jan 17/RUN

5.5 miles
bottom of franklin hill and back
22 degrees / feels like 15
75% snow-covered

Looking forward to the day when the pavement is bare again. It’s supposed to be above freezing tomorrow, so maybe it will melt? Even with the soft, slippery snow, it was a good run. Felt really strong and relaxed all the way through the turn around. Running up the franklin hill was hard, but I forced myself to keep going until I reached the bridge. Then I walked for a few minutes and put in my headphones. Then I ran the rest of the way. Wore the right number of layers for the weather (2 tights, 1 pair of socks, tank top, green long sleeve shirt, pink cotton jacket, black vest, buff, 2 pairs of gloves, black hat), although the hat got a little warm. Taking the hat off, at the end of my run, my ponytail was soaked. Later, when I took the ponytail holder out, I sprayed water all over the floor. Gross, I guess. Scott asked: “Was that sweat?” Yep.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. right before starting my run, looking north on my street, the sidewalk was stretched out in a straight line for blocks, almost completely clear
  2. the tight crunch of salt or ice-melt on the sidewalk in front of the church as I ran over it
  3. the short stretch of sidewalk on the north side of lake street that leads over to trail was in rough shape: soft, sloppy, uneven
  4. chirping birds, sounding like spring
  5. everything looking like static, not quite staying still, except for the tree trunk which looked solid and very brown
  6. everything also looking sepia-toned. Is it because of all the brown trunks?
  7. a single crow cawing nearby
  8. the river, 1: mostly white, with small holes of open water
  9. the river, 2: under the bridge, open with gray water
  10. the river, 3: down in the flats, just past the franklin bridge, I was closer to the water and the many spots where the ice/snow had cracked, everything still, not calm but desolate or abandoned

Hearing the single crow cawing, reminded me of an Arthur Sze poem I read this morning:

Fauve/ Arthur Sze in Dazzled

Caw Caw, Caw Caw Caw.
To comprehend a crow
you must have a crow’s mind.
To be the night rain,
silver, on black leaves,
you must live in the
shine and wet. Some people
drift in their lives:
green-gold plankton,
phosphorescent, in the sea.
Others slash: a knife
at a yellow window shade
tears open the light.
But to live digging deep
is to feel the blood
in your rage as rivers,
is to feel love and hatred
as fibers of a rope,
is to catch the scent
of a wolf, and turn wild.

The word, fauve, sounded familiar, but I had to look it up. It means vivid colors, and refers to the movement of painters, including Matisse, and “their unconventional use of intensely vivid color, and free treatment of form” (Merriam-Webster).

fauves = wild beasts
vivid colors express intense emotions

I’m thinking about Fauvism (the little bit I understand of it), and its intense, vivid, sharp, striking colors. One blog post I read, contrasted Monet’s dreamy, subdued Houses of Parliament with Derain’s Charring Cross Bridge and his “lurid greens” and yellows. It is difficult for me to see intense colors. I was noticing earlier today that sometimes it helps to look off to the side. In general, I see the world, more like Monet’s dream. What does this have to do with Sze’s poem? Not sure. This quite sure, but it connects. I’ll need to think about it some more.

jan 15/RUN

4.4 miles
minnehaha falls and back
10 degrees / feels like 1
100% snow-covered

Cold, but not cold enough to freeze snot, sunny. Lots of birds singing: some chickadees, cardinals (I think?). The shadows were sharp, strong. I noticed them heading south: the shadows of a sign, then a fence post. Heading north, my shadow, beside me. The path was covered in snow, some parts of it tamped down, others loose and soft. Hard work. Happy to be outside, remembering how much I love the snow, how it connects me to my north woods roots.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. at least a dozen people walking around the falls, some of them up above, a few below, 2 walking across the frozen creek
  2. the river, heading south: such a bright white, glowing, shining, blinding
  3. lots of people on the Winchell Trail — the trees were so bare that I could see them clearly: someone with a dog, later someone in a bright orange or red jacket
  4. the Winchell Trail between 42nd and 44th was hidden by snow
  5. a sharp, loud bark from a dog somewhere below me, way down by the river?
  6. 1 or 2 fat tires
  7. a man talking on a bluetooth headset, just exiting the walking part of the double bridge
  8. A guy walking a dog, carrying a kid in a backpack
  9. the sky, bright blue, cloudless
  10. the river, heading north: flat, dull, looking more like a white field

Found these on Couplet Poetry:

Ekphrasis as Eye Test/ Jane Zwart

If you wake to a Rothko where the windows
should be, to the dark wearing an indistinct belt
between uneven sashes of glass, one oxblood
shoe-polish, one midnight blue, the problem
is refraction. The light–what little outruns
the dark–has turned its ankle on the retina,
bouncing false on a trampoline inside your eye.

Of course some afflictions also disappear in the dark,
which swallows the man whole. At night a Reinhardt,
in day the fellow’s fifty-year-old face is a Rembrandt,
an oval of flesh glaucoma vignettes; blindness
likes to lick the outskirts of likeness first.

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.

But usually the picture dims proportionally, cataracts
stirring gray into haystacks and ground and dust-ruffle
sky. Maybe you will finally understand Monet, his play
in thirty acts, his slow lowering of the lights in Giverny.
At last there is nothing left to squint against.

Ekphrasis as Eye-Test/ Amit Majmudar

Ecstasy is not to see a stranger’s vision but to say it,
Echolocating, in your own voice’s
Existential mirror,
Ecstasy.

Ecstasy means to stand outside the
Ecstatic moment itself. You have to
Ache toward the vision whose
Ekphrasis

Awakens phrases in you that dead
Reckon the unseen by way of the seen.
Echo-shaped, you take on the vision’s
Edges, take an

Axe to the lake that froze around your legs
Decades ago. The eye that
Examines is your self. The stranger’s vision you
Recreate through

Ekphrasis
Expresses through
Ecstasy
Ecstasy.

dec 26/RUN

4.25 miles
minnehaha falls and back
27 degrees
0% snow-covered

All of the snow — well, all of the snow on the road + trail + sidewalk — melted while I was gone for Christmas. Even though we got back in the afternoon, and I was hungry, I decided I couldn’t not got out and take advantage of bare trails, something that happens so infrequently in the winter. I ran to the falls and tried to notice them as I ran by. I can’t remember hearing them, but I saw the water flowing freely.

Running above, I studied the Winchell Trail below. Between 28th and 42nd, it was covered in ice and empty of walkers. From 42nd to the southern start, there were several groups of people on it. I couldn’t see if it was clear or covered. Near the double-bridge, I heard a kid laughing somewhere nearby.

For Christmas, I got several books: Lydia Davis’ ESSAYS One; Alice Oswald’s Dart; Maggie Smith’s Goldenrod; and Arthur Sze’s The Glass Constellation. I’m trying to not get as many physical books these days because of my declining vision, unless I know I’ll read and refer back to them a lot. I’m very excited about all of these! Here’s a poem from Arthur Sze:

Eye Exam/ Arthur Sze

  E D F C Z P
his eyesight is tethered to shore —

  no sign of zebras
but spotted towhees repair their nest;

  before the ditch is cleared,
plum trees are blossoming along a riparian bank —

  he pauses at the gaps between letters,
notices how his mind has an urge to wander,

how it resists being tethered to question and quick reply —  
yellow daffodils are rising in the yard;

    behind his eyelids,
a surge of aquamarine water is breaking to shore:

  they are stretching,
they are contorting into bliss —

  and as the opthamologist
rotates lenses, “Is it clearer with 1 or 2?”

he sees how this moment is lens, mirror, spring,    
and how, “1,”

D E F P O T E C
sharpens his vision to this O, the earth

I have thought of writing a poem about this “better with 1 or 2” exam. So many questions, so hard to determine which is better, which is worse. For now, glasses still help a little with my non-cone dystrophy problem: near-sightedness. But standard eye exams seem almost pointless for me. I can read small things when I’m given as much time as I need. If I have to read it quickly, I can’t. Which lens, 1 or 2, makes my ability to focus fast better?

I want to spend some more time with this poem to reflect on its meaning. Are the zebras and towhees referencing letters in a way that I’m missing? This idea of sharpened vision tethering one to earth makes me think of how untethered I often feel out in the world, with everything unfocused, fuzzy, soft. Are there other ways to be tethered that don’t require clear vision? Yes, but they aren’t often recognized, represented. Are they in this poem?


nov 4/RUN

4.75 miles
Veteran’s Home Loop*
35 degrees
humidity: 84%

*a new loop: south on the river road trail to Minnehaha Regional Park, up the steps and over the falls. Follow the trail along the fence, past the John Stevens House. Take the bridge to the grounds of the Veteran’s Home. Go through a parking lot, up some steps, to the trail near the edge that leads down to Locks and Dam Number One. Rejoin the river road trail heading north until you reach the parking lot with the entrance to the Winchell Trail. Take the Winchell trail north to the Oak Savanna.

A good run. Cold update: It lingers. Still stuffed up, but continuing to feel better. A little harder to run because of the crud in my throat + a few raggedy coughs. Another sunny day with not much wind. So humid. I want my cold, crisp air!

10 Things I Noticed

  1. A haze in the air from the sun illuminating the humidity. Running above the oak savanna, everything was even softer, out of focus than (my) usual, filtered through the damp air
  2. Still above the Oak Savanna: I can see more of the mesa now that more leaves have left
  3. The river was glowing white with sunlight
  4. Not too many people on the trails — hardly any walkers or runner or bikers. Just 2 roller skiers
  5. Stopped at the spot on the Winchell Trail where the man had been using a hacksaw last week to check what he had done. Nothing, as far as I could tell
  6. At its start, just after the slabbed steps, the Winchell Trail, which had been covered in leaves last week, was clear. Minneapolis Parks must have cleared out the leaves sometime this week
  7. The bridge over to the Veteran’s Home, high above the trail below — the trail that follows the creek after it has fallen all the way to the Mississippi River — has a chainlink fence that makes it difficult to see below, especially when the sun is shining directly on it
  8. Running on the edge of the bluff, I heard the roaring of the water as it rushed over the dam at Locks and Dam Number One, then I saw it: a wall of white water
  9. A turkey crossing! Near turkey hollow, I encountered at least 5 turkeys, almost all the way across the road
  10. At the end of my run in the Oak Savanna, I heard a bird crying out. I stopped to locate it: a white-ish bird in a small nest in a nearby tree. I can’t remember the sound it made and have no idea what kind of bird it is — was it the mother, protecting her young? Do any birds nest in the fall?

