bike: 15 minutes bike stand, basement run: 2.4 miles treadmill 2 degrees / feels like -11
For most of the day, the feels like temp was hovering around -20. I have decided that that is too cold for me. So, I stayed inside. Watched a race while I biked, listened to a playlist and part of the Aack Cast by Jamie Loftus. It’s about the comic strip Cathy and it’s really good.
Some Things I Noticed*
my shadow, flashing, off to my left side, as I ran
in addition to my shadow, some sort of silvery something flashing or streaking or appearing in my left peripheral
the loud whir of the treadmill when I stepped off it to change my playlist (maybe it’s because of my vision, but I cannot pick new music on spotify when I’m in motion). The whirr almost sounded like a plane revving its engine before take off
my fine hair, falling out of my ponytail, felt like a spider web
before I warmed up, it was very cold in the basement
the soft space between beats felt continuous
sometimes my foot strikes were quiet, sometimes they were loud
*It’s difficult to notice things in a boring, dark, unfinished basement, especially when I’m listening to music. Maybe I should try to use my treadmill time for remembering thoughts or ideas?
Found this poem yesterday. Paige Lewis is wonderful, especially how they find delight in small things, and do such strange things with words!
bike: 16 minutes bike stand, basement run: 1.6 miles -5 degrees / feels like -20
Brr. Earlier in the week, I ran when it felt like 20 below, but today that felt too cold, and I’ve run everyday this week, so I decided to run less, and downstairs in the basement. Watched a replay of some Olympic track races while I biked, listened to Taylor Swift’s Reputation while I ran. I wore my new running shoes, the ones that have been redesigned with a much tighter toe box and that made my toe sore earlier this fall. I’m trying to break them in/stretch them out slowly this winter.
In this first week of January, I’m rereading all of my entries from 2021 and putting together a summary. It’s fun (mostly, but a little tedious too) to review them and remember the year. Today I did August and read about swimming and swells and droughts and wildfires and sweating and running on the Winchell Trail.
Hardly any mention of COVID — there was definitely a lull with the pandemic this summer and fall. But…that’s not quite true in Minnesota. Delta hit hard, and even before Omicron hospitals were almost at capacity. In November or early December, the hospitals out out an ad pleading with people to be careful, and that hospitals/ staff were reaching the breaking point. Now, Omicron has hit. I don’t think our numbers are as bad as other places, but here are some thing I’d like future Sara to know about this time:
It looks like Omicron is less severe, which is great, but hospitals are still filling up and mild cases range from almost nothing to being knocked out and miserable for a week.
the mild designation has to do with your oxygen levels. As long as you can breathe and your oxygen rating is in in the upper 90s, and you don’t have to be admitted to the hospital, it’s a mild case. From what I’ve read anecdotally, mild cases can be awful: headaches, fatigue, chills. And then, there’s long covid
full hospitals mean there are no beds/care for people with other emergencies. Just skimmed an article that mentioned wait times at metro area emergency rooms are anywhere from 8 to 24 hours
schools are in-person and one of the main ways they’re trying to manage keeping kids safe is for them to get tested regularly. The problems: rapid at-home test are all sold out everywhere — stores and online; testing sites are booked up for weeks; even if you are able to get tested, results can take more than 72 hours. It is impossible to contain the spread of omicron this way (note: just found out you can pick rapid tests up at school so RJP will get some for us)
schools are running out of staff + substitutes because teachers are getting infected and have to quarantine whether they experience symptoms or not
I am not nearly as stressed out about this wave as I have been for the last (almost) 2 years. My jaw is not tightening, and neither is my chest. Still, this is a drag and I worry about RJP, who wants to go to school and see her friends
reciting while running
After running for about 10 minutes, I decided to record myself reciting my haunt poem again.
bike: 15 minutes bike stand, basement run: 1.35 miles treadmill, basement 10 degrees outside / feels like -6
Biked and ran inside, partly because it felt like 6 below, partly because it’s snowing and there was already a few inches of loosely packed snow on the road, but mostly because I ran outside yesterday and Sunday. Watched a year wrap-up video for the awesome triathlete, Lucy Charles-Barclay while I biked. My left knee did the weird thing it sometimes did this summer after a few minutes of biking: it hurt–a somewhat sharp, hot pain, making it harder to do a fully rotation of the pedal. Stiff, out of place, not displaced, but feeling like it was rubbing or doing something not quite right. I stopped, and when I started again, it was better. Strange. I thought biking was supposed to help, not hurt.
Listened to the first three songs on Taylor Swift’s Reputation. The third song, “I Did Something Bad,” had a good beat for my cadence. After running a little more than a mile and getting my heart rate up to 160, I took out my phone and recorded myself reciting a poem I just wrote for my haunts sequence. I was curious how the 3/2 syllable count would sound.
Yesterday, I recorded myself reciting my haunts poems. Scott’s going to use my recording to make a video of the poems. In discussing how this might look, I mentioned the trails by the gorge, and the trails I’m making with my words, somewhat resemble a palimpsest. I wondered if there was any way to visually represent that in the video. We’re still trying to figure it out. Inspired by this, I decided to make palimpsests the theme for this month. Here’s a poem that fits with this theme:
The walk that led out through the apple trees – the narrow, crumbling path of brick embossed among the clumps of grass, the scattered leaves –
has vanished now. Each spring the peonies come back, to drape their heavy bolls across the walk that led out through the apple trees,
as if to show the way – until the breeze dismantles them, and petals drift and toss among the clumps of grass. The scattered leaves
half fill a plaited basket left to freeze and thaw, and gradually darken into moss. The walk that led out through the apple trees
has disappeared – unless, down on your knees, searching beneath the vines that twist and cross among the clumps of grass, the scattered leaves,
you scrape, and find – simplest of mysteries, forgotten all this time, but not quite lost – the walk that led out through the apple trees among the clumps of grass, the scattered leaves.
Here’s a definition of a palimpsest:
A palimpsest is “a parchment or other writing surface on which the original text has been effaced or partially erased, and then overwritten by another; a manuscript in which later writing has been superimposed on earlier (effaced) writing.” In other words, a palimpsest is a “multi-layered record.”
I first encountered the word, palimpsest, back in October, when I read an essay by Wendell Berry:
gs and goings of people, the erasure of time already in process even as the marks of passage are put down. There are the ritual marks of neighborhood — roads, paths between houses. There are the domestic paths from house to barns and outbuildings and gardens, farm roads threading the pasture gates. There are the wanderings of hunters and searchers after lost stock, and the speculative or meditative or inquisitive ‘walking around’ of farmers on wet days and Sundays. There is the sprawling geometry of the rounds of implements in fields, and the passing and returning scratches of plows across croplands. Often these have filled an interval, an opening, between the retreat of the forest from the virgin ground and the forest’s return to ground that has been worn out and give up. In the woods here one often finds cairns of stones picked up out of furrows, gullies left by bad framing, forgotten roads, stone chimneys of houses long rotted away or burned.
3, feels like -10? No thanks. Before I could bike, I had to pump up my tire. Spent at least 5 minutes, which felt like an hour, trying to remember how to attach the pump to my annoying tires. I appreciate how people love bikes and maintaining them, but I don’t. Could I learn? More importantly, should I try?
run: 2.75 miles treadmill
Listened to an old (2015?) “January” playlist while I ran. I don’t remember thinking about much, or noticing much in my dark, unfinished basement. Still, I enjoyed having the chance to move without having to go outside to run on the ice, in the cold wind, with the too bright sun. If I hadn’t run 5 miles outside yesterday, I might have liked being out there today. I bet it’s snot-freezing weather.
Last year I ran 1000 miles. This year I decided to take it easier, and focus more on swimming. My less ambitious running goal for the next few days is to reach 850 miles. With today’s run, I’m at 845.8. 2 more days, 4.2 miles. I should be able to do it.
