waiting room


“’You got the good heart. Underneath all the other stuff. Good heart is eighty-five percent of everything in life.’” –Telegraph Avenue, Michael Chabon

But… what about the other 15 percent? A mess? Evil? An eternal waiting room.

Cold never bothers me, but the snow. My god, the snow. Watching each morning dawn earlier, light filtering in before 6 in the morning, I want to squeal with delight. Even if it’s -20C. It’s bright! Is anything sweeter than the combination of early, ever-lengthening light and the slow promise of warmer days? Just a matter of waiting for it to change completely.

I keep thinking of something I want to write, but the thought slips away from me before I write it down. So I wait.

I keep finding myself having to say to people, who ask me supposedly simple questions about myself, “We are people. Not elevator pitches.” Yet, every day we are asked in one way or another to reduce ourselves to 30 seconds or less. Take up less space and speak fewer words. I patiently wait my turn, only to be told to hurry it up or be interrupted; no one has time for more than 20 seconds of your face and words.

Presence is, after all, just waiting. I am just waiting.

“…’isn’t it strange that we don’t know who we are? I mean, we know so little about ourselves it’s shocking. We tell ourselves a story and we go along believing in it, and then, it turns out, it’s the wrong story, which means we’ve lived the wrong life.’” The Blazing World, Siri Hustvedt

I am waiting (waste of time) to see if I have lived the wrong life by choosing never to decide anything. Never to involve anyone else in the decisions I have made. I am waiting to declare that my prime has passed (“‘One’s prime is elusive. You little girls, when you grow up, must be on the alert to recognise your prime at whatever time of your life it may occur. You must then live it to the full’.” –The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark).

Perhaps there never was a ‘prime’ – and even if there were, I lived it within the wrong confines, the wrong story or context, afraid to embrace it and afraid even of myself. Until a cascade of waiting rooms and endless waiting became the definition of life. Was the prime of life eaten away slowly by waiting – for something to happen, for something to go away, for something or someone that could never fit into the context I was hiding myself in? Waiting, still waiting, be present. It’s only later, in some new reality, that this waiting feels as though it was tedious. The waiting, as it happens, feels full of questions, urgency, anxiety, imbuing each moment with the feeling that something is happening, – or will, any second now – good or bad. Only much later, if I make it, does the perception change.

“‘Why are things as they are? Must they be as they are? What might they be like if they were otherwise?’ To ask these questions is to admit the contingency of reality, or at least to allow that our perception of reality may be incomplete, our interpretation of it arbitrary or mistaken.” –No Time to Spare – Thinking About What Matters, Ursula K. LeGuin

arctic landscape


Adam Zagajewski
I watched the arctic landscape from above
and thought of nothing, lovely nothing.
I observed white canopies of clouds, vast
expanses where no wolf tracks could be found.

I thought about you and about the emptiness
that can promise one thing only: plenitude—
and that a certain sort of snowy wasteland
bursts from a surfeit of happiness.

As we drew closer to our landing,
the vulnerable earth emerged among the clouds,
comic gardens forgotten by their owners,
pale grass plagued by winter and the wind.

I put my book down and for an instant felt
a perfect balance between waking and dreams.
But when the plane touched concrete, then
assiduously circled the airport’s labyrinth,

I once again knew nothing. The darkness
of daily wanderings resumed, the day’s sweet darkness,
the darkness of the voice that counts and measures,
remembers and forgets.

Photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash

The sovereign of clocks and shadows


Adam Zagajewski

I returned to you years later,
gray and lovely city,
unchanging city
buried in the waters of the past.

I’m no longer the student
of philosophy, poetry, and curiosity,
I’m not the young poet who wrote
too many lines

and wandered in the maze
of narrow streets and illusions.
The sovereign of clocks and shadows
has touched my brow with his hand,

but still I’m guided by
a star by brightness
and only brightness
can undo or save me.

