Curious and beautiful

Posted by


Oh, Ren…

This response has been about 2 1/2 weeks in the making. My apologies. I have had the sensation of being under water. Slow, difficult movement. Muted sounds. Conversations I can hear but can’t quite make out. When I surface and gasp for breath, the air is sharp. Everything hurts.

So that is where I’ve been. Muddling through. I would normally refer to it as being on autopilot, but that’s not entirely accurate. Although I am partially on autopilot — getting done a good bit of the routine stuff that needs to get done without thinking too much about it — I’m not detached. I’m acutely aware of everything. In fact, I’m straining to hear what’s muted and decipher what I can only process right now as mumbling. Some of the current mood is from the election, but it started well before then.

I realized recently that it’s sort of mimicking how I felt right after my separation. I’d moved from my husband’s house in the country to an apartment downtown. If my kids weren’t with me and I wasn’t at work, I was either at a bar doing what (at that time) I would have called “living it up” or I was at home, stunned and staring at the wall, trying not to hear the mice raiding my kitchen cabinets and tearing into the loaf of bread I kept on top of the fridge. I didn’t know I was mourning — the separation was what *I* had wanted and fought for — but I was.

In those months, I couldn’t write poetry and worried I was being punished for breaking up my family. The poetry muscles eventually remembered what they were supposed to do, but before that, I knew I was warming up creatively again when I started taking photos with my phone and posting them to Instagram (it’s what I’m doing now again, as well, perhaps signaling I won’t be under water much longer). At the time of my separation/divorce, I believe the photos I was taking and sharing were signs I wasn’t lost entirely. I was in there somewhere seeing curious and beautiful things through the camera.


I started to learn to see myself again, too, through that same smartphone camera. People malign the selfie, but I’m convinced selfies helped me scrape off the way I perceived myself in the old stories. They helped me see myself for the first time. They helped me see myself as curious and beautiful. (That and a series of lovers, LOL.) Of course, as a highly curated medium, selfies advance a fiction of their own: the right light, the best angle, the one shot out of 100 in which my mouth isn’t doing anything too ridiculous.

The selfie here is from the morning of election day. Sun filtered into my living room. I practically floated on the idea of myself in a world where a woman was leader of the free world. *Sigh*

You said this time of year (late fall, early winter, holidays) always sneaks up on you. What is winter like there? When do you feel it begins? This season always catches me by surprise, as well. Right now, and just now, I feel ready to let go of August and begin September. And here it is nearly halfway through the school year. How does it happen?

I wonder if my experience of time has ceased to be less like linear stretches of days and weeks and more like fragments or episodes. The episode in which I gain 20 pounds. The episode in which I rage about frigid temperatures. The episode in which I’m afraid to return to running and so envious of those who are committed to training (like you). The episode in which I contemplate giving up poetry and publishing altogether. The episode in which I weep for the beauty in this Facebook photo: a poet I follow but don’t really know holding her new baby, born — as she writes — “like a warrior in a snow storm.” The episode in which I realize I’m not getting the alone time I need.

I string the episodes together but am uncertain in what order they belong or for what duration or in what ways they connect. Right now, I’d say I’m in the episode in which I practice paying attention to my thoughts and interrogating my emotions. I’m trying to journal about things like self doubt and weight gain. (I won’t be shocked if I discover they’re connected.) It’s also the episode in which I am unsure if I am going to continue writing and trying to publish poetry in the same entirely unfulfilling way I have been. As I said to a friend or two: “I’m going through something” in that regard.

But do you know something that is fulfilling? Reading out loud. I was reminded of that when I read your letter.

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 vowel, 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.

It’s been a long time even since I’ve read out loud. It used to be primary in my consumption of poetry. I needed to feel the vibrations. I needed the words to be in the room. Why do we stop doing things we love? Why don’t we notice at first?

Maybe this: the episode in which I think I can be a better mother, partner, friend, sister, daughter, etc. if I give up everything for them again. It’s the episode in which I throw a bunch of tantrums and grow deeply resentful. It isn’t pretty, but it’s my stubborn process of relearning lessons. Like this: if I don’t claim my own space, I’m useless to everyone. Like this: no one is going to insist that I take care of myself, so I need to be that person for myself.

So is this the episode in which branches encroach upon the near-full moon like tangled webs? I thought so when I took the photo at the top of this post, but I was wrong. That’s not it at all. This is the episode in which those branches frame and hold a space. This is the episode in which I remember to breathe.

I’ve been carrying this fortune in my wallet:


The tiny slip of paper falls out so often I’d stopped reading it. I’d just tuck it back in without looking at the words. But today, I read it: “The greatest medicine is the emptiness of everything.” And I remember someone handing it to me, but who was it? At the time, this person and I discussed what it might possibly mean. Mostly at a loss, we wondered if it had something to do with the Buddhist principle that suffering comes from our attachments. Perhaps emptiness as great medicine means freedom from attachment? Not freedom from loving or creating, of course. But freedom from fear of losing those things, freedom from obsession over outcomes.

Interesting, as we approach the winter solstice, right? Straddling our despair about darkness. Are we mired in it or coming out of it? Do we have one foot frozen in it and one foot stepping toward what comes after it? Or can we say this is the episode in which neither is true? In which there is a place/moment in between where there is nothing?

Yes. This is the episode in which emptiness.

In which face value.

Sky. Moon. Tree.

The breath.

As you say in your letter with regard to a lesson you learned about poetry: let the fox be the fox.

I will apologize to the moon for assigning it my entanglements.

I love what you say here about being aware of our own intrusions into our poems:

I read a great definition of kitsch as being the product of two tears: one for the experience, one for the self-congratulatory awareness for having the experience. (Denis Dutton expounding upon Milan Kundera’s definition).

I think, as a poet, sometimes it’s difficult for me to stop myself from wandering towards that second tear. Does that mean kitsch is a product of the ego? Or just insecurity? Is it a sign of faithlessness in regard to the world itself being enough?

What I’m getting at, is the haibun-writing is making me conscious of my own intrusion into the poem.

The world itself being enough. We get in our own way sometimes, don’t we?

Love, Red

P.S. Thank you for this correspondence, by the way. I’m doing some of my best thinking via these letters. For example, I realized as I wrote back to you that one of the reasons the holidays feel like such an affront to me is that there’s such a frenzy (panic, pressure, insistence, etc.) to fill up the space (presents, bows, wreaths, glitter.) (Don’t even get me started about glitter!) The holiday season, which starts earlier and earlier each year is frantic. There’s hub-bub. There’s clutter and mess. What I really crave this time of year — heading into and coming out of the winter solstice — is the emptiness described as I wrote. Right now I need to pare down, sweep away, clear out. Will I ever want what others want?

* * *

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. This is so beautiful! From so many angles. I am so grateful for this new exchange. And the timing is perfect – it always is, though, isn’t it? I’ll write soon xo

  2. “pare down, sweep away, clear out” Yes, that is absolutely how I feel as the solstice approaches. December’s darkness is for claiming alone time to create emptiness to make room for the energy that will manifest with the coming light. It’s primal and in our ancient genes. I try to flow with it rather than fight it. I try to simplify the holiday madness and be true to my guts. Not always easy when friends and family are not tuned in.

  3. That fortune was given to you by a tall woman at a Chinese restaurant in your hometown… 😉 Love ya!

Leave a Reply