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?

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.

Dear Richard

That you should quote Dylan Thomas! Last night I watched Set Fire to the Stars. In it, Thomas says something about liking humanity more when it sleeps. I don’t know if he really said that, but I’ve been thinking about it since then: before bed last night, on this morning’s run.

It’s too late now to recall anything I might have thought while sleeping.

“The world is too round now, too constant.” (a line from my own unpublished poem). It seems now humanity never sleeps. And seeming is everything, isn’t it? We are aware of every individual atrocity over the globe. We wake to bring into our awareness a bombing that happened somewhere turned toward the sun, while we were turned toward the darkness. Isn’t it odd that the closer we get to omniscience, the more occupied we are with our own significance?

I don’t think we were meant to know it all. What is it they say? We can handle five close friends, 150 acquaintances? How many instances of man’s inhumanity toward man can we take in? What if we all took care of our small circle of physical presence? Did what we could to make it right. Not a new thought, I know.

I have been reading about immersive theatre. There is a theoretician who describes the form as one of “aestheticised experience” rather than an aesthetic experience. That is: we are not viewing a painting (or a play presented under the premium arch) and having an aesthetic experience, we are having an experience within the environment the theatre-maker creates and we objectify our experience: our experience itself becomes the aesthetic object.

My problem with this is that it is not possible to share this with other people. You and I cannot have the same aestheticised experience. While we may not respond similarly to a painting, we are at least viewing the same aesthetic object. We will respond at individuals to a shared experience. But this is far more isolating.

When I think about this, I get cold. I’ve been trying to put on a finger on it, but I think it actually frightens me. How is this “art”? It feels like anti-communication.

At the same time, I am completely seduced by the sensual immersion that this theatre turns attention toward. It is almost as though the theater form is bring us what we miss the most in our lives- no not bringing it, but just an elaborate illusion.

That last bit was a slight digression. Where I was going with this was the idea that we are presented with information continually. We receive and mentally complete narratives (often conflicting) about things that are occurring across oceans. It seems to me this is a form of object-making. This is where fiction and fact do blur. With no real-world basis for information, we create our individual story of the present from our imagination. We pick and choose from a table overflowing with options. Yeah, I know what they say about “echo chambers”, but there is a huge variety of materials out there to construct our personal experiences. We are so damned creative. When we do this, aren’t we objectifying life instead of experiencing it authentically? Our lives as immersive theatre? Immersed by completely alone in the experience?

There is this guy named Diderot from the 1800th century who said that, while the actor is faking the emotions, the audience is not. But those emotions that the audience is experiencing are aesthetic in nature. Watching a film where a character you love dies, is not the same living through the death of  loved one. “Real emotions, and real emotions, Fru Bloom,” as the Norwegians say.

Recently a friend on Facebook passed away. Someone whose story I had followed the past several years. I never met her. I never met her husband. I have no idea what there lives were really about. What is missing in his life now? I don’t know what their living room smelled like. What their laughter sounded like. Isn’t my sadness over her death an aestheticised experience?

I worry that I am becoming truly narcissistic. Or pyschotic. What is real? Is the popularity of Immersive theatre an indication of our desire to get back to a “real” world with sensual boundaries?

Of course the cliché is that life imitates art. And I know I sound like a pedant, but I earnestly believe that we become the stories we tell. We are fascinated with dystopia. I believe we have conjured Brexit, Trump – all this discord. I am honestly having difficult grasping what is real and what it entertainment. And this includes my own emotional and psychological responses. Am I just practicing for an apocalypse? My mother told me once that she used to “practice” for her own mother’s death.

I remember my Grandfather talking about how the internet was nothing but porn. How we wouldn’t buy a computer, because (apparently, to him) if you went on line to search for a fishing lure you would find nothing but porn images. But he was so wrong. It isn’t porn, it is meanness. Most of the accounts I follow on Twitter are literary presses and poets. And yet, it seems every third posting is sarcasm (literally: a verbal attack) or ridicule. Occasionally, an unimaginative “fuck you”. I am not off the grid, but discovered this week that more quiet time is healing.

On the other hand, maybe it is all porn: a graphic diversion in place what we really want? Connection.

Time is passing, I want to chose the environment in which I want to experience it. Running, oh, yes. As an experience, not a means to an end, though. Like sex at this age, perhaps? Nothing showy about it. Just being in the moment, not objectifying it –  nothing to Instagram.

I liked your recollection of the 60-year-old lover. Shouldn’t we all bring all of ourselves to bed, each and every time?

