Saturday, January 29, 2011

What gives you the right?

The telephone rang and interrupted my first fitful efforts at sleeping.
‘You fucking bitch,’ he said. ‘You fucking bitch.’ His voice trailed off. Time slowed down. Is this a dream, I wondered? Is this a phone call in my sleep? In a minute I’ll wake up.
‘Everyone knows what you’ve been up to. Everyone knows but me. I’m the last to know.’
I found my voice, but the words were croaky.
‘What are you talking about?’ I knew what he was talking about but I wanted to deny it even as I knew it was true. I wanted to think it did not matter. I wanted him to think it did not matter that I had betrayed him.

I had slept with someone else. Slept with, such a euphemism. Had sex with, fucked, shagged, you name it in biblical terms. That I had gone off with another man while he was away for weeks on end.

Somehow he expected me to sit at home, the good and loving girlfriend, the good and loving partner, always faithful, irrespective of how he behaved.
‘I’m coming over now,’ he said. ‘I’ve got your stuff. You can have it back. I never want to see you again.’

The dial tone buzzed in my ear. I kept the phone close. I could not believe he had rung off. Soon he would be here. I dragged on my dressing gown. Good, I thought. He’ll be here soon. I’ll settle him down. I’ll soothe him. A few gentle words.

I heard his car pull up in the carport below. I looked through the blinds. He opened the car door and flung the books and clothes that I had left behind at his house as a mark of our relationship.

When we had separated three months earlier, we agreed on an amicable split. We agreed to go our separate ways, that we would each be free now to explore new relationships.

I pulled up the blinds and swung open the window. ‘Come up,’ I said. ‘Don’t just throw stuff. Come up and talk.’ He continued to throw more books, my old grey cardigan, my CD case, my sunglasses onto the pile. I kept my voice low. I did not want to wake the neighbours.

‘Please talk,’ I said again to the silent man whose arm moved up and down like a piston as he threw the last of my shoes onto the pile. He slammed his car door shut. He had not cut the engine. He reversed without looking up to see me.

That was how we left it. The end of the scene. The death of a relationship. Silence is the best revenge.

I have no trouble with the word 'hate' these days. It rolls off my tongue easily. I can tell someone that I hate someone else; even that I hate them as long as I also feel a fondness, a love for the one to whom I might direct the word hate, otherwise I can only talk about such hateful feelings behind someone’s back.

I can try to qualify my comments, when I am angry with my husband for instance, to say to him, I really hate it when you do that, not, I hate you when you do that, but the truth is, in that moment, I hate him.

I know well enough that it is a sign of confidence in her mother’s love when a child is able to say to her mother directly, 'I hate you'. To know that her mother will tolerate such an expression and not retaliate or go under into shock and horror, or be destroyed by it because this mother recognises that her child says these words out of hurt or disappointment in the mother whom the child also loves.

It is not unusual to hear such utterances from three and four year olds, but as we get older it seems we learn to modify such outbursts. We learn, if we have gone to the right behavioural schools, to criticise the behaviour, not the person.

‘It’s not 'you' I hate, it's what you do...when you get drunk, when you refuse to tidy your room, when you don’t pull your weight, when you carry on like that, when you're slack, when you give up on yourself, when you stop caring about others, about me.’ It's okay to hate these things, these behaviours, but to hate the person who does these things becomes a no-no.

It is important to distinguish the person from the behaviour and yet, the satisfaction that comes from really being able to say to someone or of someone, ‘I hate you’ knows no bounds. It gives great satisfaction, and yet almost immediately there is a wish to qualify it. I hate you when...

We throw around the word ‘love’ with such ease, but the word 'hate' we are wary of, for good reasons – all those wars, all that bloodshed.

Hatred is not something to spread, but it can be spread in subtle and secret ways and often even by people who purport to love and to care.

When I was at the Writer’s House, Peter Bishop urged me to write into my rage. Write into your rage he said, vomit onto the page.

Peter Bishop also says to write out of ‘doubts and loves’. Where do we put the hate? I wondered. Is not hate on a continuum with the love? The ones we love are the ones we hate, beginning with our parents.

When I first read William Gaddis’s words quote in the Sunday Age in an article by Don Watson I knew that these words were important for me.
‘The best writing worth reading comes like suicide from outrage or revenge.’

