Funny how I can write to Richard and say I crave attention and not feel like a total jerk, or worry about coming off as a narcissist. He and I always seem to be writing in context of our position as writers, as writers negotiating our personal lives. You quoted me:
“I crave attention. I want to observe.”
And you said: “Perhaps I am slightly different, in that I want to connect.”
And now I feel compelled to be more precise here about the context I was talking about in my last letter. I crave attention and want to observe when I am in groups, among people. In social situations. My social role.
Like you, like everyone, I’m sure; I long to connect. But I connect one on one. (I feel like I am channeling a defensive Trump now: “I have very good connections. I have the best connections.” – oh my, that makes me want to go shower again, and meditate for an hour).
My social self and my writing self are not the same.
You wrote: “You have a way of gifting me these unfamiliar views of myself. Perhaps as I did with you when I photographed you, from all angles, on your wedding day … I remember how that affected you.”
I remember writing to you about not recognising myself in the photographs you took, since they were taken from angles I never see in the mirror. I saw my Grandmother in many of them. I saw a stranger, often. It’s both disconcerting and comforting, I suppose. Not really recognising oneself means there is still growing to do. Potential.
My favourite photo from the wedding is one that doesn’t include me. Or E. or the boys, actually. It’s the one that shows several of the people in my life meeting across social groups, so to speak. Colleagues, and friends and relatives – some who’d never met before – in a moment of joy. I feel privileged that those are the people I know and love, the people who love me (and E., of course). You captured something wonderful. It’s the photo I’m most grateful for.
It’s the one I put in the frame B. gave me for my 50th. Oddly, B’s not in it, but she orchestrated the evening. So she is present in the moment. As is A., and you and everyone there that evening.
I count my blessings. I rather like being on the edge of that kind of joy, appreciating it – as I have been lucky enough to stay on the edge of overwhelming grief, so far in my life. I was thinking about that today for some reason. – Oh, yes. I was listening to The Moth. A story from an ER doctor who was saying that the story she was telling was not her story of grief. One day it would be, but not that tragedy, that day.
That is not to say, I have not experienced moments of intense joy. I have. They were just not in groups where I felt a rush of adrenaline that is cold, and quick – and feels like fear.
Seems almost like a curse in a story from Greek mythology: Juno cursed me to be too sensitive to joy. I wonder what my transgression was. No doubt I cornered her in the personnel room and distracted her with an intense conversation that she regretted.
If I were a photographer, the camera would be my tool for self-protection: a way in, and a way out. Remember, I cry at football games, and parades. I cry at elementary school pageants – and everyone who knows me, knows I’m not a fan of elementary school pageants. I suppose it’s possible that writing poetry is my camera.
I’ve been experimenting with haibun these days, and yesterday I read an article by Aimee Nezhukumatahil. She likens the prose of haibun to a chicken bouillon cube: intense. It seems counter-intuitive, since we (or at least, I) tend to think of poetry as condensed expression of experience. But it also rings true: I need poetry to dilute my intense experience of life; through a poem, a single truth becomes bigger than my own observation of it.
I find it difficult to write today. I feel inelegant and obstructive, as though I’m generating noise, when there are important conversations that need to be conducted. Knowing when to step down and when to speak up, is difficult. – I handed my Facebook password over to E. to change again. The anger, the fear is too contagious.
I’m sorry you are ill. But not surprised. I think the body responds to its transplantation, in part in protest, in part in self-defence. When I’d been here two years, when K. was still toddling, I got the flu. The flu like the one that killed my great-grandfather. My eyes were swollen shut, I couldn’t stand up. My ex was offshore. I literally crawled to the phone to call someone I’d happened to meet the day before, to beg them to come take care of my child. And I understood for the first time that I could die. That my body was organic and vulnerable.
When K. moved to England, he also experienced illness for the first time in his own memory. (Though, I remember his own childhood bout with the flu, and the hospital stay). He collapsed on the stairs of his apartment. He was alone then, too.
I understand the real fear of wondering if your body will be found. And of putting your trust in strangers when you are effectively illiterate. Although, at some point, in the face of illness we are all illiterate, aren’t we?
I’m certain you will come through this stronger. New threats for you body to learn to fend off, I suppose? Building new defences takes time. I’m glad there are people there to care for you. It is a comfort to know that strangers often step-up.
And we have to trust them, don’t we?
I remember when ET got so ill in Cairo. There were bombs going off along the Red Sea, and our hotel was guarded by men with machine guns. The hotel doctor had prescribed the wrong mediation. The concierge had discussed it with the pharmacist, he’d happened to mention to the pharmacist that ET was about 6 years-old, not 26. The concierge explained it to me: “Give him this. The pharmacist said this is the right medicine.”
Today, again, I am concerned of being too afraid of the world. And too afraid of the people in it.
Carolee, in her letter to me, linked to a poem by Maggie Smith. A gorgeous poem, but it is wrong:
“[…] For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you, […]
Maggie Smith is wrong. Those are not the odds.
So. Di. I need you to get well. I need you to make the connections, to take the photos of the moments that prove to us all that those are not the odds.
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.
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I can’t really express what I feel on reading this, except that it’s beautiful. R
of late, maggie smith has come out (on social media, i think, but perhaps there was an interview) and said the proportion wasn’t 50-50 like she thought. of course, the sentiment in the poem remains a powerful beacon. xo
It can feel like that some days – but if that were true… maybe such powerful poetry should always come in pairs. One for the catharsis, one for the hope?
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