The 33rd – and final – day of the virtual Camino. 


I’m still searching for the actual Latin, but our guide tells us the gist of words scribbled along the actual trail is that we can never arrive, because we are already there.

And I keep trying to remember which poet said the purpose of the journey is to understand that there was never any need for the journey.

But maybe that was just Frank Baum?


When I planned to join this virtual Camino, I very much wanted to walk the distance of each leg each day. But that wasn’t possible, so I made a complex calculation based on my half-marathon running times, and found a number of hours I could devote to the “distance” each day. But I’ve been fortunate enough to have a job during Norway’s “Safer-in-Place” effort – a increasingly demanding job. I’ve put in longer days at the computer, and had fewer hours for the physical journey. I’ve been sick. I’ve been blue.

But the fact is, my dual focus on individual video mentoring of students (service), and on the Camino’s aspect of contemplation (personal), has given my hamstring time to heal. After yesterday’s run the back of my thigh ached – the entire length of it – a good ache: no sign of a sharp pain at the point of attachment. So I’m returning now to routine. The timing of the end of this journey is another point of synchronicity: I head back to the classroom on Monday.

I’m not going to try to sum up lessons learned. I’ve learned that much. But I can see changes in my perspectives, and movement in places still struggling with contradictions. Movement is good. Struggle is fine.

I am letting go of some fears and frustrations, preconceptions and absolutes.

I am letting go of some ambitions.

I am struggling with the impulse to now set goals and shape products. I am rejecting the creeping idea that the purpose of this journey was to clear the slate and find new meaning: reach some kind of epiphany at the saint’s tomb.

Is this a kind of summing up after all?

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.

This time, I will try to take the lesson home. Learning requires repetition. We’ll see what sticks.

January 19th, 2018.

… Then, there is the wisdom of old women.

I tried to wrap myself with that once, and my 21 year-old son said, “Mom, you’re not that old yet.”

*

It’s the weekend, and after meditation this morning I pull Words Under the Words from the bookshelf and settle onto the couch with a cup of tea. Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem “Grandfather’s Heaven” ends with these two stanzas:

I think Grandpa liked me too
though he wasn’t sure what to do with it.
Just before he died, he wrote me a letter.

“I hear you’re studying religion,” he said.
“That’s how people get confused.
Keep it simple. Down or up.”

I once wrote about my Grandfather telling me, “Stay away from philosophy. There’s nothing of God in it.” (I must have shoe-horned that into a poem, because I can’t remember the rest of the poem.)

When I try to remember if my Grandmother ever gave me this kind of straight-up advice, I remember, “Don’t slouch.”

And, “Don’t tell your mother. She is going through a lot, and can’t handle this right now.”

Looking back, I try to understand how people make simple rules, and routes of least resistance.  I remember asking my Grandmother if she saw Goodnight and Good Luck when it came out. She said, “I don’t have to watch it, I lived through it.”

But she didn’t want to talk about it with me.

I’m sure she knew I thought I had something to “contribute to the discussion“. I really was young then. I hadn’t learned to listen — even if I ‘d known the right questions — the way in. It would have been a waste of time.

If she had opened up about the complexities of her experience,  I might well have tried to solve them, simplify them with labels and analysis. I’d gone to college, after all. I would have made absurd parallels in an attempt to empathise.

I must have been an ass. If she hadn’t loved me, she wouldn’t have liked me. Looking back, I don’t like me.

*

When I look back at that woman I was, not that long ago, I love/h– no, not hate. Is there a word for that tender but oh-so-indescribably-annoyed feeling one has for the foolish people we love? Ourselves?

Maybe that is love/love.

*

How do you pass on the wisdom of knowing that you only know of fraction of all that you don’t know — and nothing else?

How can you teach that the decision not to put a dog in the fight isn’t apathy, but perspective?

Not every route of least resistance is the foolish choice.

*

When I do the math, I see my grandfather must have been about 60 when he told me to stay away from Sartre. And at 80, he stopped going to church. The thirty-something preacher kept preaching about women obeying their husbands, and Grandpa called, “Bullshit.”

I didn’t ask him how he squared that with God’s rules.

*

When my Grandmother was 89 she stopped referring to African-American men as coloured boys. She voted for Obama. She laughed when I told her that her grandson was gay, and said that she “used to give a fig” about things like that.

*

I am afraid I’ll die before I become wise.

*

I am afraid time will move backward and reveal that wisdom itself is an illusion. It’s just a matter of the “right” answers, according to the prevailing opinion.

*

Or maybe it’s all about learning not to give a fig.

*

I read poetry. Poetry that asks questions, and never offers answers. Poems that aren’t tied up with bows. Plays that don’t have “messages”.

*

I was making the rounds on the blog revival this morning, and the concept of empathy in poetry popped up twice. I was thinking about the links between empathy and sympathy.

About the impossibility of the surety of empathy. The narcissism of surety of knowledge. The quagmire of identity politics and reading, writing, theater-making.

And does all this empathy lead to catharsis? And it catharsis really a valuable experience? Does bypassing empathy — pure intellectual understanding — lead to social activism? Does unfettered narcissistic immersion in “feelings” lead to personal growth that contributes to a greater good?

(Forgive me, I have been teaching Brecht and Artaud again this term.)

Or does it all simply lead to self-satisfying, simple answers?20180120_182901

Maybe: “I just don’t know” is one of those.

*

Or maybe “I don’t know” is the wisdom of knowing when no one is listening for the questions.

The negative capability of wisdom.

The recognition of the ego-driven nature of persuasion.

*

Maybe all poetry is love/love poetry.

*

So I read. And I learn that I don’t/can’t know. (Like all the implications of Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem.)

And I write. And I feel misunderstood, and overlooked.