Yesterday, I listened to an On Being episode with Jane Hirshfield. Excellent. Then I found this brief interview with her in which she answers a question about poets and civic responsibility. Here’s her answer:
I love in this question the word responsibility for its fundamental meaning of, “to respond”. When you’re asking what the role of a poet is in a society, in a culture, in a country, in a community, it is to respond in the way that only poetry can…. Poetry summoning is to transcend easy language, platitudinous language, slogans that make people stupid and that separate them from one another. And so part of the role of poetry and poets is, I think, to force ourselves past the common ways of looking at things by being more responsive and finding the uncommon, original, sidelong, nuanced, subtle, and not strive for the certainty which seems such a bane of our current discourse.
Slogans that make us stupid and separate us. Yes. I think many people focus more on the stupid part of the problem, often feeling superior for believing they are smart, critical thinkers who don’t fall for the slogans. Thinking (and not being stupid) matters, but it needs to be considered alongside the questions: what can connect us, bring us together, open up space for seeing and being with each other in meaningful ways that relieve suffering, offer more resources, make the world less violent? Poetry can do things with words that enable us to think deeply and connect with each other (and recognize the ways in which we are always already connected/entangled).
I also love this idea of linking uncommon with sidelong and uncertainty (or not certainty), and looking for subtle, nuanced words/meanings.
bike: 24 minutes bike stand run: 1.25 miles treadmill
Yesterday, the threat of a big storm — tornadoes, dangerously high wind, thunderstorms — never happened. At least not in Minneapolis. Today, it’s back to winter and more snow and cold air. I decided to stay inside and do a quick bike + run. Watched a video about some deeper meanings in Saturday Night Fever while I biked, listened to a playlist while I ran. Today exercise offered a good break from my work on my beats poem. It’s getting closer, but I’m not quite there with this one. Hopefully I’ll figure it out tomorrow. I’m trying to remember to not become to invested in any of my words or phrases.
bike: 20 minutes bike on stand run: 3 miles treadmill outside temp: 9 / feels like -11
Welcome winter. I would have run outside but that wind, wow. 22 mph with 30+mph gusts. Decided I’d stay inside. Watched an old cross-country race while I biked, listened to a playlist while I ran. No amazing epiphanies, but it felt good to move.
I continue to work on my haunts/haunting/haunted poem sequence. One about restlessness is giving me some trouble. Restless as pacing, returning to loop/orbit around the river repeatedly, in constant motion, searching for a view + a way in (to connection, understanding, joy, better words). Constant motion as being blurred, fuzzy, unfinished, fizzing out (or leaking out?), released from form, not following straight, efficient lines (of a road) but a meandering trail that travels with the terrain, remembers/mingles with the past (thinking of Wendell Berry’s difference between a road and a trail / october’s apparitions). I want to end it with something about never leaving loud conclusions (better word?) but quiet records with my feet (referencing Girmay’s snail). I need at least one more day with this one, I think.
Here’s another great ghost poem I encountered the other day on twitter:
Another young black man killed by the police today in a twin cities suburb. Apparently, the cop meant to reach for their taser, but pulled their gun instead and then shot Daunte Wright. Fucked up. This is not simply an unfortunate, “heart breaking” accident. This is not a matter of bad apples or a few incompetent or overly anxious cops. This is a fucked up system that doesn’t value human life, that almost always prioritizes certain (white) lives over others, and that is murdering black people. Abolish the police.
bike: 35 minutes run: 1.5 miles basement outside: rain, wind
Biked in the basement because of the wind and rain. Watched another episode of Emily Dickinson. This one focused on ED’s conflicted feelings about having her poem published and whether or not she wants fame and to be known and seen by others. It features the poem, Split the Lark:
Split the Lark – and You’ll find the Music – Bulb after Bulb, in Silver rolled – Scantily dealt to the Summer Morning Saved for your Ear, when Lutes be old –
Loose the Flood – you shall find it patent – Gush after Gush, reserved for you – Scarlet Experiment! Skeptic Thomas! Now, do you doubt that your Bird was true?
It was helpful to read the words after watching the show; I didn’t get the meaning of them when I heard them sung by Sue:
Wow. That is some intense, violent imagery. “Gush after gush” and “Scarlet experiment.” It makes me think of the article I read about ED and “I’m Nobody! Who are You?” earlier this month, when the author writes about doing Emily Dickinson Madlibs and asking students to fill in the blank for “Grief is a ___”.
Students go ahead and put in the blanks what is expected: Grief is a pain, Grief is a bitch. The ones who want to take imaginative leaps deliver up: Grief is a thunderstorm, Grief is a tidal wave. But I can pretty much guarantee that no matter how many budding poets you have in a class, nobody who hasn’t already read Dickinson’s poem would ever write the phrase the way she wrote it.
The answer: “Grief is a mouse” This poem about splitting the lark also seems very original and imaginative and very ED.
A turkey interruption!
Just as I was writing the above paragraph, I looked out the window and saw…a big turkey walking in my front yard. Nice. I think that’s the first time I’ve ever seen that. That’s definitely the delight of the day. When I first saw it, I yelled out to STA, “Come here, quick. There’s a turkey in the front yard” and he posted about it on instagram.
After I biked, I ran on the treadmill for about 14 minutes. Our treadmill works, but strangely, these days. The speed is off, always too fast. Listened to my playlist.
Right after I got up this morning, I wrote about Mary Oliver and her collection, Evidence:
Yellow from Evidence/ Mary Oliver
There is the heaven we enter through institutional grace and there are the yellow finches bathing and singing in the lowly puddle.
Some keep the Sabbath going to Church — I keep it, staying at Home — With a Bobolink for a Chorister — And an Orchard for a Dome —
Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice – I, just wear my Wings – And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church, Our little Sexton – sings.
God preaches, a noted Clergyman – And the sermon is never long, So instead of getting to Heaven, at last – I’m going, all along.
In my March 26th log entry, I wrote a bit about yellow and how I’ve grown to like the color. It’s funny that I like yellow now because I can’t see it very well, especially on the page and especially when it’s used to highlight text. Sometimes I use my yellow colored pencil in my Plague Notebook, like today, for the title to MO’s poem.
When viewed straight on, through my central vision, the yellow disappears. When seen from the side or with my eyes lowered, looking down, the yellow is bright–of course, viewed this way, through my peripheral vision, the words are a blur. Isn’t it strange how that works? Other colors aren’t as bad, like green or blue (although in other situations, those colors disappear too). But, how does this work? I know the retina has 3 types of cone cells: blue/short (B/S), green/medium (G/M), red/long (R/L) and that we have a lot more red (64%) than green (32%) or blue (2%). And that “the color yellow is perceived when the L cones are stimulated slightly more than the M cones (cone cells/wikipedia). But what does that mean about my vision and cone cell loss? How many red versus green versus blue do I have left? Is there a way to test that? And, is it worth testing? I might ask my eye doctor when I’m fully vaccinated and finally have a check-up in the next few months.
I’m looking through MO’s collection, Evidence today, which I was able to immediately check-out from my libby app (very awesome). Something I’ve noticed: the structure/form (I’ve forgotten the difference between these two) is often, first a very detailed and lush description of something or someone (an animal, stone, tree, flower, etc), then a question or a moment of wonder about it/them, then a revelation.
Like, in Swans from Evidence: A long and beautiful description of swans flying overhead and hurrying on to “wherever it is/that swans go.” A moments of curiosity/praise/wonder and a question: “How could I help but wish/that one of them might drop/a white feather/that I should have/soemthing in my hand/to tell me/that they were real?” Finally, a revelation (or a reminder of something always already known but forgotten): “What we love, shapely and pure,/is not to be held,/but to be believed in.” Love that last line. It’s a nice little prayer and seems to work without the details and the moment of praise, but I wonder what happens to its power when it loses those details? Does it become just a easily spreadable soundbite? I’m not sure, and I guess my doubt about this practice of picking out favorite lines, won’t stop me from doing it now:
from Thinking of Swirler
In a week he would be dead, arrowed down by a young man I like, though with some difficulty.
