bike: 12 minutes run: 1.5 miles basement outside: 31 degrees
It snowed about 1.5 inches this morning. Wet, sloppy, slightly slick snow. Pretty snow. Right after it stopped, I went outside and shoveled. So wet and heavy, but easy to shovel. And, after I was finished, the sun came out. Now, in the afternoon, much of the snow has melted. In past years, I might have run outside, but it’s harder to avoid people when much of the sidewalk and roads are covered in puddles. Unexpectedly, I haven’t minded running and biking inside. I don’t remember that much about my bike or my run. Oh, I remembered this: listening to the VS. podcast and their interview with Aracelis Girmay. One of the hosts, Danez Smith, asked Girmay about her focus on a fly in a poem she read:
Danez Smith: Can I ask what brings your attention to the fly? There is such a sense of like everywhere and everything having this safety and this love in your work. I love these poems because it feels like everything in the world gets its piece of love in these poems. I guess, how do you nurture that in yourself to see the fly in that way, right? And how … what is it, I guess, in your work that sort of stops your attention on something as small as a fly, I guess? How have you honed your looking to be that small and welcoming?
I love this question and the idea of learning how to see small things like flies and how they (Smith) ask about it: “How have you honed your looking to be that small and welcoming?” Yes, the idea of generous, loving looking. I also like the idea of stopping your attention, instead of paying attention or focusing attention. It makes me think about how we are all already in a constant state of attention. The key is to stop, to settle, to pick one, small thing to notice.
a moment of sound
I forgot to record my moment of sound while I was shoveling, so I did it later, in the early evening at 6:19, 20 minutes after the sun had set. Very quiet. I hear a dog in the distance and the quiet hum of the city. I think I just barely hear the scratch scratch scratch of my neighbor’s scare rods spinning in the slight breeze.
bike: 15 minutes run: 1.5 miles treadmill outside: 43 degrees
What a beautiful, feels-like-spring day! Scott and I took Delia the dog on a long walk by the river and around the neighborhood this morning in the bright sun. It felt much warmer than 40 degrees. Lots of runners and walkers and bikers on the river road trail, enjoying the warmth. Heard lots of birds, including the cardinal’s “pew pew pew” song. Some woodpeckers, crows, a few black-capped chickadees, and many others that I can’t identify by song. Maybe there were a charm of finches? (I found a great site for group names for birds) At some point during the walk, we heard some honking geese! Returning for the spring?
When we got back I decided to sit on the back deck, in the bright sun. I am looking forward to late spring and summer when I can do this every day. Sitting there quietly, listening to all of the birds, and not thinking about much of anything, a bright red cardinal flew just past me and landed in a tree at the edge of our deck. Usually I can’t see cardinals, but I noticed this one first as it moved across my peripheral, which helped my brain see it when it landed in my central vision. Very cool–and very strange how the brain helps me to see things.
Because it was getting late, and it was very wet and crowded outside today, I decided to bike and run in the basement. Watched a race while I biked, listened to a playlist while I ran. Didn’t think about much–what did I think about? I can’t remember, which isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes I like forgetting. This morning I memorized a Sara Teasdale poem that I have been intending to memorize for many months: Let It Be Forgotten. I’m hoping to use it as a spell or a charm or a mantra to chant when I want to stop thinking about something:
Let it be forgotten, as a flower is forgotten, Forgotten as a fire, that once was singing gold, Let it be forgotten, for ever and ever, Time is a kind friend, he will make us old.
If anyone asks, say it was forgotten, Long and long ago, As a flower, as a fire, as a hushed footfall In a long forgotten snow.
a moment of sound
Wow, the water rushing through the drain, and off the eaves, sounds very loud in this recording. You can barely hear the many birds, I recorded this moment while sitting on my deck is the glorious sun.
Warmish but windy. I think I’ll stay inside. Trying to unclench my jaw this morning; too much stress over the abrupt total re-opening of the high school with very little plan or convincing argument for how this is safe and good for most of the teachers and students. It took about 20 minutes on the bike to relax. Watching a Dickinson episode helped. In this one, “Fame is a fickle food,” Emily is not a recluse, like she was in the last episode. (And, her vision is completely fine now. No more discussion of that traumatic event, I guess). She wants to win (and does) the baking contest at the county fair and has no problem leaving her room to attend the crowded fair, or to walk through town with a newspaper editor the next day. I especially enjoyed the goofy moments when Emily and her siblings got excited about going to the county fair.