Just looked it up and yes, some birds do nest in the fall. I didn’t know that. I’m thinking it might have been a mourning dove. They nest in the spring, but can lay eggs as late as October. Wow.

Prints/Tracks/Traces

The poem of the day on poetry foundation reminded me of part of a poem I read last month and then wrote about in a document titled, “October’s Apparitions.” I like the multiple meanings of the title. Prints, as in photographs, but also fingerprints. I thought about prints as tracks too — not yet a trail, but evidence of someone or something else there before you.

Prints/ Joseph Bruchac

Seeing photos
of ancestors
a century past

is like looking
at your own
fingerprints—

circles 
and lines
you can’t 
recognize

until someone else
with a stranger’s eye
looks close and says
that’s you.

Here’s the part of the poem that I posted/wrote about in October:

from Seven Types of Shadow / U A Fanthorpe

We carry our human ghosts around with us.
As we grow we face the mirrors, and see
The specter of a great-aunt, a vague look
Known only from sepia snapshots. The hands we’re used to —
Yes, these — their contours came by way of a long retinue
Of dust. We are photofits of the past,
And the future eyes us sideways as we eye ourselves.
We are the ghosts of great-aunts and grand-nephews.
We are ghosts of what is dead and not yet born. 

And here is what I wrote on oct 15th:

Who, from my family, do I look like? What characteristics of others do I have? Whose nose? I don’t know/remember too many of my relatives, so it’s difficult to imagine who I might look like…[pause to look at pictures of relatives] I couldn’t find much resemblance. I’m not sure who from the past is like me, but my daughter is like me in her posture — she swims like me, she walks like me, she has my shoulders and non-existent eyebrows. I like the idea of the traces of others within us — what we pass on, the gestures and the expressions — there is love in the passing on, even if or when there’s not much connection or love in the relationships. We are ghosts of what is dead and not yet born. I like this idea of all these different times mingling together.

Interesting…reduced to body parts — ghosts as that which we inherited…makes me think of the cone dystrophy — whose bad vision did I inherit? How many others have had it? And which side of the family? My sister has mentioned a grandmother who was blind—did she have cone dystrophy, or was it something else? Thinking about first talking with the doctor and the idea of how it skips generations, jumping around in families so you don’t know where it came from — a ghost not attached to anyone, unknown. So much unknown…

The comfort of a known ghost. To look at someone and see yourself in them or them in you. To know they are the ghost you are passing on. What do you do with not knowing? Is it necessary to know? Do you want to find out? What do you do about you kids? 

pages document/ oct 15, 2021

Re-reading this, I’m thinking more about how invisible, or at least very difficult to see, cone dystrophy is. It’s rare and has such a wide range of symptoms, presenting differently even in the same families. And, it skips generations and moves around families: a great-aunt might have it, but not a grandparent or parent. I’m not sure when it was first discovered — even now in 2021, so much is not known about it and the diagnosis of it falls under the vague, blanket term, “cone dystrophy,” which stands in for all sorts of cone-related vision problems. If it existed in families a generation or two ago, it was very likely it was not discovered. No understanding or diagnosis. No treatment. No prints (no evidence revealed in photos or through a doctor’s diagnosis). Instead, only faint tracks or trails: a story about someone having bad vision when they got older, knitting even though they couldn’t see what they were doing. My dad’s family, poor and living in rural upper peninsula Michigan, and before that, rural Finland, most likely had very little or no access to an ophthalmologist that would look for or understand cone dystrophy.

Cone dystrophy is inherited, most likely an autosomal recessive inheritance (AR). If I understand it correctly, I have a 50% chance of passing it on to my kids, but they only carry it if both Scott and I have it, and they only have a 25% chance of being affected by it (and, even if they are affected by it, their symptoms might be very mild or hard to detect). [source: Cone/Cone-rod dystrophy for patients] My experience of it, with most of my cones in my central vision gone and a good chance of becoming legally blind, is rare. So, I’m not too worried about my kids. Instead, I am fascinated by where it came from and the strange, unlikely path it has taken to get to me. What ghosts have passed it on unknowingly? To this I’ll add: I’m not sure if I need to know who it is from, or get an accurate map of how it’s traveled; I am more interested in the idea that it’s hard to track and what it means to live with unknown/unnamed ghosts.

Taking this idea of what our ghosts pass on to us in a different direction, I’m reminded of something I read in Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth a few years ago about the diseases we carry in us unknowingly, maybe from birth, maybe not:

Franny’s father, Fix, says, “People are scared of the wrong things… We go around thinking that what’s going to get us is waiting on the other side of the door: it’s outside, it’s in the closet, but it isn’t like that. . . For the vast majority of the people on this planet, the thing that’s going to kill them is already on the inside.” 

Ann Patchett/ Commonwealth

Does this make sense? Will it be useful to future Sara?

I began working on the tracks/prints part of this entry before my run. The last thing I thought about before I left flowed from it: What are the connections between my vision loss and running by the gorge? Some of it is directly related; I’m gathering words, images, metaphors about my vision while I run. Some of it is more a matter of them happening at the same time.

oct 3/RUN

4 miles
minnehaha falls and back
58 degrees
dew point: 55

Ran with Scott to the falls before the marathoners raced on the river road. Not too warm, but humid. A mile in, I already felt like a damp sponge. A nice run with lots of fall color. Saw at least 2 turkeys chilling in the parking lot, the same spot they were at last week. Heard a bird calling out as we entered minnehaha park. Might have been a red-breasted nuthatch. The falls were rushing but not quite roaring, the creek was higher but not high. Listened to the leaves crunch as I ran over them. Saw at least one roller skier and lots of volunteers getting ready for the race — the twin cities marathon. Anything else? I’m sure I heard at least one goose, avoided more than one squirrel. I recall looking down at the river through the thinning leaves and hearing some rowers.

random thing for future Sara to remember: “Out of an abundance of caution” (as they like to say at RJP’s high school), we got covid tests last week. The spit test. I have a lot of trouble spitting and filling up the cup. That, combined with my inability to see signs or anything else well at the testing site, makes getting these tests incredibly difficult for me. Spitting into a cup seems like a basic thing that everyone can do without thinking. Not me. I’m actually going to have to practice before we take another test — whenever that will be. I’m trying to see this as funny, because it is, but it’s hard to laugh when it’s so upsetting. Not just because I can’t spit, but because I can’t see — it’s a reminder of how bad my vision is getting.

I love this October poem:

Neighbors in October/ DAVID BAKER

All afternoon his tractor pulls a flat wagon
with bales to the barn, then back to the waiting
chopped field. It trails a feather of smoke.
Down the block we bend with the season:
shoes to polish for a big game,
storm windows to batten or patch.
And how like a field is the whole sky now
that the maples have shed their leaves, too.
It makes us believers—stationed in groups,
leaning on rakes, looking into space. We rub blisters
over billows of leaf smoke. Or stand alone,
bagging gold for the cold days to come.

september 4/RUN

4.1 miles
marshall loop
63 degrees
humidity: 89%

Cooler, but I could feel the humidity. Felt strong. I think all of the swimming this summer strengthened my legs and core, which is very helpful. I’d like to figure out how to keep it up this fall and winter. Heard the rowers as I ran down the east river road, then saw them lined up in the water, receiving instruction from the coxswain. Heard lots of other voices in the gorge, near the Monument and Shadow Falls. People hiking? exploring? checking out the falls, which only appear after it rains (which it did the past few days)? Encountered lots of runners and walkers. No roller skiers. I’m sure there were birds but I don’t remembering hearing them. I do remember looking at the river as I crossed the bridge–mostly, the rowers, but also that the river was calm and a blue gray. Not quite sunny yet, so no sparkling water. Anything else? No deep thoughts stayed with me, no fragments from a poem. I’m sure I thought about my son who Scott and I dropped off at college yesterday. Very excited for him.

As I write this entry a few hours after the run, I’m remembering that I thought briefly about the idea of approximate and a passage I read last night from Blind Man’s Bluff, a memoir by James Tate Hill about becoming legally blind at 16, and trying to hide it.

I can still see out of the corners of my eyes, but here’s the thing about peripheral vision: The quality of what you see isn’t the same as you see head-on. Imagine a movie filmed with only extras, a meal cooked using nothing but herbs and a dash of salt, a sentence constructed only of metaphors. To see something in your peripheral vision with any acuity, it has to be quite large.

Blind Man’s Bluff/ James Tate Hill

I thought about this passage when I was running because I’m bothered by his negative depiction of peripheral vision. Is the quality of vision solely based on clarity and sharpness? What value/quality of vision might we get from our side views and from images that are something less than 100% clear?

I find it helpful to read others’ descriptions of how and what they see. Hill’s vision is much worse than mine–even though the cones in my central vision are almost completely gone, my acuity in both eyes is surprisingly good and nowhere near legally blind. It seems as if the last few cones are doing all the work. Yet, even with my not-too-bad-yet vision, I struggle to see things like faces and eyes, read signs. Here’s an example from yesterday at the buffet lunch at my son’s college orientation: The food was put out on platters–watermelon, deli meat, cheese, bread, pasta salad–and you helped yourself. With my vision, I couldn’t tell what some of the food was–I had to ask Scott. I just couldn’t see it well enough. This often happens now when I’m eating a meal. I can’t quite (almost, but not enough) see what’s on the plate. I used to write about how I can’t tell if there’s mold on food, but now I can’t tell what the food is–unless I’ve prepared it myself. Not that big of a deal, but still frustrating.

Here’s another passage from the memoir that I appreciated:

The most frequent compliment heard by people with a disability is I could never do what you do, but everyone knows how to adapt. When it’s cold outside, we put on a coat. When it rains, we grab an umbrella. A road ends, so we turn left, turn right, turn around. We adapt because it’s all we can do when we cannot change our situation.

The other thing that I’ve already started to hear a lot as I lose my vision is: “you’re so brave!” I am not brave; I am good at adapting and learning to live with uncertainty. I am proud of how I’m handling my vision loss, but not because I’m being brave.

