Dear D.L.D.,

I have been wondering what would happen if I showed up on your doorstep. Bleeding, and wearing clothes that were too small. How I would want you to take me in and guide me. Accept me, despite our disagreements. You could have mothered me, as you were never mothered, as I was never.

I was watching the sun rise over the lake this morning, running past the swans – butt-up along the shore – wondering if you would have turned me away. How it would have been to vie for attention among all of the unbalanced people walking in and out of the basements and the sheds in your part of the world.

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I wondered if you would bring me a bowl of fruit. Sit me in front of the computer and tell me to write.
Or forbid me to write.

I am, you know: writing again. Working backwards and picking up breadcrumbs from the decades I have moved through. Remembering what it was to write before the fear of expectations. Before I felt I had to explain.

Sometimes – just sometimes – I envy young people their hubris. The more we know, the more we know we do not know. How to marry that knowledge with daring? Socrates did it, right?

They say he was a jerk.

And you – and me – we are too open with ourselves, and our opinions. I was wondering if you knew the last time you stepped off the stagecoach, it was the last time? If when you took to the room in the hospital you founded, you knew you would become a foundling again?

The blind leading the blind somewhere in the labyrinth.

Respectfully,
Ren

 

Read The Body, A Tree yesterday. It was like having a conversation with another grown-up. A shameless matter-of-fact of the body and its history – its histories. Recognition and leaps of identification. “Not exactly, but”: I get it. The humor and the ease that comes with knowing that here are knots that will need to be patiently untangled, or negotiated around. Struggling is a youthful waste of energy. Tantrums.

img_20161125_095157Although this may not at all be what the poet intended. This step back, and this admiration for life itself. For the linear/non-linear branching of a tree that is the imprint of the body in the world, in time, in space.

This lover, that lover. I read that women might retain the DNA fragments of every man she has been with. Chimeras.

Would be nice to think our bodies might be redemptive of those who have done us wrong. Might renew what is good. A kind of homeopathic remedy for the species.

Our gradual dying is a gathering of life. We spill our seed in the earth eventually. We turn from lovers to mother our mothers. We turn to lovers. Late summer fruit* is the sweetest, the wettest.


*from Amy MacLennan‘s poem “Kintsukuroi” (follow link, scroll down)

Dearest Richard.

January has been a wild animal. Like you, I think it is an absurd time to mark the beginning of a New Year. I think an elder should begin walking the neighborhood every day beginning mid-February. When the first tiny tip of a green blade of crocus pokes through, she lets us know. Singing would be nice. Then we begin again.

It is odd that you should be writing now about selfies and beauty and art. Perhaps not odd at all. Serendipity and all that. It is all a matter of perception, isn’t it? How we choose to (subconsciously) draw lines to connect things. I have been reading a poem each night from the A Year with Rilke. Last night I discovered that somehow I have missed a night. I was on the wrong page. So I wound up reading “Not by Grasping” from Sonnets to Orpheus 1, which hit me in the chest with relevance.

“Song, as you teach us, is not a grasping,
not a seeking for some final consummation.
To sing is to be. Easy for a god.
But when do we simply be? […]

And now you write:

I studied a text by Heinrich von Kleist (one of my favourite irrationalists) called Über das Marionettentheater (On the Puppet Theatre), the essence of which is that humans are basically incapable of gracefulness because they are always thinking, whereas puppets will always be graceful because they have no thought.

This is really interesting. I have never heard of von Kleist. But I disagree. I do believe humans are capable of grace. Much more so than marionettes, with their stuttering movements that so perceptibly demonstrate the “push and pull” of external motivations. On the other hand, like you, I would agree that we lose our grace when we become self-conscious. Like you described:

Thus, if we catch a glimpse of ourselves (in a mirror, for example) and like what we see, if we try to consciously repeat that pose, we will never be able to recreate it because we’re consciously thinking about it.

tip2And I think there might be even more to it than that. When we glimpse ourselves in that way, we are unaware that we are seeing ourselves. We are looking objectively at the world (in the best sense), and seeing with the compassionate – or even admiring – eye that we look at others with. When we recognize ourselves, we turn on ourselves. With the conscious “posing” comes the conscious judgement. Or vice versa. We wilt under judgement.

