june 16/RUN

4.3 miles
the falls + winchell trail
65 degrees

A beautiful yet difficult run. Not sure why it was so hard. Maybe because I swam last night and didn’t eat enough breakfast before I ran this morning? Or maybe because of allergies from lake water? Still, it was great to be outside early (but not that early, already 7:20) in the morning. The sun was warm, the river was sparkling, the falls were flowing. I don’t remember hearing them gushing. Must be all the heat and the lack of rain. I wonder how full the creek is right now?

Heading back from the falls, I turned down by the overlook at 44th and entered the Winchell Trail. I walked for the first stretch, where the asphalt has surrendered to the dirt and the trail sits steeply above the river. Not even a dribble of water at the 44th street sewer pipe by the curved retaining wall. Encountered a few more people than I normally do on the trail, but I didn’t care or worry about how close I was to them. It’s fascinating (and a little unsettling) how quickly and easily you forget hyper-vigilance.

As I write this, someone is weed-whacking their lawn with an old, barely working weed-whacker. Sometimes its whine sounds like a person, weakened by age or pain or both, moaning. “Ooooooooooooooo.” Sometimes it sounds like a tiny mosquito buzzing around my ear, hovering too close. This is to say, it’s annoying!

Thought about stopping at the falls and checking out the different signs–with brief history blurbs or poems or names–but I didn’t. I think I’ll bike over there one day for a field trip. Maybe I can convince Scott and then we’ll get a beer at Sea Salt?! Speaking of signs, I just re-read this in Waterlog by Roger Deakin:

Most of us live in a world where more and more places and things are signposted, labelled, and officially ‘interpreted’. There is something about all this is that is turning the reality of things into virtual reality. It is the reason why walking, cycling and swimming [and running] will always be subversive activities. They allow us to regain a sense of what is old and wild in these islands, by getting off the beaten track and breaking free of the official version of things (4).

Waterlog: A Swimming Journey Through Britain/ Roger Deakin

As much as I agree with this idea of wandering away from official versions and ready-made interpretations, I also see the value of some of the historic signs that help us to get a deeper sense of the history of the land, how it has been shaped, and how we are connected to it. These signs need to be read critically and put in the larger context of who is telling the story and how. Sometimes these signs need to be updated or rewritten.

Found this poem via Maggie Smith (the poet, not the actor) on twitter. Like most great poems, after reading it a few times, there’s a lot I still don’t get.

edit, 16 june 2024: I’m not sure what happened here and what Maggie Smith poem I was intending to post here.

The Blind Leading The Blind/ Lisel Mueller

Take my hand. There are two of us in this cave.
The sound you hear is water; you will hear it forever.
The ground you walk on is rock. I have been here before.
People come here to be born, to discover, to kiss,
to dream, and to dig and to kill. Watch for the mud.
Summer blows in with scent of horses and roses;
fall with the sound of sound breaking; winter shoves
its empty sleeve down the dark of our throat.
You will learn toads from diamonds, the fist from the palm,
love from the sweat of love, falling from flying.
There are a thousand turnoffs. I have been here before.
once I fell off a precipice. Once I found gold.
Once I stumbled on murder, the thin parts of a girl.
Walk on, keep walking, there are axes above us.
Watch for occasional bits and bubbles of light—
birthdays for you, recognitions: yourself, another.
Watch for the mud. Listen for bells, for beggars.
Something with wings went crazy against my chest once.
There are two of us here. Touch me.

I love the lines about water and rock: “The sound you hear is water” and “The ground you walk on is rock.” I also like the double meaning of turnoffs, both things you don’t like, and alternate paths and ways to travel.

