inspiration, stray thoughts
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Last night: wonder & knowledge

neon pink sunset | edge of evening

Running round the nature reserve listening to an interview with Mary Ruefle. Swans on the path with their two nearly grown cygnets, brown feathers still in clumps on their wings. Ruefle the wisest and most thought-provoking of companions. She prefers wonder to knowledge. With wonder, she says, you dwell; once you know something you move on. She would prefer to dwell.

Tall daisies — ox-eye? — are fading on their stems. The sky is quilted with clouds. Later this quilt will glow neon pink as the sun drops behind the trees. Ruefle recalls the moment her life changed: age thirteen, lying in the basement of her parents’ house, a cast on her leg, hearing Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias’ read by her older sister or perhaps reading it to herself from her sister’s college poetry anthology. Whichever way, heard or read, she can still see her sister standing at an ironing board. Later she talks about technology, about how she believes in her right to personal privacy and in the right to decide where she wants to direct her attention. I will still be thinking of this in the morning. Choosing what to pay attention to. 

The swans, when I pass for the third time, are gone. Dirty white feathers left on the path. I see them from the bridge, in the water — a parent in front and at the rear, the two cygnets between them. I notice for the first time that the cygnets have black beaks. The air is cool. Running along the boardwalk over the reed beds — flags of frayed brown velvet waving at the top of the reed stalks — it’s cooler still, like running through a pocket of fog. I hope I’ll see an otter. I never have, but it would be perfect for this zen-like run. I see a dark black slug. As the light fades birds dart low across the sky. Flutter-flutter-glide. Quick, quick, slow. I try to memorise their flight pattern so that I can look up what they might be. Ruefle would probably prefer that I didn’t. Wonder & knowledge.

She talks about ageing. How the age of invisibility is much earlier for women than for men, but how freeing that invisibility is. How you no longer care what anyone thinks — your parents are gone — envy and ambition fall away. She talks of her love of staying at home and doing nothing — how she tries to keep a day a week for just this. I fall in love with her as she talks. I circle round the nature reserve instead of following my usual route because I want to be able to concentrate on everything she is telling me. Everything she is whispering into my ear.

Back home there are flapjacks still warm from the oven. I eat one. It is the best flapjack I’ve ever tasted.


Madness, Rack, and Honey is on my shelf. I confess I’ve only read a couple of the essays, but that’s soon to be remedied. Sometimes a writer or a book just has to find you at the right moment. Even if that’s sweatily running round the nature reserve, trying to get in your 5km before the light’s gone.

For anyone it passed by, Ruefle’s essay on menopause is unmissable. “Then comes a day when you see a ‘woman’ who is buying tampons and you think of her as a girl. And she is; anyone who has periods is a girl. You know this is true and it is very funny to you.”

And just because everything is always connected, here’s Ruefle on Agnes Martin.


  1. Kate says

    I fell in love with her too when I first heard her talk on a Scottish Poetry Library podcast with Ryan van Winkle. If you haven’t already, track down the final cut that Ryan compiled to listen to after you listen to her talk there: a fascinating ps to her story! I did my first ‘erasure’ over the summer inspired by her. We had that sky here too … it was brief but so lovely!

    • Thanks for the tip off, Kate. I can’t wait to listen! She’s permeated my entire week in such a good way. My secret mantra has been, is this where I choose to place my attention? It’s made me very happy to reset my focus when the answer has been no.

  2. Kate says

    ps. Sarah, the final cut I refer to is Ryan’s compilation of favourite episodes before he stood down from the podcast, and the reference to Mary’s own ps comes right at the very end! I like your secret mantra and have a similar one myself – useful for making the best of small pockets of time 😉

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