It's still difficult to write, but for a different reason. I've reached a tipping point where I need to haul out rather than suppress words; for the first time, silence is easier than noise. I used to love loud, scrappy, punk-rock-style venues, loudness that pushed out presence, adrenaline rushes used as numbing drugs. I needed constant music, loud scream-along songs, motion and noise and light to reassure myself of the existence of the world. Right now, I find them painful.

Instead: the dark back corner of an empty church, hours across bare farmland with no music but a humming motor. Not that I've never relished quiet in the past, but it was always a recovery from signal overload in order to launch into the next one; this is different. When I sit in the silence and solitude I fear, I learn to decouple anxiety from fear; anxiety is a noise that dissipates my energy so I can control avoiding what scares me. Absence of anxiety doesn't mean absence of fear -- instead, it gives me more energy to be brave with. When I'm not so busy being anxious, I can appreciate the fullness of the experiences I'm in. (Another unexpected bucket-list checkoff last weekend: improvising live piano music for a stage show, "The Event." Sweet, slow smiling in a snowfall afterwards.)

This is a hard Lent. This is a good Lent. I am grateful for the counsel and councils of older women who surround me at the most unexpected times, helping me practice silence and stillness as strength; where has that been all my life?

We were discussing Leonard Cohen lyrics ("Anthem") in my poststructural theories class, of all places. They fit.

Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

I've spent a lot of my life angry at silence and exclusion. I can't access the center? Very well, then: I will become the center, the hub you can't do anything without -- then you will have to give me the information that's so difficult for me to overhear. And thus the path to workaholism-in-compensation-for-deficiencies is set; you must be in the center, or you have nothing.

But there is no center.

And I have so much.

In 2nd grade, we learned about metamorphosis -- how caterpillars melted in their cocoons, and if you cut one open at the right time caterpillar soup would spill out on the floor. (Tiny Science Mel wanted to try that, but decided it would be too mean to the caterpillar.) It's a painfully accurate analogy for how I feel these days; the past 2 weeks have been particularly grueling, and the rest of March looks equally so. Be silent, listen, work, renew and rest -- the things I hear are frightening, and I am tired and confused and scared, and it is very easy to be anxious. But I will have exactly as much grace as I need to get through each day, and... somehow, even grappling with doubt, I do trust that. I can't see the road, but I can take the next step.

A path is built of steps.