Thinking about the title, The Blind Leading The Blind. According to Merriam-Webster it is “used informally to describe a situation in which someone who is not sure about how to do something is helping another person who also is not sure about how to do it.” Often this is interpreted as a useless, pointless, clueless thing. But, in a dark cave, where seeing is impossible, a blind person would be better equipped to lead than a normally sighted person. Also, why should being unsure about something mean that you can’t do it, or that you’ll bad at it? How can we ever really be sure about anything? I imagine Mueller’s two “blind” people (you and I) as not helpless from lack of sight, but connected and hopeful through touch.

june 9/RUN

4 miles
marshall hill
74 degrees
dew point: 66

Delia the dog woke me up and forced me out of bed at 5:45, yesterday it was 5:55. I suppose I should be grateful; I like early mornings in the summer. If she wakes me up at 5:30 tomorrow, we’re taking a walk. Mornings are magical. Getting up so early, I was able to sit, drink my coffee, and still get out for my run before 7. Very nice.

I ran the marshall hill route for the first time since november 24, 2019, just near the end of the before times. Running north on the river road trail, I greeted the Welcoming Oaks. So wonderful to run by them on this sunny morning! And, to run by the sprawling oak that shades the ancient boulder with the stacked stones–2 today. Heading down into the thickening tunnel of trees, I heard the clickity-clack of a lone roller skier and then the coxswain’s bullhorn. Rowers! Later, running over the lake street bridge, I managed to spot the rowers on the smooth, glassy river. Running up marshall hill was tough, but I convinced myself not to stop for a break until I was at the top. Reaching the east river road and running down the hill right above Shadow Falls was fun. Near the end of the run, I could hear the buzz of the cicadas. I liked the noise even though it sounded like heat.

My focus on water and stone this month has led me to Lorine Niedecker and I am excited. Her work is opening many doors for me. I bought Niedecker’s Lake Superior a few years ago, but never really looked at it. Now, I am, and I’m amazed. The book begins with her poem “Lake Superior” and then an excerpt of her notes for the poem. She took 300 single-spaced, type-written notes for a poem that is less than 400 words. Wow! At the end of the notes, the editor of this book mentions that all 300 pages of Niedecker’s notes are available online through the University of Wisconsin Digital Collection. Nice!

side note: Reading an article about Niedecker, I discovered that her name is pronounced nee-decker, and that it had originally been spelled Neidecker but she changed it to make the pronunciation less confusing. Really? When I see Nie I think nye, and when I see Nei, I think neigh or nye, not nee. But maybe that’s just me?

Here’s a poem of hers that I imagine is one of her more well-known:

Poet’s work/ LORINE NIEDECKER

Grandfather   
   advised me:
         Learn a trade

I learned
   to sit at desk
         and condense

No layoff
   from this
         condensery

I love this poem–the idea of condensing as a trade, the valuing of condensing, the exemplification of it in the poem, “Lake Superior”–300 pages of notes condensed down to 300+ words!

Here are a few reasons I’m excited about Niedecker now, at the beginning of my encounters with her:

  • She writes about the lake I was born on, Lake Superior, and geology and geography that resonates with me
  • Her process: all the notes condensed down to a pithy, beautiful poem + the type of notes: history mixed with her travel stories, critical commentary on land and language and globalization
  • The forms of her poems and how the later ones might be influenced by her vision diagnosis when she was 46–she had nystagmic (your eyes constantly move, struggle to focus)
  • Her attention to and writing about rocks and water
  • The impact of her work through the WPA Writers program on the guide for Wisconsin + her work with Aldo Leopold
  • This brief essay, Switchboard Girl, in which she writes about her struggle to find work with her eye condition. I’m planning to read this closely; it might give me some useful language for understanding and communicating my own struggles with work after my diagnosis

It’s exciting to me how, slowly–4+ years of writing, reading, studying, listening to, memorizing poetry–I’m finding more ways into beautiful, useful, powerful, better words.

water and stone, another perspective

After posting this entry, I read some more of Tom Weber’s Minneapolis: An Urban Biography–specifically about the Dakota people, the settler colonizing of the area, and how Ramsey (gov. of Minnesota when it became a state + responsible for the Dakota Exclusion Act, making all Dakota people illegal in Mn + namesake of the county in which St. Paul resides) and Pike (responsible for the shady illegal treaties that led to Dakota people ceding all of their land to the US) were awful. Then I googled some more about St. Anthony Falls and found this interesting bit of information:

Owamni-yomni is ‘whirlpool’ in the Dakota language.
Gakaabika is ‘severed rock’ in the Ojibwe language. 