Photo by Tommy Tang on Unsplash

cryptic from the cave


Another Visit to the Oracle
Margaret Atwood
1) Another visit to the oracle
There’s so much I could tell you
if I felt like it. Which I do less and less.
I used to verbalize a mile a minute,
but I’ve had to give it up. It’s
too hard to turn the calories into words,
as you’ll find out too if you live
long enough. If you live as long as me.
So I’ve had to edit. I’ve taken up
aphorism. Cryptic, they say.
Soon I’ll get everything down to one word.
All crammed up in there, very
condensed you understand, like an
extremely small black star. Like a black
hole. Like a dense potential. Like the letter A.
You see what I mean about cryptic.
I could go on like this for hours. Weeks months
years centuries millennia. Could and did.
It was my vocation, after all. My
fate. That, and the lack of accurate
translation. Want to know your future?
But you’d rather have a happy story any
day. Or so you say.
2) Prophecy
The future will be both better than the past
and worse.
What future?
Your future,
which is implied in many futures.
What past?
Your past,
which is touched by many pasts.
Both your future and your past are in your head,
because where else could they be?
And your head is in the present, since
by the time you hear this, “your head” –
the one I just mentioned –
is already in the past,
which doesn’t exist, except
in your head as I’m telling you this.
Prophecy is therefore easy.
All I have to do
is be present in my head,
which contains your head.
I can walk around in there
as if in a cave,
a well-lit cave.
I can look at any feature.
This is one method.
It only seems like magic.
3) They used to ask me…
They used to ask me all kinds of questions:
Will I get a good husband
Will I be rich
Will the baby recover
and so on.
Now it’s only the one thing:
Is there no hope?
They ask that over and over.
Though the sky is as blue as ever
the flowers as flowery,
they stand there slack-mouthed
arms hanging useless
as if the earth is about to crumble,
as if there is no safe refuge.
Of course, I say.
I hate to disappoint.
Of course there’s hope.
It’s over there in that well.
There’s an endless supply.
Bend over the rim, you’ll see.
Down there.
It looks like silver.
It looks like you
with the sun behind your head
as if your brain is burning.
The face dark and without features.
But that’s a trick of the light.
That’s hope.
It’s in the future tense.
Don’t be deceived.
4) Don’t be deceived…
Don’t be deceived.
What a thing to say.
As if there’s no conspiracy.
Relax, the lightbulbs are singing.
It will soon be all right,
hum the wires.
You’d think it was spring,
so many tunes on the loose
bursting with love, and all of it
Deception is the air we breathe,
we couldn’t live without it.
Don’t you want things nice?
Don’t you want to have fun?
Don’t you want your dinner?
Clap your hands and wish very hard.
That’s what we’re eating:
Wish food.
5) Wish food
Wish food lies on the plate.
It twitches. It’s still alive.
You wouldn’t want a dead wish.
Those go bad very fast.
But if wishes were fishes
we’d soon be out of luck.
Eat, eat, the body says:
Here comes starvation
blowing towards you like a dry wind.
Nobody has a plan.
You’ll need that fat,
all those fat wishes,
those fat dreams you ate.
Start working on your burrow,
the one you’ll crawl into
so you can hibernate.
Call upon your inner bear,
it’s in there.
6) Why should I tell you anything true?
Why should I tell you anything true?
Why should I tell you anything?
You’re not paying me.
I don’t do this for money.
Hold out your hand,
Your empty hand.
I see.
If I told you what you hold
in the lines in your hand
which as I said is empty,
is full of emptiness,
you’d be annoyed. Oh surely
not, you’d say. You’re far too
dismal. Too severe.
I’m doing this to help you.
What would you prefer?
You’d like me to amuse you?
Do some jigs, or pranks?
I lack the airiness,
I lack the feathers.
That’s not what I do.
What I do: I see
in darkness. I see
darkness. I see you.
I see you,
in darkness, walking.
I see your hurrying feet.
This is where you’ll be
at the end of all the sunsets,
all the banquets.
Behind you there’s a tunnel
with a life in it.
Your former life,
your life of silks and gardens.
Colours flickering.
The city is in flames,
it’s as I said:
time to get out
with what you’re carrying.
Forget the jewellery,
forget the lovers you once had.
Don’t hesitate.
You can find other bangles.
Ahead of you there’s what?
Is it a river?
The water slides like oil,
soundless and without fish.
A mute beach.
This is where I’m handy:
I’ve been here
in some form or another.
I’ll help you to the edge,
I’ll see you over.
I know who to bribe.
Don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid.
A boat will be provided.
After the boat has foundered,
after you’ve reached the shore
despite the foundering boat,
after you’ve met whoever’s waiting,
who loves you (possibly),
after you’ve entered
the part that I can’t see,
I’ll tell your story –
Your story that was once so graceful
but now is dark.
That’s what I do:
I tell dark stories
before and after they come true.

Photo by paul morris on Unsplash

Press(ure) button: love


Sometimes the squeeze you feel is like being in a trap, and all the mind can focus on is running – both figurative and literal. Running away, to anywhere, and literally … running there. Being unable to focus and fix oneself to one place, one destiny – to commit to one nature, one path. Jenny Erpenbeck writes in Visitation, which focuses on one single property that has changed hands over many decades:

“Someone who builds something is affixing his life to the earth. Embodying the act of staying put is his profession. Creating an interior. Digging deeper and deeper in a place where there is nothing.”

I thought about this a lot after reading the book, feeling closer to the idea that I could, rather than dig deep and plant roots, fill holes and run toward ever-greater nothingness. It could well be a case of feeling down, and thus inappropriately feeling sorry for myself. This will pass.

For a long time, my idea of running toward nothingness, or possibly emptiness, was to numb my mind with television. I mostly quit this vice, but there are still things I consume in this way – either as a process of multitasking or to disconnect briefly. Part of distancing myself from the unmemorable haze of visual opiates was the sense that I should reconnect with feeling, wherever that took me.

Perhaps, though, this sometimes makes me feel too much. Sometimes this is not a bad thing, and oddly, the ‘messages’ delivered are entirely unexpected. A show I am currently viewing, Counterpart, is a kind of sci-fi-ish thing that, while enjoyable and entertaining, has not offered a single episode that hasn’t in one way or another dealt with the concept of love and how unconditional love should be. Many characters have been playing roles with each other, hiding significant aspects of who they really are, and living lies. The recurring theme, though, is that to truly love someone, maybe you have to (learn to) love the lie.

The person you love is someone you may not truly know at all. Maybe you love the person they wanted you to love, the person they want to be, the person you want them to be. You may know the whole truth, live with some variation on that, but (choose to) love anyway.

“She’s human. She made mistakes. We worked through them. … I love her. I love her for everything she is and I love her for everything she isn’t. An in the end that capacity for love, the ability to love someone unselfishly is the only thing that will separate me from you.” (Counterpart)

This theme, weaving itself persuasively into the body of the show, is what makes me keep coming back for another episode. It’s thinking about this ability to love – and commit – to someone no matter what – and stick around for what happens, whatever unfolds, that brings me back to my first points. I do love unselfishly and unconditionally, but my own selfish desire to run, not to dig deeper and deeper into one place, that keeps me from sticking around for what happens.


hold firm


The Disappearing Island
Seamus Heaney
Once we presumed to found ourselves for good
Between its blue hills and those sandless shores
Where we spent our desperate night in prayer and vigil.

Once we had gathered driftwood, made a hearth
And hung our cauldron like a firmament,
The island broke beneath us like a wave.

The land sustaining us seemed to hold firm
Only when we embraced it in extremis.
All I believe that happened there was vision.