mary ann reilly

mary ann b w

Find this lovely woman many places. She inspires betterness, with her writing, her artwork, her life.

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The piece below, We are Pando, was originally written for the be you book. We asked Mary Ann if she might contribute to the book, writing in particular about rhizomes. Upon reading what she wrote, the books essence fell into place, the essence of a rhizome. A narrative at the root of all problems/solutions/betterness, if you will. Each chapter is now titled/emmersed in rhizomatic thinking/modeling.

Grazie dear.

We are Pando: Rhizomatic Learning

Mary Ann Reilly  also see her Lines of Flight  and The Familiar Falling Away 


It is an unbearably hot day as my husband, son and I slowly motor home to New Jersey from Washington D.C.  From the back of the car I can hear my son talking and I turn and see him hunkered down in the seat, wearing headphones and holding his phone in one hand.

Who are you talking to?



Yeah, Tom from London.

‘Tom from London’ is a 13-year old who plays Minecraft on my 12-year-old son’s server.  He and a dozen boys, ranging from 9- to 15-years-old from North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia, are avid Minecraft players on the server.

Their play represents a contrasting way to think about learning from what is offered as usual fare at schools.  James Gee and Elizabeth Hayes (2011) might classify the boys’ play as an example of a passionate affinity space where “people organize themselves in the real world and/or via the Internet (or a virtual world) to learn something connected to a shared endeavor, interest, or passion” (p. 69).

I think of passionate affinity spaces as rhizomatic and want to suggest that such learning offers us an alternative to schooling.  A rhizome, the horizontal stem of a plant, usually found underground, sends out roots and shoots, each of which can be self-sustaining.

Margie Driscoll (2004) defines rhizome as:

a tangle of tubers with no apparent beginning or end. It constantly changes shape, and every point in it appears to be connected with every other point (p. 389).

Now think about the boys and their play. They hail from across the globe and horizontally connect with one another in this passionate affinity space where they learn deeply.

For more than a decade, I have been considering how the rhizome might function as metaphor and model for education.  The traditional view of education situates schooling as a function of transference of expert-determined content from teacher to student. U.S. school systems tend to rely on hierarchy as the privileged school organization method used to distribute content and pedagogical practices, most often in the form of sanctioned programs developed by external experts and then purchased for teachers who are told to transfer the content to students.

In contrast a rhizomatic learning community is a fluid collective where participants dwell in the middle of things and where learning emerges informed by a blend of explicit and tacit knowledge. In conceiving of rhizomatic learning, it helps to think of learners resembling a sea of “middles,” who are continuously formed and reformed based on alliances determined by needs, interests, directions, questions, redirections, assessments, and commitments. Unlike the design of many traditional schools, a rhizomatic learning space is based on joining and rejoining.

In rhizomatic learning, thinking resembles the tangle of roots and shoots, both broken and whole.  Problem framing and decision-making rest with all learners. Again, Driscoll’s description of rhizomatic learning is important. She writes:

Break the rhizome anywhere and the only effect is that new connections will be grown. The rhizome models the unlimited potential for knowledge construction, because it has no fixed points…and no particular organization (p. 389).

Historically, when confronted with student achievement concerns, there has been a tendency to tighten control in an effort to increase learning largely because what has counted as knowing has been limited to a perceived ‘set’ body of content.  Doug Thomas and John Seely Brown (2011) describe this learning :

…as a series of steps to be mastered, as if students were being taught how to operate a machine or even, in some cases, as if the students themselves were machines being programmed to accomplish tasks. The ultimate endpoint of a mechanistic perspective is efficiency: the goal is to learn as much as you can, as fast as you can (Thomas & Brown, Location 327 of 2399).

In this mistaken schema, knowledge has been consistently situated as stable—as that which can be listed in a set of standards and given to teachers to transfer.

But we know that knowledge is not stable (Schon, 1983; Thomas & Brown, 2011). Thomas and Brown state, “[m]aking knowledge stable in a changing world is an unwinnable game” (Location 503 of 2399).   Knowledge actually has never been stable, but given the disruptive power of the Internet, what counts as knowledge is a shifting matter that is more easily recognized, especially by those holding power whose concept of knowing in the past was often situated as truth. One only has to think of the Great Chain of Being to understand how the sanctity of knowing was often a matter of power.

In contrast to such certainty, Thomas and Brown posit that there is a new culture of learning informed by

a massive information network that provides almost unlimited access and resources to learn about anything…[and] a bounded and structured environment that allows for unlimited agency to build and experiment with things within these boundaries (Location 63 of 2399).

This new culture of learning is inherently rhizomatic as it orients itself horizontally, not vertically, requiring us to value tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge--knowing more than one can tell–requires a decidedly different type of learning environment than what is currently favored at school where knowledge transfer is the privileged method. Tacit knowledge is not acquired from other; it requires learning through mind, body and senses and is facilitated by experimentation and inquiry.

