An exam point-of-view


I have now sat exams on three continents, in 4 countries, and am just mesmerized at how beautifully illustrative the process has been on culture. 

I do want to stress that everyone I have dealt with in all of these situations was EXTREMELY kind. There is no end to wonderful people all over the world. 

That said, the processes could not have been more different….

In Rome, the exam center sits in a gorgeous old ruin of a building, filled with statues, a cobblestone courtyard, and a teeny tiny elevator you are not quite sure will actually make its journey up. (I took the stairs.)

Right across the street is a lovely café for a quick espresso and cornetto con miele to enjoy before you head in. 

It’s all so lovely and relaxed. I put a big bar of chocolate in front of me and nibbled my way through the questions, my bags scattered at my feet, my coat across my lap to keep me warm. I have no doubt had I asked for a pizza halfway through, or explained that I really did need another espresso, I would have found no resistance as these are mandatory for good exam taking there. 

In Uganda, the exam center sits in a warehouse type building in a field that seems to be abandoned at first glance, and second.

Exams are supposed to start at 9 and by 9:30 my fellow students and I were still waiting. The clock kept ticking, we kept waiting, and when finally someone arrived we were all so excited only to learn that we were to be led to another seemingly abandoned building, and then told to wait some more.

Around 10:30, almost exploding with stress, I took it upon myself to ask what the problem was and was told that because the rooms are not used much they were trying to find a rag to dust the tables with, to make it nice for us. I explained that I didn’t really think any of us cared about dust, that we were already well over an hour late to begin and were all getting tired which was probably not the best thing as we came ready to hit the exam hard. At this point my fellow examinees chimed in that I spoke for all of them and we were finally escorted into the dust and cobwebbed room, depositing our things all around, and finally finally finally given our booklets to begin.

This is what is called “Ugandan time.”

In Brooklyn, New York City, I went to a very large campus and after being dropped off on the wrong side of it, felt myself suddenly in a scene from a movie as I raced across field after field to find where I needed to be. Fully no nonsense, as NY people are, I was told there is your locker, put your things into it, here is your desk, pay your fee, sit down. All very straightforward and I did as I was told. Exam started. I finished early. I left. Badda Boom. 

This week I sat my first exam in Canada. I can honestly say I have now had a true Kafkaesque experience.

Upon entering I was told I would have to go through the “procedures” thoroughly. I was first given a fire alarm drill–I kid you not–and then told to sit while I was read the ENTIRE booklet on exam regulations. These are the same regulations I am sent as a student and have read many times and nowhere does it say they are to be read to me. 

I am then searched, making sure I have nothing with me to take into the room, even having to take off my scarf to show I did not have words hidden inside of it. I was able to get my tissues authorized—which they put my name on— after explaining I was sick and needed them. 

Once in the room I was told if I needed anything to just raise my hand as I was on camera. I looked up at the fish eye in the ceiling and this is when I thought this is just all too surreal. 

Finally seated and trying to shake off all I just had to go through, I put my head down and dove into my exam, finishing in 2 hours and 50 min. Once finished, I got up, as I have done for the last 7 years, in Rome, in Uganda, in NY, to turn my exam in and was met with complete panic that I had left the room! We then had to get the rules and regulations book and look at whether I had committed a terrible offense. The booklet said, one must not leave the exam room until the exam is completed. 

“But I completed it,” I said. “And I am the only one here.”

I was the only one there. 

“But there is still 5 minutes of test time,” my proctor says. 

“I have never had this happen, I just leave when I am done, I am a bit confused as to all these protocols and please, what do you want me to do?” At this point I am panicking that they are going to rip my exam up and I just wanted a way out of the maze. 

“I want you to go back into the room.”

Into the room I went, 5 feet from her, separated by a thin glass window, just staring at her, while the fish eye stared at me, until I was allowed to leave exactly 4 minutes later. 

I went out into the parking lot only to find a parking ticket on my car. I had apparently parked 2 spots into the staff parking area and while there were NO OTHER CARS around this was not to be overlooked.

If I do a Masters, I am going to Rome. 

That’s the way the cookie crumbles


I’ve lifted my head briefly from my world of stories and sniffles. 

We outpaced all viruses all winter and yet I am felled right before my first exam. 

It started with my daughter who brought it home from school. 

She passed it to my son who shared it with me. 

So we all three are sniffling and aching and coughing while I study and study and study. 

And try to rest. 


Summer didn’t want to wait. From cold damp days to a scorching sun that had us racing for shade this week.

That’s the thing about mountain living on this island. You get colder winters and hotter summers. 

I think I am dreaming of a little seashore cottage. 

Still waiting for spring. 


We have hummingbirds fly into our house often.

They move so fast in the world, yet are so docile when I go to lift them up and place them back outside. 

I can reach out my hand and simply take one, and it will sit there and just be. 

It’s a bit how I am looking at this sickness right now that has come at the worst time. 

I’ve got my exams, and having to ferry over to another island to take them, and hotels to stay in, and it’s all so much if I let it be. 

Instead I am laying it down, like a hummingbird in a hand, and just resting my wings. 

Instead of struggling and worrying. 

Just letting it all be exactly how it is. 


To the Pacific Northwest weather


Dear Spring,

I am going need to you to try a little harder. It was a very long, dark winter and while I appreciate your tenderness, I need you to assert yourself now, please. 

Okay, yes, I did complain about your early arrival last year with a sun that blazed and scorched a bit too soon, so let me apologize. I am sorry.

I will never complain if you coming rolling in like a jet again, because this snail pace is just really getting me down. Yesterday my fingers lost feeling in the cold and really that’s just unnecessary in April. 