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Early morning therapy session with the smartphone.

Funny you should bring up selfies. I have been thinking about them a lot lately. Carolee and I have been discussing them. I have been talking to B. about my issues with them. But I’m beginning to agree with them: that selfies can be tools for self-compassion. This has been on my mind because, for the last six months, I’ve been disappointed and shamed by images of myself. I wasn’t even this insecure about myself when I was 13.

I have ever been a “lenselus“, but seeing photos of myself is painful lately. I think often of my grandmother who told me that every time she glimpsed herself in a mirror she was taken aback. She would see an old woman, and only slowly realise that she was “the old woman”. Her mind was utterly disconnected from the image of her body. And it happened almost daily.

I am wondering if it was a disconnect from her body, or just its image. Do you think blind people deal with their ageing bodies differently than sighted people?

I’ve been forcing myself to look at pictures of myself. To take selfies. (Not that I do anything with them.) It’s not an artistic practice, but a form of therapy, I guess. A meditation in acceptance and forgiveness. I am still self-conscious about it, but remind myself that the judgement we often make of people who take selfies is maybe unfair. I would feel much more uncomfortable and narcissistic asking E. to take a photo of me for my website or Instagram feed, for example.

I also think selfies are a feminist issue. And by that, I don’t mean a women’s issue. Feminists are aware of the complex issues of objectification: male and female. And our deeply ambivalent relationship with it. I suspect you have this ambivalence, too? They talk all the time about how our culture presents men as the adventurers and women as the prize. But I have known and do know many men who would like to be the prize: the object that represents value and beauty. It’s funny how our culture won’t really acknowledge that, and how it punishes men by labelling that desire as “effeminate”. The patriarchy smacking everyone down with whatever form of shame will keep us in line in the tacit framework of the established hierarchy and prescribed forms of personal value. (You’ll have to forgive me for the pompousness of that sentence).

(I just looked up the definition of effeminate and is says: “[…] having characteristics as typical of a woman; unmanly: he lisps and his handshake is effeminate.” Lisps? WTF?!)

At any rate. I do not have an Arctic to sit with in meditative moments. I envy you that. But I do have the path along the lake and this morning (for the first time this year) I was able do my morning run. My knee has healed. And the gathering of crows in the grove this morning was like a stadium of cheering supporters.

Not that they knew it.

I’m working my way back. Perhaps now back to working, too. There is a play knocking around my head, with trumpets and drums. I’m going to try to attend it before it moves on.

Much love to you. I hope this weekend is – Wait. What happens on March 21st?

XO
Ren

P.S. Regarding you comment about comments. I don’t actually have a lot of traffic to my blog. I am okay with that: terrified of trolls. Even when people leave really beautiful comments, my first thought is that they are being ironic. So, as they say, it’s all good.


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.

 

 

 

Dear Carolee,

“There she is,” you wrote in your last letter to me. An image of you in running tights and a tank with a bandana on your head: the poet-warrior.

I love that image. It seems so long since I “talked” to you. But that image has been in my mind often.

Only this week am I also recognising myself again. I’m kind of meeting myself in the doorway – and like you – I’m not entirely sure where I’ve been.

Earlier this month I hit a rather humiliating and painful roadblock at work. It shook my confidence. But this week I’ve recognised it as a blessing in disguise. I also learned to cultivate a personal distinction between humiliating and humbling.

My best friend told me that actually seeing and admitting one’s shortcomings in a particular area, painful as that is, is a sign of maturing. And, at my age, I think that is wonderful – maturing may not be “growth” in the traditional sense of new, green shoots; but it is (r)evolution, change that bends towards a spiritual maturing. And when we reach the end of our natural life cycle, the wisdom we’ve accumulated will be somehow dispersed into the universe via the bacteria and fungi that eat us.

Not that I believe that for a second, looking at the state of human culture today in light of the millennia of potential fungi-released wisdom. I was listening to a 100-year-old woman on an episode of On Being this morning. There was a lot of talk of what we “as humans, have forgotten”. I keep thinking, really? When was this time when the majority of humanity was peaceful and satisfied with their place in the world? Ancient Greece with their misogyny and pederasty? Further back? When Noah danced naked and drunk, and his children were punished for witnessing it? When was this amazing period of human history everyone keeps talking about?