After I finished biking, I started listening to another podcast with Ross Gay about his work. This one is with Parker Palmer (I recall reading one of his books for my pedagogy class) and Carrie Newcomer. I chose it because I thought they might talk more about Gay’s work in relation to religion/spirituality, something which was completely absent in other interviews I heard with him. So far, they haven’t, but I’m enjoying their discussion about the importance of practice. Gay mentions how he partly wrote The Book of Delights because he deeply needed practice in studying delight, and attending to what he loved. Yes! This made me think (and not for the first or second time) about how much of what I’ve been doing is practicing/developing practices around attending to what I love (and need). A few minutes later Parker Palmer mentioned how important being able to experience delight is for resisting those things (systems, structures, leaders) that strip away our delight in order to weaken/demoralize/depress us. This made me think of Aimee Nezhukumatathil and her suggestion, “Always let the wonder win,” which has become a constant goal for me–to strive for remembering and noticing the wonder, even in the midst of anxiety and anger and sadness and uncertainty over all of the terrible shit happening in the U.S.
My morning routine lately has been to get up, feed the dog, make some coffee, check Facebook, and then poets.org for the poem of the day. Today’s poem was especially wonderful.
The internal organs were growling According to them They did all of the work while Skin got all of the attention He’s an organ just like us They groused Even the heart, which, a Century ago, was the Queen Of metaphors, but now Was reduced to the greetings Cards section of CVS, Chimed in
They decided to call skin On the carpet. Skin arrived from Cannes Where he’d been the subject Of much fuss as actresses Fed him luxurious skin Food prepared by Max Factor Estée Lauder, L’Oreal, And Chanel They Caressed him daily Sometimes for hours before They made the red carpet Shine
He was petted And preened
Others Pleaded with him To erase wrinkles to Make them look younger To tighten their chins
Skin tried to appease the Critics, greeting them with His familiar “give me some skin” But his gesture went unheeded
Brain did all the talking Brain said, “Here’s the skinny Why do you get All of the press Your color Your texture discussed Endlessly Nicole Kidman never
Did an ad about us
Cole Porter never Wrote a song about us Nor were we mentioned In a Thornton Wilder novel You’ve given us no Skin in the game”
“What about the nasty Things they say about Me,” skin replied “What about skin deep For superficiality Or Skin trade To denote something Unsavory
How would you Like acne rashes Eczema
Boils Pellagra Leprosy And Conditions That astonish Even dermatologists
I wear my blemishes In public while you guys Hide yours”
“Without me and heart You’d be nothing,” the brain said “That’s not true,” protested The liver, “without me he’d Be nothing” “No,” the kidney said “It’s me who keeps the Body functioning” The bladder and The kidney began To quarrel with Gallbladder The lung twins spoke Up “Without us He couldn’t breathe” Even the esophagus And the thyroid And the pancreas Joined the outbreak “What about us?”
The eyes said “Without eyes you Can’t see”
Their squabble distracted Them When they looked Up from their dust up Skin’s Helicopter was up He was scheduled to Address a convention of Plastic surgeons at The Beverly Hills Hotel Escaping by the skin Of his teeth His opponents gave Chase But above the roar Of the chopper They heard him say “Don’t worry fellas I got you covered”
5K edmund loop, starting north 31 degrees 5% super-slick ice-patches
A great morning for a run! Sunny and not too windy. So many birds–I couldn’t see them; just heard them clicking and chirping and calling. The sidewalks and roads were almost completely clear except for a few patches of super slick ice. The ice is always slickest when the temperature is right on the edge of freezing and the ice has almost melted. I ran over at least one puddle that was water underneath with a thin layer of crispy ice on top. A few years ago, I recall describing this type of ice as creme brûlée. Very fun to step on, as long as you’re going fast enough to not get your foot wet in the water below, which I was.
A little over a mile into the run, I stopped at the river to record a moment of sound. It’s mostly cars driving by and some wind, but I can hear some birds and a person’s footsteps as they walk north on the trail. Oh–and the loud hum of the city, which almost sounds like static.
Running on Edmund, I looked over at the river near 42nd and noticed a bright reflection on the other side, over in St. Paul. Was it a rooftop? A car? Someone holding up a mirror? Not sure, but it was mesmerizing. Heard some kids playing at Dowling Elementary. Elementary schools are in-person full time now. They’re planning to open up the high schools full time after spring break, in April. One kid, the freshman, wants to stay online; the other, a senior, wants to go back. I don’t see how it’s going to work. The high school is old and has very few windows. It’s crowded, with narrow halls. How can this be safe? They won’t be doing hybrid learning, but full, 5 days a week. Ugh.