I was planning to pick one part of this poem, but I love the whole thing and I think I might need to memorize some or all of it:
Then Bluebird Sang
Bluebird slipped a little tremble out of the triangle of his mouth and it hung in the air until it reached my ear like a froth or a frill that Schumann might have written in a dream. Dear morning you come with so many angels of mercy so wondrously disguised in feathers, in leaves, in the tongues of stones, in the restless waters, in the creep and the click and the rustle that greet me wherever I go with their joyful cry: I’m still here, alive!
I could also see part of this poem serving as a writing prompt, or an opportunity to create your own moment of wonder/prayer: “Dear morning/you come/with so many angels of mercy/that greet me wherever I go/with their joyful cry: I’m still here, alive!” Prompt: what greets you in the morning? Make a list, then pick one and describe it as much detail as you can. Moment of Wonder: When you’re outside, running beside the gorge, create a chant or greeting to offer back to the welcoming oaks or the floodplain forest or the old stone steps or whatever else you want, letting them know you’re still here too, alive.
Okay, just one more for today:
The Poet Always Carries a Notebook
What is he scribbling on the page? Is there snow in it, or fire? Is it the beginning of a poem? Is it a love note?
This poem makes me think about MO’s discussions of carrying a notebook around with her while she’s walking in the woods, which also makes me think about the different methods writers/thinkers use to remember words when they’re outside, away from their desk: Jonathan Edwards would pin notes to his clothes we traveled on horseback, the writer Jaime Quatro would scratch them into her arm with a stick when, out on a run, she had nothing else to use, I speak a note in my voice memo app or, turn the thought/idea into a chant and repeat it until I return from my run.
Woke up to another inch of snow and cold. Almost bundled up and ran outside but decided to stay inside again. More sinus draining and a daughter who has a slight fever–it’s almost impossible that she has COVID because she hasn’t been anywhere with anyone, but it still makes me (and her) worry. It’s a bad day, I guess. Also: it’s my mom’s birthday on Friday; she would have been 79 if she hadn’t died in 2009. I bet I’m feeling a wave of grief from that. And, near the end of my run, the treadmill stopped working. It was still on, beep beep beeping, but the belt wouldn’t move. What a day, and it’s only 1. Strangely, I feel better having typed all these complaints. I might also be feeling better because my son is re-playing a video game he has played since he was 4 (Metroid) and he’s at the part with my all-time favorite music: Magmoor Caverns. I can hear it through his door. He started re-reading his favorite book series from when he was a kid this weekend and today he’s playing his favorite video game. At the end of this month, he’s turning 18! He must be feeling nostalgic.
As I biked, I watched the next episode of Dickinson (season 2, ep 3). She decides to have a seance so she can ask the spirits what her true destiny is: as a famous author or an anonymous recluse. Of course, she invites all of her frenemies. I stopped it early, so I’ll have to wait until my next workout to learn if she got an answer. What a strange yet delightful show. As I ran, I listened to a spotify playlist: Miley Cyrus, Harry Styles, Demi Lovato, Taylor Swift. Spent at least half of the run trying to shift my attention away from worries about possibly sick daughters. Finally, it worked.
Here’s something good that happened today: I got 4 more field notes notebooks in the mail. More plague notebooks to fill! I’m almost done with my 6th one. I started it on Jan 1st. I’ve taken lots of notes this year so far. I’m hoping the plague will mostly be gone before I finish the 10th one.
bike: 12 minutes run: 1.5 miles basement outside: 31 degrees
It snowed about 1.5 inches this morning. Wet, sloppy, slightly slick snow. Pretty snow. Right after it stopped, I went outside and shoveled. So wet and heavy, but easy to shovel. And, after I was finished, the sun came out. Now, in the afternoon, much of the snow has melted. In past years, I might have run outside, but it’s harder to avoid people when much of the sidewalk and roads are covered in puddles. Unexpectedly, I haven’t minded running and biking inside. I don’t remember that much about my bike or my run. Oh, I remembered this: listening to the VS. podcast and their interview with Aracelis Girmay. One of the hosts, Danez Smith, asked Girmay about her focus on a fly in a poem she read:
Danez Smith: Can I ask what brings your attention to the fly? There is such a sense of like everywhere and everything having this safety and this love in your work. I love these poems because it feels like everything in the world gets its piece of love in these poems. I guess, how do you nurture that in yourself to see the fly in that way, right? And how … what is it, I guess, in your work that sort of stops your attention on something as small as a fly, I guess? How have you honed your looking to be that small and welcoming?
I love this question and the idea of learning how to see small things like flies and how they (Smith) ask about it: “How have you honed your looking to be that small and welcoming?” Yes, the idea of generous, loving looking. I also like the idea of stopping your attention, instead of paying attention or focusing attention. It makes me think about how we are all already in a constant state of attention. The key is to stop, to settle, to pick one, small thing to notice.
a moment of sound
I forgot to record my moment of sound while I was shoveling, so I did it later, in the early evening at 6:19, 20 minutes after the sun had set. Very quiet. I hear a dog in the distance and the quiet hum of the city. I think I just barely hear the scratch scratch scratch of my neighbor’s scare rods spinning in the slight breeze.
bike: 15 minutes run: 1.5 miles treadmill outside: 43 degrees
What a beautiful, feels-like-spring day! Scott and I took Delia the dog on a long walk by the river and around the neighborhood this morning in the bright sun. It felt much warmer than 40 degrees. Lots of runners and walkers and bikers on the river road trail, enjoying the warmth. Heard lots of birds, including the cardinal’s “pew pew pew” song. Some woodpeckers, crows, a few black-capped chickadees, and many others that I can’t identify by song. Maybe there were a charm of finches? (I found a great site for group names for birds) At some point during the walk, we heard some honking geese! Returning for the spring?
When we got back I decided to sit on the back deck, in the bright sun. I am looking forward to late spring and summer when I can do this every day. Sitting there quietly, listening to all of the birds, and not thinking about much of anything, a bright red cardinal flew just past me and landed in a tree at the edge of our deck. Usually I can’t see cardinals, but I noticed this one first as it moved across my peripheral, which helped my brain see it when it landed in my central vision. Very cool–and very strange how the brain helps me to see things.
Because it was getting late, and it was very wet and crowded outside today, I decided to bike and run in the basement. Watched a race while I biked, listened to a playlist while I ran. Didn’t think about much–what did I think about? I can’t remember, which isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes I like forgetting. This morning I memorized a Sara Teasdale poem that I have been intending to memorize for many months: Let It Be Forgotten. I’m hoping to use it as a spell or a charm or a mantra to chant when I want to stop thinking about something:
Let it be forgotten, as a flower is forgotten, Forgotten as a fire, that once was singing gold, Let it be forgotten, for ever and ever, Time is a kind friend, he will make us old.
If anyone asks, say it was forgotten, Long and long ago, As a flower, as a fire, as a hushed footfall In a long forgotten snow.
a moment of sound
Wow, the water rushing through the drain, and off the eaves, sounds very loud in this recording. You can barely hear the many birds, I recorded this moment while sitting on my deck is the glorious sun.
bike: 20 minutes run: 3.25 miles basement outside: 38 degrees
Warm enough outside, but wet, and I ran outside Sunday and Monday. And I needed to take a break and bike some today. Watched the next episode of Dickinson, which featured one of my favorite poems:
Before I got my eye put out– I liked as well to see As other creatures, that have eyes– And know no other way–
And it deals with her temporary vision loss when she was in her mid 30s in 1863 and 1864. I wonder how they’ll end this episode? I’ll find out next time. In this season, she’s becoming much more of a recluse, barely leaving her room.
After the bike, I ran and listened to my playlist. I don’t remember what I thought about, except: 1. how many songs do I need to listen to before I check the time?, 2. raising my head, working on my posture, 3. lifting my right hip, 4. is all this running good for me, or will it give me arthritis and weaken me so much when I’m almost 80 that I sometimes struggle to move (which is what is happening to my dad right now)?, 4. who is that walking upstairs, making such loud thumping noises? That’s all I remember–oh, and looking at the lightbulb, reflected in the far window, which is dark because it’s under the deck, and no longer thinking it looked like a moon with clouds above Lake Superior (which is what I thought it looked like last February).
