april 16/BIKERUN

bike: 16 minutes
run: 2.3 miles
basement
outside: 54 degrees / rain, wind

Before I started writing this but after my workout, I got up from my chair and my right kneecap missed the groove and slipped out hard. So hard that I uncontrollably yelled, “God Dammit!” No pain and it went right back in, or I was able to pop it back in. But it was shocking — mentally and physically. My LCL or meniscus seem as reticent to walk as my brain does — a strange sentence to write: can you imagine ligaments feeling something independent of the brain? Now I’m nervous about when this might happen again. As is usually the case, I had absolutely no warning. I didn’t do anything abrupt or dramatic; I just stood up and turned. I’ll get over it in a few minutes and stop imagining different scenarios in my head when the kneecap suddenly slides and it hurts and I can’t get it back into place. For now, I’ll breathe and attempt to remember how happy I was to work out before my subluxation.

It’s raining today, and there’s a wind advisory. Decided to go to the basement and do a bike run combo. After pumping up the air in my tire — it is still leaking air even though I got new tires last spring — I found the SuperLeague e-tri championships. I’ve been watching SuperLeague while biking in the basement since it started — when? 2018? Then I ran for 22.5 minutes while I listened to a “If Books Could Kill” podcast and then a playlist.

I don’t remember thinking about much except for that I had to go to the bathroom. Scott and I have new euphemism for it: unfinished business. Anything else? I recall looking straight ahead at the water heater and I remember feeling like a badass when I increased my cadence to try and match the bikers I was watching.

Here’s a victory: I didn’t think at all about the text exchange I had with FWA about what “fun” or “interesting” or “non-music” classes he could take to fill up his pretty bare schedule for senior year. No double major or minors for him. Just music, which he’s very good at, but still . . . . I’m trying to let him figure out his own way, but it’s so hard to watch him make choices that seem foolish or short-sighted. Sigh. Parenting is hard; backing off is hard; trusting is hard. When I worry too much, I’ll go back and watch his recital from Sunday and remember how proud I am of him and that he can (and is) creating an exciting future for himself.

update: I didn’t need to worry; he figured out some great classes on his own: Japanese!, Environmental Geography, and Criminology.

before the bike and run

Yesterday was the poet, Tomas Tranströmer’s birthday. He would have been 92. I’ve posted a few poems from him on here before. While looking for “air” poems, I found this one. It’s an ekphrastic! Those ekphrastic poems keep appearing. Are they trying to encourage me to keep working on my ekphrastic project? I’d like to believe so. Anyway, here’s the Tranströmer poem I found:

Vermeer / Tomas Tranströmer

translated by Robert Bly

It’s not a sheltered world. The noise begins over there, on the other side of the wall
where the alehouse is
with its laughter and quarrels, its rows of teeth, its tears, its chiming of clocks,
and the psychotic brother-in-law, the murderer, in whose presence
everyone feels fear.

The huge explosion and the emergency crew arriving late,
boats showing off on the canals, money slipping down into pockets
— the wrong man’s —
ultimatum piled on the ultimatum,
widemouthed red flowers who sweat reminds us of approaching war.

And then straight through the wall — from there — straight into the airy studio
in the seconds that have got permission to live for centuries.
Paintings that choose the name: “The Music Lesson”
or ” A Woman in Blue Reading a Letter.”
She is eight months pregnant, two hearts beating inside her.
The wall behind her holds a crinkly map of Terra Incognita.

Just breathe. An unidentifiable blue fabric has been tacked to the chairs.
Gold-headed tacks flew in with astronomical speed
and stopped smack there
as if there had always been stillness and nothing else.

The ears experience a buzz, perhaps it’s depth or perhaps height.
It’s the pressure from the other side of the wall,
the pressure that makes each fact float
and makes the brushstroke firm.

Passing through walls hurts human beings, they get sick from it,
but we have no choice.
It’s all one world. Now to the walls.
The walls are a part of you.
One either knows that, or one doesn’t; but it’s the same for everyone
except for small children. There aren’t any walls for them.

The airy sky has taken its place leaning against the wall.
It is like a prayer to what is empty.
And what is empty turns its face to us
and whispers:
“I am not empty, I am open.”

I love this poem and how it imagines the world outside of the painting and its relationship to the world inside of it. Starting with the first line: It’s not a sheltered world. The noise begins over there, on the other side of the wall . . . . That alehouse, that psychotic brother-in-law. The explosion, the money being dropped into the wrong man’s pocket. Then the airy studio and the seconds that have got permission to live for centuries — the differences between what we notice and try to remember and what we ignore or try to forget — what is worthy of attention, a painting, and what is not.

What is worth noticing in a poem describing a painting, and what is not? The Vermeer painting the poem is titled, “Woman in Blue Reading a Letter,” but there’s no mention of the letter or the woman’s expression, and the blue described by Tranströmer is the blue fabric on the chair, not of the woman’s jacket.

This poem is about the wall, the other side of the wall, the pressure that the other side creates, pressing in on us. The wall between our interior and the exterior world. The edge of the void, the abyss. All of this is kind of, almost, not quite making sense to me. I should spend some more time rereading Tom Sleigh’sToo Much of the Air: Tomas Tranströmer“.

I’m struck by the last lines:

The airy sky has taken its place leaning against the wall.
It is like a prayer to what is empty.
And what is empty turns its face to us
and whispers:
‘I am not empty, I am open.’

I’m thinking of the gorge here and the limestone walls that contain it and how it is both empty of land/rock and filled with air and openness. To think of the void — the unknowable, unsayable, mystery — as both frightening (emptiness, nothingness) and inviting (openness, possibility).

Yesterday I talked about believing in the unseen. Today I’m thinking about what it could mean to be believe in the unseeable. Unseen could mean, not-yet-seen or unnoticed, but unseeable suggests that seeing is never possible.

Before writing this, I was reviewing an old log entry from April 16, 2022. In it, I discuss Elisa Gabbert’s article about poetry and the Void.

They [poets] write in the line, in the company of the void. That changes how you write — and more profoundly, how you think, and even how you are, your mode of being. When you write in the line, there is always an awareness of the mystery, of what is left out. This is why, I suppose, poems can be so confounding. Empty space on the page, that absence of language, provides no clues. But it doesn’t communicate nothing — rather, it communicates nothing. It speaks void, it telegraphs mystery.

By “mystery” I don’t mean metaphor or disguise. Poetry doesn’t, or shouldn’t, achieve mystery only by hiding the known, or translating the known into other, less familiar language. The mystery is unknowing, the unknown — as in Jennifer Huang’s “Departure”: “The things I don’t know have stayed/In this home.” The mystery is the missing mountain in Shane McCrae’s “The Butterflies the Mountain and the Lake”:

the / Butterflies monarch butterflies huge swarms they
Migrate and as they migrate south as they
Cross Lake Superior instead of flying

South straight across they fly
South over the water then fly east
still over the water then fly south again / And now
biologists believe they turn to avoid a mountain
That disappeared millennia ago.

The missing mountain is still there.

The Shape of a Void / Elisa Gabbert

This past weekend, Scott and I watched the 2 part documentary about Steve Martin, STEVE! I really enjoyed it. I remember responding to this idea offered by one of Steve Martin’s artist friends:

How to close the void. I think that’s the nature and the drive in art, it comes from that deep awareness of that void.

STEVE! — 53:30, part 2

I agree with the second part of that statement, about the deep awareness of the void, but not the first — at least how it’s worded. It’s not to close the void, but to navigate it, develop a relationship to it, engage with it, learn how to live with it. I mentioned this to Scott and he argued that the void in this quotation is not the unknown or mystery, but something else. Maybe lack or longing? A desire to be whole? To have/feel meaning? I still don’t like the word close. Can you ever close the void? Tranströmer doesn’t think so; it’s always on the other side of that wall. Even with a wall between you and it, you feel its pressure in your ears. And it’s this pressure that drives/shapes/enables your art — that makes each fact float/and makes the brushstroke firm.

A final (for now) word on this ekphrastic poem: I like how Tranströmer is responding to the work of art in this poem, how we uses the image to reflect on the abyss/void, history, interior/exterior, and why we make art. I want to think about it some more and try to write something for my “How to See” project inspired by his approach.

march 27/BIKERUN

bike: 4 minutes
run: 3.5 miles
outside: feels like 13

Snow and ice on the ground. Wind. Feels like 13. Inside today. I would have done more on the bike, but my calf started to feel a little strange — tightening, but no pain.

The run was good — a few flares, then my heel made some noise at the end, again, no pain, just tight, I think. I locked into a steady, slow pace and listened to the latest episode of Nobody Asked Us. Des told a story about her recent NY 1/2 marathon and how she should have woken up 30 minutes earlier in order for the coffee to do its job — iykyk. The story was funny — I laughed several times — and also fascinating. She talked about how she couldn’t push the pace because if she tried, it would have been a big mess. She was able to control it by managing her effort and working with her body, not against it.

Later, giving a pep talk to Kara for her upcoming race she said something like, You’ll be running along and then suddenly someone in a banana costume will pass you and you’ll say, “hell no, that ridiculous thing can’t beat me!” and you’ll speed up. Thinking about our encounter with the fast banana in our 10k race I wonder, are bananas a thing in races now? Will I see more bananas next month?

before the run

Yesterday I mentioned that it was Robert Frost’s 150th birthday, but I forgot to mention 2 things.

First, when I told FWA about it, he said, And I took the road less travelled and that has made all the difference — or something like that. A few minutes later, as we were walking to the garage to leave for the airport he called out, Mom, look — then walked off the sidewalk into the grass, looped around a bush, then returned to sidewalk and said, See, the road less travelled. Wow.

Second, in honor of Frost’s birthday Poetry Foundation posted his poem, Acquainted with the Night, which I recall first reading through Edward Hirsch’s essay, “The Pace Provokes My Thought.” Acquainted. Another word for familiar with, know of or known to, on friendly terms. I want to add this word to my list of alternatives to know/ing, along with ED’s accustomed, as in We grow accustomed to the Dark. I like the friendliness of acquainted, which is slightly different than the “getting used to” of ED’s accustomed. I also like that it’s friendly, but not too friendly; there’s still some distance from whatever it is that you are acquainted with — an acquaintance not an old friend.

Now I’m thinking about the word familiar. Two immediate thoughts. First, an idea from Alice Oswald that I revisited the other day:

citing Zizek: we can’t connect, be one with nature. It’s extraordinary, alien. It’s this terrifying otherness of nature that we need to grasp hold of and be more courageous in our ways of living with it and seeing it.

Landscape and Literature Podcast: Alice Oswald on the Dart River

So, familiar is bad for poetry? We need to make the familiar strange, fresh.

Second — I just spent 15 or 20 minutes attempting to find the log entry and poem that made think of this second thing and couldn’t, so I am very reluctantly giving up on it. — thinking about poems and how they can also take the strange and make it familiar, or take strangers and make them friends. I recall reading a poem — I think it was something about ROBINS! — I’m keeping this strange sentence in as evidence of my mind at work. After I gave up on finding and just tried to remember what I said, suddenly I recalled what the poem I was searching for was about and how reading it connected me to a stranger: robins. So I searched back through my posts for “robins” and finally found it. Hooray!

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about how poetry makes the familiar strange, but I think poetry can also make the strange familiar. Give us a door into the unfamiliar so we can get to know someone else and their experiences. The door in for me with this poem was all the robins. This past week, I saw so many fat robins on my crab apple tree, swaying and bobbing and getting drunk off the shriveled up apples. 

log from 14 jan 2023

Here’s the line from the poem that helped me get acquainted with its author, David Eye:

Cousin–When a dozen robins blew into the yard yesterday–
I’d never seen so many–I watched them hop, cock their heads,
grab the thaw’s first worms. Such a pleasure, those yam-
colored breast feathers.
(from Letter from the Catskills/ David Eye)

And now I’m thinking about the different ways that poetry has helped make the strange familiar to me, especially in terms of my vision. Since I rediscovered poetry in 2017, I’ve been reading, studying, and writing it as a way to better navigate my strange and uncertain and difficult experiences of slowly losing my cone cells. I’m building a new world and a new way to be that’s heavily populated with poetic lines, ideas, methods.

Last year, I wrote a cento in which I gathered lines from poets invoking color. The original title of it was, “When Poetry Replaces Dead Cone Cells, a cento”

The world mostly gone/ Sara Lynne Puotinen

The world mostly gone,
I make it what I want.


I empty my mind. I stuff it with grass.
I’m green, I repeat. I grow in green,


burst up in bonfires of green, whirl and hurl
my green over the rocks of this imaginary life.


Meanwhile the wild geese, high
in the clean blue air, are heading home


again. (Isn’t sky-blue brighter than any sky
you really see? Canned sky, Crayola blue.)


The sun is the yellowest squash. More yellow,
I think, of course more yellow.


A shiny switch plate in the otherwise ongoing green
flickers like a match held to a dry branch


and the whole world goes up in orange. Orange
as pumpkins in a field humming.


I write a line about orange.
Pretty soon it is a whole page


of words, not lines. Then another page.
And that orange, it makes me so happy.

march 24/BIKERUN

bike: 15 minutes
run; 1 mile
basement
outside: snowing

A big storm, just starting, but not quite. Now, light snow. We’re expecting 5-9 inches. I wasn’t sure how icy the sidewalks were or how ready my calf was to run, so I decided to work out in the basement.

calf update, for future Sara (and maybe her physical therapist?): during the race yesterday, my calf felt a little strange a few times — a slight tightening? no pain — but was otherwise fine. After the race: some soreness and tightness. today during the bike: a few more flares, an occasional twinge with a little pain. during the run: started feeling sore about 8 minutes, then a little strange. It’s so hard to know what the right thing to do is — stop running? ignore it as nothing, or as a calf that cramped and is now recovering? schedule a pt appointment? If I can get an appointment, I’d like to see a pt. Even if the calf is nothing, it would great to be checked out before serious marathon training begins.