For gamers, like my son, experimentation and inquiry are the methods most often employed when solving design and game-based problems. For the last several months I have been researching the learning that takes place inside my son’s Minecraft play with his on-line friends.  Five dominant learning trends have emerged out of this rhizomatic environment and one societal insight.


Play matters and is a means by which learners come to know their relationship to others. The learning that happens between and among the boys is play-based and informed by their interest in experimenting and imagining. For example, my son developed a vending machine in Minecraft. Originally the buyer would place a coin in the machine and would receive however many items as s/he wanted.  This proved to be a bit impractical and over time rather dull and with the help of another player, my son modified the idea so that one coin would get a player one item. This idea was later modified again so that the player would also get his coin returned along with the item.

To make these alterations required changing the wiring so that the machine reset after the item was delivered and that the delivery of the new item and the return of the coin were synchronized. Making these changes happen required playfulness, not linearity. As my son explained, “I had to fool around a bit and test out ways to make the pressure plate work. I couldn’t see how it would be possible.” When I asked him why he would return the coin to the player, he said that he didn’t want to exclude anyone from playing. Whereas everyone on the server had some coin they could use, not all had the same. “I wanted them to make a commitment by playing a coin, but I didn’t want to take their coins. We’re friends.”


Sustained conversation represents the dominant method for inquiry and is suggestive of the boys’ emerging sense of agency. My son engages in sustained conversations via Skype with the other players in order to brainstorm, innovate, find multiple solutions, complete tasks, hypothesize, and engage in play. Talk is important and in the horizontal world of game playing, it is not limited to or controlled by a teacher. John Goodlad (2004) reported in his research about schools that teachers “out-talked the entire class of students three to one” (p. 229). Central to these learners’ Minecraft play is the sense of agency they possess.

Thomas and Brown (2011) explain, “unlike traditional notions of learning which position the learner as a passive agent of reception, the aporia/epiphany structure of play makes the player’s agency central to the learning process. How one arrives at the epiphany is always a matter of the tacit. The ability to organize, connect, and make sense of things is a skill characteristic of a deep engagement with the tacit and the process of indwelling” (Location 1381 of 2399).


The players participate in collaborative knowledge-making (Cormier, 2008) in which they share screens, work in tandem, continue and revise one another’s tentative ideas in an effort to solve design problems and complete tasks. Engaging in trial and error, experimenting, making use of on-line and off-line resources, and altering established models are some of the ways the boys accomplish game-based tasks. Interestingly when I ask my son how something in the game came to be he is unable to attribute it to a single player.

The knowledge produced does not belong to one person, but rather is composed collectively. Dave Cormier (2008) explains, “rhizomatic model of learning…is not driven by predetermined inputs from experts; it is constructed and negotiated in real time by the contributions of those engaged in the learning process” (np).


These rhizomatic learning spaces the boys inhabit are inherently native to their own ground even as they involve learners from across vast geographic spaces. Membership in the game shifts and changes across time and expertise is not determined by social markers such as age, race, or credentials—although gender does seem to be a condition presently.  As learners work alone, in pairs, small groups, and large collectives–new alliances form and break.

The boys’ game playing represents a rhizomatic map; an open possibility that is: “detachable, reversible, susceptible to constant modification. It can be torn, reversed, adapted, to any kind of mounting, reworked by an individual, group, or social formation” (Deleuze & Guattari, 2002, p.12).


The players choose to participate in hard work each and every day. They set tasks to be completed and establish timelines to do so. As Jane McGonigal (2011) reports: “Games make us happy because they are hard work that we choose for ourselves” (p. ). Choice matters and learning is fun, although sadly most of the boys do not seem to characterize their play in the games as learning. The exception to this is the boy from Canada.


Game play leads to developing novel products in the virtual world that could have implications in the actual world. For example, a few months after my son viewed images I had made in Camden, NJ of partially demolished and boarded buildings, he showed me a self-repairing bridge and building he had designed in Minecraft. He suggested that if infrastructures such as buildings and bridges could self-repair, then people living in urban areas where poverty and societal neglect have dominated the landscape would be able to live in better conditions.

When I ask my son what he has been learning he says he’s learned how to work with others; how to search, locate, and evaluate information; how to run an effective server and negotiate a contract with a company to host the server; how to barter services in exchange for money to pay for the server; how to explain an installation process of mods to others; how to create a mod; how to anticipate a partner’s play in a game; how to build a structure with someone not in the same room; how to imagine a place and build it; how to give and take ideas; how to make mistakes in order to progress in a game; how to build a design based on someone’s idea; how to script; how to model; how to resolve social problems when they arise; how to use resources, online and offline, to guide building; how to make games inside of games; how to make films and upload them to YouTube; and how to narrow the focus of a film. During this learning, the boys are also learning about one another: siblings, where they live, currency, geography, food, politics, and all things Minecraft.

