Today's mail will surely end up being about my cold. It may even be ALL about it. The virus that has made me forget red wine exists. The one that sees me forcing down gallons of ginger and lemon tea, sweetened with good Italian honey and soured by real lemons. The bug that has made me cough until my voice is gone.
As I begin writing, I'm making a family-sized pot of chicken and vegetable soup. I'll freeze some portions. Now seems like the right time to begin my letter to Ren, only one day late, accompanied by the sound of chicken soup bubbling on the stove.
I have a doctor's appointment for tomorrow. A Genovese friend got it for me. A miracle really, as I'm not quite 'in' here. The same friend who invited me to her place on Friday night, after a coughing fit took my breath so seriously that I needed to phone out from this space where I live alone.
I jumped in a taxi, so grateful for her invitation. The taxi driver was delightful. An ex mountain-biking guide. We talked all the way across the city and up into the hills. The Genovese often apologise for their poor English but if they can create sentences, I am in awe . I know words, and so I weave words and body language into understanding … sometimes. I can't create sentences in Italian yet.
We couldn't find the apartment. He drove around a bit. I laughed, there in the back seat and confessed I was sick. Maybe she didn't really want me to come over after all … I said to him, maybe you'll drop me off, thinking I'm a normal adult who can find the address alone in the night, and I'll just die in the gutter somewhere.
We both found that amusing.
Me because I think I deserved it for being such a child about being sick.
Him … well probably the same reason.
But then we realised we were looking for the actual apartment number and not the building number. He was a good man, who made me laugh.
And I spent the night at her place, feeling safe ... or safe knowing my body would be found quickly.
I have learned to stand the coughing fits now. The first was quite the monster experience but I understand my body is simply ridding itself of the stuff that is foreign.
Silvia also took me to her pharmacy the next morning and talked to her guy about my symptoms and what might be required. I was then convinced to try all these new-fangled cold and flu medications. Apparently they've been around for ages and are not so new-fangled really.
Mmmhmmm, I am the worst when it comes to medications. It's a love/hate thing. I know I need/I wish I didn't.
I took a big 12 hour cold/flu tablet today. Oddly enough, I feel quite good as I write this. Exhausted, no voice, but otherwise not as bad as I have felt lately.
Silvia called me a dickhead this morning, when she phoned in. She said something like, You will take that medication, won't!?? You're quite a dickhead about it. You know that, don't you?
I had to laugh. I do know that but oh the leap of faith I have to make when I take medicine without being able to read all the 'paperwork' that goes with it. It's trust. It's about trusting people, isn't it.
I'm sorry about the book recommended in my previous letter. And I just finished another truly delightful one. It's simply written. I can't believe how simple it is. And yet it's so beautiful. Or it was to me. Our Souls At Night by Kent Haruf.
In your previous letter to me, I really understood when you wrote:
I crave attention.
I want to observe.
Perhaps I am slightly different, in that I want to connect. I want to observe.
I love to know people. I see each individual as a book waiting to be read.
I want to connect, I love to observe.
I don't know if you realise the test your wedding would have been for me if I had obeyed you. You so generously invited me but said, No camera, you're not working. You are our guest.
Oh Ren. I was … I don't know. I love to work with my camera at events. I love that moment when I am both out and observing but in and accepted as part of everything. Trusted.
Being a photographer gifts me such a rich experience of life. Being an observer deepens all. Winning the trust of those I'm photographing … that means the world.
I'm invisible, I exist, I am trusted.
You wrote, I think I’m an interpreter at heart. Not an actor, not a director. I see metaphors where no one else does.
I wonder what I am then? I need to think on that, when my head isn't so full of this cold. I can't believe I'm writing this in this state.
The football … being allowed to be part of that group of people, gathered for a football match. I believe I crave that feeling of belonging. I'm happy to wander alone, to live alone but like a cat, I seek the warmth of human company. Those desires war in me when I'm 'in'. But when I'm 'out', I see that I prefer being 'in'.
