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!

Dear Di

What a beautiful quote.

The nest of fish was crisp under a coarse snow of salt and smelled so simple and good I thought they might save my life.  Just a little.  Just for that moment. – Paula McClain

What a perfect reminder to be present in our bodies, in the world of our sensual perceptions. It’s nice to be reminded that a piece of fish, a bowl of fruit, can save one’s life: in that – perhaps – it is the reclaiming of the only things that truly make-up our lives? Touch. Taste. A sense of balance, perpendicular to the earth, in vrksasana.

They say there are actually as many as 21 senses. Lately, I’ve decided to stay with those.

 

 

For now, at least. If there really is more to our existence, there will be time for  when I’m forced to untether from the 21.

It’s so good to hear from you. This wriggling into a new year has not been easy for many of us. For disparate reasons. Maybe it does have to do with our expectations? I feel that for months, I have woken with a sense of dread, and a fear that sits in my muscles, stitching them together with cold, wire threads. I’ve been wearing a corset of sorts, unable to breathe. The corset is not literal, but the breathing problems are.

I read somewhere that protest was becoming the new brunch. We tie ourselves up with fashionable constraints sometimes, don’t we? I look at Melania Trump’s heels and think they are our cultural equivalent to (albeit non-invasive) foot-binding. I see the sea of pink pussy hats in a photo, and am both encouraged and reminded of my conflicted identity as a victim. I read a black woman’s account of her son’s brief life in the USA; and I am shamed, silenced and confused.

There is a balance somewhere between apathy and the absurd. I’m still looking for it.

I’m taking a break from social media, and I’ve removed all the news apps from my phone, save the New York Times and NRK. I get up at 5 and do yoga and meditation before I check the news. I figure, if the world is ending, I will have squeezed another peaceful half-hour of life before it does. I’m not saying ignorance is bliss, but why forfeit all that is good?

I’ve checked the Times this morning. The world didn’t end. It’s the same amount of personal apocolypses that has always been scattered over the globe on any given day. So I sit here, with the rosemary oil burning slowly over a tea candle, writing. And I’m grateful for this little room. I could swap the rest of the rest of the house for just these few square meters behind this veleteen curtain.

I think of you and your safe spaces, public spaces, your unique blend of voyeurism and participation. And I take care that my admiration doesn’t become envy.

I guess there are things we choose, and then things we can only choose to frame in particular ways. You talk about self-care. I think that is difficult. Finding the balance between kindness and firmness with myself. Or perhaps realizing those are not opposing attitudes at all?

I love the image of you “floating” home, and up your marble staircase after an evening of music and laughter. I am glad the triangle of your life is finding form. The social aspects, the creative, the personal.

Last week a student told me his parents remind him often that if a person is not successful by the age of 24, they more than likely won’t be. It broke my heart. What a narrow view of successful. What a narrow passage through life. Narrow and linear. I find the older I get the more reticent I am.

Do you allow yourself to believe that your life sucessful, Di?

I have moments of clarity. I have moments where I seem to touch that space of contentment, where life is meaningful of its own sake. Of itself.

My life, too.

Then the moment passes and I worry about being productive or useful again.

Speaking of which. It’s time to head downstairs to dress for work. To catch the train and face the teenagers who view me with half-veiled pity… and fear. Yes, follow your dreams, I would tell them if they would listen: follow the dreams, but be conscious of what is real, and what is really worthy of a life.

This morning, noticing the chamomile tea on my deks and the sunrise creaping through the gaps in the blinds – I am successful.

E. is out of town. I will bake fish for dinner this evening. And think of you.

Much love,
Ren


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 her

Dear Di,

 

I’m glad you’re beginning to recover from the nasty cold. I think our bodies often take the lead to slow us down when we need to recalibrate. I’ve been sleeping 9 and 10 hours a day the past week. Funny that the body needs to recover with sleep after a depression. I still half-expect, when the fog lifts, to have the energy of a calf let out of the barn in spring. But no.

I dragged myself out of bed this morning and ran 6K on a sore ankle. The marathon is in 11 weeks. At this point, I really need my mind and body to make friends. Although right now, in the bibliotekette, with the space heater blowing on my ankle, the rosemary oil burning, and the red curtains pulled, I am peaceful. Optimistic, even. The sun will be up soon, and the skies are clear. There is a sparrow calling outside the window now, actually. Which reminds me that I need to check the feeder on the porch. The magpies eat from it. Greedy bullies.

