Saturday, November 28, 2009

Where have all the nooks and crannies gone?

It’s a relief to get to today, after last night’s party. Fifty or sixty fifteen and sixteen year olds celebrating a joint birthday for my youngest daughter and one of her girlfriends. As it turned out they were all well behaved. No one drank too much, though they seemed to drink quite a bit, only one girl crying in the bathroom and that towards the end of the night and something to do with her feeling snubbed by a boyfriend rather than through too much to drink. For all my anxiety.

I have been so anxious of late. It comes across in waves. I can usually locate its source: last night the party, at other times anything to do with my professional association, but it seems to wash over me more frequently these days. I worry incessantly about the dog’s well being. I long for a front screen door to reduce the possibility that someone might inadvertently leave the front door open and the dog will take off down the street, onto the road and under a car. I worry still that he might be able to scale the fence. He has not done it yet, so it is unlikely he can, but still I worry. I worry I worry I worry.

The backyard is a mess, empty drink cans, bottles, caps, shards of broken glass and cigarette butts everywhere. Although I had set up the rubbish bin strategically in one corner of the garden, it seems no one paid it attention. They dropped their cans as they stood. A few of my daughter’s friends have stayed overnight. She and they can tidy up later. I shall resist the temptation myself. For once, acknowledging that it’s not my mess and that it will be good for the girls, for my daughter and her visitors, to take responsibility for the aftermath of their party.

In two weeks time and one weekend I will be traveling to the Blue Mountains for a week of writing at Varuna, self funded. I did not apply for a mentorship, I simply decided that I needed time to do nothing but write. It does not happen here and even though I am a master at distracting myself, it is the demands of others that make it worse, not just my work and family but the other little things that crop up daily.

I also have to stop blogging as obsessively as I have been for the last few weeks. It takes up too much time and too much head space. I get into these conversations and tap away response after response. I scroll down and read other people’s blogs and other people’s comments. I love it. Such companionship, however virtual, but it takes away the nooks and crannies of time I would otherwise have used for research and reading, for emails.

Lately everything I write and everything that I read over that I have written in the past seems stale, like dry bread. Inedible. I am not happy with this. I do not feel able to engage with new ideas.

Perhaps it is the solipsistic nature of my preoccupation with all things autobiographical that leads me to this impasse. Occasionally on my blog I hear from the odd person who is critical of my interest in autobiography.

In academia there are many people who like to study autobiography from a theoretical perspective, the Sidonie Smiths and Julia Watsons of the literary world, but few of these people embark upon their own autobiographical writing, instead they examine the memoirs of others.

It seems a safer bet, I suspect. The theorists can analyse and think through ideas. They can question the memoirist’s perspectives and motives, they can challenge the level of truthfulness and otherwise, consider the extent to which the writer may have abided by or broken Paul John Eakin’s rules for life writing. They might even offer a personal reflection on their own experience of reading this other person’s personal account of their journey, but they do not offer their own journey, their own story, their travels or thoughts about their own lives. They leave that to us the autobiographers.

All of this makes it sound as though I have written a memoir. I have, but it remains unfinished? I use bits of it from time to time as a way of reinforcing my essays, the ones I write on theoretical aspects related to autobiography, to theories on life writing, the nature of shame and trauma, to the thorny old divide between fact and fiction, but I do not seek to complete this work. I am unhappy with it. I wrote it when I started again to write in my late thirties and it is clumsy in places. It does not sing to me.

I need to do more research, but for now I prefer to write and read other people's blogs.


BwcaBrownie said...

I too have survived a large teen party - end of year 12 was the reason. When they started arriving with SWAGS I knew I was in trouble. It lasted three days, one was 34-degrees, and the mess in the garden was breathtaking, although my photos of it failed to capture the extent.
Many of them had received their 99.5 exam scores although none of them intelligent enough to mind the laws on under-18 drinking.

Wishing you a lovely hiatus at the writing retreat.

Maggie May said...

I came here bouncing round and was enthralled with your profile words. Glad to find you.

Karen said...

Enjoy the days of having your family still at home. We are a large family, all grown and gone now, and only now do I know how blessed my busy life was!

I, too, have cut back on blogging for the same reason. I felt that I was becoming obsessed!

Mim said...

You are wise not to clean up other people's mess. Good luck with your writing. There are blue hills in so many places.

