Yesterday after work I took a long bath without my mobile phone. Without earbuds. No podcast, no music, no news.

I can’t remember the last time I did that.

I had a rush of ideas. Most of them related to work, but that was fine really. Creativity feels good regardless of the arena. I got out of the tub, dried off, and worked at the computer until bedtime. I have a separate chrome browser for school-related bookmarks. At eight o’clock I closed it for the next 12 days.

Today though, I’m thinking about work again. About how I teach first-year drama students to be conscious of personal props, the items that become the habitual gestures and defining physical characteristics of their role’s personality. Glasses, scrunchies, cowboy boots, soda bottles, toothpicks. By the third year we are talking about Richard Schechner and our social behaviors related to personal props that prompted him to insist for a time that his Performance Group play in the nude.

For years now I’ve used my keys as an example of a personal prop. I have work keys. I don’t have a car, so I don’t have a car key. We have a code on our front door, so I don’t have a house key either. When I pull my work keys out of my backpack, I take on a role: teacher. My work keys are incredibly symbolic. Students will ask me to unlock the costume storage room, or a rehearsal room. Or by the third year, they may ask to borrow my keys so they can do it themselves.

At some point years ago, I became hyper-aware of my work keys. How I would actually cling tightly to them when I felt a class of 30 restless students taking control of a situation that should have been under my control. Weirdly, my noticing this – stepping back and taking on the role of the director in relationship with my “character” – I was able to access when control was necessary and when it wasn’t. I could make more conscious choices about my “role” as an instructor. These days, half the time I have no idea where my keys are – which I’m certain is not something my boss wants to know.

Yesterday finding myself in the bathtub without my mobile phone, I had the same kind of epiphany. We read and talk a lot about social media and how we can passively allow it to define us. But the phone itself – the device – has come to partially define me. My mindless connection to this object, and its ability to connect me to a world of ideas to occupy my thoughts every moment, is shaping my behavior. It is determining how I move in the world. Literally: in the bath, one elbow propped on the edge of the tub to hold the phone dry. My shoulder twisted slightly. My neck under stress.

I’ve believed for a long time that we are nothing more than what we do: what we think and how we interact with the world. And that thinking and interacting with the world are interconnected in such a way that one defines the other – reinforcing or challenging who are “are” at any moment. I believe this is how we can change. How we do change.

I’m going to stop grasping at my mobile phone. Stop clinging to my sense of self: the productivity shoulds and ought-tos.

I’m going to dare to be truly naked in the bathtub.

Maybe dare to drop my character more often, wherever I am.

An evening run. Because
the morning slipped
between a coffee cup
and God-knows-what.
And I need to run.

I’ve showered now and pulled on a wool bra and cashmere lounge pants. There’s nothing like cashmere lounge pants. I own one pair because I stumbled over them – misplaced in rack in an H&M- marked down to affordable.

Is this what it feels like to be wealthy? Wrapped in cashmere?

I had an angora sweater in high school. I bought it myself with the money I’d earned from my first job – selling hot dogs at the local rally-cross track. I knew it was out-of-place in my life: it shrank in the first wash.

But now. … Why don’t I always dress like hugs? I’m a grown woman and should be in full control of these things. I want to be the woman who empties her wardrobe and dresser drawers of all the fast fashion clothes, and fills them with nothing but quality fabrics in neutral colors that tell the world she definitely has all of her soft, yellow ducks in a row.

When I was a teenager we didn’t have ducks. But we had finches in bamboo cages in our mobile home. Some in the living room, some in the my mother’s bedroom in the back of the house. And they would sing to each other. Pitifully.

They make these small bamboo nests to put in the bamboo cages so finches will lay perfect little eggs. We had one hatch once. Have you ever seen a soft, naked, newly-hatched finch? It burns in your mind when it is dead on the newspaper tray at the bottom of the cage.

My point is… I’ve never had my ducks on a row.

These cashmere pants were marked “sleepwear”. Are there really women who sleep in cashmere? I sleep in cotton exercise pants that are too napped to wear in public anymore.

I feel guilty wearing cashmere around the house. It seems decadent. But they were marked “sleepwear” and I wonder if I wear them out (you know, feeling all elegant-like) people with think I’m an idiot for wearing my pj’s to dinner?