Watched the women’s road race (cycling) from Tokyo while I biked. When the silver medalist, Annemiek Van Vleuten, crossed the line, she thought she had won gold; she didn’t realize that someone in the breakaway had stayed away. background: A. Van Vleuten had been about to win the gold in Rio but had a horrific crash into a cement barricade. She put off retiring for another 5 years just to try and win the gold in Tokyo. Wow. How do you recover from that disappointment? I’m always amazed at the resilience of athletes.

While I ran, I listened to a winter playlist. Other than my calf, I felt good.

Earlier today, I found an article about James Schuyler and this wonderful poem, which I may have read before, but was delighted by today:

The Bluet/ James Schuyler

And is it stamina
that unseasonably freaks
forth a bluet, a
Quaker lady, by
the lake? So small,
a drop of sky that
splashed and held,
four-petaled, creamy
in its throat. The woods
around were brown,
the air crisp as a
Carr’s table water
biscuit and smelt of
cider. There were frost
apples on the trees in
the field below the house.
The pond was still, then
broke into a ripple.
The hills, the leaves that
have not yet fallen
are deep and oriental
rug colors. Brown leaves
in the woods set off
gray trunks of trees.
But that bluet was
the focus of it all: last
spring, next spring, what
does it matter? Unexpected
as a tear when someone
reads a poem you wrote
for him: “It’s this line
here.” That bluet breaks
me up, tiny spring flower
late, late in dour October.

The analysis in this essay is all helpful to me, but I was particularly struck by this bit:

. . . Schuyler’s description of the flower transforms it into art, and that this kind of transformation is his signature poetic activity; it happens again and again in his poems: he describes what he sees before him as if it were a painting so that observation of the natural world becomes ekphrasis. That’s why—to skip down a little—the leaves are likened to a rug, crossing outside and inside, nature and culture, and those leaves “set off” the gray the way a painter or sharp dresser uses one color to set off or complement another, why the air is like a made thing, too, if one you eat, and why the bluet is called “the focus,” the way art critics say something is “the focus of the composition.” Schuyler’s words are paintbrushes, what he describes becomes a painting (though he treats it as already painted)—paint, a medium that splashes and then holds. There are examples of this everywhere in his books. In “Evenings in Vermont,” for instance, a rug again mediates between inside and outside, art and nature: “I study / the pattern in a red rug, arabesques / and squares, and one red streak / lies in the west, over the ridge.” In “Scarlet Tanager,” the bird in the tree provides “the red touch green / cries out for.” In “A Gray Thought,” “a dark thick green” is “laid in layers on / the spruce …” And so on. Touches, layerings: color as paint, natural phenomena perceived as art.  

It’s This Line / Here” : Happy Belated to Birthday James Schuyler

This idea of natural phenomena as art and of Schuyler as describing flowers with painting terms and of him doing ekphrastic poems might be a way into my “How I See” ekphrasis project!

march 18/BIKE

30 minutes
basement

A 10k run yesterday on a recovering calf means no running today. Decided to bike in the basement just so I could move a little. I should have watched Dickinson, but I watched an old Ironman instead.

All day, I’ve been reading my old Haunts notes, trying to pick one thing to write about. Am I getting somewhere? Maybe. Maybe not.

Here’s a beautiful poem I just discovered from Terrain. Wow!

Prayer of a Nonbeliever/ Tim Raphael

Cathartes aura—purifying breeze—
is one name for a turkey vulture,
and what if prayer is like that—
praise song for a scavenger?
What if prayer is like this walk,
the same one every day,
a mantra of footsteps on mesa rock,
raptors in the wind?
What if it begins as a hint
on the piñon stippled hills,
unfurls like a scent the dogs sense
with raised snouts?
I suspect there’s prayer in the primrose
come into flower,
flake-white blossoms
blanketing the path,
in the rhythm of my quickened pulse
on the climb.
And if prayer takes its time on ridgelines,
in scant shade,
if it lingers by a petroglyph picked
into basalt—two figures with hands on hips
as if ready to dance—
then perhaps I am learning to pray.
Today, another friend’s diagnosis,
and who am I to scoff at believers?
I too like the idea of prayer as a stand-in
for clumsy words like hope,
wonder and love—for this green
green valley slaked on spring runoff,
for the whorl of dihedral wings
and the uneven heat of rising air.

that turn — another friend’s diagnosis — wow, those 3 words recalibrating the poem! I’d like to do something like that with my poems about the gorge!

feb 16/BIKERUN

bike: 15 min warm-up
run: 1.5 miles
basement

Finished the 2nd episode of season 1 of Dickinson, started the 3rd while biking. I’m really appreciating the audio descriptions. So much easier to watch shows! I’m also surprised at how normal/natural/not disruptive the audio descriptions are. Is it that way for people with good vision? I’ll have to ask Scott after we watch something with AD turned on.

Listened to a winter playlist while I ran. Just a short run to burn off some restlessness, to rest my eyes from reading/writing, and to add to my weekly total of miles.

Before the run, I worked on another image for my “how I see”project. Maybe I should take the 3 I’ve already done and do more with them?

 My view from above the gorge: bare limbed trees, all trunk and thin branches. A few trunks are thick — like the one near the center of the image or the one leaning on the left side — but most are thin, creating a transparent screen between runner (me) and river.
8 feb 2024

original description: My view from above the gorge: bare limbed trees, all trunk and thin branches. A few trunks are thick — like the one near the center of the image or the one leaning on the left side — but most are thin, creating a transparent screen between runner (me) and river. The ground, in the bottom third of the picture, is mostly dead, curled-up brown leaves. Sometimes, this is what I see even when there aren’t thin, bare branches everywhere — my view slightly obscured by something in the way — dead cone cells, I think — creating fuzz or static or a slight pulsing or wavering of lines. Also, if this picture were in black and white I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Often I have to ask Scott: is this in color or black and white?

5 nouns/ 5 adjectives / 5 verbs

nouns: tree, trunks, leaves, river, twigs, bank, bramble, sky, veil, net, screen
adjectives: brown, thin, thick, pale, blue, gray, soft. cluttered, tangled, obscured, disoriented
verbs: blocking, concealing, decaying, settled, crowding (out), decomposing, swirling

one sentence about the most important thing in image: This cluttered view of bare trunks and thin branches creates a screen between runner (me) and river and resembles what I sometimes see even when there aren’t thin, bare branches everywhere — my view obscured by something in the way, that I can’t move, that keeps the real (focused, clear, open) view just out of reach.

a second sentence about the second most important thing: The image is only of swirling forms — tree, leaf, river — as my eye struggles (and fails) to land on solid lines, instead bouncing from branch to trunk to leafy floor to river to sky to branch again. (This cramped, thickly tangled space overwhelms my eyes and my brain.)

a third sentence about the third most important thing: With its bare ground and dead leaves, it looks like this picture should be of the gorge in November or April, but it was taken in one of the first Februarys without at least 1/2 foot of snow on the ground. 

The most important thing about this image is how the branches create a net which mimics how my vision often works — I can almost see what’s there, but not quite. Secondary, but connected, is the feeling of being disoriented, off, almost but not quite, untethered, which comes from swirling forms and the climate crisis — there’s almost always snow on the ground here in February. Where are my Minnesota winters?

feb 15/BIKERUN

bike: warm-up
run: 3 miles
basement
outside: 4 inches of snow

Snow! Finally. My first real shovel session of the winter. Thought briefly about running outside on the trail, but when Scott told me he had heard the city hadn’t plowed the bike path, I decided against it. I watched more of the first episode of Dickinson with the audio description on while I biked. Listened to my winter playlist while I ran. I blocked the display panel, so I wouldn’t know the time. When I finally checked, I thought it would be 15 minutes at the most. It was 25. Wow.

Watching/listening to the audio description, it was interesting to notice when/how they chose to describe something and when they didn’t. An example: In one scene, Sue is sitting in the parlor. We see her looking and pointing, then we see a basket with a letter in it hanging outside of the window. Sue says, Austin. Look. At this point, the audio description (AD) says, Sue points to a hanging basket. Austin opens the basket and removes a small envelope addressed to Sue. I was struck by the AD choice to wait to describe Sue’s pointing until after the action was over. Something — poetic whimsy? — was lost in not describing Sue’s strange pointing — it seemed, at least to me, almost comical. Should it have been described? I’m not sure; I mention it to highlight how ADs involve choices of what to include or not include, often for clarity or brevity.

I must have still been thinking about this choice to not immediately describe the pointing while I was running because I suddenly had an idea about the significance of what my image descriptions leave out. I wanted to remember my thought so I pulled out my phone to record it, but the audio is messed up and I can’t understand what I’m saying. Bummer. My descriptions will be explicitly subjective. I want to emphasize how we always make choices when describing what we’re seeing — what’s important and what’s not. Our brains do this too when we’re seeing — it’s called filtering.

before the run

While rereading an entry from this day (15 feb) in 2022, I discovered that past Sara had been thinking about alt-text as poetry. I mentioned wanting to create alt-text for my beloved mannequin photos and posted some links:

I’ve already started using the first link. Just now, I read through the twitter thread. Very helpful! Here are some highlights — BTW, putting together these notes has used up a lot of my visual “spoons” for the day.

Not describing everything, but getting to why the image is there:

I think people who find providing alt text overwhelming think too much about describing every last detail in the image, when it’s more like, ok, why did YOU post it? …focus on why you’re posting the image or what it’s supposed to do or how other people would recognize it

Alt-text predates “accessibility”:

“alt” here is short for “alternate” and originates from HTML—back in Ye Olde Days if an image took 10 minutes to load or otherwise broke, you’d provide alt text that the browser would display in place of the image so you still knew what was going on

different than an image description, alt-text is only for necessary images, not decorative ones:

and alt text is different from image descriptions; alt text describes the purpose of the image and isn’t typically included if something is purely decorative—but do note that even a gif for example carries semantic meaning and is thus NOT purely decorative

intended to be brief

alt text is meant to be short, as it would get cut off by the image bounding edges otherwise

example of alt-text vs. image description

alt text for a chart: “Graph showing increase in alt text use on Twitter”
image description for a chart: “A graph titled ‘Increase in alt text use on Twitter.’ The y-axis shows percentage of images including alt text. The x-axis shows time in years from 2008–2022…”

craft it

don’t be afraid to put your personality into alt text or be funny or use alt text to extend your shitpost, like imagine using a screenreader & your entire TL is dry descriptions until “a dog so cute I screeched” appears

look to audio descriptions for good examples of image description and using brevity

I think there’s a lot to learn from audio descriptions too for how to provide alt text & image descriptions! try turning on audio descriptions on a show or movie and observe how to pack in detail, especially given the time constraints—you only have a few seconds to describe smtg — boba fett’s audio descriptions are amazing, they’re wonderfully evocative while also including details I wouldn’t have known, not being a star wars fan (like they note that the palace is jabba’s and name which character’s helmet he picks up)

it’s subjective

accessibility is a fluid concept that depends a lot on audience; there’s no one “best” way to write alt text or an image description, because fundamentally it’s about what details other people care about, and that will change across topics and groups

an extended example of using alt-text to further/enhance the story

I am DYING, here is an incredible example of alt text augmenting the experience for someone using accessibility features—it calls out only the visual features that are important (’90s aesthetic, scalloped border) and provides the context that makes this reply hilarious

Katherine Crighton
@c_katherine

Screencapture of a Denny’s tumblr ad. Of key interest, aside from its very 1990s aesthetic, is the scalloped border around the ad–at the time, it was intended by Tumblr’s parent company to denote to casual readers that the contents within the border were a paid advertisement. Specifically, only those who had paid for space would be granted the scalloped border. Denny’s, the restaurant chain and purveyor of surreal humor on social media, demonstrated with this ad that while the intent was to monetize this border, in actuality all one had to do was take a screencap, drop in your own ad, and then post the resulting image via the normal, non-monetized process– it would then appear the same way to the end-user, whether or not Tumblr’s owner recieved a dime. This method of deriving ad income was dropped shortly after the Denny’s “ad” pointed out this flaw.

Some very helpful ideas in this thread —

the why/purpose is the focus. In my “how I see” images, I’m not interested in describing everything in the image — I probably can’t because of my limited vision, but the ways it serves as an example of “how I see.” I’m also interested in bringing some elements of ekphrasis into this — what are those? I need to spend more time thinking about that!

the idea of brevity. I’d like to make these descriptions short. I think it might be helpful for my creative process to pick a meaningful number of characters or words or syllables. I’ll think about that some more.

listening to audio descriptions for guidance — I think I’ll bike this morning and watch/listen to a Dickinson episode! I did!

a ramble of thoughts:

thought one: Recently, I’ve started proof-reading my poems by listening as the screen reader reads them. I noticed that the speaker (mine is Fred — according to system preferences on my mac) can do enjambments (a sentence split up over multiple lines) when the sentence is at the beginning of the line. But when the sentence begins in the middle of a line, Fred pauses at the end of that line and reads the next line as a new sentence. Enjambment is much more a visual device. My alt-text poems should not use visual devices, but rely on aural ones. What are these? I know rhyme, meter, alliteration, assonance. Time to study! I’ll start with my Mary Oliver poetry handbook!

thought two: I’m just remembering a great line from June Jordan in her guidelines for critiquing a poem:

Punctuation (Punctuation is not word choice. Poems fly or falter according to the words composing them. Therefore, omit punctuation and concentrate on every single word. E.g., if you think you need a question mark then you need to rewrite so that your syntax makes clear the interrogative nature of your thoughts. And as for commas and dashes and dots? Leave them out!)

