Dancing with myself: my corona diaries

Saturday and Sunday have become cleaning days.

It’s not as if I can’t clean my house on any day of the week, but, for someone who has been working at home for years, pandemic protocols to shelter in place only reinforce the psychological divide between weekdays and weekends.

Until recently, Tuesday was cleaning day. What my housekeeper would do in four hours takes me two days. It’s as much a product of (dis)spirit as it is a reflection of my energy to tackle a large house. She’ll be back soon enough.

Old habits die hard.

Necessity, again, proves herself to be the mother of (re)invention. The act of wiping down kitchen counters, dusting surfaces, vacuuming and mopping the floor has the effect of transporting me back to my twenties and thirties, pumping up the volume on a Saturday as I danced through my two-room NYC Upper West Side studio. David Bowie. Donna Summer. The Village People. The Rolling Stones. Talking Heads. Billy Idol.

I don’t use Clorox when I clean.

I miss dancing with friends.

* * *

The other night I watched Kinky Boots via my PBS app, a show I managed to miss getting tickets to see during its Broadway run. I’m admittedly finicky in my Broadway preferences. I pride myself on being ahead of the game when it comes to shows I have a gut feeling about before they become a scalper’s dream. I got it so right with Rent, first seeing it Off Broadway, then again when it hit the Great White Way. I got lucky with Hamilton, scoring tickets before it became a huge hit. I’ve seen it twice.I pride myself, too, on getting past the mundane associations of everyday symbols in our world. Too often the ones we think of as female are trivialized. The top three in my mind—shoes, hair, nails—are the cornerstone of my short story collection. Shoes indeed tell stories.

To be watching the Broadway production of Kinky Boots on a reasonably large TV in the comfort of my home is a mixed blessing, a reminder of what I had missed and why so much is now available to us for our streaming pleasure.

To find myself reveling in a show that tackles the generational fate of family business, coupled with sexual identity, and spices it up with song and shoes as metaphor, is a reminder that what is lost so often finds its way back.

* * *

Today I’m doing something I don’t normally do on a weekday. I’m watching The Rolling Stones, an Apple Music video playlist.  I suppose it’s like going to an afternoon movie, a delight I don’t take enough advantage of, in normal times.

The upside of so much alone time is the personal exploration it makes possible. I get more creative in my daily yoga, surprising myself with release. I spend more time meditating, even if that means grappling with the psychological and emotional walls it gives rise to.

Sadness and anger kick in.

When I think about not knowing when I’ll see my daughter and son-in-law face-to-face, I get sad. But sadness all least brings relief in the form of tears.

When I think about the upcoming reality of needing to wear a mask for the duration of a six-hour plane ride to the West Coast, it makes claustrophobic. I get angry. What do you do with anger, the thumping in your chest, the heat rising? Writing about it at least brings a steadying measure of expression.

The Mayo Clinic should have told Mike Pence to get out if he would not wear a mask.

* * *

I tune in to CNN to check up on Chris Cuomo. He is the high-profile, visible face of COVID-19, allowing viewers to see him at possibly his worst and now hopefully his best. He is talking with a woman diagnosed with COVID-19 when she was pregnant, then put into an induced coma so she could give birth 26 weeks early by C-section. She is doing well. So is her baby, born at just over 1 lb. Chris Cuomo encourages viewers to support her Go Fund Me campaign.

A cousin of mine has recovered from COVID-19. Same for the daughter of a friend.

My son-in-law was among the family members who spoke at a Zoom memorial service for his grandfather, clearly a loving, intelligent, brave man. Suffering with Alzheimer’s, he succumbed to corona. Pandemic times may not let us be with ailing loved ones or say good-bye when they die, but we do manage to find creative ways to remember them.

Anderson Cooper now has a baby boy.

On my walk today I pass by a woman having a conversation, from a safe distance, with a neighbor. She is planning a drive-by visit to her parents. It is a glorious day, sunny with just enough clouds for contrast, temperature in the 60s. I don’t exactly join in the conversation but I do put in my two cents: We may feel as if we’re going through hell but a day like this is my idea of heaven.

