I know people who write a poem-a-day no matter what. People who do things like “running streaks” (not to be confused with streaking). But I think I have a rebellious nature that throws blocks in the road when I become conscious that I have been holding to a pattern. I don’t think of it as self-sabotage, as much as a kind of reassurance of personal agency. Though to be honest, it is probably a bit of both.

I’ve stopped considering my life as a state of “normal” that is interrupted with periods of exception. That is an illusion. I can break my own timeline of experience into chapters, into periods of shifting themes – and there are leitmotifs that surface often. But there is no normal.

We’ve started running again and there is a huge temptation to describe it as “getting back to normal”. But that would mean someday I won’t be able to do that – and then what? I will never be my “normal” self again?

This “I”. whatever it is. likes running now. Misses it. But there may well come a day when “I” don’t enjoy it anymore. And there is a part of me that fears that I will lose myself, my very identity, instead of losing a habit or an affinity. I find this fascinating since I have often accepted the idea that our habits shape “who we are”.

Who are we? For the most part I don’t feel like the same person, the same “I” I was as a kid, or even as a 25-year-old. I barely remember those lives, separated and entirely discrete in terms of personal and (sub)cultural ties, even languages. I never claim her (or her) as a part of my current identity now. Even when I do bring up experiences of my childhood as explanations for personality quirks or foibles, it is more of a rationalization. An intellectual exercise in storytelling according to the rules of twentieth-century cause-and-effect psychology’s narrative templates. I have no idea if they are true.

It makes a good story. Often one that lets me off the hook for harm I’ve done to myself or to others. I was that person, then. But I’ve changed and I am this person now. And every time thinking that this person now is the authentic version of me.

At any rate, something new is beginning. But this time, instead of picking up and moving to start fresh, I am digging deep into the ground here and blooming. I am changing in a way that will rub hard against how other people see me. And that is okay. I’m going to be hard/giving like a rubber mallet. I’m going to walk a perimeter, put down stakes, and cage the overly-enthusiastic oxpeckers who claim to be doing me favors by keeping me in check – doing what they think is their duty to keep me humble. Realistic.

I am sick of realistic. It’s nothing more than a common story.

I am literally moving into the attic this week. E.’s oldest daughter has moved out and I am moving my studio space up to the loft space. My old, huge dining room table is the mono-printing/painting/charcoal area, my old desk space is dedicated to sewing signatures, and the kitchenette space is for paper-making. I couldn’t be more excited.

I find myself thinking how spoiled I am. And I am lucky – privileged – in so very many ways. I’ve never even dreamt of this kind of life. And yet I have also worked hard for years to make this happen.

I even have one of those five-year plans now.

We’ll see how well I can stick to that with my rebellious nature. Or maybe that nature is just something that used to define me?

Sunday ritual –
her back to the bathroom mirror
Grandma holds a small
hand mirror to see her own back
– reflections bounce forever

Or – What Writing Isn’t to Me


My ex-husband used to call my writing a hobby. I had a Ph.D. in Creative Writing, and five traditionally published books at the time. I’d been vetted to become a member of the Norwegian Authors’ Union. I read my work at international festivals and translated and collaborated with great writers*.

But it didn’t pay the bills. So: Hobby, he said.

Last year I decided that I am not even going to try to write to pay the bills. I made that decision at the same time I decided to focus much more of my energy on writing and bookmaking.

But yeah, still feeling caustic when I hear someone talk about my “hobby”.

I’m not the kind of person comfortable with saying things like: I write because it is who I am. I honestly believe writing is a doing thing, not a being thing. It’s a very metaphysical argument, so no worries, I’m not out to convince anyone to see it my way. It’s just what I believe.

And I would not die if I didn’t write. I have more than a passing acquaintance with mental disorders and I take that phrase quite seriously: I would die. I seriously doubt I would die. I’ve other ways to express myself if that’s the crux of this expression. I can shout a lot of curse words. Or at least a choice few over and over.

And I giggle.