Yes, but that is my point. 60 years-worth of self is much more interesting than 20. Which kind of brings me (oddly enough) to your frustrations with the school system. I get it. I do. But speaking as a teacher in that system, I have come to believe that upper secondary school is little more than hoops and perspective. And I believe a huge part of my job is to help kids see that.






My movement students as human cogs. (I have their permission to use the image.) Here is the video, if you want to see them in action go here.


I would actually love to prose a upper secondary school called “Hoops and Perspective”. I’d throw out everything except the subjects Bureaucracy and History. I wouldn’t seek to explain how the former works, but how to bite your tongue and push through it. Because that is all that is waiting for us once we have our little diploma. Proof we can do what is necessary to function in the culture: to keep a job when it demands absurdities of you. Few of us will leave in a world where we only have ourselves to answer to. Or only have to answer to the things that make sense. Is there any reason to make kids wait until their 20s to put that particular myth on the shelf alongside Santa?

(I read a great book a couple of years ago that talks about the purpose of religion. The author suggests Mormons are the perfect example of the social purpose. When a person will devote two years of their lives traveling around the world talking about a god who hands out planets to the good people once they kick off this Earth, you know they will make a good partner: stick by you out of loyalty – no matter how odd things get. I think of bureaucracy as a substitute for this kind of religious affiliation. A hoop that we jump through to prove we are trustworthy in terms of working with and for a community. Even when it is a stupid hoop.)

I think the take-away of the practice bureaucracy is for our youth to keep their creativity flowing, to value it, to value their subjective views/beliefs/experiences while acknowledging their experiences are subjective, and that no one needs to applaud them or provide external validation. It is my job as an adult to help them create a basis of self-esteem – not encourage their dependence on my (or anyone’s) approval. To teach them to see a grade in context, and not measure themselves by it.

I encourage creativity, but don’t believe it is my job to grade it. I grade why I can teach, what they learn, not who they are. Schools aren’t designed to be arenas for children to perform their talents and for us to applaud. And I think we have an obligation to teach children that they can learn things that they can continue to disagree with. It is also wrong for me to express and opinion or grade their quality of original thought. Lord, how they covet their “originality”.

There seems to be a fear that if one carefully and thoroughly reads a treatise one disagrees with, one might become contaminated or diminished. It is a fear that stops learning  in its tracks. Worse: it snuffs out curiosity. It’s akin to superstition.

I would teach History because it is everything, and we are insignificant as individuals. What lasts are stories that rarely have anything to do with the individuals and truths. Certainly not any one person’s truth. Humility. That is the antidote to the trump-ing culture. We fight fire with fire instead of cutting off the source of the fuel. Even satire is a form of praise in that, by definition, it legitimises/acknowledges power.

Isn’t that what school is for? To prepare you for the real world? To make you realise that you are not the centre of the world? That it all kind of sucks. Then we can help young people find a way to live a meaningful life anyway?

I guess my school wouldn’t fly, would it? It’d be like opening a restaurant called Dead Animals and Stuff We Dug Out of the Mud.

I keep thinking: what was Thomas’s point to “set fire to the stars”. Kind of pointless, isn’t it? You know, stars already being on fire and all?

I am curious what he was thinking.

I should stop pontificating and be more curious.

If this were paper, I would consider tearing this up and starting again. Such depressing navel-gazing. I apologise for this.

I will question more. Tell me what you are questioning now. What you think while you are running…

Much love.
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.



Dear Richard,

As I write this, I know you’re in New York. And I’m hoping your back didn’t give you trouble on the flight. And I hope that C. is feeling stronger, and has a forward tug now.

I suppose if I say that there’s nothing worse than the helplessness we feel when our children are in pain, it’s only repeating a truism. But I also believe these experiences are unavoidable and have a purpose. As much a part of living as ageing and death. We have to give them meaning, I suppose. We’re supposed to name things. Give them meaning. Though I’m not convinced we can actually help our children with that.

We seem (as a society) to be stuck in a martyrdom trope: people who have been hurt go on to be saints – better people than everyone else on the merits of their suffering. I think this only makes it all the more difficult to share our pain. We risk being accused of self-righteousness, or worse. Especially now, perhaps, with social media and every post looking like a cry for attention, for the sake of attention.