For some reason, that bar where I quietly watch the football, takes me back to my childhood. There is something familiar and I haven't quite worked out what it is yet but I think it reminds me of Dad. Of sitting quietly on the edge of his sporting world, happy to be with him and watching the football that came down the long, sometimes scratchy, distorted tunnel of satellite that was football beamed into New Zealand on those long-ago Sunday mornings. I still remember the strange warped sound of it.
The book I read at halftime...I think I thought it would reassure them, somehow. That it would be clear I was simply there for the team.
Otherwise, you know me, I'll look around a room and start talking with someone. I'm protecting them from my curiosity and my desire to connect … to know people :-)
And my camera ... if I could, I would enjoy the attempt of capturing the emotions I feel and see in that room. It's a place where people are themselves … and I'm sure I could find that same feeling in Istanbul, in New Zealand, in England, in Africa. Watching the football, mostly men, some who have known each other forever.
In fact, I sought it out in England too. I had a favourite pub and a lovely bunch of blokes I used to watch the rugby with. But I talked with them. And once England was out of the rugby world cup, they were there with me, for New Zealand.
This paragraph about me.
.. your ease with putting people at ease. I have been in awe of that since I met you. I think of how you soothed the angry woman I photographed (incidentally) in downtown Stavanger. You immediately made her feel “seen” instead of observed – with just a sentence or two. You would be a good diplomat. But then, that would probably be a bastardising of your talent.
That is a gift beyond that of the shaman, the oracle, the poet. I don’t know what that is. You may say you had no mentors. But you have become one.
You have a way of gifting me these unfamiliar views of myself. Perhaps as I did with you when I photographed you, from all angles, on your wedding day … I remember how that affected you.
I have always negotiated but the way you wrote of it was beautiful. Thank you.
Moving away from New Zealand and into other languages has seen a change in the way I read people though. Perhaps it was simpler with language but I'm not sure. Now I'm like a deaf woman, perhaps. Compensating by watching the language of a person's body. It's not what they say, it's what their bodies do … it's what their eyes and posture reveal. The tone of their voice. The emotions they reveal.
I do know I've always felt I could step into the shoes of another, very easily. I have viewed it as more of a challenge than a strength at times. I felt I could understand why actors often struggled with drugs and alcohol. That need to create a wall that protected their fragile sensitive self from feeling others too deeply.
If I think about it now, it seems like I know some of the stories of being human. Is that too big a thing to claim?
Not all of them but a lot. Perhaps that comes from being an avid reader, since forever … and of every culture. Complicated by living a lot of different lives, with different roles to play.
It's a perfect skill for a photographer or a teacher, or a traveler perhaps … but difficult in other ways.
My inclination, my desire, is always to get down to the nitty gritty with people. To keep it real. I've never been good at conversation about the weather or those subjects intended to keep people at a distance. I want to really know people. And that follows through into my photography. I will not photoshop my clients to 'improve' them. My desire is to capture what is real about them, what is beautiful, and the moment too. My goal is to be trusted enough, so that can happen.
You wrote this ... E. doesn’t anchor me, though; he knows I’m in motion, and he moves with me, or is comfortable trusting I’ll not choose to untether entirely, I love this so much.
You two are examples of what I would like to see in my next relationship. I have decided I'm like Goldilocks and, obviously, my third attempt will be just right.
I'm not someone who loves living alone, without community and sharing. I love nurturing and being nurtured. I love space too but that's another whole story.
God forbid I should ever be settled and satisfied with what I’ve seen and sucked from life thus far.
Yes, just yes. Settled isn't a word I associate with you. Not at all. You bend the world to fit you, in ways that I love and admire. The food you eat, your office/library. Your boundaries. You are defining them and therefore you are a mentor to me.
But I must go. The chicken just fell to pieces and I suspect you might have laughed had you watched me working out how to solve the problems of that. It became clear, suddenly, that this letter to you might seem like the work of a snot-filled, coughing, voiceless woman …
Because it is.
Much love, Di
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