I can’t say I enjoy running in the cold, but I have to admit that the range of temperatures on these mornings brings me into my body. After running, I peel off the fleece tights and do the 15 minute yoga routine; my thighs are splotched with swashes of bright red goose bumps.

Then a hot shower, and stepping out into the cold again to towel off and dress. When we moved into this house, E. bought me slippers. I haven’t had a pair of slippers since I lived with my grandparents. Slippers were necessary then. One of the rules. I find them comforting now, slipping into them every morning before I head into the kitchen to make coffee. Flop, flop, flop.

And there is something about a space heater. It brings with it all the ambivalence of nostalgia. One particular, tiny, cold two-room house in the desert, and the tiny, bright-red filaments of the metal box that kept us warmish. I slept on an army cot in the bedroom. (I remember that once I was sitting on the edge of the sink to brush my teeth, and the whole thing ripped out of the wall and water flooded the bedroom, cot and all. I got in trouble. But that’s a digression, so before that…) 

The little space heater: warming one side of the body at a time, while I ate TV dinners in front of a portable television (rabbit ears decked with aluminum foil). Star Trek. Gilligan’s Island. As the Norwegian’s say, I was a “sofa pig”. But on a kind of rotisserie. My left side would get red and overheated. Then cold, when I turned to warm the right side.

This tiny bibliotekette is like that: Like soup from a microwave; spots of cold, spots of hot. Like the currents of a natural spring in the desert. The heater blowing hot air on my right ankle, while the left leg is chilled. I cross my legs. Then back again. I think it keeps me aware. Not that I think comfort is overrated, but there is a kind of emotional comfort in being aware.

At any rate, I am glad you found a source of accountability for finishing the book. A regular jolt of awareness to keep you moving. When the book is finally complete, it will be rich with all the life you’ve lived meanwhile. The lulls will demonstrate their purpose in resonance then, I’m sure.

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On my way to the day job: Pretty morning. I noticed.

It is so interesting to read what you write about photography “deepening the experience”. My first thought was – well, that is why I am not a photographer. But then, I have discovered that taking photos does make me stop and appreciate the moments. I remember you telling me once how photographing people, for you, was a matter of looking for the beauty. I’m going to start doing that. I mean: I do look for the beauty in people I love and trust, in my students (something teaching has taught me), but generally not with strangers. I think I am too defensive. I need to learn from you. Camera in hand, or not. 

Okay – back to accountability. I think external accountability can be a good tool for avoiding perfectionism. I know I function so much better with an external framework. I’m far too skilled at getting in my own way. I take on related projects – related, but still: diversions. For example, right now I have a translation project, waiting on my computer in the other room. Midwife to someone else’s creativity again. I’ve written before about that, though, haven’t I? Since I’ve always thought of myself as a selfish person, this must be a form of self-sabotage. I procrastinate with work guaranteed to get in the way of my own work. I can almost convince myself that there is a good reason I’m not making as much progress as I’d planned.

Almost.

Yeah, so. This is the kind of morning I’m having. Mindless chatter with a friend, whom I miss.

Your friends seem to be living the dream. It’s really inspiring. But it brings me back to what I was writing about the other day – my tendency to begin with the desire to simplify, then working around full circle back to consumerism and a concern with image-projection. There are berries here in the forests if I head out on the weekends. Did I tell you we are setting up a greenhouse this spring? That will have to do. I don’t get a cottage by a stream, but I have a tent. Best of both worlds, if I make it so, right? I had a good day at work today. At least some of it. One of those days when I know I’m doing something useful. These tendrils reaching into the periphery of my students’ rich lives. The good, the difficult, the things that make them grow. I learn, too. Am better prepared for the next bit of drama. All this is to say, I looked at your friend’s photos and kept my envy in check.

Mostly.

You’re right. We are blessed, Di. It just doesn’t always feel like it. And like you said, it seems to be about balance. What pays the bills vs. what makes your heart flow. What we do for others vs. what we do for ourselves. Maybe most importantly: What we desire vs. gratitude for what we have?