So, try writing my descriptions without punctuation. BUT, I’m also thinking of Dickinson and how important punctuation (em dashes, for example) were for her. How could I use punctuation to shape how Fred speaks my words?

thought three (barely formed): One feature of many ekphrastic poems is a contentious/combative dialogue between word and image. What about twisting that to push at the conflicts between hearing a word versus seeing an image?

All these thoughts might be too much, and might not lead anywhere I want to go, but I’ll keep with them for a little bit longer. I was just telling Scott last night, or was it this morning?, that I appreciate how past Sara includes discussions of intended plans. Sometimes I don’t act on these plans — and maybe it seems like I have too many ideas or that I’m all over the place, or that I’m not following through — but it’s cool to be able to trace the origins of the projects that do happen. And the plans that I didn’t act upon? Maybe I just not ready for them yet.

a few hours later:

Here are some notes from Bojana Coklyat in Conversation with Shannon Finnegan:

we can get more out it alt-text than just compliance:

SF: Something that has always been a hope of mine with the project is that for people who aren’t as familiar with access, it introduces them to a way of thinking about access as creative and generative and collaborative and process-oriented, and that might also influence the way they think about access in other parts of their lives.

BC: Alt text is so often approached through the lens of compliance, like, Okay, let’s just get this done. But when you’re paying attention to the language you’re using and how you’re putting it together, that’s already changing things. That’s already shifting things.

space and symbolism

BC: I was talking to Chancey Fleet, who works at the Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library in New York, and Chancey said something to me and I was just like, Whoa, I have to really think about that. She said, “Is it that we really live in such a visual culture? Is the most important thing visual, or is it space and symbolism?”

I was thinking about that all day yesterday. And going back to this exhibit I went to yesterday, there was a metal piece that kind of looked like scaffolding or architecture. And then we had the chance to walk through it, and it was like, Yeah, this is the experience. It’s walking through it and understanding the space of it. It’s not necessarily, OK, this part’s five feet tall, it’s metal, and it intersects with this piece that’s metal. It was so much more about walking through it, navigating it, and even navigating it with someone.

I think that might be something I’ll start to think about more with alt text: symbolism and space and how those fit in when you’re describing something.

SF: I love that idea of thinking about symbolism. I often find that in descriptions, when someone uses a metaphor or a comparison, it really helps me understand what the subject of the description is really like, and that feels really related to this idea of symbolism. It’s like: What are your associations with this thing, rather than just with how 

jan 19/BIKERUN

bike: 10 minute warm-up
run: 4 miles
treadmill, basement
outside: 6 degrees, feels like -7

Because I was sick earlier this week, I’m being cautious and not running outside when the feels like temp is below 0. Running on the treadmill isn’t as interesting, but it is helping me to keep my heart rate down.

Watched a Hot Ones while I biked, listened to the audiobook for The Woman in the Window (in honor of windows month!) for almost 3 miles, then my winter playlist for the last mile.

The run felt easy and not too tedious. I looked over at my shadow — a giant head swaying. I think I saw the shadow of my ponytail swinging a few times. When I looked again, I lost my balance a little and stepped off the side briefly. Oops.

In The Woman in the Window, Anna is agoraphobic and has been stuck in her fancy house for 10, or was it 11?, months. She keeps her windows shut tight and spies/watches/looks at her neighbors through them (with the help of a high-powered camera lens). In the chapter I just heard (18), a woman she is watching, Jane Russell, looks back and waves, which freaks Anna out. She realizes that just as she watches others, they could be watching her.

side note: I know very little about this story other than that someone is murdered, Anna sees it, and no one believes her. Listening to this chapter and being introduced to Jane Russell, I’m guessing she’s the one getting murdered. I’m also getting the feeling that not only will people not believe that Anna saw the murder, they won’t believe that Jane Russell is real. She’s just Anna’s drunk/over-drugged hallucination. Am I right, or have I seen The Lady Vanishes too many times (thanks 1980s HBO!) Continuing with Lady Vanishes vibes, I’m wondering if the small portrait Jane sketched of Anna that she hastily shoved in her drawer will be proof (if to no one else, at least to herself) that she’s not making it up! Jane does/did exist! In The Lady Vanishes it’s the message written in the fog on the window, or the sugar packet that proves the little old lady who vanished actually exists — am I remembering that right? I think I’m conflating the 1938 original with the 80s remake here. Anyway, I’m probably wrong about Jane not being real. She has a son who can verify her existence. It was the random moment when Jane sketches Anna that made me think of this scenario. Future Sara, let me know after you’ve finished the book!

update from feb 1st Sara: A lot of what I thought was right, but not quite. Lots of slight twists. For example, everyone believes Anna exists, but she’s someone else. The portrait does come up and does reinvigorate Anna’s flagging belief in what she thinks she saw, but it doesn’t serve as an a-ha moment or matter much to others. And all the stuff with the son? I probably shouldn’t have been, but it surprised me.

In addition to the actual windows in her house, there’s also the window of the computer screen. After she waves back at Anna, Jane comes over and they talk. Jane asks Anna what she does in the house all day. Anna describes the chatroom she participates on and the french lessons she takes online. Then Jane calls the computer, “her window to the world.” The window as Windows (mircrosoft) has come up in my exploration of windows and their meanings alreadyearlier today even, when I was reading the Part 2 article I mention a few paragraphs below.

Magritte and windows

(written before the run) On the 15th, while rereading entries from that day in past years (thanks to Scott’s “On This Day” plug-in!), I encountered a great vision poem that I had read before, but not that closely, I guess, because I missed how much it spoke to me and my experience with vision loss. The poem: Ekphrasis as Eye Test/ Jane Zwart. And the verse that particularly spoke to me was this:

Other losses begin in the middle of the field:
redacting the kiss at a picture’s center–
wrapping lovers’ heads in pillow slips; hovering doves
at eye level anywhere hatted men stand.
They could be anyone, the strangers Magritte painted
almost as their mothers, maculas wasted, would see them.

  • the kiss, lovers’ heads in pillow slips: The Lovers
  • the dove and the hatted man: Man in a Bowler Hat
  • Magritte’s mother killed herself by jumping off a bridge when he was 13. When her body was found days later, her nightgown was wrapped around her head (I can’t remember where I read that — found it!)

When I read these lines, I didn’t immediately get the references I mentioned above, but I did recognize the featureless faces and wasted maculas in my own vision. I recall liking Magritte exhibit when I was kid — I had a poster of the business men floating in the sky — but I hadn’t thought about him much since.

I inherited my mom’s copy of a 1992 exhibition she saw at the Art Institute of Chicago, but I hadn’t looked through it much, if at all. I picked it up and saw the cover — his painting with a train emerging from a fireplace — and thought: Charles Bonet Syndrome! CBS happens to some people as they lose their central vision; it often involves strange hallucinations. I read about people seeing waterfalls coming out of skyscrapers, old carriages coming down the street, and a dozen cooked eggs on a fireplace mantel. A train emerging from a fireplace seems to fit in these.

The cover of Magritte book. At the center, a fireplace with a black train, steam coming out of the top, emerging from its center. On the mantel, a clock. And behind that, a big mirror. In the bottom right corner, the book title: Magritte
Magritte on my desk, next to Forrest Gander’s “Circumambulation of Mt. Tamalpas” under the glass

Of course, there are other meanings intended with this train, but I immediately saw it as CBS hallucination. Looking through the book at all the featureless faces and faces obscured by apples and doves, I recognized my own inability to see faces. Very cool.

This morning I decided to dig into Magritte a little more. I discovered (or maybe remembered) that one of his reoccurring themes was windows — fitting for this month’s theme! Fearing copyright issues (I’ve been burned before), I’m not posting any of the images here. Instead, go here for examples: Magritte windows.

In my brief research (googlin’), I found this: Part 2: Magritte’s Window Paintings. At the end of the post there’s an article on the symbolism of windows, with some useful descriptions:

This intimate relation between the window, seeing, and perception (cf. eye/gaze) has become part of everyday language: the eyes as windows to the soul (or heart, or mind) [1] point out the possibility of looking inside a person through the opening of his eyes, where an inner state is reflected.

note: 1 The notion of  the ‘eyes as the window to the psyche’ goes back at least to a text by the Skeptic philosopher Sextus Empiricus (2nd century A.D), who might be citing an even earlier text. Cf. Carla Gottlieb. The Window in Art. From the Window of God to the Vanity of Man. A Survey of Window Symbolism in Western Painting (New York: Abaris, 1981), pp.49f.

I’m always searching for references to this phrase as I interrogate the idea that we see each other’s souls, and their humanity, by looking into their eyes.

The window as an opening in a wall refers to an absence which can be filled – by a material (glass, wood, paper, stone), by that which is seen through it, or by something rather immaterial like light or air. If defined as an absence, the window becomes a frame for its variable content, a marker of difference between what is inside and outside.

I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about Nothing lately, so I’ll have to add this idea of absence/frame to my list of ways of understanding the word/concept. Maybe I’ll add it to the series of Nothing poems I’ve been working on, which have emerged from my stripping down and reimagining my Haunts poem.

jan 18/BIKERUN

bike: 10 minute warm-up
run: 3.65 miles
basement
outside temp: 9 degrees / feels like -4

for future Sara: Tuesday night while sitting in the South High band room, listening to the community jazz band rehearse, I suddenly felt sick — a little like I might faint again, hot and tingling all over, very sensitive to loud sounds. Later on the way home in the ridiculously cold car, I had the chills and felt like I might throw up. Went home and straight to bed. Stayed in bed all the next morning. Not covid (I tested), but maybe the flu?

listening to my Window playlist: I Threw a Brick Through a Window/U2

I feel much better — almost normal — today. I’ve decided that I had the flu and the flu shot I got in November prevented it from being more severe (whew!). Of course this experience gave me some mild anxiety — was I sick, or was the faint-feeling signaling some bigger problem? How long would I be sick? At some point, would I have trouble breathing? Sigh — I dislike how much more I worry these days.

Tip Toe Thru’ the Tulips with Me/Annette Hanshaw

Since I felt pretty good today, I decided to try running on the treadmill. After my feet warmed-up in the cold basement, I felt great. Listened to my winter 2024 playlist and covered the panel displaying the time. I kept telling myself, one more song and I’ll check how much time I have left. When I finally checked, the time was at 31 minutes! Very cool; I thought maybe it would at 21 or 22 minutes. I like playing this game when I’m running on the treadmill; much better than staring down at the display.

Open a New Window/Mame Soundtrack

Noticed my shadow running alongside me. Stared at the water heater straight ahead of me: fuzzy and shifting very slightly. Also, the image had some static.

Look Through Any Window/The Hollies

As I write this, I’m making note of the window songs that are playing. It’s a bit difficult and I feel pressure to hurry up and write something before the next song comes on.

Nan You’re a Window Shopper/Lily Allen

In Nan, You’re a Window Shopper Allen complains — is she complaining or lamenting? — about her nan whose life is so constricted — taking a look, but you never buy/ and mad as fuck/only just alive

Window/Fiona Apple

Window/Daniel G. Hoffman

Is is no more than an eyehole
On the outside scene
Making everything
–The snow, the runaway dog,
The boys brawling and the car
Skidding against the tree–
Content to be contained
Within a reasonable frame?
Or could it be

A casement dividing
A real Observer from a view
Of untrammelled possibility,
Its pane connecting
A man in a room in
Steam heat and a battered chair
With his future
Which he could not see
Were it not there?

Window Shopping/Just Derrick

Perhaps it’s the lens that allows
Errant swifts and swallows
In a downward swoop
Of their tumbling flight
To glimpse the man waiting
For the future to happen–
While he’s caged in time
They’re free to look in,
And its gift is insight.

Junk/Paul McCartney

I noticed that Hoffman’s next poem is titled, Door. I’ll have to read that one when I study doors!

From Junk:

Buy, buy, says the sign in the shop window
Why, why? says the junk in the yard

Bust Your Windows/Jazmine Sullivan

I’ll bust the windows out your car
You know I did it ’cause I left my mark
Wrote my initials with a crowbar
And then I drove off into the dark

Maybe I’ll try experimenting with a themed playlist? I could listen and pick out a few lyrics from each song, then write about them, or turn them into a poem?

jan 15/BIKERUN

bike: 15 minute warm-up
run: 3.7 miles
basement
outside: -1 degrees, feels like -18

When I checked the weather earlier the feels like temp was -22 and it has to be feels like -20 or warmer for me to go outside for a run. Would I have gone out there if I knew it had warmed up to feels like -18? Possibly. Oh well, the bike and run inside were fine. I listened to a new playlist I created while I ran and didn’t think about much except for my form — swinging my arms, lifting my hips, keeping my shoulders relaxed and my core sturdy.

I looked up and straight ahead at the water heater in front of me. It was fuzzy in the center. As I looked at it, I noticed my shadow — much bigger than me — off to the side.

Okay, now I remember one thing I thought about: the mouse/mice that live in our basement. Would I see one of them flit by? (nope.)

Looking out my window, I just saw someone run by on the sidewalk. So, someone is willing to run in this cold.

Another thought: before I ran I was thinking about a quote from Theodore Roethke that I posted on jan 15, 2020:

Today there’s no time for the
mistakes of a long and slow
development: dazzle or die.

I wrote about it in an “On this Day: January 15, 2020/2022” page this morning. I was wondering about the value of dazzling in a quick flash versus shimmering with a slow burn. Then these words/ideas popped into my head: flare, flame, a candle burning at both ends, a mushroom erupting and busting through the pavement, moss growing over rocks, fungi nets spreading underground.