Last year I read an interesting book about the history of happiness (as people have defined or shaped the concept). It touched on how Christianity, with the promise of happiness after death function(s, -ed) as a tool for oppression. “The meek will inherit the earth” is a promise that coerce (s, -ed) people to accept mistreatment in the present. I think this pressure to look upon evil with compassion is a way to coerce us into forgiving the unforgivable. Our reward being complacency: we can be confident we’ll have a leg up in the final hierarchy.

We’re caught in society’s catch-22 of being unhappy: do share, but don’t share. There is an invisible line you can’t cross, and it’s like a game of chance. A mine field. Will a troll run a spear through my heart if I use this word instead of that one?

There’s also that related trope, that worries me: “evil is the result of pain”. Our rewriting of so many  and contemporary tales that give us the back stories for our “villains” to explain why they are so mean. It seems to me a whole genre has developed these past twenty years or so?

I believe these stories reinforce the idea that evil or cruelty is simply cause and effect, and that people are “damaged goods” when they have been a victim. It casts suspicion on victims. We harken back to the Naturalists, who lead us to eugenics and other solutions to attempt to avoid passing on our pain. (Well, now I’ve crawled into my own bubble of parental pain and am projecting a parallel in your situation where none exists. Sorry about that. But since I’ve landed here…)

What a crap binary to get stuck in.

What is it about our human nature that drives us so desperately to categorise and sort ourselves into strata? Who wins by virtue of conquering – in the current climate, who’s winning by virtue of perceived wealth, and popularity – who wins by virtue of loss and disadvantage?

I guess it’s more complex than a binary, isn’t it? I’m just thinking out loud. Last week I was talking to a friend of mine who is also bipolar. I was saying the most difficult part of the disorder is never actually being allowed to be happy. All joy is suspect. I’ve been wondering if, maybe, that isn’t also just human nature? Everything is suspect if we are living the examined life. Maybe Socrates was wrong.

But back to C., whose pain isn’t caused by “the evil people do”, but of some unique alchemy of chemistry and spirit that varies in each of us? It’s good to see she reaches out to you and M. for support as she does. And that she dares to reach forward to others through her blog. She has your bravery there, and your generosity that is expressed by the willingness to be vulnerable. I am certain you have made a difference there, as helpless as you might feel now.

Maybe as we age we will learn to give in to helplessness? Our bodies being only a small part of it. You know, if you did have a body transplant, I am sure M. is telling the truth here in that she wouldn’t be delighted.

Old things are much more interesting in the light.

I find younger men quite beautiful: as animals, like sinewy leopards. But I view them with the same objectivity as I do (as a heterosexual woman) when looking at a beautiful woman. I’m not sure if it is because I have grown sons, or simply because I love that a body reflects life experience: there are stories in the aches and the sagging flesh. It’s what makes it all more interesting: less ornament, more art?

And if that’s not a truism, it’s certainly a cliché, I know. It also feels slightly hypocritical coming from me, I’m aware of that, too.

In my twenties, I had a lover who was nearing 60. It was different, being with him. He brought his whole self into the bed. It was like having a tiny window into his lifetime. There was a depth to his experience, and consequently to mine.

And it was rich, in a way that had nothing to do with sexual skill. (And certainly not acrobatics.)

Maybe I’m lucky, in that I wouldn’t have back my experience of “youth” for the world. Even if that means I have pain in my big toe, in my knees; bifocals and a tendency to say, “Huh?”.

I’m lucky that because of my youth, I know that the rain that beats on the roof will eventually stop. And that all this political turmoil will pass, one way or another. And one way or another we move on. Regroup. Grow.

Forgive. I guess.

It is all contained, after all: “our little lives don’t count at all”*. Just a tiny sliver of time. That’s kind of comforting, in a way, isn’t it? It means that being nice – loving – is good enough. In my cosmos, we are all rewarded for our effort: no tallying of wins.

I hope things are good in New York now. That you are home and safe soon. That C. is healing, and that M.’s gorgeous baked goods (Instagram) are helping everyone. Homemade food. I just realised that every time I get depressed, I stop cooking.

So, with that revelation, I need to go make the week’s menu. (I am writing again, but not ready to write about writing.)

Much love to you and yours,

*I would love to quote poems, but I’m afraid show tunes always spring to mind. This time and ear worm from Les Mis.

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.

Dearest Richard.

January has been a wild animal. Like you, I think it is an absurd time to mark the beginning of a New Year. I think an elder should begin walking the neighborhood every day beginning mid-February. When the first tiny tip of a green blade of crocus pokes through, she lets us know. Singing would be nice. Then we begin again.

