Saturday, September 17, 2005


What is the color of time?
Thin gray of a stretched-out rubber band
Angry red, rubbed raw by expectations
Solid blue of calendar squares
Umber of anxious memories
Deep green of solitude.

How do I inhale it?
Come inside each mortal cell.
Unlimited time, I say.

After all the years of learning
Time for dinner, time for homework
Time to get up, time to lie down
Go to class
Write the dissertation
Make dinner
Read student papers.

Wait! The wood thrush
The veery’s pan-flute.
Stop breath, listen to distillation of summer.
Time is taffy, warm from the pan,
Drawn to full length by willing hands
Sweeter than ever

Friday, September 16, 2005

Where is this retirement going?

So far I’ve been writing mainly about getting away from the old patterns, breaking the habits of excessive busyness. What am I going towards? Something about spirit and creativity. I want the spaciousness to welcome contemplative moments and hours, the time to sit and watch trees grow and their leaves fall. I want the time to dip in and out of creativity, to sit down at the kitchen table and pull the pastels towards me, or pull up the laptop and make a new poem.

I haven’t yet found my new rhythm. It will take a while. I have a few fixed things in my week: my writing group, two movement groups, and my volunteering to help a Senegalese immigrant with computer skills. Then there are almost-daily hikes, times with friends, and chores. And now I may be organizing a local effort to help a Louisiana town in the aftermath of Katrina.

This is a perfect time to learn how to balance these things in a new way that puts the inner life first.

All my life I’ve done the “necessary” things first, then tried to find time for play and spirit. Now I want to be the dreamy one looking out the window, the doodler who does not hear the teacher’s voice. Put off the projects and do the spirit-work first. I did that today, making two drawings and going on a walk before I started a round of phone calls. Step by step into the unknown.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Retiring from school

This week school started without me. After thirty-three years of teaching at Hampshire College, plus five of grad school, two years teaching in Peace Corps, four years at Swarthmore, two years at North Haven High, four at Hamden Hall (where my parents sent me to get out of the violence of a bad school), 2 at Strong School (the one where I had to walk a half mile and cross the steel bridge), and kindergarten plus four grades at the Quinnipiac School just across from my house. Fifty-seven years of discipline, self-discipline, and teaching others how to school themselves—how to get things done, how to inquire, form the question, and follow through.

Now I’m trying to go back through that same gate, get back to wild mind. To take the horses that are so good at staying within the traces and persuade them that it’s OK to kick back, take a side trip, explore the faintest trace. Practice the skill of wandering, of not-knowing, trusting the moment. The discipline of following impulse precisely, lovingly, openly.

Such a lot of unlearning—it’s mostly that attachment muscle inside, the one right up under my diaphragm, the one that says But what are you doing today? Wasn’t there something that someone else needed? Are you accomplishing anything? Doesn’t something in the house need tending? What’s next?

I am slowly (un)learning. Things keep happening. I keep writing, drawing, dancing, being. In a different way, in a different life.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Doing nothing

Doing and not-doing—it’s the question for me just now. There is nothing that I must do, except the obvious things of living: cooking, eating, feeding the cats, taking care of the house. Simply living. Above that, there is no command, no need to plan courses or put out office hours, no meetings or deadlines.

Is it possible to live this way? Is a person worthwhile if she does nothing, allows time to pass, lets the world go by, has no ambition, is not striving for the next thing? It’s not likely that I’ll want to do nothing all the time, but there seems something vital about learning how. It’s a feeling of letting go in the place just above my navel and below my ribs, letting go of the threads of responsibility that have been perpetually knotted there.

Letting go of the illusion that I am necessary—that’s the big one. The feeling, both pleasurable and binding, that I am needed as a part of the fabric of an institution, that there are things I must do, or else. If I am not needed, then who am I?

To contemplate doing nothing, I sit in my rocker and look out at the sugar maple in front of my house, the buckled bark and sturdy limbs. The maple needs to sip water from the earth and do its metabolism, those are basic. The deep green leaves are not ambitious to be anywhere else than on the branches they are tethered to. The whole tree sits there, no tension in its belly, no plans.

I watch the lightly moving leaves. The strings in my belly go slack, I breathe. Then a moment later I am caught up again—what about that volunteer position? Do I need to do anything to prepare for group? Let go again. Nothing needs doing. I can sit here and be. The world will keep turning and churning. I can be all right without doing a thing.

I breathe and let be. Time passes, the wind picks up or dies down, the leaves rustle or become still, the sun moves a bit in the morning sky. My thoughts skitter to things around the house, the roof that needs patching, the dishes unwashed.

What is the necessity so huge that it must always be served? What beast is this that demands total devotion? Not enough to do the necessary things, this beast requires attention at every instant of the waking day. Plan. Think. Look ahead. Don’t stop. Keep busy, if not in body at least in mind.

If you don’t, you might realize how short life is. If you don’t, you might feel the poignancy of it. If you stop thinking, you might simply be alert to the world as it is. This would make the beast very angry.