I do, however, believe letting go of false assumptions about history, about human beings in general, and about myself frees me to let go of striving. And I can enjoy this life while I have it.

The list of things I am not good at just keeps getting longer. Potentials ticked off a list I’ve carried in my head. I will never be a Broadway singer, not because I never had the chance, never applied myself. I am not good at it.

I’m simultaneously mortified by my own unconscious arrogance, and grateful for it. I believe it gave me the confidence that I needed so often in the past, for the bold forays into other territories that taught me so much.

Curiosity is the best thing about me. Following curiosity’s lead requires a measure of confidence. And failure is a lesson in appreciation. Humbling, right? The good kind.

Now I can move on, and focus on what I am able to do well in the world.

Once the kids leave home, all the mandatory hoops to jump through are  behind you. All the boxes on the “good girl” checklist we’ve been handed are ticked, and now what? It’s frightening to get here and realise you have been so busy making sure you succeed, that when you meet yourself in the door you see a cardboard figure.

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Where ogres and shadows linger all day for the vanquishing.

I switched to second person in that previous paragraph. Probably, in part, because that last paragraph doesn’t really feel  honest. I did not check off all those “good girl” boxes. The person I meet in the doorway, does have a hint of dimensionality and breathes. But I’m fooling myself if I think I can “focus” on what I do well. I’m still too curious for that. I like that about myself, actually. (Might be one of the few things I really do like about myself lately.)

I need to learn to really embrace failure, and not “take it personally”.

This is why I need running, too. The warrior-poet me moves (and does not think). Like  you, she gets out of her head, presses against the earth – gives and takes in a space of quiet. It is time-out from self-analysis, conversation, and the mental struggling I do too often with other people. A rock is a rock, and it has no intention that I feel necessary to root out and interpret. The patch of snow, slick instead of crusty, had no intention to make me fall on my ass. I should probably learn to treat people as I do nature.

That brings me back to poetry, doesn’t it. And Merwin’s vixen. And your farmhouse as you describe it so beautifully. Maybe reading and writing nature poetry can play a role in teaching me how to deal with people, too?

I do not run fast. I have accepted that. It’s my nature. But I run. And I have stopped thinking I have to improve. My running is good enough. If only I could transfer that to other areas of my life. “Good enough”.

I never harbored any secret desire to be a professional athlete. How did I get to a place where I believed I had to be a “professional” anything to have a justification for doing the thing? Like singing when no one else has to listen. (We are obliquely taught that it’s not good to “like the sound of your own voice”, aren’t we?)

I think maybe I’m still looking for some cultural boxes to check, as a measure of success. Those gatekeepers with their stamps of approval that allow you to confidently say at parties, “I am a (fill in the blank)”. I wonder if there ever was a time in human history when we didn’t present ourselves to each other under the label of what we do to earn money.

I am Ren, granddaughter of Florence, slayer of imaginary ogres and very real shadows.

I love the tone of your voice in the last letter, and in your posts since Christmas. I love the fact that you have had a year of “poetry adventures“, and your description of focusing on the path, not the destination (coddiwomple was almost my word for the year). I feel I am on your heels looking at the path in your headlamp.

Just until I find my bearings for the year.

Thank you for that.

(And thank you, too, for your activism. I’ll be thinking of you on Saturday. Take care!
And take a selfie.)

XO
Ren


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.

20170114_141858It’s kind of like a second date. We took the same route as last weekend. And this time the veil of fog was gone.

A steady, small gale blew over the stretches of open landscape. Catching us from side, front or pushing us as we made the circle of the trail.

The sun had half-set: slipped under the hills, but had not yet touched the North sea. And the  eastern slope we climbed – with its cover of delicate, wind-carved snow – blushed like a summer peach.

That promise kept me warm – enough.

No sign of the flu that has been creeping through my joints this week.  And two-and-a-half, painless hours of slick-rock terrain proved my runner’s knee has healed.

I can finally begin the new year.