I also thought about spending some time on the phrase “slow burn.” Just now I looked it up on Poetry Foundation (search: slow burn) and found a wonderful poem, Over Time by Martha Collins. Here’s one bit of it:

an excerpt from Over Time/ Martha Collins

7

Then gone and then to come:
all the time, except the split
second, except—

All the time in the world.

And out of this world?

Oh little heart on my wrist,
where are we going?

Oh little heart on my wrist! Yesterday I started listening to a podcast with Jenny Odell about her most recent book on time and I decided that when the book was ready (I requested it from the library), I would finally dedicate some time to clocks and time and other forms of time that don’t involve clocks. Very cool!

jan 13/BIKERUN

bike: 30 minutes
basement
run: 1.15 miles
outside: 7 degrees / feels like -10

A short run today because I’ve run every day this week so far, and because it’s windy and snowy and cold outside. Watched the first 20 minutes of Jennifer Lawrence’s comedy, No Hard Feelings, while I biked. I like her and I’m finding this movie funny so far. I listened to Taylor Swift’s Reputation while I ran. Tried out my new bright yellow shoes for the first time. I like how they feel and how they look. Quite possibly they will be the shoes I wear when I run the marathon next October. I don’t remember thinking about much as I ran — I focused on my arm swing and staying relaxed and lifting my hips. We turned the treadmill the other way a few months ago so now I won’t see my inverted moon on the dark window anymore. What strange image will replace it? I don’t remember any today. But I’ll have to look for one the next time I run on the treadmill, which will probably be on Monday; it might be arctic hellscape cold then.

Emily Dickinson’s Windows

Here are some useful ideas from an article — Emily Dickinson’s Windows — I found yesterday, which seems to be an extended version of an article I read a few days ago:

  • creative freedom
  • architectural prop: By my Window, The Angle of a Landscape
  • her envelope poems resembled a window with curtains
  • a magic lens — the warped quality of 19th century windows: the world let loose, nature liquefied — her practice of looking/writing — up and out the window/down at the paper — descriptions as incremental fragments (A Slash of Blue! A Sweep of Gray!)
  • the window grid creates a pattern — 12 panes — reflected in the formal structure of her poems (degrees, steps, notches, plunges) — each word, line, or stanza is well-defined slot/pane that spotlights an image/emotional state/quality of experience — ’Tis this – invites – appalls – endows – Flits – glimmers – proves – dissolves – Returns – suggests – convicts – enchants Then – flings in Paradise – (Fr 285)
  • an act of undoing in each pane — nature loosening up (a neat frame in a formless center)
  • each pane a diagram of rapture
  • looking through/touching the glass, she connected with the artisans who made it, who left evidence of their labor –warps and striations that were once the artisan’s breath (windows made through glass blowing? wow)
  • glass blowing and imagery of fiery furnaces, metal flames, boiling, white heat
  • mid 19th century — glass consciousness
  • ED’s poems as her own form of glass blowing — creative process of transforming words into poems = making sand into glass into windows

the window grid creates a pattern — 12 panes — reflected in the formal structure of her poems (degrees, steps, notches, plunges) — ’Tis this – invites – appalls – endows – Flits – glimmers – proves – dissolves – Returns – suggests – convicts – enchants Then – flings in Paradise – (Fr 285)

I love this idea of how the windows influenced the form of her writing. Also, the combination of the orderliness/structure of the frame and the unruliness/undoing-ness of her words. It might be fun to use my windows — 2 sets with 2 panes each, a bar in-between the windows, one set in front, one to my right side — as the structure for a few experiments. As I write this, I’m thinking about Victoria Chang’s truck moving across each window frame and Wendell Berry’s black criss-crossed frame.

Here’s a wonderful ED poem that is mentioned in the article:

By my Window have I for Scenery (797) / Emily Dickinson

By my Window have I for Scenery
Just a Sea—with a Stem—
If the Bird and the Farmer—deem it a “Pine”—
The Opinion will serve—for them—

It has no Port, nor a “Line”—but the Jays—
That split their route to the Sky—
Or a Squirrel, whose giddy Peninsula
May be easier reached—this way—

For Inlands—the Earth is the under side—
And the upper side—is the Sun—
And its Commerce—if Commerce it have—
Of Spice—I infer from the Odors borne—

Of its Voice—to affirm—when the Wind is within—
Can the Dumb—define the Divine?
The Definition of Melody—is—
That Definition is none—

It—suggests to our Faith—
They—suggest to our Sight—
When the latter—is put away
I shall meet with Conviction I somewhere met
That Immortality—

Was the Pine at my Window a “Fellow
Of the Royal” Infinity?
Apprehensions—are God’s introductions—
To be hallowed—accordingly—

The pine tree as a sea with a stem? I love this idea!

jan 7/BIKE

bike: 35 minutes
basement

Met my running goal for the first week of 2024 yesterday, so today I biked. Again, no problem with my left knee, which is great. I’d like to do more with the bike this winter — maybe try to bike for a little longer? Watched the tokyo triathlon mixed relay. I don’t remember what I thought about and I don’t remember hearing/feeling/seeing/smelling anything while I biked — oh, one thing: a strand of my hair was out of my ponytail and it kept touching the nape of my neck — irritating.

Right after I got up this morning (I slept in until 8:30!), I found out about John Cage’s A Dip in the Lake: Ten Quicksteps, Sixty-two Waltzes, and Fifty-six Marches for Chicago and Vicinity. Very cool . I found it while reading this:

When I am stuck, I walk. I don’t wear earbuds or headphones when I walk, nor when I travel by train or bus, because I want all of my senses to be centrally alive to what’s around: the music that lurks in the crevices of city sounds, forest sounds, desert sounds. I am reminded of John Cage’s art piece A Dip in the Lake: Ten Quicksteps, Sixty-two Waltzes, and Fifty-six Marches for Chicago and Vicinity, a map with colored lines and vectors that reconstruct the city transversely from without in the layering of aleatoric drift over cartographic direction. To this end, unstructured walking, the pure derive of walking, can become something like a divinatory practice, chance-based yet ritualized.

Jose-Luis Moctezuma

today’s windows

  1. bedroom window
  2. front room, my desk windows
  3. picture window from desk to living room
  4. kitchen window
  5. car window
  6. looking up in grocery store, ceiling window
  7. back door window
  8. sliding glass door window
  9. basement windows — one to the north, one to the south, one west that is dark because it’s under the deck

jan 4/BIKE

40 minutes
basement

A nice day, not too cold and with no snow, but I ran a 10k yesterday and I’m trying to be responsible with my training and not overdo it. But, after feeling frustrated when my password wouldn’t reset and overwhelmed by my haunts obsession, I knew I needed exercise. So I biked in the basement. It felt good, and my left knee didn’t hurt like it did last year. I feel much better now. While I biked I watched an old PTO triathlon race and forgot about my frustration.

Is there a word for experiencing frustration when something won’t work online? It’s not an overall fear or hatred of technology or computers, but a temporary breakdown/panic when I can’t get it to work, or when I need to resubmit a password but can’t find it, or when I know there’s something I haven’t filled out in an online form, but I can’t see what or where it is. It’s also anger at how poorly designed online forms are or how the user experience (UX) doesn’t consider enough people’s differing abilities — especially older people or young-ish people like me, who can’t see very well — or, as Scott just mentioned to me, how UX can be designed to direct people in ways they don’t want. This last thing is called dark or deceptive patterns. An example: a site makes it confusing and almost impossible to unsubscribe or cancel online.

Maybe reading this site, Deceptive Patterns, could give me some better words.

Before — or maybe it was after? — I was derailed by passwords, I came across an interview with the writer/philosopher/nature writer/climate change activist, Kathleen Dean Moore.

Here’s how I got there:

  1. Thinking about water and stone and air I remembered something I read in a beautiful essay by Jake Skeets, My Name is Beauty. Skeets is quoting another writer, Viola Cordova and her essay, “Language as Window” — they’re both talking about moving (swimming) through the world, not walking on it
  2. I searched for that essay and found that it was in a collection by Cordova, How it Is (I was able to check it out from my public library!), which was edited by Kathleen Dean Moore
  3. A link for Moore’s site came up and I was intrigued by its name, River Walking, so I checked it out, and in the media section I found a great interview, Why I Write

I miss the days of wandering through libraries, from shelf to shelf, following footnotes and bibliographies to new ideas and friends, but I’m grateful for the internet and ebooks, especially as my central vision deteriorates.

Anyway, here’s something I just read in the interview about forms of thinking:

everybody – should have an education in three kinds of thinking:

Critical thinking. The essential art of reaching reliable conclusions on the basis of evidence; the ability to defend yourself against flawed arguments or deceptive assumptions. This is the foundation of a rational life.

Empathetic thinking. The art of putting yourself in another’s place, seeing the world through their eyes, and asking what you would believe and do in their situation; the art of asking questions about why they believe what they do and make the decisions they do. This is the foundation of justice and compassion.

Hypothetical thinking, the “if, then” art. The ability to entertain an idea; the ability to consider that things might be different from the way they are now; the art of following a chain of possibilities beyond those immediately apparent. This is the foundation of imagination.

Why I Write / Kathleen Dean Moore

dec 31/BIKE

bike: 30 minutes
basement

Sometime last night, my left leg/knee started to hurt, then it snowed and left slippery sidewalks, so today I decided to be cautious and bike. Watched a replay of the Kona Ironman from 2017 while I biked. At one point, they interviewed 6 (or 5?) time Ironman winner Natasha Badmann. I remember her! She had an amazing perspective on one of the toughest parts of the course: the energy lab. She saw it as giving her energy, not taking it away — the energy of inspiration from the powerful waves off in the distance. Wow, to be that present when you’re 6 or 7 hours into a tough race is impressive. As I biked, I thought about athletes and the different ways they try to overcome the strong desire to stop, give up. I find Badmann’s approach to be a helpful lesson in letting go — not trying to control your thoughts or getting rid of your pain, but releasing them and shifting to another way of being — a way in which you’re not centered, but witnessing something beside yourself. Does that make sense?

Before biking, I had a good morning filled with ideas: 1. creating a series of short poems in which I use my favorite lines from other poets by fitting them into my running/rhythmic breathing form: 3/2 and 2. using my 3/2 form and writing poems that are one sentence long.

I also watched an amazing talk by Ed Hirsch on poetry, the poem, and the reader:

I wish there was a transcript. If there is, I can’t find it, so here are some of my highlights:

Poetry exists to inspire the reader not to inspire the writer, that the purpose of poetry is in the relationship between a poet, a poem, and a reader. And it’s in that connection between them.

Talking about his teacher at Grinnell told him:

You have the gifts to be a poet, but what you’re writing is not poetry. It’s not even close to poetry. What you’re writing down are your thoughts and your feelings but you’re not trying to craft anything, you’re not trying to make anything. You’re not writing in relationship to any other poetry. You’re not reading poetry and so you’re not really a poet right now. You are a person who writes poetry. You have to read poetry and connect your poems to what you’re reading.

He discusses reading Gerard Manley Hopkins and feeling a profound connection. It spoke deeply to him and he wanted to know/study how Hopkins could achieve this.

Holy shit, this thing’s a sonnet? You mean, he’s not just writing out his poems the way I write out mine? He’s actually making it rhyme and everything? That seems generous to me. I want to do that. I’m going to try and make something for someone in the future so that they can feel about my poem the way I feel about Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem.

Then he talks about how Hopkins’ poem was so distanced from him by time, location, experience, yet it spoke to him more than anything else he had heard. He realized that poetry can communicate more deeply than social conversation.

Celan: a poem is a message in a bottle, not guaranteed to reach anyone; a poem is sent out to some future person

Poets are people who, not so much want to express themselves, but feel so encountered by other poems that they want to respond in kind. That’s why Emily Dickinson calls the poets she reads, “her kinsmen of the shelf.”

The reader plays an important role in the understanding of poetry. The message in the bottle only finds its life when it’s activated in you. When you become the secret addresse.

There are a few poems you read and you go, I feel almost like I’ve written the poem to which I’m actually only responding to.

poetry: the gift of privacy and participation: It gives you interiority and it also gives you connection.

Poetry as stored magic that can’t be paraphrased

Poetry exists in the relationship between the poet who wrote it, the poem which encapsulates the experience, and the reader who reads it.

His discussion here reminds me of an interview I read and posted at some point in the last few years:

We are not diminished but enlarged by grief, by our refusal to vanish, or to let others vanish, without leaving a verbal record. We need poetry to help us transform the oceanic depths of feeling into art. Poetry rises out of one solitude to meet another in recognition and connection. It companions us.

And, yes, poetry is connected to contemporary life, but it’s also always connected to other poetry. We need an archive of eloquence and response.

Interview with Edward Hirsch

dec 29/BIKE

bike: 30 minutes
basement

Warm enough to run outside, but we just got back from our trip and I fell and jarred my neck two night ago and I’m very sore, so I’m taking at least one more day off from running and biking in the basement instead.

Of course there’s more to the story, and because I’m pretty sure future Sara wants to remember, I’ll add a few more details: I fell because I fainted. I fainted because of low blood pressure. I had low blood pressure because of a reaction to ingesting a small dose of an edible — pineapple express. Some reasons I might have had a reaction: pineapple express is a sativa (stimulant) strain and I didn’t need to be stimulated; we had just completed the Hot Ones challenge and I was feeling very ill; I hadn’t eaten much all day and had been standing for hours; I had drank 2 beers; I was seeing family member I hadn’t seen in years and confronting loss; Scott had taken the other half of the gummy and his highly stimulated reaction was too much for me; I should have sat down, but I was walking around because pacing helps me to feel better.