Not sure if your question about the throat chakra was rhetorical. But for what it’s worth, I think you’re beginning to break through the block. Are you living somewhere where you can sing? (The only thing I miss about driving a car is driving alone and belting out show tunes.) I think belting out a tune is good for your soul because it’s almost the same mechanism as screaming: lifting the hard palate, really using the lungs, focusing outward. It’s cathartic. So is vomiting, I guess.

But singing is more pleasant. At least for the person doing it.

First get better. Then sing.

Much love,

XO Ren


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.

Dear Di,

Funny how I can write to Richard and say I crave attention and not feel like a total jerk, or worry about coming off as a narcissist. He and I always seem to be writing in context of our position as writers, as writers negotiating our personal lives. You quoted me:

“I crave attention. I want to observe.” 

And you said: “Perhaps I am slightly different, in that I want to connect.”

And now I feel compelled to be more precise here about the context I was talking about in my last letter. I crave attention and want to observe when I am in groups, among people. In social situations. My social role.

Like you, like everyone, I’m sure; I long to connect. But I connect one on one. (I feel like I am channeling a defensive Trump now: “I have very good connections. I have the best connections.” – oh my, that makes me want to go shower again, and meditate for an hour).

My social self and my writing self are not the same.

You wrote: “You have a way of gifting me these unfamiliar views of myself. Perhaps as I did with you when I photographed you, from all angles, on your wedding day … I remember how that affected you.”

I remember writing to you about not recognising myself in the photographs you took, since they were taken from angles I never see in the mirror. I saw my Grandmother in many of them. I saw a stranger, often. It’s both disconcerting and comforting, I suppose. Not really recognising oneself means there is still growing to do. Potential.

My favourite photo from the wedding is one that doesn’t include me. Or E. or the boys, actually. It’s the one that shows several of the people in my life meeting across social groups, so to speak. Colleagues, and friends and relatives – some who’d never met before – in a moment of joy. I feel privileged that those are the people I know and love, the people who love me (and E., of course). You captured something wonderful.  It’s the photo I’m most grateful for.

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It’s the one I put in the frame B. gave me for my 50th. Oddly, B’s not in it, but she orchestrated the evening. So she is present in the moment. As is A., and you and everyone there that evening.

I count my blessings. I rather like being on the edge of that kind of joy, appreciating it – as I have been lucky enough to stay on the edge of overwhelming grief, so far in my life. I was thinking about that today for some reason.  – Oh, yes. I was listening to The Moth. A story from an ER doctor who was saying that the story she was telling was not her story of grief. One day it would be, but not that tragedy, that day.

That is not to say, I have not experienced moments of intense joy. I have. They were just not in groups where I felt a rush of adrenaline that is cold, and quick – and feels like fear.

Seems almost like a curse in a story from Greek mythology: Juno cursed me to be too sensitive to joy. I wonder what my transgression was. No doubt I cornered her in the personnel room and distracted her with an intense conversation that she regretted.

If I were a photographer, the camera would be my tool for self-protection: a way in, and a way out. Remember, I cry at football games, and parades. I cry at elementary school pageants – and everyone who knows me, knows I’m not a fan of elementary school pageants. I suppose it’s possible that writing poetry is my camera.

I’ve been experimenting with haibun these days, and yesterday I read an article by Aimee Nezhukumatahil. She likens the prose of haibun to a chicken bouillon cube: intense. It seems counter-intuitive, since we (or at least, I) tend to think of poetry as condensed expression of experience. But it also rings true: I need poetry to dilute my intense experience of life; through a poem, a single truth becomes bigger than my own observation of it.

I find it difficult to write today. I feel inelegant and obstructive, as though I’m generating noise, when there are important conversations that need to be conducted. Knowing when to step down and when to speak up, is difficult. – I handed my Facebook password over to E. to change again. The anger, the fear is too contagious.

I’m sorry you are ill. But not surprised. I think the body responds to its transplantation, in part in protest, in part in self-defence. When I’d been here two years, when K. was still toddling, I got the flu. The flu like the one that killed my great-grandfather. My eyes were swollen shut, I couldn’t stand up. My ex was offshore. I literally crawled to the phone to call someone I’d happened to meet the day before, to beg them to come take care of my child.  And I understood for the first time that I could die. That my body was organic and vulnerable.

