To begin, a poem from my friend Tina Westerkamp, in response to and in conversation with poet Wallace Stevens while on a run.
Running Conversation with the Connoisseur Over Time
(In which Wallace and I ventilate)
A. It is difficult, even for an expert, to identify which plant exploded the pollen; and
B. Everything is honey to the bee. These two things are one.
It is spring or the cusp of spring.
If I am blue around the edges, and I am;
If the daffodil is a strange attractor shining from the ditch
By the roadside amidst the apocalypse, and it is;
If the vein winding through the newest leaf
Traces the eldest bough branching from the trunk of the tree, and it does;
If the capillaries in my lungs are diminutive doorways
Hinged and swinging in the threshold between my heart
and the wildness of the world, and they are;
If the pinging of last night’s rain on the roof has already been absorbed
By the iterative singing of this morning’s bird, and it has;
And if all of these things happen at once specifically at six o’clock
Down a street in Ohio, and they do; an equation of intersections,
A fracturing of crossroads, is a turbulent nervous system
As intricate as a tangle of honeysuckle, an unfolding
Invasive operation of petals to the mouth
And possibly, therefore, nectar.
After all, the finest splitting of hairy shoots
Proves you must choose which way you turn.
Think of the earth, in theory, as flat as a piece of legal paper,
And politicians drawing their lines on either side
Corralling opinions. Try to follow as their points meander, become
Scribbles and those squirming notes darken the entirety of the page;
And if I may say so we are waiting for someone else to fold
The whole thing, scrap that idea and from its crumpled shape,
Conceive of a new dimension. And yet it could be we are all sculptors now
Fishing forms like clouds out of the wastebasket
Hanging our tossed dreams next to each other
Lining a mackerel sky.
A. Ok, so the pollen has disseminated everywhere.
Some people sneeze and don’t cover their noses.
These are facts. Rumor and disease spread exponentially across space and time,
ignoring borders. No one knows when or where or why things begin.
B. I can see you from April as you write this. Your forehead Is circled by a tricorn hat, blue as a summer moon.
The fleur di lis is golden on your shoulder and heavy after days Of stormy reflections. But suppose you stepped outside of yourself Forgot your positioning and just flew
Allowing each flower to speak its secret name to you through
Its scent and the subtle stinging of your heart….
The holes in our thinking are the only windows through which we can escape. Now A And B are not like laws, chiseled above the courthouse. They are insects with inclinations,
Buzzing around the yard so the woman with ears can hear.
The woman with ears…She hears the peeping of a hundred awkward baby birds;
Each particular chirruping voice is music; is momentum, is the movement of all potential,
We run. Not together of course, but both of us fortunate enough to have the space on our own roads to run. For now at least. There is something animal and therapeutic in running just now. It is a reminder that in some ways, life is still going forward in the world. It is spring time and quite lovely some days. I have only just recently begun my running practice once again, gently ramping up my mileage since autumn to balance a few things out physically. Run a bit, walk a bit, run a bit more. I am now mostly running once again. This is good.
I had not planned on doing another marathon.
Years ago I went through a marathon phase (that’s a distance of 26.2 miles) and completed 7 races before I was finished with it all. These runs and the training involved helped me birth a healthier self physically and mentally during a time I was working a lot of stuff out personally and learning how to be a parent and partner along the way. I learned I didn’t have to run away from my problems, I could run toward them.
This is a different kind of marathon.
My runs these days allow for thinking time. Peripatetic pondering if you will. I allow the animal body side of myself get the anxiety of feeling hunted by the coronavirus out of my system so that I can think more clearly about what’s ahead and what needs to be done just now. I have read in a variety of places that this unprecedented era in which we find ourselves is best considered a marathon, not a sprint, and that we need to settle in for the long haul.
Everything has changed.
Friday evening we had a zoom call with our dear friends in Maine. We talked of how each day seems to bring a new and uncharted path through emotional territory. Landscapes never traversed by some and left behind for others. The landscape of trauma and uncertainty. They looked a bit shellshocked (aren’t we all?) and I just wanted to climb through the internet and hug them long and close. Later on, after the call, Tony and I found ourselves riding the blissful waves of our evening cocktails and laughing to crying over the muppets and the Carol Burnett show on YouTube.
I’ve heard it said that when preparing to go out for the day in Ireland, one must be prepared for all the seasons in the one day. Emotionally, in this era of the coronavirus, this is what if feels like to me. A roller coaster of crying one minute, determination the next, then silliness, deep belly laughter, a good snot cry in the bath tub, shaky anxiety, sheer panic (in which it might be time for a run).
Well, you get the picture.
There is a tremendous amount of doing everywhere just now. Virtually speaking, that is. A ton of ideas for how to pass the time during the (extremely privileged) time of quarantine. I look back at a blog post from just last week where I decided to throw my hat into this ring with the idea of journaling our way through this perilous journey. Some days I do this, many days I don’t. It doesn’t matter. I remind myself that this blog is my travel journal. This is the work. This is enough just now.