My son is adamant that this playing is not learning.

It’s not like school, he tells me repeatedly.

Sadly, I think he’s right.

Applying Rhizomatic Sensibilities to ‘Learner’ Design

So, if rhizomatic learning such as my son experiences in his game-playing is not like school, how do we begin to make the necessary changes so that children choose to work hard and learn deeply?  Continuing the current push by federal and state governments for increased school standardization is not an answer. An important shift needs to occur in order for the tight grip of school standardization to be loosened.  Thomas and Brown (2011) identify three critical dimensions of learning: knowing, making, and playing. Such learning is antithetical to standardization.

We need alternatives to the traditional method of industrial schooling.

As we begin to name alternative learning experiences, such as passionate affinity spaces, as viable learning–the idea of school as the de facto response to the question–“How do we educate children?”–will be challenged.

Certainly, there have been alternatives to traditional school raised and offered in the past.  What makes these times different is that in the past, it was difficult, if not improbable, to connect innovators who were challenging the status quo of schooling.  That is not the case today. Mass can be built by connecting those of us offering alternatives. Connecting with one another is rhizomatic.

So it is not a single reform method that is being offered. We have been too long trying to find a single reform. Rather, to disrupt the established power of schooling requires a long tail revolution. Chris Anderson explains:

The theory of the Long Tail is that our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of “hits” (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail.

As the costs of production and distribution fall, especially online, there is now less need to lump products and consumers into one-size-fits-all containers.

It’s not about offering the reform answer, but rather remaining in the middle where connections can be made and remade.  It’s about each of us doing great work, not work that needs to be replicated, but rather work that is unique, native to its own ground.  The challenge is to know we are there and to connect our work.

To connect great work is an antidote to mass standardization.

Leveraging social media to share stories and work, to try on tentative ideas, and to establish patterns are all critical.  Connecting and showcasing the small triumphs that alone may feel insubstantial, yet together represents a mass.

This is the work before each of us. On my own, I am one person.  Alongside you, I am  Pando*, a rhizomatic triumph.

Works Cited:

Anderson, Chris. (2004). The theory of the long tail. Retrieved on July 27, 2011 from: .

Cormier, Dave. (2008). “Rhizomatic education: Community as curriculum.” Retrieved on 2.28.11 from .

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix. (2002). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. London: Continuum.

Driscoll, Marcy P. (2004). Psychology of Learning and Instruction, 3rd Edition. Allyn & Bacon.

Goodlad, John. (1984). A place called school. New York: McGraw-Hill.

McGonigal, Jane. (2011). Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world. New York: Penguin Press.

Schön, Donald. (1983). The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books.

Thomas, Doug & John Seely Brown. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. Create Space: Kindle.

Pando: Also known as the Trembling Giant, Pando is a clonal colony of a single male Quaking Aspen located in Utah. Each genetically-identical individual tree (or “stem”) is connected by a single root system. Spreading across more than 100 acres, Pando is believed to be over 80,000 years old and collectively weighs over 6,600 tons, making it the heaviest organism on the planet, as well as one of the oldest.” from Leaf and Limb Tree Service blog



opposite end of the spectrum perhaps – one of Mary Ann’s incredible posts.. on standardization:

When a nation standardizes its tests and then relies on that single measure as its primary definition of excellence, learning is doomed and with it freedom.  At a national level,  the standardized measurement coupled with the weight of its value limits what can be considered as important knowledge regardless of initial intention. To limit what is important knowledge especially at a time when information is no longer considered scarce is of course, ironic. But it is also very misdirected, as it is the suppression of  thought, voice, and agency that is most crippling to individuals and groups and will do the most harm.

Considered what Antoine Mas wrote decades ago about standardization (as quoted by Jacques Ellul in The Technological Society, pp. 11-12, 1954)

“Standardization means resolving in advance all the problems that might possibly impede the functioning of an organization. It is not a matter of leaving it to inspiration, ingenuity, nor even intelligence to find a solution at the moment some difficulty arises; it is rather in some way to anticipate both the difficulty and its resolution. from then on standardization creates impersonality, in the sense that organization relies more on methods and instruction than on individuals.”

Is there nothing that lessens desire more than to live in a world that has been scripted?  We have known this for a long time and yet each ‘new crisis’ allows those with political and economic power to dictate bad practices and impose their will on the masses.

from when-excellence-is-single-standardized

lovely post on civility and doubt and empathy

unsay the world



Break the rules you think you know.
And the walking, then and now, strips away the clutter, …This is what it means to be in the middle: way leading on to way, loosing the need to know and the pretense of expertise.


jan 2013 – reframing:

mary ann post cut


sept 2014 – lines of flight to create spaces of permission..


sept 2014 – no living thing holds still..