When I reached 42nd, I stopped to put in my headphones and listen to a playlist as I ran north on edmund. Smelled the fire at the same spot on Edmund that I always do, the one which always makes me wonder whether it’s coming from the gorge below, or someone’s fireplace. A few weeks ago I decided that the smoke was coming from the gorge, but today I changed my mind. I think it’s coming from a house. Encountered a few runners and walkers, no bikers or cross-country skiers or sledders.
bike: 15 minutes run: 1.45 miles basement outside: 38 degrees
Very wet and sloppy outside. Went for a walk with Delia and my daughter and decided I’d rather run inside today. Finished the Dickinson episode I started yesterday, the one that briefly mentions her vision and features the poem, “Before I got my eye put out.” I recognize that it’s my own bias, but I wish there would have been more about her vision and how the loss of it affected her poetry. From what I’ve read–in a few articles and the book, These Fevered Days by Martha Ackmann, her vision loss was deeply disturbing, but in the show, she doesn’t care that much. I can’t remember the exact line, but when her father tells her not to write poetry because it will be bad for her eyes, her response is “I don’t need to see to write; I just need my soul!” I think this is the first episode of the second season and things are getting darker. War is coming and Emily is becoming much more of a recluse.
After I biked, I ran with a playlist. Didn’t think about much, but had fun running a little faster to Foo Fighter’s “Pretender.”
bike: 20 minutes run: 3.25 miles basement outside: 38 degrees
Warm enough outside, but wet, and I ran outside Sunday and Monday. And I needed to take a break and bike some today. Watched the next episode of Dickinson, which featured one of my favorite poems:
Before I got my eye put out– I liked as well to see As other creatures, that have eyes– And know no other way–
And it deals with her temporary vision loss when she was in her mid 30s in 1863 and 1864. I wonder how they’ll end this episode? I’ll find out next time. In this season, she’s becoming much more of a recluse, barely leaving her room.
After the bike, I ran and listened to my playlist. I don’t remember what I thought about, except: 1. how many songs do I need to listen to before I check the time?, 2. raising my head, working on my posture, 3. lifting my right hip, 4. is all this running good for me, or will it give me arthritis and weaken me so much when I’m almost 80 that I sometimes struggle to move (which is what is happening to my dad right now)?, 4. who is that walking upstairs, making such loud thumping noises? That’s all I remember–oh, and looking at the lightbulb, reflected in the far window, which is dark because it’s under the deck, and no longer thinking it looked like a moon with clouds above Lake Superior (which is what I thought it looked like last February).
Between biking and running, I managed to not go upstairs to pee. One step closer to breaking that habit (or at least making sure it doesn’t fully form). It’s pretty mundane, but since my work is on ethics and ways of breaking and re-making habits (undisciplining), I’m always interested in our daily practices and how they become solidified into necessary and automatic actions. Often, we don’t notice them forming until it becomes very difficult to change them.
I really appreciate what Limón says about what poetry does for us–and who it does it for:
I do feel like there’s a lot of “the arts will save us.” You know, there’s a part of me that really believes that, right? I mean, I believe that poetry can heal us and help us. But, I mean, if I’m very honest, I think they can only do that for the poet. (LAUGHS) And then they may, if we’re lucky, help someone else or move someone else or inspire someone else or get them out of a rut. But I think it begins with like, I write my own poems to save myself. You know, then if, in, you know, some series, lucky series of events, a poem becomes larger than me and reaches someone else, that’s, that’s beautiful. But I don’t always know that that’s gonna happen, right? I have to start by how is this poem recommitting me to the world?
3.2 miles edmund, heading south/river road trail, heading north 34 degrees sidewalks: 80% snow-covered/ roads: 10%
Today it feels like spring! It’s too bright, but I’ll take the warm sun. Lots of birds and puddles. Was able to run on the river road trail on the way back north. Encountered 3 or 4 groups of people, but we all kept as much distance as we could. Saw the river. No cracks in the surface yet. Noticed someone walking below on the Winchell Trail. The roads were full of big puddles wile the sidewalks were almost all covered in uneven mushy snow. I wonder how sore my legs will be later today? Smelled some smoke in the same spot I always smell it–on Edmund. Heard a woodpecker. I don’t remember thinking about anything, except, occasionally: this is not easy, running over this uneven snow. Anything else? No fat tires or cross country skiers or black capped chickadees or daily walkers or packs of runners or music blasting from someone’s radio or laughing kids on the playground or overheard conversations. No chainsaws or trucks backing up or honking geese. Oh–I did encounter a group of 4 walkers taking over the whole road, but I didn’t care, because I was on the sidewalk. For most of the run, I listened to the neighborhood. For the last 1/2 mile, a playlist.
a moment of sound
Standing in the backyard right after shoveling the deck and the sidewalks in back and front. Birds, car horns, a steady drip of melting snow.
