Saturday, May 27, 2017

Time and the Shape of a Life

"How many sessions do we have left?" a woman asks. She's a participant in the life writing workshop I'm teaching. I've asked the group to choose a partner to go through the process of interviewing each other on a topic. A bonding experience as much as the chance to be a storyteller and an active listener. When offered a few choices, they opted to tell stories of travel.

"Nine," says the senior center director. "There are nine sessions left."

The same woman with the question about sessions pulled me aside our first meeting to correct something she said when we wrote a group poem. "I meant lithography when I said etching. You can change it if you want." The detail mattered to her and it had to be right for the record. After the interviewing she told a long story of all her travels that circled around into telling about her children. She felt squeezed for time.

There is never enough time to tell your story. And how can you even see the shape of your story when you are in the middle of it, living?

On my computer is a file I ran across while I was preparing for this residency at the senior center. It's titled "95 Year Plan." I don't remember making it. It's a grid with the left hand vertical column showing my age in five year increments.  I went up to 95, a hopeful thinker, or maybe it was part of the instructions to do so. This must have been a writing exercise from a book I was reading or a workshop I took.

There are three other columns to the right of the age column which read: "Major Event," "What I Learned" and "The Most Amazing Thing I Saw."  I never finished it. I filled out the "Major Event" column up to age 55 and I gave up. I stopped recording "What I Learned" at age 20 when the "Major Event" was "got first real job as a typesetter" and the "What I Learned" was that "most real jobs suck." When I was 15 I learned that I was able to succeed at something I didn't necessarily want to do for the rest of my life.

I can see why I never finished this project. Filling the entire grid out is tempting fate, and reminds me of keeping a ten year plan for my life with clear, achievable goals. I've never operated that way. I like leaving places blank to allow for  the "Not Quite What I Was Planning" column and the "Spontaneous Magic" column and the "Mentor From an Unexpected Place Arrives and Kicks Your Ass" column. Actually, I can't even conceive of my life in a grid or with columns. It isn't a line. It's not a circle, because it will end someday, and I will feel like it's unfinished. I am unsure as to what shape it is at all, or even if it has a shape.

The attempt to record the details of one day, which I do each morning when I journal, can feel like riding the edge of some protoplasmic creature. I catch only moments as the rest of the day slips into another current and I am forced to let go. I always close the journal with a little sense of loss. I'm adding, but I'm losing too. Writing a life can feel deleterious.

How many sessions do we have left? Who knows. You won't catch it all. Create anyway.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017


My window is a broken mind, all
scattershot with spaces that
time screaks through, dates and numbers I
leave in shards at your feet. I trust
the wing-clamor of branches, but not this
toothbrush. The slow alphabet of my heart
in this small room of body has
built and wrecked me, lagged and led
my life. See how all women fall? Not me.
I float on wordlessness, naked. Almost content to.
Another one for my mother. This has an echo. Read down the right side of the poem for a phrase.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Bullet Journal: February

If you add order to your days,
graph paper, gel pens, post-it notes —
and record it all, a crochet
of charts, progress, your mind devoted
to that forward arrow — if your throat
chokes on time’s constancy, just play
with colored pencils, add a favorite quote.
Craft the human ordeal.

Essential accessories: stencils
for thought bubbles, the personal
accusations, dark snark, the chill
winds of what you didn’t do. Decals
add emphasis to weekly logs, all
actionable to-dos that you will,
you swear, get to. Washi tape goals.
Craft the human ordeal.

Rapid logging is the solution
to sustained contemplation. Mark
events with an O, notes with a dash —
Simplify, compartmentalize the shark’s
jaw of surgery, muzzy bazaar
of painkillers, snow blowgunned
against a window full of paper hearts.
Craft the human ordeal.

Download a matching shade of nail polish
for your Instagram of today’s page,
Inspire everyone with your mantra:
Craft the human ordeal.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

What We See and Don't See

My father once saw a soap bubble float across the road as he drove home from work. He described it as perfect and alone in its incongruous drift through traffic. He didn't want to hit it. "I'm sure it was a fairy," he said.