Returning to the theme of approximate, I’ve been trying to collect words, phrases that describe it: roughly, vague, almost, not quite, rough estimation, about, nearly, in the right zip or area code, in the ballpark, and the one that Scott mentioned the other day:

close enough for jazz

Had I ever heard this before Scott used it? He picked up the phrase from his jazz director in college, Dr. Steve Wright. Such a great phrase, one that I don’t see as criticizing jazz as sloppy, but celebrating it for its generosity.

august 26/RUNSWIM

4.15 miles
minehaha falls and back
65 degrees

Cooler this morning. Fall running is coming soon! Running south, I noticed lots of cars on the river road. None of them were going too fast but I could tell they were in a hurry to get somewhere. Summer seems over. I’m less sad, more wistful or already nostalgic for the water.

When I reached the falls, they were roaring again. It rained this week. More coming this afternoon and tomorrow. Will it be enough to end the drought? Not sure.

It’s a grayish white morning, quiet, calm. I smelled smoke near the double bridge. A campfire down in the gorge? I glanced at the river a few times when I was on the Winchell Trail. Today it looks blue. Heard a roller skier at the beginning of my run. Greeted a few runners and walkers. Successfully avoided rolling on a walnut–encased in its green shell, looking like a small tennis ball. Don’t remember seeing any squirrels or hearing any rower. Too early for kids on the playground. No music blasting from a bike speaker. I remember making note of a fragment of conversation, but I can’t remember what was said.

A good run. The upper half of my right side felt sore at the beginning of the run, but when I warmed up it was fine. I started to recite Auto-lullaby, but never quite finished. I guess I got distracted. I’d like to get back into combining poetry and running in September.

love, connection, and strangers

Yesterday, I discovered a great article by Elisa Gabbert about missing strangers during the pandemic: A Complicated Energy. It made me think about connection and love and how I miss being around other people–like walking on a busy city street or sitting on a bench in a park–when we are all strangers to each other.

To people-watch, says Baudelaire, is “to see the world, to be at the center of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world”—to become interchangeable, one of the strangers. For Virginia Woolf, a wander through the city at dusk was an escape from the trap of being “tethered to a single mind,” from the oppression of self: “The evening hour, too, gives us the irresponsibility which darkness and lamplight bestow. We are no longer quite ourselves.” “Let us dally a little longer,” she writes, “be content still with surfaces only.” Strangers are all surface, and if we accessed their depths, they’d cease to be strangers. We’re all surface to them, too—all face. Strangers allow us to be mysterious in a way we can’t when we’re at home, or when alone. With strangers we’re unknown.

I like this idea of surfaces and the unknown, I’m less interested in the idea of people watching and seeing others, probably because I can’t see people very clearly. I do like hearing people’s stories and connecting with them on deeper levels sometimes, but it drains me. More often, I just like being in the midst of them–not too close, no need for talking or touching, being beside each other is enough. This is a meaningful form of connection to me, a form of love. Sometimes more than this is too much.

Woolf’s desire to not be “tethered to a single mind” resonates for me. This tethering and the idea of surfaces makes me think of sinking and floating, with sinking = tethered to the self-as-anchor and floating = being on the surface, unmoored, free to be unknown and unknowing. And then that connection makes me think of some great lines from a Maxine Kumin poem:

Where have I come from? Where am I going?
What do I translate, gliding back and forth
erasing my own stitch marks in this lane?
Christ on the lake was not thinking
where the next heel-toe went. 
God did him a dangerous favor
whereas Peter, the thinker, sank. 
The secret is in the relenting, 
the partnership. I let my body work
accepting the dangerous favor
from the king-size pool of waters. 

To Swim, To Believe/ Maxine Kumin

Love as relenting and letting go of self and ideas. To be tethered to the known (and to knowing) is to sink.

In the next part of the essay, Gabbert laments not being able to see more faces. She misses seeing faces, and she misses seeing faces see her. She is so bothered by this lack of face time that she experiences anxiety, insomnia, and symptoms similar to withdrawal from an anti-depressant. I was struck by discussion here for 2 reasons. First, it gave me more words (and someone else’s words, not just mine) for understanding what I’ve been feeling since 2016 when I stopped being able to see people’s faces clearly. The feelings of loneliness and disconnection, the need to see someone and to see them seeing me. Often I’ve convinced myself that I’m being overly dramatic, that it’s not that big of deal that I can’t see people’s faces, their features, their pupils when they’re talking to me or smiling at me or gesturing to me. But it is. In this essay, Gabbert argues that seeing and being seen are profoundly important–to be seen by others is to become real (and recognized as worthy/worthwhile).

This claim leads me to the second reason I was struck by Gabbert’s words: Why is connection, love, realness so often only (or primarily) understand as an act of sight? This question is not purely academic to me–I post it out of frustration about how the primacy of vision is taken-for-granted–in our everyday thinking and in essays lamenting the loss of connection during the pandemic. With my increasingly limited, unfocused vision, these expressions of recognition and connection are lost on me. Gabbert continues her essay with a discussion of the importance of touch–with a fascinating story about professional cuddlers–so she does offer alternatives to sight for connection. And she offers a broader discussion on the damaging effects of loneliness on our bodies and our mental health. Yet, it still feels like sight and seeing faces are the most important ways of connecting with others. I’d like to find more words about loss of connection that don’t center on faces or seeing. Maybe I’ll have to write them?

One more thing about love. I found this poem by Dorothy Wordsworth while searching for “loving eye” on the poetry foundation site. Her distinction between loving and liking made me curious:

Loving and Liking: Irregular Verses Addressed to a Child/ Dorothy Wordsworth

There’s more in words than I can teach: 
Yet listen, Child! — I would not preach; 
But only give some plain directions 
To guide your speech and your affections. 
Say not you love a roasted fowl 
But you may love a screaming owl, 
And, if you can, the unwieldy toad 
That crawls from his secure abode 
Within the mossy garden wall 
When evening dews begin to fall, 
Oh! mark the beauty of his eye: 
What wonders in that circle lie! 
So clear, so bright, our fathers said 
He wears a jewel in his head! 
And when, upon some showery day, 
Into a path or public way 
A frog leaps out from bordering grass, 
Startling the timid as they pass, 
Do you observe him, and endeavour 
To take the intruder into favour: 
Learning from him to find a reason 
For a light heart in a dull season. 
And you may love him in the pool, 
That is for him a happy school, 
In which he swims as taught by nature, 
Fit pattern for a human creature, 
Glancing amid the water bright, 
And sending upward sparkling light. 

   Nor blush if o’er your heart be stealing 
A love for things that have no feeling: 
The spring’s first rose by you espied, 
May fill your breast with joyful pride; 
And you may love the strawberry-flower, 
And love the strawberry in its bower; 
But when the fruit, so often praised 
For beauty, to your lip is raised, 
Say not you love the delicate treat, 
But like it, enjoy it, and thankfully eat. 

   Long may you love your pensioner mouse, 
Though one of a tribe that torment the house: 
Nor dislike for her cruel sport the cat 
Deadly foe both of mouse and rat; 
Remember she follows the law of her kind, 
And Instinct is neither wayward nor blind. 
Then think of her beautiful gliding form, 
Her tread that would scarcely crush a worm, 
And her soothing song by the winter fire, 
Soft as the dying throb of the lyre. 

   I would not circumscribe your love: 
It may soar with the Eagle and brood with the dove, 
May pierce the earth with the patient mole, 
Or track the hedgehog to his hole. 
Loving and liking are the solace of life, 
Rock the cradle of joy, smooth the death-bed of strife. 
You love your father and your mother, 
Your grown-up and your baby brother; 
You love your sister and your friends, 
And countless blessings which God sends; 
And while these right affections play, 
You live each moment of your day; 
They lead you on to full content, 
And likings fresh and innocent, 
That store the mind, the memory feed, 
And prompt to many a gentle deed: 
But likings come, and pass away; 
’Tis love that remains till our latest day: 
Our heavenward guide is holy love, 
And will be our bliss with saints above. 

swim: 1 mile / 1 loop
lake nokomis open swim
70 degrees

The thunderstorms held off so I could do a final loop in the lake! Now, as I write this at 7:15, it’s dark and raining and a loud clap of thunder just hit somewhere nearby. What joy to get one last loop! Such a strange swim. No one at the lake besides us swimmers–and not too many swimmers. Overcast, eerily quiet, and smoke from wildfires at the Boundary Waters. Another apocalyptic night. Only orange buoys, no green ones. I swam to the white buoy off of the little beach, treaded water for a minute or two, then swam back. What a great season! So happy to have taken full advantage of a great summer. So grateful for the amazing Minneapolis Parks department. STA and I met at Sandcastle for a beer after I finished.

august 5/RUN

run: 3.1 miles
2 trails the no-stress way
69 degrees
dew point: 64

Decided to try a variation on the 2 trails that would hopefully not be as stressful as the way I’ve been going this summer. Instead of heading south on the river road trail, which involves battling cars at the 4 way stop at 35th, and then avoiding pairs or packs of runners and speeding, crowding bikers, I ran on the grassy boulevard between Edmund and the River Road. I crossed over to the trail at 42nd and only had to run up above, on the more crowded trail, for 2 or 3 minutes. Much better! Love (for other runners and bikers + running by the gorge) restored, irritation avoided. Nice.

Shortly before starting my run, it had rained briefly. Not even enough to dampen all of the ground, everywhere patches of dry, parched dirt. Enough to make it all feel wet though, and to hear sprinkling coming out of the sewer instead of just trickling or dribbling.

Ran by the house on Edmund that posts poems in their front windows. No new poems today. Still 3 poems by June Jordan.

As I ran north on the lower trail, I started thinking about my vision. I imagined that I might need a white cane sometime in my 50s and I thought that it won’t bother me. Well, some parts of it will bother me, I’m sure, but I won’t worry about what other people think.

Yesterday at the eye doctor, during one of the tests the doctor said, “Now, this is the worst part.” It wasn’t bad at all for me, so I asked, “Why is this the worst part? It didn’t bother me at all.” He responded, “That’s because you don’t have any cone cells left.” He was shining a super bright light directly into the center of my eyes. For anyone with “normal” vision, the light would have been painfully bright. I’m glad I learned to ask. It’s helpful to know–a little disturbing too to think about how few cones I have left, and how dead the central vision in my eyes is.

