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

I don’t want to write today. My computer screens’ backgrounds are black instead of showing the photo I have had on them for four years. It is one of those days. Everything seems to be slightly out of its respective groove. Out of focus. Grinding. Even Leonard, who is lying on the floor next to me, is breathing more heavily than usual. Arhythmically.

On the walk this evening I was thinking about work. Already playing out autumn term scenes in my head that are unlikely to happen and unnecessary to itch about. What’s wrong with me? I’m trying to breathe easily and to listen to the blackbirds. And the train that is passing. And the truth is that once it has passed, the fading sound is pleasurable to focus on. The quieting to a hush. The world goes on. Is going on.

Someone outside is scolding. Leonard takes notice. Stands up. Figures it’s none of his business and lies down again.

These tiny things make up my days now. Sometimes it is difficult to find meaning in them. I mean, isn’t that what we have to do when our lives are stuck: find meaning in/for the small, meaningless things?

I write. I suppose that is an attempt to make meaning. To dig up what’s needed from memory to construct a story I can be satisfied with. That will justify the extra glass of wine, the extra hour of sleep, the dropped obligation.

Dropped obligations – so many of them – swept up into closets and threatening to topple on my head like a bit of slapstick if I ever go there in my mind.

And yet. Walking in the sunshine felt good this evening. It’s been a year since I felt the sun on my face like that. The grass in the field has grown past my waist. A dozen or so oystercatchers were calling while they skimmed the surface of the pond.

I am trying to be patient with myself. Things take time to circle back. And I want to believe all things do. Though there are still no signs of ducklings in the area.

So tonight I will construct a better story. Blackbirds and strawberries, ginger tea and a soft chair. A good book of poetry and faith in the world’s changing seasons.

Leonard is barking softly now. Growling. I wonder if it were hare he smelled on the walk. I wonder what story he’s constructing in his sleep.

The longest day. There is something about that phrase that speaks to me of weariness, instead of sunshine. A “Here: but no further”. A gentle “We’ll take this slow” turning back toward the inevitable darkness.

And the waxing moon brings with it the melancholy of condolence. The sky is pink and the blackbirds are singing. The wind carries a chill that pricks my arms, my neck and brings my attention to my body. Alive. Responding.

These are moments where the words in my head swell together into absurd phrases: Oh, Love; this beauteous; If but when… Is my subconscious so desperate to fix my experience into a greeting card cliché? A patinaed aphorism? Because these are not my words. How does becoming aware of my body cause me to attempt to escape it, to dissolve into something “bigger” and far more abstract?

The immediate world is enough. The wind, the goose skin, the smell of the crushed grass under my shoe. The moon, pale in the bright night, transparent at tissue paper. These things speak in the vernacular. They are as down-to-earth as a bloody childbirth, as the planting seasons coming and going, as death itself.

Tomorrow the sun will set almost one minute sooner. And like tonight, it will bleed into the sky for hours after while the moon waits patiently to be noticed. This is just the way of things. Whether we will be here to notice it again. Whether we bothered to notice it now.

the crab sheds a shell
hard and twisting, slick inside
as white as the moon


Written for a haibun prompt – dVerse.

From my desk, I face a huge window that looks out on the third-floor void between my corridor and the theater pavilion. Light comes in from the glass ceiling. It’s not a view of the outside, but I got that before work when the world was normal. There are far worse workspaces. Some of the offices have windows to the hallways only. It’s a big building with hundreds of teachers.

Depending on what I teach each day, I might be spending most of my time in a black room, with black floors and black curtains. 6 hours maybe. But it’s not as bad as it sounds. On those days, we’re moving around. Literally lifting each other into the air. Or were, when the world was normal.

Yesterday I unplugged my little reading lamp and emptied the bookshelves. Shredded the student’s diaries and doctor’s notes, etc. The whole time unconciously praying that when I come back in August everything will be normal.

If you had told me two years ago we’d be living in a culture where I could be reprimanded for touching a student’s shoulder, it would have sounded like a dystopian novel. I’ve written a lot over this last year about the lack of touch and what I was concerned it would do to me. I’m not at all sure what role this physical isolation has played in my relapse of bipolar symptoms, and I’m not sure knowing is possible or even meaningful in terms of cause and effect. It is interesting though to consider a connection between the two as a metaphor.

I normally teach contact improvisation. We lean on each other – learn to trust each other to hold our weight. We work together as a group to lift one person at a time and “fly” them around the space. We touch in turn, responding to the quality of touch. Not necessarily mimicking: but registering and choosing how to respond.

