Camino for two reasons. I’ve wanted to walk the Camino de Santiago for years now. In part to say I’ve done it: like running a marathon, or climbing a mountain. And in part for the contemplation it affords – demands. I don’t have photos or calluses or bragging rights here at the end. No stamped passport. But I put in the spiritual work.

When I began I had considered myself as being in a liminal state. But what I’ve come to realize is that there is no other state of being. There is no good reason to think of life as a series of stasis points with periods of growth – or with periods of decay – between them.

“The only constant in life is change”-Heraclitus.

I see it as a kind of responsibility. And I guess I have the existentialists to thank for that. Coasting between periods of effort is a nice little illusion. But maybe it’s been a linguistic problem for me – this word: growth.

I’ve heard far too often people saying things like “I am too old to … “, “Set in my ways…”, as though once the body stops growing we just “are”. Are – or am – is a decision, an attempt at stasis.

The word growing implies a destination – we grow into something. Intentionally or haphazardly. When we talk of spiritual growth we seem to be conversing within a context of hierarchy. We are rising, attaining, and improving. This way of thinking has an inherent judgement. Better than.

I like to think that I am better than I was at 18. At 30. Even better than I was two months ago. But I’ve probably lost good aspects of myself, too. Is there really a point in summing up and measuring my life against some kind of rubric?

What if I just stay in it. And trust that I am growing into death, into mushrooms, into trees.

Bragging requires someone else to listen; I doubt the trees give a damn.

So – circling back to the beginning – what is underneath what moves me through life? It seems awfully dark to say the inevitability of death and the paradoxical desperation for meaning, and for acceptance.

But that’s all I’ve got for now.

Looking forward to the cows to be let out of the barns – for whatever reason.

The 33rd – and final – day of the virtual Camino. 


I’m still searching for the actual Latin, but our guide tells us the gist of words scribbled along the actual trail is that we can never arrive, because we are already there.

And I keep trying to remember which poet said the purpose of the journey is to understand that there was never any need for the journey.

But maybe that was just Frank Baum?


When I planned to join this virtual Camino, I very much wanted to walk the distance of each leg each day. But that wasn’t possible, so I made a complex calculation based on my half-marathon running times, and found a number of hours I could devote to the “distance” each day. But I’ve been fortunate enough to have a job during Norway’s “Safer-in-Place” effort – a increasingly demanding job. I’ve put in longer days at the computer, and had fewer hours for the physical journey. I’ve been sick. I’ve been blue.

But the fact is, my dual focus on individual video mentoring of students (service), and on the Camino’s aspect of contemplation (personal), has given my hamstring time to heal. After yesterday’s run the back of my thigh ached – the entire length of it – a good ache: no sign of a sharp pain at the point of attachment. So I’m returning now to routine. The timing of the end of this journey is another point of synchronicity: I head back to the classroom on Monday.

I’m not going to try to sum up lessons learned. I’ve learned that much. But I can see changes in my perspectives, and movement in places still struggling with contradictions. Movement is good. Struggle is fine.

I am letting go of some fears and frustrations, preconceptions and absolutes.

I am letting go of some ambitions.

I am struggling with the impulse to now set goals and shape products. I am rejecting the creeping idea that the purpose of this journey was to clear the slate and find new meaning: reach some kind of epiphany at the saint’s tomb.

Is this a kind of summing up after all?

I’ve hiked for days once before. And I stopped caring whether my socks matched. I stopped looking at every hill as something to be gauged and conquered. I put one foot in front of the other and kept an eye out for grouse in heather.

What we leave behind us after a long journey is one thing, what we take with us is also important.

This time, I will try to take the lesson home. Learning requires repetition. We’ll see what sticks.

The 32nd leg of the virtual Camino.


I was listening to a podcast yesterday about the negativity bias. It turns out that – no matter what we say – we prefer to read news articles that frighten us, or anger us. You want more hits on your blog? Tag it with negativity.

Today our guide isn’t encouraging us to meditate on a subject, but to act: to do something kind for ourselves and for someone else.

I think often about kindness. And while, I know it’s not the same thing as being kind, it is a necessary prerequisite. Kindness isn’t the same thing as indulgence. Being kind doesn’t always mean making something pleasant or even comfortable. And there is also the consideration of perspective and – well – arrogance in choosing a specific act of kindness: I know what is best for you.

Being kind requires practice, because it requires boundaries. I mean, come on, The Giving Tree, might be one of the most horrifying bits of indoctrination ever dreamed up by the want-to-be-pampered. Shel, what were you thinking? Every pregnant woman should read this as a lesson in the difference between indulgence and kindness. And how no matter what she does she’ll get the blame for her children’s egoism and wind up an old stump – and be expected to be happy.