2.65 miles 43rd ave, north/32nd st, east/edmund, north/1 loop around Howe 27 degrees 50% sloppy snow-covered
Even though I was concerned that there might be too many people outside, I decided to go for a run. The first mile wasn’t too bad but when I got to Edmund there were more people. Distracted, I forgot to look for the river when I reached the top of the Edmund hill. Noticed a family sledding and several dogs with their humans. When I reached 37th, I stopped to record my moment of sound.
a moment of sound
Listen to those birds! Sounds like spring to me. So glad I went outside.
After that, I turned on a playlist and tried not to slip on the mushy, uneven snow. Yuck! Then I ran around Howe school. Student (3rd-5th graders) are returning tomorrow.
The other day, I found this print, which would be really cool to get for under the glass on my desk, but I’m not sure I want to spend $30 on it.
To open a door, you must want to leave. A here, a there. You must want. Stuff pink hyacinths in the dictionary between “lie” and “lightning,” the wet stem of spring curling the pages until it is not a flower but just the word for it. We all die but the hope is to die of living. Slam it hard enough to make the sidewalk hum the way your blood hummed the first time you walked into the sea. A door is just a question you have to ask even when you are scared of the answer. In San Sebastián they pour the txakoli from high up until it foams in the glass. Sea, grapes, the word for longing. Use both hands and don’t look back.
Love the lines: “To open a door, you must want to leave./ A here, a there, You must want.” and “A door is just a question you have to ask/ even when you are scared of the answer.”
bike: 30 minutes run: 3.25 miles basement outside: 19 degrees
Watched another episode of Dickinson while I biked. Then listened to a playlist while I ran. Decided today I would start to break my habit of having to pee between biking and running. I did it! I went straight from the bike to the treadmill. It was difficult for the first few minutes, then it was fine. Will I be able to not do it again? How many times do you have to not do something to break a habit? I’ll find out. While I was running I had the treadmill display covered. I decided that I would check the time after the 5th song. I waited until the 8th song. 29 minutes. I was surprised, thinking a lot less time had passed. It’s nice to learn how to get lost in time in the basement, and to not need the gorge to do it.
Before working out, I finished my incurable poem (well, I completed a polished draft at least). I’m pleased with it. I think it completes my mood ring collection. 3 sets of 3 moods: 1. Delighted, Curious, Awed; 2. Doubtful, Lonely, Bewildered; 3. Relentless, Resilient, Incurable.
Here’s the text for the three poems:
Poem 1 (entire grid):
No cure. A stubborn sentence that brings relief not despair. No expensive tests. No inconclusive results. No experimental treatments. No jammed waiting rooms. No needles pickling my eyes. No need for tears. No need for grief. No need for answers. Nothing to fix to make safe to store away for winter. Someday there will be a way to repopulate the vacant city of my macula. But not now. Now is for living and breathing and being outside above the gorge. For adapting and exploring and creating different forms of seeing. For wandering among the sprawling oak trees feeling the biting breeze admiring the view to the other side.
Poem 2 (inner circle, central vision that’s left)
safe winter will be late
Poem 3 (blind ring)
Acceptance is not weakness but strength. Strength is not a hardening but a softening. Diminished vision is not a death sentence but a door into other worlds. Put back that sugar and salt. Pack away those preservatives. I do not need to be cured.
I am very pleased with this poem. It was such a helpful way to work though my feelings about having an incurable eye disease–my acceptance of it and my frustration with others who can’t accept it or the idea that losing vision is not a tragedy.
