So much for posting every week — but here’s a fun little piece at last!


I left a few minutes early to go to my first class this morning, the sky grey from clouds and Daylight Savings.  Starting down from third floor, I felt the world spin around me as I almost lost my footing . . . not the way I wanted to confirm that indeed I cannot walk down a flight of stairs with my bifocals on.  Thankfully, I caught my balance on the brass railing, then removed my glasses and continued carefully.  At the landing between third and second, still moving slowly in the half-fog of unglassed sight, I found myself eye-to-eye with a mockingbird.

I wasn’t sure for a moment that’s what he was.  He sat perched on the outside ledge of the picture window, looking straight at me.  I’ve seen so many doves and pigeons lately, I thought at first that’s what he was — but then I realized his grey was a little smoother and deeper, his inquisitive look a little more sophisticated, and I saw his wings and that hint of white at their tips.  We stared at each other for at least ten seconds as I slowly put my glasses back on.

I wonder what he saw, how he processed it — colors, size, movement?  Did he see my eyes and look into them, as he seemed to?  He gazed attentively, moving his head just slightly to get different angles.  I moved closer, to see how long he would stay, and I nearly reached the window before he decided a threat loomed on the other side of the glass.  The white on his wings and tail as he spread them in flight blazed out like the sun in the grey world.

He didn’t go far, lighting on a floodlight jutting up from the rooftop, to illuminate the building’s crennelated entrance at night, and he turned back to check out the catalyst for his flight.  Would the threat follow, did he need to fly a little further?  I stayed still and we assessed each other again for a time.

Just as I was thinking that I needed to go on, another flash of white and grey swooped in toward him and a tangle of feathers struck the air as they fought over the coveted vantage point.  My mockingbird won, and the other fled, to be attacked by still a third; those two drew a truce and landed together a few feet away on a skylight above the cafeteria.

My mockingbird turned his head from me to his rivals and back again, alert for danger from all sides; the other two went about their business, preening themselves, hunting for insect tidbits.  I turned away to go about my own business, assessing the threats facing my day, pushing my hair out of my eyes, grateful for the tidbits of joy that keep framing my days.

cross-posted at Inscapes


On Tangled Chains

A favorite gold chain lies tangled in my jewelry box; I avoid it because it makes me feel sad, frustrated, and incompetent.

Slender chains always get tangled, of course. Most of the time one can simply very gently shake them out and be ready to go. Sometimes, a bit more finesse is needed; one must work a loose knot with the fingers until the chain slips out of itself and straightens. Then there are the tangles that require a flat surface and a pin or needle to create and hold open space, carefully pushing and tugging the links out of disorder.

Up to this point I can almost always manage. But there is one level worse, with the knots so many and so tightly drawn in on themselves that no amount of working at them seems to open space for the chain to correct itself. If one knot begins to come undone, another creates itself at the very moment that success seems imminent.

I spent this afternoon re-reading and working at my mockingbird and leaves pieces. I gave up in frustration and allowed my mind to wander; almost at once, I found it on that tangled chain.

When I began each piece, I was following Atkins’ concept of taking a line out for a walk. When I finished the draft of “On Leaves,” I saw immediately that it was connected, somehow, to “Mockingbird.” I started searching for the connections, and good friends helped me find many.

And I’ve been thinking of those connections as separate lines – separate chains – tangled together and needing to be pulled apart and made into some kind of multi-string and multi-colored necklace, each strand looping back to the clasp that connects it to the rest.

But perhaps that’s not the case. Perhaps it is really just one chain, tangled into tight, frustrating knots that need to be teased open so the links can straighten themselves into their continuous whole, one line I need to gently shake and tug and pick apart until it’s ready to hold a pendant clasped around the reader’s neck.

And maybe I can do it, if I don’t despair, if I refuse to feel sad and frustrated and incompetent, and just keep taking it out and patiently working at it, one knot at a time.

And maybe if I can get some time to focus . . .


The beginning of the semester combined with unprecedented snowfall for this area has made the week strangely hectic, with little time for thinking of anything but syllabi and what to do in the first 50 minutes of each class.  But I’ve received some affirmation from another friend as to the connections between my mockingbird and my leaves.  TD suggests that contemplation — attending — is an important connection. He writes about the need for receptivity, a readiness to learn, the ability to be awed: these are the attitudes the learner brings if he is to be enriched by the world he observes, whether written text or the text of nature.  L and talked about this, too — about mindfulness — and this is further affirmation of much of what I wrote last week.

Now I will need to revisit the pieces, list the stories and the reflections, brainstorm for other that might be added, and listen to it all for a structure.  Maybe some of this will be ready for next week.

Tracing the Essay

I have just finished reading G. Douglas Atkins’ history and description of the “fourth genre” – Tracing the Essay – and I hardly know where to begin. Certainly I won’t do it justice in this brief review, but I can at least offer you some of the ideas that most excited me. I selected it for a class in creative nonfiction after a quick skim; I knew it would be excellent because of the author.

Doug was the graduate coordinator in the English Department much of the time I was pursuing my M.A. and Ph.D. I never had the privilege of taking classes with him – at the time he mostly taught courses in areas I was not pursuing, such as literary theory. But he was a good advisor and I enjoyed the occasional conversation with him. On one of my return visits to KU, I stopped by his office for a few minutes to catch up, and he mentioned that he was no longer “doing theory” (he had written what I believe was the first “layman’s guide” to deconstruction in English), but had turned his attention to the essay. I knew that attention would be detailed and accurate and worthy.

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