meditation for a lazy day (from “Walden”)


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lazy meerkat

“I did not read books the first summer; I hoed beans. Nay, I often did better than this. There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hands. I love a broad margin to my life. Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sing around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time. I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance. I realized what the Orientals mean by contemplation and the forsaking of works. For the most part, I minded not how the hours went. The day advanced as if to light some work of mine; it was morning, and lo, now it is evening, and nothing memorable is accomplished. Instead of singing like the birds, I silently smiled at my incessant good fortune. As the sparrow had its trill, sitting on the hickory before my door, so had I my chuckle or suppressed warble which he might hear out of my nest. My days were not days of the week, bearing the stamp of any heathen deity, nor were they minced into hours and fretted by the ticking of a clock; for I lived like the Puri Indians, of whom it is said that “for yesterday, today, and tomorrow they have only one word, and they express the variety of meaning by pointing backward for yesterday forward for tomorrow, and overhead for the passing day.” This was sheer idleness to my fellow-townsmen, no doubt; but if the birds and flowers had tried me by their standard, I should not have been found wanting. A man must find his occasions in himself, it is true. The natural day is very calm, and will hardly reprove his indolence.”   –Henry David Thoreau (from Walden)

serious fun (a diary diatribe)



agatha christie

(above: Agatha Christie)

[The paragraphs that precede this part of today’s entry aren’t really important. They’re just the usual details. But this part, below, is about “being a writer,” so I’ll share it.]

March 28, 2016

…So now I have to calm down, and separate myself. I’m playing classical music, I’m burning incense. Door closed, water glass full beside me. Just put on headphones, which don’t work anymore on my computer, but at least make me feel cocooned. That’s the trick, in a nutshell: You have to become a separate self, to be a writer. You can’t sit listening at your writing-room door for a sigh from downstairs. Plug your ears. Close your door. Lock it if you can. It’s okay if the dog comes in, coz he’s your muse, and he just sleeps with his chin on your ankle, and he can leave whenever he wants to. Someone else will let him out when he needs it. Someone else will feed him, just as they all will feed themselves today—for, it turns out, they know how.

And nobody will clean the house. The vacuum will sit in the middle of the room, clogged I guess, and we won’t put it away I guess because we’re waiting for someone to fix it. Which—don’t tell anybody–I actually know how to do, but I guess they don’t, though they could learn I guess, just like I had to, once. No more. The dishes can stack up in the sink until, again and again, the weight of them breaks the handle off a coffee mug at the bottom—some of our favorite mugs we’ve lost that way. We’re also losing plants. And a couple of neglected bills have found their way to collection agencies, though we have $10,000 in the bank, which we never seem to deplete because the only things we ever buy are food and books and emergency room visits [again, not important right now]. And no one does the shopping either, till one of us (sometimes it’s me, sometimes B, rarely H) finally does it. No one’s taking care of this house anymore. It looks like it’s been ransacked because it has been, many times, when B loses wallet, credit card, keys, paychecks, glasses, phone. Or H loses glasses, prescriptions, phone numbers, medicines, mind. I’ve even had to ransack the place myself, especially after coming home from my trips to the mess, and having, at the very least, to get the income taxes ready.

I won’t go there again today, I swear—won’t join their world even if they get all crazy because they’ve made themselves sick or hate their jobs or don’t know what the future holds. They still stumble, somehow, under the weight of thinking me wise. I don’t know why they persist—well, yes I do, because sometimes I am wise, at least in contrast. If anyone finds the check-prescription-eyeglasses-keys, it’s usually me, and often in the very first place I look. It’s like living with mole-rats. “Where’d you find it?” they ask in relief. “On the counter,” I tell them, or “In your coat pocket.” I’m tired of being this person. I don’t mind doing my share of the daily maintenance—I cleaned the toilets this morning, just in passing, because honestly it’s not that big a deal, and takes two minutes, and because I knew no one else ‘knew how.’ But I have a job of my own right now—don’t I?–and though apparently it requires incense and silence and (occasionally) drugs, that doesn’t mean it’s not relatively real. It’s just that I’ve finally discovered my work method—and who’d have thought it entailed pleasure??? That’s what I’ve been missing all these years—fun. The fun of finally taking myself seriously.

re-entry (a quote and a synopsis)