It’s Thursday, so usually I’d be doing open swim too but the threat of a severe thunderstorm forced them to cancel. No storm. Bummer.

This month I’m thinking about love. In particular, I’m trying to think about love in new ways, beyond the clichés of what it means to love and how we represent that love. Here are 2 poems that complicate the ultimate symbol of love, the heart. Before posting them I just want to add, in my most grumpiest voice: I really don’t like the heart gesture that so many athletes are making with their hands at the Olympics as a way to signal their love to friends and family back home. Bring back Carol Burnett’s tug of the ear, I say! Much more personal and meaningful than the trendy, empty gesture of the hand-heart, popularized by Taylor Swift in the 2010s. I read that she tested out several different gestures on her audience and stuck with this one when it got the biggest response. Expression of love focus-grouped. I mentioned my complaint to my daughter and she showed me the heart hand signal that her favorite band, BTS, does. A fist with 2 fingers crossed. To me it looked like an actual heart with the fingers representing the aorta. Probably not, but I thought it was cooler.

Heart/ Maggie Smith

A child of, say, six knows you’re not the shape
she’s learned to make by drawing half along a fold,
cutting, then opening. Where do you open?

Where do you carry your dead? There’s no locket
for that–hinged, hanging on a chain that greens
your throat. And the dead inside you, don’t you
hear them breathing? You must have a hole
they can press their gray lips to. If you open–
when you open–will we find them folded inside?
In what shape? I mean what cut shape is made
whole by opening? I mean beside the heart.

Heart to Heart/ Rita Dove –

It’s neither red
nor sweet.
It doesn’t melt
or turn over,
break or harden,
so it can’t feel
pain,
yearning,
regret.

It doesn’t have
a tip to spin on,
it isn’t even
shapely—
just a thick clutch
of muscle,
lopsided,
mute. Still,
I feel it inside
its cage sounding
a dull tattoo:
I want, I want—

but I can’t open it:
there’s no key.
I can’t wear it
on my sleeve,
or tell you from
the bottom of it
how I feel. Here,
it’s all yours, now—
but you’ll have
to take me,
too.

Rita Dove and Maggie Smith are two of my favorite poets.

june 24/SWIM

3 miles/ 3 loops
lake nokomis open swim
83 degrees

The third day in a row of open swim. It was overcast, which I thought would make it easier for me to see all the buoys, but the lack of light drained their color. Hardly any smudges of orange, and only when I twisted my neck so I could see the buoy through my peripheral. Strangely, I saw the green buoys more often, which was not a lot. Will it ever stop being amazing to me that I can swim across the lake without panicking when all I can see is endless water? Heading back from the little beach, where the path between buoys is wider and less direct, I had a moment of feeling like I was swimming off the edge of the earth. Alone, off course. Then I saw an elbow and knew I was fine, heading toward the big beach. As I swam, I remembered a poem I wrote for my chapbook on swimming about my feelings of love and annoyance for other swimmers as we swim in the lake. I tried to love the other swimmers more than be irritated by them as they unintentionally routed me. I really tried; sometimes it worked.

i feel 
a deep love
for these other half fish half humans
who seem to love deeply what i love
all of us sharing a lake a moment 
a joy for the generosity of water

and i feel
continued annoyance
at their cluelessness 
on how to swim straight 
and their inability to wrangle 
jutting elbows and flailing frog-like legs

i try to remember my love and forget my irritation
but when the lake water sloshes over my head gently
it washes away everything

I like the idea of this poem, and many of the lines, but I think I can make it much better. I’d like to work on it, and some others from the collection, and maybe try to get them published. What if I turned by various verses about the lake and swimming into one long poem? How would that work? How does a long poem work?

Other Things I Remember

  • Choppy water, none of it washing over my head, but tugging at the safety buoy I have tethered to my waist. Makes swimming more difficult–the buoy around my waist, acting like Coleridge’s albatross around the Ancient Mariner’s neck
  • Once I mistook a fish for a wave and when I stopped suddenly my buoy bumped into me, which felt like a fish, and for a flash, I freaked out
  • I noticed several swimmers stopping briefly to try and find the buoy. One guy stopped several times. He was slightly faster than me, but was working much harder, churning up water with his big kicks
  • I didn’t think a sailboat was the buoy tonight
  • I was swimming faster than 2 breaststrokers ahead of me, but as I approached they sped up–on purpose or without realizing it, I’m not sure–and wouldn’t let me pass
  • It is harder to see through my central vision, I think, and I feel even more cut off from the world when I swim than I used to. Mostly, this does not bother me; I like the dream world that lake swimming creates
  • Right before starting, a woman called out, “Wow, the number on your cap is over 1000!” And I said, “Is that how many swimmers there are in open swim club?” And, she said, “Well, my cap is 13!” If there are over 1000 swimmers signed up for open swim, they are not all in the water with me tonight. Maybe 100 are here

june 17/SWIM

2 miles/2 loops
lake nokomis open swim
82 degrees

Another great open swim. So far, I’m enjoying this new course. It’s longer and more forgiving, I think. Swimmers are spread out wider so you don’t have to worry about running into anyone going the opposite direction. It helps that more people are doing open swim too. More limbs to sight when I can’t see the buoys. I felt strong when I was swimming, and stronger when I was done. I love the feeling of my arm muscles after swimming. A warm glow, slightly sore, physical evidence of effort.

Not sure if or when I’ll get used to how strange and remarkable it is to be able to swim this course when I can hardly see the buoys–just a quick flash of orange green or the idea of it bobbing in front of me. Could it be that my brain “sees” the buoy even when I don’t consciously see it with my eyes? From the research I’ve done on vision, I think it’s possible. The body is remarkable. Swimming is remarkable. I love how confident I feel when I swim. Probably the most confident I ever feel doing anything. I never doubt or second-guess myself in the water. I just swim. I wish more things in life could feel this easy—well, not easy, but right or natural.

I did a lot of breathing every five strokes. Sometimes every six or every three or every three then four. Saw some ducks, was rocked by some waves, saw some flashes that might have been fish.

For much of the day, I was reading/reviewing the history of the Mississippi Gorge, starting with the occupation and renaming of Owámniyomni to St. Anthony Falls by Father Hennepin in 1680. Much of my focus today, without entirely intending it to be, was the tracing of commerce and capital, from furs to timber to flour to hydroelectric power. Learned about Franklin Steele and his tactics for grabbing land and making money. (Why Nobody Wants to Talk About Franklin Steele) What a terrible person, yet he did so much to make Minneapolis what it is today. Difficult to figure out how to reconcile the benefits of progress with the terrible damage it causes. Maybe they can’t be reconciled.

june 16/RUN

4.3 miles
the falls + winchell trail
65 degrees

A beautiful yet difficult run. Not sure why it was so hard. Maybe because I swam last night and didn’t eat enough breakfast before I ran this morning? Or maybe because of allergies from lake water? Still, it was great to be outside early (but not that early, already 7:20) in the morning. The sun was warm, the river was sparkling, the falls were flowing. I don’t remember hearing them gushing. Must be all the heat and the lack of rain. I wonder how full the creek is right now?

Heading back from the falls, I turned down by the overlook at 44th and entered the Winchell Trail. I walked for the first stretch, where the asphalt has surrendered to the dirt and the trail sits steeply above the river. Not even a dribble of water at the 44th street sewer pipe by the curved retaining wall. Encountered a few more people than I normally do on the trail, but I didn’t care or worry about how close I was to them. It’s fascinating (and a little unsettling) how quickly and easily you forget hyper-vigilance.

As I write this, someone is weed-whacking their lawn with an old, barely working weed-whacker. Sometimes its whine sounds like a person, weakened by age or pain or both, moaning. “Ooooooooooooooo.” Sometimes it sounds like a tiny mosquito buzzing around my ear, hovering too close. This is to say, it’s annoying!

Thought about stopping at the falls and checking out the different signs–with brief history blurbs or poems or names–but I didn’t. I think I’ll bike over there one day for a field trip. Maybe I can convince Scott and then we’ll get a beer at Sea Salt?! Speaking of signs, I just re-read this in Waterlog by Roger Deakin:

Most of us live in a world where more and more places and things are signposted, labelled, and officially ‘interpreted’. There is something about all this is that is turning the reality of things into virtual reality. It is the reason why walking, cycling and swimming [and running] will always be subversive activities. They allow us to regain a sense of what is old and wild in these islands, by getting off the beaten track and breaking free of the official version of things (4).

Waterlog: A Swimming Journey Through Britain/ Roger Deakin

As much as I agree with this idea of wandering away from official versions and ready-made interpretations, I also see the value of some of the historic signs that help us to get a deeper sense of the history of the land, how it has been shaped, and how we are connected to it. These signs need to be read critically and put in the larger context of who is telling the story and how. Sometimes these signs need to be updated or rewritten.

Found this poem via Maggie Smith (the poet, not the actor) on twitter. Like most great poems, after reading it a few times, there’s a lot I still don’t get.

The Blind Leading The Blind/ Lisel Mueller

Take my hand. There are two of us in this cave.
The sound you hear is water; you will hear it forever.
The ground you walk on is rock. I have been here before.
People come here to be born, to discover, to kiss,
to dream, and to dig and to kill. Watch for the mud.
Summer blows in with scent of horses and roses;
fall with the sound of sound breaking; winter shoves
its empty sleeve down the dark of our throat.
You will learn toads from diamonds, the fist from the palm,
love from the sweat of love, falling from flying.
There are a thousand turnoffs. I have been here before.
once I fell off a precipice. Once I found gold.
Once I stumbled on murder, the thin parts of a girl.
Walk on, keep walking, there are axes above us.
Watch for occasional bits and bubbles of light—
birthdays for you, recognitions: yourself, another.
Watch for the mud. Listen for bells, for beggars.
Something with wings went crazy against my chest once.
There are two of us here. Touch me.

I love the lines about water and rock: “The sound you hear is water” and “The ground you walk on is rock.” I also like the double meaning of turnoffs, both things you don’t like, and alternate paths and ways to travel.