I know that writing can make things better, and it can also make things much worse. The reformist and orator Dorothea Lynde Dix wrote in her diary rather cryptically that she knew she shouldn’t write poetry because it would be the end of her. I am paraphrasing wildly here, but you get the gist. As a mature woman, she limited herself to letter-writing and to the genre she helped establish: oration.

I may be projecting, but I believe I recognize Dix’s fear. Poetry can be like alcohol. Like an opiate. So, yeah, I get it: I would die. But, no. Poetry, and writing in general, is a tool I can utilize — with great care — for my mental health. But it is not a cure.

When I think of a hobby, I think of something that soothes you, something that takes you out of your difficult life. Like recess for grown-ups. I have hobbies. Drawing. Running. Photography. And maybe if I were a storyteller, I could embrace writing as a hobby. Might even have ambitions to become a professional. But I’m not that kind of writer.

Writing every day is a practice for me, the same way that some people practice their faith. Like prayer. It’s like the way I practice meditation. Yoga.

These daily activities differ from my routine morning run in their focus. It’s not inward at all. And it’s not a diversion.

It’s not as much about personal growth as it is about transgressing the boundaries of my person. It’s about trying to accept the world. To really see it — and my place in it — on its own terms.

It’s evening as I type this, and that may be why this missive is not an example of my practice, not a piece of literary prose. This is navel-gazing, at best.

But it’s also a bit of sharing, for anyone else out there bristling at the word “hobby” when it’s used to describe their practice.

I don’t know. Actually, now that I have the word for it in my own vocabulary, I don’t feel quite as bristly about it. It’s all practice, isn’t it?

perspective does not
shift with a clearer perception
the same ham-fisted 
man adjusting the TV’s
rabbit ears for reception.


*Someone on Twitter informed me that bragging “isn’t a good look” for a middle-aged white woman. Well, I can’t win for losing either, so I blocked him. I considered getting off Twitter. But I’m still there.

It would make more sense to me to begin a new year with a solstice or an equinox. Even a full moon would have been nice this year.

And with that sentence: my first resolution of the year is to stop fantasizing that things could be different from what they are in any given moment. I find myself using a bizarre amount of energy on things that aren’t even important to me. An odd kind of diversion and procrastination – that is also a practice in dissatisfaction. I have no need to practice this. I’m already much better at it than I want to be.

It’s not likely I will change the things I can change if my focus is on irrelevant details. When I choose to begin again is irrelevant. I just need to choose. To live consciously.

Camus said it is our human condition, and what is worthwhile. Imagine Sisyphus happy knowing there is no winning. Imagine Sisyphus content.

Hell, even choosing not to choose is living consciously when you acknowledge what you’re doing. I figure, even if it is all one big illusion, it’s the illusion that makes us human.

Get on with the adventure.


On our annual January 1st beach run, E. and I watched the sunset, red sinking into the sea. It was a promise of at least a day or two of clear skies, and it has been clear. And cold. Yesterday the edges of the lake were frozen, and this morning, walking Leonard at 4 am, I loved the way each step across the grass was cushioned. The ice-covered blades giving in slowly. Letting me down easy – which seemed considerate considering the early hour.

Leonard must have eaten something he shouldn’t have yesterday. He’s resting now on the sofa with a stomach full of chicken and rice. I hear E. using the coffee grinder in the kitchen. And here I sit with my fingers on the keyboard whose M,N,L, S and V keys are completely without lettering.

This morning I am grateful my mother made me take touch-typing in high school: “data entry” they called it by then. She made me believe I had no choice in the matter.

Dinner is cooking, work looms, body parts ache, I’m a little sleep-deprived, and no doubt Leonard with scramble off the couch any minute, in a whining rush for the door.

And all is right with the world.
There’s time for poetry.

Everywhere joy in relation and nowhere grasping;

world in abundance and earth enough.

Rainer Maria Rilke (trans. Joanna Macy & Anita Borrows)
from “I Lift My Eyes”

I’m trying to make sense of every little thing. Every book on the shelf, every spoon in the drawer, and every must-do on my to-do list. I’ve been using new software at work to sort through the information I share with students, and for the tasks I need to do. I’ve done the same thing with my writing projects.