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“Right after I landed, I could feel the weight of my lips and tongue, and I had to change how I was talking. I hadn’t realized that I’d learned to talk with a weightless tongue.” –Astronaut Chris Hadfield

icarus falling

I haven’t written since January. I’ve spent my time, instead, on family missions. I’ve been sleeping in hotels and guest bedrooms, living for weeks in exactly two pairs of jeans, six t-shirts, one bra (I wasn’t thinking), bedroom slippers passing for shoes, and a big blue cardigan/invisibility cloak. I built makeshift nests in airports, nursing homes, hospital rooms; and feathered them with cell phone, laptop, kindle, extension cord, chargers, journal, kleenex, water, coffee, nonfat yogurt, pretzels with hummus, wint-o-green lifesavers, bubblegum. I came to know the most comfortable chairs, the quietest alcoves, the most convenient electrical outlets, the closest bathrooms. (I also learned to hold out between bathroom visits, because they entailed the complete disassembly of my nests, every time. Even as it was, five or six times every day I found myself rewinding my extension cord, re-stowing my cell phone, laptop, kindle, etc., into my Mary Poppins carpetbag and hauling it with me thither and yon. For otherwise, who knew? My whole life might get hauled away by mistake.)

I’m back now, pulled home again by love and gravity. Like Chris Hadfield (who was the first Canadian in outer space, I’ll have you know), I feel a sudden new weight in my lips and tongue. I hope you’ll forgive me, for a while, as I re-learn to talk.

As ever,






suspicious (a quote from Louis CK)


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“I don’t have any political opinions, I just am very curious. And it’s very interesting to listen to what people say. What’s the best way to run a country and the world? Those are really profound questions. I don’t have the confidence to say that I know one way or another. Some things I think are very conservative, or very liberal. I think when someone falls into one category for everything, I’m very suspicious. It doesn’t make sense to me that you’d have the same solution to every issue.”  –Louis CK 


effort (a quote from Samuel Johnson)


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nabakov draft

(a rough draft from Vladimir Nabokov)

“What is written without effort is generally read without pleasure.”              Samuel Johnson


If only this quote worked the other way too: “If you work really hard on a book, it’s just bound to be terrific!”

My memoir, The Myth of Solid Ground (tip: if you want to be seen as “in the know,” casually refer to it as MSG, for short), is “finished” only in the usual sense–i.e., that if I died tomorrow, I guess I wouldn’t spend all of eternity wincing in the knowledge that the last thing I ever wrote was a monstrosity. But I know there’s still an awful lot of editing to do. My most reasonable hope is that this will happen soon. (My least reasonable hope is that somehow it will happen when I’m not in the room.) In the meantime, though, I have a lot of neglected family business to attend to. (Suddenly, I have to live life instead of writing about it, and the transition’s been shaky–some days I even have to wear shoes.) I’ll keep you posted. Thanks. NJC

autism/cte connection? (a question)


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A question hit me the other day: has much research been done on the likelihood of a self-injurious autistic child’s developing CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy)?  I find only a few, footnote-like mentions on the internet, which is odd because once it finally occurred to me, the connection seemed obvious, important, and–that rarest of qualities–useful. I need to learn so much more about this. Anybody have any thoughts? Thanks.  –Nancymother child

my latest notion (a poem)


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My latest notion

A website for Hannah,
like they put up for Santa
on Christmas Eve. We’d
track her soul’s holiday as, freed
from form, she strolls the universe.
Watch her atoms intersperse
with those of meteors!
Glimpse her changeless source!
In our old days, of course,
the web was bare. Likewise,
tools for such an enterprise—
that spectral radar—had yet
(have yet) to be invented.

girl hiding2

patternicity (a random thought)


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More and more I think of the all-importance of pattern in this world. Finding the pattern, recognizing the pattern, comparing one pattern with another, finding their common sub-patterns, ur-patterns. (Wow, I’ve never used the prefix “ur” before!) Temple Grandin talks of pattern thinkers—got a quote about it somewhere.*

Metaphor and pattern—the same thing, really, just like fable and myth and archetype. It’s all about the comparison/contrast—the only way we can “understand” anything is, first, by contrasting it with what it isn’t like, then comparing it with what it is like. The contrast must automatically come first? I think so. We have an instinct to see everything as “other” until proven otherwise (and even after that). To the extent that we feel “at home” in the world, the world has ceased to be “other” and, whether we recognize it or not, has become an integral expansion of who we already believe ourselves to be—not just where we belong, but who we are, inside our skins but also outside.