After working out, Scott and I took Delia the dog on a walk. Today it is bright and beautiful and much warmer. At the end of the walk, I recorded a moment of sound in the backyard.
a moment of sound
Quiet. I can hear a few birds, the wind moving through the alley, some dripping. And a scratching sound that is Delia digging in the snow for crabapple trees the robins left behind.
bike: 25 minutes run: 2.25 miles basement outside: 15 degrees
I started my bike by listening to Dr. Michael Osterholm’s podcast on COVID-19–he’s the infectious diseases expert/director at the University of Minnesota. He often gives worst case scenarios but his latest assessment tracks with another expert I check in with on twitter: Bob Wachter, the chair of the department of medicine at UCSF, who is a little more optimistic generally. Today’s episode of his podcast is titled Hurricane Warning and it’s about the likely category five hurricane of covid destruction that the B.1.1.7 variant (also known as the UK variant) could bring in the next month if we open up and let down our guard. While I don’t like hearing this news, I appreciate the reminder that my concerns about things opening up, including schools, are not unfounded. I’ve heard Osterholm say this several times: “Americans like to pump the brakes after the car is wrapped around the tree.” Meaning, we’re reckless and then try to be cautious after it’s too late. Looks like that’s what’s happening now. Numbers are down, people are tired of sheltering, so it’s time to open back up. This attitude makes me sad and concerned about our (U.S., the world) ability to make hard choices for our survival–not just with COVID but with the climate crisis. Most of the time I am an optimist, able to see past the bad to the good (in people, in situations), but the selfish, short-sighted way that many (at least those with the most power) have responded to crisis is chipping away at that optimism. Slowly, I’m letting the pessimistic “people suck” attitude creep in. I need to focus more on delight and people who are delighted and delightful.
Speaking of which, after biking I listened to a podcast with Ross “Book of Delights” Gay and his new book-length poem, Be Holding. Well, first I tried listening to my audio book Wintering but it was an extra dark chapter about insomnia that was bumming me out too much so I turned it off. Ross Gay is wonderful and his ideas about beholding as attending and looking with love, which reminded me of Maria Lugones’ idea of loving (as opposed to arrogant) perception, are very inspiring and help me restore my optimism. I look forward to when the transcript of the interview comes out–hopefully soon. In the part I listened to today, they were talking about looking and vision. The phrase “eyes of poetry” was used. It made me think about my relationship to vision and what I’m trying to do with my work (and my practices, and my strategies for coping with vision loss). Two things I’m doing:
First, a critical intervention in the privileging of vision/sight—an exploration of other ways of attending and other language for that attention. Not just seeing but listening and feeling. What might be some aural-centric words to counter vision, insight, focus? Thinking about this reminded me of a poem I memorized this summer: And Swept All Visible Signs Swept Away/ Carl Phillips
Easy enough, to say it’s dark now. But what is the willow doing in the darkness? I say it wants less for company than for compassion,
which can come from afar and faceless. What’s a face, to a willow? If a willow had a face, it would be a song. I think. I am stirred, I’m stir-able, I’m a wind-stirred thing.
Here, I’m thinking about listening and the expression of self through song, as opposed to through face and vision. The “visible signs” have been swept away by the wind, yet compassion and recognition (to beholden) are still possible.
Second, an expansion of what vision/seeing is—how do we see, what does it mean to see? what are others ways of seeing are possible? what are the different ways I do/can use my vision (e.g. peripheral instead of central)? This second project is inspired by Georgina Kleege’s book Sight Unseen and the descriptions of her own ways of seeing–even though she is legally blind, she likes to go to movies and art museums. She can still watch the movies and see the paintings, just in different ways.
So, the other thing I’m doing today (besides worrying about variant strains and high schools opening too soon, or loving looks and Ross Gay) is collecting definitions, expressions, descriptions of cure/curing as a method for preserving food. In my mood ring poem, I want to introduce this language subtly throughout the poem in order to create more impact with the final lines–which I’m thinking might be part of the inner blind ring. So much fun!
expired, expiration date
shelved, put on the shelf
needed in times of scarcity
preserve body for medical experiments
dried out, old
hardened, tough exterior, leathered, weathered
drawing moisture out
airtight, removing oxygen, sealing out air
inside, packed, put away
2 Habits formed, one bad, one good
Currently I am very aware of the forming of two habits through repeated practices. The first habit, which I see as good, is my daily moment of sound. I have recorded enough of them that it is a routine practice for me to step outside, no matter how cold, and listen for a moment. The second habit, which I see as mostly bad, is my need to pee every time I am done with biking inside and before I start running. I can feel the practice become entrenched, something I have to do every time. I know I could have tried harder to stop it, but instead I’ve been observing how it has been happening. Is it too late now to stop? I hope not, but I’m not too concerned. It’s fascinating to witness it forming. I just remembered how I had this same habit in high school during swim practice–I always had to pee after warm-up and before the main set.
a moment of sound
Today’s moment of sound happened right after I took the recycling out–around 7:30 in the morning. Birds!