In my secret life


I don’t do well with mice . . . (unless they’re the animated Disney variety making a dress for Cinderella or of the Mickey/Minnie ilk). They keep us on our toes in scoping out their secret hiding places, unnerve us with the uncertainty of their moves.

The other night, the sight of something slipping under a closet door caught my eye.  A mouse? A large insect? Maybe just a shadow?

I called out to my husband to investigate.  A mouse indeed, scurrying along the closet floor, looking for refuge somewhere in a jumble of shopping totes. 

Eek!  I scrambled back from the door.

In my husband’s attempt to find and contain the little critter, he handed me (hopefully mice-less) totes one by one.


The mouse jumped, seemed to disappear. I imagined putting on a jacket or coat, squeamishly surprised by a mouse in a pocket.

Double eek!

We had to find it, send it on its way out of the house.  My husband placed a cardboard barrier across the closet entrance, trapped the mouse under a cup. 

While I scurried away, he made jokes. “Look at that cute tail. . . . Sure you don’t want to take a peek?”

Out! Out! Damned mouse!

Out of my house.


I work hard at not being (too) reactive to the small stuff (a mouse more likely afraid of me than I am of the havoc it wreaks on my psyche) and the big stuff (a virus that has so many acting as if World War Z is upon us).  

In anxiety-ridden times, very little is too small or too big to push our buttons and a pandemic is bound to give rise to panic. I worry more about the panic COVID-19 has triggered than the real odds of being hit with a more than mild case or, far worse, death from infection. But that didn’t stop me from negotiating with my local CVS for an extra packet of antiseptic wipes to send to my daughter in southern California.  

In anxiety-ridden times, fear of the unknown becomes magnified. If it’s true that the past informs the present, we should look to the reassurance of our worst nightmares rarely panning out.

If it’s true that the future is riddled with uncertainty,  we should steady ourselves with what living in the present tells us again and again: being receptive, not reactive, to whatever the moment presents allows space for seeing things as they are, not as we project them to be. 

A stop at Target had me alarmed (reactive) at the sight of lines at the checkout counters, shopping carts rolling over with rolls of paper towels and toilet tissue and who knows what.  I watched, let my brain switch into receptive, here-in-the-moment mode.

I drove away, found paper towels and toilet paper and the groceries I actually needed for dinner at a much less frenetic supermarket.

Anxiety begets anxiety.  That vile—yes, vile—thing in the White House has so many of us feeling despondent, not to mention angry.  Remember what it feels like to be a kid with no parents in charge during an emergency?  Toilet paper only gets you so far. Feeling the urgent need to stock up on it reeks with metaphor: the shit is really hitting the fan.

No small irony that the metaphor of toilet paper surfaces in Here I Am, a poignant, profound, beautifully written novel by Jonathan Safran Foer published in 2016.  As Isaac, the patriarch of the family, readies himself to take up residence in a home for the elderly, he asks the rabbi to pick up toilet paper at Safeway, where it was on sale. The rabbi tries to reassure him that he wouldn’t need to buy it anymore.

“But that price. . . . “ reflects Isaac, who then goes on to say: “There are two things that everybody needs.  The first is to feel that he is adding to the world.  The second is toilet paper.”


Today had me obsessed with identifying a piece of music running through my head.  That this particular piece of music was running through my head speaks volumes about my state of mind.  I did a variety of Google searches to find it.  My first—violin music in war movies should have brought it up but Google is less than perfect. 

Later, ‘adagio’ surfaced from a more receptive state of mind. Bingo!  I knew all along it was the undercurrent of  ‘Platoon.’ And now I recall its name: Adagio for Strings, Samuel Barber.

I played it while I did yoga. It’s the kind of music that demands you slow down. Listen to the rise and fall of every phrase. Pay attention. Cry. Accept the goosebumps it elicits.


In the room that doubles as my work space and yoga studio is a photo of Leonard Cohen, a gift from a gifted photographer/friend, Abe Frajndlich.  It’s a young LC, holding a cigarette, looking directly at me no matter which way I turn.

