A few days later someone got the idea that we all had to do it again so we could take a picture from space. I remember this because I wrote about it in a poem about 9/11. The aspect of the (meta-) performativity of our “Humanity”.
I’ve hiked for days once before. And I stopped caring whether my socks matched. I stopped looking at every hill as something to be gauged and conquered. I put one foot in front of the other and kept an eye out for grouse in heather.
What we leave behind us after a long journey is one thing, what we take with us is also important.
After a glass of wine, my inner critic no longer tells me I need to get the answers right.
After a glass of wine, she actually sounds a lot like Dorothy Parker – ’cause when she’s tipsy she sides with me, and turns on everyone else.
I guess things don’t always come as cleanly as the seasons on the calendar. The goddesses keep their own schedules. Rhythms. Deliberately syncopated.
I feel as though I have fallen into a post-Absurdist rabbit hole of inclusion addiction. The thought of being irrelevant and untethered in this international, intercultural, intergenerational buzz of avatars is terrifying.
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.)
For some reason I just had a thought 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 think 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 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?
Sometimes – just sometimes – I envy young people their hubris. The more we know, the more we know we do not know. How to marry that knowledge with daring? Socrates did it, right?
They say he was a jerk.
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.
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.
This is a season of quiet. I want to retreat to a cabin in the valley for a few weeks. I want to pull away, and observe. Morning runs through the rustling, frozen underbrush.
Not to be talked to. Talked at. Fixed.
I want to reemerge into a world of details that have worked out their individual spats, sighed with relief, and gotten on with it all.
Without my well-intentioned interference.
I wrote last time about banging pots and pans and getting ready for Christmas. I haven’t done that. I guess by now, from the tone of this letter, that is pretty obvious. I did pull out the Pete Seeger Christmas CD set. And as I typed that sentence, as though he’d read my mind, E. lit the candles here on the table. Now he is eating a cookie. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. He is definitely not reading my mind now. Marriage. It is all about balance, isn’t it?
As I type this, I think about a conversation I had yesterday with a student who is struggling with the same thing. I talked to her about recognizing when to push back at the world, and when to relax, gather strength; and to never beat oneself up for not being perfect. Now my own advice comes back to me with a wink. This seems to happen a lot. This kind of synchronicity can either strike me in completely narcissistic terms – believing everything in the universe is designed to be a personal message for me – or it can open me to the fact that I am in no way unique, and that I’m completely blind in terms of my own weaknesses… and wisdoms. I’m ashamed to say I often have to remind myself of the latter.
It brings me to Orr’s phrase to describe poetry: “the eros of langauge”. I think poetry is necessary because it bridges the gap between the corporal and the intellectual in a way no other writing can. Why we say novels that tell the truth are “poetic”. When we speak poetry, sing it, it becomes corporal. It’s funny that when we sing the word “love”, we are not supposed to sing “luhv”, with its stingy and clenched vowell, but we’re supposed to open the mouth, sing “lahv”- with a wide-open palate. Because it hits us in the gut with its beauty then. Openness.
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.
But I’m learning now to give up the resistance to the outside world. Learning to accept the hardness of stones, the sharpness of frozen rain hitting the bridge of my nose, and the slickness of the lichen that sprawls over the mountain’s granite (though it all too often lands me on my very unappreciative ass). Learning to accept the cold feet & the hot belly, or the cold belly & the hot feet, when I’m in the sleeping bag with a rubber flask that’s filled with water we boiled on the Primus – knowing halfway through the night, it’ll be cold “as a witch’s teat” and I’ll have to toss it out.
I guess the root of all acceptance is appreciation. I am learning to appreciate nature (and being out in it) on it’s own erotic terms.
Apparently Saunders had described a moment on one of his journeys when he stopped fighting the wind and the cold; when he gave in to the reality of it and felt (not warm, but) a sudden rush of joy.
While I have not crossed the Antarctic – or even braved a bit of it the way you have – I have stood on the top of a mountain above 14,000 feet in biting wind, and experienced that kind of acceptance. And the joy. People say, “suck it up, and get on with it”. But that’s not it. “Bit i det” they say in Norwegian, but that’s not it either. Both of those images involve a kind of bracing, not a relaxing.