Maybe this is why we fret so much about change? All these new “othernesses” to convert into “me-nesses,” “us-nesses,” over and over again. You have to become so nimble, as if you’re crossing a river by leaping from stone to stone. You have to trust life with your life, if only because you have no other choice. (You have to trust that life knows more than you do, because–geez–how could it not?)

I keep coming back to this: the purpose of dualism. It’s a construction–yes?—only that, a pattern we ourselves—with our yes-or-no minds–impose on the universe, to give us a vocabulary, a yardstick to describe things with. This is how we can imagine opposites even to things that don’t exist, or whose existence is beyond our ability to know—things like life vs death, all vs nothing, containment vs limitlessness. (We can imagine heaven, perhaps, to the exact degree we’ve known hell?)  And on and on.


*Here’s the Temple Grandin quote:

“I’ve given a great deal of thought to the topic of different ways of thinking. In fact, my pursuit of this topic has led me to propose a new category of thinker in addition to the traditional visual and verbal: pattern thinkers.”

And then there’s this that I just found:

temple grandin pattern thinker

And while I’m at it, why not:

temple grandin quote

On days you can’t remember (a poem)


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On days you can’t remember

On days you can’t remember who she was,
you disinter the pictures (you don’t want to!),
then focus on benign peripheries,
so that the first contritenesses that haunt you

will show themselves banal: ‘whatever happened
to that armoire?’ ‘That dishwasher broke down.’
‘I miss the velvet couch.’ ‘I wish we hadn’t
let the thistle overrun the lawn.’

Entice your vision toward more pointed hints:
Salute the crib, the changing table. Welcome
a glimpse of diaper bag. Recall its scents
of disinfectant, sour milk, and talcum.

You deftly sidestep ‘what’s she thinking here?’
and ‘does she know it’s me behind the camera?’–
yet trip on ‘why such tangles in her hair?’
and ‘did we never change from our pajamas?’

Retreat beneath the quilt her grandma made.
Review the popup book, rewind the mobile.
Respin the top, recoil within the bed.
Renurse, resing, resigh, relaugh, rebabble.

And, should you need to, build a sturdy house
of quatrain stacked on quatrain. Window-free
at last, live lyrically, your mind diffuse–
all squinting rhymes and harmless frippery.

Go, dear one. Pile words one upon another.
Form thick iambic castles, if you wish.
You have the right, love—you who were her mother—
to veil what life remains in artifice.


Thinking about Temple Grandin (a poem)


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Thinking about Temple Grandin

To triumph over tragedy. How odd
to think of either word without a clang
of chaos in your head. As if some god
decides what sub-division you belong

to, up or down. As if there’s up or down
at all. Your tragedy remains. Or else
it never was. Or else to swim/to drown
are synonyms, as each word melts

the other. We can’t know what’s tragic. Nor
can we discern—not yet—what triumph is.
Yet both words thread their silver through your hair.
Their twin ghosts glisten through your cowgirl eyes.


Groupie (a poem)


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I went on google images just now
and stared at your face in a thousand
poses. And every now and then among
the different yous, for reasons I still
don’t get, there’d be juxtaposed right
next to you something not-you. A girl
on a horse, say, or Clint Black, or
the periodic table. Needless to say,
this was distracting. Then suddenly I
thought, but no, it’s true! You are a
girl on a horse! You are Clint Black!
You are the periodic table! And I fell
headlong into the chasm of knowing all
your metaphors at once, was ravished
by the army of your chameleon selves.

Mendicant (a poem)



Your house is the plainest of churches. Yet
how like a nun I find home there. I tiptoe so
the wood absorbs my step, so that your ceiling,
heaven-high, won’t broadcast echoes

of my graceless gait. Rough wooden beams
arrogate all dreaming here. Logs huddle
tight against the empty hearth. Likewise,
the daylight, muffled and oblique, worms

furtively through windows fortified
by stalwart iron traceries. Your halls:
made slim by dusty breveries stacked flush
along their borders. Narrow, too: your bed.

And yet what cosseted relief I find inside
this counterworld submerged in sepia. An old
clock strikes its hollow hour, somewhere,
in a distant room I seek to leave unfound.