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

I am certain that I have written on this topic before. Certain because I have had the same exact prompt for exploration of the subject again and again.

And again someone offers advice that to make myself more visible as a poet I should teach workshops on this or that (sometimes the suggestion doesn’t even involve teaching poetry). It is interesting. And it is unintentionally demoralizing. I already have a job that isn’t writing.

There seems to be this idea that if people like you personally, they will like your poetry. “They just need to get to know you.” That seems odd to me. I don’t know writers whose work I admire. And in some instances, I dislike writers whose work I admire. And I wonder if the genre writing “community” is as similar to a cult-of-personality?

I asked my Canadian publisher which of her titles sold best. She didn’t take a beat: those who are very visible on social media.

It is interesting. And perplexing. I have a full-time job. I write daily, hand-bind books and make broadsides from handmade paper. I’m writing the newest manuscript, keep two Instagram accounts, a Twitter account, and a Facebook page (I spent weeks setting up a shop there, which has yielded 1 view). I have even begun to delve into Etsy and Pinterest. I have a dog, a husband and – despite Covid – friends. The last two things I mention require me to shower, too.

Where do people find the time to do more? I am impressed!

“Serve the Community”. It’s common advice to writers – and to visual artists. The marketing advice is almost identical to the advice offered to people selling workshops about marketing. To people selling pilfered quotes on t-shirts and coffee mugs.

The word “ingratiate” keeps coming to mind. I am not saying people who are popular ingratiate themselves, but any conscious attempt to become popular on my part would be.

I have never been someone who (successfully) vies for attention. Four people in a room, and I will press myself against the wall to watch. I think it’s why I am a writer. And a writer who has on occasion had much more to drink than was wise at conferences, just to be able to make small talk.

I am naturally more of an (amateur) social scientist, watching discreetly from the corner of the room noting observations about the fascinating gaps between spoken language and body language, than I am someone who dances on the table. I can control a classroom, but when all the teachers are in the room at the same time, the only thing that tells me apart from the students is my gray hair and drooping skin.

Literally, I have been an alien for nearly 30 years. Figuratively for much longer. I tried very hard to fit in in high school. And gave up entirely my junior year. All that contorting was very painful. And I never could figure out what I would win from it. Is it possible for life to still be like a bad teen rom-com when you are over 50?

I’m not going to win any popularity contests. And I am going to be okay with that.

In 7th grade, I did win a dance contest. The hustle was on the way out, but disco was still in. All the boys were named Steve or Greg. All the girls were Rebeccas and Pams. I do remember some things. A Halloween party and I tripped and got an ironic nickname for my performance. The nickname meant I belonged – for about four months. Then moved again. To start over in another town. You can’t bring nicknames with you. Especially when they’re ironic.

It’s weird I remember that nickname. Those people.

I’ve been thinking about how I have carried on a pattern of starting over throughout my life – even when it wasn’t necessary. Sometimes I circle back. And even though I get distracted, “Ooo – wouldn’t that be fun to do!”, I do think I am moving in an ever-tightening circle. Sort of zeroing in on a kind of contentment that isn’t dependent on other people’s responses. Not there yet. But closer.

I have a tattoo on the base of my neck. It is one of those Eastern-inspired Western designs that are about life’s path. I asked my (then) teen son to design it for me. It has a strange hard turn in one of the concentric circles. I’ve never asked him what it was. I assumed it was the divorce in his mind, though it was something else to me. Or maybe: AND it was something else for me. So when the tattoo artist assumed it was a mistake and asked me if I wanted him to “fix” the design. I said no.

My older son keeps reminding me to stay true to my joy. He doesn’t use those words – I have no idea whose words those are, actually. He says, only do the marketing as long as it is fun.

I haven’t submitted work to journals in over 5 years. I want to have my head together before I do. I want to have my personal guidelines clear before I even look at the calls.

Writing is my practice. It is not my livelihood. I’m going to try to dance, not hustle.

what feels like a hard
turn – decisive and brutal
will turn back again
in time imperceptibly
softening in the distance

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