It’s (probably deceptively) satisfying to get everything organised this way. Having an overview only gives me an illusion of control, I suppose. But it does stop my muppet mind from fretting. I can tease apart every concern and spread it over the computer screen as separate entities. With a space between each. Nothing in its own shape seems worth fretting over. Nothing in-and-of-itself seems vital.

Muppets GIFs | Tenor

What I’m still searching for is a way to do this kind of thing with all of the thoughts in my head. I want to – lovingly – sedate every little moth-like idea and pin it to a kind of bulletin board.

I suppose in some ways that is exactly what it is to write in the mornings.

This dawning space: where the contents of my time
spreads thinly, shallow as the sea
flowing over the sand – where
every gasp for breath becomes visible –
this moment of pause before
the day’s rush and the slower ebb
into the dark and the deep
chaos of dreams.

It is exactly what it is to sit on the cushion and let every thought wash up, and pass by.

Without drowning in the process.

May we have the attention to hear when something changes, the perceptiveness to know when things aren’t working, and the wisdom to try something different.

(Adapted from a prayer on a Unitarian Universalist website.) –jobe

The first of the four seals of Buddhist thought is that all compound entities are impermanent. Everything falls apart. And when they do: when they scatter as fragments, as potentials, over the nothingness.

I envision it as a depth of black felt, not cold space. And though this nothingness isn’t really nothingness, since it can itself still be teased apart, it is as far as my mind can see.

It’s here, against this incomprehensible nothingness that every temporary constellation might be perceived and admired, seen and heard. Maybe synesthesia is the beginning of understanding? Maybe it is the universe recognizing itself at play?

In the Christian tradition, God created the world in his own image. This morning I’m thinking that every coming-together, every illusion of form is just the universes’ joyful shadow play for itself. I’m some bit player: both insignificant and indispensable. My presence is vital, my role is not.

But it is so easy to get caught up in the drama. We forget we are looking at our own mind from inside our own mind: just fragments- just potentials.

or… That’s a load of Latin.

“There is thus a will to live without rejecting anything of life, which is the virtue I honor most in this world.”

― Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

I’ve been carrying a moment of self-consciousness since I read the galleys for my most recent book. (Not that recent, I’m afraid). The translator wrote an essay on how he experienced my development as a writer. He labeled the (then) new work as “late period”.

It was a little like reading my own obituary (flattering as it was). And I feared it would trip me up. And it has.

I wrote Friday that nothing has to try to grow. And today I’m thinking that trying to grow is counter-productive. It’s the tennis player suddenly thinking about her strong backhand, and losing it in the analysis.

I can’t speak for others, but I believe art is created through a practice of wu-wei: art as process and experience, not as product and commodity. And this kind of practice is such a far cry from the zeitgeist of knowing one’s passion/calling/brand.

I spent so many years studying craft. Only to find that my best writing is without craft.

Every time I begin to analyse my process, it stops – usually in a cloud of self-consciousness and shame. A woman once commented on my blog after I had begun writing again: “I was wondering where that woman went who wrote letters to her friends.”

I’ve missed writing letters. I’ve missed the easy, unconscious flow of observing and sharing. Each poem a dharma talk, each reader the sangha.

That’s a bit lofty, I know.

This is my letter to the World

That never wrote to Me—

The simple News that Nature told—

With tender Majesty […]

(pull quote formatting centers the text – not my choice and not likely that of Emily Dickinson)

Maybe tennis isn’t the best metaphor to choose. I don’t want to approach writing a competitive sport. When I was younger, an older lover told me not to work so hard. Still, it was years later I realized that sex could be experiential, not performative. I think of the realization as a gift from this aging body: a strange kind of selfless self-centeredness. A koan.

Maybe I’m learning only now that this experiential aspect is also true in terms of art. In terms of all things. I think of it as a gift from the immediacy of the life and death of the world, as it comes closer into view.

