I’m having a difficult time committing myself to a form for social media/online presentation. Loads of ideas, and little follow-through.

I have to admit, I wrote more (and better perhaps) when I wrote offline with the conscious choice to not share any of it.

I’m working my head around that experience still: What it means to write. And how that is different from what it means to “be a writer”.

It’s been my experience that the writing is easy, but I have no clue how to/no desire to perform the sales aspect – the promotional effort that is necessary to reach readers. I’m using the word “perform” intentionally.

Today on the Tate Modern’s Instagram account I saw an incredible portrait of a new mother. It touched me deeply. A woman holding a newborn to her bare breast.  Her hair is messy, her face incredibly pale. She’s wearing those gauzy hospital underwear that hold those ungainly post-birth sanitary pads in place. The photo brings back all the sensual memories of that time. The pain, the heat, the foreignness of my body, the immediacy of my body. The “other” in my arms. The smells. The animal smells, not the talcum.

One woman commented (why do I ever read comments on social media?) that it was an “unflattering photo”. Then she proceeded to describe her post-birth portrait, which is proof that performative documentation existed well before Instagram.

My first thought was judgmental. I conjured a vague image of someone who has never seen the ugly side of life – or perhaps a coward who doesn’t want acknowledge it. A harsh stereotype of a southern belle who glosses over the unpleasantness. “Oh, fiddle-dee-dee. I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

It is an unkind way to contextualize someone’s desire to create and document beautiful moments from a life. (And a stereotype is a tight sieve through which to filter the complexities of a human being.)

I use that phrase intentionally, too: “create and document beautiful moments”.

From one perspective, the idea that art needs to wallow in the ugly that we want to avert our eyes from is condescending in terms of respecting the life experiences that other people have and how they choose to deal with them.

Not everyone needs to be confronted with a mimesis of each of life’s horrors, nor do they need to be overwhelmed with expressionistic/exhibitionistic sharing of other people’s feelings in order to “understand” or “appreciate”, or feel empathy for other people.

Not everyone is healed by a performance of their pain.

Isn’t the drive to create a beautiful moment from the complexity of such an experience as real and as authentic as it is to focus on the ugly? Can’t a glam shot of a new mother in her clean sheets also be interpreted as an expressionistic portrait of the joy inherent in the moment?

Staged is staged. Regardless of the fact that we seem to unconsciously hold up the “ugly” as authentic, and the beautiful as false or narcissistic. Could a case be made for our fascination with our own flaws as being more honest than our filtered selfies?

I think of my grandmother who would stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the ugly “truths” about our family history. She rarely denied them outright – but rather let them slide by, “Oh, do you really think it was all that bad?”: Regarding my cousin who drowned in the bathtub under the supervision of a man who later was convicted of beating a child to death, “Oh, do you really think that is what happened?”

I question now how I have been certain all these years that my cousin was murdered – when I was a child myself at the time. What facts filtered down to me, and how? Having always thought my grandmother was blind to anything unpleasant, I begin now to wonder if she just learned to be comfortable in not knowing. What is the virtue of forming conclusions?

She never dwelt on the ugly. The painful facts I know of her childhood were tucked in the clauses of her sentences. They were never the point of the stories she told me.

She could have easily written that comment on the Tate’s Instagram portrait.

No. She wouldn’t have. She had no illusions that anyone in the bigger world would be swayed by her opinion. But she would have told me. And how painful it is that only now, 7 years after her death, I begin to understand her point of view.

Isn’t it in line with Keats’s negative capability? Doesn’t it share a core value of Buddhism?

No judgement. Consciously not conforming and interpreting experience to fit a narrative. Performing our own lives.

But is it possible to avoid performativity as a writer?

I am asking both in terms of the written works a writer produces and in terms of the identity of the “writer”. In trying to circle back to where all these thoughts began: writing is asking people to look. It’s pointing at the world from your standpoint at that moment assuming you have a point of view worth sharing.

Isn’t everything we write autobiography, no matter our intention? Isn’t every poem the creation of a sieve through which you pour what you can of yourself.

