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.

I feel ridiculously self-conscious talking about writer’s block. I am one of those people who believes that all present tense descriptors only relate to the moment as it passes: not the future. And that the past is “history” and not something one can cling to in the present. Though I know we all do that for comfort sometimes.

And sometimes I think “writer’s block” sounds like a humble-brag.

I took enough Spanish in college to remember that there are two verbs used when describing people. You can say: soy feliz or you can say estoy feliz, “I am a happy person” or “I am a happy person in this moment – as the words escaped my mouth”.

The correct way to say, “I am a writer” is soy escritora. But I can’t bring myself to say that if I’m not writing. In these pauses between books, between journal-keeping, between poems; what am I?

I try to tell myself I am not “a what”… Still: what am I dong with my life?

A few years ago I named the problem: the oxpecker who sits on my shoulder and pecks at my brain. My writing practice has always come in seasons, and always with varying production. But the drive to write never left me entirely until three years ago. It’s bound up somehow emotionally with the day E. and I were running on the beach and I just couldn’t seem to find the energy. I wasn’t “tired” or “fatigued”, it was a feeling I’d never experienced before. It was as though I just couldn’t get the engine to turn over, to catch hold and run.

I kept telling E. that something was wrong, but it was nothing I could point to. Until my leg turned purple the next day, and I was hospitalized with deep vein thrombosis.

My body is healed, but the shock having walked around for 51 years, ignorant that I’ve had a weird congenital defect seems to have broken my confidence in so many other ways. And when I sit down in my little library to write, I feel that same sense that something is wrong. That tiny fear of not being good enough – of needing reassurance – has grown and animated itself as this bird that pecks at the wound in my mind. I would say that it feels like my life in on pause, but I see myself growing older. Time is passing.

Yesterday a good friend asked me to join her at a “share your practice” session at one of the local arts centers. A young dancer was going to hold a workshop. It was so much fun. She lead us through a kind of guided meditation dance, and through a series of exercises with gesture work, and partner work with abstracting gestures. I am not a dancer. In fact, I don’t think that I can ever be a performer again really, but her instructions kept me focused and in the moment so the oxpecker was also distracted from her own goal: to protect my ego at all costs.

When the workshop was finished the dancers decided to do a half-hour jam. No rules. No distractions. The oxpecker returned to pick at my wounds. We have a phrase in drama pedagogy: rules as tools. Now I am thinking: rules as distraction.

Now how can I apply that kind distraction to my writing practice?

“I want to be such a conversation”… is what Neil Reid said about what can become of us when we witness someone else’s examination of the world (which includes one’s self), and then take those questions into our own examination of our own world.

And if one takes note of that process – could there be a richer conversation? And isn’t this really the definition of poetry?

I haven’t been making space for good conversations, and I miss them.

There are a lot of reasons I was lonely as a child. All of them were paths to books, and thus to “conversations” with people too far away to touch. Often too dead to be moved.

Though never too dead as to be fixed in regard to their significance.

If I have any faith in any thing, it is that our lives can be meaningful – and only in ways that we cannot control – and only in the sense that others will create meaning for the random juxtaposition of their lives with ours.

What is history but a series of perspectives, created by the juxtaposition of our worldviews with those of the dead? For good and for bad: heroes become villains, villains heroes.

Heroines become.

Reading someone’s journal – someone’s story – is like meeting them in a secret forest where anything wild might breathe in your ear, might open your veins, leaving you weaker – but wiser.

“I knew that was true.” But didn’t want to face it.

Witnessing someone else’s nature is witnessing our own. It can be frightening. But it can also be reassuring in the way that the idea of life-after-death can be reassuring. Whether that is a heaven from which we look down, or atoms that create new constellations of life. Things continue without us: most likely because they were never dependent upon us in the first place.

I find that thought freeing.

I have been reading too little poetry lately. Allowing too little poetry into my life, too much social media – where conversations are almost non-existent. I have been thinking about the word social and why nothing is called “conversational media”.

Social is a descriptor for “society”, and a society is an “aggregate of individuals”. Aggregates form a consensus. And isn’t that how social media functions for the most part: not sharing, but shaming, posing, labeling, sorting, “canceling”. It is the hard work of keeping people “in line.”