Here’s what happened: Right after we finished the last hot sauce for Hot Ones — which was spicy, but didn’t bother me nearly as much as my stomach — I started feeling strange and off and like I might throw up. I started walking around the apartment, which is what I often do when I feel sick. I felt a heaviness in my body, like a wave of something dropping down from my head and settling in my feet. The last thing I remember is hearing voices talking (probably everyone in the other room) and then a loud smack. Suddenly Scott was calling my name and I was on the floor opening my eyes. Everyone was standing in front of me, staring. I saw FWA first and was struck by how much he and everyone else looked like a still from a film, posed for a dramatic moment. My hand and wrist hurt; so did my butt. I felt overwhelmed and angry that they were all staring at me. Scott’s perspective: He heard a loud smack. When he got to me I was passed out on the floor, twitching. He thought I has having a seizure. He shook me gently a few times before I woke up. Scott walked me to a bed and after some convincing I sat down. He left and I could hear his agitated voice in the next room (he was feeling the effects of the gummy too). He yelled-whispered, I’m really worried about her; I don’t think she’s okay. I responded by yelling from the bed, He’s tripping! Don’t listen to him. I’m fine. And, mostly I was.

“He’s tripping,” might become the new line that RJP and FWA will affectionately (and mockingly) utter for the next year. Last year it was “the fries make it worse!” when Scott tried eating a fry to help temper the heat from that year’s hot sauce challenge.

what I think happened when I fell: Either I instinctively braced my fall, or my hands were already up by my head because when I feel especially sick/anxious/bad, I gather my hair and tug at the roots. This saved me from really knocking my head hard on the floor. I still hit my head, but it was after I fell. I think I might have mild whiplash, judging by the soreness of my neck. This is the first time I have ever fainted in my life — at least that I can remember. Strange and fascinating and unsettling.

Anyway, that is why my neck has jarred and why I’m taking another day off from running.

While I biked I watched (not for the first or even second time), a replay of the women’s triathlon at the Rio Olympics. Go Gwen! I felt strange a few times and thought about what would happen if I fainted while on the bike. But I was fine and kept going and will work hard to not add fainting and falling to my list of anxieties.

Here’s a book I discovered this morning that I’d like to read: Personal Best: Makers on Their Poems that Matter Most

sept 5/BIKESWIMBIKE

bike: 8.5 miles
lake nokomis and back
82 degrees

Another hot day. Tomorrow, 20 degrees cooler. Windy too. I could feel it rushing past my ears. No panic on the bike — my brain has adjusted to my current state of (not) seeing. As usual, the bike ride back felt faster (time and speed) than the ride there.

5 Biking Things and 5 Swimming Things

  1. sewer construction all around the neighborhood — half of the street was blocked with trucks or huge circular holes in the pavement or pipes
  2. biking past the falls: they’ve patched (only) part of the potholes on the bike path near godfrey, the rest are still bumpy
  3. the creek on the other side of the duck bridge: mucky, stagnant, low — yuck!
  4. passing under the duck bridge, biking slowly and carefully, I heard a shuffling noise but couldn’t see anyone for a few seconds. Oh, there they are — a walker on the other side of the path
  5. a sound like rushing water near the bridge over Lake Hiawatha — I’m pretty sure it was wind. So much wind!
  6. blowing up my safety buoy near the bike rack, a man said, it’s windy out there today! when I responded with some noise — a grunt? — he added, it’s making you work for it
  7. swimming one direction, being pushed from behind and (a little) under, swimming the other direction, slam! straight into little walls of water
  8. screeching seagulls near the shore, honking geese on the other side
  9. stopped at the farthest white buoy to adjust my nose plug: a big splash less than 25 feet away — was it a fish? a boat? a fishing seagull? something menacing about to swim into me?
  10. more ghost vines below me and a wandering swimmer that I think I actually saw and didn’t just imagine

swim: 1.5 loops
lake nokomis main beach
82 degrees

Very choppy and surprisingly cool. With all of the 100 degree weather, I thought the water would be warmer. Opaque water, deep near the white buoys, shallow near the orange ones. My shoulders felt strong, my calves a little strange — sore? ready to cramp? When I finished my swim, I stood, then sat, in the shallow water and looked out at the lake, wondering if this would be my final swim of the year. What a wonderful season!

writing while walking (some sources)

Coastal scientists describe a coast as fractal—dividing infinitely into smaller and smaller increments, all the way down to a protruding rock, a tide line, or even a boot track that fills with water and extends the water’s edge. In retrospect, I would define the relationship of coast to poetic line much as you do. In practice, though, I arrived at the form by creating it, abandoning others that felt unrelated to the landscape or its foot-feel. There are rhythms to walking on rough ground, a step-after-step persistence that swallows obstacles, like irregular lines that nonetheless carry forward through the poem. There’s also a sensory excitement in a sea-rock-light-wind-bird-flower-seal-seep-peat-rain-salt—oh look, there’s a whale!—environment that subsumes attention to any one thing into the press of the whole. I don’t compose on foot as Brian Teare has described in his essay “En Plein Air Poetics,” but I share what he calls the “proprioceptive ecstasy” of oxygen-filled blood and an unlocked mind.

from The Syntax of Sedimentation: An Interview with Susan Tichy

I think I need to order and study — a monthly challenge? — Tichy’s North | Rock | Edge

One of the primary ways I make ecopoetics an active practice is by drafting poems on foot in the field.

Writing while walking makes explicit the intimate relationship between a site and my body, and though writing while walking obviously privileges language as its end-product, it derives that language from relation lived through the physical especially.

En Plein Air Poetics: Notes Towards Writing in the Anthropocene / Brian Teare

august 28/BIKESWIMBIKE

bike: 8.5 miles
lake nokomis and back
70 degrees

Biked over with Scott to the lake on a beautiful morning. Even though you might expect the opposite, it’s harder for me to bike with someone than biking alone. Sure, when biking with someone they can alert me to potential danger, but if I’m following behind them, I can’t get a clear view of what’s far ahead of me. And that’s bad with my slow reaction time. But, I didn’t care if it was harder today; it was nice to bike with Scott.

I wasn’t giving much attention to the world as I biked, other than trying to stay safe. Can I remember 10 things?

10 Things

  1. a bit crowded on the trail — most of the bikers were going the other way
  2. wind — it made the biking a little harder and yelled in my ears
  3. a single-file line of bikers riding north. I could see the headlight from the first bike from far away. Not sure, but I think it might have been a group of “silver” riders
  4. an even mix of sun and shadows
  5. more cracked and crushed acorns on the sidewalk
  6. the creek is low, almost dry in some spots
  7. the crack just past nokomis avenue on the edge of the trail near the tennis courts looks bigger — wider? deeper?
  8. a thwack from the pickleball court
  9. errrrrrrrr (the squeak from some bad brakes on a bike)
  10. arriving at the beach, admiring the glittering water

swim: 2 loops (10 little beach loops)
lake nokomis main beach
72 degrees

As I was walking into the water, carrying my small yellow life buoy that I tether to my waist, I’m almost positive I heard someone — at first I thought it was a kid, but it might have been an adult — say, okay we can go in the water now, the lifeguard’s here! I wonder how long it took for them to figure out I wasn’t a lifeguard. Why wasn’t I ever a lifeguard in my teens? I don’t know.

The water wasn’t too cold. As usual, it was opaque. Hardly any visibility. The only thing I could see were more of the ghost vines, haunting the bottom of the lake. Also, the faint form of the bottom of the white, cylindrical buoy — ghost buoy. I felt the ghost vines more than I saw them. Mostly quick sharp taps on my ankles, one time softly wrapping around my hand and wrist — Come with us, Sara, down below! No thanks. I tried staring down as I swam, but nothing appeared — no lake bottom, no fish, no ghost vines.

The water was very choppy on the back half of the loop. Difficult to see and to breathe, but not overly tiring.

I kept thinking I was seeing kayaks off to my right side, but it was only the tree line, or was it ghost kayaks? Yes, the fall is coming and I’m increasingly thinking about ghosts.

Swam for almost 45 minutes, but it felt like 5 minutes or no time or all the time dissolved into lake water.

10 Water Things

  1. a soaring seagull
  2. a circling plane
  3. flashes of pink in the water from somewhere — probably my brief glimpse of a buoy
  4. little waves smacking into me, from the front and the side
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 breathe left 1 2 3 breathe right
  6. the silvery white bottom of the safety boat on the other shore
  7. a kayak paddling by, farther out into the middle of the lake
  8. no ducks or geese or monstrous swans
  9. the gurgle or squeak of my slipping nose plug under water
  10. lining up my shoulders and swimming through the narrow opening between two pinkish orangish buoys

august 25/BIKESWIMBIKE

bike: 8.5 miles
lake nokomis and back
82 degrees

Hot. Legs felt sore, but just sore, not injured. Hooray! Last night my right knee and calf felt weird and I had some trouble walking. I thought about not going over to the lake today, but also thought that I would regret it and that my knee/calf would be fine. And they are.

What do I remember about my bike ride? Buzzing — or were they hissing? — cicadas. No turkeys or ducks or geese. Lots of cracks and potholes on the bike path. Ouch!

on your left — another biker, as he passed me
thank you!

bridges crossed:
the double bridge at 44th
mustache bridge
echo bridge (under)
28th street bridge (under)
bridge over creek, leading to lake hiawatha
the stinky lake bridge by the weir

roads crossed:
river road, entering the bike path
godfrey parkway
minnehaha parkway, at one side of the roundabout
minnehaha parkway, at another side of the parkway
nokomis avenue
river road, by Nokomis rec center

stoplights encountered: 0
light rail trains raced: 1
pickleball courts passed: 1
former tennis courts turned to bike safety courses passed: 1

swim: 1.5 loops
main beach lake nokomis
82 degrees

A perfect morning for a swim! Warm with no waves. Okay, maybe the water could have been a little cooler and empty — there were 2 other swimmers and lots of kayaks and canoes passing by — but otherwise, perfect. The water was opaque and dull yellow. Several times I passed by a vine growing up from the lake bottom, looking creepy and ghostly. I think I’ll call it, and others like it, ghost vines. I saw at least one seagull, dozens of little minnows. Felt a sharp rock at the bottom, heard someone say, anyone need a hairband? after picking one up off the sand. Kept thinking the tree line was an approaching paddle boarder. Mostly it wasn’t, but once it was. We raced each other for a minute, then they kept going and I turned at the buoy. Thought about kicking my legs and following through with my left stroke more. Wondered if my calf would be weird at the end (nope). Breathed every 5 strokes — 1 2 3 4 5 breathe right 1 2 3 4 5 breathe left.

So glad I didn’t listen to the excuses I was making for not going and went. What a glorious 90 minutes of lake and air and motion and life I would have missed out on!

august 18/BIKESWIMBIKE

bike: 8.5 miles
lake nokomis and back
63/70 degrees
air quality: 127

A little cool this morning biking to the lake. Canadian wildfires have made the air quality index rise to the “unhealthy for sensitive groups.” Not sure if it was that or something else, but my nose started closing up mid-bike and I had to breathe mostly through my mouth.

The ride was fine. I had some difficulty making sense of what I was seeing but because I’m always cautious — biking relatively slowly (11-12 mph) and making sure I stay far to the right in my lane, it didn’t matter that I couldn’t totally see what the bikers approaching me were doing.

Some rodent — probably a squirrel but maybe something else? — darted out of the bushes as I biked by and crossed the path just in front of me. Jesus! I exclaimed. Then I stewed over why squirrels seem to have a death wish. Or, do they like messing with humans?

On my bike ride back I had to go around 3 bikers (possibly kids) who had stopped and were spread out on the bridge at the bottom of the hill. They were looking over the side at something in Lake Hiawatha. At first, I wondered why they were stopped at such a dangerous spot. Then I wondered what they were looking at down there? Was it something strange?

swim: 3 loops
lake nokomis open swim
68 degrees

All the buoys were up this morning. Hooray! Bright sun, some wind. By the third loop the wind had picked up quite a bit and there were more waves then I’d like in the water. Hard to be buoyant, to breathe. Today is the last Friday swim of the season. I’m sad that it’s almost over, but I’m also tired and sore and my body — my back and right shoulder in particular — are ready for a break.

10 Things

  1. passing over the rope that tethers the green buoy to the lake floor, looking pale and dim in the opaque water
  2. more flashes, some might be fish, but others might be rays of light
  3. my favorite part of the swim: the stretch between the last green buoy and the first orange buoy
  4. a plane hovering in the sky
  5. reciting the line, It is time now, I said, for the deepening and quieting of the spirit among the flux of happenings, and feeling a deepness and sense of quiet briefly before losing it in the effort to stay high in the wavy water
  6. seeing the first green buoy without any problems — steady and bright
  7. not seeing the orange buoy — just water and sky in front of me — then briefly seeing it in that same spot, then having it disappear again
  8. instead of lining up their backpacks around the safety boat, most of today’s swimmers put their backpacks in the boat
  9. 2 kids swimming and playing near me at the end of my swim. One was obnoxious and was irritating the other
  10. a taller tree in the tree line on the far shore loomed in my periphery. I kept thinking it was a person on a paddle board

overheard: 2 swimmers near the shore, one coaching the other
coach: saying a bunch of stuff about streamlining and force and pushing through the water, then kick kick kick! Now swim to the orange buoy!
coached: I can’t do it! You’re pushing me too hard!
coach: Okay, swim to the white buoy instead

Did he swim to the white buoy? I’m not sure; I started swimming again before I could find it.

august 16/BIKESWIMBIKE

bike: 8.5 miles
lake nokomis and back
75 degrees

Just checked and this is the first bike ride that I’ve done in over a month! I’m not riding my bike much this summer. Hopefully I can change that for the last weeks of lake swimming. The theme for today’s ride (and swim): WIND! So much wind. According to the weather app: 15 mph. I think the gusts were more. Every direction I rode: wind rushing past my ears, shrieking. It made the bike ride harder, but I didn’t mind that much. The trail was not crowded and I didn’t have to try and pass anyone on the way there. Only 3 people on the way back.

overheard

Just as I was about to hop on my bike and leave the lake I heard the following exchange between a Dad, his two kids, and Sarah (on the phone) as they stood by their bikes:

Dad: This is Sea Salt, right?
Kid: No, Sea Salt is at Minnehaha Falls.
Dad: Oh no!
Kid: Yeah, I was wondering why we were going this way.
Dad: What’s this place? Oh shoot! Sarah (he talks into his phone), you told us the wrong place. I heard you say Nokomis.