Water and rock. I want to read more about this naming and why the Dakota chose to emphasize water and the Ojibwe rock. Both viewed the place as sacred–I know a little more about the Dakota and how importance this water was for them, but not as much about Ojibwe and sandstone/limestone.

april 13/RUN

3.4 miles
edmund, heading north loop
35 degrees/ 15 mph wind
snow flurries

O, cruel April with your warm sun, blooming flowers, then snow flurries and mornings where it feels like 25 degrees. Even so, it was a good run. Bundled up, with the pink hood of my jacket up and my gloves on, I didn’t feel the wind. A benefit of colder, windier weather: no one on the trail! I ran through the tunnel of trees and was able to attend to its slow and gradual greening. The trees are coming into leaf/like something almost being said/the recent buds relax and spread/their greenness is a kind of grief (Phillip Larkin). I memorized that poem last year in May and it has stuck.

Ran past the ancient boulder with a few stones stacked on top, past the welcoming oaks, above the ravine and the oak savanna and the muddy trail that climbs up near the tree stump with chain link limbs. Looked down at the Winchell Trail and thought about taking it, but I didn’t. At 42nd, I heard a bird that almost sounded like a black-capped chickadee, but not quite. 3 notes instead of 2, and no rising up or down the scale. What was it? Also heard the drumming and calling of some woodpeckers.

Even though this is not a Mary Oliver poem, I had to post it–because I’d like it and because it gave me an opportunity to reflect more on my vision loss:

Pastoral/ Forest Gander

Together,
you
standing
before me before
the picture
window, my arms
around you, our
eyes pitched
beyond our
reflections into—

(“into,” I’d
written, as
though there
swung at the end
of a tunnel,
a passage dotted
with endless
points of
arrival, as
though our gaze
started just outside
our faces and
corkscrewed its way
toward the horizon,
processual,
as if looking
took time to happen
and weren’t
instantaneous,
offered whole in
one gesture
before we
ask, before our
will, as if the far
Sonoma mountains
weren’t equally ready
to be beheld as
the dead
fly on the sill)—

the distance, a
broad hill of
bright mustard flowers
the morning light
coaxes open.

I really like this poem and Gander’s reading of it. I was struck by his explanation of it, especially the idea that we see all instantly, that seeing, as a process, happens without effort, is immediate, and whole/complete. Occasionally seeing is not like this for many people–they experience visual errors, their brains receive conflicting data from their photoreceptor cells and generates confusing, ambiguous images. More frequently, seeing is like this for me. It is work, and sometimes, I can almost feel my brain trying to make sense of an image or a landscape. I witness them changing shape until they settle into what my brain decides they are. But, unlike Gander suggests in his recorded explanation of the poem, I can’t just “look once and find the near and far equally accessible” and the world doesn’t just present itself to me.

I like how Naomi Cohn describes it in her essay, “In Light of a White Cane.”

What I remember of better eyesight is how the world assembled all at once, an effortless gestalt—the light, the distance, the dappled detail of shade, exact crinkles of a facial expression through a car windshield, the lift of a single finger from a steering wheel, sunlight bouncing off a waxed hood.

