Friday, August 30, 2019

A Little Poem


I glide

through that secret tunnel

lit with golden leaves.

The trees bend towards me,

radiating heat;

I flow like a river;

like a white flower,

I open.

Monday, August 26, 2019

On Being An "Older Woman"

The “old woman” I have in my head is gray-haired and slightly plump, wearing a neat dress and maybe even pearls. Her hair is permed. She speaks quietly and asks little for herself. Even in private, her demeanor is even-keeled, no longer at the mercy of emotion and desire.

I, on the other hand, swear and curse with impatience. Faded jeans are my go-to wardrobe. I’m obsessed with myself: my writing, my drawing, my inner conflict, my emotions--swinging from self-loathing to flights of transcendence. I am anything but settled. I can’t stop plowing forward into my wounds, fighting for more territory in which to live.

Maybe I have borderline personality disorder. Or is this what it means to be an artist?

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Getting Real

Okay, I tell myself, clicking off the SAD light: Get real. I know I’m depleting my meager retirement funds, taking Social Security too early, taking my leisure while my husband is still exhausted with a demanding full-time job.

I cut short my usual morning ritual: face, jeans, tee shirt, peanut butter toast, the Washington Post on Kindle, and the New York Times KenKen, with multiple cups of coffee.

Get your butt moving. I flick on the laptop and wait for it to crank up. How do you spell the name of that online tutoring service? Is it Smart-thinking or Smarthinking? The latter, I recall. It makes no sense when you read it phonetically; the two words crash together, with a disturbing aberration at the middle.

It takes a while to sort through the website to locate an application form.  Cheese-and-rice!* They want a resume, cover letter, recommendations. All this for a 10-bucks-an hour tutoring job for which I am wildly overqualified.

I refuse to spend an hour making major edits to the resume and cover letter I have on hand. I make one or two tweaks and paste them into the form. Just a few hours a week, I think. I can do this in my sleep.

*(Okay, this is not really what I said.  I'm being polite.)

Monday, August 19, 2019

Competing Waves of Terror and Certainty

I’m at the crux of both an ending and a beginning, buffeted by waves of terror and certainty. I long for security and the social approval of returning to work; yet some fierce green seedling keeps pushing up against whatever concrete ceiling is tamping it down.

It’s easier to focus on nurturing the dreams of others than face the scary audacity of forging a creative practice. Only my spiritual sense of the world makes it possible to step forward into the unknown--my belief that all of nature bends toward me in sympathetic assistance, as long as I keep moving.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Just Keep Moving

Fourteen years ago, I took myself off for a solo weekend retreat a few hours from home. It was the morning of my first full day. I was on my second bowl of granola, and my third cup of coffee, rocking, as I gazed out the front window of the cottage to a stand of birch and sugar maples. I was stretching out breakfast as long as I could, with no rules for the day, no expectations--and reveling in the time alone. I was desperate for a break from mothering my hyperactive 4-year-old son, from the terse and angry exchanges between myself and my husband.

I’d already read for several hours first thing in the morning, still in bed. So when I finally glanced up at the clock—close to noon—I felt a surge of energy. I got up, rinsed out the bowl and mug, and pulled on my down vest over a thick sweater. On the way out the door I grabbed a rain poncho and a ring of bells--to avoid finding myself face to face with a bear.

Outside, the air was cold. There were still patches of snow and the ground was muddy in spots, but the sky was sunny and blue. I walked down the gravel driveway to a paved country road. It was only about a quarter mile to where a snowmobile track would peel off to the right, the turn marked by a dead tree filled with sleeping opossums.

I’d gone in only a few miles when I came upon a small white wooden house with several ramshackle out-buildings, a cropped lawn. A rusty set of railroad tracks had been running in parallel with the snowmobile trail. I glanced further down the trail; would it be more of the same? I wanted the opposite of civilization. I felt my energy flag, my mood sink. I sighed deeply and turned back.

Soon I settled into a rhythm. The chatter in my head had finally eased. I kept my eyes on my feet, hyper-alert to what surrounded me—birds calling, leaves rustling, the fresh scent of cold air.

Suddenly, I left my body in a whoosh of energy. I expanded to encompass everything I could see. I saw my body below, just one participant in a perfect whole. The trees and bushes and grasses were not static but alive with a pure crackling energy; they bent toward me and flowed through me as I walked.

I received a message: all was well, all would remain well, as long as I kept moving.

