Saturday, June 20, 2015

Once upon a time...

In an hour or so, I will skype an acquaintance whom I met online and who now lives in New York, about her editing of my manuscript. 

In other words, I will talk to someone on the other side of the world and we will see one another on the screen as if we are close by and it will be our first ‘real’ encounter, as face to face as we can get. 

I have a daughter who lives in Japan at the moment and another visiting Berlin.  I have seen both of them in the past week on the screen, heard their voices and, although we have not been able to touch, we have been able to be with one another in ways I could not have dreamed of as a child except on the Jetsons. 

Once upon a time, we communicated with our loved ones overseas in written form  on aerogrammes: thin blue paper with a dark border around the edge, the image of a plane in one corner, already stamp impregnated on the other top corner at a cost dependant on its destination and with broken lines around the ends that told you where to fold, and with sticky bits that jutted out onto rounded corners which you could stick down to form an envelope. 

Such aerogrammes you needed to open with a knife, otherwise you risked ripping into your beloved one’s written words. 

There were telegrams too, this time on pale yellow paper with short typed messages that often omitted joining words to cut down on costs.  

People sent telegrams sent at times of births and especially deaths and maybe to announce a wedding or to send greetings at a wedding when the person could not be there. 

When I was a child, my Dutch relatives phoned maybe once a year, at Christmas time.  

I watched my mother take up the phone, its black receiver that stood against the wall in the hallway near to the bathroom. She sounded  breathless in anticipation and her words in Dutch were halted as if she were measuring each word out and weighted in gold.  

Ten dollars a minute these calls cost, or some such ridiculous amount.  It made it hard for anyone to want to speak and when they did, they reverted to platitudes in their anxiety to reconnect. 

My mother received one such call in Healesville where we lived for a time.  I watched her pick up the ringing handset and as if in a movie, she pulled away from the wall when she heard the news that her mother had died.  

She could not go to the funeral.  She could not say goodbye to her mother. Could not hold her mother’s cold hard hand when her body was laid out for a vigil; could not do anything other than imagine her mother’s death and mourn alone. 

My daughters overseas were devastated that they, too, could not be here for their cousin’s funeral last week.  It’s hard work going to a funeral but harder still not being able to share the family ritual that connects us and helps us to go on living. 

In an hour or so when I connect with the woman in New York who will help me to think more about my manuscript, I will notice the quickening tempo of my own speech, because I am nervous and I dislike seeing myself in the corner of the screen while I am looking at this other person who fills the screen. 

Depending on the connection quality, colours and shapes will distort.  We will see one another, but not as we might were we to meet in person.  Still it's a good thing at least to see one another when we speak.

Better than a phone call, though this skype call will not hold the same terrors as the calls my mother made to her family over fifty years ago when they rang from Holland. 

Just an optimal level of anxiety.

We will be free to speak as many words as we need to communicate our respective messages, but still I am nervous. 

It’s like waiting for test results at the doctor’s when you fear you might have some dreaded disease, or exam results when you fear you might have failed. 

How will I receive her criticism?  I have told her I do not want to re-write the whole thing, but I am concerned about its structure, the way it hangs together. 

Structure, that monster.  It stalks me whenever I write. 

What’s your structure here? 

‘Form isn’t an overcoat flung over the flesh of thought (that old comparison, old in Flaubert’s day); it’s the flesh of thought itself.  You can no more imagine an Idea without a Form than a Form without an Idea.

I greet this quote as the words of authority from a great man, Flaubert, whose mind was more disciplined than mine, who thought in that rational well-enunciated way through which scholars think, while I straggle around the edges, barely able to select one thought over another, to create something that coheres.

And my skype call to New York awaits. 

                                                        
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