When K. moved to England, he also experienced illness for the first time in his own memory. (Though, I remember his own childhood bout with the flu, and the hospital stay). He collapsed on the stairs of his apartment. He was alone then, too.

I understand the real fear of wondering if your body will be found. And of putting your trust in strangers when you are effectively illiterate. Although, at some point, in the face of illness we are all illiterate, aren’t we?

I’m certain you will come through this stronger. New threats for you body to learn to fend off, I suppose? Building new defences takes time. I’m glad there are people there to care for you. It is a comfort to know that strangers often step-up.

And we have to trust them, don’t we?

I remember when ET got so ill in Cairo. There were bombs going off along the Red Sea, and our hotel was guarded by men with machine guns. The hotel doctor had prescribed the wrong mediation. The concierge had discussed it with the pharmacist, he’d happened to mention to the pharmacist that ET was about 6 years-old, not 26. The concierge explained it to me: “Give him this. The pharmacist said this is the right medicine.”

Today, again, I am concerned of being too afraid of the world. And too afraid of the people in it.

Carolee, in her letter to me, linked to a poem by Maggie Smith. A gorgeous poem, but it is wrong:

“[…] For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you, […]

Maggie Smith is wrong. Those are not the odds. 

So. Di. I need you to get well. I need you to make the connections, to take the photos of the moments that prove to us all that those are not the odds.

XO Ren

Di’s reply


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.

 

 

 

 

Dear Di,

You write about language as music:

“I fell asleep one night, in Istanbul, listening to the retired officers wives playing cards in the next room. Playing cards, gossiping, laughing … and I realised that the sound of them soothed me, like the sound of the sea, or a river would. I love language, like others like music perhaps […]”

Yes, the music of overheard, muffled conversations. Funny that I was just thinking about this the other day – in a different context. There is the freedom of eavesdropping without having to participate. It’s like being a child again and listening to the muffled voices of grown-ups in the next room after bedtime, isn’t it?

Maybe there is a special freedom and relief of knowing that no one gives a damn about you. The privilege of sometimes covertly and uncomprehendingly enjoying the world’s activity.

Again: opening to wonder. Like listening to the birds in the park without trying to identify the calls of the individual species. There’s something rather meditative about that, about not putting things in boxes, not categorising, not judging. Just sitting in a teeming civilisation of birds – or humanity – and listening to the music. And then dancing on your own.

I fear that psychiatrists might call that parallel play and diagnose me with some kind of anti-social disorder. But then, authenticity is about rejecting arbitrary boxes, isn’t it? Like I tell my students every year: “Pity the Platypus”, who doesn’t fit the man-made categories. But we should all be the platypus. Be the Platypus, I tell them.  Someday I will get around to writing the book with that title.

And that leads me to: I could kick you for giving me yet another book to buy. I’m assuming that Rod Judkins has already said all of this in the book you quoted.

I cannot tell you how tired I am of all of these online tests to categorise ourselves as this or that. The Whitman quote is ubiquitous, but there is a reason it is. We have no choice but to reach for it!

I crave attention.

I want to observe.

Interactive theater always makes me uncomfortable. By pulling me into the experience, it pulls me out of it. Did I ever tell you about my little epiphany in Oslo a few years ago? I was at a conference for teaching artists and we all took part in a “happening” in the park. Some of us were paired up, with our opposite on the other side of a huge circle of 40+ people. We  held strings that stretched across, criss-crossing over a great expanse of withering grass. There were two dancers in the centre, and a director who told the dancers where to move, and how to negotiate all of the strings.

I really wanted to give my end of the string to a passer-by, and head up to the top of the hill so I could watch – so I could write about the associations the event was giving me. I think I’m an interpreter at heart. Not an actor, not a director. I see metaphors where no one else does.

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A fish, half-out of water. Japan: when I was “forest bathing” without knowing it.

But when I think about it, maybe it isn’t that surprising. A shaman, a oracle. A poet. All of those are just people who deal in metaphors, aren’t they? People who just can’t distill experience into straight talk. (I am settling for poet, by the way, that takes hubris enough).

The reason this was an epiphany is that, all these years, I thought I wanted to be the director.

But I’ve wandered – back to your letter: You aren’t in the pub just to watch football. You are there to soak it all up, aren’t you? With your book as a barrier during half-time. (I bet you hate that you can’t whip out your camera at the pub, and have no one notice.)

