I have been trying to remember the last time I went swimming.

Last night I dreamt that I was teaching my youngest to swim. In my waking memories he is so small, so thin. He didn’t have enough body fat to make it a matter of learning to float first.

In my dream a river ran through our home. It’s time – I said – you need to learn now.

I believe dreams teach us what we find difficult to learn. And sometimes dreams teach without subtilty: as I recall he eventually taught himself to swim while I stood by helplessly. Or helpful-lessly.

And now all these years later, he teaches me about surviving when a flood takes one by surprise.


Is anyone else dreaming of Covid? Waking to the realization that their lungs are clear?


Two years ago I bought a wetsuit and was determined to face my fear of open water – with a barrier of neoprene between.

Two, three times we swam across the tiny lake. Two, three times I had flashbacks of the Kentucky river and the nest of baby moccasins. Slow down, I said: Breathe.

This is what panic feels like. And it is almost always irrational.

Right?

Swimming in dark water is a metaphor for life – and for death. You can never know what is near. What that bump or tug might be.

Slow down.

Breathe.

Anyway.

… And get back out there.

Dear D.L.D.,

Someone recently told me that what people don’t understand is that her generation is the future.

I’ve been thinking about the concept of generations. The arbitrary grouping that attempts to “fix” time in snapshots. Being born in between generations, I can’t find myself in any of the pictures. My children, as well, fall between the recorded chapters of history. Bystanders to The history: it is a strange – but perhaps privileged – point of view.

That said, there was a time when I also thought of the future as a fixed state to be achieved. I saw a hard line that divided – and would divide – the old from the new.

I don’t see the world like that any more: in segments that will tick by, more or less tolerably, until we reach what we’ve aimed for.

I believe the Buddha was right in that there is something fundamental in our nature that is determined to reject impermanence. But I suspect the rejection of this mark of existence (as the Buddhists call it) isn’t only experienced as suffering, but sometimes as hope.

I understand when young people see the world this way: hoping to achieve… utopia?

But I find it puzzling that people who have lived their lives through the culture’s arbitrary increments of “generations”, who have seen the pendulum swinging, still pin their hopes (and the responsibility) on youth to someday achieve the fixed and perfect future.

To be honest, sometimes I wonder if it is an extension of our culture’s worship of youth? And if sometimes I envy their hope? You lose that when you think you have learned all you can learn, know all you will know–

No. Wait. I don’t believe that. That is the cultural trope of closed-minded old people.

You lose hope when you live long enough to see that what you knew for certain – when you knew everything – turned out not to be true. And you decide that there is no reason to keep learning. This can happen at any age: Mid-life Crisis, Quarter-life Crisis, Teenage Nihilism.

But every moment is a future – every moment encompasses the contributions of all “generations” (and each generation’s internal contradictions) and all circumstances.

And every future slips by with every breath, unacknowledged.

No age has the corner on solipsism.


Life can survive in the constant shadow of illness, and even rise to moments of rampant joy, but the shadow remains, and one has to make space for it. – DIANE ACKERMAN


People keep describing these past months as “unprecedented”.

Seriously?

We measure reality in such small packages – our small collections of private experiences. Twenty years slip by, maybe another twenty… and from this tiny window we proclaim a a sum understanding of the human experience to determine the proper trajectory for (the organisation of) human behavior.

We don’t even glance sideways.
And if we do, we dismiss it: We are the future, after all.


You were the future once, too. And it slipped right past you, making your head spin.

I wonder if all that you clung to for comfort just made your suffering worse in the end?

Respectfully,
Ren

The year we moved into this huge house, I decided to take full advantage of the room we christened “the atelier”. I had every intention of picking up expressive practices that I’d abandoned over the years – for oh-so-many-reasons.

But I stopped attending the local croquis group after only a few months. All of the models were thin, 20-something women in “pretty” poses. Straight lines, and little movement.

It was both boring and demoralising.

I packed away my sketchbooks.


As an undergrad I studied studio art for a couple of years before switching majors. I remember one model from life drawing class who was tall, slim and in her twenties. She posed with a great deal of confidence. And though she was nude, her poses were always discreet.

During breaks, she would slip on her robe and make a round talking specifically to the young men in the class. She inspected the work on their easels to see how how they interpreted her body in charcoal. Sometimes she would put her hand on their shoulders and lean in, breathing in their ears. Her little ritual made many of them visibly uncomfortable.

It made me feel uncomfortable for – what I must presume were – entirely different reasons.

The power-play of subject/object is much more complex than we tend to consider. I suppose in part because our culture is quick to conflate beauty with sex appeal, and sex appeal with power.