Naomi Cohn

more mary oliver

So far, I’ve read through Devotions and Swan. Now I’m reading Evidence and Dream Work and then New and Selected Poems, Volumes I and II. I’ve read her collection of essays, Upstream too. And, I’m planning an extended study of her book length poem, The Leaf and the Cloud. I’m reading through it several times, along with the article, “‘An Attitude of Noticing’: Mary Oliver’s Ecological Ethic” by Kirstin Hotelling Zona. It sounds like a lot, but I’m not doing a close reading of every poem in every book. Just reading through, letting the words wash over me, and picking out a few things I want to remember.

more Evidence

Deep Summer

The mockingbird
opens his throat
among the thorns
for his own reasons
but doesn’t mind
if we pause
to listen
and learn something
for ourselves;
he doesn’t stop,
he nods
his gray head
with the frightfully bright eyes,
he flirts
his supple tail,
he says:
listen, if you would listen.
There’s no end
to good talk,
to passion songs,
to the melodies
that say
this branch,
this tree is mine,
to the wholesome
happiness
of being alive
on a patch
of this green earth
in the deep
pleasures of summer.
What a bird!
Your clocks, he says plainly,
which are always ticking,
do not have to be listened to.
The spirit of his every word.

I Want to Write Something So Simple

“And this is good for us.”
I want to write something
so simply
about love
or about pain
that even
as you are reading
you feel it
and as you read
you keep feeling it
and though it be my story
it will be common,
though it be singular
it will be known to you
so that by the end
you will think—
no, you will realize—
that it was all the while
yourself arranging the words,
that it was all the time
words that you yourself,
out of your own heart
had been saying.

feb 20/BIKERUN

bike: 30 minutes
run: 3.25 miles
basement
outside: 19 degrees

Watched another episode of Dickinson while I biked. Then listened to a playlist while I ran. Decided today I would start to break my habit of having to pee between biking and running. I did it! I went straight from the bike to the treadmill. It was difficult for the first few minutes, then it was fine. Will I be able to not do it again? How many times do you have to not do something to break a habit? I’ll find out. While I was running I had the treadmill display covered. I decided that I would check the time after the 5th song. I waited until the 8th song. 29 minutes. I was surprised, thinking a lot less time had passed. It’s nice to learn how to get lost in time in the basement, and to not need the gorge to do it.

Before working out, I finished my incurable poem (well, I completed a polished draft at least). I’m pleased with it. I think it completes my mood ring collection. 3 sets of 3 moods: 1. Delighted, Curious, Awed; 2. Doubtful, Lonely, Bewildered; 3. Relentless, Resilient, Incurable.

I am very pleased with this poem. It was such a helpful way to work though my feelings about having an incurable eye disease–my acceptance of it and my frustration with others who can’t accept it or the idea that losing vision is not a tragedy.

After working out, Scott and I took Delia the dog on a walk. Today it is bright and beautiful and much warmer. At the end of the walk, I recorded a moment of sound in the backyard.

a moment of sound

Quiet. I can hear a few birds, the wind moving through the alley, some dripping. And a scratching sound that is Delia digging in the snow for crabapple trees the robins left behind.

feb 20, 2021

feb 19/BIKERUN

bike: 25 minutes
run: 2.25 miles
basement
outside: 15 degrees

I started my bike by listening to Dr. Michael Osterholm’s podcast on COVID-19–he’s the infectious diseases expert/director at the University of Minnesota. He often gives worst case scenarios but his latest assessment tracks with another expert I check in with on twitter: Bob Wachter, the chair of the department of medicine at UCSF, who is a little more optimistic generally. Today’s episode of his podcast is titled Hurricane Warning and it’s about the likely category five hurricane of covid destruction that the B.1.1.7 variant (also known as the UK variant) could bring in the next month if we open up and let down our guard. While I don’t like hearing this news, I appreciate the reminder that my concerns about things opening up, including schools, are not unfounded. I’ve heard Osterholm say this several times: “Americans like to pump the brakes after the car is wrapped around the tree.” Meaning, we’re reckless and then try to be cautious after it’s too late. Looks like that’s what’s happening now. Numbers are down, people are tired of sheltering, so it’s time to open back up. This attitude makes me sad and concerned about our (U.S., the world) ability to make hard choices for our survival–not just with COVID but with the climate crisis. Most of the time I am an optimist, able to see past the bad to the good (in people, in situations), but the selfish, short-sighted way that many (at least those with the most power) have responded to crisis is chipping away at that optimism. Slowly, I’m letting the pessimistic “people suck” attitude creep in. I need to focus more on delight and people who are delighted and delightful.