I wear them for yoga now. Kind of like dressing up for church. Not for the Holy Spirit, mind you – but for Buddhist idea that we should enjoy the pleasures of the present moment so long as we do so without clinging. And I have no illusion that these cashmere pants will survive the wash more than a few times.

At any rate. Here I sit in bed. Leonard curled beside me, dreaming of chasing hares – small, inaudible barks puffing his cheeks. I’ll have to wake him to send him to his own bed before I turn in for the night.

E. is offshore for a few more days. He may as well be on the moon. And only half the moon is visible tonight.

It’s been raining all week and the lake has flooded its usual banks. The bench roses weirdly from the water, and I stopped to take a photograph. For a moment I thought I’d stop and sit there for a while, watching the moon. But then a man came walking with his two schnauzers, and I was worried he’d think me insane.

And I was wearing my new shoes.

So… there’s that, at least: new, serious-ugly running shoes.

I’m that kind of woman.

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 Richard,

 

Finally touching base again after the holidays. Touching base in so many ways. Bizarre how quickly these morning letters have become habit – in the best sense of the word.

I read on Facebook that you had a night of writing recently. I hope the story poured forth like an easy birth. I know that is a purple bit of prose, but I like the metaphor. I hope that night has kept your primed for writing, moving into this new year.

I was talking to B. this Sunday on Skype. We agreed this New Year doesn’t feel shiny. It feels like an old woman rolling over in bed. Another perspective of the same musty room. This is not a good place to be just a little over a week into January. I look at all the plans I made a year ago. Long term plans. Five-year plans. Because we are supposed to have such things.

I’ve seen my dog summon puppy-like energy to chase a toy rat – just until she gets her teeth on the edge of it. Then she realizes it isn’t interesting at all, and she goes back, circles a little square foot of floor, and lies down again. Disappointed. I think, not as much in regards to her expectations, but in regard to suckering herself into expectations. She knows it tastes like cardboard and plastic. Not rat.

It’s not that I’m disappointed in not achieving my goals for the year. It is more about not understanding why I had those goals in the first place. They really were about accomplishments not process. Being, not doing.

Demonstrating.

20160921_163204
She settles for Rilke these days.

These past few weeks of this term, I’ve been teaching acting techniques. Trying to explain the difference between the acting that involves standing outside oneself, and manipulating and maneuvering one’s own expressions and body like a puppet master would a marionette; and the acting that is “in the moment” – inhabiting an alternate world, but moving and reacting spontaneously within it. Both approaches are useful. Each to their own end.

The larger the performing space, the more necessary it is to have a layer of demonstration over the genuine impulse. To reach the cheap seats.

I am wondering how much social media feeds the subconscious assumption that we should all be playing to the cheap seats? We play the script will varying degrees of interpretation, wait for the applause and hope to die, memorably, on stage like Moliere*. Popularity as a measure of a “happy life”. Now we are all Croesus.

(It astounds me that people still teach that the primary needs are food and shelter. Maslow’s hierarchy and all that. We need to belong. I read that people in rural Africa will go hungry to pay for their cell phones. I’m convinced that what we think of as materialism is always nothing more than an oblique reach for belonging.)

It’s satisfying to back into theory like this. I have books on performativity, a few that I have understood well enough to metaphorically slap the heel of my hand on my forehead now and say, “duh”. Today I am thinking though, that the purpose of academic theories isn’t to impart knowledge. Knowledge itself is kind of useless: “academic”. Maybe the purpose of theories is so that, once we have gained the wisdom, we can look around and realize we aren’t alone in experience. It’s necromancy. Belonging with the dead. (And maybe, why we intuitively strive to “eternally” belong to the living through texts?) And at the same time, I am kind of thinking, “Really? It isn’t any more complex or exciting than this?” Like a kid figuring out that the tooth fairy really is your mother.

I am boring myself now. Sorry. I think I’m catching up with the woman I see in the mirror. And I am not as happy about it as I’d hoped to be. Don’t get me wrong. Back to my toy rat metaphor, I don’t believe for a minute that there aren’t real rats to be had.

I wish I hadn’t used a rat as a metaphor.

The old lady just wandered in. The alarm went off on my desk, but I know she can’t have heard it. Her inner clock is impressive. I need to walk her around the block before I leave for work.

I hope this letter finds you knee-deep in your arctic world, with the words lining up with just the right balance of exuberance and order.

XO
Ren

P.S. It means a lot to me to be included in your family. And I believe you when you say so: who but family would put up with such navel-gazing correspondence.