Thinking about the title, The Blind Leading The Blind. According to Merriam-Webster it is “used informally to describe a situation in which someone who is not sure about how to do something is helping another person who also is not sure about how to do it.” Often this is interpreted as a useless, pointless, clueless thing. But, in a dark cave, where seeing is impossible, a blind person would be better equipped to lead than a normally sighted person. Also, why should being unsure about something mean that you can’t do it, or that you’ll bad at it? How can we ever really be sure about anything? I imagine Mueller’s two “blind” people (you and I) as not helpless from lack of sight, but connected and hopeful through touch.

june 9/RUN

4 miles
marshall hill
74 degrees
dew point: 66

Delia the dog woke me up and forced me out of bed at 5:45, yesterday it was 5:55. I suppose I should be grateful; I like early mornings in the summer. If she wakes me up at 5:30 tomorrow, we’re taking a walk. Mornings are magical. Getting up so early, I was able to sit, drink my coffee, and still get out for my run before 7. Very nice.

I ran the marshall hill route for the first time since november 24, 2019, just near the end of the before times. Running north on the river road trail, I greeted the Welcoming Oaks. So wonderful to run by them on this sunny morning! And, to run by the sprawling oak that shades the ancient boulder with the stacked stones–2 today. Heading down into the thickening tunnel of trees, I heard the clickity-clack of a lone roller skier and then the coxswain’s bullhorn. Rowers! Later, running over the lake street bridge, I managed to spot the rowers on the smooth, glassy river. Running up marshall hill was tough, but I convinced myself not to stop for a break until I was at the top. Reaching the east river road and running down the hill right above Shadow Falls was fun. Near the end of the run, I could hear the buzz of the cicadas. I liked the noise even though it sounded like heat.

My focus on water and stone this month has led me to Lorine Niedecker and I am excited. Her work is opening many doors for me. I bought Niedecker’s Lake Superior a few years ago, but never really looked at it. Now, I am, and I’m amazed. The book begins with her poem “Lake Superior” and then an excerpt of her notes for the poem. She took 300 single-spaced, type-written notes for a poem that is less than 400 words. Wow! At the end of the notes, the editor of this book mentions that all 300 pages of Niedecker’s notes are available online through the University of Wisconsin Digital Collection. Nice!

side note: Reading an article about Niedecker, I discovered that her name is pronounced nee-decker, and that it had originally been spelled Neidecker but she changed it to make the pronunciation less confusing. Really? When I see Nie I think nye, and when I see Nei, I think neigh or nye, not nee. But maybe that’s just me?

Here’s a poem of hers that I imagine is one of her more well-known:

Poet’s work/ LORINE NIEDECKER

Grandfather   
   advised me:
         Learn a trade

I learned
   to sit at desk
         and condense

No layoff
   from this
         condensery

I love this poem–the idea of condensing as a trade, the valuing of condensing, the exemplification of it in the poem, “Lake Superior”–300 pages of notes condensed down to 300+ words!

Here are a few reasons I’m excited about Niedecker now, at the beginning of my encounters with her:

  • She writes about the lake I was born on, Lake Superior, and geology and geography that resonates with me
  • Her process: all the notes condensed down to a pithy, beautiful poem + the type of notes: history mixed with her travel stories, critical commentary on land and language and globalization
  • The forms of her poems and how the later ones might be influenced by her vision diagnosis when she was 46–she had nystagmic (your eyes constantly move, struggle to focus)
  • Her attention to and writing about rocks and water
  • The impact of her work through the WPA Writers program on the guide for Wisconsin + her work with Aldo Leopold
  • This brief essay, Switchboard Girl, in which she writes about her struggle to find work with her eye condition. I’m planning to read this closely; it might give me some useful language for understanding and communicating my own struggles with work after my diagnosis

It’s exciting to me how, slowly–4+ years of writing, reading, studying, listening to, memorizing poetry–I’m finding more ways into beautiful, useful, powerful, better words.

water and stone, another perspective

After posting this entry, I read some more of Tom Weber’s Minneapolis: An Urban Biography–specifically about the Dakota people, the settler colonizing of the area, and how Ramsey (gov. of Minnesota when it became a state + responsible for the Dakota Exclusion Act, making all Dakota people illegal in Mn + namesake of the county in which St. Paul resides) and Pike (responsible for the shady illegal treaties that led to Dakota people ceding all of their land to the US) were awful. Then I googled some more about St. Anthony Falls and found this interesting bit of information:

Owamni-yomni is ‘whirlpool’ in the Dakota language.
Gakaabika is ‘severed rock’ in the Ojibwe language. 

Water and rock. I want to read more about this naming and why the Dakota chose to emphasize water and the Ojibwe rock. Both viewed the place as sacred–I know a little more about the Dakota and how importance this water was for them, but not as much about Ojibwe and sandstone/limestone.

april 13/RUN

3.4 miles
edmund, heading north loop
35 degrees/ 15 mph wind
snow flurries

O, cruel April with your warm sun, blooming flowers, then snow flurries and mornings where it feels like 25 degrees. Even so, it was a good run. Bundled up, with the pink hood of my jacket up and my gloves on, I didn’t feel the wind. A benefit of colder, windier weather: no one on the trail! I ran through the tunnel of trees and was able to attend to its slow and gradual greening. The trees are coming into leaf/like something almost being said/the recent buds relax and spread/their greenness is a kind of grief (Phillip Larkin). I memorized that poem last year in May and it has stuck.

Ran past the ancient boulder with a few stones stacked on top, past the welcoming oaks, above the ravine and the oak savanna and the muddy trail that climbs up near the tree stump with chain link limbs. Looked down at the Winchell Trail and thought about taking it, but I didn’t. At 42nd, I heard a bird that almost sounded like a black-capped chickadee, but not quite. 3 notes instead of 2, and no rising up or down the scale. What was it? Also heard the drumming and calling of some woodpeckers.

Even though this is not a Mary Oliver poem, I had to post it–because I’d like it and because it gave me an opportunity to reflect more on my vision loss:

Pastoral/ Forest Gander

Together,
you
standing
before me before
the picture
window, my arms
around you, our
eyes pitched
beyond our
reflections into—

(“into,” I’d
written, as
though there
swung at the end
of a tunnel,
a passage dotted
with endless
points of
arrival, as
though our gaze
started just outside
our faces and
corkscrewed its way
toward the horizon,
processual,
as if looking
took time to happen
and weren’t
instantaneous,
offered whole in
one gesture
before we
ask, before our
will, as if the far
Sonoma mountains
weren’t equally ready
to be beheld as
the dead
fly on the sill)—

the distance, a
broad hill of
bright mustard flowers
the morning light
coaxes open.

I really like this poem and Gander’s reading of it. I was struck by his explanation of it, especially the idea that we see all instantly, that seeing, as a process, happens without effort, is immediate, and whole/complete. Occasionally seeing is not like this for many people–they experience visual errors, their brains receive conflicting data from their photoreceptor cells and generates confusing, ambiguous images. More frequently, seeing is like this for me. It is work, and sometimes, I can almost feel my brain trying to make sense of an image or a landscape. I witness them changing shape until they settle into what my brain decides they are. But, unlike Gander suggests in his recorded explanation of the poem, I can’t just “look once and find the near and far equally accessible” and the world doesn’t just present itself to me.

I like how Naomi Cohn describes it in her essay, “In Light of a White Cane.”

What I remember of better eyesight is how the world assembled all at once, an effortless gestalt—the light, the distance, the dappled detail of shade, exact crinkles of a facial expression through a car windshield, the lift of a single finger from a steering wheel, sunlight bouncing off a waxed hood.

Naomi Cohn

more mary oliver

So far, I’ve read through Devotions and Swan. Now I’m reading Evidence and Dream Work and then New and Selected Poems, Volumes I and II. I’ve read her collection of essays, Upstream too. And, I’m planning an extended study of her book length poem, The Leaf and the Cloud. I’m reading through it several times, along with the article, “‘An Attitude of Noticing’: Mary Oliver’s Ecological Ethic” by Kirstin Hotelling Zona. It sounds like a lot, but I’m not doing a close reading of every poem in every book. Just reading through, letting the words wash over me, and picking out a few things I want to remember.

more Evidence

Deep Summer

The mockingbird
opens his throat
among the thorns
for his own reasons
but doesn’t mind
if we pause
to listen
and learn something
for ourselves;
he doesn’t stop,
he nods
his gray head
with the frightfully bright eyes,
he flirts
his supple tail,
he says:
listen, if you would listen.
There’s no end
to good talk,
to passion songs,
to the melodies
that say
this branch,
this tree is mine,
to the wholesome
happiness
of being alive
on a patch
of this green earth
in the deep
pleasures of summer.
What a bird!
Your clocks, he says plainly,
which are always ticking,
do not have to be listened to.
The spirit of his every word.

I Want to Write Something So Simple

“And this is good for us.”
I want to write something
so simply
about love
or about pain
that even
as you are reading
you feel it
and as you read
you keep feeling it
and though it be my story
it will be common,
thought it be singular
it will be known to you
so that by the end
you will think—
no, you will realize—
that it was all the while
yourself arranging the words,
that it was all the time
words that you yourself,
out of your own heart
had been saying.

feb 20/BIKERUN

bike: 30 minutes
run: 3.25 miles
basement
outside: 19 degrees

Watched another episode of Dickinson while I biked. Then listened to a playlist while I ran. Decided today I would start to break my habit of having to pee between biking and running. I did it! I went straight from the bike to the treadmill. It was difficult for the first few minutes, then it was fine. Will I be able to not do it again? How many times do you have to not do something to break a habit? I’ll find out. While I was running I had the treadmill display covered. I decided that I would check the time after the 5th song. I waited until the 8th song. 29 minutes. I was surprised, thinking a lot less time had passed. It’s nice to learn how to get lost in time in the basement, and to not need the gorge to do it.

Before working out, I finished my incurable poem (well, I completed a polished draft at least). I’m pleased with it. I think it completes my mood ring collection. 3 sets of 3 moods: 1. Delighted, Curious, Awed; 2. Doubtful, Lonely, Bewildered; 3. Relentless, Resilient, Incurable.