Speaking of which, after biking I listened to a podcast with Ross “Book of Delights” Gay and his new book-length poem, Be Holding. Well, first I tried listening to my audio book Wintering but it was an extra dark chapter about insomnia that was bumming me out too much so I turned it off. Ross Gay is wonderful and his ideas about beholding as attending and looking with love, which reminded me of Maria Lugones’ idea of loving (as opposed to arrogant) perception, are very inspiring and help me restore my optimism. I look forward to when the transcript of the interview comes out–hopefully soon. In the part I listened to today, they were talking about looking and vision. The phrase “eyes of poetry” was used. It made me think about my relationship to vision and what I’m trying to do with my work (and my practices, and my strategies for coping with vision loss). Two things I’m doing:

First, a critical intervention in the privileging of vision/sight—an exploration of other ways of attending and other language for that attention. Not just seeing but listening and feeling. What might be some aural-centric words to counter vision, insight, focus? Thinking about this reminded me of a poem I memorized this summer: And Swept All Visible Signs Swept Away/ Carl Phillips

Easy enough, to say it’s dark now.
But what is the willow doing in the darkness?
I say it wants less for company than for compassion,

which can come from afar and faceless. What’s a face, to a willow?
If a willow had a face, it would be a song. I think.
I am stirred, I’m stir-able, I’m a wind-stirred thing.

Here, I’m thinking about listening and the expression of self through song, as opposed to through face and vision. The “visible signs” have been swept away by the wind, yet compassion and recognition (to beholden) are still possible.

Second, an expansion of what vision/seeing is—how do we see, what does it mean to see? what are others ways of seeing are possible? what are the different ways I do/can use my vision (e.g. peripheral instead of central)? This second project is inspired by Georgina Kleege’s book Sight Unseen and the descriptions of her own ways of seeing–even though she is legally blind, she likes to go to movies and art museums. She can still watch the movies and see the paintings, just in different ways.

So, the other thing I’m doing today (besides worrying about variant strains and high schools opening too soon, or loving looks and Ross Gay) is collecting definitions, expressions, descriptions of cure/curing as a method for preserving food. In my mood ring poem, I want to introduce this language subtly throughout the poem in order to create more impact with the final lines–which I’m thinking might be part of the inner blind ring. So much fun!

  • canned
  • jarred
  • jammed, jam-packed
  • pickled
  • expired, expiration date
  • spoiled
  • shelf-life, stored
  • shelved, put on the shelf
  • decay
  • needed in times of scarcity
  • embalm
  • preserve body for medical experiments
  • dried out, old
  • hardened, tough exterior, leathered, weathered
  • drawing moisture out
  • airtight, removing oxygen, sealing out air
  • inside, packed, put away

2 Habits formed, one bad, one good

Currently I am very aware of the forming of two habits through repeated practices. The first habit, which I see as good, is my daily moment of sound. I have recorded enough of them that it is a routine practice for me to step outside, no matter how cold, and listen for a moment. The second habit, which I see as mostly bad, is my need to pee every time I am done with biking inside and before I start running. I can feel the practice become entrenched, something I have to do every time. I know I could have tried harder to stop it, but instead I’ve been observing how it has been happening. Is it too late now to stop? I hope not, but I’m not too concerned. It’s fascinating to witness it forming. I just remembered how I had this same habit in high school during swim practice–I always had to pee after warm-up and before the main set.

a moment of sound

Today’s moment of sound happened right after I took the recycling out–around 7:30 in the morning. Birds!

feb 19, 2021

feb 2/BIKERUN

bike: 22 minutes
run: 3.25 miles
basement

Stayed inside today. Not that cold (about 20 degrees) or snow-covered, just wanted to stay inside. Finally started watching Emily Dickinson on Apple+. So far, I don’t like it and I was planning to ramble on in this log about it as I tried to figure out what bothers me. But, I deleted what I wrote. I’m planning to give the show a few more chances and watch at least 2 more episodes. If, after that, I still don’t like it, I might write something more. I’m glad that, after wanting to watch it for over a year, I finally am. Thinking about this episode and trying to figure out what I didn’t like about it has taken up almost 2 hours of my time–with nothing to show for it.