A few things to note: The distance between the falls and nokomis is probably about 3 miles on bike trails, which isn’t that far but would still suck. Also, I’m impressed that this dad didn’t yell or swear or lose it on Sarah. I’m not sure if this Sarah has an h or not, but I assumed she did because Saras without hs would most likely not make this mistake. It seems like the kids probably knew something was messed up, but I doubt they deliberately didn’t mention it to their Dad. Probably they were doing that thing where you know something’s wrong but you can’t put it into words until much later. What’s that phenomenon called? I bet there’s a name for it.

swim: 1 big loop (4 little, super choppy loops)
lake nokomis main beach
75 degrees
whitecaps, big swells

Ugh! So much wind. Swimming north wasn’t too bad. The waves were pushing me from behind. The biggest problem: big waves pulling me down lower in the water, making it harder to stroke. In the last loop I realized what to do: kick harder. It worked! I really don’t use my legs that much when I’m swimming. Swimming south was very hard — straight into whitecaps. I could only breathe on my right side. Difficult to sight anything or to swim fast. Now my shoulder is sore. Still glad I got out there. I like swimming in the morning when hardly anyone else is here.

I thought I saw a pink safety buoy in the water. Yes! Another swimmer: an older woman. She called out, this is fun! isn’t this fun? It was, even if I didn’t quite feel it at the time.

july 13 /BIKESWIMBIKE

8.5 miles
lake nokomis main beach
70 degrees

I’m writing this several days later. Another nice, low-stress bike ride. Hooray for being able to see enough to bike to the lake when I want!

swim: 1.75 loops
main beach buoys, lake nokomis
70 degrees

Clear, smooth, empty water! Not too cold. A great swim. Encountered a few kayaks, but no fish or seagulls standing guard on the buoys. A couple planes passing above me. Near the end of the swim, two other swimmers joined me. I remember my mind wandered a lot and that I breathed every 5, except for the last loops where I breathed every 3 then 4, 5, 6 — each for half a loop. I felt strong and relaxed and pleased with myself for having fired up to bike over here and swim this morning.

When I arrived at the beach, the bike rack was empty. By the time I left, full. A group of kids, I think. Saw some of them on the beach but I’m not sure where the rest of them were.

july 10/BIKESWIMBIKE

bike: 8.5 miles
lake nokomis
77 degrees

An easy, not scary, bike ride. Was passed by 2 people — one didn’t say on your left, the other did but passed while another bike was approaching from the other way. Stewed over it for a minute, then let it go, happy to be able to see enough to still bike safely. The bike ride on the way back was good too. My left knee barely even grumbled!

swim: 1.5 loops
lake nokomis main beach
80 degrees

A beautiful, uncrowded morning for a swim! If only it had been a little less wavy. No whitecaps, but lots of swells. I was being rocked so much that when I stopped to check my watch after the 6th little loop, I felt dizzy and lightheaded. I swam to shore to stand on solid ground for a minute.

There were a few boats nearby — 2 kayaks + a swan. No other swimmers or paddle boarders or fish. One time, as I swam north, I saw something out of the corner of my eyes, just behind me. I thought it was another swimmer about to pass me, but it was only a wave.

Lots of military planes roaring above my head.

For future Sara to remember: currently reading Less / Andrew Sean Greer (audio book) and The Memory of Animals / Claire Fuller (ebook). Both great in very different ways. Less is strange and fun, tinged with some sadness and regret. The Memory of Animals — about a pandemic much worse than COVID — is scary and unnerving and captivating.

july 7/BIKESWIMWALKBIKE

bike: 8.5 miles
lake nokomis
65 degrees

Biked with Scott over to lake nokomis for open swim. I knew it would not be crowded and that I wouldn’t have any problems avoiding people. I was right. A (mostly) easy bike ride. I could see the trail, didn’t have to make any dangerous passes. On the way back, my left knee started hurting again. I’m sure it’s related to the strange knot/ball I have on the inside of kneecap and how I have difficult stretching to touch my toes with my left leg bent.

swim: 1 loop
lake nokomis open swim
68 degrees

Windy. The water was very active — not rough and choppy, just full of swells. Difficult to breathe to my left. I thought about doing a second loop — I was intending to — but my calf had a little twinge and my legs felt weak, so I decided not to risk getting a leg cramp in the middle of the lake — no thanks! — and stopped at one loop. I’ll swim again on Sunday and do 2 or 3 or more loops then. What do I remember from the swim?

10 Things

  1. the taut rope stretching at a diagonal from the lime green buoy to below the water — swimming a tight turn around the buoy and swimming just above it
  2. the fuzzy flash of the overturned safety boat near the little beach
  3. the view above: water trees sky a few random flashes
  4. the view below: emptiness
  5. a flicker of pink ahead of me — someone’s cap
  6. a slash of orange to the side, a few splashes — another swimmer wearing an orange safety buoy
  7. being gently rocked by the waves
  8. feeling heavy, my hips and legs not wanting to float
  9. 2 swimmers standing near shore, taking a break between loops, taking about the course
  10. a tiny twinge in my calf — not a sharp pain, but a gentle reminder: maybe you should only do 1 loop today…remember what happened that time you did too much and your leg knotted up?

walk: 45 minutes
around lake nokomis
70 degrees

After my swim, we had a small lunch at the new restaurant at the lake, Painted Turtle. Excellent. Then we took a walk around the lake, stopping to sit at a bench to watch the birds, the water, the boats. We took the dirt trail under the bridge and over to the other side of lake. Here it feels more like a nature trail, with giant dandelions, excessive amounts of lily pads, and even more birds. Favorite sight: a medium-sized dog proudly carrying a huge stick in their mouth.

COVID DAY NINE

Felt a little snotty this morning — not stuffed up, just needing to blow my nose a lot. A little drained. Otherwise, fine. Managed to keep a big distance between myself and anyone else. Plenty of room in the water to avoid others, lots of empty grass right next to the trail when we were walking.

june 28/BIKESWIMBIKE

bike: 8.5 miles
lake nokomis and back
75 degrees

Another day of bad air quality (165). Smoke from the fires in Canada. I felt it a little in my lungs while I was biking.

No worries about seeing as I biked. Relaxed. Just like on Monday, my left kneecap didn’t want to stay in the groove while I pedaled. The tendons around the left knee were aching. Pain, not sharp but dull discomfort.

Nearing the beach it got much windier. The wind! Suddenly I remembered what I had forgotten on my bike ride on Monday — in that entry, I wrote about how I had forgotten the thing I wanted to remember — the wind rushing or roaring or howling in my ears as I biked. So loud! Not quite as loud today, but still vigorous and noisy.

I could only catch a few quick glimpses of the river through the thick thatch of green, but what I did see was strange: a hazy, smoky, barely visible gorge. The smoke was even worse around and in the lake. I wonder what the visibility was there?

As I biked home, happy from my swim, I thought about something I’d mentioned to Scott last night: I’d like to be the poet laureate of lake nokomis. Is this a thing I could do? Maybe I could write a grant to do some sort of public readings/programs around my writing about lake nokomis? Maybe I should start with something less ambitious than poet laureate? Poet-in-residence for open swim?

swim: 1.5 loops (1 mile / 7 mini loops)
lake nokomis main beach
78 degrees

Lots of waves. Swimming north around the white buoys was much easier than swimming south with the waves crashing into me. I liked swimming into the waves, partly because it made me feel strong and partly for how the roughness heading north helped me appreciate the smoother water heading south.

I practiced my new habit (first tried out last night at open swim): when I think I’m done or want to be done or feel like I’m too tired to not be done, I’ll take a short break near shore, then swim one more loop. I did this last night by taking a minute break after 2 loops, and then swimming a third loop. Today it was stopping after 6, then doing a 7th. I’d like to swim longer during open swim — I’m sure I’m capable — so I’m hoping this habit can stick and will help me get to my ultimate goal: to stay and swim for the full 2 hours, from 5:30 to 7:30.

10 Things About the Kayakers

  1. When I first arrived to the beach, I noticed 2 (or maybe 3?) kayakers hovering near the white buoys, just past the swimming area. What were they doing?
  2. Also spotted: the silhouette of swimmer by the far orange ball buoys, only their head and shoulders poking out of the water and a dark buoy — a metal detecter guy?
  3. When I got in the water, the kayakers moved farther from the buoys out into the middle of the lake. Later they returned
  4. It was difficult to see them in the choppy water and the smoky air. I’m pretty sure they could see me, with my bright green and pink cap and yellow buoy tethered to my waist
  5. As I swam I tried to keep an eye on them, imagining scenarios where they ran into me. In one, I was knocked out when they accidentally rowed into me. My inert body floated in the water, held up by my swim buoy
  6. Mostly they appeared as hulking, dark shapes — was it color I just wasn’t seeing, or were they mostly dark?
  7. More dark, hulking shapes appeared in a line — 4 or 5? Was it a group? Were they plotting something?
  8. Near the end of my swim, 2 kayakers swam parallel to me, close to the white buoys. I raced them
  9. Another random kayaker, not looking as dark as the others, crossed right in front of me making me have to stop and wait for them to pass
  10. Even though the voiceless, hulking, hovering, strange shapes seemed menacing it was cool to see them appear as dark dots on the water in my peripheral vision

wordle challenge

3 tries:

twist
treat
TRACT

twist & turn
tapioca treat
tiresome tract

I can’t remember how often she did it, but my mom made tapioca pudding for dessert when I was a kid. She also made chocolate pudding from scratch and homemade hot fudge sundaes. We had dessert almost every night. Why?

terrible twist
traitorous treaty
tract take over

The Mississippi River Gorge has a troubled history of stolen land, illegal treaties, and destruction of sacred islands. The Falls Initiative is trying to offer some healing.

june 26/BIKESWIMBIKESWIM

bike: 8.5 miles
lake nokomis and back
66 (to lake) / 69 (from lake) degrees

Hooray for new tires! The dappled sunlight was a little disorienting, but otherwise I could mostly see. There was something I wanted to remember about the bike ride but I had to take a few hours break before writing this and now I can’t remember what it was. Oh well. Encountered other bikers, walkers, runners, strollers, and one surrey.

swim: 2 loops (8 mini beach loops)
lake nokomis main beach
67 degrees

An excellent swim! Even with the wind and the cooler air temperature it was great. For most of the swim, I had the lake to myself. It was a little choppy and overcast. How wonderful it is to be able to bike to the lake and swim. No having to wait for someone to give me a ride. No worries about finding a free lane or making sure (and not being able to tell if) a lane isn’t occupied or needing to share a lane with two other swimmers. Free open water.

The rain yesterday must have stirred up the water. When I put my head underwater I could see particles suspended in front of me. I didn’t see any fish but after I was done I heard some kids calling out to someone on shore, the fish are chasing us!!

I counted my strokes from the far right buoy to the far right one: 130. I counted by fours. I counted my strokes from the far left buoy to the far right one: 120, counting by 5s. I like swimming every 5 better, but I like counting by every 4 better.

wordle challenge

5 tries:

round
cubic
fumes
pulse
GUEST

A Primer of the Daily Round/ Howard Nemerov

A peels an apple, while B kneels to God,
C telephones to D, who has a hand
On E’s knee, F coughs, G turns up the sod
For H’s grave, I do not understand
But J is bringing one clay pigeon down
While K brings down a nightstick on L’s head,
And M takes mustard, N drives to town,
O goes to bed with P, and Q drops dead,
R lies to S, but happens to be heard
By T, who tells U not to fire V
For having to give W the word
That X is now deceiving Y with Z,
Who happens, just now to remember A
Peeling an apple somewhere far away.

Left-handed Sugar/ Jane Hirshfield

In nature, molecules are chiral—they turn in one direction or the other. Naturally then, someone wondered: might sugar, built to mirror itself, be sweet, but pass through the body unnoticed? A dieters’ gold mine. I don’t know why the experiment failed, or how. I think of the loneliness of that man-made substance, like a ghost in a ‘50s movie you could pass your hand through, or some suitor always rejected despite the sparkle of his cubic zirconia ring. Yet this sugar is real, and somewhere exists. It looks for a left-handed tongue.

new word: chiral — mirrors but can’t be super-imposed

from The Enkindled Spring/ D.H. Lawrence

This spring as it comes bursts up in bonfires green,
Wild puffing of emerald trees, and flame-filled bushes,
Thorn-blossom lifting in wreaths of smoke between
Where the wood fumes up and the watery, flickering rushes.

Repulsive Theory / Kay Ryan

Little has been made
of the soft, skirting action
of magnets reversed,
while much has been
made of attraction.
But is it not this pillowy
principle of repulsion
that produces the
doily edges of oceans
or the arabesques of thought?
And do these cutout coasts
and incurved rhetorical beaches
not baffle the onslaught
of the sea or objectionable people
and give private life
what small protection it’s got?
Praise then the oiled motions
of avoidance, the pearly
convolutions of all that
slides off or takes a
wide berth; praise every
eddying vacancy of Earth,
all the dimpled depths
of pooling space, the whole
swirl set up by fending-off—
extending far beyond the personal,
I’m convinced—
immense and good
in a cosmological sense:
unpressing us against
each other, lending
the necessary never
to never-ending.

