In my dream I make a scene in front of a party of four, and, once I realize what I’ve done, apologize to the man I shouted at, who seems older than he should be—tall and thin, with greying brown hair and glasses. I deliver this to the entire table, but only he—the one I insulted—bothers to listen.
I don’t know how to explain that what came out was more involuntary than anything I’ve ever felt or acted upon. When I say goodbye, the woman at the centre of this drama, who I have barely talked to, is facing away from me, wearing a jean jacket and looking at the water. Pretending like it never happened.
I wake up several times that night—in a bed I will later discover is two foam mattress tops placed on top of each other. This is by the river. On the radio a story about a man who discovers mathematics in prison; he is in ecstasy describing its beauty. How did he arrive there? He was given a sheet of problems to solve while he was stuck in solitary confinement.
In the interview the man telling his story can’t seem to feel the barbarity of what they’ve done to him, too focussed on what is beyond. A teenage mathematician he has been in contact with says, for several minutes, without purpose, “He’s not like a prisoner in the movies. He’s not hard. He’s like you or me.”
This morning a hot air balloon flies low over the house, carrying supplies for the movie set that I know is just around the corner. The operator is flying recklessly—I see just the metal bottom, uncomfortably close, from near my window. I worry it’s going to pass over the roof, scrape itself, collapse something, knock it over—and I brace for impact.
But nothing follows. My door opens and closes of its own accord. I am half-asleep, awake but hallucinating. I become conscious that Mowat is in the crook of my arm, resting peacefully against my chest. I’m afraid to disturb him, so happy that he’s there. I touch his fur and it is perfect, warm, vivid—my little friend.
He turns and bites my thumb. I am worried that the dream will turn—but the bite is not hard, or it’s hard but just hard enough. The pain is real. He fades away, and I discover that I haven’t, exactly, been dreaming, though I could not say with certainty whether I have been awake.
New substrate in the city, faded grey masks, working their way into the asphalt and turf. Thought early November, the stretch of days above twenty degrees, would be the end of the good weather this year. But I forgot how the sun somehow feels clarifying when it is furthest from us—no matter the temperature, all that I seem to need is that bright white light that obliterates the pavement ahead.
Holding still. Release the questions that I should not ask. Release the expectations that I should not have. Let the difficulty flow through me. I want to do what the Sage counsels. But I worry sometimes that I do not have the strength. Do not know what to do. How can I maximize the future? This is impossible. Losing what never was. Let it go. Release the future as well as the past.
Hard to know in which direction I should move. The I Ching counsels rest, stillness, in every reading. Now is clearly not the time for action. But it can be difficult to hold the self without moving. To recover without fully understanding the goal. One day I will not need to be so still—perhaps then things will be self-evident, I will return to desire, or desire will find me. That is in fact what the I Ching seems to suggest and to recommend. There will be movement in my future—but when that future comes is unclear.
Two days of snow in the forest. The only footprints belong to wild animals—and to Joshua and his three black dogs near the entrance to the path (the dogs are large, identical animals with huge paws). I pass fox prints, deer hooves, a procession of turkeys. I clear the trees that fell in the last windstorm, see that there will be many more to come. Something is changing in the forest: ashes stand with stripped bark from their roots to the crown. Tall ones, at least fifty feet high, in some places maybe forty-percent of the trees. They will fall at some point between now and next summer, or most of them will. I don’t know what’s happened, only that change is in the air, vibrating perhaps at the level of the atmosphere.
A blight brought on by the shifting climate. I will work with the axe and the saw until the way is clear once the new trees have fallen—I cleared the last tree blocking the way in September. No one who knew it intimately saw me heave the hard-wooded final block away. Took a picture for no one, emptiness at its centre, nothing but a disturbed forest floor. This winter, I will surely take more.
In the dream related to me. I had prepared a presentation on a vision that I had experienced. Materials showed the Virgin Mary superimposed on the moon. Advice was offered—Chelsea said I should let the dead rest, to leave them alone. Alex gave me better advice, a prayer to lead souls through purgatory, the Chaplet for the Anima Sola.
Wanting to be open. Over a Zoom work session on Monday, talking with Dustin and Kate, I write in my notebook “I want to be open.” Twice, the date, and nothing else. We talk for forty minutes and then we all have to leave.
Always worried about the Kurosawa movie I watched once in the AV library. A small community on the edge of nowhere—a remote train station, or a junkyard. A woman advances to a widower’s house, in the night, her intention to seduce him. She looks through his window and is immediately repelled. “He is dead,” she later tells her friends. What did she see? A man washing rice.