Okay, yes, I did go to the beach and yes, it was probably too cold to put my hands in the water, but did I mention it was April already? 

Are you even there, Spring? Hello?


Dear garden seeds,

I sometimes get too eager, like a chihuahua that’s caught in a purse, so I understand why you are trapped in mud with no way up to the surface and I am sorry to have put you in that situation. I suppose the laughter at the nursery when I bought you should have tipped me off that I might have been jumping the gun. 

If any of you can make it up, keep trying or at least hang in there during these floods that just will not end. One day there has to be some sun. Doesn’t there? 


Dear wind, 

That’s enough now. 

Little by little


My silence is so full.

In between hands reaching for me, my every moment heavy with things to do, care for, tend to, I steal chances, seconds, hidden moments behind doors. I am diving deep in these hidden moments, deep into my nights, into words, literature. 

I have been inching my way towards a degree for what seems forever. 

I remember years ago, when having to start all over again, after leaving Columbia University and settling into a school in London, feeling like it was impossible. 

I asked my husband how I could do it all? Keep moving all over the world, raise our children, and get a degree? I told him it would take years as I would only be able to do a little at a time. 

My husband said, the time will pass anyway. 

Those words have pushed me along. Those words have pulled me when I felt like I had no more nights to give to theory to learn and books to memorize. 

The time will pass anyway. 

How perfect for all of us to think about that. Days, months, years will still keep coming, if we are lucky, so even if it’s little by little imagine what you can have at the end of an endeavor.

One paragraph a day and years later you have a novel.

One newly discovered meal a week and perhaps the next year you have your own cookbook. 

One chord a week on an instrument and years later music will flow from your soul.

Time will pass anyway.

My last exams are only weeks away. Some years I could take three courses, some I was only able to inch out one. But I kept on going, little by little. The time has kept passing and here I am all these many, many years later about to have my degree. 

Back I go to Tolstoy and Cervantes, Saramago and Rushdie, Chinua Achebe and Dorris Lessing, so happily swimming in them, in the past, in times when space seemed so much more tangible, the world before our every seconds were filled with the touch of a button.

I will be sad to leave this study which has been my companion for so very long. But I am excited to find a new passion to walk in time with. Even if it’s just little by little. 

“We think we have arrived at the end of the road, but it is only a bend opening onto a new horizon and new wonders.” –The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, Jose Saramago





My House of Belonging


Fires still lit for early mornings and fading light at day’s end. 

Skies filled with a sometimes warm sun riding on still too crisp breezes. 

Spring seems to whimper in a corner as winter refuses to yield. 

But our rhythmic days have returned after the whirlwind tumble of school breaks. 

Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s the mediative quality of the island, but I find myself so deeply in love with routine these days.

It means everyone is well. It means the wheels are all turning. It means contentment. 

I used to bristle at sameness, ache for difference. For my days to scream like a crow’s caw. 

Now I long for and settle into, celebrate my days that look like every other. 

I cook and study and play and tuck in and wake and do it again and again and again, happily. 

It’s become like a dance. 

The place I come home to. 

This routine of my perfectly simple life. 

A very special friend of mine in NY recently sent me a book of poetry. (Is there a better gift from a friend than a book of poetry?)

In it David Whyte writes, 

This it the bright home

in which I live,

this is where I ask

my friends to come,

this is where I want 

to love all things

it has taken me so long

to learn to love.


This is the temple 

of my adult aloneness 

and I belong

to that aloneness

as I belong to my life. 


There is no house

like the house of belonging. 



Road trip


After 23 hours of flying my husband arrived from South Sudan and then just hours later we all packed into the car to drive up the Pacific Rim Highway, to where the sea crashes into the shore on wild waves. 

Our island is gentle, soft. Our shore is silent and meditative, calming.

The open north Pacific, out there on the edge of nothing, where land falls away into forever, the shore is brooding and powerful, and makes one feel so very small. 

What is it about that wild coast, where land falls away into sea that moves into forever? You can feel the curve of the earth while leaning into that horizon. 

We ferried and drove from our little island all the way to that wild sea, the Pacific in all it’s fullness. Farms in green valleys gave way to mountain roads still edged with snow that gave way to a long flat edge. There at the endless sea waves crashed against rocks, with a wind so strong you couldn’t hear your own thoughts. The beaches had no end. 

I thought of this amazing explorer I was just reading about, Henry Worsley. His need to push his boundaries, man’s boundaries, ultimately cost him his life. Standing there at the curve of the earth I thought of him and how some are pushed to go deeper than the rest of us. I thought of all the ones who set sail on that wild sea to discover and conquer, without even knowing if they would find land again or forever be adrift. The ones who kept their eyes skyward. 

How often do we not look up? As a child I never lost sight of this magnificent crazy earth. On hot summer nights I would lie in grass counting stars, making wishes on falling ones and everything seemed so tiny compared to it. The wonder of it all was my ship, my point of departure into becoming who I would be. 

Life gets busy. Kids don’t sleep. Dreams change. We have good days and bad. Good years and harder ones. But the stars are still hanging above us and some of them are falling, catching children’s dreams as they go. 

We are on a planet, spinning in space. 

Sometimes being on this inland has felt a bit like sitting on a butterfly’s wing. It’s so beautiful and gentle. Translucent and magical. We are protected from the open ocean, cocooned and nestled between islands. 

It was so nice to go past these boundaries, to reach up and over and to stand at that curvature of the earth and look up out of that butterfly’s wing to the chaos of this crazy and truly wild universe.