Between biking and running, I managed to not go upstairs to pee. One step closer to breaking that habit (or at least making sure it doesn’t fully form). It’s pretty mundane, but since my work is on ethics and ways of breaking and re-making habits (undisciplining), I’m always interested in our daily practices and how they become solidified into necessary and automatic actions. Often, we don’t notice them forming until it becomes very difficult to change them.
I really appreciate what Limón says about what poetry does for us–and who it does it for:
I do feel like there’s a lot of “the arts will save us.” You know, there’s a part of me that really believes that, right? I mean, I believe that poetry can heal us and help us. But, I mean, if I’m very honest, I think they can only do that for the poet. (LAUGHS) And then they may, if we’re lucky, help someone else or move someone else or inspire someone else or get them out of a rut. But I think it begins with like, I write my own poems to save myself. You know, then if, in, you know, some series, lucky series of events, a poem becomes larger than me and reaches someone else, that’s, that’s beautiful. But I don’t always know that that’s gonna happen, right? I have to start by how is this poem recommitting me to the world?
bike: 20 minutes run: 2.25 miles outside: 9 degrees/ feels like -1
Started the next episode of Dickinson. It’s about death, the eclipse and Emily’s growing affection for her father’s law clerk who is definitely going to die (looked up ED on wikipedia and yep, he dies of tuberculosis). I know a bit of her biography, but I hadn’t remember this guy. According to wikipedia he was a mentor but not likely a love interest. Oh and almost forgot to mention: in the last episode Louisa May Alcott comes over for Christmas dinner; she’s visiting another family and they bring her along to the dinner. The show depicts her as a badass hustler whose primary motivation for writing seems to be money and independence. And, she’s a runner! When she finds out Emily’s a writer, she invites her out for a run before dinner. I wondered if this were true, so I googled it. Yes, Alcott was a runner! Nice. Lousia and Emily ran through the fields holding up their skirts.
About 15 minutes into the episode, I got an alert that I needed to log back into my account to keep watching. Decided to stop and move onto running. Before I ran, I listened to myself reciting my latest poem. Another mood ring: incurable. Then, as I ran, I listened to a little more of Wintering and a playlist.
My mood ring poem, Incurable, is about how my eye disease does not have a cure and how I’m okay with that and it’s a response to my frustration with the well-meaning suggestions by others to go to more doctors and keep searching for a cure. My frustration is mostly irritation and annoyance: Both doctors I have talked to and all of the research I have done clearly states that there is currently no cure for cone dystrophy. Subjecting myself to more tests is exhausting and expensive without decent insurance. And, even if there were a cure it would be experimental and prohibitively expensive. Knowing myself and what I need (and what I can afford), this is not a good idea. Yet, when people refuse to believe me when I say there isn’t a cure and encourage me to keep looking, it plants the smallest seed of doubt–am I giving up? Not trying hard enough? I am not and I didn’t ask for advice. Instead of getting angry, I am writing this poem. Here’s my current draft of the main poem:
No cure. That firm sentence brings relief not despair. No terrible trips to countless doctors. No invasive treatments. No experimental implants. No big needles injected into eye balls. No difficult discussions about how much “good” vision is worth. No energy squandered. Everything devoted to adapting experimenting exploring new forms of delight. Someday there may be a way to repopulate the vacant city of my macula. But not now. Acceptance is not weakness but strength. Strength is not a hardening but a softening. And diminished vision is not a death sentence but a door into other worlds. Put back that sugar and salt. Pack away the preservatives. I do not need to be cured.
A few days ago, after the latest encounter with well-intention nudges from people who love me very much, I decided to free-write about my mood. I wrote down: “No cure. Cured, curing. Cured like bacon.” Yes! I started thinking about the different meanings of cure–to heal + preserve meat, fruit, vegetables + embalming/preserving the body. The word incurable came to me. Then I started thinking of fitting phrases, like “incurable optimist” and “incurable romantic.” And definitions: stubborn, irredeemable, incorrigible. And a passage I read in Georgina Kleege’s Sight Unseen about sighted people’s fear of blindess/vision loss:
The belief that human experience, both physical and mental, is essentially visual, and that any other type of experience is necessarily second rate, leads to the conclusion that not to see is not to experience, not to live, not to be. At best, the sighted imagine blindness as a state between life and death, an existence encased in darkness, an invisible coffin (30).
Incurable is my current mood. While I ran, I came up with an additional line (I do not need to be cured) that really helps the poem. This delighted me and made me happy to be able to write and to run and to use these activities to work through difficult moods.
a moment of sound
Went out into the backyard for my moment of sound. It’s snowing light fluffy flakes. Our crabapple tree is loaded with apples and birds–at least a dozen, at one point. I guess they’re too busy eating to sing. Silently, they feast on the fruit. Looked it up and I’m pretty sure they are robins. Also read that cedar waxwings and cardinals like to feast on crabapples in the winter. Notable sounds: crunching snow, a barking dog, a clanging fence, softly falling snow.
bike: 27 minutes run: 2.25 miles basement outside temp: -5 degrees/ feels like -21
Colder today than yesterday. More time in the basement, more watching Dickinson and listening to Wintering. The Dickinson episode was about her father’s election, entering a poetry competition, Austen digging up a dead body in the cemetery to make room for Sue to be buried next to him, and the circus. Perhaps my favorite part of the episode is when Lavinia and her “friends”/the popular girls are having a slumber party and sitting around knitting and discussing the election and the need to abolish slavery. At one point Lavinia praises the most popular girl, “You’re so woke!” What a fabulous fantasy.
Listened to some more of Wintering and recorded a few thoughts while I ran:
I wonder if she will discuss the need to address and change some of the harmful structures/habits that demand our wintering? Yes, I think there will always be times in our lives when we need to retreat/winter. And some of feeling stressed and overwhelmed is a given part of work–natural? like the seasons. But not all of it is or should be inevitable. I’m assuming these questions will be addressed at some point. For now, I’m enjoying listening to it.
a moment of sound
This is what feels like 35 below sounds like. Took this recording on my back deck at 9am. Lots of birds, the rumble of the garbage disposal inside, the scraping of a shovel on the icy deck, feet pressing down on crusty snow.
bike: 15 minutes run: 3.25 miles basement outdoor temp: -5 degrees/feels like -19
Another arctic blast of a day. Looking at the dark sky weather app, it will be this cold for another week. Oh well. Finished the Dickinson episode I started yesterday. The poem she is trying to finish as she pretends to be sick is one of my favorites, and one of the first of hers that I memorized: “tell all the truth but tell it slant” Not sure how this poem fits with the episode. I enjoyed watching the second half today. After finding out she is going to die, both parents visit Emily’s room separately for confession. Her mom confesses that she never wanted to have children and Emily dying reinforces that belief: “no person should have to go through this, burying a child!” Then she collapses on the bed with such excess it made me laugh. Then her father confesses that he got drunk one night in college and slept with another women, even as he was engaged to her mom. I thought about how this version of Emily is the vision of the director and I wondered if she had lots of fantasies as a kid about how upset people would be if she died–“I’ll show you! You’ll be sorry when I’m gone!” I never had those fantasies but I know some others who have–I have a kid who does. I also thought about how, even as the director’s vision doesn’t resonate for me, I appreciate how fully and openly and unapologetically she embraces it. She’s not pretending it’s anything less than her highly particular vision.
While running, I listened to my latest audio book, which I’m really enjoying: Wintering by Katherine May. Here’s how she describes wintering:
There are gaps in the mesh of the everyday world and sometimes they open up and you fall through into somewhere else. Somewhere else runs at a different pace to the here and now where everyone else carries on. Somewhere else is where ghosts live, concealed from view and only glimpsed by people in the real world. Somewhere else exists at a delay so that you can’t quite keep pace. Perhaps I was already resting on the brink of somewhere else anyway, but now I fell through as simply and discretely as dust shifting through the floorboards. I was surprised to find I felt at home there. Winter had begun. Everybody winters at one time or another. Some winter over and over again. Wintering is a season in the cold. It is a fallow period in life when you’re cut off from the world, feeling rejected, side-lined, blocked from progress or cast into the role of an outsider.
