“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.
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.)
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.