It’s no secret that I’m a longtime fan, moved by his poetry, music, humility, sense of humor, spirituality, even the darkness that first drew him to me in all its appeal, sensual and otherwise.

In my secret life I have a spiky punk hairdo and I’m channeling Patti Smith. 

I’m riding a wave on a surfboard.

I’m light as a feather when I do yoga poses.

I’m not thrown off course (too much) when something catches me by surprise.

I’m not worried that my daughter worries that I’m not taking COVID-19 seriously enough.

There’s only true normal, not the nouveau strain that masks the anxiety its intent is to ease.

I’m dancing like there’s no tomorrow.

I’m not running from a mouse.

Channeling Stephen King: writing and inspiration

I’ve been hankering road trips lately, before winter really sets in.  Something about being on the road, playlists at the ready, lifts me from a certain melancholy that kicks in this time of year. I relish holiday gatherings with family and friends who have become family, but there is no escaping the mixed blessing that generational drift, coupled with generations gone, evokes.

Last weekend found me on the road with my husband, headed north, Mohonk Mountain House, our thirty-fifth anniversary celebration. By coincidence, the weekend was billed as a ‘couples’ romantic getaway.’  The setting is idyllic, even if the activities billed for the weekend were a little too precious for our taste. ‘Love Birds Walk’ (7:30 a.m.), not a chance.  While other couples might be finding harmony in art via a workshop, ‘Unity in Creativity’ (10:30 a.m.), we would be just finishing breakfast, ready for our own leisurely walk around the lake.

 ‘Beer Tasting’ (5 p.m.) might have been tempting if not for the fact that my husband doesn’t drink.  Good time for him to take a nap and for me to go to a meditation class.

Turns out that ‘Tomahawk Throwing’ is a regularly scheduled, popular afternoon activity. Turns out, too, that our room is the one Stephen King apparently stays in whenever he visits Mohonk. Oh what a silly thrill. You could almost feel his presence, a kind of haunting.

I asked myself, what would Stephen King make of, or do with, the infant crying in the adjoining room? On a couples’ weekend, to boot. Putting aside disturbed sleep, would he be touched by the tenderness and need in all its innocence? Then again, he apparently takes the adjoining room as well so he would never have to hear what’s going on next door.

All glibness aside, Stephen King is a master of narrative pulse and the telling detail.  My appreciation for him grew to new heights when I read his review of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I subsequently read On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.  I keep a copy on my desk (along with Patti Smith’s DevotionWilliam Blake Poems selected by Patti Smith, Dinty Moore’s The Mindful Writer: Noble Truths of the Writing Life, Francine Prose’s  Reading like a Writer, and Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed.) 

“What I want most of all is resonance,” writes King, “something that will linger for a little while in Constant Reader’s mind (and heart) after he or she has closed the book and put it up on the shelf.” I could not say it better myself.

There is some serendipity here. Keyword searches for a projected Just Like February advertising campaign on Amazon have me in a tizzy. Coming-of-age novels have an appeal to both adult and teen/young adult readers and their reach is broad. Stephen King’s The Body, incarnated into a favorite movie of mine, Stand by Me, is a coming-of-age story. It seems, too, that Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch falls within the parameters of innocence-to-experience tales. So strong is the genre that sites like Literary Hub will enumerate The 50 Greatest Coming-of-Age Novels of All Time.

It’s a humbling thing to be a writer.  And Madeleine L’Engle says it so honestly and eloquently in A Circle of Quiet:

I think that all artists, regardless of degree of talent, are a painful, paradoxical combination of certainty and uncertainty, of arrogance and humility, constantly in need of reassurance, and yet with a stubborn streak of faith in their validity, no matter what. . . .And I think, too, and possibly most important, that there is a faith simply in the validity of art; when we talk about ourselves as being part of the company of such people as Mozart or van Gogh or Dostoevsky, it has nothing to do with comparisons, or pitting talent against talent; it has everything to do with a way of looking at the universe.