Mood: Incurable

Here’s the text for the three poems:

Poem 1 (entire grid):

No cure. A stubborn sentence that brings relief not despair. No expensive tests. No inconclusive results. No experimental treatments. No jammed waiting rooms. No needles pickling my eyes. No need for tears. No need for grief. No need for answers. Nothing to fix to make safe to store away for winter. Someday there will be a way to repopulate the vacant city of my macula. But not now. Now is for living and breathing and being outside above the gorge. For adapting and exploring and creating different forms of seeing. For wandering among the sprawling oak trees feeling the biting breeze admiring the view to the other side.

Poem 2 (inner circle, central vision that’s left)

safe
winter
will be
late

Poem 3 (blind ring)

Acceptance is not weakness but strength. Strength is not a hardening but a softening. Diminished vision is not a death sentence but a door into other worlds. Put back that sugar and salt. Pack away those preservatives. I do not need to be cured. 

I am very pleased with this poem. It was such a helpful way to work though my feelings about having an incurable eye disease–my acceptance of it and my frustration with others who can’t accept it or the idea that losing vision is not a tragedy.

After working out, Scott and I took Delia the dog on a walk. Today it is bright and beautiful and much warmer. At the end of the walk, I recorded a moment of sound in the backyard.

a moment of sound

Quiet. I can hear a few birds, the wind moving through the alley, some dripping. And a scratching sound that is Delia digging in the snow for crabapple trees the robins left behind.

feb 20, 2021

feb 19/BIKERUN

bike: 25 minutes
run: 2.25 miles
basement
outside: 15 degrees

I started my bike by listening to Dr. Michael Osterholm’s podcast on COVID-19–he’s the infectious diseases expert/director at the University of Minnesota. He often gives worst case scenarios but his latest assessment tracks with another expert I check in with on twitter: Bob Wachter, the chair of the department of medicine at UCSF, who is a little more optimistic generally. Today’s episode of his podcast is titled Hurricane Warning and it’s about the likely category five hurricane of covid destruction that the B.1.1.7 variant (also known as the UK variant) could bring in the next month if we open up and let down our guard. While I don’t like hearing this news, I appreciate the reminder that my concerns about things opening up, including schools, are not unfounded. I’ve heard Osterholm say this several times: “Americans like to pump the brakes after the car is wrapped around the tree.” Meaning, we’re reckless and then try to be cautious after it’s too late. Looks like that’s what’s happening now. Numbers are down, people are tired of sheltering, so it’s time to open back up. This attitude makes me sad and concerned about our (U.S., the world) ability to make hard choices for our survival–not just with COVID but with the climate crisis. Most of the time I am an optimist, able to see past the bad to the good (in people, in situations), but the selfish, short-sighted way that many (at least those with the most power) have responded to crisis is chipping away at that optimism. Slowly, I’m letting the pessimistic “people suck” attitude creep in. I need to focus more on delight and people who are delighted and delightful.

Speaking of which, after biking I listened to a podcast with Ross “Book of Delights” Gay and his new book-length poem, Be Holding. Well, first I tried listening to my audio book Wintering but it was an extra dark chapter about insomnia that was bumming me out too much so I turned it off. Ross Gay is wonderful and his ideas about beholding as attending and looking with love, which reminded me of Maria Lugones’ idea of loving (as opposed to arrogant) perception, are very inspiring and help me restore my optimism. I look forward to when the transcript of the interview comes out–hopefully soon. In the part I listened to today, they were talking about looking and vision. The phrase “eyes of poetry” was used. It made me think about my relationship to vision and what I’m trying to do with my work (and my practices, and my strategies for coping with vision loss). Two things I’m doing:

First, a critical intervention in the privileging of vision/sight—an exploration of other ways of attending and other language for that attention. Not just seeing but listening and feeling. What might be some aural-centric words to counter vision, insight, focus? Thinking about this reminded me of a poem I memorized this summer: And Swept All Visible Signs Swept Away/ Carl Phillips

Easy enough, to say it’s dark now.
But what is the willow doing in the darkness?
I say it wants less for company than for compassion,

which can come from afar and faceless. What’s a face, to a willow?
If a willow had a face, it would be a song. I think.
I am stirred, I’m stir-able, I’m a wind-stirred thing.

Here, I’m thinking about listening and the expression of self through song, as opposed to through face and vision. The “visible signs” have been swept away by the wind, yet compassion and recognition (to beholden) are still possible.

Second, an expansion of what vision/seeing is—how do we see, what does it mean to see? what are others ways of seeing are possible? what are the different ways I do/can use my vision (e.g. peripheral instead of central)? This second project is inspired by Georgina Kleege’s book Sight Unseen and the descriptions of her own ways of seeing–even though she is legally blind, she likes to go to movies and art museums. She can still watch the movies and see the paintings, just in different ways.

So, the other thing I’m doing today (besides worrying about variant strains and high schools opening too soon, or loving looks and Ross Gay) is collecting definitions, expressions, descriptions of cure/curing as a method for preserving food. In my mood ring poem, I want to introduce this language subtly throughout the poem in order to create more impact with the final lines–which I’m thinking might be part of the inner blind ring. So much fun!

  • canned
  • jarred
  • jammed, jam-packed
  • pickled
  • expired, expiration date
  • spoiled
  • shelf-life, stored
  • shelved, put on the shelf
  • decay
  • needed in times of scarcity
  • embalm
  • preserve body for medical experiments
  • dried out, old
  • hardened, tough exterior, leathered, weathered
  • drawing moisture out
  • airtight, removing oxygen, sealing out air
  • inside, packed, put away

2 Habits formed, one bad, one good

Currently I am very aware of the forming of two habits through repeated practices. The first habit, which I see as good, is my daily moment of sound. I have recorded enough of them that it is a routine practice for me to step outside, no matter how cold, and listen for a moment. The second habit, which I see as mostly bad, is my need to pee every time I am done with biking inside and before I start running. I can feel the practice become entrenched, something I have to do every time. I know I could have tried harder to stop it, but instead I’ve been observing how it has been happening. Is it too late now to stop? I hope not, but I’m not too concerned. It’s fascinating to witness it forming. I just remembered how I had this same habit in high school during swim practice–I always had to pee after warm-up and before the main set.

a moment of sound

Today’s moment of sound happened right after I took the recycling out–around 7:30 in the morning. Birds!

feb 19, 2021

feb 2/BIKERUN

bike: 22 minutes
run: 3.25 miles
basement

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!

Feb 2, 2021

jan 31/BIKERUN

bike: 22 minutes
run: 1.8 miles
basement

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

jan 31, 2021

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.

Speaking of birds, I found this video on Brain Pickings:

jan 30/BIKERUN

bike: 25 minutes
run: 3.25 miles
basement

While I biked in the basement, I watched this great video lecture by a neuroscientist from Harvard, Margaret Livingston about vision and art. Very fascinating–and something I’ll have to watch a few more times before I get it all. Near the beginning she says,

So if you take anything at all away from this talk tonight, please try to remember: Vision is information processing; it is not image transmission. Your visual system does not just transmit an image of the world up to your brain, because there’s nobody up there to look at an image. There’s nothing up there except nerve cells and all they do is either fire or not fire. So seeing is whether some neurons are firing and some neurons are not and what information those cells are extracting by the firing patterns from the pattern of light that lands on your retina.

Yes! Vision is not just using your eyes to see an image that gets transmitted to your brain. Vision is a complex series of processes involving light entering your eye through your cornea then landing on the retina, traveling through the optic nerve to the brain where it is processed not merely reproduced.

During my run I continued listening to the audio book, The Guest List. Wow, the men in this book are terrible; I was actually getting angry and sad about what assholes they are. Despite this, finally, three-quarters of the way through I am invested in listening to the entire thing and finding out how it ends. Whenever I make it to this point in a book where I’m finally hooked even though I had thought about giving up on it several times, I feel a sense of accomplishment.

a moment of sound

On the deck again. Listening to a crow and my neighbors’ scare rods spinning in the wind, sounding like the scratching noise that Voldemort’s soul makes in one of his horacruxes in the last movie. For the first 20 seconds or so, Delia joined me. You can hear her collar clanging, then the door open as she goes back inside. Too cold or boring for her, I guess.

Jan 30, 2021

Note: Working earlier today on some notes about vision, I think I figured out my new project: peripheral vision. So much to think about literally and metaphorically! I was inspired by a line I came up with:

If central vision represents the trees, peripheral vision is the forest. I will never lose the forest, even as the trees fade further away.

jan 28/BIKERUN

bike: 20 minutes
run: 3.25 miles
basement

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.

The Vision Thing

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.

jan 28, 2021

dec 12/RUN

3.15 miles
2 school loop
29 degrees

Gloomy, light gray today. Wind coming from almost every direction. My lower back hurt when I started but was okay by the end. Less than 30 miles to go now, then a break. Nice to be outside, moving, and not thinking. Ran to the river and started on the trail, but there were too many people so I crossed over to the grass between edmund and the river road. No view of the river today. Encountered a few irritating squirrels, a big white dog. I don’t remember hearing any geese or seeing any big birds in the sky. No fat tires or roller skiers.

Running around Hiawatha School, I thought about when my kids went there. FWA started in pre-school in 2006, RJP finished 2nd grade in 2014. It seems so long ago and like it was a different Sara who took her kids to the playground, soccer practice, the wading pool, school concerts. I like the Sara I am now better than the Sara I was then.

This morning I reviewed part of Ed Bok Lee’s wonderful poem, “Halos,” and then recited it in my head as I ran. No recording today because I ran all the way to my front door without a cool-down walk. Here’s my favorite part of what I reviewed:

That visual impairment improves hearing,
taste, smell, touch is is mostly myth.
With it, however, I detect

fuzzy spirits exiting buildings;
halos around bikers’ helmets;
each streetlamp a pink-orange dawn.

So much in this bit that I love and that makes me think.