We need not (re)create the system of education as this continues the myth of ground. Education reform is a sordid redundancy.  Rising without our permission are alternatives that young people already turn to as they invent.  Think of them as tribes, as PLNs, as collectives, as affinity groups.

We know more than we can say, Polyani would tell us. That’s where we are, tentatively but even as I pen this, the ground beneath is moving and we are moving too.

Learning is more flow, less rocks in the stream.  And so, the space we call school is being cleared.


sept 2014 – words

Matters of correctness, accuracy, right, depth and the hundred other synonyms we may well have about end results are more about our lack of imagination, than some important treatise on learning.  For it is in the making of utterances, this chain of speech, that our work of teaching needs to be lodged–not to pre-shape our children’s speech, but to best ensure that their speech has full permission to be spoken and to lean in and make sense of our learners attempts at making thought.

We would do well to remember what Robert Frost told Sidney Cox (1.19.1914) in a letter he wrote:

Words exist in the mouth not in books. You can’t fix them and you don’t want to fix them. You want them to adapt their sounds to persons and places and times. You want them to change and be different.

Words exist in the mouth.
We shouldn’t want to fix them.


sept 28 2014 (oh my):


oct 11 2014 (all in a day. oh how i love this lady):

Bob Geldof

and next day: ..difference has never been an antonym for sameness.
tweet from Mary Ann:
a5. be (other)wise.
losing your way
There’s something to be said for traveling without an agenda. Without a destination.
This entire heritage of thinking, grounded in the sentence “An agent does not move except out of intention for an end,” is where the most pervasive human error lies, compounded by two or more centuries of the illusion of unconditional scientific understanding. This error is also the most fragilizing one. 

The rational flâneur is someone who, unlike a tourist, makes a decision at every step to revise his schedule, so he can imbibe things based on new information, ..

The flâneur is not a prisoner of a plan. Tourism, actual or figurative, is imbued with the teleological illusion; it assumes completeness of vision and gets one locked into a hard-to-revise program, while the flâneur continuously—and, what is crucial, rationally—modifies his targets as he acquires information.

.. you will never get to know yourself-your real preferences-unless you face options and choices.

 – Taleb, antifragile

 she quotes her mom – and unconditional love ness:
..sometimes you learn to be conflicted and act anyway.
nov 2014 – partial views.. who determines..
nov 2014 – the known..unknown

I don’t really know about my future. Kind of ruin it if I did.”

He says all of this matter-of-factly and it surprises me.  “How’s so?”
“Not knowing. That’s the only thing to know, right?”

“Do you ever imagine what you might be doing?” I ask.
“Mostly pushing at boundaries. Rethinking what it means to be a human being.”

Mary Ann ends this with –

In small and profound ways, we all long for repetition. It is the longing for the known that makes us happy.
longing for the known..
swimming in the unknown.
word for 2015: possibilities

jan 2015 – making a commonplace book..


Mary Ann on bricolage:


what it was i was listening for..


april 2015 – on energy and the maps we make by living

There’s so much I cannot name or keep safe, but these messy marks are maps of love and even at that, they are beautifully incomplete.

For every system we think complete is a lie, even the ones we love–perhaps those more than others.

The spaces between stories are not silences, but rather energies we sometimes heed, sometimes name, often forget. They exceed our definitions, our hunches, our partial knowledge as they are maps we make by living.

if output matters input matters – revolution of everyday life


All our measurements are at best temporary truths–stories we can’t quite hold and need not hold.


..numbers and the like are placeholders for stories we can’t quite tell ourselves.

nov 2015 – much love dear

this odd gift of being present in the moment


nov 2015 – from Mary Ann..

The formula for overturning the world, we didn’t seek it in books, but
in wandering. – GUY DEBORD

Original Tweet:


dec 2015 – unsteady..

what appears at first to be inside and outside breaks down when a trace is followed and lost… We are more tangle than line

much love.

perhaps Siddhartha‘s.. if you haven’t yet.


Mary Ann’s on little word for 2016: love

love by mary ann


slice of life – lost/loss

no language.

i don’t want to forget.. to gloss over.

this is at the center of loss.



beyond your care, beyond your touch.


downward spiral

a man exits a room and our eyes meet, then quickly look away, each knowing the knowledge we now have is specific, limited to those who love others who are battling cancer.


As we enter the sixth month post-cancer diagnosis, I find myself still being momentarily jolted from a fantasy. In this dream, I imagine living like we did: taking a walk together, planning small holidays, doing something impulsive, laughing at a movie, making detailed plans about work, talking with our son about his aspirations, staying up all night and talking, making a meal in our kitchen.