But I’ve grown up. At least grown up enough to drink. So now, I drink when I get rejection letters. Or when my writing is met with shrugs.

After a glass of wine, my inner critic no longer tells me I need to get the answers right for anyone.

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. She love/loves me. And I, her.

*

Like I said. I am afraid I’ll die before I become wise.

So, in the meantime. I’m going to go write a list of questions. Maybe if I leave enough questions in the world, someone will wrap my corpse in the mantle of old women’s wisdom.


Dave Bonta and Jennifer Saunders have some nice resumes of what they enjoyed from the revival last week. And Eric M.R. Webb lets us know Treehouse is up and running again.

And I am still ruminating over Jim Brock’s post about Virginia Woolf’s writing. And, oh, yeah – there’s that word again: empathy.

 

Week two of a new year, and still settling into a new routine. Putting every-little-thing into the google calendar, with the repeat option turned on.

I’ve been enjoying reading the posts on the poetry blog revival tour. I’ll be setting aside Thursday evenings to focus on taking part in the “conversation”.  From here–from this little desk in this little library (bibliotekette) in Norway’s little breadbasket. Perhaps it will be a way to celebrate solitude, but feel less lonely?

This week they are draining the silos. The sharp, sick-sweet smell of fermented hay cuts through the morning cold as we run past the farms. I miss the cows. We are running so early now, I miss the mornings’ convention of crows, too. I have to admit a self-congratulatory pride in beating the proverbial early bird to the trailhead. Having the chance to relish the quiet feels like a personal achievement. I hear E. breathing next to me. My own breath. And our footfalls, slightly out of sync – but pleasantly so. Like a deliberate  syncopation. It is too dark to see the lake, but I know it is there.

20180106_145518It is the inky-blackness beyond the dead rushes. Absent, and present.

I long to hear the lake sing again. It’s been nearly three years since it was frozen as far as one could see, twisting and thwanging in the dark like some goddess let loose in the dark to play her unique harp. Or to skate over the rings of ice, playing them like a warped LP.

I guess things don’t always come as cleanly as the seasons on the calendar. The goddesses keep their own schedules. Rhythms. Deliberately syncopated.


Sharing a bit of Steve Mueske‘s poem “Skating Lessons” from his book A Mnemontic for Desire. Ghost Road Press, 2006.

She is young, someone’s
mercy, bundled in the brittle cold.

She has come a long way across the ice, cutting
her own story in the intaglio

of curves and lines there. […]


Thanks for reading!

Poetry is the Unknown Guest in the House
 – according to Lawrence Ferlinghetti, in Poetry as Insurgent Art

“Stash your sell-phone” 

20180101_121700569138754.jpgIn 2017 I used an app to delete all my contacts from my Facebook account, and decided to begin blogging again. I was concerned about what social media was doing to my reading comprehension, about what it was doing to my psyche.

I have read somewhere that we humans sort the world into discrete categories as best we can, so that we can make quick (and life-saving) decisions: a creature in the shadows whose breathing is audible, whose breath smells like copper is a Predator.

(It could be a deer, but better safe than sorry in the moment.)

It seems to me that this kind of quick judgement is the norm in a social media jungle. The immediacy. The rush. People (myself included) read a headline, write a quick opinion, and move on. It began to feel more like a cut-throat game of tag than a conversation.

Am I alone in feeling as though I’ve been continually on red alert? Watching, and defending myself against threats? Trolls. People whose politics differ from mine. The 10 things I am doing wrong in regard to my toaster oven – or my pentameter.

I was thinking about The Giver last night. And Brave New World. And wondering if anyone out there has written a dystopic novel in which the People in Power had managed to invent a kind of drug that entailed no manufacturing expenses, no distribution expenses, and one which the masses self-administered – eagerly – making people’s very minds bio-billboards for products (and non-products) for sale. One-click purchases for the dopamine junkies.

Possible titles? Likes. Or Attention Economy.

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.

“Great poets are the antennae of the race, with more than rabbit ears.” (L.F.)

What is it to be a poet in this world? International, intercultural, intergenerational. Virtual.

My social-media life was the opposite of poetry. Since 2016, I’ve experienced it as divisive. I am tired of labels.  Even the silly ones. What kind of pizza are you? Which French philosopher? I understand that categories are useful. Scientists find use in them. But poets shouldn’t. Poets are occupied with the truth. And the truth is always a platypus.

I crave the deep work. The work of sincere attention necessary for poetry. I want to close my eyes and rediscover my senses. I want to fight against the stenciled concepts I’ve adopted.

I was surprised, and pleased to see Donna Vorreyer’s tweet about a poetry blog revival last week.

“Poetry assuages our absolute loneliness in the lonely universe.” (L.F.)

I feel less alone in my longings, though still anxious. How can I participate in a poetry community in a healthy way?

Gertrude Stein said she wrote for strangers and herself. Last year I wrote open letters to specific people, as an attempt to ground myself in virtual relationships. This year, I will write open letters on the subject of poetry – to myself.  I will be working on my relationship with poetry.

“A poem is still a knock on the door of the unknown.” (L.F.) 

They say if a writer has a website or blog, we are obligated to consider that the reader is asking themselves, “What’s in it for me?”

If you have read this far, then I suppose you are the stranger to whom I’m writing: the unknown guest. I don’t know what’s in it for you. Maybe if a word here somehow opens a door to your own deep work, we are a poetry community in this immediate virtual space.

And maybe you will write back to this stranger, and show me a bit of your unknown?

Poetry is not a “product”, it is an elementary particle. […] The poet pieces the wild beast together. (L.F.)

Thank you for reading. 

(p.s. The poetry blog revival blogs can be reached via the links page.)

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.