After I biked, I ran on the treadmill for about 30 minutes as I listened to an audio book: Agatha Christie’s By the Pricking of My Thumbs. Nice. I didn’t think about anything but what I was listening to–this book features my favorite sleuths, Tommy and Tuppence.

Earlier today, someone tweeted about retinal detachments. I was curious so I looked it up. Signs: you see floaters (like spiders) or flashes of light. I’ve been seeing flashes of light for about 6 months now–not sure how many each day. I don’t think I have a retinal detachment. I think my thinning retina is thinning even more, and might be tearing. This is not unexpected. Luckily it’s not painful, just part of the process of losing my central vision. Every so often, it can feel strange–I’ve been known to call out, “woah, trippy”–but not scary. My first thought: I am so glad that I already know what is happening to me and that I have had 4+ years to adjust to my inevitable vision loss. If these flashes were the first things I noticed and then I looked up retinal detachment, I would be freaking out right now. Instead, it’s good to know what these flashes most likely indicate.

I want to give attention to this flash of light, so I can describe what it looks/feels like to me. Next time it happens, I’ll try to write down some thoughts.

a moment of sound

I recorded today’s moment of sound while out on a walk with Delia. I would have liked to stop so I could record the birds better, but Delia wouldn’t let me. As a result, you can hear Delia’s collar, my footsteps, and my noisy pants. It’s funny how when I was listening, as I was recording, all I could hear were the birds. My brain had completely tuned out the collar and my footsteps/pants. Finally, you can hear the chirping birds and some cawing crows. So many loud crows lately!

Feb 2, 2021

jan 31/BIKERUN

bike: 22 minutes
run: 1.8 miles
basement

Scott and I took Delia for a longer walk this morning, which was wonderful. Not too cold, hardly any wind, a few fluffy flakes falling from the sky. Lots of other people out too. So I decided to head to the basement again for my workout. While I biked, I continued watching Margaret Livingstone’s fascinating lecture about  vision and art. Then, after I finished biking, I listened to a playlist and tried to run faster, which I did but not necessarily because of the playlist. It’s time to make a new one, I think.

I’m enjoying Livingstone’s lecture. I’m not necessarily learning anything new, but it’s reinforcing thoughts I already had or ideas that I had encountered elsewhere. Maybe it’s the academic in me, but I like to have my ideas confirmed by others, especially by those who have devoted themselves to studying vision and the brain. After discussing how “your visual system has higher acuity in the center of gaze” (acuity = sharper, finer detail), she says:

But your peripheral vision isn’t bad, it’s just different. Your peripheral vision is designed to see big blurry things; your central vision is designed to see small detailed things and actually cannot see big blurry things as well as your peripheral vision. So there’s a trade-off.

It’s the forest from the trees again!

a moment of sound

jan 31, 2021

I stuck with it and recorded a moment of sound every day this month–31 moments. Nice. This final one is short and is from my walk with Scott and Delia. I can hear the chapel bells chiming from across the river at St. Thomas University in St. Paul; at least two birds–including a coo or trill or something at 15 seconds in; Delia huffing (at 22 seconds); traffic on the road; Scott and I discussing, mostly in whispers, what kind of bird we heard; snow crunching underfoot; Delia’s collar jangling; and the wind.

Slowly but surely, I am falling in love with birds. A few years ago I wrote a poem in response to Mary Oliver’s goldfinch poem “Invitation, in which I asked, “Anyway, who cares about the birds?” I do, now. I’m hoping to learn more of their calls in the upcoming months.