About 3/4s of the way through my run, I had to stop listening (but kept running) to record some of my thoughts about the book so far. In sum: Even as she envisions wintering as something to embrace she understands winter as awful and unwelcome, a struggle with the miserable cold. But I love winter and the cold. I like the book but struggle to get past this point.
I need to figure out an app to use that records the audio and transcribes it. I should do more of these.
a moment of sound
Sitting at my desk this morning, I started hearing an irritating sound. What was it? Where was it coming from? Realized it was someone’s car alarm in the alley. In the recording you can hear Scott taking–I didn’t warn him I was recording.
After recording my notes, I turned on my Spotify playlist for the last few minutes. Heard “Teenage Dirtbag” again. Favorite line:
Man, I feel like mold It’s prom night and I am lonely Lo and behold She’s walkin’ over to me This must be fake My lip starts to shake How does she know who I am? And why does she give a damn about me? I’ve got two tickets to Iron Maiden, baby Come with me Friday, don’t say maybe I’m just a teenage dirtbag, baby, like you
bike: 15 minutes run: 3.25 miles basement outside temp: -5 degrees, feels like -21
Another cold day. I don’t mind the cold but I worry my sinuses might, so back to the basement. I don’t mind. I like watching Dickinson and I’m getting used to the treadmill. In today’s episode of Dickinson, which I’ve watched half of, Emily is pretending to be sick so that she can stay in her room and write. Her parents are extremely worried; yellow fever has been going around and many people are dying. In the last part I watched, the doctor, after examining Emily, tells her parents that she is dying. They are distraught. Emily is oblivious and just happy to jump on her bed, write at her desk, and sneak out of her room to steal more books. I do not like this storyline, or this version of Emily. Such selfish, bratty behavior. It’s difficult for me to believe that Emily, having witnessed so many of those close to her dying–friends, even–would be so flippant about illness and death. Yes, I realize that I am watching this from the perspective of an uptight parent.
One part of the episode I did like, was her description, to her father’s law clerk, of poetry:
If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way?
Looking it up, Emily apparently does say this, but not to a law clerk and not when she was a teen. These lines are recounted by her long time friend/mentor, Thomas Higginson, to his wife in 1870 (2 sources: full quote + letter it came from).
Emily’s lines here remind me of Basho and his description of poetry:
Poetry is a fireplace in summer or a fan in winter.
But getting back to Emily and her bratty behavior as one reason I don’t like this version. Reading through an article about the historical accuracy of the show, I encountered this quote from the creator, Alena Smith: “Everyone’s free to invent their own Emily Dickinson, and this is mine. I don’t in any way say it’s the authoritative version.” Yes. It helped me to loosen up on my irritation with the show once I realized it was one person’s fantasy of her.
After I finished biking, I ran on the treadmill while I listened to a playlist. Very nice. Didn’t think about much. Used a lot of effort trying to not check the display on the treadmill; I was hoping to lose track of time. It worked.
a moment of sound
This morning I opened the door to our back deck and recorded the noisy bird conversation. Sure sounds like spring to me! Hard to believe it felt like 33 below.
Is that a northern cardinal I am hearing? I think so. It was close, but I am rarely able to see red birds in trees because of my failing vision. Can you hear the other one calling back from far away?
bike: 20 minutes run: 2.3 miles basement outside temp: -2 degrees/ feels like -14
Took Delia the dog for her first walk in a few days. It’s cold, but there’s no wind. Briefly thought about running outside, then decided it was still cold and slippery. Another day in the basement. No Dickinson today; the episode wouldn’t load. Watched a few races instead. Listened to my audio book again while I ran. Running while listening to a book and at a slower pace really helps.
Forgot to mention yesterday: I ran with my shadow. I could see her dark shape on the towel I put on the treadmill to cover the display. We waved to each other. Saw her again today. There’s a lightbulb on the ceiling just above and behind me as I run which casts a shadow, sometimes on the towel, other times on a far wall. I like watching the shadow flicker n front of me, slightly off to my left side.
Found a useful quotation about paying attention and the attention economy via twitter this morning:
Attention is a limited resource, so pay attention to where you pay attention.
bike: 20 minutes run: 3.4 miles basement outside temp: -6 degrees/ feels like -19
Inside again today. I miss the gorge, but I’m not minding the basement. Hoping to build up endurance for longer runs/time outside in the spring. Not sure if my watch is completely accurate, but it said my average heart rate for the 33 minutes/ a little less than 10 min mile pace was 144 bpm! For someone who usually averages 170 bpm (but often gets up into the 180s), 144 is great–probably one of my lowest averages ever. Lower heart rate = more aerobic activity = less injuries (hopefully). I think it helped that I was listening to a good audio book (8 Perfect Murders) and that I covered the treadmill display with a towel so I couldn’t see the time. I only checked the time twice: first, when I got to the end of a chapter (almost 17 mins in) and then when I thought I might almost be done (33 mins in). Very nice to get lost in a book, and to listen to it instead of looking at it. Today is a bad eye day; it is more difficult to see as my eyes struggle to focus on letters. I think it’s hard because of how bright it is outside–so much blinding white!–and because I’ve been looking at a screen too much.
Before I ran, I biked. Watched most of the 4th episode of Dickinson. This one is about Emily and her efforts to protect her beloved oak tree from being cut down to make way for progress/a railroad. She travels with George (the student editor of the Amherst College paper who is in love with her) to Concord to enlist Thoreau’s help. She was in Thoreau’s cabin–having been escorted there by his mother who was collecting his laundry to wash–asking him for help when I finished my bike workout. This show’s take on Thoreau: he’s a douchey, over-privileged poser who is pampered by the women in his life: his mother does his laundry, his sister is always baking him his favorite cookies. Earlier in the episode, as Emily and George travel to Concord by train, they discuss marriage. Emily’s take: marriage sucks for women but is great for men. Their wives do all the work–taking care of the house, the kids, while they get to do “whatever their heart’s desire.” I wonder if either Emily’s opinion or Thoreau’s douchiness will change in the next 10 minutes, which is what I have left in the episode. And, will she be able to stop the railroad from being built in her backyard woods? I’ll see tomorrow.
At the beginning of the episode, Emily recites one of my favorite poems of hers:
In the name of the Bee – And of the Butterfly – And of the Breeze – Amen!
Then she reads Walden by Thoreau. I’ve read bits of it, but maybe I should read the entire book?
a moment of sound
This is what -4 degrees/ feels like -14 at 6:05 PM on my back deck sounds like:
Aside from my coat rustling a few times, all I hear is cold. I’m glad I didn’t have to be out here too long, but for the 5 minutes I was–taking out the trash, then standing on the deck, recording–I enjoyed breathing in the cold, fresh air. So quiet and glowing blue in the twilight.
A windy arctic hellscape out there. You don’t even have to feel the air to know it’s cold, you can just look at how bright it is. In Minnesota in the winter: super bright = super cold. It is supposed to be this cold for the next 10 days. Maybe if/when it’s not so bright or windy, I will venture out there.
I did go outside briefly to record my moment of sound:
This is how crunching, cracking, creaking snow sounds when it -1, feels like -19.
Did a short bike ride while I finished the 3rd, “house party” episode of Dickinson. Slowly, I am appreciating it more and understanding my reactions to it. Here’s a scene that I like and don’t like at the same time:
After their parents leave for an overnight trip to Boston, Emily tells her younger sister Lavinia and older brother Austin: “We need to throw one of our classic Dickinson house parties!”
Austin: This is going to be a disaster. Emily: Parties are supposed to be disasters Austin. Parties are like shipwrecks. You should emerge from them soaking wet. Out of breath. And helplessly disoriented.