I am doing the best I can. You are doing the best you can. We must all be gentle with ourselves. Like everyone, I do a bit of reading a few times a day to keep up with the breakneck pace of what’s being reported regarding this pandemic. And today, this gem came across my twitter feed.
“The emotionally and spiritually sane response is to prepare to be forever changed.” ~Aisha S. Ahmad
I beg you to read it as, despite it’s title, it’s actually a hopeful read about the future and what we can do just now to build that future. It’s about taking care of those most vulnerable in your nearest circles and considering the literal security of your loved ones. It covers the notion that we are all confronting a complete shift in psychological paradigms the likes of which most people have never even considered a possibility.
The article and the author’s gentle approach to moving forward resonated with me with these two sentences in particular:
“…..to those colleagues and friends who hail from hard places, who know this feeling of disaster in their bones.”
“….calamity is a great teacher.”
While of course we have never been here before, to me there is a familiarity to where we find ourselves. As a child I lived through the catastrophic earthquake in Guatemala City in 1976 and while I was small and wasn’t navigating the aftermath in the way my parents had to, something about this pandemic feels familiar in my bones. As the state of the world becomes clearer and clearer and the length to which we must go to keep each other safe becomes more and more stringent, I find it difficult to keep up with the idea of “normalcy”. There is a completely different normal. Any painting or writing or music playing I’ve done recently has been because I simply had to not to cry all the time.
“I paint in order not to cry.” ~Paul Klee
What I have spent most of my time thinking about and doing is more in keeping with the advice in Ahmad’s article. I’ve ramped up my garden plans from long term soil building to get-this-shit-done-NOW mode. I’m obsessively checking in with my older neighbors and my mom and her partner so we can blend any grocery errands to include them. We’ve even taken in my sister’s dog so that she can reduce contact with her family and friends as she navigates her career in the ER. I’ve just been sort of following my gut through all of this. Feeling like these are the things to be done just now. This article made me feel sane and seen and hopeful all in one go. And I love that she reminds us that our creative minds will be back in service, once we allow this all to settle in a bit.
And so, I work on my beautiful little patch of land to redirect the deer….
We get to know sweet Ari who misses his mom but is taking one for the team just the same…..
When I sit down to paint, I find a source photo I like and do small studies and sketches just to stay in practice. They are like a meditation, like a gentle run. I like them quite a lot….. (and you can keep up with paintings I might be working on over on Instagram.) Perhaps they’ll lead to bigger work, but for now, they are enough.
“And it came to me then
That every plan
Is a tiny prayer to father time.”
~Death Cab for Cutie (What Sarah Said)
I’m forging forward with learning the uillean pipes, for good or ill. It’s challenging and fun and is a sure fire trick for giving my mind a break from adjusting to the new normal. The other day a group of 27 women pipers got together from all around the world to share a few tunes. It was miraculous and beautiful and I couldn’t believe I was a part of it. So grateful for it all that I’ll admit to being a little bit weepy for most of the call. I played along on a few jigs and listened and learned.
“So I’m sailing for tomorrow, my dreams are a dyin’
And my love is an anchor tied to you, tied with a silver chain
I have my ship and all her flags are a flyin’
She is all I have left and music is her name”
~Crosby, Stills & Nash
The news is, indeed dire. We in Ohio brace for the worst, but are thankful for the work of our forward thinking, science leaning Governor Mike DeWine and Dr. Amy Acton, head of the State Health Department. We brace ourselves while also taking time for a run on a sunny day, the joy of a new tune, the allowance of a breakdown now and then. (This quote from facebook tugged at my heartstrings the other night. I couldn’t even read it aloud to Tony over puzzle time that evening.)
“I was a bit upset, initially, with J.K. Rowling because of the way that the Harry Potter book series robbed Harry, Hermione and Ron of their final terms as Hogwarts students. I felt like we had traveled this far together with them through the wizarding school, and it only seemed fair that we get to watch them work through their last level. Life had different plans for them though, and Rowling wrote the path that was true for her characters as much as it is now for students everywhere — especially seniors. What you are doing right now is helping the world stand up against a deadly enemy in order to protect countless lives. You are Harry Potter. You are Hermione Granger. You are Ron Weasley. You miss Hogwarts, and Hogwarts misses you. But your role here is crucial, and it will bless the paths of many lifetimes to come. Though many will still fall in this battle, you are doing your part to stave off an even greater global disaster. You are being true to your school in the most unexpected of ways, and you will graduate with the honor of having played a key part in this fight. Your work so far and chance for further accomplishments haven’t been dashed. A world of opportunity will await you when we get past this. Take heart and have hope. And remember the words of Albus Dumbledore: “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” #FlattenTheCurve.” ~From somewhere on facebook (if you know the source, let me know!)
We simply do the best we can in this now. All in all, I feel really good. I’m feeling all the feelings in the realest way possible and doing what needs to be done, which on any given day looks different perhaps. I appreciate how lucky we are to have technology to keep us in touch in these strange times and I look forward to forging a new path forward in the world.
And now, before the Riley School Music Committee meets on zoom later today to figure some plan out to keep our musicians engaged, I’m gonna go for a long run.