Speaking of birds, I found this video on Brain Pickings:

jan 30/BIKERUN

bike: 25 minutes
run: 3.25 miles
basement

While I biked in the basement, I watched this great video lecture by a neuroscientist from Harvard, Margaret Livingston about vision and art. Very fascinating–and something I’ll have to watch a few more times before I get it all. Near the beginning she says,

So if you take anything at all away from this talk tonight, please try to remember: Vision is information processing; it is not image transmission. Your visual system does not just transmit an image of the world up to your brain, because there’s nobody up there to look at an image. There’s nothing up there except nerve cells and all they do is either fire or not fire. So seeing is whether some neurons are firing and some neurons are not and what information those cells are extracting by the firing patterns from the pattern of light that lands on your retina.

Yes! Vision is not just using your eyes to see an image that gets transmitted to your brain. Vision is a complex series of processes involving light entering your eye through your cornea then landing on the retina, traveling through the optic nerve to the brain where it is processed not merely reproduced.

During my run I continued listening to the audio book, The Guest List. Wow, the men in this book are terrible; I was actually getting angry and sad about what assholes they are. Despite this, finally, three-quarters of the way through I am invested in listening to the entire thing and finding out how it ends. Whenever I make it to this point in a book where I’m finally hooked even though I had thought about giving up on it several times, I feel a sense of accomplishment.

a moment of sound

On the deck again. Listening to a crow and my neighbors’ scare rods spinning in the wind, sounding like the scratching noise that Voldemort’s soul makes in one of his horacruxes in the last movie. For the first 20 seconds or so, Delia joined me. You can hear her collar clanging, then the door open as she goes back inside. Too cold or boring for her, I guess.

Jan 30, 2021

Note: Working earlier today on some notes about vision, I think I figured out my new project: peripheral vision. So much to think about literally and metaphorically! I was inspired by a line I came up with:

If central vision represents the trees, peripheral vision is the forest. I will never lose the forest, even as the trees fade further away.

jan 28/BIKERUN

bike: 20 minutes
run: 3.25 miles
basement

Thought about running outside again this morning but decided that I should run inside where it felt warmer than 0 and so I could listen to my audio book which is due in 8 days. (As usual, all of my books became available from the library at the same time.) Watched a few random races while I biked, then listened to the audio book, The Guest List, while I ran. I’m not quite sure why I keep reading/listening to books in this Ruth Ware/Paula Hawkins type genre: British, murder, troubled past, terribly toxic friends, forced gatherings. Do I even enjoy them? I guess I do a little because I always finish them, but I hate most of the characters: lost, selfish, never having their shit together. Listening to it this morning did help the 32 minutes on the treadmill go by much faster. The first few minutes were difficult as I thought, how can I stay on here for another 28 minutes? But it got easier. It is still easier (and much more fun) to run outside. I think one of my goals for this winter will be to work on my aerobic base (the long, slow miles at a lower heart rate) so that when it gets warmer and the paths are clearer I will be fit enough to run for an hour. Yes! I miss running for longer distances, traveling farther away from my house beside the river. So much more to write about.

how we see: eyes and brain

For the past few days, I’ve been reviewing how vision works, from when light enters the eye and hits the retina and then travels through the optic nerve to the visual cortex and the occipital lobe. So much jargon–names for parts of the cells and the neurons and the areas of the brain, ways of discussing direction (dorsal, medial, ventral). How much do I need (or want) to know about this process? When does it become too much, a distraction? What I find fascinating, from my limited research, is how, even as scientists use their fancy language to name/classify the parts of the brain and what they do, there is so much they can’t name or understand. I am not dismissing the important work that is/has been done on how we see, but I’m drawn to the limits of that language and knowledge. The mysterious parts. It seems like there is a lot that scientists don’t know about how the brain processes images and visual information. I’m basing this last conclusion mainly off of the lack of recent articles (in the last 10 years) on how we see and the conclusion to this article (it’s from 1993 so it’s old, yet I haven’t found many more recent articles):

Let me try to give you a sense of where we are, says Margaret Livingstone, in an effort to assess the status of visual research today. Take form perception. Human beings are very good at it. We recognize contours, faces, words, a lot of really complicated things. What we understand is that in the retinas, the lateral geniculate bodies, and the first layer of the visual cortex, we code for changes in brightness or color. In the next stage, cells become selective for the orientation of the change–that is, they code for contours, or edges. In some places cells select for the length of the contour. Then, if you go up very high, you find cells selective for certain faces. Livingstone pauses. We know remarkably little about what happens in between. It’s frightening how big a gap there is.

