Belief and Disbelief

24 January 2014
5:37 PM


I’ve been thinking about that comic for a while now. It pretty much sums up my life for the past two years. I’ve been constantly letting myself down, which makes me feel pretty rotten. Letting myself down meant that I didn’t have my own back, that I absolutely sucked at getting my shit together, that I let myself fall apart, and have stayed that way.

I thought about the friends I’ve let down as well. The people who care about me that I’ve pushed away. How that must’ve felt, to refuse their help, their love, their presence. Last night I was watching an episode of Person of Interest (“Ghost”), and the main theme was all about trust. This line was repeated a few times: “Sooner or later, you’re going to have to trust someone,” and I thought, it’s true, isn’t it? How have I managed to go at it alone for so long, then, without telling anybody? How difficult it was, to carry it alone, and then to realise that I actually can ask for help, that there are people in my life that I can rely on.

I know I’ve probably made this realisation more than once. But each time I do it it feels new to me, like this is the first I’ve ever come upon this truth. I guess most of my life I’ve believed in being alone. I believed that it’s much easier to only have me to worry about, only I didn’t anticipate that there would be some days when I would be unable to help myself.

I really liked your letter today. I am not sure if I am a person of habit. I probably am?

This struck a chord because I am always contradicting myself. I like to make plans though I know I probably won’t stick much to them. I feel surprised when I end up crossing out all the things I intended to do for the day or the week–usually I only get to accomplish one or two things, and ten others that are not on my list, ha.

I like to be on time when I am meeting someone, and when I am going to watch a movie at the theatre. If I am late for either one, I sort-of go ballistic. For everything else I understand that things have their own time, although I can be very impatient, too. I try to sit in the same area in my favourite places to hang-out. I almost always order the same thing, though once I made a pact with S. to get something new every time we eat out (we never did; perhaps we should try again).

What is it with the act of repeating things? Is it the comfort, the familiarity? Does having a habit of something make us unadventurous?

Gertrude Stein talks about loving repeating (I wrote about it before, too):

As I was saying loving repeating being is in a way earthly being. In some it is repeating that gives to them always a solid feeling of being. In some children there is more feeling and in repeating eating and playing, in some in story-telling and their feeling. More and more in living as growing young men and women and grown men and women and men and women in their middle living, more and more there comes to be in them differences in loving repeating in different kinds of men and women, there comes to be in some more and in some less loving repeating. Loving repeating in some is a going on always in them of earthly being, in some it is the way to completed understanding. Loving repeating then in some is their natural way of complete being. This is now some description of one.

– Gertrude Stein, from The Making of Americans

Now that I’ve thought about it, I am not quite sure now which behaviours are borne out of habit, or out of a desire to have rituals. I love rituals. I think there’s something very sacred in being able to recreate an experience again and again, especially if it has a special significance, and/or serves as an anchor for my life.

This afternoon I had a conversation with my sister. She’s in a hurry to grow up, this one. I suppose I shouldn’t judge, because I’ve gone through that, too–the need to be taken seriously, to be able to go out there and just do things, to go beyond the limitations of age, of youth.

I think she’s much braver than I could ever be. Twenty years old, and already up to shenanigans I wouldn’t even have thought of doing, even now. I don’t know if that makes her reckless or me a prude. Probably both.

One thing’s for sure, it’s hard to be objective and patient with a sibling, especially one I’ve helped raise. I’m always thinking of the troubles she always seem to be heading towards–if she can get herself out of it, if I should let her figure it out even if she’s going to get incredibly hurt in the process, if I’m going to save her ass, if I’m going to tell someone with more authority (i.e. my parents) what she’s up to before it’s too late. Things like that. This is one of those days.

I am sitting here trying to decipher if what I am feeling right now is because I am just protective or if I am in fact turning into a controlling force in her life, which is not good for anyone, I think.

Here’s something I’ve been meaning to share with you:

Emily Dickinson wrote a letter late in life to an acquaintance saying: “On the subjects of which we know nothing, or should I say Beings…we both believe, and disbelieve a hundred times an Hour, which keeps Believing nimble.”

Most of us have been conditioned and taught that our beliefs must be solid, intact, immovable, immutable, and irrefutable – or they aren’t worth believing in.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

– Ronna Detrick, from Disbelieve a Hundred Times an Hour

What do I believe in now? What are things I’ve let go of, things I thought were once true? What do I continue to not believe in, and why?