After my encounter with Stephen King, you would think I might plunge right into The Shining, get a jolt of adrenaline to jump-start a new story. But no. In the way that Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus completely captivated me, The Starless Sea, her latest work, pulled me right in.  In preparing to work on the new novel, the heart of which is the nature and creation of stories, she relocated to a house that was not wired for internet. And she played video games

There’s magic, indeed, in reading. And there’s a sense for me of not so much being inspired by as infused with the words of writers who move me.

There’s magic, too, in the way we find kindred spirits in online writing communities.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Jayne Martin, a gifted writer of flash fiction, for several years now. It takes a very particular skill and mindset to compose stories that pack so much in a single paragraph, or a few. Her first collection, Tender Cuts, was recently released. And it’s a gem. I could say, without equivocation, too, that these are stories with resonance.

Just keep swimming . . . and blogging?

Labor Day has come and gone, and with it the season most riddled with paradox.  If those long light-filled days of summer are so lazy hazy, why do they seem to slip away in a flash?  Plausible theories may explain why time seems to speed up as we age. But even as a child, the freedom from routine that summer offered always seemed to end too soon. 

My last post began the summer that I would give myself a hiatus from all things writing-related. No blog posts. No revisiting drafts of stories or starting new ones. A break that surprised me with an unfamiliar liberation. I meditated more, hoping that concentrated practice would let that monkey mind know it’s okay—actually it’s good—to let go of thoughts, leave the brain to make space for something far more settling than words.  

The pull of social media somehow diminished.  Was this a sign? I wondered. Some indication that, even in a time when the need for connection and community seems more urgent than ever, a little retreat goes a long way toward restoring a sense of balance, not to mention priorities?

Toni Morrison died this summer, which had me hankering to revisit her first novel, The Bluest Eye. I would have been 20-something when I read it. I still have the original paperback copy. Its impact on me was profound. 

Decades later, a full-fledged fan and a writer myself, I see it in a much more informed light. I relish the hindsight glimpse into the archetypes and themes that would get richer and more mythologically complex as her body of work grew.  

Decades later, months from turning 70, a more conscious vulnerability has me in its grip. The qualifier matters. Feeling vulnerable is not a new sensation but something about the time of life and the times in which we live make it all the more visceral. The world into which I brought my daughter (1986) was hardly the best of times but you can’t be a weed-smoking child of the ‘60s without believing in your power to change the world for the better.  The dark cloud hovering over what feels like the worst of times gives me pause, at least long enough to remember that everything changes. Doesn’t it?


Open-ended days are prime for reflection, not to mention restlessness. Years of feeling so driven do not give way easily to a less urgent rhythm.  I would use that energy to do a clean sweep of folders sitting in file cabinets. Even knowing that clearing space would open me to what might come next, I worried about the effect of seeing all the efforts and projects behind me, hearing voices from the past in a dull ‘this-is-your-life’ chant.

Reminders of disappointment surfaced, along with an affirmation of deep-rooted tenacity. I smiled when I came across this gem –

Chubby black dog
Barking up the wrong tree
Now there’s big trouble

Many of the school-based workshops I conducted were a collaboration with visual artists. This project was a mix of learning the art of hand-made paper, writing poems, and putting it all together. 

Then I saw these words on a prep sheet I used for another writing workshop.

If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live.  –Lin Yutang 


I look out at an autumn landscape, leaves fading, even beginning to turn. There’s a metaphor here. 

It’s been said that a writer’s work isn’t finished until it’s read. Even if you write in a journal religiously, there’s an assumption that you’ll go back, take a peek at your thoughts/observations/feelings in a given time and place.  

Some say it takes courage to write.  For me, writing is an assumption. I love the puzzle of it—images and thoughts into words, words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs that, when I’m most in the flow of it, become stories and essays that hopefully resonate.

More than one person has said it took courage for me to learn to swim at 66. For me it was more a question of finally doing something I’d been wanting to do for some time. Courage? Maybe. Or better yet, learning what buoyancy truly encompasses. 

Just keep swimming, the delightful Dory from Finding Nemo, tells me again and again. 

And I turn that metaphor on its head.

Just keep swimming . . . 

. . . and blogging?