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

Dear Elisabeth, we are concerned too very constantly for our dogs well-being, me and my wife, we live with one ginger stray-dog, it's a she, and we gave my 87 year-old mother to keep her company another "she", a Cavalier King Charles. When we visit my mother at the weedends we walk on the nearby mountains, the Prealpi, the mountains before the Alps, with both of them who are great friends...and love a lot the taste of the deer's droppings!!
We will have soon to bring them to the vet for a new vaccine and we are worry about that, vaccines are always a risk... although they have assured us that these new ones are safe and useful!

All my best, Davide (Tommaso)

Dave King said...

I was ever relieved when a party ended - still am, come to that!

John Ettorre said...

Dear Elisabeth,
My hope for you at year's end is that in the new year, you'll try to cut yourself a break. Like most extremely smart, self-aware people, you're far too hard on yourself. And I can tell you that there are rhythms to reading and writing, and that often periods of immersive reading set the stage for great productivity in one's own writing. Here's hoping that's where you're at.

Conda Douglas said...

Oh my goodness, you must be exhausted. And I think all writers go through the "my writing is blah at best" valleys sometimes and have to climb back up the hill and keep writing!

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for your good wishes at my writing retreat, Bwca Brownie. I need it so much, to be away from the lure of the wonderful blog site, emails, family and friends. A quiet time, hopefully free from distraction.

Pleased to meet you, Maggie May.

I think of your words, Karen as I prepare dinner. Every night this week we've had only one daughter at a time home for dinner. What will it be like when they've all gone? Quiet perhaps.

I'm looking forward to those blue hills, Mim. I'm taken with your name, given that we call one of our daughter's Mim.

Good to hear that other people worry about their dog's too Davide. Ours eats possum droppings and cat poo. There are no deer in our neighborhood. I love the thought of you roaming the alps with your wife and dogs. Thanks for your kind words.

Dave, I figure I only have two more such parties. My last daughter's 18th followed by her 21st. Thereafter all other parties should be primarily populated by adults.

We grow old so soon and before long we come to hate the parties.

Do you know the song, 'You will always find me in the kitchen at parties'. That's my mantra these days.

John, do I sound that exhausted in my last posting. I'm tired alright but I didn't think it was that bad.

A week away writing in ten days time will do me a world of good. Thanks for your good wishes.

Conda, you confirm it. I must sound exhausted. Maybe I am. Just give me a few days. Thanks.

A Cuban In London said...

I'm of the opinion that we all carry our memoirs ready to be deployed at any moment and with no prior notice in the company of strangers. That's why I loved this post. In regards to your daughter's party, I share your anxiety. My son's eleven so I will be in that position in a few years. But look at it this way: they were all under your supervision, so no foul play, boys and girls! :-)

You're more than welcomed to use excerpts from the Zadie Smith's series. The copyright ran out long time ago and The Guardian gave it to me in good faith. Usually an essay commissioned by a paper has a six-month longevity when any attempt to copy it is banned. Also, after six or seven months it is automatically removed from the paper's website. Just a credit to me and Zadie will suffice.

Greetings from London.

Jim Murdoch said...

When I look back on my fictional writing from the last couple of years I have to acknowledge that much of the grist that feeds my mill has originated from blogs I've read or online conversations. No time is ever wasted as far as a writer goes.

Your own preoccupation with autobiography fascinates me because of my own lack of interest. We're all interested though in the not-us-es that are running around living completely different lives to ours; that's why biographies are so popular especially since most of us have lived uneventful lives.

All of this is mulling around in my head right now. My new book is a character study and a memoir but it's also a remembrance written by someone who can't remember, doesn't understand why she can't and find it hard to care that she can't. The 'she' (a daughter) is a proxy/fictionalised-part-of-me trying to remember a 'he' (a father) who is also a proxy/fictionalised-different-part-of-me. I've found reading, and reading about, Murnane's Inland most helpful.

I could never sit down and write an out-and-out autobiography and I think that's why I'm having such trouble writing this because I actively forget. Nietzsche suggested that a cow lives without boredom and pain, because it doesn't remember. That makes so much sense to me; I expect my goldfish does the same. Forgetting is a coping mechanism but it doesn't have to be trauma that triggers it. Too much past precludes action, happiness, and personal growth. Cows don't actively forget though – they just have "very little brain" (that's Pooh not Nietzsche) – whereas we can forget by disuse (as opposed to neglect) and I do. The past only makes me sad, even the happy memories.