It is not the first time I have been in a creative hole as deep as this. It is not the first time that I have sat alone at my writing desk wishing for something to come to me, some thread, some thought, some feeling or image that I might follow, but it is no less painful. I ache all over with the refusal. My mind will not give it up. My mind will not let the words flow, will not let me arrive at some point where I can think, ah ha I have it. I know now what I am writing about. I know now what this book is about. I can proceed. I start again and again, so many false starts so many attempts to move beyond this desperate feeling of not knowing what I am doing.

And the audience whom I tried to send away only five minutes ago is back again, my parents and siblings in the front row alongside my conscience. They say to me again, in a chorus, what are you on about? We don’t want to know this. Tell us a story instead and make it good. Make it interesting.

But if I start to tell a story, I fear I will be in trouble with someone. That someone will tap me on the shoulder and say ‘What gives you the right?'

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A psychological sandwich

I am my mother’s daughter. When I was in my early twenties, when I first began to develop a will of my own, when I first discovered the thrill of rebellion and quietly thumbed my nose at my mother’s religiosity and what I then saw as her prudery, and began to favour the company of men – what I have called my ‘promiscuous’ years – my mother took to writing me letters.

My mother writes letters still even though we live less than twenty kilometers apart. She writes to all her children as a means of stating her case.

My mother's letters to me are ‘psychological sandwiches’. They begin with protests of her love for me. The middle carries the sting. What do you think you are doing? Who do you think you are? Behaving so loosely with men. Where are your morals?

Then she might end the letter with a short vignette: her memory of me as a little girl in a yellow jumper and tartan skirt, after she had come home from hospital with my new baby sister, when I was less than two years old and had been left in the care of my godparents, the Kaandorps, for over a week.

In her letter my mother remembers me then as the little girl who threw herself into her mother’s arms and wept for the sheer joy of being together again. If only, my mother writes, if only she could give to me now the things I needed then. It is as if she wishes that I had never grown up, that I had never entered into the world of adulthood, of conflict and of challenge. If only I had stayed little, then our bond might be secure.

I have been reading Nancy Miller’s Bequest and Betrayal:memoirs of a parent's death, a book about adult children who write about their parents after death. Are these memoirs eulogies, songs of praise for parents now gone, or are they betrayals of parental secrets?

I suspect I could not write about my father as I do now were he not dead. Now he is dead, I am safe.

Will the way I write about my mother change after her death? My mother in my mind has undergone so many metamorphoses, from the woman I adored as a small child to the woman I became scornful of, though not in adolescence, even in adolescence I felt protective of her and needy, to the frail old woman she has finally become, of whom I feel protective in a different way. It took a long time before I dared to feel critical of my mother in any way.

It was later in my life, in my twenties and thirties when I had embarked on my analysis, only then did my image of my mother start to crack. Only then did I come to feel critical of her, for her religious intolerance, her manipulative tendencies, and her tendency to pretend that all is well when it is not.

I have my mother’s name, all three names, Elisabeth Margaretha Maria. It is a Dutch tradition to name the second daughter after the mother, and the first daughter after the mother’s mother, a tradition that again alerts us to the significance of mothers in a woman’s life.

I did not name my first daughter after my mother or any of my daughters directly after me, but my husband insisted and I agreed to the idea that they should all have my name as a second name. Equality you might say. Their first names however belong entirely to them.

Even now I can imagine my daughters writing in the future about what it means to them to each share their mother’s name between their first and last names.

In my family of origin, we each bear the name Maria, another tradition, religious this time, a means of asking the Blessed Virgin Mary to look over us all. All except the oldest, who again according to Dutch tradition was given his father’s name in its entirety.

When we were little we laughed at the fact that even the boys carried the name Maria in their collection of personal names, Simon Peter Maria, Franciscus Wiro Maria, Michael George Maria and Gregory Paul Maria. Such odd names they seemed to us growing up in Australia in the fifties and sixties when most people’s names were Celtic and Anglo Saxon with the odd immigrant name from the Mediterranean or Europe thrown in for good measure.

Names matter, they are identifying features, they become part of our sense of ourselves and of our identity.

In the days when I fancied I might write a book in which I had hoped each of my siblings might contribute a chapter, I also imagined a paragraph on each of us, suggesting parallels between our first given name and the way in which our name reflects our personalities.

