march 3/RUN

3.2 miles
loop around hiawatha
44 degrees

Today it feels like spring is here even though there’s still some snow on the ground and ice on the sidewalk. So much sun and blue sky and birds! So little layers: one pair of running tights, a green long-sleeved shirt, a black vest. There were lots of people over on the river road trail. It seemed like a party–peole calling out, laughing, joking. I would have liked to be on it, studying the ice breaking up on the river, but I was happy to be way over on Edmund, far from the crowd. I heard some black-capped chickadees and cardinals, some kids laughing on the playground at Dowling Elementary. For most of the run I succeeded in avoiding the deepest puddles, but near the end, I gave up. Now my shoes are drying in the sun on the back deck. I don’t remember thinking about much as I ran, except that the run felt difficult–I’ve been doing too much easy treadmill running, I guess. Anything else? Oh–on the road, in a spot that was dry, I was able to run over some grit. I love the sibilant scratching sounds–sh sh sh sh–and the feel of my foot striking the sliding, but not slipping, ground. A much better sound and feeling than sinking deep into a icy cold puddle!

I tie my Hat — I crease my Shawl —/ Emily Dickinson

I tie my Hat — I crease my Shawl —
Life’s little duties do — precisely —
As the very least
Were infinite — to me —

I put new Blossoms in the Glass —
And throw the old — away —
I push a petal from my Gown
That anchored there — I weigh
The time ’twill be till six o’clock
So much I have to do —
And yet — existence — some way back —
Stopped — struck — my ticking — through —

We cannot put Ourself away
As a completed Man
Or Woman — When the errand’s done
We came to Flesh — upon —
There may be — Miles on Miles of Nought —
Of Action — sicker far —
To simulate — is stinging work —
To cover what we are
From Science — and from Surgery —
Too Telescopic eyes
To bear on us unshaded —
For their — sake — Not for Ours —

Therefore — we do life’s labor —
Though life’s Reward — be done —
With scrupulous exactness —
To hold our Senses — on —
F522 (1863) J443

I picked this poem, which I have never read before, because I’ve been thinking about daily life and the role of small habits and practices (and rituals). While I’m focusing on the positive value these daily habits and practices can bring, this poem highlights their stifling and meaningless drudgery. Dickinson focuses a lot on the “duties,” those daily efforts we are forced to perform in order to fill our proper roles. It reminds me of J Butler and her ideas about gender performativity and the daily, repeated practices we must do to properly perform our gender and be considered a “real” woman (tying the hat properly, wearing an unwrinkled dress). The lines, “To simulate — is stinging work—/To cover what we are/From Science—and from Surgery—Too Telescopic eyes/To bear on us unshaded—For their—sake—Not for Ours—” So many connections with feminist and queer theory: the difficulty of performing/repeating proper roles to fit in + the violent/invasive gaze of Science (that dissects and classifies) and medical understandings of the body (that reduce sex to male = penis = subject and woman = no penis = non-subject) + the medical gaze on the female body. What a powerful, pithy way to put it: “too telescopic eyes” and “bear on us unshaded.” Wow. I’m also struck by, “with scrupulous exactness.” It makes me think of my study (through Butler and Luce Irigary) of parody and mimicry and the idea of miming the practices but repeating them back slightly wrong or with too much excess in order to disrupt them.

I hadn’t intended to invoke Butler here, but I think it’s telling: much of my interest in daily practices as repeated habits is inspired by my dedicated study (and teaching of) Butler when I was a grad student and a professor. I’m not drawing upon her work in the same ways that I did a decade ago, but it is surely influencing how I think about daily practices, making and breaking habits, and being disciplined and undisciplined.

There’s so much more in this poem to think and write about, but I’m stopping now (The prowling bee has some great thoughts). Dickinson says so much so beautifully with so few words. I will want to spend more time with it.

a moment of sound

Sitting on the deck, in bright sun, no wind, post run, with Delia the dog. The irritating noises are me stretching and breathing and a loud plane flying overhead.

march 3, 2021