Simple things we no longer can do.

my heart.


lucid dreaming dilaudid and cancer

What’s most significant though is Rob recognized in a moment of clarity his loss of self.


song and grief

when words fail

cs lewis – a grief observed

helen macdonald – h is for hawk

your own song

words.. no words


mind body spirit

Healing is a complex matter of mind, body, and spirit.

Later, Rob will tell me, “I’m losing myself.” I tell him how some days I feel like I’ve misplaced myself too. I tell him he’s the best man I know and that I think to go through cancer diagnosis and the myriad of serious problems that have accompanied the diagnosis and to not think we are all fundamentally and profoundly changed is to rest in deep denial.

Sometimes words help. Sometimes they are little more than vibrations across our vocal chords.

Today, my brave husband is wearing despair like a too big cloak that he needs help to get out from under and a hospital may well be the last place to find such direction regardless of intentions.

We need to go home.

bj miller – palliative care


live brilliantly

He’s already leaving. A foot here and the other somewhere else.

I study him, this man who knows some secret of immense value that the rest of us cannot discern.

Live brilliantly,” he tells me. “Don’t you dare hide yourself. Don’t you do that. Live brilliantly.”

oh my heart.


now i wait

Rob rallied a bit, became lucid, and said good bye to us. I whispered to him.  I told him it was ok to for him to leave Devon and me. He gestured to his lips and I have never known the intimacy of a kiss like the one we shared.

“I’ll read the signs you leave behind and find you in some parallel universe where cancer does not exist. I love you, Rob Cohen, so much. I’ll love you forever.” 


small moments of grace

I’m dying.


“Live. You understand? I want you and Dev to really live well.”
“Yes, we’ll live well.  We’ll live with all you have shown us.”
“Good, that’s what I want.
“We’ll do it brilliantly.”


when words fail

When words fail there remains touch.  One of the startling things I have learned is that Rob recognizes me even though he cannot name me.  I’m stored in his brain in lots of ways.  He responds to the sound of my voice, the touch of my hands, and certain features that he has always liked (my eyes).  For now, I take solace in these ways of connecting.


small dignities

Dignity after 50 days in a hospital is frail thing. And it ought not be.

I am trying to remember that. The man lying in the bed a foot away is not a patient and he has wants that clash at times with the prescribed course.

My husband still has wants. He is not all need.
How beautiful.
How necessary.


hey candy girl

“Don’t let this disease cheat you of this time with him.”

on listening to you and loving you.. as you take it all in…




..Missing me one place, search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.”

‘I’m so glad you found me.’


quiet for us

I tell him Dev and I will be okay here and that we will love him forever. I say all this as I hold his hand


heartbreaking commonplace

“I know that the thing I want is exactly the thing I can never get. The old life, the jokes, the drinks, the arguments, the lovemaking, the tiny, heartbreaking commonplace” (C.S.Lewis, A Grief Observed, p. 25).

We are making stories now-


not knowing

I’m glad we didn’t know. We lived so fully. Not knowing is so much more important that myriad of things we can say we know.

i will always love you

no questions

no doubts



And even as I say the words, I know how I will regret them–how I will regret even a second lost with this man.

“Each day I tell myself I will not look at you, and each day I fail. I can’t not look,” Rob tells me in a moment of lucidity this morning.

I can’t not look too, I think.  Me too.

this is what dying at home is like.


dear rob

One thing, of many, you taught me was to trust my tacit knowledge. I know more than I can say and these months supporting you as you battled cancer and now accepting death have taught me that again.


These last few months watching you valiantly live and struggle to die have been the most significant of my life. You humble me.


things i will miss

The confidence I feel just knowing you are on the planet with me


go rob. go love.

I have told you it’s okay to go. I have been gallant. Correct. But I lied.


Now as we edge closer to your death, I don’t want you to go away from me forever. I want you to live, to defy the odds, to stay with me.


And even as I ramble this rant in my mind, I know that I can’t stand to see you hurting.


The Rob I know is slipping fast away even before your last breath comes.

Go Rob. Go fast. Go, love. Go.


all along – burn/love

Great loss is felt in the gut. I have trouble stomaching that act of imagining future mornings and so I resist this. Everything in me rejects that certainty.

This morning I am recalling a line from a Rumi poem, “Music Master,” that resonates so.

Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere/They’re in each other all along” (p.106).

How true I think as I wait for Rob to exhale breath, feeling the burn in my lungs.


what grief is




The thought of this planet moving along without my sweet, sweet husband undoes me. Against everything rationale, I still held hope close that I could save him somehow–that a miracle could happen.