If I knew how to design the shape of that sieve, I would want it to look like Rineke Dijkstra’s photograph.
https://www.instagram.com/p/Bvq0FlyAaP4/

How does that jive with negative capability?

Or authenticity, for that matter.

 

 

 

 

It hovered just above freezing last night. Maybe that is a sign of spring.

When I stop to consider, it seems as though I will never again feel the sun on my bare arms. It’s as though

the moment

has always been winter.

Summer is so distant a memory, I am uncertain it is a memory at all. Maybe it’s  something I read about , something I experienced in my imagination.

Come spring, come spring is a chant in the background of these days.

 

I was reading an article that rebuked people for their “buffet Buddhism”. Which was interesting in light of the fact that the Dalai Lama himself recommends the buffet approach for Westerners.

The article consistently and exclusively referred to Buddhism as a religion. It linked Buddhism with the belief in a specific form of reincarnation without pointing out the fact that reincarnation was a belief in Siddhartha’s culture long before he came up with his 8-fold path.

I’m not a Buddhist in any religious sense, but the Buddha’s 4 Noble Truths make sense to me. As does the 8-fold path. And none of this dictates having faith (or not) in any deity or clearly constructed model for what is out there/in here.

I understand Buddhism as a philosophical/ethical praxis. Though I don’t claim to be an expert in any sense, the story goes: when the monks asked Siddhartha to appoint a successor, the old man responded that a successor wasn’t necessary: the dharma and the sangha were enough. This fits my guru-averse and anti-authoritarian mind.

The first Noble Truth is that life is suffering.

When I first came to understand this, as I understand it now, it came as a great relief. Coming from a Christian background, I believed that suffering was either punishment for a misdeed, or these kind of randomly given opportunities to accumulate “points” that I could trade for benefits after I die – like my grandmother’s  green stamp collection – only the Green Stamp store was in Heaven, and had a bigger toy section.

I no longer believe that.

I believe that there’s no purpose in suffering. It just is. And because it just is, it is neither fair/unfair, earned/undeserved, nor is it a down-payment for rewards of any sort down the line. I don’t even believe suffering is an indicator of/method for accrued wisdom.

There is a meme – or a thousand or so – going around the internet that reminds people not to be envious of someone else’s success because “you don’t know what they went through to achieve it”. I used to think this way. I used to deal with my frustration over the rude woman at the supermarket by reminding myself that maybe she just left the doctor’s office and has a diagnosis of cancer. I told myself this was a compassionate approach for dealing with difficult people. But it isn’t really. It’s actually projecting suffering onto another person – willing them pain (even if it is in their past) to justify their “right” to some behavior I don’t like, or to some success that I envy.

That is not compassion, it’s a kind of retroactive vengeance.

Now I just try very hard to let go of envy.

I try to imagine that the rude woman at the grocery store with her designer bag and the expensive (and I have to admit, attractive) nip&tucks, has had a life of easy wins, a supportive family, and loyal friends. I try then to find compassion for her, and to not feel anger. I try to create a perspective that leaves out my ego, my judgement, my comparisons, and my own sense of hard-earned (but absent) entitlements… and it is hard. It is really hard. But I do it because –

Oh, man. It is just so much easier to give her an imaginary cancer diagnosis.

I’m going back for a second helping of meditation today.

 

 

Over the past 8 years, I’ve become an early riser. Last summer a friend of mine playfully scolded me for my early bedtime. She said I was missing out on the beauty of the sunsets. Wasting the time.

She sits on her balcony near the ocean and watches the sun go down on those long, Norwegian nights. And there are times when I envy her those soothing sunsets.

But I get the sunrises.

This morning I dawdled more than usual and was a half-an-hour late to hit the trail. But it is spring now, and the sun is catching up with us. For now, a half-an-hour is the difference between running in the dark, and running in predawn’s pink and blue watercolors. Next month the sun will beat me to the trailhead every morning.