I think it’s like Japanese forest bathing, only among humans. It sounds healthy to me. At least for people like us.

But you are more flexible than I am. More skilled, at any rate: your ease with putting people at ease. I have been in awe of that since I met you. I think of how you soothed the angry woman I photographed (incidentally) in downtown Stavanger. You immediately made her feel “seen” instead of observed – with just a sentence or two. You would be a good diplomat. But then, that would probably be a bastardising of your talent.

That is a gift beyond that of the shaman, the oracle, the poet. I don’t know what that is. You may say you had no mentors. But you have become one.

From what you write, maybe it did spring from something that you don’t see as a strength, this “sacrificing for each other”? Because I think it is a strength, or has become one, at any rate. Sometimes I think sacrificing can mean giving up one’s own sense of knowing and stepping into another person’s point of view. Not all of us do that as easily. Few as quickly and intuitively as you do.

Maybe that is why you can deal with the mocking in a way I think I would struggle with. You understand it comes from a place of recognition – that is is a way to break down any attempt at pretence and posturing? As I think about it, I realise that it would probably do me good to learn to see it as you do. To “stand it”, as you describe it. And to focus on the curiosity and joy.

You describe me as “settled”. But that’s not how it feels. Yes. I’m happy in the partnership I’ve so fortunately stumbled upon. E. doesn’t anchor me, though; he knows I’m in motion, and he moves with me, or is comfortable trusting I’ll not choose to untether entirely.

And I feel at home in this landscape. I have this nest – thought it feels as temporary as any, no matter how long it will last. Like you, my children are elsewhere. And I know all of this is healthy, because of who we are.

But God forbid I should ever be settled and satisfied with what I’ve seen and sucked from life thus far. Imagine. Were that true, I wouldn’t be reaching still towards you and your stories.

I remember your blog when we met: “People become stories, and stories become understanding.”

I am still waiting for the book with that title.

I wanted to end there, but there is this thing about learning the language. I have tried. I have hired private tutors at 1000 crowns an hour. I honestly believe it all comes down to the fact that I don’t like myself in Norwegian. I don’t like the lack of music, the lack of humor: I can learn the rules, but I can never really sing.

So, yeah. 23 years here, and my Norwegian still stinks. There’ll be no judgement from this corner.

Much love, Di!

XO Ren

Di’s reply


This is one of a series of public 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kjære Di,

You mentioned the church bells in Genova and the calls to prayer in Istanbul. When I think about these kinds of things in my own life – the church bells in Stavanger, the live singing coming from the minarets in Skopje when I was there for a conference – I think about the necessary silence that surrounds them. Lying on the floor of a rented room in Skopje, I heard the singing long before dawn: the song was strange and comforting simultaneously. In Stavanger, those 12 years in the house near the church, the bells were like a grown-up call to recess: Sunday.

sheepOut here in Jæren, I don’t hear the church bells. But it is quiet, and the sparrows’ chatter outside the window punctuates the silence in the same way. With the same reverence. And on weekend hikes, there is the ubiquitous clanging of sheep bells. A somewhat strange, irregular music, but comforting, too. Like a lifeline into the wild. Did I tell you that every hike we have been on this fall has had us stumbling upon sheep skeletons?

Perhaps we are both drawn to seek the foreign as a way to recapture wonder and awe?

You wrote, “Mostly it’s not human nature to leap when you are safe.  Mostly.”  Maybe there is something wrong with us? The restlessness.  I guess in my case it has to do with a mistrust of the sense of safety.

And then there is the fact that I love nesting, but hate being nested. Being busy, being occupied with the ordering of things gives me an illusion of control. Once that flurry of activity is over, the illusion is broken. I feel vulnerable.

I think that is why, content as a I am in so many ways, I have flashes of envy when you share your experiences of arranging your new life. I want to move house again. Which is absurd. Instead: yesterday I decided on a new bookshelf for the living room. So you see, I need a healthy adventure soon.

E. and I were in the east part of Stavanger Friday night to see a production at the arts center. They are renovating the whole section of town. I guess the proper way to describe it is to say there is a gentrification of the old working class neighborhood. Posh little cafés, and gyms with big windows so everyone can watch the people on the treadmills – or the people on the treadmills can be watched. I’m not sure what the thought was behind that design, to be honest.