My beautiful husband is dying.

so fragile.
we must soak it in.
and this is so up close. imagining this upcloseness for the thousands upon thousands who die..  w/only stats documenting their death.
zoom dance\ing as insight for all of us. can we upcycle heat (or whatever) to help us see that/each-other better.
The world is greyer without him.
rip dear man.
most everything has a name
like some wild bird wanting
a new route
to freedom
Does naming make it more or less real?
oh my heart.
much love.
@MaryAnnReilly pax huic domui
@irasocol This house is in need of peace
it is a house of grace, now it needs peace.
loosed from this earth

a wild thing with a frantic heart.

you do not have to be good.
you do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
you only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
tell me about your despair, yours, and i will tell you mine.
meanwhile the world goes on.
meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
mary oliver

love what it loves.


the boy who lost his father

nothing is complete


let her paint

sometimes.. the only thing.


something about love

yes, I said yes I will Yes


set to rights

Friends and neighbors hesitantly ask, How are you doing?

And truly I am so lost that I can’t even fathom an appropriate answer and so I just lie.

I’m okay. 
I’m getting there. 
Doing what I must do.

What they can’t know is that ‘how are you doing’ is just the wrong question to ask.  It assumes I am doing, acting, being.  And such action is so far beyond where I sit.

These days, the light hardly penetrates.
It’s always cold.
And though I may have set the room to rights, my heart feels dead.



What I want most, I cannot have.
I cannot have.
Cannot have.

… I must reinvent my life.
Reinvent my life.
Stop looking for substitutes and live.


After learning he had but a few weeks to love, Rob held my hand, looked me in the eyes and said, Live brilliantly. Don’t you dare hide yourself away. Live brilliantly.

Live. Brilliantly.

Just do it.



I am paused between two worlds.
C.S. Lewis captured this feeling well when he explained that grief feels “…like suspense. Or like waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen” (p. 33).
I thought I was writing for you. I thought I was writing in order to remember Rob. I thought it mattered if you read and took time to respond. And in some small ways it does.  This bearing witness matters some. But I see now that I have been writing mostly for me, mostly to reinvent my life by rehearsing living–to stand in the fear and be vulnerable, to chance being loved.
It isn’t fear, but rather sheer vulnerability; It isn’t hope, but rather love–that inches this tired and broken self towards light.
no fear in love.
love what it loves.
dear dear wild thing.
@MaryAnnReilly I do hope that you can feel a world wrapping around you.
I do
ic and widow

I know so little.

Beauty is born from such vulnerability and love finds expression in that which perplexes us most.


a widow’s guilt

To be a widow
is to know
such torment.
I failed you.
I lived
and you did not.

oh my.

a daily torment.

(to whatever degree)

of being human.


all the kings horses

 I wonder how wise her advice actually is–especially if having a plan becomes a daily matter. What gets surpressed in all that business, certainty? Perhaps it is better to trust e.e. cummings who wrote, “Since feeling is first…”

much love dear.


no language

I know no words that can capture even a slim sense of the loss.

The alphabet is inadequate.


you both kicked off your shoes

And perhaps this is what it means to be in love.  To sing with little thought as to the quality of voice–to sing for the shear joy of it,..

Well, I know that you’re in love with him `cause I saw you dancin’ in the gym.You both kicked off your shoes.Man, I dig those rhythm and blues.

if in fact there was a destination

his shirt

As I write this I am wearing one of Rob’s flannel shirts–a Campbell plaid, I think. At first, Rob would get annoyed when I took one of his shirts to wear. This surprised me.

“You have shirts of your own,” he said to me.
“It makes me feel wrapped up in you,” I explained and he looked surprised at first and it wouldn’t be until much later–years later–that I realized how this gesture of love baffled him. He hadn’t known a lot of love before. Across the decades we helped each other to deepen and complicate our understandings of love.


courage by love

And now, I feel hopeful because I can acknowledge the courage I showed by letting Devon go with love and keeping separate the crazy talk in my mind that is fear based. I acknowledged how I was feeling and affirmed Devon is okay and so am I.  He is with others whom I trust and off to have an adventure. I’m home and good with no need to outdistance the ways I feel. I can find that stillness with comfort.

This is the new normal. I am beginning to feel competent once again.

competent: having the necessary ability, knowledge, or skill to do something successfully; (of a person) efficient and capable.; acceptable and satisfactory, though not outstanding.

feel alive dear one. don’t feel competent. leap over competent.


[i know i know nothing of what you are feeling/going-through. competent scares me. i think of shirky’s 10 daycare centers.. and broken feed back loops.. and the 45 yrs i spent there.. and the 10 after that of detox.. the ongoing detox.. et al.]



walking to live

i hear you.


loosen walls why i write

write to loosen my walls so I can try on the new, the repurposed


art collab

live brilliantly pic


sometimes i’m terrified of my heart

All this loss is incalculable.

Regardless of how good or bad I am, I will never kiss Rob again.
The infinite number of things that comprise ordinary human life are now a list I cannot bear.
Desperation is a synonym for widow.
Sometimes, I’m terrified of my heart.


what will you make of this day

The morning’s the size of heaven.

What will you do with it?”

