In the face of everything

Posted by

img_1965Dear Ren —

There’s so much breathing space in your latest letter: discovery of an ocean on Pluto and the study of lichen, for starters. Such a lovely — and inadvertent? — juxtaposition. And in the middle: poetry and running. Mind and body. I know it’s far more complicated than that, but it’s helpful to entertain the idea of simple pleasure for a bit.

It’s how I ended up at a local farm this past weekend wrapping my arms around sheep dogs, standing among chickens, petting lambs. The farm, which I follow on social media, promised some breathing room, and I took it up on the offer. In the picture to the right, I am with Ollie, a Maremma Livestock Guardian Dog. Ollie and his co-worker Luna (whom you can see in the upper left of the photo) blend in with the sheep and keep away the coyotes. Another pair of dogs — Wink and Sarge — guard another flock on a nearby hill.

The directives here are simple: identify a need, protect what’s valuable, pay attention to weather, take great care. And one more: listen to the collective intuition. One of the farmers reminded us that even though the dogs represent safety for the sheep, the sheep still have their own animal instincts. Chickens and geese, too. They sense threats, and they listen to one another. They act on instinct. I’m sure they have lots to teach us. Some kind of Everything I Need to Know I Learned From Farm Animals thing, but right now I don’t want there to be a lesson for me or humanity in it. I am simply seeking comfort in knowing that simple directives and innate wisdom are present.

You ask if I’ve been looking at the stars these days, and I have. As simple pleasures go, the sky is my truest love. And not just night sky. I love her every hour and season. I can’t get enough of her no matter what she’s wearing. Despite some of the ugliness happening, we live on a stunning planet. It gives us more beauty than we deserve, and when we look up, it’s with the certainty that even more beauty is beyond. Even more. I have the nerve to want it all. Simple directives. Innate wisdom. Even more beauty.

It can feel so inaccessible at times, but it’s a necessary counterpoint to what’s happening politically. I feel guilty escaping to these pleasures instead of staying in the trenches, and I know privilege is why I even have the room to do so. But when I dip my toe into activism (I’ve been trying to do a little bit each week and will continue to do so), I feel a bit like Santa in this photo from my Instagram account: chubby, inept and slow. Not to mention knocked on my ass.

That Instagram post is part of a casual walking/writing project I’ve just started up with an old friend, and what I say in it is true: I’m not taking care of myself right now. When I haven’t been retreating to a farm or contemplating Saturn, I’ve been eating my feelings and hiding under blankets. This is the most sedentary I’ve been in years. Right now, I’m only running 2-3 X/month and walking even less. It’s terrible for my waistline and devastating to my self image. It’s a vicious cycle: being lazy drains my energy and so I have no hope for putting on my sneakers and getting out the door… and then sitting around just makes me even more low-energy. It’s infiltrated my brain, too. I’m foggy and dense. I’m not reading or writing much.

And so I’m envious of all of your ambitious writing projects. Thank you for sharing them with me. I’m very impressed: a collaborative performance poetry project! an old performance project! the Eros of Language project! I’m also thrilled by what you realized in completing an application process: “I don’t need to wait to be invited to work.” It’s another iteration of what we’ve been fluffing out already in our letters: a room of our own. Staking claim. Taking up space. As much as it’s an intellectual exercise, there’s a physicality to it, as well. It requires action, activation, enactment. The body is very much at play. I mean, in play, though “at play” works, as well, as in: engaged in play.

Of course, not all of this comes with ease. You write:

“One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned this past year (since I am rather new to camping) is to stop resisting discomfort. I’ve been running again for years now, so I’ve learned to accept my own body -the cramps; the neglected Achilles; the little, painful seeds of shin splints. 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).”

First, I must tell you: we are, apparently, sisters. I also fall down when I hike. I’m a clumsy girl to start with. I’m sure I’d do far better if I just trusted my body, but it never fails: I slip, trip or tip over at least once per hike. So you landing on your unappreciative ass made me laugh. Thank you.

Second, the discomfort. Emotionally, I used to think it was all I had. It’s not so much true anymore, but being uncomfortable (unsettled, restless, overly sensitive, etc.) was a huge part of my identity. Maybe I’ve shifted some of the responsibility for resolving that discomfort to my body. I’m extremely uncomfortable in it, but when I put it in motion (through sex, running, hiking, etc.), it takes vulnerability in stride far easier than my mind does. Maybe that’s because all it knows is simple pleasures? I don’t know. I do know its methods are interesting: it goes directly into vulnerability and discomfort instead of avoiding it. I suppose there’s a metaphor there, too, a lesson in it. But I am content, for the most part, with taking it at its face value: simple directives and innate wisdom are present.

In a way, I experience the sky — and even Saturn — in my body. It’s a kind of sensory experience just like the farm is. Not the traditional senses, like sound, touch and smell, but the sensation of being open. It’s another answer to vulnerability: I am here, right here, in the face of everything.

~ Carolee xo

P.S. Do you believe in synchronicity? We’ve been writing about gatekeepers, and this card appeared in my mail along with a deck of tarot-type cards I’d ordered: “The gatekeepers are gone. You are the one who will open the door to your dreams.” <3


* * *

This letter is in reply to a letter from Ren Powell, which you can find here. If you would like to catch up on the entire correspondence, the letters are collected here in chronological order.


  1. All my life I was waiting for someone to discover and promote/save/change/make my life better me until I realized I could and should actually save myself. Here’s to Orion and his belt in the sky. Here’s to Carolee and her sheep dog hug photo which made my morning.

  2. The sky is my truest love as well. It might be what I miss most when I am dead unless death allows me to join it and be it.

Leave a Reply