*He didn’t really die onstage. But it makes for a good story.

Richard’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.

And this year has not been off to the best start. A lag, and a rush, and dealing with new realities.

I read today about  – was it Seneca? – who admonished people for waiting until 50 or 60 to begin living life intentionally. And there was something about focusing on being present, not on accomplishments. Of course, the people telling us this have all accomplished enough to say such a thing.

With a straight face.

I arrived in London on the 23rd of December,  and ran down the escalators at every tube station. We ran 17K on Christmas Eve, and I woke up with runner’s knee on Christmas morning – only to bicycle across London to see the boys anyway. Now, two weeks and one painful New Year’s run later, it’s clear there will be no marathon for me in February. It’s a blow to my confidence.

And not the only blow to my confidence this month. There are work issues, other health issues. There is aging, which is probably somehow related to both.

There was a storm. And I find that I’ve let myself slip into an unproductive/objective (not present) perspective.

I’m behind in my correspondence.

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On the way to Synesvarden. Before the fog rolled in.

Today I prodded E. to head out for a hike. (Another thing on my holiday to-do list was to get a new winter hiking jacket. Not done. After 20 minutes, my coat was soaked through. Thank goodness for wool.)

We headed out to Synesvarden, which seemed like an ironic name for the spot today. White: a 360 degree view of white. We take what life brings us. Today, it came a few meters at a time. The cold-stiff orange and yellow tussocks, the granite rocks that might be coated with ice. Shadows that grow into figures that mumble or holler, “good day” as they pass.

There was a dog barking somewhere in the forest, and we circled back to find her. But she went silent.

Isn’t there a culture that conceptualizes the future as something that comes at us from behind to overtake us? Maybe they are the only ones to have it right. All this planning, all the mirages we see ahead of us. The clump of earth that should be frozen, but that rushes suddenly from behind to slip into the present, under your foot, in the form of soft and giving mud. And there you have it: the irretraceable moment that is a wet sock.

There have been bright moments. Moments that shine a bit, like glassy eyes after half-a-bottle of wine. And I keep telling myself this will pass. This grief.  Because that is what this is. It seems by body understood it long before my mind caught up to see what the problem was.

There is more to this new challenge: the surrender of ambition, the letting go of childhood dreams that were based on values that I may have never fully accepted, and don’t accept now. Fears can stand in the way, no doubt, but fear can also deflect the original aim of an ambition.

“Because we didn’t get enough love of children.” That is probably more of a paraphrase than a quote, from a fiction character in a musical.

There is that moment. When you get to the brink of where you deliberately headed, and you realise: this isn’t at all what I really want.

Coddiwomple: to wander purposefully towards a vague destination.

It’s time to admit it: to live intentionally doesn’t have to involve ambition. There is purpose in being in the moment, in being in the white with wet socks, and mist in your eyelashes.

 

 

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 Richard,

All these strange connections when one lets the subconscious bubble them up. I’m very certain that, were I not a poet, I would be one of those conspiracy theorists connecting Atlantis to the Bermuda Triangle, and to the disappeared women of Juarez. I’ve read that this is actually what creative people have in common with the mentally disordered: loose associations. Why there is likely much overlapping between the two groups.

First, what is a little coincidence, a digression, and a bit of proof that you and E have so much in common: last Saturday E picked out The Cursed Child as a Father’s Day gift. He hasn’t started it yet. (He just finished Unbroken, which he says was a much better book than film). You’ll have to let me know what you think. I probably won’t read it. K. told me that all the rules regarding magic that were established in the Harry Potter books, are broken. I hate to start a book with a bad attitude.

So. Yes. The “repeating myself” thing. I do that. I absolutely do that. And when I read that, I remembered a poem in mixed states called “On Not Repeating Myself”, which is about just that.

And the thing is, when I looked the poem up, I find it’s riddled with connections to our correspondence. In fact, the last stanza is:

I gave her the key
to the box
with all your letters.

20161123_075704.jpg(Your letter arrived yesterday and when I am finished here, it will go in the light blue box on the shelf in the library – with the others.)

The poem begins with the old lady, but she’s still a puppy. And then there is the “hip” Anti-Christ as an infant (yeah, I am reaching here but these days it feels relevant…). And then there is a mention of one of my recurring “ghosts”, this one perched at the foot of my bed (she is the one who has the key, by the way).