We breathe together.

Of course, there is a basic trust required in terms of appropriate touch. Our “private” body parts. But there are other layers of trust required, the most significant being care. Does the person I am leaning on care for my well-being in this moment? It’s not an intellectual exercise but a physical communication without a rubric. You can’t measure presence and support by pounds-per-square-inch. Hands tremble, sometimes almost imperceptibly. And often we can “sense” the reason for the trembling. Our mind doesn’t form an explanation, but our body understands first.

A touch on the shoulder can be invasive, a touch on the breast neutral.

Is the heel of the hand pushing hard into the center of the thigh muscle, or is the palm cupping the leg in a lift? Is the person observing the breath for signs of distress?

Do they care: here and now? Are we present together?

For a year and a half, I have been teaching online or focusing on theory in a large auditorium, everyone sitting a meter apart. Even movement class has been all about observation and external expressions. I have had moments with individual students. Individual counseling both in terms of personal lives and academic development. But I am not sure I was present often enough. Am I am not thinking, “for their sakes”, but for mine.

When a student begins crying one feels helpless enough, covering their hand with yours, squeezing their shoulder, offering them a tissue. But to sit there with little but facial expressions and words – so inappropriate in the moment – that is real helplessness. I’m not claiming to have a magic touch to help students feel better. I’m only speaking to my own experience: no one likes to feel helpless.

Being in the present moment is key for me. Probably because I have so many difficulties with my memory. As pathetic as it sounds, I think that teaching is what keeps me tethered to a community in a way that I am comfortable with.

I make few long-term relationships with the students, but in my day-to-day present tense, I experience meaningful connections.

I don’t need to be teaching contact improvisation to do this, but I do need to be in the same room. Less than a meter apart.

Today the number of local cases of Corona19 jumped again. And the vaccines are delayed… again. I have no idea what kind of classroom I’ll be returning to in August. And the uncertainty isn’t easy to sit with.

I am fine with solitude. But feeling lonely in a building where nearly a thousand people wander in and out of doors, is hard.

Breathe…

It’s something of a wake-up call when you think in the morning: today I’m going to shower and brush my hair. How deep I’ve settled into that familiar groove. The familiar always brings with it a kind of comfort. No matter how dark.

No run this morning because of the strained achilles. So the blue sky I see from the porch while the dog is peeing this morning, doesn’t quite do the trick it usually can. The plants in my yoga room are all dead, so I can’t bring myself to roll out my mat there.

I’d like something to grab me by two corners and snap me like a sheet. I want to hear that sound of straightening things out. And then I want to get on a plane and go somewhere where I sweat just sitting on the beach doing nothing.

And that is not going to happen. The school year limps to a close and then summer lies there like a damp cloth. There is a joy in hiking in soft rain, in hazy mornings. But something in me needs heat this year. Heat to burn off this restlessness. To get me to kick off this weighted blanket.

Every morning I write a single poem – quick and dirty – as part of my writing practice. The idea is to let go of the idea that my writing is too precious, and my ideas too few to squander on an online blog. I suppose it has something to do with the pop psychology model of the scarcity vs abundance mindset. At any rate, this morning I wrote about a late childhood summer memory. The twitter-sized poem touched off a cascade of memories. And I’ve been trying to suss out why they came up now and how I feel about them.

Ambivalence is the first word that came to mind, but that isn’t true. I don’t have good memories of the Kentucky river with its stigmatizing impetigo (white trash rash), the drunken men in their flipping dune buggies with their near-misses, recklessly chewing up the riverbanks. My mother too stoned to care that my 6-year-old brother was on a minibike and split his skull open on the tailpipe of a parked car, while I fussed in a kind of vertical rut, like a hopping, cartoon drama queen. Making “too big a deal of it.”

But I swam across the river once. And back. Despite my fear of snapping turtles, water moccasins, fish in general, and step-fathers in the specific. Death. Despite my fear of drowning like my cousin had been drowned in a bathtub.

I swam over the dark cushion of fear that was almost like a buoy, like a propelling presence.

I’ve been wondering if this is really facing one’s fear at all. I suppose it is – but then, I don’t feel like I conquered it. It was more like a battle and a retreat. All these years of battle and retreat.

And if I were to conquer my fears, to puncture the cushion? What then? What’s going to buoy me and propel me through the world?

these dark shapes that stack
one on one like bones to hold
a body upright