Thinking now: Maybe it was fortunate that I was accustomed early to being invisible among the tall, slim beauties in the room. I never considered myself the subject, nor the object (or ornament) – but an observer. It makes aging that much easier.

However, as an observer I have not always been kind in my interpretations.

And I’ve often shamed myself into the corners of the world – for oh-so-many-reasons.


I remember another model who also posed for us in that life drawing class. She would would always wear a floppy sun hat, and she’d wink at us. Sometimes, she’d stand on her head during the 2-minute sketches. She was – I’m thinking now – probably in her 50s. Thinking then? She was “an old lady”.

And truth be told, her unabashed comfort with her own body made the majority of us visibly uncomfortable. Her poses were in no way discreet. Sometimes I would move my easel to another spot just to avoid having to confront her sex full-on.

Now? How I wish I’d asked her out for coffee.

It is a beautiful thought: lessons can be learned long after the teacher has left our lives.


The artistry in any medium lies in the work’s ability to evoke synesthesia. Each work is dependent upon each viewer’s subjective experiences – and the meanings we assign to them – for its claim as a work of art. We are each ultimately responsible for giving it life from our own lives.

And if – at any point in time – we think we see an objective reflection of the world as it is: a true work of art? Well, … there is no such thing as the world-as-it-is. There is no such thing as a point-in-time, because time exists in memory, so neither travels in a straight line. The world curves back on itself, folding over and over – always indiscreet in exposing the accumulation of what has come before – coming closer and closer to the wholeness of life, to Beauty.


Life Drawing

Ornamentation is not substance.
And the world will always shake off ornamentation.
It will distort the straight lines we work so hard to impose on it.

There is power in rejecting the consensual idea of beauty.
Rejecting it unabashedly.
Because that is acknowledging the substance of one’s own experience.


This is my ars poetica.

I used to have a bag of clay in the corner of my atelier here at the house. Which didn’t make much sense since the room was set up for bookbinding. For a year maybe -as a form of meditation – I made tiny begging bowls that I would return to the bag of clay each day.

The bag of clay dried out before long.

wp-1467116767648.jpgI haven’t really worked with clay since I was 13. I had an art teacher then who let me use the kick-wheel during lunch breaks. Mr. Shannon didn’t teach or instruct me that year. He was my mentor.

Once he gave me a set of watercolors and a salt shaker and said, Get at it.

Once he made a blind so I couldn’t see the paper while I drew my own hand, and I have been fascinated by the tactile quality of lines ever since.

Later I learned that Edouard Manet said there are no lines in nature. That is because line is a language. And, like my grasp of Norwegian, here my comprehension far exceeds my composition skills.

Another time, Mr. Shannon asked me to describe all the colors I could see in a white hat – worn by a cowboy in a Marlboro ad in a Smithsonian magazine –  if I remember correctly.

Not even black and white are black & white.

At the end of that year, my life was uprooted (again), and I lost whatever I was connecting to then. But the desire remains even now.

When I experience nostalgia, it is like this: small moments of half-discoveries. And nostalgia’s inherent fear of the unmet potentials.

Still, everytime I hold a rough piece of ceramic I am flooded with a calming and full ambivalence. There are days I wonder why I’ve not thrown out all of the dishes and settled with a few scratchy, glazed bowls and a few wooden spoons.

I suppose this really is the very definition of nostalgia? If I ever won the lottery, I would have a second, tiny home made of roughly-hewn cedar – and I would fill it with wool and beeswax.

Cinder block frightens me.

But so does snow.

img_20161007_095640Paper can make me weep with grief.

Handling old books is cathartic. And I cannot – and don’t want to – explain it.

I trace marginalia with my finger.

*

Last year I asked E. to give me Play Doh for Christmas. Now I have a small plastic box on my desk. It smells like my childhood: plastic.

Plastic/plastique/amorphous.

I suppose my experience is more associative than it is synaesthetic.

I hold the Play doh. I squeeze it like a stress ball.

I make ephemeral, unnaturally green begging bowls.

Truth be told: I am still too timid to leave a begging bowl – of any kind – in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

Today I learned that hummingbirds see more colors than we do. I don’t know why that fact keeps bobbing into my consciousness now. I find myself searching for a word to describe the emotion that I feel.

Wistful?

Attending to life is an act of love. – Katie Rubenstein

I sit on a rock in the forest, I try so hard to take it all in. The cold, the damp, the blackbirds’ song, the bugs, the soft rotting wood of the tree stumps, the mushrooms, the moss. Leonard sniffs and pushes his nose under the leaves. Grunts. 

