Happy Birthday to Us

Field of Light by Don Munro in St. Andrew's Square, Edinburgh

Field of Light by Don Munro in St. Andrew’s Square, Edinburgh

13 February 2014
8:00 pm


T. —

Happy Birthday to us.

I am constantly surprised how natural it feels for us to write to each other. When we went on vacation this summer on the choir tour, people were critiquing my impulse to write here each day. At the time, I didn’t know about backdating (yay, backdating!), but also there was just so much I wanted to share with you. Their criticisms weren’t necessarily unkind, or at least they weren’t intended to be unkind. I think people just genuinely don’t understand a dedication to something in that way — something that could be left at home on holiday, yes, but why would I want to put it down? It reminds me of a Seth Godin quote: Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.

You have been here with me for a year. I can’t quite fathom how much has changed, because it feels like it has to have been decades.

I’m reminiscing now about my response when you asked me about my writing:

How is my writing. Ha. I’m not laughing at you. It’s just an absurd question for me when I think about it. It should be fine because it should be my focus. Productively, I guess it’s going okay. But it feels like pulling teeth. And I feel like the heart of what I love about poetry has been ripped out for me. How? When? By who? I have no idea. All I know is that I can read someone else’s poem and feel touched and feel breath, but when I turn to write my own, I feel numb. I feel nothing. I’m trying to churn them out anyway. Especially if I can’t figure out why this has happened, or whether it actually reflects how I feel about writing. I have no idea about anything of much consequence these days. I don’t know, T., I don’t know.

(Side note: we should definitely do this email project. I would love to share more of my letters with you. We’ll get it figured out, but I’m not sure if it might have to wait until after Iona. Maybe not.)

Compare the email response above with a conversation I had with someone at St. Giles. Felix asked, “So how is the PhD?”

I shot back, It’s awesome. The writing is great, and I’m actually enjoying it.

His look of confusion couldn’t be hidden fast enough. He said, “Um, I’m glad… I’m sorry — that’s not at all what I expected you would say.”

I know, I thought. It’s never what I thought I would say either.


What I needed a year ago:

  • Company. Support. A tribe of people here who I felt I belonged to.
  • Something to care about.
  • Fulfilling work to fill my days.
  • A way to deconstruct my defenses.
  • Things to look forward to.
  • More books to fall in love with like I fell in love with “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” by Robin Sloan.

What I have now:

  • All of those things and more than I thought I ever needed.


Another excerpt from a letter to you:

 I finished reading your email after shepherding 7 people in for a research group, and I teared up. Not quite crying, because I don’t think it would be professional to cry at work. But that aching in my chest, tears forming feeling when I read your words because I see so clearly now what I see only hints of: writing letters with you feels like talking to another side of myself.

All the questions you posed, all the thoughts you have, all the ideas and the insecurities and the worries and the reflections — I have them too. Maybe this is why we found each other, so randomly, across these strings of data that are flung across the world: to wade through this experience of life together.

Thank you, so much. Happy Birthday to our letters here.



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