January 14, 2018.

Playwrights are poets who get lonely. –  Joy Gregory

I’ve written poetry as long as I can remember writing. And early on, I never saw a distinction between poetry-as-genre and the poetry found in a text of any genre. I intuitively understood poetry as a way to communicate something that transcends the specific, by means of the specific.

Yes, I’m aware that my definition is by no means universal. And I’m not trying to convince anyone to agree with me. I’m aware of the debate between the timely vs. timeless aspects of art, the universal vs. the specific. I respect that debate. But I’m not participating.

Neither am I precious about poetry. I don’t say that it is something I have to do, or I would die. I wouldn’t die. Though I suppose I’d be even more messed up than I am.

I aways return to it – even after having sworn if off more than a few times. I can’t avoid it – writing or reading whatever genre I stumble into.

When I ask myself what a poetry community might mean to me, I’m at a loss. When I was a child, we moved so frequently, and carried with us so many secrets, I found companionship in books. Dr. Seuss and A.A. Milne. Judy Bloom and Stephen King. Dickinson and Millay. It was a diverse community. Millay wrote plays. Helen Hayes wrote a memoir-cum-anthology-cum-love letter to the dead authors who wrote for her.

There was Shakespeare.

It’s always been about writing to the dead, I think. Even when addressing the living, I looked over their shoulder, with the faith that the people who spoke to me – I could speak back to, just as clearly. Eventually. With practice. Even if I’d landed on the wrong planet, at the wrong time to fit in. It is a comforting delusion that is difficult to walk away from.

I am the imaginative version of Emilie Dickinson – shouting from the top of the stairs. Genuinely happy for any company, desperately suspicious. Scared.

I am a Norwegian citizen. But not a Norwegian writer. I am not an American writer. A few years ago, I was excited when an American colleague wrote to tell me one of her students wrote about one of poems in her term paper. It turned out she mentioned the poem to criticise my use of formalist terminology.

Yay.

What is a writing community? Am I looking for the salon, or the table where the powerful people sit and write each other into the history books? Am I looking for commiserators, or competitors by which to gauge my progress and commitment?

Am I listening with an ear to conform or with the intention to empathise and learn? Learning to what end? Why do I need/want to be seen, and why do I fear it?

I question my own decision to return to playwrighting. All this time, all these years in a chosen self-exile, comfortably writing to the dead.

And what do I want from the living? Is it that, now, at mid-life (when so little about death is theoretical) I need someone to breathe life into the words while I’m still here?

Am I losing faith?

Am I lonely?


I’ve been considering the spring reboot of This Choice.

I’ve been thinking about what I wanted when I started, what I found fulfilling, and what I didn’t.

I’d wanted conversations. And I did have some really lovely conversations. (One left me in tears!) But when I did get involved in the discussion, I would edit it out – concerned that any listener would think the project was about self-promotion.

As a result, my original idea of podcast “conversations” quickly evolved into straight interviews, in which people talked about themselves, promoted their work. When people asked me my opinion or about my experience, I’d say, “Oh, but we are talking about you” and I’d edit it out.

Several times, when saying goodbye, people thanked me for the “service” I was doing for the community.

Funny that a project I began as a way to reach out and find a sense of kinship became even more isolating for me as a writer.

Something happened lying in the hospital bed this summer. I learned it is important that I am honest with myself about how I spend my time – and why.

IMG_20171121_093440_587I want to try again.

It was never my intension to provide “a service to the community”. As crappy as that sounds – I just wanted to talk with writers I admired.

So. I am the imaginative Emilie Dickinson.

I just might suck it up–and come
down the stairs to meet you-

Dear Carolee,

I have been wondering if the “remains of winter” have left you. Has the poet-warrior returned? I am so sorry for my long absence. I’ve had to pull back for a time. For so many reasons. America being one of them. The whole concept of “it” on a social level, on a personal level. On the level of what am I now appropriating, no longer being an American, always being an American. How much does being identified as American by others make me American forever more. Whenever I speak: I speak “American”, even if I no longer speak for, or as a part of America. It is not the pain you are experiencing. It has been my own grinding pocket of noise. A pocket of past tense, of loss.

I pulled back. Listened more. Tried to discern the panic-inducing headlines (all for the sake of ad revenue), from the facts of damage. Tried to put it in the kind of perspective the priviledge of being on the outside affords. This is a different kind of self-imposed exile. One I didn’t expect, but should have. On 9/11 I felt it. And I was still actually a citizen. Even pulling back, though, Carolee. I feel like I’m doing wrong. Not appropriating what doesn’t belong to me, but then abandoning and looking at it from a position of detatched priviledge. I have no correct way to position myself in the public discourse on this. Except. The truth is there is no position of detachment. The world is too small now. Hate spreads like a virus – faster than a virus. So does fear.

What I’ve learned is that I lived in a bubble over there. As much as they talk about what social networks and the internet have done to insularize us with our opinions, I lived in complete ignorance of the real racial horrors. I was not taught in school that there was a time when you could purchase postcards at the 5 and dime to send home from your vacation, featuring lynchings. I had no idea Black men and women had to school their children in the safe way to answer a policeman if he asked a question. That lives depended on it. At least, that was the parents’ hope.