I can’t shake the feeling that I am missing something – not doing it right. Although I can’t find the words to describe what it is either. 

Attending?

My thought process is attending, attendance, lessons. But I know that isn’t the point: there are no lessons. Only attendance.

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love
the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are
now written in a very foreign tongue.  – Rainer Maria Rilke

This is day 3 of a pilgrimage I felt too broken to begin. I have not been attending. Rather, I’ve been observing the gap between my ambitions and my efforts widen into an iridescent gorge. It’s kind of mesmorizing. Stupefying.

Last week between the cloudbursts, I painted the new birdfeeder and put it in the yard beside the raspberry bushes. I screwed in a hook and hung a net with a ball of seeds under the feeder’s little roof. But the crows are too cunning and they took the ball of seeds – and the net as well. I tried to make small talk with the neighbors and share my little anticdote, but I couldn’t remember the word for crow. This happens in the summer, especially when E. is offshore: it’s like my Norwegian is folded and put in a box in the back of the closet for the season.

Today during a spell of blue sky, I poured sunflower seeds on the platform of the birdfeeder. The neighbors were passing by as I did so and they told me that the songbirds aren’t interested in seeds this time of year, but that I’d surely have sunflowers growing among my raspberry bushes soon.

img_20200624_1615431518280510275908546.jpg
The world’s most expensive dog dish.

So I’m considering whether that might be totally fine with me.

I pour myself a glass of wine, settle into a deckchair, and watch Leonard drink out of the new bird fountain.

Pigeons see the world in slow motion, and there are mourning doves resting on the electric lines that run from the house.

I think I can imagine what it’s like to have a bird’s-eye view of this sunny window of a wet afternoon.

Random facts:

  • A pigeon and a dove are both named due in Norwegian: doo-eh.
  • The Norwegian word for hummingbird is kolibri.

I have no idea of the etymology of the word, and no idea why they bothered to give it a Norwegian name:

  • There are no hummingbirds in Norway.

I wonder if rain is heavy on hummingbird wings.

I wonder if they see it coming.

 

What you are, the world is. And without your transformation, there can be no transformation of the world. – J. KRISNAMURTI

Dear DLD,

Did you wake up some days and wonder when you walked away from yourself? It seems to happen to me over and over again. There is a problem with the metaphor when walking away from yourself makes you feel heavier, not lighter.

I’ve spent the past three weeks carelessly – in the best sense: I haven’t ticked a single thing off my “should do” list. I’ve sat on the sofa with Leonard’s head in my lap and listened to the rain hit the window. I finished a book that I’m not sure I enjoyed.

I enjoyed finishing it, though.

I’ve written single sentences and savored wine in the late afternoons. I’ve kept a vase of dead peonies on my desk because they still smelled wonderful. I’ve guiltlessly binge-watched a woefully historically incorrect costume drama on Netflix.

This morning I wonder if I can find myself again here – in this careless space.

When the term ended, I was full of rage. And no small amount of self-pity. That’s all gone now. When I ran to the lake this morning, my throat felt free for the first time in a long time. I am still not a woo-woo kind of gal, but I do so love metaphors and how we can use them in the physical world to deal with our inner reality: the throat chakra is all about communicating our “truths”. It seems my “truths” have changed and I no longer feel that there is anything left to hold back. No more clenching.

My next book will be titled The Body as Metaphor.

Not much has changed really: Politics. Pandemics. Personalities. But these weeks I have redirected my “care”. Maybe I am not really careless as much as I am discerning in regard to where I invest my care. “God grant me the wisdom…” Right?

By the way: I’ve made my bed every morning this week.

When I think about specifics now that are not under my control, I feel the emotions swell up towards my throat – the fears, the griefs – but then they subside. Like the waves that rise and fall, I cannot will them into stillness. I can hold them, and observe them without clenchingthat is a useless misdirection of energy.

We can read and repeat all the pithy quotes, but really: we learn by doing, don’t we? And when we’ve learned we remember the quotes and understand with a deeper integration. Communication.

I think I am back on the theme of necromancy, aren’t I? Words alone can’t communicate the wholeness of experience. We believe we understand the books we read, then return years later with a new understanding. And then again. Each time sure we have “understood it right this time”.

It is a line of thought that can lead one to despair, really. Are we ever really communicating?

This is also Keat’s negative capability.

This is why poetry is necessary.

Oh – I was going to update you on my little greenhouse project. It seems I’ve planted everything too densely in the beds. My sweet potatoes are rooting in the oregano. I’ve no idea what will happen underground where the beautiful red-veined leaves of the beets are crowded like a wedding bouquet.

Not having to get it all right the first time around is a privilege I am enjoying.