Cats & Dogs & the Wisdom to Know the Difference

Good morning, Richard.

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Always wanted to be a gardner. But what I try to grow dies, what I leave alone, on the other hand…

Reading your poem “Fairytales“, I was thinking that we are in such similar places right now. This midlife honesty. What looks to younger people like giving up on one’s dreams, is actually giving up on other people’s dreams and discovering (and accepting) our own day-to-day joys.

I think it takes courage to swim against the tide as we begin to do about now. When our own mortality comes slowly seeping into our consciousness as a fact of life, as our bones move with less ease and our skin relaxes, and we can admit to ourselves that we really aren’t the person we tried to be, the person we really don’t want to inhabit day to day.

And I honestly believe that at our age that it becomes clear for the first time: who is actually swimming, and who has been passively going with/according to the flow all along.

I get this image – I have no idea from where – but the father calmly holding out an arm, palm pressed against his son’s forehead as a consequence of the will of his angry six-year old, who is swinging wildly, insistently: breathless.

Isn’t that how we spend the first half of our lives? As the six-year old? Trying to enforce our  indistinct will on the rest of the world? “Sound and fury” as they say in that Scottish play. No wonder it seems as though the first half of our lives is so significant. It’s loud and frenetic. Draws attention to itself. We appear to be doing something. Appears being the operative word there. I think this is the great illusion. Isn’t that what the Buddhists are talking about anyway? The futility of will and desire?

The father that I imagine? He is laughing – not mocking, but in recognition and compassion.

Isn’t it kind of odd how we spend so many years trying to pound other people into our boxes, and to simultaneously squeeze and contort ourselves so as to fit into theirs?

These days I’m actually lamenting over so much wasted time and energy. I’ve said before that I write as a way to reach out – over oceans, as we have done – and beyond my inevitable death. But lately I’ve been laughing at myself. I have students who don’t have a clue who Andy Warhol is was.  Much less Gertrude Stein, or even Mary Shelley. When I was in London last, I saw Jonson’s The Alchemist, and again marveled over the fact that the “upstart crow” Shakespeare eclipsed the more popular Jonson after their deaths. It is all so arbitrary. I wonder how many generations will remember Marilyn Monroe.

And don’t let get me started on the distortions and unforgivable omissions of fact in the forming of icons like Monroe, or (ahem) Gandhi.

You’d think, with us all striving to become myths, we were all setting ourselves up to sell toothpaste  or cola or nationalism from the Great Beyond. Talk about “selling out”.

Am I stretching the metaphor, or isn’t it a wee bit like spending all one’s money on lottery tickets for posthumous fame, while starving to death in an empty room?  I am done with that.

Or trying to be done with that.  (Funny how it take such conscious effort to stop unconscious drives.) I’m trying to spend more time following curiosity rather than ambition.

“If everyone looked up to me rather than just at me.” The speaker of your poem is someone to love, Richard. The relinquishing of ambition, is what makes him admirable in my eyes.

Back to the Buddhist-ish paradox, right? The Taoist Wu Wei? This is wisdom, right? Not giving a f#%$ about “relevance”: Authenticity.

Although I get the impression lately that the word authenticity has come to mean “unique brand”.

At any rate, I think it works out nicely – this being honest without ourselves and giving up our pre-packaged ambitions. Our ideas of cat and dog people. This way, you can keep the cats, and I can keep the dogs.And everyone is happy. (Except E., who was dishonest with me on our first date, when he told me he was a dog person.)

Miss you. Give my love to M.

XO Ren

Richard’s reply


This is one of a series of weekly open letters to friends – friends who write back to me on their own blogs. Please click through.  Category: Correspondence.

If you’d like to catch up, read the letters in chronological order here.

 

9 Comments

  1. 1010parkplace says:

    This is brilliant, Ren! “Isn’t it kind of odd how we spend so many years trying to pound other people into our boxes, and to simultaneously squeeze and contort ourselves so as to fit into theirs?” Thought provoking and so well written. Thank you! Brenda

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  2. I just turned 56 and understand your term “midlife honesty.” There is freedom to be found that I couldn’t have fathomed in my 20s or 30s, or even 40s. Great post.

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  3. I love this and your concept. Have you ever read the series called Love Letters by Michelle Lovric? I accidentally discovered her books while working as a chambermaid (the black dress white apron whole gettup) at this fancy hotel on Martha’s Vineyard. I used to sneak the book away from the room it lived in (which was room 12 and romantically appointed with an antique four post bed and linens that made me cry) hide in the coach house and read the letters, which were stuck to artful pages inside actual envelopes. An experiential process that ended up shaping my artwork. If you made a Letters to Friends book with pictures and envelopes I would buy it. 🙂

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    • Such a great story of discovering a book. I will take a look at it – I actually haven’t read many books of letter exchanges. Just Dorothea Dix and Millard Fillmore, I think. A book of my own correspondence is getting way ahead of myself 😉
      But thanks for the encouragement.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. […] think what you call mid-life honesty I would, in my case, call mid-life melancholy. You see, I find it very hard to accept that my body […]

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  2. […] letters are only collected here. Please link through to the original posting to […]

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