I find often that poems I think to throw out are the ones people like best. Poems where I’ve felt I fell short in terms of craft. The metaphors people say speak to them are usually the metaphors I didn’t choose: it was just me questioning, pointing at something I noticed.

I’ve been listening to Stephen Batchelor’s The Art of Solitude. He talks about asking questions, without seeking answers.

This is my new ars poetica.

Ann E. Michael writes about practice. She’s been writing since she was 10, and though she’s lost the pages, she has the memories.

Sometimes I wonder if all these gaps in my life – the seasons lost from memory – have been lost exactly because I didn’t take the time to write them into being. There are long stretches where I wrote nothing, and there have also been long stretches of forced “morning pages” that went round and round each day, and I remember then my life going round and round in meaningless circles.

But I was present in those days – going round and round.

There were also seasons that I choose to identify as the authentic me – the person I long to get back to when I am feeling out-of-sorts. I have no objective basis for identifying these periods as the real me, and I am certain people who have known me do not see it that way, and quite possibly believe the authentic me is the anxious and odd one. But I have very few memories of her. She is not real to me. She is the warped-with-sickness me, the smudged and painful reflection of overwhelm, a torrent of noise.

Only the writing seasons are etched into my memories and – agreeing with Ann – this doesn’t mean these were seasons of well-crafted sentences, or of searing insight. They were nothing more than seasons of consciousness.

I am always pleased with the woman I write into being.

It is easier for me to make changes in my life when there are large shifts in circumstances. Two weeks ago I committed to a new and specific practice. Practice is something that reinforces itself. The psychological power of cycles: a day, a week, a season. A foot pushing the bicycle pedal down on the way up a hill. Momentum isn’t enough, but it still matters.

As a teacher, one of the first things I do – looking over my student’s shoulder at their screen – is scan their document and hit return again and again, separating the thoughts into paragraphs so I can take in their ideas in at a pace that allows me to find meaning. There are days when I wonder if my doing so – my providing white space – is actually imposing my meaning on their lives.

I guess this is what makes me a writer. This need to use writing as a tool for understanding the world. It has nothing to do with producing texts, or thinking deeply about everyday matters. It’s not about a gift at all, it’s simple a matter of which vehicle I require to navigate the world.

When one meditates, one experiences the consciousness that watches and interprets the “I” who is in a mood, whose knee aches, whose mind wanders. The “I outside the I” narrating an ego into existence.

New paragraph. Here is a transition. Here, something changes.

Or what I find in the forest; I’ve been trying to speak for myself only.

The pine smelled so sweet and sharp this morning. Somewhere near my solar plexus I felt a heaviness like guilt. I know it must smell this pronounced because the trees have been freshly cut. It’s not the smell of death – but of wounds. I’ve had wounds myself before that have wept, clear and sticky. I should have enough compassion for the trees not to be drawn to this smell. But I inhaled so deeply I had to stop running.

I exhale melancholy.

Someone had raked together all the long, dead branches and placed them around the bases of individual trees. E. told me that it’s a kind of slow fertilizing process. But I think the trees look as vulnerable as martyrs waiting for the flames.

I exhale anxiety.

My mind wanders on these forest runs and it isn’t always easy to sort what to take, and what to leave in the forest. Today I took home four fallen leaves home to make paste paper for chapbook covers. I took home a photo of an abandoned boot someone placed on a tree stump. I took home the reminder that this body is aging and mortal, that each day is made more precious with that knowledge.

I wonder what I leave after these runs? Footprints, certainly. Carbon dioxide.

I wonder if we shed dark matter in our wake, just as we shed bits of DNA.

I wonder if the blackbirds that overwinter here are disturbed by my having been present with them.


We talk about breath being life: inhaling, exhaling. But the pauses between – the effortless moments of waiting – without a glottal stop – are as integral to the flow of life, as death. Or is death, rather, is the hum of existence beyond this constellation of atoms.

These breathless, lifeless pauses are where we touch the dark matter of the universe – these are what is expressed in the leaps in our poetry.