The lake is still edged with ice and roughly textured in the soft light.
The ducks’ calls can sound like mocking laughter, but I no longer mind.
They are a promise (and a reminder) for the day to come.
Let it come, and go – and keep it easy.

For now, there are sunrises.
There will be sunsets in the autumn
when it comes.

Sunday rant on a Saturday:

I am on my browser, using my home wifi. I am patiently sitting through an ad that precedes the trailer for a film coming to the cinema next week. This is normal. I’m paying to watch an ad to watch an ad for a product I might want to pay for.

I am doing this voluntarily.

I’m thinking about the Black Mirror episode where the indentured workers (or whatever they are) have to pay to turn Off their walls that stream sex and violence.

¤ealistic? I can already purchase an app that will help me limit my own use of the net. Which I only have because I pay for it.

I keep getting private messages on Instagram from people who want me to pay them to “grow my following” though I’m clearly not selling anything there. Taking pictures is a frigging hobby.

I am overwhelmed by this neo liberalism idea that we have to financially justify every aspect of our lives. Meanwhile people living in this same society want me to do what I do do (yes, that was intentional) for a living for free.

I am so confused.

I want a house in the woods, warm blankets, good books and real food: I need a vacation. I know there is some way to monetize my vacation pictures and experiences to justify it. I could make money being an “influencer”, which I think has something to do with the ability to generate feelings of envy and inadequacy so people will pay you to direct them to the products that will fix them. Which will, in turn, allow them to do the same for others. A pyramid scheme for personal worth. Literally: how much money can you make for just being you? The *work* never starts/ends.

What happened to the title “tutor”? When did we all become /need “mentors”, a kind of diffuse term that avoids the need to point out the specific skill set that is being taught. When did “teaching” give way to “modeling” as though that is somehow less hierarchical in praxis? There is still a hierarchy. It just isn’t defined by knowledge or skills.

The 70s cult of personality has become an economy of personality that has penetrated the arts and sciences both. That is my hypothesis for a book I’ll never write.

This may be the first time in my life that I feel old and jaded. And wise enough to not to give a damn.

And I reserve the right to change my mind tomorrow.

Dear DLD,

Yeah, so I’m going to do it: “I had this weird dream”.

A stressful dream anchored in S.’s story at the dinner party last night – about the electric scooter with the warning label that it was not recommended for people over 50. I bought one. And I was trying to get from one side of town to another, through a crush of people – could have been London. I stopped to watch a performance at one point and was concerned that someone would steal the scooter. I was torn between trying to watch the performance and watch the scooter. I woke as I was trying to navigate through a crowd of teenagers that I could have easily walked among.

An hour later , sitting here with coffee and pen & paper, I’m laughing out loud. Don’t we do that? Take something that is a fun toy, and try to shoehorn it into usefulness to justify it? Not even notice that doing so creates more distractions and obstacles from the constructed “purpose”?

I am reframing the “not recommended for people over 50” entirely. And I am thinking of you and your daily prayer for God to make you useful. And I am thinking now I should perhaps be writing to Oscar Wilde instead.

Maybe “make me joyful” is a more honest prayer?

Dear HXH.

Playing with form again. Perhaps not the most productive way for me to work these days, but an old habit. Handwriting on unlined paper. Numbers and scratches for iambs and spondees. Illegible corrections.

I pulled a book off the shelf. What made me think of you?

I keep throwing myself at the feet of strangers, circling around them again, they are both familiar and made strange when viewed from a new point in time. This is the way of things, isn’t it? There is a painful roundness to the world – I started something new going over old territory.

The world is too round for my determination. The time=distance cluttered with objects as real as anything I think I can hold in my hands.

The Too Sharp Corners of the Too Round World. 

I keep accidentally dredging up evidence of my own life. Evidence is a funny word, really, in use. After all, evidence is just support for an argument. For a hypothesis.

The introduction to your poems presents the evidence that you likely existed.

*
Believe in god’s perfection: a circular affectation, a gold-leafed halo, a ring.
But the world in rotation slips — an oblique perspective of life, a provocation.
The distance fills with substance. All truth is observation.