Passage / Barbara Guest

for John Coltrane

Words
after all
are syllables just
and you put them
in their place
notes
sounds
a painter using his stroke
so the spot
where the article
an umbrella
a knife
we could find
in its most intricate
hiding
slashed as it was with color
called “being”
or even “it”

Expressions

For the moment just
when the syllables
out of their webs float

We were just
beginning to hear
like a crane hoisted into
the fine thin air
that had a little ache (or soft crackle)

golden staffed edge of
quick Mercury
the scale runner

Envoi

C’est juste
your umbrella colorings

dense as telephone
voice
humming down the line
polyphonic

Red plumaged birds
not so natural
complicated wings
French!

Sweet difficult passages
on your throats
there just there
caterpillar edging
to moth
Midnight

I’d like to think more about Guest’s use of just in this poem. I like the word just. As a teenager, whenever I called my best friend and her mom answered I’d say something like, this is just Sara. I remember her calling me Just Sara.

swim: 1 small loop (1/2 big loop)
cedar lake open swim
78 degrees

Swam with FWA at open swim. Cold getting into the water, then cold in every part of the body outside of the water. Brrr.

10 Things

  1. a gentle rocking from the small waves — I liked it, FWA did not
  2. a big bird — a goose? a crane? high up in the sky above the water
  3. lots of pot smells at the far beach — a huge whiff wafted our way when the wind shifted
  4. the far buoy was much farther to the right than it usually is — I think it drifted in the wind
  5. creepy, pale vegetation growing up from the bottom
  6. “swam” through a thick patch of vegetation — very difficult to get in a full stroke or to move
  7. the grating, sharp, piercing noise of 2 rocks being knocked into each other under water — Above water the sound was annoying, but not too bad. Sticking my head below water, it was almost unbearably irritating
  8. splashing and flicking water like I used to as a kid with FWA
  9. the haunting call of the mourning dove as we walked back to the car
  10. something shining through the break in the trees on the other side of the lake — what was it?

june 20/BIKESWIMBIKE

bike: 8.5 miles
lake nokomis and back
88 degrees

Yay for being able to bike without fear! The ride was hot but was fine. The key: don’t bike too fast. I noticed: no progress on the duck bridge that was removed a few months ago for repairs; hot pink tape or paint or something marking the cracks in the trail — the pink was very easy for me to see…nice! and a dude in an e-bike with a kid going way faster than the 10 mph speed limit.

swim: 3 loops (2.25 miles)
88 degrees
choppy

3 slightly choppy loops today. Definitely more difficult with the choppy water — how choppy was it? Not really that bad (compared to real chop in the ocean or a big lake), but it still made it harder to breathe. Saw 2 or 3 planes, some random woman floating in an inner tube in the middle of the lake (almost ran into her). Raced a swan boat, dodged flailing kids at the beach and breaststrokers mid-lake. Again this year, breaststrokers are my nemesis. Couldn’t see the green buoys at all; I used the glowing rooftop at the big beach as my guide. I couldn’t even see the green buoys when I was 20 feet away from them because of the bright sun. Didn’t bother me at all. I just kept swimming, only stopping to adjust my goggles and make sure my stiff left knee was okay. For just a flash, I thought about Tony Hoaglund’s poem (below) and the way water speaks. I thought about how, because I’m in the water and not standing on the shore, I can listen and understand (at least a little).

wordle challenge

3 tries:

water / inert / frost

a winter morning

water inert
frosted glass
slicked up streets
endless and empty

water inert on morning window: frost

a description by Alice Oswald in her reading of “A Short Story of Falling” that I listened to this morning as I memorized her beautiful poem:

What I love about water is that it spends its whole time falling. It’s always, apparently, trying to find the lowest place possible, and when it finds the lowest place possible, it lies there wide awake.

Alice Oswald

Water is never inert
always falling searching
for somewhere else to be
even in rest
as frost on winter’s window
it watches waits wants
to find the floor

The Social Life of Water/ Tony Hoaglund

All water is a part of other water
Cloud talks to lake; mist
speaks quietly to creek.

Lake says something back to cloud,
and cloud listens.
No water is lonely water.

All water is a part of other water.
River rushes to reunite with ocean;
tree drinks rain and sweats out dew;
dew takes elevator into cloud;
cloud marries puddle;

puddle

has long conversation with lake about fjord;
fog sneaks up and murmurs insinuations to swamp;
swamp makes needs known to marshland.

Thunderstorm throws itself on estuary;
waterspout laughs at joke of frog pond.
All water understands.

All water understands.
Reservervoir gathers information
for database of watershed.
Brook translates lake to waterfall.
Tide wrinkles its green forehead and then breaks through.
All water understands.

But you, you stand on the shore
of blue Lake Kieve in the evening
and listen, grieving
as something stirs and turns within you.

Not knowing why you linger in the dark.
Not able even to guess
from what you are excluded.

may 22/BIKEYARDWORK

lake nokomis and back
bike: 8.6 miles
80 degrees

The first outdoor bike of the year! I’m always anxious, not knowing how much I’ll be able to see on my earliest bike rides of the season, but today was fine. Hooray! Not scared at all, nothing popping up unexpectedly. okay, maybe once when I was focusing on a bike that was approaching from far off, I didn’t notice another bike that was much closer to me. I was more concerned with my tires, which NEED to be replaced; they’ve been leaking air for a few years now. They were fine too. Several times during the bike ride I had a big smile on my face as I thought, I can still bike! then, I get to bike to the lake and swim across it all summer!

10 Things I Noticed

  1. the wind was rushing in and past my ears as I biked south
  2. several bikers on fat tires — I wondered why. Do they know something about the road conditions that I don’t?
  3. the port-a-potties at the falls for the race this past weekend were still there, so were the detour signs
  4. the duck bridge is temporarily gone — it’s being repaired until ? As I biked by, I noticed a chainlink fence and an asphalt trail abruptly ending where the bridge should be — now that’s an image for one of my nightmares!
  5. squeak squeak squeak On your left — some squeaking bikes approaching from behind, then passing me just past the duck bridge
  6. the lake — open water, but not empty water — some people already swimming
  7. the safety boat — a silvery white beacon across the lake
  8. the surreys (Scott’s nemesis) were lining the trail, ready to torment him
  9. an older guy, sitting in a lawn chair at the beach, telling someone a story about how his baseball card collection isn’t worth anything — he said, you might as well throw it all away. — even this card? it should be worth something?! Nope
  10. an even older guy stopping a woman in a bikini walking by and talking at (not to) her about how there aren’t any lifeguards. Couldn’t quite tell what he was saying, but I assume he meant, but there should be! If he had asked me, I would have said — the season doesn’t start until next weekend and who will you be able to hire this early in the year?

yardwork: 1 hour
mowing, raking, pulling weeds
73 degrees

Mowed the front yard, raked some fallen branches, pulled the irritating garlic mustard that erupts every spring. Least favorite thing about it: it always comes back. Most favorite thing about it: it’s satisfyingly easy to pull; it just pops right out! Listened to an audiobook — the 2nd in a murder mystery series where Agatha Christie’s bff and head housekeeper solves murders. This one’s called, A Trace Poison.

I like mowing the lawn with our reel mower. (I didn’t know that it was called a reel mower. Last summer, when I asked the guy working at the store for help I thought he said real mower, and then I thought, as my daughter would say, he gets it. Yes, the only kind of mower to get is a hand-powered one and not a loud, huge monster mower. But no, he just meant a mower with a reel, a reel mower.) Anyway, it’s fun to be outside, and it’s a chance to move while I listen to my book. Unfortunately, as my vision gets worse (and our yard does too), it’s harder to see where I’ve mowed and where I’ve missed. My aesthetic has always been “almost-chic” or that’s good enough, so I don’t mind, but I think Scott might. So this summer, FWA will have to mow, and I’ll stick to pulling weeds.

Mary Ruefle and not knowing or knowing nothing

Today I finally arrived at the part in Madness, Rack, and Honey in which Mary Ruefle uses one of my favorite quotes of hers, a quote that was an inspiration for my “Bewildered” poem:

The difference between myself and a student is that I am better at not knowing what I am doing.

“Short Lecture on Socrates,” page 250

I am almost positive I did read this exact passage when I checked out this book from the library, but maybe I didn’t? Anyway, reading Ruefle’s book was much later after I had already encountered the quote and fallen in love with the idea of being better at not knowing. I first read it in an article about bewilderment, Less Than Certain. I had no idea (or no memory of it, at least) that the quote is in a lecture about Socrates and the unknowingness/not knowing/knowing nothing as the foundation of Western civilization. Wow. I forgot to take my own advice to always think about the larger context of a quote that I want to use!

Reading this small lecture, recognizing that we know nothing seems to be about humility. Recognizing the limits of what you do or can know. Not believing you can know everything. In another article on this topic that mentions Ruefle’s quote, Jack Underwood echoes this:

What interests me about poetry is that rather than looking up for answers, it tends to lead us back indoors, to the mirror, as if seeing ourselves reflected within its frame, confused, gawping, empty-eyed, and scalded by circumstance, might re-teach us the lesson: that meaning presents itself precisely as a question — therefore, you can’t entertain it by seeking to answer it. Imagine! The old, old universe, arranging itself legibly into a puzzle that our small brains might be qualified to solve with the knowledge we can accrue from our small corner of its tablecloth. Solving the mysteries of the universe: isn’t that just the most arrogant, preposterous thing you ever heard? The idea of there being some sort of Answer to Everything is an admirable feat of imagination but also displays a woeful lack of it.

On Poetry and Uncertain Subjects

Even as I appreciate the importance of humility, I like thinking about this not knowing or knowing nothing in other ways.

Not knowing as an action. To actively not know something. This could mean unlearning it, to be engaged in the act of not knowing it or divesting (disinvesting?) from it. Or it could mean willful ignorance — a refusal to know some fact, someone. I choose to not know! It could be Mary Ruefle’s wonder from “On Secrets” — I would rather wonder than know. Or it could my moment or many moments of refusing to conceal my not knowing to others, to admit/embrace/accept that I can’t see that bird, right over there, that you are pointing out to me.

Knowing nothing as knowing the thing, or things, that is/are nothing, where nothing is a space where time is stopped or where productivity doesn’t happen (Ross Gay). Or where nothing is the Void, the absence, the blank space around which we orbit, trying to find meaning or possibility or connection. Or where nothing is Marie Howe’s singularity:

No I, no We, no one. No was
No verb      no noun
only a tiny tiny dot brimming with

is is is is is

march 17/BIKERUN

bike: 30 minutes
run: 1.75 miles
basement
outside: 13 degrees / feels like -5

Yes, you read that correctly. It feels like 5 below outside. And, there’s a thin coating of soft snow and ice on every sidewalk. Maybe if we didn’t have a 20 mph wind too, I might have gone outside, despite the cold and snow. But, I can hear the wind howling from my desk and see the shadows of the branches swaying. I’m staying inside.

Watched an episode of Emily in Paris while I biked. I’m not sure I like the show — Emily is mostly likable but a little obnoxious, and I’m not interested in her job of protecting her clients’ brands while making them compelling for American consumers — but I’m giving it a chance. I listened to a Ruth Ware book as I ran. No deep thoughts or insights, just the chance to move my body and get away from my desk.

I had been planning to do some sort of workout yesterday, but I ran out of time. Early in the day, I wrote the following:

tree outside my window: update

Yesterday, because of the mild 45 degree weather, Scott and I decided to deal with the big branch of the tree that had fallen from our neighbor’s yard on March 6th. The branch stretched from the sidewalk near their front door, across their front yard, to the edge of the south side of our house. It wasn’t too cold outside, and the task wasn’t too difficult. My part: stripping off the ugly berries and breaking up the small branches to fit into a lawn and leaf bag. Scott trimmed the tree until all that was left was the thickest part, which he estimates is 6-8 inches in diameter and 6-8 feet long. We left this part because it looked heavy and I didn’t want either of us injuring ourselves as we tried to lift it.

Yesterday I saw a bird on the branch, this morning Scott saw a squirrel frantically attempting to recover some hidden nuts. I’m hoping our neighbors leave it where it is so I can see what else comes to visit — maybe a woodpecker?! — as I work.

James Schuyler, Hymn to Life, Page 7

Begins with Simply looking, and ends with A friend waving from a small window.

Simply looking. A car goes over a rise and there are birches snow
Twisted into cabalistic shapes: The Devil’s Notch; or Smuggler’s
Gap. At the time you could not have imagined the time when you
Would forget the name, as apparent and there as your own.

Simply looking at a car and the twisted trees. Did Schuyler name these shapes, or did someone else?

Rivers
Reflecting silver skies, how many boys have swum in you? A rope
Tied to a tree caught between my thighs and I was yanked headfirst
And fell into the muddy creek. What a long time it seemed, rising
To the surface, how lucky it didn’t catch me in the groin. That
Won’t happen twice, I imagine.

The boys are back — he mentions boys throughout the poem. I don’t think he ever mentions women.

That
Won’t happen twice, I imagine.

A reference to Heraclitus and the river. You can find paraphrases of his statement all over the web. I wanted to find a more accurate version, so I went to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and found this:

Plato’s own statement:

Heraclitus, I believe, says that all things pass and nothing stays, and comparing existing things to the flow of a river, he says you could not step twice into the same river. (Plato Cratylus 402a = A6)

The established scholarly method is to try to verify Plato’s interpretation by looking at Heraclitus’ own words, if possible. There are three alleged “river fragments”:

B12. potamoisi toisin autoisin embainousin hetera kai hetera hudata epirrei.