I may not like the clunkiness of the word.  But I’m still at it, going on ten years since my first post, inspired by other writer/friends who had joined the web(log) bandwagon. Many have quit the habit, new writers find their way. But there are very few to beat C. M. Mayo, an inspiring and gifted writer indeed, for continual reinvention, and with it, the reminder that a blog is what you make of it.  I’ve come to think of mine as a notebook of sorts, public in the dialogue it makes possible between a writer and her readers. 

Letting Go

The other day I became obsessed with finding two books I could not easily locate.  It was a reference to one of them—The Family of Man—in Sally Mann’s wonderful memoir that set me on my mission.  The other book, To Be Nobody Else, bears a connection in my mind to The Family of Man, mostly for the photographs that make for a compelling narrative. They speak to a certain time in my life.

I looked in all the logical places I would have placed them after they’d been released from boxes following completion of a renovation.

I created stories – did I lend them to someone? Did I use them in a writing workshop?  Did I share them with a visiting friend who inadvertently tucked them under the sofabed? Books have a way of disappearing, then turning up in unexpected places.

Let it go, I said.

I looked at the same shelves over and over again, a strategy that sometimes works when my mind or eyes are not playing tricks on me.

Are they under a couch?

Let it go, I said.  They’ll either turn up. Or they won’t.

But I couldn’t let it go, and my last-ditch effort took me to the last place I would have expected to find them—a crawl space where my husband stores old files. Apparently some overflow boxes from the renovation were tucked away here, until they were forgotten.

I can breathe better now.

* * *

I grapple with letting go. The two concepts—‘grapple’ and ‘letting go’—would seem to be a contradiction, maybe even an oxymoron. Years of doing yoga have me yearning for ‘effortless effort’, that sense of moving from pose to pose with such fluidity that I’m (almost) light as a feather. I have my moments of grace, and I’m thankful for the patience and, yes, the consistent work that has brought me to these moments.  But I can’t help thinking the greatest insights come during the plateau phases or the walls we hit when striving for something. It’s the reason I decided to learn to swim at 66. 

There’s an image that comes to me sometimes when my breath moves into a slow, easy rhythm during meditation. I’m sitting on the edge of a high cliff, very much at peace. How I got here is beside the point.  To watch Alex Honnhold do his free solo climb of El Capitan is to bear witness to being as in the moment as it gets. Letting go is not an option.

Language is my métier. ‘Let go’ is a world apart from ‘let it go.’ One added word brings a pause. The free fall of letting go now has room to negotiate its landing.  


On a visit that my daughter used as an opportunity to clear out clutter (pre-Marie Kondo) she handed me a small box fashioned from a cut-up manila folder. Decals (a bat and a cat) adorn the outside of this time capsule. Inside is a cornucopia of candy wrappers, her private stash of indulgences not readily available in our home. 

I smiled.  This was not deprivation by design.  Her sweet tooth, like her father’s, found satisfaction enough during family outings, movie nights, birthdays, Halloween.  Or so I thought. No surprise that she’s become the baker her mother never was.

As I move into my own decluttering, is it time to let this precious memorabilia go? My daughter insists it is.


A very large Webster’s dictionary sits in a cubby all its own in my office. It’s something I acquired many years ago—1962, to be exact—an award with a name as cumbersome as the dictionary itself.

Take a peek. Read the inscription.

Elsa Ebeling—now there’s a name worthy of a short story.

I was just twelve when I graduated from eighth grade. A December baby, I would enter kindergarten before I turned five. In the middle of fourth grade I was plucked out of my class and moved into fifth grade. They called it ‘acceleration.’ I could only see it as displacement, but who was I to complain?

Eighth Grade Graduation Day, 1962. Valedictorian. As if the isolation of being singled out—oh so smart—weren’t enough, here I was standing on a stage looking out at a sea of faces, speaking words (mostly mine) but possibly made a little loftier by a teacher’s coaching. I finished my speech, back to my seat, a sigh of relief.  Only to find myself called back to the stage when the award was announced. 

I can still feel my heart thumping.