The old arts center has had a facelift, though its still appropriately whatever-the-current-hipster-term-for-“shabby chic” is, if shabby chic is already passé – I don’t even care to keep up these days. Hipster is probably passé by now. At any rate, sleek apartment buildings have sprung up all along the water. Grassy parks that look in reality just as they did in the drawings in advertisements before they were built.

What is taking me by surprise is that I have absolutely no interest in any of it. I would rather explore the rocky beaches out by the lighthouse south of here. I’d rather roam the lived-in spaces in East London on a weekend. Feed the pelicans. I would rather spend time where things aren’t carefully designed not to match in just the right way – maybe go seek out on of your beloved bazaars in Istanbul. Things that are not preplanned. Places that grow organically, as chaotic as humans are. What is the point of moving into or even through something that is already in perfect order? How gawd-awful boring.

And distancing: the place would never be mine. And I would never fit in well.

I guess that brings us back to belonging and not really belonging. The safety of the familiar, on the periphery? I don’t know, that seems paradoxical. It’s the wildebeest on the periphery who get eaten, isn’t it?

So tell me more about these doubting Genovese.  They aren’t eating you alive, are they?

Much love,

XO Ren

Di’s Reply


This is one of a series of public 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.

Kjære Di,

Last night I was up half the night. After meditation, I’d rolled over only to return to the storm that’s been in my head for weeks now. I scribbled page after page of notes. Looking at them this morning, they are mostly incomprehensible. Last night I’d solved all the world’s problems in the outline of an amazing novel.

But this morning my head is quiet again. And I have no desire to write a novel of any sort.

I’ve been staring at the computer screen wondering if this is the end of it, or just the eye of the storm. To be honest, I am not  sure which I am hoping is the case.

I’m eating chicken soup for breakfast. E made it for dinner last week, his own recipe with garam masala and apples. I froze the leftovers. I have mixed feelings about him becoming such a good cook.

Breaking my own rules, I’m eating in the bibliotek-ette. I’m wrapped in the blanket that you gave me when you came up to visit me two years ago. Winter is coming. (Boy, that phrase is ruined, and I don’t even watch Game of Thrones).

Yesterday I went to a friend’s theater production downtown. It was an evening of storytelling by seven women, from seven countries. So, I thought of about you.

Some of these women were war refugees, some economic migrants, and some came for love. Some had been here a couple of years, some nearly twenty, one woman – as she put it – arrived at her birth.

It made me realize that I’m not an ex.pat. I don’t know when I transitioned to immigrant. It was a gradual process, and when I changed my citizenship three years ago, only a conscious acknowledgment of the fact. I have set down roots here. Not my children; they both call foreign countries “home” these days. So maybe the image I am looking for isn’t setting down roots, but becoming entangled. With the landscape. I am more at home now walking these moorlands, than I am walking on sidewalks anywhere. More at peace, that is – if that is what “home” is: peace.

IMG_20161022_170158.jpg
One of “my” beaches. From Saturday’s run.

I was listening to a guided meditation last night and there were the sounds of waves in the background. And songbirds. I’m not an ornithologist, or even a halfway decent bird-watcher, but I know the call of a thrush from that of a gull, or a tern. It took me a minute or two to figure out what was causing the dissonance I felt: there are no songbirds on the beaches where I run. This wasn’t the sound of my beaches.

I suppose I have always been quick to fall in love with people. But not places. This relationship grew over time. And took me by surprise.

I feel like Golde in Fiddler on the roof. I suppose I love this place.

When I got my divorce a few years ago, I hadn’t considered that I would stay in Norway. Now, I don’t consider leaving. This is where I found my strength.

I was thinking that this is so different from your whirlwind romance with Genoa. Your immediate recognition that it was “home” – for no apparent reason. So far from your New Zealand landscape. What has drawn you there? What is it that continues to seduce you?

And what has given you the courage to strike out and follow your heart – not after a lover  (although we’ve both done that in the past)- but after a “home”?

XO Ren

Di’s reply



This is the first in what I hope will be many public letters to friends – friends I hope will write back to me on their own blogs. Category: Correspondence.

If you’d like to catch up, read the letters in chronological order here.