On those stepping into rivers staying the same other and other waters flow. (Cleanthes from Arius Didymus from Eusebius)

B49a. potamois tois autois … 

Into the same rivers we step and do not step, we are and are not. (Heraclitus Homericus)

B91[a]. potamôi … tôi autôi …

It is not possible to step twice into the same river according to Heraclitus, or to come into contact twice with a mortal being in the same state. (Plutarch)

Heraclitus, 3.1 Flux

I’m partial to the second, Yoda-y version (B49a). Interesting — it’s not that we are not the same, and the river is not the same, BUT we/the river are both the same and not the same. They’re both true. Very cool.

One more thing about this line: I love how poets drop references without direct citation. It’s much more fun (rewarding? interesting?) when it’s not spelled out — Like Heraclitus said… In an early poem for my chapbook You Must Change Your Life, I admit that I did this:

Heraclitus claimed you can’t step into the same river twice.

Did you know you also can’t
run beside the same river twice?

I like recognizing a reference. I also like when I don’t recognize it, and all that I learn when I look it up. The trick, I think, is to reference something in a way that isn’t alienating. To make it easy to be found, if you take the time to search for it.

That summer sun was the same
As this April one: is repetition boring? Or only inactivity?

Repetition can be boring, but it’s more comforting to me. Usually I’m too restless to be inactive — maybe that’s why it isn’t boring to me, but novel, wanted.

And, what’s wrong with boring? This reminds me of the psychoanalyst Adam Phillips and his book, On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored, which I know I read a decade ago, but don’t remember much about. The Marginalia has a helpful essay to remind me of what Phillips wrote. In terms of Schuyler and his poem, I’m thinking about boredom as emptiness, being in a state of doing nothing with (too much) time to think and reflect, to look at yourself. On page 6, Schuyler offers the line:

Why watch
Yourself? You know you’re here, and where tomorrow you will probably
Be.

Quite
A few things are boring, like the broad avenues of Washington
D.C. that seem to go from nowhere and back again. Civil servants
Wait at the crossing to cross to lunch at the Waffle House.

What’s the difference between boring and ordinary? And, is boring the opposite of interesting?

In
This twilight Degas a woman sits and holds a fan, it’s
The just rightness that counts. And how have you come to know just
Rightness when you see it and what is the deep stirring that it
Brings? Art is as mysterious as nature, as life, of which it is
A flower.

This just rightness makes me think of a quote I like from Oscar Wilde, which I wrote about on my trouble blog in 2012:

It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.

Good = just, right Not sure how/if this totally fits, but Schuyler’s discussion of boredom, then his mention of just rightness made me think of it.

Under the hedges now the weedy strips grow bright
With dandelions, just as good a flower as any other.

Again, I’m amazed at how Schuyler predicts, or does he set me up for, some of my questions. On March 14th, looking at page 5 I asked: What is a weed and what is a wildflower? The implication: which plants do we value as flowers, and which do we dismiss as weeds? And now here he is, two pages later, answering my question!

You see death shadowed out in another’s life. The threat
Is always there, even in balmy April sunshine. So what
If it is hard to believe in? Stopping in the city while the light
Is red, to think that all who stop with you too must stop, and
Yet it is not less individual a fate for all that. “When I
was born, death kissed me. I kissed it back.”

Death, a common fate, but felt uniquely by each of us. The same river twice, and not twice.

Meantime, there
Is bridge, and solitaire, and phone calls and a door slams, someone
Goes out into the April sun to take a spin as far as the
Grocer’s, to shop, and then come back. In the fullness of time,
Let me hand you an empty cup, coffee stained. Or a small glass
Of spirits: “Here’s your ounce of whisky for today.” Next door
The boys dribble a basketball and practice shots. Two boys
Run by: high spirits. The postman comes. No mail of interest.
Another day, there is. A postcard of the Washington Monument,
A friend waving from a small window at the needle top.

Life — the fullness and emptiness of time — is both ordinary (cards, calls, door slams) and extraordinary (spirits, spirited boys, postcards of the Washington Monument). The empty, coffee stained cup reminds me of a line from page 6 that I don’t think I mentioned:

the sun
Comes out from behind unbuttoned cloud underclothes—gray with use—

Gray. Stained with use. Used up. Old bones, old bodies.

Wow, this exercise of slowly reading Schuyler’s poem, a page a day, is so much fun! It does take time, which can be difficult to find.

march 5/WALKBIKE

35 minutes
neighborhood
30 degrees

Took a morning walk with Delia the dog and Scott around the neighborhood. Blue sky, low wind, fresh air. The sidewalks were mostly clear with a few stretches of ice — the fun kind: crisp, thin, barely covering puddles. At the start, both of us were complaining about something, but by the time we had reached Cooper School and saw the piles of snow we forgot why it mattered.

Today would have been my mom’s 81st birthday. Yesterday I put together a page of videos and links to past reflections, essays, and poems about her. This morning, before heading out for the walk, I wrote something for new shadow series:

march 5, 2023/ sara lynne puotinen

Today my
shadow

is the grief
too big

to fit in
my small

body — the
love that

needs room to
breathe the

tenderness
searching

for a place
to be

possible
the dis

belief it
has been

thirteen years
since she

grew older
hoping

for better
views. My

shadow leads
as we

head east to
the gorge

to see what’s
on the

other side.

The ending still needs work, I think.

bike: 25 minutes
basement

I successfully resisted the desire to go out for a run — I need to rest my knees and my IT band for one more day, I think. Feeling restless and wanting to stretch out my legs, I decided to do a bike ride in the basement. Watch the last 5k of the Tokyo marathon.

Before biking, I decided to start memorizing Emily Dickinson’s “I measure every Grief I meet.” I made it through the first 6 (out of 10) stanzas. Each time I memorize an ED poem, I’m delighted, then amazed by her choice of words. So good!

I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, eyes —
I wonder if it weighs like Mine —
Or has an Easier size.

I wonder if they bore it long —
Or did it just begin —
I could not tell the Date of mine —
It feels so old a pain —

I wonder if it hurts to live —
And if they have to try —
And whether — could they choose between —
It would not be — to die —

I note that Some — long patient gone —
At length, renew their smile —
An imitation of a light
That has so little Oil —

I wonder if when Years have piled —
some thousands — on the harm —
That hurt them early — such a lapse
Could bring them any balm —

Or would they go on aching still
Through centuries of Nerve —
Enlightened to a larger Pain –
In Contrast with the Love —

feb 22/SHOVELWALKBIKERUN


shovel: 4 inches
14 degrees

The aftermath of the second round of the epic snowstorm: 4 inches of mostly soft snow. Cold, but not too cold, outside. Listened to the audiobook, Moonflower Murders as I shoveled. The coldest part of my body: my fingers. Even with gloves on, they were getting numb. More snow than I expected. I think I remembered hearing some other shovels scraping, at least one snowblower droning. Already we have big piles of snow on the edges of the driveway, near the garbage/recycling/organic bins on the side of the garage, and on the front sidewalk. If we get more snow tonight, where will it all go?

walk: 15 minues
neighborhood
me, Delia, and Scott
18 degrees

Brrrr. The temperature had increased by 4 degrees but it felt colder because of the wind. About half of the sidewalks we walked on were shoveled. The un-shoveled ones didn’t seem like they had 4 inches of snow on them. Did they? The most enjoyable, warmest feeling direction to walk was east. Heading south, west, or north, we felt the cold wind in our faces. I could sense a brain freeze induced headache about to happen. Delia didn’t care. She sniffed the edges of every block, her tail wagging as she gave attention to the yellow missives from the other animals who had walked these same sidewalks.

bike: 20 minutes
run: 1.5 miles

Because of the wind and the snow, I decided to move in the basement today. Watched the first 20 minutes of the Netflix documentary, Break Point, while I biked. Listened to more of my audiobook while I ran. Wore my new running shoes: Saucony Ride 14s, color: Jackalope (white with orange accents, a red tongue, blue laces). Not my first choice, but they were in my size and $40 less than any other color. Now that I have them, I think I especially like the blue laces.

Before heading downstairs, I started memorizing a poem by Heather Christle that I especially like, “What Big Eyes You Have.” I worked on the first 2 sentences:

Only today did I notice the abyss
in abysmal, and only because my mind
was generating rhymes for dismal,
and it made of the two a pair,
to which much later it joined baptismal,
as — I think — a joke.
I decided to do nothing with
the rhymes, treating them as one does
the unfortunately frequent appearance
of the “crafts”adults require children
to fashion from pipecleaners
and plastic beads.

Wow, it is fun to memorize poems. And, it really helps me to do a deep reading of the words and ideas and rhythms and rhymes. I wish I had time to memorize all of the poems I love!

Here is a Pastan poem that seems fitting to read after encountering so many of her dark ideas about death and its inevitability and wondering why her poems were almost always so dark.

Why Are Your Poems so Dark?/ Linda Pastan

Isn’t the moon dark too,
most of the time?

And doesn’t the white page
seem unfinished

without the dark stain
of alphabets?

When God demanded light,
he didn’t banish darkness.

Instead he invented
ebony and crows

and that small mole
on your left cheekbone.

Or did you mean to ask
“Why are you sad so often?”

Ask the moon.
Ask what it has witnessed.

feb 10/WALKBIKERUN

walk: 30 minutes with Delia
neighborhood
26 degrees

Sun! A bright blue sky! Birds! Fresh, cold air! Clearer sidewalks! Wind chimes! What a wonderful walk. I moved slowly, stopping every few steps for Delia to get another sniff. I inhaled deeply, feeling the cold air open up my sinuses. I mostly listened to the birds, but a few times I saw the blur of a tiny body traveling from one branch to another. I noticed the sprawling oaks, their gnarled limbs towering over the sidewalk. I stepped on the thin sheets of ice covering puddles and heard them crack and crunch and then the water squish. I remember thinking that I wasn’t interested in naming what I was noticing, just experiencing it. I felt relaxed and open to the world and happy for these moments.

Most of the sidewalks were clear. On a few corners it was still solid ice. The corner with the mailbox was especially bad. Yikes!

I almost forgot — how could I forget? A birch tree in the middle of the block, its branches blindingly white, illuminated by the sun. Sparkling. I could almost hear a chorus singing its alleluias!

bike: 22 minutes
run: 2.35 miles
basement
outside: an ice rink

After yesterday’s slippery run, I decided I should stay inside today. Biked in the basement with some Dickinson, ran with a running podcast. As I often mention with my basement workouts, it’s difficult to find much to wonder about in such a dark, cold, unfinished space.

Before I worked out downstairs, I started planning the fifth lecture for the class I’m teaching. It’s going to be about the connections between wonder and play. I was reminded of it as I ran and listened to a professional runner turned triathlete talk about how being a beginner and having no expectations or pressure can help you to have fun in your training and in life. I started thinking about having fun and being a kid and the idea that fun and play are usually dismissed as not taking something seriously. It’s all fun and games to you. Or it’s too easy — that’s child’s play. But trying to remember your kid-self, being a beginner, opening up to fun, is something many of us have to work at — to practice — as adults. (Also, being a kid isn’t always easy.) Kelli Russell Agodon has some great things to say about play and wonder in this interview, which I plan to use in my class: Beauty and Play with Kelli Russell Agodon.

In the video interview, Agodon reads her poem, “Grace”:

Grace/ Kelli Russell Agodon

Even those who are living well
are tired, even the rockstar
who swallowed the spotlight,
even the caterpillar asleep
in a unbalanced cocoon.
Who knows how
to be happy when a lamb
is birthed just to be slaughtered
at a later date?
It’s so tiring
how every day is also a miracle—
the drunk bees in the plum
blossoms, the sliver of sun
through the branches
and on an early morning
walk we find the farmer’s
granddaughter has fallen
in love with the lamb,
so it will be saved
and named Grace.
And we are spared
for a moment, from a new
loss and life frolics
across a field of wildflowers
never knowing all it has escaped.

Thinking about the idea of no pressure or expectations, Agodon says this in another interview:

I am quantity over quality, but a lot of the really bad poems will never come out of my laptop. I love writing a poem a day. And I have no problems writing bad poems, just writing something thinking, oh that was just practice. That was just a writing exercise. That poem is never going to go anywhere. I don’t want to revise it. Again, it’s just to enjoy the creation. But when I do choose a poem to revise, then I highly craft it.

Poetry Snaps! Kelli Russell Agodon: Grace

And here’s something else she writes about taking walks and finding images:

Rumpus: I think of your poems as being “dense,” and by dense I mean tight and even crowded at times as you fly from one image to another. The imagery is always surprising, line after line. I wonder how you do that?

Agodon: I wonder how I do that, too. Could this mean I’m a word/image hoarder? Maybe my poems are the rooms you go into where everything is stacked to the ceiling? Like those antique shops that have a fascinator balancing on a Mickey Mouse phone on a blue Fiestaware plate toppling above a purple suitcase with a sticker that reads: London. Maybe it’s that I’ve always been a very visual person who notices the small strange details, and they stick with me. Like yesterday when I went for a walk, I saw a toothpaste cap under a tulip and I kept thinking—why is that there? There was a robin there and I started thinking, “What if that toothpaste cap was actually the robin’s bandleader hat.” Kooky stuff, but maybe because while I have six sisters, they were all much older than me, so much of my life felt like being an only child so I was always looking for ways to entertain myself, and I still am.

Wired for Wordplay: Kelli Russell Agodon

Reading this interview, I found out about another book Agodon write: Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room. Very cool! I ordered the ebook.