As usual I am running off into too many ideas, too many ideas to follow. One leads into the other and the track becomes unwieldy. It is difficult to back track to where we have come from. Sorry.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I came for conversation

An old man fell in my dream. He had been walking with his daughter and several others, friends and family, when he lost his footing and tripped on a gutter. Down he tumbled like a stack of cards, so unsteady his legs and joints, and to my horror half of his face fell off.

He had endured surgery I knew now for like Sigmund Freud and Lucy Grealy the old man’s face, which had earlier been eaten away by cancer, had been reconstructed.

A dream like this begins my day. Faceless and deformed the old man grabbed back at the bits that had fallen into the gutter and stuck them on haphazardly – rather like a jigsaw puzzle piece that does not fit in – and urged his daughter to take him home, home and out of sight.

I do not want to be interrupted by the detritus of my days or nights, but I cannot seize on more lofty thoughts until I have cleared my head of my most pressing ones. It is rare that I am without pressing thoughts.

For the next two weeks I will have more time to concentrate on my thesis but soon enough I will be back into the thrall of daily work and it will once more become difficult to get those chapters into shape. So many words to write.

‘Do I have a first draft?’ my friend asked me yesterday at lunch?
No, I do not. I have so much written, though, so much that could be cobbled together to form a draft, but it is not yet in place.

I will get there in time. I am determined. I must. And so to work…

But a little voice tells me to stay with this writing. Stay. It might yet lead somewhere. I am too riddled with conscious thoughts. Too much driven by the need to complete my thesis. Too unwilling to write about yesterday’s lunch. Yesterday’s lunch in an Indian restaurant on Burwood Road.

I arrived and realised I had brought next to no cash with me. I would need to use my card. My friend was late. He ordered immediately. He knew what he was about. He ordered two curries and some naan and then he sat back down. I stood and fumbled. This rich food in the middle of the day was too much for me, but to order anything else seemed difficult. I came for the company, anyhow. I did not come for the food.
I tried to speak softly to the girl at the counter.
‘I’ll have what he’s having.’ I selected curries that had some vague appeal, the eggplant and the mixed vegetable. Instead of naan, I chose rice, but I seemed to speak in a vacuum, as if I did not know what I was about.

I dragged out my card thinking this order must come to at least ten dollars but I was wrong. My friend stood up to offer to pay but I had five dollars left in my purse and the whole dreadful exchange with the young and pleasant Indian woman was over in an instant.

Conversation was what I came for,
‘You have been ill?’ I said to my friend, more as a question than as a statement. ‘Yes,’ he said, though he was not forthcoming. It seemed he did not want to talk about it.
‘I’m working two days a week,’ he said.
‘Do you prefer that?’
‘No. The writing is too slow.’
Momentarily, I thought about this from my own perspective, that in such circumstances I might enjoy more space for writing. He looked well enough.
‘No,’ he said again. ‘I write for a living, and it is very slow, too slow.’
It was clear then my friend did not want to discuss it further. And I dared not probe, but I joked instead about my own, now recovered, broken leg.

Although my friend, the one whom I mistakenly thought had abandoned our friendship, will talk to me about himself and his life in small doses, it seems he prefers to hear about my life, my goings on.

We had a whole year on which to catch up and I could tell him about my family reunion, my interminable thesis, my daughter’s marriage, but beyond that the conversation flagged. I had hoped it might fly. It might prove exhilarating. After an hour my friend needed to get back to his work and I felt a wash of relief.

Who would say it first during our goodbyes? I wondered.
‘We must not leave it a whole year next time,’ my friend said. And then I knew, most likely we would leave it a whole year. Most likely we would leave it for more than a year, unless I made contact again. But will I?
I do not want to foist myself on someone who finds time with me a chore, whose only pleasure derives from the odd witty thing I might say and from his curiosity about this odd woman.

I do not want a relationship that feels so one-sided as to leave me the needy and desperate one. I have made up my mind in this regard. I will not become a stalker, a desperado. I will not subject myself to the humiliation of unrequited love ever, ever again.

I shall not attempt to analyse my dream and the different voices that battle inside here, except in my head.

Some of the dream, to some of you here, may be self-evident: this old man who tumbles down, whose face is broken, whose life has changed becomes a metaphor for…

Stop now, I say.
It is time once more to do battle with my thesis.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Stalking and the Thirteenth Fairy

I am conscious when I write in my blog, that my spelling must look odd in some cases to my largely American audience of bloggers. Language is funny like that. Yet there is at least one Australian blogger who will take me to task if I fail to write in the so-called ‘King’s English’.

