Sunday, April 03, 2011

Cold Turkey 2

Yesterday I copped a parking ticket and an infringement notice for going through a red light.

It’s a serious offence says my husband and he’s right. I shall be more wary in future. It’s not so much the $299.00 fine that irks me as the three lost demerit points. Not lost but gained. Three demerit points that will stay with me for three whole years on my otherwise almost unblemished record. I copped a speeding fine over twenty years ago and that is all.

‘Don’t beat up on yourself,’ my husband says, but I do. I feel terrible, as if I cannot wash this sin from my hands, not so much the sin, as the fact of getting caught. Have I such a feeble conscience?

Similarly with my blog, with my most recent post, Cold Turkey, which almost every one has interpreted as a straightforward statement of my decision to give up smoking. I wrote it in the present tense as though it were happening now and they all almost to a person sent their best wishes and encouragement for giving up smoking.

I gave up smoking in 1981. That’s a long time ago now.

How do my fellow bloggers see me? An old girl with a fag hanging from her mouth. The smell of cigarettes infusing her hair, her clothes and her house.

I can remember the years building up to my decision to stop smoking were years filled with guilt. It was guilt almost more than health and other considerations that pushed me off the cigarettes. Guilt that I should so publicly flaunt a hated habit in front of everyone.

By the time I gave up smoking - largely propelled by the fact of discovering I was pregnant with our first daughter - it came as such a relief.

No longer did I feel unclean, like one of the great untouchables. Coupled with the decision to give up smoking I also decided to demonstrate to my husband and myself how much money we would save from not smoking.

Every week I put aside the money we would otherwise spend on cigarettes and after some six months when I had accumulated a pretty packet, my husband and I invited two of our close friends to go out for dinner to Stephanie’s Restaurant, a leading restaurant in Melbourne at the time.

The dinner costs hundreds of dollars and would not have been something we could never have afforded, let alone pay for another couple as well, but I wanted to mark the occasion of our giving up smoking and I wanted to thank our friends, these two who had given up smoking several months ahead of us and whose inspiration had also inspired us to try to give up, too.

By the time we went for this dinner I was very pregnant, the food was too rich and I could not enjoy the wine, though I vaguely remember allowing myself half a glass of champagne in honour of the occasion.

A few years later I was surprised to learn that one of my two friends had taken up smoking again. They had travelled overseas and were living far from home. Whether it was the loneliness or the work pressures in a hard-boiled advertising agency that drove her to it, I do not know, but my friend still smokes. It could have been she who wrote the previous post or me of thirty years ago. In any case, I am troubled by the whole notion of having to write to truth in the blogosphere again.

Have I betrayed my followers by leading them up a false path or is it okay to write as I have and then when they respond as though my writing were a statement of a present experience to then tell them the truth?

Should I have gone along with the charade? Made out that yes, I am in the throes of going cold turkey. What are the rules?

My good blogger friend, Jim Murdoch says I should have signposted my intention. Why? To alert the reader into reading the post with a different eye, a prepared eye. Why can the reader not tolerate what comes her/his way and make whatever sense he/she makes of it without feeling like they’re foolish, as Jim suggests, because they read it as a statement of present fact rather than a reflection of a past experience written in the present.

I belong to a writing group in which I declare myself to be an autobiographer and the woman who facilitates this group tells me that I am a fiction writer, whether I like it or not. And certainly there are times when I find it easy to slip away from the truth of an experience into something that becomes an extension into a fantasy of that experience, but as I have written elsewhere I am too close to the surface of my experience for it ever to equate with fiction.

Helen Garner
says there are fiction writers who write close to life and others who write further away, who make things up completely. But even as they make things up they have to come from somewhere within. Imagination comes in many forms.

I talked to someone recently about her synaesthesia. She described in vivid detail the colour of all the numbers and how they appeared in her imagination. She had always believed that this was the way others experienced numbers. She could not imagine it otherwise. Then one day, well into her adulthood she heard a radio program on synaesthesia and she realised she was unusual. Most people see numbers as distinct black outlines, they do not ascribe colours to them.

It seems such a joyous thing to do. I wish I too were able to see numbers through the prism of a rainbow. I wish I were able to paint colours around each distinct numeral, but I cannot. I am too earth bound. Similarly I wish I could write fiction. If I could I would tell you all in my profile, I am a fiction writer but I am not.

I write from life, I write it as I see it, and like Emily Dickinson I ‘tell all the truth but’ I ‘tell it slant’.
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