I failed Social Skills 101. And to be honest, I am okay with that now. I’m okay with having been something of an urban nomad, half-hermit – an emigrant/immigrant. I am content being someone who misses the social cues that weren’t illustrated by the likes of Judy Bloom, PG Wodehouse, Anais Nin, and Stephen King. (Imagine them coming to a consensus). With good conversation, loneliness can soften into solitude. And that kind of solitude can be freeing in that one can fearlessly look outside one’s self.

I suppose one could charge a kind of narcissism in the reader who takes on the “both” roles in a conversation found in the written word. But maybe they (we) are just playing the long game: those readers having become writers who are hoping the conversation continues once they have left the world.

There is a difference between believing you have something to give the world, and believing you have something to contribute to it.

It’s worth entering a conversation on the subject.

Be humble for you are made of Earth. Be noble for you are made of stars.
SERBIAN PROVERB

Dear R.

I’ve been doing fine with these physically-distanced months. In part because I’ve been ridiculously busy and focused on everyone else’s needs. That’s good for me: focusing on everyone else’s needs.  Now the year is winding down. I have less to do, and to notice the pile of books on my desk that I meant to read, the list of letters I meant to write – that play still unfinished.

I scroll through the apps on my phone, and take in all the anger and the fear there.

Then I worry about everyone else again with a new kind of suspicion – I worry about what they think of me, or want from me in a way that is not good for me. I want to fix things that are not mine to fix. And then feel ashamed for having the arrogance to think I could, or should. When I scroll through social media I feel helplessly disconnected: Socially distanced.

I’m not missing being in the office, but I am missing seeing my friends face to face – more than I usually miss them. You are all so far away. And some of you (not naming names) are fully engaged in very real political battles on your home turf.

I have to remind myself I’ve never really lived in a world where I can call up someone on the weekend, settle into a deep, leather chair with a glass of wine, and have a good laugh. Do those little pockets exist for more than a moment or two, every few years? Where the company of friends really makes you forget the world’s bickering and reaffirms what you thought about people being clever/kind and genuinely wanting one another to thrive?

I watch too much television. Have picked up and moved on too often. Or maybe I’m too stiff from scarring. We all are.  No: some of us are. Some of us need a patient easing into social interaction. A deep, leather chair. Wine.

I should buy a deep, leather chair.

It is starting to dawn on me that I cannot travel this year. It wasn’t even a year ago I visited B. in Colorado. It seems like so many years ago. I was planning on to see you and M. this summer when I headed to London to be with the kid for a while. It makes me sad to think about it.

This summer we’ll go hiking. Not terribly far, but with a sincere intention of fremmedgjøring – out of the range of mobile phone coverage.

I have a strange desire to lug something heavy on my back so that I can put it down at the end of the day. I want to see something besides the yard and the same 4 kilometre stretch of trail along the lake.

Until then – until the grades have been logged and the students sent off –  I’m starting a garden. When I say “I”, I mean E. is sawing down the overgrown thuja to make room for the tiny greenhouses.  I’ll try to grow chilies and tomatoes.

Basil, mint, parsley, cilantro.

There is a space he is clearing along the southern side of the house where I’m going to plant raspberry bushes and apple trees.

It upsets me a little to consider that the trees might not take root.

I have a desire to do something that matters. Like growing things. I have a fear that even on this tiny scale, I won’t be able to do it right.

So I am procrastinating and blaming the weather. I’m blaming the weather for the melancholy, too.

For some reason I keep thinking about the Italians – months ago now – who spontaneously sang together from their balconies. Not for each other, but with each other.

Is there a really good word for this feeling it brings up in me? I know other people felt it. Because they tried so hard to repeat it.

This is a kind of grasping, isn’t it?

You know, way back in 2001 people were celebrating Earth Day. Everyone in the world was supposed to turn off the electricity and light a candle. A few days later someone got the idea that we all had to do it again so we could take a picture from space. I remember this because I wrote about it in a poem about 9/11. The aspect of the (meta-) performativity of our “Humanity”.

I’m not alone in struggling to just let it be. And let it come.

img_20200526_182658_7655223821023366188865.jpgDo you know what I mean when I say now that I think of Groucho Marx quote about not wanting to be part of any club that would have me?

These days I’m struggling to be human. I would much rather be Leonard Edgar. He doesn’t care what anyone expects of him.

He doesn’t have a facebook account.

I’ve been missing you. Hoping you are ready for a good summer. Wondering how you are really…

-ren