  1. Visual impairment, in and of itself, has not improved my other senses. Instead, it has made me want to work harder on them: to learn to listen, to notice and make note of what I smell, to find words to describe the textures I encounter.
  2. And, not being able to see normally most often doesn’t mean you can’t see anything. According to the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), 93% of blind and partially sighted people can see something. I like how Lee describes that something as beautiful and magical and not damaged or partial or less than: fuzzy spirits, halos, streetlights casting pink-orange dawns as light. Pretty cool. Quite often, I like the soft, fuzzy, gentle way I see the world these days. In an earlier part of the poem, Lee describes how he sees people: “any nearing face is surely smiling, gorgeous; each blurry body’s aura numinous.” Yes, I see this too and I like it. So much better than harsh lighting with sharp features and haggard faces.

As I was trying to write out the lines of this poems, I was thinking–and not for the first time–about how difficult it is for me to memorize line breaks and punctuation in poems. I googled “memorizing poems difficult punctuation” and found a discussion of how and why some contemporary poets write poems that deliberately resist memorization. Interesting. Here are some sources I’d like to check out:

The idea of writing poems that are hard to memorize–awkward phrasing and rhythms, for example–made me think about my poems about vision, the Snellen charts and mood rings. How hard are they to memorize? Are they too dependent on vision and reading to be understood? I think I want to do a poem/some poems about vision that are not so visual. I like the idea of experimenting with memorization and speaking/reciting in new ways. I’m also thinking about how I’ve been partly drawn to poetry because it’s easier to read as reading gets harder for me. Easier because there are usually less words to read and they are grouped differently, with lots of white space. Not easier in terms of understanding; I love how chewy and difficult they are in that respect. Yes, I want to think about this some more!

dec 4/RUN

2.5 miles
neighborhood
38 degrees

Feeling sore–not hurt, just sore–in my legs and lower back so I wasn’t sure I would run today but when Scott said it seemed like a great day to run outside, I had to do it. Sunny, mild, clear. A bit windy, but not too bad. A few more people since it is warmish and closer to noon, but I managed to keep distance from all of them. Listened to a playlist again so I didn’t hear any birds or leaves or far away traffic. I’m very close to my goal of 1000 miles for the year! I should take 3 or 4 days off from running once I reach that goal. My body needs it. 1000 miles has demanded a lot–I’ve run almost every day this year. Almost all of those runs have been short–4 or 5k–but frequent. Will I ever be able to run more than 1000 miles in a year? Would that be good for my body? I’m not sure.

Anything I remember from my run? My mind has gone blank. No views of the river, no remarkable trees, no roller skiers or fat tires or Daily Walker. I do remember running on the dirt trail between the river road and edmund. Uneven and windy (as in lots of meandering, not a stiff breeze). I remember wanting to stop at the top of the edmund hill to change my music but deciding to keep going. I remember seeing lots of cars on the river road and running in the grass at Howe field to avoid pedestrians. I remember stepping off the sidewalk and running in the street several times to avoid some more people, doing a loop around Cooper and Howe, smelling something overwhelmingly fruity coming from a van and guessing that someone inside of it was vaping. I remember feeling especially strong and smooth as I ran down the hill on 32nd and especially nostalgic as I ran by the main entrance at my kids’ old kindergarten. I don’t remember taking note of my breathing or making up any chants or noticing any connections between my striking feet and my inhales and exhales.

Richard Siken is the Best

I think it was last year that poets.org began including an “About this poem” author’s note with the poem-of-the-day. I find them helpful and interesting and always look at them after my initial reading of the poem. Richard Aiken’s “About this poem” note for today’s “Real Estate” is the best, most delightful one I’ve ever read. It offers an explanation that helped me to (start to) understand the poem, which is great, but it also offers itself up as another poem to place beside the first one. How cool to turn the note into a poem! I want to experiment with doing this, especially since I am so resistant to offering explanations for what I’m doing (even as I feel I should and/or long to).

Real Estate/ Richard Siken

My mother married a man who divorced her for money. Phyllis, he would say, If you don’t stop buying jewelry, I will have to divorce you to keep us out of the poorhouse. When he said this, she would stub out a cigarette, mutter something under her breath. Eventually, he was forced to divorce her. Then, he died. Then she did. The man was not my father. My father was buried down the road, in a box his other son selected, the ashes of his third wife in a brass urn that he will hold in the crook of his arm forever. At the reception, after his funeral, I got mean on four cups of Lime Sherbet Punch. When the man who was not my father divorced my mother, I stopped being related to him. These things are complicated, says the Talmud. When he died, I couldn’t prove it. I couldn’t get a death certificate. These things are complicated, says the Health Department. Their names remain on the deed to the house. It isn’t haunted, it’s owned by ghosts. When I die, I will come in fast and low. I will stick the landing. There will be no confusion. The dead will make room for me.

About this poem

“I had a stroke and forgot almost everything. My handwriting was big and crooked and I couldn’t walk. I slept a lot. I made lists, a working glossary. Meat. Blood. Floor. Thunder. I tried to understand what these things were and how I was related to them. Thermostat. Agriculture. Cherries Jubilee. Metamodernism. I understand North, but I struggle with left. Describing the world is easier than finding a place in it. Doorknob. Flashlight. Landmark. Yardstick.”
Richard Siken

I want to experiment with adding these notes to my mood ring poems–and maybe my earlier Snellen chart ones too. Is that too much?

nov 15/RUN

3.2 miles
river road trail, south/edmund, north
33 degrees/ feels like 20
wind: 17 mph (30 mph gusts)

Blustery this morning. Pale gray sky. Clear path. More people than I expected but not too many. Looking out for others, I forgot to check on the river. Was it blueish gray? Don’t remember hearing any birds or seeing any geese. No dogs or fat tires. I can’t remember thinking about anything except the wind and the random patches of ice on neighborhood sidewalks. Sitting here, writing this at my desk in the front room, I can hear the wind howling. Did I hear it while I was running? I’m not sure.

Thinking about the wind, decided to google “Emily Dickinson wind”. Here’s what I found:

Wind/ Emily Dickinson

Of all the sounds despatched abroad,
There’s not a charge to me
Like that old measure in the boughs,
That phraseless melody

The wind does, working like a hand
Whose fingers brush the sky,
Then quiver down, with tufts of tune
Permitted gods and me.

When winds go round and round in bands,
And thrum upon the door,
And birds take places overhead,
To bear them orchestra,

I crave him grace, of summer boughs,
If such an outcast be,
He never heard that fleshless chant
Rise solemn in the tree,

As if some caravan of sound
On deserts, in the sky,
Had broken rank,
Then knit, and passed
In seamless company.

I love her descriptions of the sound of wind as “old measure in the boughs,” “phraseless melody,” “tuftless tune,” and “fleshless chant.” I think fleshless chant is my favorite. Oh, and I really like the verb thrum. I need to use that in something.

mood: relentless

Working on my mood ring poem about the mood relentless, trying to figure out the last line for the inner ring/scotoma poem. Here’s what I have:

Ten thousand years ago water from melting glaciers began to wear down limestone to form a gorge. Thirty years ago cone cells in my macula began to malfunction to form a scotoma. I am both limestone and water. As I dissolve my slow steady flow carves out a new landscape.

Now I’m wondering if I should use “geography” instead of landscape? Landscape seems more visual than geography–and passive, with the land like a background. Yes, I think I like geography.

As I dissolve my slow steady flow carves out a new geography.

nov 12/RUN

3.2 miles
river road path, north/river road, path, south/32nd st, west/43rd ave, south
29 degrees
5% snow-covered

Winter running! I love the cold air, the snowy gorge. Encountered a few irritating runners who refused to move over to the other side of the trail. Had to run in the snow to avoid them. Are they really comfortable running that close to someone else, especially as we enter another, even scarier phase of the pandemic? I don’t get it. But, these two runners were such a small part of the run. The rest was wonderful. The sky was grayish-white which made everything seem other-worldly or at least at a distance from this world. Quiet and calm and empty, uncluttered.

Things I Remember

  • The overpowering and mostly unwelcome smell of pork–bacon? sausage?–wafting down from the Longfellow Grill as I ran under the lake street bridge
  • Voices down in the gorge, near the rowing club. Were they rowing in the water? On the shore? I couldn’t tell
  • The crunch-cracking of feet striking hard shards of super packed and icy snow. The same sounds even louder as tires drove over the icy snow
  • A wedge of geese–4 or 5–flying high in the gray sky
  • Some yellowish-brown leaves still on a few of the branches in the tunnel of trees
  • So many cars on the river road

As I ran, I thought about my latest mood ring poem. Relentless. Some lines popped in my head: “I am not the river but the limestone…” and “I am not the limestone but the river” and “I am both the limestone and the river.” Thinking about how the relentlessness comes both from me as I try to make sense of my vision loss and write about it and from the erosion of cone cells as they continue to destroy my central vision.

Encountered a poem this morning that I liked a little with one reading, then liked a lot after reading the poet’s explanation of it.

A Rogue Dream/ Melanie Figg

after Olivia Gatwood

I get ready for my first day as the new girl in high school
already knowing what not to wear. I dress perfectly
to stand out and disappear. I know how to put on
makeup, and I do it exactly right. My hair
looks awesome, of course! I step onto the bus,
pause by the driver, raise my arms like a superstar,
and meet the eyes of my adoring audience.
Three different beautiful girls punch
each other in the face to have me sit next to them.
I decline and the school’s most lovely, artsy boy
slides over to make room. He knows his feelings
and only goes too far
when he honestly misunderstands. He’s one of the safer ones.

I walk down the halls and no one makes fun of me.
I pass the section of lockers where her locker is, and
she is there, taking a book out of her backpack.
She’ll go running this weekend, as usual, and won’t
be followed. The man who won’t be following
her has already followed half a dozen women
to rape and kill and leave in the woods. But she won’t be
followed. She’ll survive her fate this time, and come back

to school on Monday, avoid the mean girls in the bathroom.
She’ll pick on the new girl, call her a virgin of all things.
She’ll limp her way through math, cheat a bit in science,
do pretty good in history and English. She’ll graduate,
and go to the state school on a track scholarship. She’ll
have two girls and keep them safe. She’ll almost forget

about this other ending: her in the woods near her house,
staring at the ground beneath her, wondering why.