Live brilliantly.


something eternal

Knowledge of the future corrupts the past. All of this reminds me of Act III from Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. This act opens with the burial of Emily Webb. We watch as Emily takes her place among the dead and those who had attended her burial leave the cemetery. Now only the dead remain and the Stage Manager. Emily, as you might recall wants to return to the living. She is cautioned not to do this but she insists.  She wants to see just one day. Just one day.

Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? – every, every minute?


As predicted this step back in time is a mistake. A painful one. After witnessing the absence of intensity on the part of her mother and father she understands a truth that I too know now.

Emily tells us:

EMILY: I can’t. I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another.  


I didn’t realize. All that was going on in life and we never noticed.


Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? – every, every minute?  



The saints and poets, maybe–they do some.


I know he stops somewhere waiting for me.
mend my life
may 23 artwork
mary ann love what you love.png
Each action need not be elaborate, nor even complete.
As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives. – Henry David Thoreau
This is me speaking. Can you hear me? I once had a man I loved.
i/we hear you dear one.
be curious/attentive
Stay curious. .. baffled me..stayed with me, kept me company as I would sit next to Rob, especially through the night. In some fundamental way, all I had was the decision to stay curious as I kept vigil while Rob restlessly slept. Staying curious was a way to make sense of what was happening and it led to an important way to connect with Rob and to calm the fear.
My husband confronted death as he lived–full of courage, grace, and humility. I might have not witnessed that had I not been alongside him those last three weeks, attentive, loving, and so curious. I wanted, needed to know what he was seeing, hearing, learning.
covered w stars
Living brilliantly is more about love and less about doing any particular thing
turning to one another
Remember, you don’t fear people whose story you know. Real listening always brings people closer together. Trust that meaningful conversations can change your world. Rely on human goodness. Stay together.”
tell them we ate love
when they ask you how we survived.. tell them we ate love  – Shokry Eldaly
love is story
The best stories have large holes.  Holes so big we wander in and out–getting lost in the best possible way.
We tell these stories to tell what we did not know.
what love makes
There you are my love. There you are
shadow play
Oh to be in pursuit of possibilities–unexplored possibilities
imagination and murder
To conjure what we don’t know or feel we can’t have requires us to exercise individual and collective imaginations in order to reshape the stories we have been taught that are so very wrong.
To act just takes our will to rebut the crappy and dangerous narratives that are already multiplying that recast Other as evil, as wrong, as non-human.
potential energy
Dying is never a singular act for the survivor. Every late afternoon Rob dies. Each morning I resurrect him. I do this without mindful intention. I do this because my mind seems to know what pain my heart can bear.

I imagine if Rob could have narrated those ending moments he would have talked to me about the transformation of potential energy to kinetic and somehow this offered explanation would have sounded so much more like a story you have always hungered for but never named. My husband adored explaining the ins and outs of science and literature; music and life.  I can imagine if he were here I might ask him to tell me the story of the dark side of the moon. And without any rehearsal, he would launch into a tale about gravitation and angular momentum and somewhere in this tale there would be a line or two he recited from that old Pynchon story, Entropy.

I miss the man who could cull together Meatball Mulligan’s lease-breaking party, thermodynamic theory, Henri Lefebvre’s production of space and the breakdown of capitalism all the while sipping some tea.  Some days the mystery gets revealed–or at least an outer layer.  Entropy tells us that everything will slow down one day.


It is often said that entropy is an expression of the disorder, or randomness of a system, or of our lack of information about it.



Stages make no sense, Devon adds. That’s far too linear.


The one certainty in life is death, my son tells me. And certainty is a comfort. There’s no confusion. We can live bolder, make our lives matter more.

Take chances and know risks?

Do what you love. 
we were never lost
fear is more the absence of love than anything else
b r i l l i a n t l y
On the sea of everyday talk it’s easy to lose track, to tuck a self far beneath the chatter.
The self we know is more portrait than flesh.
Sorrow cuts a path through the noise of the day and opens us to silence. Too much talk leaves us unmoored–the shoreline a distant memory.
I promised my husband I would live brilliantly as he commanded in those last days when he was still lucid. What I could not know then was how important silence would be.  Learning to live with and even embrace the uncomfortableness of silence is to *lose the self and in doing so–the permanency of love becomes known.
and/or find it
Don’t you dare hide away.
making me think… not about anything needing to be fixed.. but that nothing needs to be hidden ..
his passing has opened spaces large enough for me to stand still, be silent, and listen. And though the tears and sorrow that have come alongside much of this silence frightens me, not feeling is more alarming.
still ness.. silence ness..