This scene made me laugh. After that, my reaction: no thanks to shipwrecks and getting soaked. I don’t mind the disorientation, but not when it’s the result of such tumult and destruction. Part of me worries I’m too much of a square (while another part of me doesn’t care if I am a square), but more of me is tired of this narrow definition of exuberant passion as reckless, destructive abandon–destructive to self and others. I want to see other ways of being exuberant that aren’t tragic. Not sure that makes sense, but it’s enough for now.
After the bike, I ran while listening to my latest audio book: 8 Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson. It’s good. At one point, the narrator (who may or may not be a murderer) reflects on his love for making lists, asking, “Why does everything need to be a list? What compels us to do that?” His answer: lists fill a void, give us meaning. This answer makes me think of Umberto Eco’s interview: We Like Lists Because We Don’t Want to Die. It’s funny that this list discussion came up in the book because right before heading downstairs to work out, I was thinking about lists and why I like them–why do I like them? Here are 3 reasons I quickly wrote in my plague notebook:
Why I Like Lists
Easier for me to see (with my fading central vision)
Open-ended, always room for another addition to the list
They led me back to poetry: I took my first ever poetry class in 2017, even though I was scared of poetry and didn’t think I was really into it, because the title of the class was: Please Add to this List. I loved the class and discovered I loved and needed poetry.
Today (and yesterday) have been fun, creative days. I’m starting to think about connections in my work and how to possibly return to a project I put away right as trimp (which is what I call him now) was beginning his efforts to destroy everything. I have some more ideas about the Undisciplined Dossier and my haunting question: Am I Still a Teacher. More thoughts soon…
feb 5 bike: 32 minutes
Since I didn’t run yesterday, I didn’t do a log entry. Still, I biked and watched Dickinson–the end of episode 2, beginning of episode 3. I also did my hip strengthning exercises, which I’m hoping will help with my weaker left hip. And I recorded my moment of sound.
This is how it sounds when it feels like it is -6. Brr.
2 or 3 inches of snow + wind + 3 5k runs in a row + wanting to watch more of Dickinson while I biked = basement workout. Finished the first episode of Dickinson then started the second one while I biked. It’s growing on me, but I am still not sold on it. I don’t really like this version of Dickinson as quirky, eccentrically cool, selfish, and bratty. I keep intending to write more about what I don’t like, but get stuck. Maybe I can figure it out by the end of the 3rd episode? Or maybe by then I’ll be fine with not having to figure it out. Then I ran while listening to a spotify playlist: Justin Bieber’s “Beauty and the Beat”, Harry Style’s “Canyon Moon”, and Justin Timberlake’s “What Goes Around.” Nice.
After I was done, I took my shoes off and when I stood up I could feel my right kneecap slip out of the groove. No big deal; I pushed it back in place. It’s fine and I am used to it (mostly), but it is still unsettling and almost always unexpected. No warning. No particular movement that causes it. To be safe, I iced my knee for 15 minutes after I was done. Oh, the body. I have put in a lot of physical and mental work these last five years learning to adjust to a body very slowly falling apart. Some of this adjustment involves resignation, but more of it involves admiration as my body continues to work, despite its limits. After writing this last paragraph, I paused to recite (still from memory) Rita Dove’s wonderful poem, Ode to My Right Knee: O, obstreperous one!
Earlier today as I did the dishes, I listened to the latest On Being: an interview with ornithologist Drew Lanham. So wonderful! I was particularly struck by this part of the conversation:
“The birds know who they are. They don’t need you to tell them…“ Yes!
Well, it’s not a problem. There’s no shame in not knowing the name of a bird. If it’s a redbird to you, it’s a redbird to you. At some point, as a scientist, it’s important for me to be able to identify birds by accepted common names and Latin names and those things. But then I revert frequently to what my grandmother taught me, because, I say, the birds know who they are. They don’t need you to tell them that.
But over time, when we relax into a thing and maybe just being with a bird, then your brain kind of relaxes, it loosens, and things soak in. And I think that’s the key with a lot of learning. But not getting the name right immediately does not in any way diminish their ability to appreciate “the pretty,” as Aldo Leopold talks about. And so seeing that bird and saying, “Oh my God, what is that? Look at it,” and you’re looking at it, and you can see all of these hues, and you can watch its behavior, and you may hear it sing — well, in that moment, it’s a beautiful thing, no matter what its name is.
Sometimes, what I try to get people to do is to disconnect for a moment from that absolute need to list and name, and just see the bird. Just see that bird. And you begin to absorb it, in a way, in a part of your brain that I don’t know the name of, but I think it’s a part of your brain that’s also got some heart in it. And then, guess what? The name, when you do learn it, it sticks in a different way.
take a moment to not know and just see the bird, be with the bird. I love this idea and I think I’d like to turn it into an assignment. I agree with Lanham about a lot here. Right now, I’m thinking about the idea of relaxing and not trying to immediately know the bird but slowly let it sink in through a new form of knowing that involves a “a part of your brain that’s also got some heart in it.” To me, this shifts away from the drive to know (to conquer, to possess) and towards a desire to feel and connect. Knowing is not about mastering, but becoming acquainted with, getting to know.
Continuing this discussion, Lanham discusses the power and violence of naming and classifying:
…thinking about who gets to tell the story and the names — and so I’m intensely interested in language and what different people call things, and these names and what names mean. So that Indigenous and First Nations people, who have all of these languages, and who a raven is to one nation versus who the raven is to another nation or people within that nation. So all of that is important, I think, for us to pay attention to, and all of those are different ornithologies.
In Western science, we boil down to Latin binomial and to genotype and phenotype; and all of that is critical, and it’s important in what we do as scientists. But I think, again, broadening the scope of vision so that we see the big picture — we need to understand who birds are to others, what land is to others; that if my ancestors were forced into nature and hung from trees, I might not have the same interest in going out into the forest and naming the trees.
Stayed inside today. Not that cold (about 20 degrees) or snow-covered, just wanted to stay inside. Finally started watching Emily Dickinson on Apple+. So far, I don’t like it and I was planning to ramble on in this log about it as I tried to figure out what bothers me. But, I deleted what I wrote. I’m planning to give the show a few more chances and watch at least 2 more episodes. If, after that, I still don’t like it, I might write something more. I’m glad that, after wanting to watch it for over a year, I finally am. Thinking about this episode and trying to figure out what I didn’t like about it has taken up almost 2 hours of my time–with nothing to show for it.
After I biked, I ran on the treadmill for about 30 minutes as I listened to an audio book: Agatha Christie’s By the Pricking of My Thumbs. Nice. I didn’t think about anything but what I was listening to–this book features my favorite sleuths, Tommy and Tuppence.
Earlier today, someone tweeted about retinal detachments. I was curious so I looked it up. Signs: you see floaters (like spiders) or flashes of light. I’ve been seeing flashes of light for about 6 months now–not sure how many each day. I don’t think I have a retinal detachment. I think my thinning retina is thinning even more, and might be tearing. This is not unexpected. Luckily it’s not painful, just part of the process of losing my central vision. Every so often, it can feel strange–I’ve been known to call out, “woah, trippy”–but not scary. My first thought: I am so glad that I already know what is happening to me and that I have had 4+ years to adjust to my inevitable vision loss. If these flashes were the first things I noticed and then I looked up retinal detachment, I would be freaking out right now. Instead, it’s good to know what these flashes most likely indicate.
I want to give attention to this flash of light, so I can describe what it looks/feels like to me. Next time it happens, I’ll try to write down some thoughts.
a moment of sound
I recorded today’s moment of sound while out on a walk with Delia. I would have liked to stop so I could record the birds better, but Delia wouldn’t let me. As a result, you can hear Delia’s collar, my footsteps, and my noisy pants. It’s funny how when I was listening, as I was recording, all I could hear were the birds. My brain had completely tuned out the collar and my footsteps/pants. Finally, you can hear the chirping birds and some cawing crows. So many loud crows lately!