The gift of an oversize dictionary was, is, and will always be cumbersome.  It requires a table, maybe even a room, of its own to be of any practical use.  We kept it on a low bookshelf.  Sometimes I would lug it out for more than a basic definition of a word, other times just to be awed by words and illustrations that might open me to something unknown.

To call it an underutilized, if not underappreciated, tome is an understatement. 

Today, as I pull it from its cubby with every intention of letting it go, I can’t help seeing it as the embodiment of a very particular moment in my life much better expressed without words.

Feed the mind. Feed the spirit.

Last week found me a little more adventurous than usual on Instagram. I posted a photo, with a  caption, a bit tongue-in-cheek: ‘Cozying up for some inspirational reading. What will I choose first?”

If the purpose of social media, in its varied forms, is to let people know what you’re up to, get a conversation going, well, this photo says it all loudly and clearly. 

Feed the mind. Feed the spirit.

A day or so later I posted a selfie, the me (almost nobody) knows. I almost never post photos of myself, except within some cultural context: a museum, a reading, a rock concert. But, as I said, I was in a playful mood. Days later I was still getting responses.

Buddhist wisdom tells us intention is everything. What does it suggest when many of the less whimsical photos and posts I share—snapshots I deem artsy, New Yorker cartoons, essays on writers or books, news stories (sometimes political, more often not)—don’t necessarily spark the kind of conversation social media was set up to foster? 

Is it me?

Is it the nature of a beast more eager to feast on the up close and personal, moments as in-the-moment as it gets, than take the time to chew on fodder not so readily digested in the blink of an eye?  

Chanukah, the festival of lights in a season embodied by darkness, has come and gone.  From a standpoint of Staying Healthy with the Seasons, there’s something anomalous about all the frenzied gift-giving and partying that goes hand in hand with what Madison Avenue pumped up as a time to be merry.  Introspection—going inside, literally and figuratively—is the real call of winter. There’s a reason bears hibernate. 

Right now I’m introspecting (yes, that’s a word) about Idris Elba. Retro as the whole notion of ‘sexiest man alive’ may be in a #MeToo world, I can’t help but smile at his smile on the cover of People. It seems he was ‘robbed’ of that title in 2017, when it went to Blake Shelton (a travesty, indeed). But here we are, a year later, where my wait at the supermarket checkout found me deliberating whether to buy the one remaining copy on the magazine rack. A cover line—Did a Romance Novelist Murder Her Husband?—sealed the deal.  Oh, I’m in store for some meaty reading.

Apparently even more beefy than I realized at first glance. Hot Idris is followed by a host of runners up, cleverly anointed: John Krasinski: sexiest man of action. Chadwick Boseman: sexiest superhero. Chris Pine: sexiest dreamboat. And that’s just a sampling. My heart positively throbs when I see Terrance Hayes: sexiest writer 2014.

Glibness aside, I marvel at how the mind works. Months after hearing Terrance Hayes read from his work, his poetry continues to cast a spell. His latest collection, American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassin is astonishing for its vision, power, and timeliness. 

 In the midst of all this introspecting comes a riveting James Baldwin essay from the New Yorker archives, “Letter from a Region in My Mind,” that only adds to the despairing chill. Please don’t remind me we’ve been here before. Please let me believe that some of the progress we’ve made counts for something that allows me to be lifted by a feel-good holiday movie, Green Book and a subtly powerful play by Conor McPherson, Girl from the North Country. Set in Depression-era Duluth, Minnesota, and built on the songs of Bob Dylan, it’s nothing short of a reminder of Dylan’s brilliant way with music and words. 

Steal a little and they throw you in jail
Steal a lot and they make you a king

Inspiration takes many forms, although a more apt description of what happens when a piece of music or a movie or a book captivates me is a sense of being infused with some aspect of it. 

Great fiction is often my best reboot. Then there’s meditation and the simple act of taking a walk. Crisp winter mornings, with the reflection of clouds in a lake, are a particular pleasure.

 And even if I may not, in this lifetime, experience the dissolution of ego that brings with it the sense of oneness with the universe,  I get glimpses of what might be that peaceful prelude to heightened consciousness via meditation.  