The distance between who I am and who I want to become is illuminated by the silence, *defined by love

*and/or protected from definition ness.. by love



It is the small things that comfort and undo ..


there’s no back

we need the tonic of wildness

When the world is less familiar there is comfort in what is left unnamed.


seek its name

that is what I am learning this last year–how to discern that hidden wholeness within.  Nothing has been as profound.  Even in, or perhaps especially in the mundaneness of our common lives, we too are wild birds seeking flight, compelled to live, to seek a wholeness to heal our divided selves.

Yeats was right. Things do fall apart; centers do not hold and out of that “twenty centuries of stony sleep” are loss and an occasion to seek wholeness.

so much love for you dear.

thank you for words.. that fill


holding our tongues and impossible futures

those times we leave the present moment and try for a future that is not ours

Why do they seem to call to us when we would rather be anywhere but the present moment.

We did not wait for a future that would not arrive. we lived. Ethan and Mattie flirted with love and lost. We did not.

live brilliantly..


bone & heart

that such a noise could be more solace than annoyance;


samhains fire

Who knew grief could be tempered by a body in motion?

I know no spells. Just these words


there are no exceptions

one love

none of us if one of us 


bday rob

Rumi writes that he wanted:

“…a trouble-maker for a lover,
Blood spiller, blood drinker, a heart of flame,
Who quarrels with the sky and fights with fate,
Who burns like fire on the rushing sea.”

live brilliantly

l    o    v    e 



a spell I have known by heart. Here in the still dark morning he has dimension, a scent I have tasted, have worn on my skin.

I wonder now, was he always so pleased to see me home?

This was us.
Just this.
oh my

l    o    v    e 


if only we’d been talking to cuba

or trying forbiddens.. less pharmas.. more maths..? ie: doc et al on cancer page


coming home

The forest knows
Where you are…let it find you.

– David Wagoner, Lost


what grief teaches

Write because you have something tugging at your sleeve and you cannot name it. Not yet.

..writing helped me to say what I was often too frightened to hear.

I so needed you and you heard me.

I had more energy than sense. Saying the impossible helped to rid my body of pain. In those days, I was more pain than flesh. I wrote to name what was just outside the reach of my fingers.

Mostly I write to deepen the present.


one word



three decades of books

oh my.. no wonder.. the love/connection/soulmateness

upon reading the list.. my heart ..more than wanting to read a bunch of them.. long ing for a mate to read/have-read with


something about love

we were so us

eudaimoniative surplus



I once told time by the moon.
Now I listen to it.

indigenous us



live brilliantly..

be the poem


poetry break – by way

a country lit twenty-four hours a day to keep dreams stuck
Turning in a wheel
In the houses of money.
from Amy‘s book
way does lead on to way
power of love
Today love is more powerful than loss; more powerful than sorrow and doubt. Love finds expression and strength in the everyday acts that now comprise my life.
being love
the grey
Knowing what you want to say comes from being wide awake, being uncertain, and having a habit of writing

the way we have come

is not

the way things are


thinking about being literate

deterritorialized spaces that open up via curiosities



what sorrow reveals

The best antidote to such uncertainty is to live and love deliberately..

Love did not die. Knowing I have been so well loved centers me each day. ..I remain the most loved person on this planet as I carry with me the love that formed me. I did not know that such a gift would be revealed as sorrow edged.


What happens to how one thinks when getting the “right” answers is rewarded, whereas more novel and/or inaccurate attempts at thinking are punished?  Our desire to be right may well be undermining our need to think.

simulated thinking


moon rising.. thinking about time

In this world, there are two times. There is mechanical time and there is body time. The first is as rigid and metallic as a massive pendulum of iron that swings back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. The second squirms and wriggles like a bluefish in a bay. The first is unyielding, predetermined. The second makes up its mind as it goes along.  

Many are convinced that mechanical time does not exist.

rowson mechanical law

Then there are those who think that their bodies don’t exist.

Where the two times meet, desperation. Where the two times go their separate ways, contentment. For, miraculously, a barrister, a nurse, a baker can make a world in either time, but not in both times. Each time is true, but the truths are not the same.



I thought moving on was the goal. Now I see that as more trap than movement. It’s not moving on after all. It’s living. Nothing more than that.


Live, brilliantly.


Mary Ann Reilly (@MaryAnnReilly) tweeted at 6:35 AM – 25 Aug 2018 :
Incremental changes can alter schooling from within. But that simply isn’t good enough. Bored bored bored young people ought to weigh on our conscience & motivate us to redesign learning alongside them in idiosyncratic ways. Replication needs to give way to imagination. (

why change outside


Such a lovely surprise to have my photographs featured by Adam Bykowski.
Original Tweet:

love the moon shots


not being careful

Sometimes the soulfulness of love undoes me

mary oliver:

‘only those lovers who didn’t choose at all
but were, as it were, chosen
by something invisible and powerful and uncontrollable
and beautiful and possibly even
only those know what I’m talking about
in this talking about love.’

It’s easy to get burdened by what might have been. Oddly, it is love that lightens despair.