This morning I write about a TV show. Season 2, Episode 6, Schitt’s Creek. Dissolution: one wants the other to talk more, the other to talk less. It’s not important. Perhaps what we were holding onto no longer existed, and that was what made it so difficult. Can’t even remember when the fights started. A funny place to come to this understanding.
Coming to understanding. There is nothing that I need.
Building strength. Buy coffee so infrequently that every tip must be at least five dollars. Considered a scone or a muffin or perhaps a croissant. No, I do not need it. The money goes into a jar.
Monday. My life has changed so infinitesimally from the lockdown that I forget that anything is different. What a contrast with March. Feel on the verge of some kind of release. Listening to music—the new Phoebe Bridgers, Big Thief.
Each song raises something that I have lost. How could I have missed for so long my own chatter? But every day I attempt communication, writing in my little book, speaking to another self.
Tuesday Ruth reports hearing what she describes as a shift in tone. A difference. Thursday after group it feels like something large has happened. But I am so tired. I go to sleep at 10:30, wake up at 8 in the morning, uncharacteristically late.
Lately I have been waking up even earlier than normal, at 5:30, at 6. Have in fact counted on it, though it is not intentional. I am glad to be free of this, to be forced to skip an early appointment, to consider where I am putting my time.
In the mornings Noor has been texting me from Egypt. When I wake up, we work over Zoom. It feels absurd that it has taken us so long to figure this out.
Dreamed I was writing equations here—complicated equations, algebraic, inspired by Lacan, with no hope of resolution. Equations that it was embarrassing to think I ever believed in. Dreamed my bicycle was stolen (an opportunity for a new one), dreamed of a cafeteria, of gluten-free noodles, of Marguerite behind the cash. Dreamed of wandering through an underground carnival—violent—dragging someone with me who didn’t want to be there. A sudden death—neither of us, but a third party who I had locked in a freezer, somehow nebulously enough that it was uncertain whether I bore any responsibility for his death.
There are different ways of being kind. Kindness is sometimes hard to assess. It may be misrecognized, miscategorized, misreported. Often what is mistaken for kindness is anything but. Who was it for when you told me about your regret? About how hard you felt it? Who was it for when you told me about how much of you still wanted me? Not kind, but a kind of performance, for the ego, something to satisfy your own sense of guilt. Nice, not kind. You don’t want to be “bad.” You weren’t. But you put a string in. Held it. Made it a little harder for the one who didn’t want it to end.
Dream of a frisbee criss-crossing the street. My I Ching readings, all about the spring, tell me to keep working, to stay on the path of gentleness and innocence. To remain blameless. I am doing this for myself. No one else. The transformed hexagram is often two, the Receptive, which until the final line resolves may be twenty-three, Splitting Apart. I write a gentle message in the book on my kitchen table and a friend messages me to tell me that she has had champagne and that she greatly appreciates my friendship. It feels like something is turning and I need to keep turning it. There is no rest—my mistake in the past, to think that once something has been achieved there is rest. I am working for myself. The I Ching advises this—there are times of recovery but there is not rest. Somehow everything seems like a dream, even a pleasant one. Didn’t I dream it all, long ago? As I am running someone shouts after me—but I am wearing headphones and realize only halfway down the street. I don’t wish to turn around, don’t know who shouted. Imagine myself in their eyes, running into the dark.
The city is emptying. My friends want to leave, or are leaving, or have left. Everyone imagines their lives will get easier with a dishwasher. Especially writers, so accustomed to pulling themselves up over the lip of meaning, resting themselves on a shelf of writing. Turning experience into material. With every polished paragraph my life will get easier. On Instagram the comedian jtfirstman, first a writer for TV, says that it was a long time before he realized that the writing would never love you back. No matter what you do it will not love you.
Filling that hole in the self. Every writer with ambition has a flurry of activity, let’s say the first ten years. And every writer with ambition must at some point realize that something else needs filling. My mistake has always been to imagine holding up a single page, or five, or a poem, or a sentence, or a paragraph, or a book, and imagining God will stop time, as in Borges’s short story “The Secret Miracle.” Writing about being killed in the street with a short story in my pocket. Time stopped to save a poem, not a life.
But now I am stopping time. I need more time with myself. I need to give back to what I have for so long neglected. Cassidy says that perhaps I will be like a monk, studying the medieval period on my own, in quarantine. If I didn’t find them so tedious I would buy a quill pen. Instead I’ve taken a huge leather notebook—gifted one year at Christmas, too big to ever use—and placed it on my kitchen table. I’m not sure what I will do with it—it is a place for intentions, transformation. A place to dream and to imagine. A place, overall, to grow—to kill that desire for quickness, to still the ego, to find a slow and steady way forward, in love and in myself.