The Vision Thing

Instead of understanding these gaps as failures to KNOW, I like to think of them as reminders that seeing/vision is so much more than we can or ever will understand. It is complex and can’t be reduced to the simple, naive idea that our eyes see what’s in the world and then our brain correctly communicates that exact image to us. I am not sure this makes sense, but I have been interrupted several times in writing this entry and I think I lost my train of thought. I’ll keep it in and work on it later.

a moment of sound

Listen to those birds! Right outside my front door. It’s 18 degrees, but sounds like spring.

jan 28, 2021

dec 12/RUN

3.15 miles
2 school loop
29 degrees

Gloomy, light gray today. Wind coming from almost every direction. My lower back hurt when I started but was okay by the end. Less than 30 miles to go now, then a break. Nice to be outside, moving, and not thinking. Ran to the river and started on the trail, but there were too many people so I crossed over to the grass between edmund and the river road. No view of the river today. Encountered a few irritating squirrels, a big white dog. I don’t remember hearing any geese or seeing any big birds in the sky. No fat tires or roller skiers.

Running around Hiawatha School, I thought about when my kids went there. FWA started in pre-school in 2006, RJP finished 2nd grade in 2014. It seems so long ago and like it was a different Sara who took her kids to the playground, soccer practice, the wading pool, school concerts. I like the Sara I am now better than the Sara I was then.

This morning I reviewed part of Ed Bok Lee’s wonderful poem, “Halos,” and then recited it in my head as I ran. No recording today because I ran all the way to my front door without a cool-down walk. Here’s my favorite part of what I reviewed:

That visual impairment improves hearing,
taste, smell, touch is is mostly myth.
With it, however, I detect

fuzzy spirits exiting buildings;
halos around bikers’ helmets;
each streetlamp a pink-orange dawn.

So much in this bit that I love and that makes me think.

  1. Visual impairment, in and of itself, has not improved my other senses. Instead, it has made me want to work harder on them: to learn to listen, to notice and make note of what I smell, to find words to describe the textures I encounter.
  2. And, not being able to see normally most often doesn’t mean you can’t see anything. According to the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), 93% of blind and partially sighted people can see something. I like how Lee describes that something as beautiful and magical and not damaged or partial or less than: fuzzy spirits, halos, streetlights casting pink-orange dawns as light. Pretty cool. Quite often, I like the soft, fuzzy, gentle way I see the world these days. In an earlier part of the poem, Lee describes how he sees people: “any nearing face is surely smiling, gorgeous; each blurry body’s aura numinous.” Yes, I see this too and I like it. So much better than harsh lighting with sharp features and haggard faces.

As I was trying to write out the lines of this poems, I was thinking–and not for the first time–about how difficult it is for me to memorize line breaks and punctuation in poems. I googled “memorizing poems difficult punctuation” and found a discussion of how and why some contemporary poets write poems that deliberately resist memorization. Interesting. Here are some sources I’d like to check out:

The idea of writing poems that are hard to memorize–awkward phrasing and rhythms, for example–made me think about my poems about vision, the Snellen charts and mood rings. How hard are they to memorize? Are they too dependent on vision and reading to be understood? I think I want to do a poem/some poems about vision that are not so visual. I like the idea of experimenting with memorization and speaking/reciting in new ways. I’m also thinking about how I’ve been partly drawn to poetry because it’s easier to read as reading gets harder for me. Easier because there are usually less words to read and they are grouped differently, with lots of white space. Not easier in terms of understanding; I love how chewy and difficult they are in that respect. Yes, I want to think about this some more!