Or, again, via music, for the way it can’t help but infuse itself into the body.  In Michael Pollan’s thoroughly researched, personally validated examination of the new science of psychedelics and why they may be a powerful tool in psychotherapy, not to mention our understanding of consciousness, he makes note of an experiment in which  “pieces of music that held no personal relevance for volunteers were played for them while on LSD. Under the influence of the psychedelic, however, volunteers attributed marked and lasting personal meaning to the same songs.”

He also has this to say:

“If you want to understand what an expanded consciousness looks like, all you have to do is have tea with a four-year-old.”


I am by nature a person who likes order, everything in its place even if that place requires some reordering from time to time. Case in point: I have a thing for scarves. Just when I fear I have too many, I reorganize. Voilà—no more digging into a drawer to stumble on one I almost forgot I had. Abundance, something I do not take for granted, often becomes a nudge to divest.

There’s no having too many books, on the other hand.  The conundrum here is organizing them in a way that makes sense:  certain shelves devoted to poetry, others to art, novels grouped in ways even I sometimes puzzle over. I have my own logic (not alphabetical), which makes it all the more frustrating when I can’t locate a particular book that somehow is not on the very shelf in the very room where I was so sure I had put it.

Then there’s my kitchen. I certainly managed well enough before we reconfigured storage for plates, cookware, utensils, pantry staples. But a well-thought-out upgrade makes for a more efficient entertaining and cooking space. The pièce de resistance has to be a drawer devoted to spices 😉

Hard to say whether my affinity for order has a genetic component or is an acquired predisposition that comes from years of living in small apartments where the slightest disarray would seem magnified. And it hardly matters. I have a theory about space: the less you have, the more efficiently you use it.  Move from the small apartment to the large house on the hill and, for some reason, you have trouble finding room for everything.

All of which makes it amusing to me when I walk around my house to see things placed on surfaces everywhere. The bed in the room that was my daughter’s seems to have become my laundry sorting and folding surface.  I take my time, let freshly laundered clothes and towels sit there, until I’m ready to fold. Which could still be days before I put things away,

Issues of the New Yorker sit here and there, a visual point of pickup reminding me of articles I haven’t finished reading, new issues I haven’t even skimmed.

Whatever it is that brings some semblance of order to our lives is a good thing. Being a slave to order is not a good thing. Then again, order is one step removed from ritual, which is nothing if not a way of ordering our lives.  There’s no creating stories without sitting down regularly to write. There’s no quieting the mind in a meditation practice without sitting, paying attention to the in and out of breath, acknowledging the spin of thoughts and feelings that keep us from truly settling into the here and now, which brings us back to the in and out of breath. Open to any page in any of the books by the always enlightening Pema Chodron and something is bound to resonate. Here’s a Zen story I love from Comfortable with Uncertainty. It goes something like this: a man is by himself in a boat on the river in a boat at dusk. When he sees another boat coming toward him, it makes him happy at first to think someone else is enjoying the river on a summer night. The boat approaches faster and faster. The man stands up, screaming now for the boat to turn aside. The boat smashes into him. It’s an empty boat.

The mind is a knotty entity, sometimes leading us to perceive things not there.  As I keep trying to fathom the wisdom of Buddhism, I do my best to let that bigger thing called Mind remind me that everything really does change. Impermanence is the real order of our lives.  Barely a week ago, in this wintry Northeast landscape, the surface of the lake I walk around when weather permits was frozen solid. A bombogenesis that left me with a new word to play with and lots of snow gave way to much milder weather and a lawn I can see again. Today the lake is once again frozen. Think of all the shapes water takes and the metaphors it embodies. Even when surface water freezes, something is going on below.


As I sit writing, I get word of the death of someone once married to a cousin of mine. I have not seen her in years. What her death brings to the surface are feelings about the distance—in miles as much as mind—that loosens family ties once so tightly bound.  Expectation surrounding rituals (birth, bar and bat mitzvah, weddings, funerals) once a given, gives way to less absolute assumptions. Death brings a pause to any order in our day, not to mention our lives. Memories close to the surface, colored by time, may make us long for something long gone. Deeper memories paint a truer picture of the home we left, the one we can never really go back to.







