On Not Repeating Myself.

Dear Richard,

All these strange connections when one lets the subconscious bubble them up. I’m very certain that, were I not a poet, I would be one of those conspiracy theorists connecting Atlantis to the Bermuda Triangle, and to the disappeared women of Juarez. I’ve read that this is actually what creative people have in common with the mentally disordered: loose associations. Why there is likely much overlapping between the two groups.

First, what is a little coincidence, a digression, and a bit of proof that you and E have so much in common: last Saturday E picked out The Cursed Child as a Father’s Day gift. He hasn’t started it yet. (He just finished Unbroken, which he says was a much better book than film). You’ll have to let me know what you think. I probably won’t read it. K. told me that all the rules regarding magic that were established in the Harry Potter books, are broken. I hate to start a book with a bad attitude.

So. Yes. The “repeating myself” thing. I do that. I absolutely do that. And when I read that, I remembered a poem in mixed states called “On Not Repeating Myself”, which is about just that.

And the thing is, when I looked the poem up, I find it’s riddled with connections to our correspondence. In fact, the last stanza is:

I gave her the key
to the box
with all your letters.

20161123_075704.jpg(Your letter arrived yesterday and when I am finished here, it will go in the light blue box on the shelf in the library – with the others.)

The poem begins with the old lady, but she’s still a puppy. And then there is the “hip” Anti-Christ as an infant (yeah, I am reaching here but these days it feels relevant…). And then there is a mention of one of my recurring “ghosts”, this one perched at the foot of my bed (she is the one who has the key, by the way).

I think I’ve done nothing but repeat myself in some kind of Hegelian spiral my entire life. Or at least I hope it is more a spiral, than it is a puppy chasing her own tail.

I saw the shrink yesterday. It’s a relief to know I’m not mad. And I feel a bit like Sheldon saying, “My  mom had me tested”.


And I think I’ve reabsorbed all my ghosts again – for now. Even the one “in cartoon prison garb” that I mention in that poem. She told me to keep writing.

The shrink also told me that, and then the rest of the day, I couldn’t write a thing. Like you, I find this whole political climate alienating. I thought that we would see an apocalypse. A sudden clash of extremes, and instead we have these horrors coming in “on little cat feet” like Sandburg’s fog. Part of me is relieved. And I’m deeply ashamed of that.

Already here in Norway the extreme right has been emboldened. Well. Perhaps. It could also be that the media now has sought them out, and is giving them attention. There is a fine, and messy line between uncovering the hate, and “ufarligjøring” it. I still can’t find a good English word for that. Everyone is saying “normalising”. I guess that is technically correct, but it doesn’t sound as dangerous in English, does it? We shine a light on what we find repulsive until we can actually tolerate it. Until we do tolerate it. Until we shrug, and seek out the ever-more outrageous news stories that will trigger a inexplicably pleasurable surge of hormones. It is supply and demand. I read that the President electoral -Elect pointed out to CNN how much money he made them this last year. We are a self-fulfilling prophecy of self-loathing and schadenfreude. And greed.

Last week I posted something to my students – I wanted them to see a possible indication of a parallel between Stalin’s suppression (and execution) of Meyerhold, and Trump’s tweet which attempted to define the role of the artist in his America. Some of them expressed concern, and I then tried to comfort them. I meant well, but wondered if I was just fanning the flames.

You know, I don’t take periodic breaks from Facebook because what is there upsets me, as much as because what is there affects me: I find myself on witch hunts of sorts, filled with anger and looking for opportunities to justify it. It is a kind of mob mentality, isn’t it? And yet…

Struggling to find my role here, as a white, cis-gendered ex-patriot (sic.) – I don’t have “boots on the ground” and I need to find a way to be supportive without appropriating, and to do my best to stop the spread of this… well: evil. I know you are doing your part.

All this seems to bring me back to Harry Potter. There is a podcast called Imaginary Worlds. The last episode I listened to talked about JK Rolling’s work with Amnesty and the empathy-effect of literature, especially the theme of racism in the Potter series. They talked about the werewolf Greyback as an analogy for homosexuality, but I had been thinking all along it was an analogy for bipolar disorder.

At any rate, I was thinking how one could view the whole series as another dystopic story. Albeit one with a bizarrely happy ending. I think it would be kind of funny if The Cursed Child made Harry out to be a kind of Walter Mitty. Full circle dystopia to status quo. What if it were all a daydream?

I think this is just me trying to comfort myself.

It sort of drifts back toward what we were talking about: giving in to what is difficult: the cold, the harshness. And your warning of how that kind of giving in can lead to giving up, accepting, euphoria and death. I guess I could avoid calling it “a test of manhood” – but the fact is, most women give birth and that is a test of womanhood in these old stories and traditions. Seems men in these stories battle nature from without their bodies, women from within.

Though I suppose in the end we all figure out that our own bodies are nature. When we no longer recognise ourselves in the mirror, and our limbs no longer do the things we will them to as quickly, as smoothly.

A lot of people say that old people turn to religion because they fear death and long for a distinction between body and soul -to comfort themselves. But what if it is just a recognition that becomes impossible not to see as one ages?

Nah. I guess I don’t really believe that. It’s probably just a lack of attention. We should do more like your acupuncturist suggests: eat and do nothing else, pay attention to the food, to our teeth, to our swallowing. We would probably know ourselves better and recognise our nature.

Maybe if we did, we would recognise and do something about the baser sides of ourselves? The self-loathing, and the schadenfreude? The greed.

I opened the last remaining bottle of red from my birthday stash tonight. A wonderful Barolo. I don’t know who gave it to me, but I’m grateful. It takes the edge off. It puts me in a forgiving state of mind.

Let’s hope it doesn’t kill me.

It helps to know you aren’t shrugging and giving up.

smilefjes, and love to you and yours.

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.

2 Comments

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