Scott and I took Delia for a longer walk this morning, which was wonderful. Not too cold, hardly any wind, a few fluffy flakes falling from the sky. Lots of other people out too. So I decided to head to the basement again for my workout. While I biked, I continued watching Margaret Livingstone’s fascinating lecture about vision and art. Then, after I finished biking, I listened to a playlist and tried to run faster, which I did but not necessarily because of the playlist. It’s time to make a new one, I think.
I’m enjoying Livingstone’s lecture. I’m not necessarily learning anything new, but it’s reinforcing thoughts I already had or ideas that I had encountered elsewhere. Maybe it’s the academic in me, but I like to have my ideas confirmed by others, especially by those who have devoted themselves to studying vision and the brain. After discussing how “your visual system has higher acuity in the center of gaze” (acuity = sharper, finer detail), she says:
But your peripheral vision isn’t bad, it’s just different. Your peripheral vision is designed to see big blurry things; your central vision is designed to see small detailed things and actually cannot see big blurry things as well as your peripheral vision. So there’s a trade-off.
It’s the forest from the trees again!
a moment of sound
I stuck with it and recorded a moment of sound every day this month–31 moments. Nice. This final one is short and is from my walk with Scott and Delia. I can hear the chapel bells chiming from across the river at St. Thomas University in St. Paul; at least two birds–including a coo or trill or something at 15 seconds in; Delia huffing (at 22 seconds); traffic on the road; Scott and I discussing, mostly in whispers, what kind of bird we heard; snow crunching underfoot; Delia’s collar jangling; and the wind.
Slowly but surely, I am falling in love with birds. A few years ago I wrote a poem in response to Mary Oliver’s goldfinch poem “Invitation, in which I asked, “Anyway, who cares about the birds?” I do, now. I’m hoping to learn more of their calls in the upcoming months.
Thought about running outside again this morning but decided that I should run inside where it felt warmer than 0 and so I could listen to my audio book which is due in 8 days. (As usual, all of my books became available from the library at the same time.) Watched a few random races while I biked, then listened to the audio book, The Guest List, while I ran. I’m not quite sure why I keep reading/listening to books in this Ruth Ware/Paula Hawkins type genre: British, murder, troubled past, terribly toxic friends, forced gatherings. Do I even enjoy them? I guess I do a little because I always finish them, but I hate most of the characters: lost, selfish, never having their shit together. Listening to it this morning did help the 32 minutes on the treadmill go by much faster. The first few minutes were difficult as I thought, how can I stay on here for another 28 minutes? But it got easier. It is still easier (and much more fun) to run outside. I think one of my goals for this winter will be to work on my aerobic base (the long, slow miles at a lower heart rate) so that when it gets warmer and the paths are clearer I will be fit enough to run for an hour. Yes! I miss running for longer distances, traveling farther away from my house beside the river. So much more to write about.
how we see: eyes and brain
For the past few days, I’ve been reviewing how vision works, from when light enters the eye and hits the retina and then travels through the optic nerve to the visual cortex and the occipital lobe. So much jargon–names for parts of the cells and the neurons and the areas of the brain, ways of discussing direction (dorsal, medial, ventral). How much do I need (or want) to know about this process? When does it become too much, a distraction? What I find fascinating, from my limited research, is how, even as scientists use their fancy language to name/classify the parts of the brain and what they do, there is so much they can’t name or understand. I am not dismissing the important work that is/has been done on how we see, but I’m drawn to the limits of that language and knowledge. The mysterious parts. It seems like there is a lot that scientists don’t know about how the brain processes images and visual information. I’m basing this last conclusion mainly off of the lack of recent articles (in the last 10 years) on how we see and the conclusion to this article (it’s from 1993 so it’s old, yet I haven’t found many more recent articles):
Let me try to give you a sense of where we are, says Margaret Livingstone, in an effort to assess the status of visual research today. Take form perception. Human beings are very good at it. We recognize contours, faces, words, a lot of really complicated things. What we understand is that in the retinas, the lateral geniculate bodies, and the first layer of the visual cortex, we code for changes in brightness or color. In the next stage, cells become selective for the orientation of the change–that is, they code for contours, or edges. In some places cells select for the length of the contour. Then, if you go up very high, you find cells selective for certain faces. Livingstone pauses. We know remarkably little about what happens in between. It’s frightening how big a gap there is.
Instead of understanding these gaps as failures to KNOW, I like to think of them as reminders that seeing/vision is so much more than we can or ever will understand. It is complex and can’t be reduced to the simple, naive idea that our eyes see what’s in the world and then our brain correctly communicates that exact image to us. I am not sure this makes sense, but I have been interrupted several times in writing this entry and I think I lost my train of thought. I’ll keep it in and work on it later.
a moment of sound
Listen to those birds! Right outside my front door. It’s 18 degrees, but sounds like spring.
Cold this morning with snow-covered sidewalks. We got about 5 inches of snow on Saturday night and Sunday morning. I thought about running outside, but decided to stay inside to be warm and safe from slippery roads and/or crowded trails. Running inside on the treadmill is a good challenge for me, I think. It helps me to go slower and steadier and to work on pushing through the long minutes of monotony. Plus, I can work on my form and posture. I listened to my audio book (The Mesmerizing Girl) as I ran for just over 30 minutes.
moments of sound
For yesterday’s moment of sound, Scott and I were on a walk with Delia, right by Howe Elementary. Two sounds dominate: the buzzing/ringing of the furnace at the school (I think it’s the furnace) and the shshshshshing or crushcrushcrushing or thrashing? of my snow pants as I walk. We passed some kids playing on a mound of snow. I wish my phone would have done a better job of picking up what the one kid was saying. It was something about a sword and cutting something in half “with my MIND!” I have decided that I need some tips from Scott (the sound expert) on how to record better sound. That might be a goal for February.
For the majority of this recording, you get to hear the delightfully irritating crunch crack crush of ice breaking under my winter boot as I walk across the driveway. Yesterday this driveway was sheer ice, but Scott sprinkled some salt or sand on it and it melted and refroze in shards overnight. Love this sound! For the last 10 seconds or so, it’s much quieter. If you listen closely, you can hear a bird or two calling out. Today it is cold but sunny, and with the birds chirping and the sun warming my face, it feels like April not January.
Found out about this wonderful poem on twitter yesterday:
with its waterlogged wings spread open, drying off on a rock in the middle of a man-made lake after diving for food and it makes me think about wonder and it makes me want to pry and stretch my shy arms open to the subtle summer wind slicing through the park, sliding over my skin like a stream of people blowing candles out over my feathery body and it makes me think about my church when I was a kid, and how I lifted my hands to Jesus, hoping for surrender, but often felt nothing, except for the rush of fervent people wanting to be delivered from their aching, present pain, and how that ache changed the smell in the room to money and how I pinched my face and especially my eyes tighter, tighter and reached my hands higher—how I, like the cormorant, stood in the middle of the sanctuary so exposed and open and wanted and wanted so much to grasp the electric weather rushing through the drama of it all like a shout in the believer’s scratchy throat.
I don’t go to church anymore, but today I woke up early and meditated. I closed my eyes and focused on a fake seed in my hand and put my hands over my heart to shove the intention inside my chest to blossom—I’m still stumbling through this life hoping for anyone or something to save me. I’m still thinking about the cormorant who disappeared when I was writing this poem. I was just looking down and finishing a line and then I looked back up—gone.
This morning when Scott and I took Delia out for a walk it looked like the paths were clear–at least to me with my too quick glance–when we left the house, but we soon learned the sidewalk and street were ridiculously icy and uneven and dangerous. No falls for either of us, but lots of slips, and one square block took almost 15 minutes to walk. No outdoor running for me today. So, I biked and ran in the basement instead. Watched the first episode of the Netflix Fran Lebowitz documentary, “Pretend it’s a City.” I love her cranking about people’s obliviousness to others in the world, particularly in New York City, and I appreciate this concept of pretending it’s a city so that we train ourselves to be aware and care about how we’re moving in spaces with other people. After that, I listened to a playlist and ran for a little more than a mile on the treadmill. No insights or interesting thoughts today.
a moment of sound
Yes! Today, I captured the sound of the wind chimes across the street (about 35 seconds in). I love the sound of wind chimes. You can also hear a scraping, slamming noise throughtout as a neighbor across the street attempts to break up the thick, craggy sheet of ice on their sidewalk. Yuck, this slightly warmer but not that warm weather creates the worst sidewalk conditions. I would much rather have it be 0 outside (or even colder), but with clear paths. And–warning–the recording starts with the loud, shrill creaking sound of my front door opening and then the slam of the glass/screen door. I thought about editing it out because it’s so loud, but decided I liked it.