Suddenly I become self-conscious. What are these thoughts and why bother to write them down? Self-doubt, I tell myself, is the enemy of the written word. Self-doubt paralyses. Do not pay it any heed.

I emailed an old friend recently and he has not emailed back to me. It leaves me in a quandary. Do I send another email with the thought that he no longer wants to have anything to do with me? Do I persist in making contact with someone who presumably has better things to do with his time than waffle on to me?

I have written letters before the days of email that went unanswered. Unanswered letters always trouble me, especially the long letters, the ones I went to some trouble to write, the ones I filled with my deepest thoughts.

I think of these letters lying dusty and yellow on a post office floor somewhere, or worse still lying unopened in a rubbish bin, or destroyed by now because they did not reach their destination or because the person to whom I wrote did not want to hear from me.

I have been thinking about such attempts to reach a person who may or may not want to hear from me in the context of ‘stalking’. The word seems to me to be a relatively new one.

Stalking, the notion of following someone, intruding upon them unannounced and refusing to accept the first of many rejections. It is such an easy thing to slip into.

I sit here and agonise over whether another email to this friend who did not get back to me would be seen as an unwelcome advance and therefore how long before it becomes a case of stalking.

Stalkers to me are like clinging babies. The more a mother pushes her baby away the more the baby clings. For some people it seems it is the only way to have a passionate and meaningful contact, contact only with someone who does not want them.

The Internet is rife with opportunities for a type of stalking, made worse because so much of it can go undetected, and therefore seemingly made safe for the stalker.

These days we do not need to be told about a person from another we can simply Google said person and voila, we can find out all manner of things.

I Google people almost out of habit these days as if the Internet is my street directory, my address book and one that contains not only the location of a person but other details as well.

And people, some people it seems want to be stalked like this. They want others to ‘follow’ them, as in blogdom. They count the number of times someone has visited their site, their webpage, their blog.

Is this not a way of facilitating the process of stalking and all those unwelcome spam comments, all those visiting ‘trolls’, are they not like stalkers, too?

This reminds me of the Thirteenth Fairy. You know the story? A variation on Sleeping Beauty.

The king and queen for years had wanted a child but were unsuccessful. When finally the queen gave birth to her baby daughter they were overjoyed and decided to hold a party for the entire kingdom. They invited every single person in the kingdom, right down to the lowliest. They sent off courtiers throughout the kingdom to make sure that not a single guest remained uninvited.

During the celebrations, the fairies of the kingdom all stood up in turn to offer the baby their many gifts. The one offered health, the other happiness, another offered beauty, until finally the twelfth fairy rose and raised her wand in readiness to offer the baby her gift, when out of nowhere the Thirteenth Fairy appeared.

She was furious. Why had she not been invited? She leapt in front of the Twelfth Fairy and brandished her wand.
'I wish the baby death.'
Then she disappeared as fast as she had arrived. The people were devastated. What could be done?

The Twelfth Fairy stepped forward again.
‘I have not the power to undo the damage inflicted by the Thirteenth Fairy but I can reduce its impact. Therefore, on her sixteenth birthday the princess will prick her finger on a spindle. She will not die but she will sleep for one hundred years and wake only to a prince’s kiss.’

No doubt you know the rest of the story, how it unfolds. What preoccupies me here, and what I have pondered often is the role of the Thirteenth Fairy. She would have been invited presumably had she not hid herself away.

Is she the one who represents envy? Is she a variation on the stalker, the one who attaches herself to others, only through malice.

But can this be? Stalking has to be different from envy.

Stalking derives from possessive or misguided love, love that is unrequited. To me stalking, as I said earlier, is more like the behaviour of a clinging baby. Envy is something else entirely, and something we all suffer from to varying degrees.

Could it be that the one who rejects is envious of the one who is open and welcoming in her approach, and the envious one cannot bear to be touched warmly therefore she pushes the other away.

I seem to be going around in circles here with such vague emotional constructs.

I think of them now in the context of my unmet email. How to proceed?

I shall stop blogging now and try one more time to contact my friend. I shall be sure I have the right address, and if I do not hear from him, I shall accept my lot and mourn the loss of another good friend.

For such is the nature of friendships, they come and go. And sometimes there is little we can do to stop the process for it involves another and we cannot get control over another person’s desires for us, however much we might try.