Show me a #%&!! happy stump.

But I digress.

May she dwell in safety.
May she be happy and healthy.
May she be free of afflictions.
May she be at peace.

There are a lot of versions of the loving kindness meditation. Some use the phrase, “May she live with ease.” When I use those words I remember that one of definitions of ease is to move carefully or gradually. I’m not wishing an “easy” life for anyone. And I am not being mean.

I try not to think of kindness as tokens or events. I once saw a kind person buy a coffee for someone sleeping rough in London. When she gave it to the man, he pulled back his bag to show a row of five or so full coffee cups. That last thing he needed was another cup of coffee on this weekday morning. The last thing she needed was to be made to feel stupid for her kind gesture.

Intention matters. I do believe this. But maybe intention isn’t nearly enough.

I’m afraid if I mete out kindness like cups of coffee with good intentions, I’ll limit the good I do in the world. I used to have a routine of checking off “say one kind thing to someone a day”. It was embarrassing to admit to myself that my intentions were all wrong. It was about how I felt about myself: whether I was succeeding at being kind.
I wish I could claim that kindness comes naturally to me – as a habit. But the truth is that my practice is a continual monitoring and censoring. Is this action, are these words intended to hurt? Or do am I genuinely and freely wishing this person well? Am I expecting a reward of some kind?

This morning I had a difficult conversation with a student. Fumbling with boundaries: respecting theirs, maintaining my own. Conscious of perspectives, and how deceptive each can be when considered in isolation. Asking questions, not making accusations, not pointing out “what we both know” as a veiled threat. We both know it, mentioning it is like stepping up on a stool to look down.

There’s so much to take into account when truly wishing someone well and not merely comforting them: teaching them to move with ease up the slope, not to look for the easiest path.

It requires practice. Habit. Thinking all of that through in the moment is impossible. No doubt that’s why I am still making so many mistakes. And why I hope that intention really does matter a bit. Intention fosters habit. Habit reaps results.

A cup of coffee, eye contact and a genuine smile.

I’m going to force myself to lace up my running shoes now. Running is a kindness for my body – and nothing like an indulgence today: 6 degrees Celsius and raining.

Then I’ll write a good friend. Even though that might be a tiny bit of self-indulgence.

(“ALT BLiR BRA!” = Everything’s going to be fine!)

The 31st leg of the virtual Camino.


Today our guide gives us insight into the pilgrim experience in the 12th century. The threats from the elements, from other humans – from viruses and other plagues. There is a lot we take for granted. And a lot we mistake as necessities.

Like a morning cup of coffee, talisman against a grumpy mood.

While drinking my coffee, I was listening to a podcast about “ganning“. The Saami version of a hex, or the evil eye, or whatever name the practice falls under anywhere in the world: the scapegoating for misfortune. We’ve a secular version of the practice, too. Someone we’ve bumped into has cursed our day, is responsible for our mood – which caused our stubbed toe or our burned palate. It is always someone else’s fault – someone is out to get us.

I read an associated article on the website. It was written by a sociologist who said something things about the ancient Saami culture need to be abandoned. I’m not one for promoting witch hunts, but I’m thinking there might be something important to be learned from a formal system for the attribution of blame. Such a thing can be mediated. Arbitrated. Maybe even judged. At least with a formal attribution the absurdity of the accusation can be faced squarely, and dealt with.

Instead I go on grumbling about my students, or my step-kids, or the neighbor’s rooster as the cause of all my woes. Maybe the first step to taking responsibility is actually externalizing the problem: why am I using this person (or rooster) to punish myself?

Today I’m appreciating the synchronicity. “My students are driving me crazy,” I think. Like they have the time to bother with that. The energy to spare.

On Fridays, after the workday I usually listen to a recorded meditation by Jen Louden. Today she talks about making a truce with your God, or gods or the universe.

Synchronicity.

I don’t know what I believe in exactly, but I believe in metaphors as tools for dealing with the truly ineffable.

I believe in the power of formal systems to identify what moves us – in productive and destructive directions – in prayer, in hope, in forgiveness and in absolution. I may have fancy collapsible hiking poles, Gore tex shoes and Merino wool underwear, but at least I have those other things in common with the pilgrims of the 12th Century.

The 30th leg of the Camino.


For three years I wore only black. Black pants, black t-shirts, black dresses, black socks, black shoes. It made my busy mornings easy. Most days at work I am literally rolling on the floor, so it was also practical.

The funny thing is – I don’t think anyone noticed.