Happy to report that, at least so far, no violent insurrections at the State Capitol or in my neighborhood today.
In the basement this afternoon. A little sore from my run on the slushy, uneven snow yesterday. Watched some old races on YouTube as I biked, listened to a playlist as I ran. I recited Longfellow’s “Snow-flakes” in my head at least once. I am writing this entry the next morning because I didn’t have time to write it earlier, and I don’t remember much from the bike or the run. No insights or interesting images but, as always, it felt good to move and to sweat and to lose track of time.
Earlier in the day, Scott and I took Delia the dog on a walk. Warmish (34 degrees), with sun on our faces, then on our backs. We heard some black-capped chickadees and almost believed it was spring.
Even earlier than that, I sat on the deck, my eyes closed and the inside of my eyelids red from the warm sun, recording my moment of sound. Quiet, peaceful. I could almost block out the insistent drip…drip…drip of water coming off the gutter. I only worried a few times about whether or not the gutters were clogged. At the end of the moment, I walked over to the other side of the deck to listen to another series of drips–more clogged gutters! Also heard: birds, some very enthusiastic neighbors–maybe playing at the field at the elementary school?
It’s the weekend and since it looked crowded near the gorge when Scott and I took Delia out for a walk this morning, I decided to stay inside and bike and run on the treadmill. Watched some YouTube videos while I biked and then listened to a good playlist as I ran: The Man/Taylor Swift; Sunflower/Harry Styles; Midnight Sky/Miley Cyrus; You Should See Me in a Crowd/Billie Eilish; We Can’t Stop/Miley Cyrus; Tightrope/Janelle Monae. All good songs for staying distracted (or not being distracted?) while running. I still cringe at the lyrics of Miley’s “We Can’t Stop,” but the beat works for my cadence. At the end of my run, as I walked and got my heart rate down, I recorded myself reciting a snow poem I memorized earlier today: Snow-flakes/ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. What a beautiful poem!
Out of the bosom of the air, Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken, Over the woodlands brown and bare, Over the harvest-fields forsaken, Silent, and soft, and slow, Descends the snow.
Even as our cloudy fancies take Suddenly shape in some divine expression, Even as the troubled heart doth make In the white countenance confession, The troubled sky reveals The grief it feels.
This is the poem of the air, Slowly in silent syllables recorded. This is the secret of despair, Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded, Now whispered and revealed To wood and field.
Love the rhythm and the easy rhymes and the idea of snow as the poem of the air. I’m not as enthusiastic about his love of the word “bosom,” although it sings much better than boobs or chest.
Earlier today, after returning from my walk with Scott, I recorded a moment of sound on my front steps. I had hoped to capture the sound of the wind chimes we had heard as we walked, but I guess there wasn’t enough wind. Bummer. Not much to hear in this moment: some birds, faintly singing, some traffic one block over, a car rumbling by. It is very quiet on my block, which is nice.
Yesterday, pro-Trump domestic terrorists invaded the US Capitol while Congress was in the midst of certifying Biden’s victory. Terrifying, terrible, but not surprising to anyone who has been paying attention for the last 4 years. Scott and I sat in front of the tv all afternoon and evening, watching it unfold in real time.
A bit sore today from running outside yesterday–and maybe sitting on the couch all afternoon? Decided to do some biking and a shorter run inside today. As I biked, I split my time between watching a documentary about Bob Fosse (I loved watching Cabaret as a kid; it must have been in heavy circulation on HBO which was the cable channel I watched the most in the 1980s) and checking CNN and the New York Times to see whether or not they had invoked the 25th amendment on Trump yet (as of 2:30, not yet). After biking, I put in my “Daily Mix 3” on Spotify. Discovered that Justin Bieber’s “Beauty and the Beat” with Nikki Minaj is a great song to run to–it came up second, right after “xanny” by Billie Eilish and right before Demi Lovato’s “Sorry, not Sorry”. Forgot about everything but making sure I didn’t fall of the treadmill. Nice.
After my workout in the basement, I went outside and recorded my moment of sound on my deck. I was particularly interested in capturing the scratching or clicking (it almost sounds like water dripping) of the strange objects hanging from my neighbor’s eaves. Listening back to the recording, you can’t hear it until 40 seconds in.
My neighbor has three of these objects, hanging from the eaves at the top of the house. I remember when I first noticed them in the late summer. Very irritating. They’re metallic and they spin, catching the sun and flashing it onto our deck and through my daughter’s window upstairs. I had no idea what they were for, which made me even more annoyed. Then Scott suggested they might be for keeping the woodpecker, that had already pecked a huge hole in their siding, away. Yep, he’s right. They’re called scare rods and the flashing freaks birds out–I can see why. I can’t find a image of the exact ones they have, but here’s a picture of a similar one. The only difference: this one has diamonds, while theirs have rectangles.
The flashing is still irritating but I can live it, knowing what these are for. I’m glad the woodpecker won’t be pecking at their house anymore!
bike: 25 minutes bike stand, basement run: 1.5 miles treadmill, basement
Biked and ran again today. Thought about running outside on the snow-covered paths, but I wimped out. Not because it was cold or icy, but because I was worried if I fell and hurt myself–which has never happened in my 5 years of serious winter running–I wouldn’t want to go to a doctor or the emergency room. Too many covid cases, too much scary talk about new, more infectious, strains. Am I being too cautious? Perhaps, but I can still run in the basement and when it’s not the day after 3 or 4 new inches of snow. And I’ll still make sure I get outside for at least 20 minutes a day (already did today, when I shoveled the snow!).
Before I worked out, I spent the morning with my favorite poetry lines, trying to shape them into a poem or something resembling a poem. Last year, I printed out all the lines, cut them out, spread them on a table, and then experimented with different groupings. This year, I decided to type up the lines and then keep narrowing them down, reading through them repeatedly and picking out the ones that I liked, until I had a manageable amount. Then I printed and cut those out and played around with how to categorize them. After a few ideas, I came up with: The Is, The Ought, The Why Not. The Is includes lines that describe. The Ought includes lines that prescribe. And the Why Not includes lines that wonder and imagine and dream up new ways to be. Is this a poem? Not quite. I might try messing with it more at some point. Still, I’m posting it as my final poem for my monthly poem challenge: December Decisions
bike: 22 minutes bike stand, basement run: 1.5 miles treadmill, basement
I thought about not running for the rest of the year, but a week off seemed too long and 4 days seemed like enough. Also thought about not posting on this log in order to keep the nice round 1000 miles up there, but decided that it was more important to me to keep an accurate record of when I ran and when I rested. So here’s a post (written a day late due to my ambivalence).
Watched a few running races as I biked; dropped my new iPad from high up on a music stand down to the concrete floor. Not even a scratch! Whew. Listened to Miley Cyrus’s new album, Plastic Hearts, while I biked. I like a few songs, not sure about some others. It felt good to run again, even if it was in the basement on the treadmill.
Before and after my run, I started reviewing my notes + entries + mood ring poems. I’ve decided I want to use some of the more interesting facts and sources of inspiration to decorate my desktop. So far, I’m thinking: a diagram of the eye and a depiction of how we see + an image of St. Lucia (patron saint of vision) holding a platter with eyeballs on it + a creepy state fair mannequin + the uncanny valley diagram + the amsler grid with my blind spot + descriptions of filling-in, blind spots, Charles Bonnet Syndrome + a few passages from Georgina Kleege.