An autumn morning, window open to the cool air. I settle myself on a gray cushion that puts me in the mindset of meditation, choose my music. No sooner do I close my eyes than I hear a thud (or two or three) that sounds alarming. How can I possibly stay put with Henny-Penny running through my brain? I get up, look out the window open to the deck below. Turns out what I’m hearing is the sound of one (or two or many) hickory nuts falling. Branches are dropping, too. I look up at the tree. A squirrel is flying from branch to branch. Another squirrel has landed on the deck railing. Autumn is their rush hour.

A few days of that thump-thump and it feels like old hat. I can do what meditation appears intended to help me do. Acknowledge the sounds, take in the thought, get back to the breathing, the moment.

So often so much easier said than done. I reassure my chattering brain with a story that speaks to my dilemma.

A student tells her master about her morning’s meditation experience. “My mind was clear,” she says. “Thoughts did not get in that way.” Her master’s response: “That is good.” The next day she has a different experience. “My mind would not quiet down,” she says. “I couldn’t stop thinking.” Her master’s response: “That is good.”

There’s a part of me (the expansive one, I call her) who trusts the wisdom here. Sit long enough to let the chattering brain slow down and you know it’s only good. No need to be hard on myself if one day’s attempt at meditation doesn’t quite bring serenity. It’s not about goals. It’s not about judgment. It’s about simply being in the moment to the best of my ability. Every day is different. Change is the only constant.

There’s another part of me (the contracted one, I call her) ruled by a mind afraid to lose even one thought.

Some days, the face of that horrible man with orange hair slips out of my consciousness almost as easily as he seems to have invaded it. Some days, the anxieties surrounding the future of our world, the anger and tears fueled by calculated acts of mass murder dissipate. This is not about denial. This is not about feeling helpless, a word I’m hearing too much lately. This (I think) is about giving in to a larger reality that knows everything changes. Day by day. Month my month. Year by year.

On any given day, when I’m out for a walk, there’s a certain tree on the road whose large leaves I marvel at, especially the way they appear to be shooting off branches from the lower end of the trunk. I think it’s a linden. Only when I finally decide to stop for a closer look do I see that this is a tree of two trunks, one truncated and giving rise to its own network of branches. Appearances can be deceiving.









Even with unnatural fluctuations in seasonal temperatures, leaves are turning. Soon enough autumn’s peak moment will come and go.  Trees will become a lacework of bare branches, though this winter will bring to my home panorama spruce and boxwood touches of green.

Then there’s the lawn itself, a long time coming. I marvel at how quickly seeds become grass.

 I look forward to a yard without mud puddles from melting snow. This has not been a situation of neglect. It’s more a question of living with a man for whom interior and exterior design are all of a piece. If you’re going to finally get around to the lawn, you do it with a vision. You do it with a sense of landscape as an extension of what you see through the windows and glass doors. My house has always been a work in progress, major renovation when we first moved in (1995), followed over the years by an addition (2008), more interior/exterior repairs and updates, a new kitchen just this past summer, and last but hardly least, landscaping.

Everything in its time.

Everything takes time—unloading the dishwasher, reading emails, checking in on Facebook and Twitter. Sorting real news from fake news. Doing laundry. Reading. Doing yoga. Going out for a walk. Sitting down to write. Some things feel as if they take too much of our time. Some things feel as if they’re never done. And how is it that those moments and events we look forward to months ahead of time—a concert, a visit from an out-of-town friend, a wedding, publication of book—seem to have arrived in a flash?

Everything changes.

Right now it’s raining. The wind is blowing. And those hickory nuts are falling fast and furiously. I’m tempted to take a break from writing, snap a few more photos. It’s what these times have programmed into us: capture the moment, iPhone at the ready, with or without ourselves in the picture. Because we can. If we wait too long the moment will pass, something will change. And in the instant it takes to snap a photo, how often do we stop to think about what we might be missing?