This line! “Three different beautiful girls punch/each other in the face to have me sit next to them.” And the ending with the reimagining of the girl as not being followed. Wow.

nov 11/RUN

2.2 miles
river road trail, south/42nd st, west/43rd ave, north
32 degrees
50% snow-covered

We got about 5 inches of snow last night. Beautiful. As it fell, I opened the door and breathed in the cold, fresh air and absorbed the quiet calm. This morning, the trail by the river was cleared and bare, but there were people on the path who I couldn’t avoid unless I jumped in the snow banks. How much will I run outside this winter? Probably not as much as last year, unless I start running earlier in the morning.

A few things I remember

  • The river was not white but blue
  • The path was clear and so were many of the sidewalks. A few stretches were covered in powdery, soft, weightless white flakes, and a few others were studded with clumps of pressed down snow
  • Don’t remember hearing any crunching or compacting of snow
  • Ran under at least two snow-laden evergreen branches. Briefly wondered if they might decide to give me a shower (they didn’t)
  • Don’t remember hearing any birds. No geese or bluejays or cardinals or crows
  • Saw a fat tire biking in the snow-covered street
  • The streets were striped from where tires had pressed down the snow. No city plows yet. Not too bad to run on and it made a cool visual effect–strips of black pavement mixed with strips of white snow

mood ring: relentness

Working on another mood ring poem and thinking about repeated habits, the slow and gradual erosion of my central vision, the dissolving and/or reforming of the self in new ways, my persistence in finding better ways to make sense of and communicate my experiences, my unflagging desire to craft poetry out of how I try to be when I cannot see or when I see in new ways. I’ve decided the best word to describe this is relentless. I’m also thinking a compelling metaphor for it is the gorge and the slow (but not that slow, really) erosion of the limestone that created (and continues to create) it. Here’s some facts to remember and use:

carving of the gorge

12,000 years ago the falls were formed when glaciers melted. They were originally in St. Paul, but traveled upstream to downtown Minneapolis–traveling about 10 miles at a rate of 4 feet per year. 3,828 years ago the falls were near the railroad trestle. The falls stabilized/stopped moving in 1870.

Sources: NPS and FMR

I’d like to review my information on the current eroding of the gorge and think about that in relation to this mood too.

nov 10/RUN

3.2 miles
turkey hollow
31 degrees

Yes! Love this weather for running. Just around freezing, overcast, not too windy. Ran above the river on the trail. Why can’t I remember what the river looked like? Did I forgot to check? Not sure. I remember glancing at the oak savanna and the Winchell trail as it climbs just slightly up to 38th, changing from dirt to asphalt. I remember looking at the sky above the gorge and the other side as I ran by the inviting bench between Folwell and 42nd. I remember noticing how the steps down from 38th were already closed off and that the paved trail below was bare. But I don’t remember the river. It must have been grayish blue. Today we might get half a foot of snow. Will the river be covered in white tomorrow?

The turkeys were in the same yard that they had been in the last time I saw them, doing the same things: munching on something and performing a part run, part trot, part bob to get away from me as I neared. Nice. I love their awkward grace.

I don’t remember thinking about much, which is nice. The joy from last week’s election results has worn off as the refusal to concede continues. Social media doom scrolling returns and so does the need to be much more deliberate about managing anxiety and avoiding media. This week is all about distraction, I think. And shoveling and continuing to work on my mood ring poems and memorizing a few poems?

Speaking of my mood ring poems, I’ve noticed that I used certainty/uncertainty (too?) often. What are some other words I could use?

  • stable/destabilized
  • faith/doubt
  • convinced/unconvinced
  • known/unknown
  • indisputable/in doubt, questionable
  • assuredly/without assurance
  • clear/unclear
  • definite/indeterminate
  • sure/unsure

As I write this at my front desk, the snow has started. This snow seems like it might stick around. Will the grass stay gone? Here’s one of my favorite poems about eagerly anticipating winter. I’ve posted it several times on this log but I always like remembering it:

Fall, leaves, fall/ EMILY BRONTË

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night’s decay
Ushers in a drearier day.

As I’ve said before, I don’t like misery and dreary days. Just leafless trees, bare branches, crunching snow, and cold clear air.

nov 9/RUN

3.2 miles
river road trail, south/edmund, north/32nd st, west
64 degrees

Very gray this morning, which didn’t bother me. Everything looked solemn, calm, expectant. Rain coming in a few hours then a big drop in the temperature. Maybe a few inches of snow tomorrow. Goodbye unusually mild fall weather, hello winter. Yes! Wore shorts and a short-sleeved shirt and was still warm. I could feel that my face was bright red. Heading south straight into the wind at the beginning of my run, I admired the river. Such a nice blueish gray. Saw something flying in the air–was it a small bird or a leaf? I couldn’t tell. Too many cars on the river road but not too many people.

[added in several hours later] I almost forgot. I saw a dead animal on the road, right on the edge. No blood, no mangled body. It looked like it was sleeping. Running, I noticed something unusual in the road. I turned to look back at it, almost veering into the fence on the edge of the gorge. I think it was raccoon.

[added in even later] Forgot this too: Scott and I watching all the seasons of Community (again). This morning I had this song in my head:

“Come on I’m Dean/and my hands are so clean/at this moment/I am stapling”

I chanted it several times as I ran until I forgot about it.

Thinking about bewilderment as I work on a mood ring poem. Really appreciate this passage from Fanny Howe:

There is a muslim prayer that says, “Lord, increase my bewilderment,” and this prayer is also mine and the strange Whoever who goes under the name of “I” in my poems–and under multiple names in my fiction–where error, errancy and bewilderment are the main forces that signal a story. 

error, errancy, and bewilderment

I also like this passage:

In the Dictionary, to bewilder is “to cause to lose one’s sense of where one is.”
The wilderness as metaphor is in this case not evocative enough because causing a complete failure in the magnet, the compass, the scale, the stars and the movement of the rivers is more than getting lost in the woods.  
Bewilderment is an enchantment that follows a complete collapse of reference and reconcilability.  
It cracks open the dialectic and sees myriads all at once.

nov 5/RUN

2 miles
cooper school loop
60 degrees

Still waiting for the results of the election. Stressful. Feeling the panic simmering just beneath the surface. Slight tightness in chest, deeper breaths needed. Feeling hopeful and scared and impatient.

A beautiful day for a run. Maybe a little warmer than I’d like but sunny and calm. I wore shorts. I don’t remember looking at my shadow as I ran–was she there?–north on Edmund up to 32nd. Lots of people out walking and running. Did a loop around Cooper School. Heard some kids playing on the playground.

geese!

I don’t remember any geese on my run today but I do remember first hearing then seeing 2 different groups of geese flying fast through the sky. So fast! And pretty low in the sky too. I wonder if they were offering a warning about next week’s colder weather?

look at that bird high in the sky!

Walking home after finishing my run I noticed a speck out of the corner of my eye. Something moving high in the sky. At first I couldn’t see it because it was in my central blind spot. I kept trying to spot it my periphery. Suddenly it appeared. I could even see the wings moving. How was I able to see it? Did my brain finally guess correctly or did the bird move into an undamaged part of my central vision? Vision is so strange and fascinating.

Mood Ring: Bewilderment

I’m working on another mood ring poem. After trying to find the best word to describe it I have decided on bewilderment. Here’s a line that I want to use somehow from Mary Ruefle:

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

Not knowing what I’m doing or seeing is a constant experience for me. Learning how to deal with that disorientation, discomfort, uncertainty is a big goal. It used to be central to my pedagogy in the classroom, now it’s central to my daily life.

nov 4/RUN

2 miles
43rd ave, north/32nd st, east/edmund, north/37th st, west
60 degrees

Added a little more distance to my run this late morning. Legs are feeling okay, although everything seems slightly harder. Is it sore legs or anxiety over the still undecided election? I have not checked any news or social media this morning; I’m relying on Scott to tell me good news or when it’s all over. Trying to stay hopeful and prepare for the worst. In situations like this, I retreat.

When I took Delia on a walk, it was very still. I remember hearing only a few intermittent bird calls. Later when I ran, especially on Edmund, I heard all sorts of birds calling and singing. Also heard several rakes scraping against the sidewalk, a few violins and cellos or violas practicing outside, some leaf blowers whining, joyful kids at the playground near Cooper Field laughing and yelling, a dog’s collar clanging.

As I noticed my shadow running in front of me, I thought about the first lines from Black Cat by Rilke that I memorized this morning:

A ghost, although invisible, still is like a place
your sight can knock on, echoing;

Thought about another mood ring poem. This one, about feeling like a ghost, a shadow. Fading, faded. Unmoored, floating in the world. Ephemeral. Unable to see concretely, or feel like anything around me is solid. It all shifts–or does it echo endlessly–the trace of something that once was there, but isn’t any longer? I feel this way a lot when I’m running but also when I’m walking. This floating, dreamy feeling can be cool to experience but it can also be disorienting, unsettling. Too difficult to find solid ground.

oct 29/RUN

3.2 miles
43rd ave, north/32nd st, east/edmund, south/river road trail, south/edmund, north
33 degrees

A nice run on a windy, gray morning. Still a few patches of snow on the grass. Most of the leaves off the trees. Everything brown and golden and rusty red and burnt orange. I love this time of year. Late fall. Everything almost bare but not yet covered in snow. Clear views of the river. Noticed my favorite late fall view, just past the oak savanna. Beautiful. I don’t remember seeing any bikers, just walkers and runners and one roller skier getting ready to start skiing up the hill on Edmund. No dogs or squirrels or coyotes.

Running past a modern house on Edmund–the house that was built last year on the extra lot next to a huge traditional 1980s-style house that was on the market for over a year but didn’t sell because it was too big and outdated and expensive (asking over a million)–I noticed some loud noises and white powder or smoke or something coming from the garage. Then I ran by a truck with the words “concrete specialists” on it and I guessed they were doing something with concrete. Maybe a poured concrete countertop? I hope so. I’d like one of those.

Listened to an audio book–The Alchemist’s Daughter–so I didn’t think about much or hear hardly anything except the narrator. Briefly I thought about how dreamy everything looks, all fuzzy and out of focus as I run. Partly because of the light, partly the motion, but mostly my vision. I want to write about this as a mood–dreamy? fuzzy? blurry? I was thinking I’d like to incorporate the line from a Diane Seuss poem, “the world italicized.”

Only a few days until Halloween and then election. Can it please be over? Can we please start trusting science and doctors and thinking again?