Like Eavesdropping on Birds
You write about language as music:
“I fell asleep one night, in Istanbul, listening to the retired officers wives playing cards in the next room. Playing cards, gossiping, laughing … and I realised that the sound of them soothed me, like the sound of the sea, or a river would. I love language, like others like music perhaps […]”
Yes, the music of overheard, muffled conversations. Funny that I was just thinking about this the other day – in a different context. There is the freedom of eavesdropping without having to participate. It’s like being a child again and listening to the muffled voices of grown-ups in the next room after bedtime, isn’t it?
Maybe there is a special freedom and relief of knowing that no one gives a damn about you. The privilege of sometimes covertly and uncomprehendingly enjoying the world’s activity.
Again: opening to wonder. Like listening to the birds in the park without trying to identify the calls of the individual species. There’s something rather meditative about that, about not putting things in boxes, not categorising, not judging. Just sitting in a teeming civilisation of birds – or humanity – and listening to the music. And then dancing on your own.
I fear that psychiatrists might call that parallel play and diagnose me with some kind of anti-social disorder. But then, authenticity is about rejecting arbitrary boxes, isn’t it? Like I tell my students every year: “Pity the Platypus”, who doesn’t fit the man-made categories. But we should all be the platypus. Be the Platypus, I tell them. Someday I will get around to writing the book with that title.
And that leads me to: I could kick you for giving me yet another book to buy. I’m assuming that Rod Judkins has already said all of this in the book you quoted.
I cannot tell you how tired I am of all of these online tests to categorise ourselves as this or that. The Whitman quote is ubiquitous, but there is a reason it is. We have no choice but to reach for it!
I crave attention.
I want to observe.
Interactive theater always makes me uncomfortable. By pulling me into the experience, it pulls me out of it. Did I ever tell you about my little epiphany in Oslo a few years ago? I was at a conference for teaching artists and we all took part in a “happening” in the park. Some of us were paired up, with our opposite on the other side of a huge circle of 40+ people. We held strings that stretched across, criss-crossing over a great expanse of withering grass. There were two dancers in the centre, and a director who told the dancers where to move, and how to negotiate all of the strings.
I really wanted to give my end of the string to a passer-by, and head up to the top of the hill so I could watch – so I could write about the associations the event was giving me. I think I’m an interpreter at heart. Not an actor, not a director. I see metaphors where no one else does.
But when I think about it, maybe it isn’t that surprising. A shaman, a oracle. A poet. All of those are just people who deal in metaphors, aren’t they? People who just can’t distill experience into straight talk. (I am settling for poet, by the way, that takes hubris enough).
The reason this was an epiphany is that, all these years, I thought I wanted to be the director.
But I’ve wandered – back to your letter: You aren’t in the pub just to watch football. You are there to soak it all up, aren’t you? With your book as a barrier during half-time. (I bet you hate that you can’t whip out your camera at the pub, and have no one notice.)
I think it’s like Japanese forest bathing, only among humans. It sounds healthy to me. At least for people like us.
But you are more flexible than I am. More skilled, at any rate: your ease with putting people at ease. I have been in awe of that since I met you. I think of how you soothed the angry woman I photographed (incidentally) in downtown Stavanger. You immediately made her feel “seen” instead of observed – with just a sentence or two. You would be a good diplomat. But then, that would probably be a bastardising of your talent.
That is a gift beyond that of the shaman, the oracle, the poet. I don’t know what that is. You may say you had no mentors. But you have become one.
From what you write, maybe it did spring from something that you don’t see as a strength, this “sacrificing for each other”? Because I think it is a strength, or has become one, at any rate. Sometimes I think sacrificing can mean giving up one’s own sense of knowing and stepping into another person’s point of view. Not all of us do that as easily. Few as quickly and intuitively as you do.
Maybe that is why you can deal with the mocking in a way I think I would struggle with. You understand it comes from a place of recognition – that is is a way to break down any attempt at pretence and posturing? As I think about it, I realise that it would probably do me good to learn to see it as you do. To “stand it”, as you describe it. And to focus on the curiosity and joy.
You describe me as “settled”. But that’s not how it feels. Yes. I’m happy in the partnership I’ve so fortunately stumbled upon. E. doesn’t anchor me, though; he knows I’m in motion, and he moves with me, or is comfortable trusting I’ll not choose to untether entirely.
And I feel at home in this landscape. I have this nest – thought it feels as temporary as any, no matter how long it will last. Like you, my children are elsewhere. And I know all of this is healthy, because of who we are.
But God forbid I should ever be settled and satisfied with what I’ve seen and sucked from life thus far. Imagine. Were that true, I wouldn’t be reaching still towards you and your stories.
I remember your blog when we met: “People become stories, and stories become understanding.”
I am still waiting for the book with that title.
I wanted to end there, but there is this thing about learning the language. I have tried. I have hired private tutors at 1000 crowns an hour. I honestly believe it all comes down to the fact that I don’t like myself in Norwegian. I don’t like the lack of music, the lack of humor: I can learn the rules, but I can never really sing.
So, yeah. 23 years here, and my Norwegian still stinks. There’ll be no judgement from this corner.
Much love, Di!
This is one of a series of public 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.