Yeah, I don’t know if that is funny.  At any rate, I woke up one day two summers ago and wanted a pair of harem pants. I craved colors and patterns. I craved playfulness. Now my closet is overflowing again.

I have moved so many times in my life that I have stripped down to the essentials over and over. And I have lost essentials, too. Noting the loss matters, though. I continually mourn for these things – not forgotten in the back of a drawer – but physically gone.

Don’t lost things take on a significance they could not otherwise obtain?

I read that Kondo book until I got to the sentence where she said if you do come to need something that you are thinking to throw out now, you can always buy a new one later.

No.

That is not that philosophy I am looking for.

I’m coming to understand that simplicity for me doesn’t mean fashionable minimalism. It doesn’t mean living in a tiny home, cute as they are, with those custom furniture pieces. There seems something extravagant to me about selling my home and finding an affordable plot of land on which to put a tiny house – a location that would allow me access to legal sewage, public transportation and within walking distance to a grocery. That kind of simple is a lot of work. And a kind of privilege. And maybe for single people who don’t have 80 pound hounds.

Maybe for me simplicity is about embracing the routine; about finding the familiar strange and interesting; about finding perspectives – and nudging the edges instead of stripping to the essentials. About wanting what I have.

There is a simple joy in ornamentation. A simple pleasure in in a room full of books.

I’ll be sorting through my closet this week. I’m not going to ask myself what sparks joy, but what causes me distress. I’ll pack those things into cardboard boxes. The local charities are overrun with secondhand fast-fashion right now.  So I will stick the boxes in the attic. And if after a year or so,  I have not missed them, I’ll try to find a simple solution for my excess – one that doesn’t make someone else my sin-eater.

Nothing is simple. But I will keep working on it:

I have a yard. I’m planting a garden.

Something tells me that whole endeavor will be a kind of complex simplicity, too.

 

 

 

The 29th leg av the Camino.


I have always been fascinated by the sacred.

I must have been about 8 when my friend and I climbed the brick fence behind our babysitter’s apartment complex and visited the Catholic church. It was unlocked on a weekday morning.

It was also empty. And since all either of us knew about Catholic church was what we had seen on television, we thought it would be fine to “play” church. When the priest showed up I really couldn’t understand his fury. We were in no way intending to be sacrilegious – or even naughty.

Up until that point – up until the shaming – I’d wanted to be Catholic. I’d wanted the ritual that seemed to be a kind of manifestation of belonging. In the Baptist church the pastor sometimes called us a “flock”, but people certainly didn’t treat one another as though they belonged.

There was nothing very special about us. No incense, no wine. We had grape juice and crackers once a month. And Grandpa fell asleep just like he did in his chair at home in front of the television. No one responded with hallelujah, no one shook like the Shakers, and no one talked in tongues.

That’s not true. Once a woman did, and my grandfather and the other deacons escorted her out, and the pastor apologized on her behalf. He said she’d been under stress. Then he went back to his sermon.

Church was white – in so many ways – White. Straight pews and straight hemlines. And it smelled of Lysol and White Shoulders perfume. The pastor wore a suit and looked the the insurance salesmen who’d shown up at Grandma’s mobile home. Crumpled. Sweaty.

In college I was in a production of The Lark. We carried candles and incense and chanted, and I fainted. The following year, another production with Gregorian chanting and candles. I fainted again. No wonder I connected the theater with the sacred long before I had read about Artaud or Grotowski and other people looking for the sacred in the storytelling space.

When I was very young – too young to remember – my mother belonged to a Quaker congregation. Or at least that was a story I knew. I tried to find a home in a Quaker community just a few years ago, but staring in silence for 45 minutes is not a great choice for someone with bipolar tendencies: a small doll set on a little Shaker chair across the room began moving for me, and it took me months to get my feet back on the ground. My doctor suggested neither Quaker silence nor a Buddhist retreat would be a good idea anytime in the near future.

I suppose, in a way, this is a sacred story:

I run on the trails. I stop and listen. This is my church now. My cathedrals and chapels. I notice – without learning the names of things by rote. I squat to pee in the scrub pines and take note of the unfurling fern of some sort – nothing delicate about it. It’s thick and dark and wet. Simultaneously I see the Alien creature folded in on itself, and a fetus unfolding. Life is a mystery, and always frightening. It’s smells can make you dizzy. Can make you wretch. Can make you acutely aware of want.

This might be the fear that the sweaty pastor G. was always talking about. The awe that made the people in the Bible tremble.

Maybe this is my only hope for a Sangha. Congregation. Prayer. Meditation. Writing.

My bared butt in the breeze, knowing there are snakes in the rocks nearby. Maybe this is my only true sacred story?