I slipped quietly, almost guiltily, out of my apartment this morning – should I be resting? I was fleeing Cabin Fever. It was so late really, as I am finally embracing sleep and rest as the cure for the long-lasting cold. The cold that is teaching me that, sometimes, one must bow to the needs of the body.
I have been panicking about all I haven't been able to do and so when you said, last week, it's okay, take this week off from our correspondence, I almost cried with relief. I have trouble with the idea of letting people down and, lately, it feels like all I've been doing. Failing to turn up as my best self, having to cancel lessons, not completing the editing of a beautiful but huge set of photographs I took, moving house … everything.
I was trying to do what I had been taught to do … that is, putting my head down, making more of an effort, and working through. But instead of feeling brave and strong, I see that I've dragged this cold out longer. I feel like a bit of an idiot.
Suddenly it's the weekend and here I am, in beautiful cafe, with a cup of thick hot chocolate next to me. It's been two nights of early to bed, waking at midnight, taking those painkillers and sleeping again, and again, and again. I can see now, I had lost a sense of reality about what my body was capable of … in terms of healing while under a huge amount of pressure.
Sense of reality … sense of balance.
Yesterday, some wise and generous Aussie friends wandered down from their home in the Italian mountains, on their way to some place else. They dusted me down, (mocked me as only Australians can mock New Zealanders, and vice versa), unblocked my kitchen sink, made me laugh, cooked a beautiful dinner, and came up with a plan where we three will work together on the books Lisa and I have been writing for a Very long time.
They were gone by 7pm, taking their lovely kids with them, leaving me filled with a quiet happiness that I haven't felt in a while. They are similar to you and I, in the choices they've made in choosing to live in countries not their own. Rather than see me as brave, or slightly insane, or plain foolish, they gently roughed me up, verbally, when I was too hard on myself for those places where I feel I am failing.
Instead they left me with a challenge … a plan.
Lisa is the most talented artist and writer. Practical too but her vision, or her way of sharing her views of the world, are so beautiful that they've always taken my breath. She came on one of my photography workshops and, using her other camera, the shitty little one, in her words, she created some stunning images.
However Lisa and I, similar in so many ways, both suffer from having a million exciting ideas and failing to select that one we will finish.
Sam, on the other hand, is a man of action. What is the task? Okay then, let's get it done.
After a delicious dinner, whipped up by Sam … his homemade sage pesto, my dried pasta supply, crumbed fried chicken, and all kinds of food he foraged for at the local supermarket … we sat round the table discussing the books that both Lisa and I have been writing FOREVER.
Sam did some of his straight-talking. He came up with a plan for accountability. Lisa and I require weekly accountability calls. We know it. Sam's willing to be that person who coordinates our 'no bullshit, finish the books' project. He wants to read them.
And so … it's begun.
And it is time.
I have been traveling toward this life in Genova since first hearing about the city 16 years ago, while living in a small island nation far far away … never dreaming of living here one day.
It's time to share the passion I feel for this ancient Italian city. To shake the dust off the thousands of photographs I've taken here over years … and the interviews. It's time to finish what I began quite some time ago.
But moving on and slipping back into your previous letter. You wrote of the photograph I took … your favourite from the wedding. That moment of joy shared by a mixed group of your friends … arms around each others shoulders, they were connected by joy.
It was representative, wasn't it? Representative of that beautiful day. Of the joy all your friends felt about your marriage to E. The joy so very present throughout your wedding day … from morning till night.
Remember when you and E came to Antwerp. For the opening of my photography exhibition … and my birthday too? My friends became friends, as they came from all over Europe, originating from all over the world. Like your wedding. We were from everywhere. The photographs I like best are on the blog ... I see Kim and Shannon chatting. The French and Belgian husbands of my Irish friends ... my ex -in-laws gathered there at the table. You and E.
I loved it. Loved knowing who would enjoy whom, so delighted that some were finally meeting one another. Sad that some others were absent because they would have loved it.
We have friends our friends love … we are blessed, aren't we?
Lisa and Sam scraping me off the floor of sad … I have other friends who would have done it. I have the shittiest time asking for help. I feel like a Leper whenever I reveal how damn fragile I can be.
I think, what I'm circling, is this idea that you and I invite our friends to be more ... Or is it just me? I am always looking for people willing to step into that tribal role, where we are connected by our humanity … the family of man. I smile as I write that.
You wrote, I've been experimenting with haibun these days, and yesterday I read an article by Aimee Nezhukumatahil. She likens the prose of haibun to a chicken bouillon cube: intense. It seems counter-intuitive, since we (or at least, I) tend to think of poetry as condensed expression of experience. But it also rings true: I need poetry to dilute my intense experience of life; through a poem, a single truth becomes bigger than my own observation of it.
You made me think. It may beyond me to grasp your words and meaning correctly today. Here's my attempt. My camera doesn't protect me. I wondered that after reading your, 'If I were a photographer, the camera would be my tool for self-protection: a way in, and a way out'.
I try to make it protect me, sometimes. Once upon a time, my daughter's pony bolted off into the distance with her holding on. Oh how I pressed the viewfinder into my eye that day. But mostly, the photographs are all the more intense if I can channel my feelings or responses into capturing the moments unfolding in front of me ... it deepens the experience.
And coming out of it ... is like coming back from a huge emotional journey. I'm emptied. Often joy-filled but completely empty.
If I'm fortunate, the result is the 'wedding' photograph you love. Where I capture something representative, something big, in a single image. I have often taken photographs, at events, with tears quietly rolling down my face. Mostly weddings. But where ever there's love. Love undoes me when viewed via a telephoto lens. When E made his speech about you, in Norwegian … I didn't understand a word but I saw and felt the intensity of his love for you, and I cried. Of course.
But anyway …
I am still learning the discipline of replying to what is written to me. Do you see how I veer off, all over the place? It's as if your letter is a door that opens something in me that hasn't been opened lately, and I whoosh off through the door, and want to dance through all the others that magically open once I begin. I guess that's the luxury … the point, of letters. The lack of need for discipline :-)
Lisa and Sam challenged me. I didn't tell you but somehow the conversation turned to reminding me that my photography and writing are important. They're things not to be put down as I work my through my need for some kind of financial security. They reminded me that there's a need for balance in every area of my life. That I don't need to stop with photography and writing ...
And this cold has been teaching me to listen to my body. I was exhausted when I finally stopped. Let's not even go into the fact it's attacking my throat because, honestly, there's so much I haven't been saying these days. So much I've simply been swallowing. What's this throat chakra thing all about anyway.
The first time pharyngitis hit me was not long after my mother died. And now it returns, periodically, when life is difficult and I am quiet about important things.
Thank you for gifting me time and space last week. I think you had to tell me because I didn't quite now how to take time off, without feeling like I was letting you down. I was too far gone … too lost in this dreadful sense of failure in being so damn ill.
I'm back, although I just had to take another painkiller and perhaps it's time to head home and nap again. I look forward to hearing from you.
This is one of a series of public letters to Ren – a friend, a writer, a poet, and an extraordinary woman who writes to me via her own blog.
Please click through to her website: Ren Powell: Poetics & The Good Life