I think I’ve done nothing but repeat myself in some kind of Hegelian spiral my entire life. Or at least I hope it is more a spiral, than it is a puppy chasing her own tail.

I saw the shrink yesterday. It’s a relief to know I’m not mad. And I feel a bit like Sheldon saying, “My  mom had me tested”.


And I think I’ve reabsorbed all my ghosts again – for now. Even the one “in cartoon prison garb” that I mention in that poem. She told me to keep writing.

The shrink also told me that, and then the rest of the day, I couldn’t write a thing. Like you, I find this whole political climate alienating. I thought that we would see an apocalypse. A sudden clash of extremes, and instead we have these horrors coming in “on little cat feet” like Sandburg’s fog. Part of me is relieved. And I’m deeply ashamed of that.

Already here in Norway the extreme right has been emboldened. Well. Perhaps. It could also be that the media now has sought them out, and is giving them attention. There is a fine, and messy line between uncovering the hate, and “ufarligjøring” it. I still can’t find a good English word for that. Everyone is saying “normalising”. I guess that is technically correct, but it doesn’t sound as dangerous in English, does it? We shine a light on what we find repulsive until we can actually tolerate it. Until we do tolerate it. Until we shrug, and seek out the ever-more outrageous news stories that will trigger a inexplicably pleasurable surge of hormones. It is supply and demand. I read that the President electoral -Elect pointed out to CNN how much money he made them this last year. We are a self-fulfilling prophecy of self-loathing and schadenfreude. And greed.

Last week I posted something to my students – I wanted them to see a possible indication of a parallel between Stalin’s suppression (and execution) of Meyerhold, and Trump’s tweet which attempted to define the role of the artist in his America. Some of them expressed concern, and I then tried to comfort them. I meant well, but wondered if I was just fanning the flames.

You know, I don’t take periodic breaks from Facebook because what is there upsets me, as much as because what is there affects me: I find myself on witch hunts of sorts, filled with anger and looking for opportunities to justify it. It is a kind of mob mentality, isn’t it? And yet…

Struggling to find my role here, as a white, cis-gendered ex-patriot (sic.) – I don’t have “boots on the ground” and I need to find a way to be supportive without appropriating, and to do my best to stop the spread of this… well: evil. I know you are doing your part.

All this seems to bring me back to Harry Potter. There is a podcast called Imaginary Worlds. The last episode I listened to talked about JK Rolling’s work with Amnesty and the empathy-effect of literature, especially the theme of racism in the Potter series. They talked about the werewolf Greyback as an analogy for homosexuality, but I had been thinking all along it was an analogy for bipolar disorder.

At any rate, I was thinking how one could view the whole series as another dystopic story. Albeit one with a bizarrely happy ending. I think it would be kind of funny if The Cursed Child made Harry out to be a kind of Walter Mitty. Full circle dystopia to status quo. What if it were all a daydream?

I think this is just me trying to comfort myself.

It sort of drifts back toward what we were talking about: giving in to what is difficult: the cold, the harshness. And your warning of how that kind of giving in can lead to giving up, accepting, euphoria and death. I guess I could avoid calling it “a test of manhood” – but the fact is, most women give birth and that is a test of womanhood in these old stories and traditions. Seems men in these stories battle nature from without their bodies, women from within.

Though I suppose in the end we all figure out that our own bodies are nature. When we no longer recognise ourselves in the mirror, and our limbs no longer do the things we will them to as quickly, as smoothly.

A lot of people say that old people turn to religion because they fear death and long for a distinction between body and soul -to comfort themselves. But what if it is just a recognition that becomes impossible not to see as one ages?

Nah. I guess I don’t really believe that. It’s probably just a lack of attention. We should do more like your acupuncturist suggests: eat and do nothing else, pay attention to the food, to our teeth, to our swallowing. We would probably know ourselves better and recognise our nature.

Maybe if we did, we would recognise and do something about the baser sides of ourselves? The self-loathing, and the schadenfreude? The greed.

I opened the last remaining bottle of red from my birthday stash tonight. A wonderful Barolo. I don’t know who gave it to me, but I’m grateful. It takes the edge off. It puts me in a forgiving state of mind.

Let’s hope it doesn’t kill me.

It helps to know you aren’t shrugging and giving up.

smilefjes, and love to you and yours.

XO Ren

Richard’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.