My father believed in magic. He read everything there was to read about the Arthurian legend. He was logical and orderly, and his handwriting was that of a draftsman -- squared off capital letters that let the reader know exactly what his message was. He was gifted in spatial thinking. He could build a bathroom where there wasn't one and make it look like it was part of the original structure of the house.

I never considered my father very emotional. The story we tell ourselves about fathers is that they are strong, the roots of the tree untouched the wind. I saw him cry a few times. Laugh many. He held his hand over his heart when he laughed hard. He was intelligent, so it was my secret mission always to make him laugh. If I could make someone as smart as he was laugh it was a true accomplishment. To bring him to the laughcry was a rich reward. I love to make my mother laugh too, for the same reasons.

I was, and still am, horrible at building birdhouses. I did, and still do things in a strange and illogical order. I once, just for fun, tried to glue ice together. Being able to make my father laugh connected us when I felt we weren't connected at all.

I have his eyes. I always say I don't think he knew how he ended up with a poet for a daughter, but I think he knew exactly how he ended up with a poet as a daughter. He was one himself, but he was a poet with light instead of words.

As I was writing this, my daughter brought up a piece of his stained glass that was hanging in the window downstairs.

It blew off in that big gust of wind.

Really? Wow. I'm writing about grandfather right now.

Ah, he's here.

So I hung up the piece in my studio window, where it catches light in the leaves and curlicues he painted by hand. There are twenty golden circles at the center, like bubbles, to remind me that where I come from, where we all come from, is magical. That anything is possible.

* Artwork created by a high school student at Canterbury High School in Canada, where Dan and I spent time as resident artists a few years ago. And by a few, I mean something like five.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Cognitive Assessment

Remember these words in this order:
red velvet daisy church face. Got it?

Here, let’s say them first together.
Remember these words in this order.
A color? Good. A fabric? Great! Flower?
You can do it, take your time. Commit.
Remember these words in this order:
red velvet daisy church face. Got it?

Now tell me how to draw a clock —
After the circle, what shows the time?

The curtains pulled at noon, it’s dark —
Now tell me how to draw a clock.
After the hands, what are the marks?
Verbal, you don’t need a pen, you’re fine.
Now tell me how to draw a clock —
After the circle, what shows the time?


A triolet, doubled. I think each stanza can work on its own with the same title, but I had more to write than one octave.

Sunday, September 18, 2016


My father has work to do,
needs to play his cards face up, not
block in case there’s a king to move
into this or that open space. The cards

of his last days, in descending order. Unless
God pops up from the foundation pile, you
can expect only the continuous snap, see
him shuffle from recliner to the immediate

safety of bathroom. There is no gain
in his decision to let go of his heart. It’s a shitty deal.
We may never know what is hidden in one
tableau or another, a gem or a regret. At

best we learn to expose the cards we cannot see, a
joker of preparation, the illusion of a suit that tricks time.

A Bref Double a la Echo (sans rhyme) this morning. The end words of each line read: Do not move cards unless you see immediate gain. Deal one at a time.

Thursday, August 04, 2016


I'm off Facebook indefinitely, which has over the course of a couple of days given me more time to think for myself. This morning I woke up and wondered what day it was and my answer was "seven." Then I realized it was Thursday, but that Thursday is seven. And Saturday is ten. And Friday has always been eight, but I'm not sure what Monday or Tuesday or Sunday are. Wednesday is five. I'm not sure if this is clarity or some other vision, but I'll take it over what is shared on social media.

In dance, I don't think. I move. When given the time to reflect on it the other night, I recognized that in all angular movements (robot, signal), my eyes know exactly where to go. Exclusive. It is a singularity of vision. When my body is in fluid movement (bubble, ooze, clouds), my gaze is everywhere, a plurality of vision. Inclusive. There's no judgement in these observations. They are just observations, and subject to change as I explore more the spaces between movement and language.

My handwriting over the past few mornings has produced a couple of visual poems. Today I took some time to re-create them. I'm not sure if they are improvements over the original "mistakes" or just new ideas entirely.