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.
And 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.
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?
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.
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[…] by Ren Powell on January 20, 2017 in Correspondence |No […]
I read Richard’s letter to you. It feels, I have to say, a bit like snooping, to view such correspondence. An interesting change of perspective on the epistolary expectations of (I suppose) privacy.
About the pooch, Richard wrote: “.. she thinks she’s made a fool of herself but had fun doing it, just like we do things that young people think we shouldn’t be doing any more, and because we suddenly become conscious of what they are thinking we start to think we’ve made an exhibition of ourselves and get all embarrassed and creep back onto our own little square foot of floor.” And then gave an anecdote to illustrate. YES! I find myself experiencing that embarrassment (or shame?), not unlike your response to your selfies. Selfies are, what, “a young person’s” territory perhaps? And we are too old for that behavior. Maybe.
Or, we see ourselves in the mirror and are shocked.
I went to the march in New York City the day after the US Presidential inauguration. My daughter had knitted me a coral-pink ‘pussy hat,’ which I wore. I looked…silly. I hesitate to share the photo of myself in the attire. So undignified. How can anyone take my protest seriously when I look so goofy?
But here’s the truth: Even when I am silly, I am still me. Still worthy of respect, still capable of doing my job excellently, still a half-decent poet, still a person who raised two kind human offspring, still a compassionate caregiver to my elderly loved ones, still a citizen who requires and expects full rights to freedom, life, liberty–the pursuit of happiness [however one defines it] whether or not said happiness is attained.
What a lovely life-affirming comment. Thank you ever so much. And go on being you. 🙂
I love this. After my divorce I started taking pictures of myself before selfies were a thing. I didn’t fully understand what I was doing other than trying to face or understand who I’d become inside the confines of a relationship that had essentially made ‘self’ disappear. I suppose I took pictures of myself until I recognized that person again. In a fun twist of synchronicity I changed my writing profile picture to one of the last (first) selfies I took during that healing time. It’s also helpful to hear your struggle with who or what you’re seeing. Approaching a new decade , I’m discovering fresh discontent in old reflections.