Things that you are good at:


  • Poetry. You are a poet, M. No one can convince me otherwise.
  • Reading. I can’t exactly put it into words, but you are my kind of reader. Not just in terms of close reading, but choosing what to read. The how and why of it. I know you understand this.
  • Editing. You really have an eye and an ear for it. The comments you made when you read my work are invaluable, and helped bring clarity to my process and to my ideas. There are editors who wield their pen solely for the power it brings them, and then there are editors like you who recognise the voice and what the writer is trying to say, and helps him or her to spit it out.
  • Mapping. It’s in your blood! =) Seriously though–I do not mean geographical maps, but mind maps. Idea maps. Whenever you show me pages from your notebooks, I see you working on several things: identifying what idea connects with another, discovering purpose, listing down details. In this vein I think you’re also a good memory keeper (if such a name doesn’t exist, well, it does now). You have a conscious desire to remember things, moments, people. At least I like to think of it that way.
  • Journaling. I would love to be able to pore through your journals, in a curious kind of way, of course. I’m not a creep–oh wait.
  • Letter writer. And how fantastic it is to be doing this with you!
  • Singing! I am one of your fans. If you would ever venture into doing covers on YouTube, I would definitely subscribe. Perhaps when I finally learn some decent guitar or piano skills, we could collaborate on the future.


  • Being a mirror. Or really, I should say, being a friend. I definitely learned a lot of things from you. I learned a lot of things about my life through you. You call bullshit when you think I’m lying to myself. You help me sift through the muck and get at the things that matter. You reflect things back to me and I gain a new perspective.
  • Connecting with people. I think you are pretty good at social situations, and can hold your own even amongst the company of strangers or people you admire. You observe a great deal, and have the intuition to connect with the thing that makes someone open up. You can do this physically and even online–I remember when you created the book group. I was hesitant at first, but I really enjoyed that.
  • Keeping an open mind. The world I know is bigger because I have you in my life. The way you see things, the way you experience them, what you think about every day–I am very grateful I get to witness it.
  • Kindness and generosity. Of which I am a constant recipient. But more than that, whenever you tell me about a new friend you’ve made, a neighbour you’ve waved at during the morning–I marvel at how embracing you are of people, of the world. You sometimes lament that you are unable to be as open with your writing, that you have difficulty with sharing your life when it’s time to put down words on paper–you have no idea how much you are giving of yourself every day. You’re marvelous.
  • Asking questions. And I do not just mean the ones you send me from time to time when I seek your advice. Unpacking. Yes.
  • Being in the here and now. You know how to be in the moment, and to even engage with it. I am more of a person of the past, and sometimes (okay, perhaps all the time) have trouble appreciating what’s here. Or maybe I worry too much about the future, or the fact that I can’t see myself in the future. You do this, too, of course. But you are able to rise above the wave, to keep yourself from drowning. This is something I am still trying to learn from you.

I owe you letters still. More tonight, or perhaps tomorrow.

The Afterlife: Letter to Sam Hamill
Hayden Carruth

You may think it strange, Sam, that I’m writing
a letter in these circumstances. I thought
it strange too—the first time. But there’s
a misconception I was laboring under, and you
are too, viz. that the imagination in your
vicinity is free and powerful. After all,
you say, you’ve been creating yourself all
along imaginatively. You imagine yourself
playing golf or hiking in the Olympics or
writing a poem and then it becomes true.
But you still have to do it, you have to exert
yourself, will, courage, whatever you’ve got, you’re
mired in the unimaginative. Here I imagine a letter
and it’s written. Takes about two-fifths of a
second, your time. Hell, this is heaven, man.
I can deluge Congress with letters telling
every one of those mendacious sons of bitches
exactly what he or she is, in maybe about
half an hour. In spite of your Buddhist
proclivities, when you imagine bliss
you still must struggle to get there. By the way
the Buddha has his place across town on
Elysian Drive. We call him Bud. He’s lost weight
and got new dentures, and he looks a hell of a
lot better than he used to. He always carries
a jumping jack with him everywhere just
for contemplation, but he doesn’t make it
jump. He only looks at it. Meanwhile Sidney
and Dizzy, Uncle Ben and Papa Yancey, are
over by Sylvester’s Grot making the sweetest,
cheerfulest blues you ever heard. The air,
so called, is full of it. Poems are fluttering
everywhere like seed from a cottonwood tree.
Sam, the remarkable truth is I can do any
fucking thing I want. Speaking of which
there’s this dazzling young Naomi who
wiped out on I-80 just west of Truckee
last winter, and I think this is the moment
for me to go and pay her my respects.
Don’t go way. I’ll be right back.



2 thoughts on “Belief and Disbelief

    • And…it would be even more beautiful if I could go back and correct the comma I missed and the extra consonant I added in the comment above! In between Ediburgh and Manila, it’s clearly too early for me to be up and typing! xo

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