Monday, August 12, 2019


I feel like a failure, like there’s something wrong with me for being unable to sustain my energy and excitement for teaching. Like someone who deserves to be kicked out.

But here’s the truth: I choose to vacate a system that relegates part-timers to the “housework” of the English department—the lowest level comp classes, the 2-credit research writing classes with high labor and low financial reward—the courses the full-timers don’t want. The draining emotional labor of trying to carry students in financial, mental health, and academic crisis through to the end of the semester.

I choose to have control over my schedule, to feel appreciated and generously rewarded for my skills and effort, to foster my own creative ambitions and meet my own emotional needs.

That's at least part of the story.  The other part is that it still hurts. 

Monday, August 5, 2019


I can’t bring myself to email my dean and tell him I won’t be coming back after all. It’s embarrassing, changing my mind from one week to the next.

Then I get an email. The dean offers me two courses for spring.

Shit. Now I really have to tell him.

A few days later I go upstairs for a good cry. I have no idea what I’m crying about. I just ask for help—from my angels, from Jesus, from Thich Nhat Hanh, from no one in particular.

I feel a warm, female presence, a young woman. It’s okay, she says. It’ll be okay. Change is hard. You’re scared. You’ve been teaching, helping people all your life.

It helps, a little.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Hawk Mountain

At 16, when I finally got the use of the Rambler, I’d head for Hawk Mountain.

I’d pack a lunch in a paper bag: a peanut butter sandwich, a handful of raisins. I’d put on my Wrangler shorts (the only brand I ever bought) and my stiff leather $80 hiking boots--ankle support for hiking on rocks. I’d wear a yellow blouse I’d had since 7th grade, worn almost to transparency, and pack a windbreaker and rain poncho just in case. I brought an army canteen filled with water, a Swiss Army knife, and a small canvas backpack.

The drive was much shorter than it had felt as a child—about 45 minutes. Before I wanted to be there, I was, and I found myself reluctant to pull into the long loops of parking spaces. I didn’t want to go into the visitor’s center, with its stuffed swan swinging on a wire six inches over my head. I didn’t want to see the stuffed red squirrel, limp in the talons of the great horned owl.

I went straight to the trailhead. In my memory, there had always been some bent, grim-faced, old lady taking donations at the gate. I feared she would look the family over and find us at fault. She’d say, “Sorry, no admittance,”” though everyone ahead had passed through easily. To me, she was Keeper of the Gate, like the troll guarding the bridge, demanding to know, “Who goes there?”

Today it was only a bored-looking girl, who barely looked up as she took the money.

I was disappointed by the scores of people on the trail. I had hoped to avoid them by going on a weekday. The trail had eroded to dust and rock, and the going felt much easier than I had recalled. It took 15 minutes to reach the top; too soon, too easy.

But stepping from the forest into the light was just as it had always been: a moment of disorientation, blindness, and then that sense of stepping gingerly into church. The sun was deliciously hot. My calves felt strong in my boots. I started picking my way across the white boulders, heading north, away from scattered clumps of people oohing and aahing with their noses pointed to the sky. I wasn’t really interested in the birds. I made my way across the rocks, sometimes skidding on loose talus, sometimes slipping close to the cool crevices between boulders. I was aware of the copperheads that might have been coiled there, armed with their poisonous bite, and took care exactly where I put down my feet.

At length I hooked up with a trail that led to another mountain at right angles to Hawk Mountain. The trail ultimately led to the South Lookout, a clearing of white rocks visible from the North Lookout, but far less utilized. I was relieved to find no one there. I sat on a rock. I was afraid for myself, my inexplicable depressions, my loneliness, the fears and worries that swirled in my head. Sometimes at night before going to sleep I listed them, as a sort of incantation, to prevent them from happening. I still believed it was possible to think my way out of despair, to solve it like a physics problem: Work=force over mass.

After a long while, I would notice something entering my body, soothing as cool water. The muscles of my back would release. My shoulders would open wider, my lungs would fill to the top. There would be warmth and light, the soft sounds of rippling leaves, the faint cries of hawks. My skin would ripple and then fade, transparent as my yellow shirt; my legs would disappear. I began to feel that everything I could see and feel was inter-joined by a warm filmy light. Everything pinged off of everything else perfectly, exactly as it must. I grew beyond my own skin, to contain everything: the valley, mountains, and sky: the people looking up, the rustling trees, the hawk riding the upward press of air.

In time, I’d return to myself, get up slowly, and gather my things for the hike down.

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