When you can’t go far, you go deep. – BR. DAVID STEINDL-RAST

Oh, Di, you wrote: “…you don’t presume to know me. A gift beyond rubies!”

Isn’t that true?

Writing today, when across the ocean from me there are events taking place that I don’t know how to think about – much less talk about. I don’t have a perspective from which to add anything meaningful to what needs to be said – I don’t even know what needs to be said – or done – or witnessed. From the one view, I was and still am entangled in the privilege that has blinded me to other people’s realities. I was a complicit participant in the culture – but haven’t been for 27 years now.

To be clear: I haven’t been a participant of the culture – it does not, however, mean that I am no longer complicit in the problems of that culture. I know that.

So, as I write this, I hope you will keep in mind that I am fully conscious of the narrowness – the “whiteness”  – of what I am going to write about. I’m in no way trying to be reductive about the pain in the United States. Or anywhere else. I’m not claiming to have any perspective on a bigger picture.  I think that our stories are woven into something so large we can’t conceive of the whole.

I’m often at a loss of how to handle the truth of individual insignificance, and still be reverent of the individual.

And that was a weird little disclaimer to give myself permission to brood today, wasn’t it?

I was struck by your words: “you don’t presume to know me. A gift beyond rubies.” I have been thinking about the fact that maybe this is the greatest gift we can give anyone. Strangers, yes: to learn to live comfortably with  (or simply live with the discomfort) of the mystery of “the other”. To let it be. That is quite literally poetry, isn’t it? At least according to Keats. The negative capability necessary in human relationships is the opposite of prejudice.

And I suppose requires us to catch ourselves as we form our thoughts, as we interpret what we hear and see. It makes me laugh to think that my goal should not be to become a “good judge of character”. But rather, to allow myself – not to be child-like at all – but to suspend judgement: to stop, hold, wait. No wonder so many religious paths have a practice of abstaining from one thing or another. I guess, for me, the question is where the strength/faith to withhold judgement will come from.

I think about how it is actually easier to practice this kind of negative capability with strangers than it is with the people we love. We want to pin them down. Even when that means pinning them down as “good”. We feel safer “knowing” them. Secure in knowing who they are – and we are silly enough to think of their unexpected behavior as betrayals.

Isn’t it ridiculous actually that we have this tendency to be surprised by other people? We either say they have changed, or fault ourselves for misjudging them. The former is inevitable, and the latter an absurd mental calculation, in and of itself. Maybe we are at our most judgemental with our children. Boxing them in probably gives us a sense of control over the way their story will play out. Even when the story we write for them is dark, we can at least feel prepared.

I don’t know – am I the only person who goes through life trying to set up narrative safeguards?

I have always thought your returning to New Zealand was courageous. I get this image of room behind a closed door. The door has a long slit of a window. Probably an image of a scene in a move – an asylum cell. The window is so narrow that the people viewing it from the hallway never see the whole person in the room. They see just a strip of hair, shoulder, hip, shoe. And they make their notes for the day.

Did I tell you that once I got ahold of my psychiatrist’s notes and he from an hour session he had written: “Hasn’t brushed her hair today. Had a fight with her boyfriend.”

It would make for a good story if I said that he upped my meds that day, wouldn’t it?

Are the people who thought they knew you “back when”, allowing themselves to meet the person you are? You having come home the same stranger to them, but now trailing long, beautiful stories that smell of simit and tea, basel and salt water – and of things for which I have no names or associations.

I wish I could draw. I would sketch you. Just sketch, though.

My aesthetic preference has always been biased toward the quality of the lines, not the photorealism. Not even the symbolism.

Gestures.

I cannot go home. But before my grandmother died I remember the moments she would occasionally say something over the phone – something simple – she would tell me that she did not really know me. Which made me feel more seen than I had ever felt.

Are you experiencing that? Maybe that is too intimate a question.

Your talks with Jimmy do sound like holy moments unto themselves. I wonder – this awe we have when we are confronted with the familiar/mysterious expanse of sky or the songs that come from the total darkness and the thrill of knowing/not knowing their source. Am I right in thinking you are one of the people who finds this same awe when you sit with other people and open yourself for their stories?

I suppose there is a value in knowing the “right” perspective when taking a portrait. But there is so much more beauty in the candid shots that reveal as much of the photographer’s openness as they do the subject’s.

I am so happy not to know you, Di!

The 30th leg of the Camino.


For three years I wore only black. Black pants, black t-shirts, black dresses, black socks, black shoes. It made my busy mornings easy. Most days at work I am literally rolling on the floor, so it was also practical.

The funny thing is – I don’t think anyone noticed.

Yeah, I don’t know if that is funny.  At any rate, I woke up one day two summers ago and wanted a pair of harem pants. I craved colors and patterns. I craved playfulness. Now my closet is overflowing again.

I have moved so many times in my life that I have stripped down to the essentials over and over. And I have lost essentials, too. Noting the loss matters, though. I continually mourn for these things – not forgotten in the back of a drawer – but physically gone.

Don’t lost things take on a significance they could not otherwise obtain?

I read that Kondo book until I got to the sentence where she said if you do come to need something that you are thinking to throw out now, you can always buy a new one later.

No.

That is not that philosophy I am looking for.

I’m coming to understand that simplicity for me doesn’t mean fashionable minimalism. It doesn’t mean living in a tiny home, cute as they are, with those custom furniture pieces. There seems something extravagant to me about selling my home and finding an affordable plot of land on which to put a tiny house – a location that would allow me access to legal sewage, public transportation and within walking distance to a grocery. That kind of simple is a lot of work. And a kind of privilege. And maybe for single people who don’t have 80 pound hounds.

Maybe for me simplicity is about embracing the routine; about finding the familiar strange and interesting; about finding perspectives – and nudging the edges instead of stripping to the essentials. About wanting what I have.

There is a simple joy in ornamentation. A simple pleasure in in a room full of books.

I’ll be sorting through my closet this week. I’m not going to ask myself what sparks joy, but what causes me distress. I’ll pack those things into cardboard boxes. The local charities are overrun with secondhand fast-fashion right now.  So I will stick the boxes in the attic. And if after a year or so,  I have not missed them, I’ll try to find a simple solution for my excess – one that doesn’t make someone else my sin-eater.

Nothing is simple. But I will keep working on it:

I have a yard. I’m planting a garden.

Something tells me that whole endeavor will be a kind of complex simplicity, too.