I’ve been listening and realising that while I did know the taste of government cheese, the smell of a condemned building, what it is to be a woman who jogs  alone in the late afternoon, with pepperspray in her fist – I never knew the true breadth of the ills of my own homeland. Maybe it is good Disneyland is falling apart at the fiberglass seams? A deep cleansing of the wounds, and another chance to heal?

But I know. I can say that from here. Where I am safely tucked into a healthcare system that functions. Where I haven’t felt the need for pepperspray in 23 years.

I didn’t want to write about this. My perspective is not important. But maybe what I learned from my perspective is relevant? I don’t know. I’ve tried to focus on writing.

And I know you’ve been writing. And publishing. And that makes me smile. And I know you are getting out in the green world. So have you “laced up your sneakers”? “Reclaimed the brain space?”

How are you coming with the forgivness you wrote about?

yogi bearOver the past two months, I wrote a play. Finished it. And it was like coming home. It was a great big “fuck you” to every fear I’ve had, to every question of “what’s the point”? Almost every morning, after an hour of writing, I felt like singing. Or rather, like I had just sung…or screamed.

I’ve decided that it’s time for me to take off the bear suit. Not that one.

But this one:

bear suit

I have been walking so softly – for almost half my life now – that I am a brittle presence in the world. So obsessed with belonging, with not belonging, that I’ve sprouted protection.

“Don’t touch me.”

All the while sending little coded messages into the world, in the form of poems. In books that no one can find.  I have competing desires. (If fear isn’t a form of desire, self-protection is.)

I’ve exhausted myself holding both these things in my hands, watching them fight it out. I feel like my body has mimicked every posture, in every wrong instance; my brain (and mouth) have run at the wrong tempo, and missed a crucial sign too often to deserve absolution from anyone. I’m grateful that there is something in me that resists the temptation to fill my noisy pockets with stones. But I do give up. Or give in.

I no longer care. In the quasi-Buddhist sense (because surely someone will correct me), “I” no longer care to figure myself into the equation. This little death happens daily.

And then around bedtime, not every night now, but on some nights: I have this urgent need to have my name in bold letters on the god-damned book cover, poster, neon sign.

Oh, it is so difficult to sleep in the bear suit!

How are you sleeping, luv?

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,

I don’t even want to think about how long it has been since I’ve written. Even longer than it’s been since we managed to get together for dinner in London. I am grateful you found the time and that our schedules lined up to allow it.

Since then we’ve been through an entire season. I suppose it’s fitting though. It feels like a season has come to close.

I thought about you all day yesterday. Wondering if the election results would ease your headaches. Would let you release a tiny bit from all the urgency?

IMG_20170607_175300
Looking for balance.

Here, I’ve kept my head down. Tried to detach as best I can from the flood of panic-inducing headlines that the media uses to keep us clicking, and sustaining the evil circle of fear and toothpaste ads. I do believe money makes the world go around like never before.

The thing is, I thrived in the quiet. I wrote a play. I finished a play. But even though I’ve already sent it off, and a literary manager has responded that he will argue to include it in a specific theater’s 18/19 season, I’m afraid to let myself experience any kind of satisfaction. Still wondering where that damn line is between smugness and insecurity. If I dare to sit up straight and say, “Look what I did!”, someone will knock me good in the chest. Simply because they’ll feel to obligated to remind me that there is no guarantee it will ever really get off the ground.

Why do we do that sort of thing to each other? Deny one another a few minutes of thrills and the high of having created something and having heard someone else say, “I see you, I hear you!” We all know it wears off – that feeling of joy – quickly enough. (“Marvellous”. He wrote that it was “marvellous”, and I love that because the word sounds like something you can eat with your fingers—in a very classy way.) Here, it may be very wise to actually focus on the moment? Put down the little callipers that will measure whether the ego is dangerously inflated?

For some reason I just now had that thought again about my mother telling me she used to rehearse for her mother’s death. That’s a pretty messed-up way to go through life, isn’t it?

I inherited that practice. I rehearse for the worse. I don’t trust my resilience. Although in this case, it means that I’ve started a new one: a new play. I’m afraid that if I think too hard, or spend one more minute reading theatres’ submission guidelines, I will collapse in dry pile of dust. “Run Forest, Run”. Fear-driven momentum.

The strange thing is all the world’s stories seem the same to me now. Or just as the one I have just finished. The subject matter radically different, the story the same. The poetry the same. Is this a cliché? A manifestation of the fear of not having anything more to say? New to say? Oh, my God: What to say?! I have even written to you about my mother’s dress rehearsals before.

I’m okay. I have a little whiskey here on the desk now. Talk about cliché.

How is the novel coming? Do you find politics creeping into your work, or is it a refuge from at least that particular ache?

This is brief. But I am back. And I hope you will forgive my absence. I’ve been growing.

Much love to you and M.
I’ve missed this.

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.