It is odd that you should be writing now about selfies and beauty and art. Perhaps not odd at all. Serendipity and all that. It is all a matter of perception, isn’t it? How we choose to (subconsciously) draw lines to connect things. I have been reading a poem each night from the A Year with Rilke. Last night I discovered that somehow I have missed a night. I was on the wrong page. So I wound up reading “Not by Grasping” from Sonnets to Orpheus 1, which hit me in the chest with relevance.

“Song, as you teach us, is not a grasping,
not a seeking for some final consummation.
To sing is to be. Easy for a god.
But when do we simply be? […]

And now you write:

I studied a text by Heinrich von Kleist (one of my favourite irrationalists) called Über das Marionettentheater (On the Puppet Theatre), the essence of which is that humans are basically incapable of gracefulness because they are always thinking, whereas puppets will always be graceful because they have no thought.

This is really interesting. I have never heard of von Kleist. But I disagree. I do believe humans are capable of grace. Much more so than marionettes, with their stuttering movements that so perceptibly demonstrate the “push and pull” of external motivations. On the other hand, like you, I would agree that we lose our grace when we become self-conscious. Like you described:

Thus, if we catch a glimpse of ourselves (in a mirror, for example) and like what we see, if we try to consciously repeat that pose, we will never be able to recreate it because we’re consciously thinking about it.

tip2And I think there might be even more to it than that. When we glimpse ourselves in that way, we are unaware that we are seeing ourselves. We are looking objectively at the world (in the best sense), and seeing with the compassionate – or even admiring – eye that we look at others with. When we recognize ourselves, we turn on ourselves. With the conscious “posing” comes the conscious judgement. Or vice versa. We wilt under judgement.

Early morning therapy session with the smartphone.

Funny you should bring up selfies. I have been thinking about them a lot lately. Carolee and I have been discussing them. I have been talking to B. about my issues with them. But I’m beginning to agree with them: that selfies can be tools for self-compassion. This has been on my mind because, for the last six months, I’ve been disappointed and shamed by images of myself. I wasn’t even this insecure about myself when I was 13.

I have ever been a “lenselus“, but seeing photos of myself is painful lately. I think often of my grandmother who told me that every time she glimpsed herself in a mirror she was taken aback. She would see an old woman, and only slowly realise that she was “the old woman”. Her mind was utterly disconnected from the image of her body. And it happened almost daily.

I am wondering if it was a disconnect from her body, or just its image. Do you think blind people deal with their ageing bodies differently than sighted people?

I’ve been forcing myself to look at pictures of myself. To take selfies. (Not that I do anything with them.) It’s not an artistic practice, but a form of therapy, I guess. A meditation in acceptance and forgiveness. I am still self-conscious about it, but remind myself that the judgement we often make of people who take selfies is maybe unfair. I would feel much more uncomfortable and narcissistic asking E. to take a photo of me for my website or Instagram feed, for example.

I also think selfies are a feminist issue. And by that, I don’t mean a women’s issue. Feminists are aware of the complex issues of objectification: male and female. And our deeply ambivalent relationship with it. I suspect you have this ambivalence, too? They talk all the time about how our culture presents men as the adventurers and women as the prize. But I have known and do know many men who would like to be the prize: the object that represents value and beauty. It’s funny how our culture won’t really acknowledge that, and how it punishes men by labelling that desire as “effeminate”. The patriarchy smacking everyone down with whatever form of shame will keep us in line in the tacit framework of the established hierarchy and prescribed forms of personal value. (You’ll have to forgive me for the pompousness of that sentence).

(I just looked up the definition of effeminate and is says: “[…] having characteristics as typical of a woman; unmanly: he lisps and his handshake is effeminate.” Lisps? WTF?!)

At any rate. I do not have an Arctic to sit with in meditative moments. I envy you that. But I do have the path along the lake and this morning (for the first time this year) I was able do my morning run. My knee has healed. And the gathering of crows in the grove this morning was like a stadium of cheering supporters.

Not that they knew it.

I’m working my way back. Perhaps now back to working, too. There is a play knocking around my head, with trumpets and drums. I’m going to try to attend it before it moves on.

Much love to you. I hope this weekend is – Wait. What happens on March 21st?


P.S. Regarding you comment about comments. I don’t actually have a lot of traffic to my blog. I am okay with that: terrified of trolls. Even when people leave really beautiful comments, my first thought is that they are being ironic. So, as they say, it’s all good.

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,


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.


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.


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.