Sunday, May 04, 2014

Out of time and out of place

Something good will happen I tell myself again and again.  Something good, to counter the fear that I will not succeed.  

I must succeed to counter that feeling of failure when the analysts chucked me out; to counter the feelings I had as a ten year old when Mother Mary John told me I had failed mental arithmetic in grade six; and again in my first year at university when Delys Sargeant told me I had not answered the question in my mid term essay on social biology and unless I did well enough in the exam I would fail the subject.

I was home alone studying during swat vac when Delys Sargeant rang.  I had not overcome my earlier style of learning and so I pored over my lecture notes and tried to rote learn the lot. 

After the call, I was sure I would fail, so sure that when the exams were over and they pinned the results to the notice board in the quadrangle at the University of Melbourne, I could not find my number and so I decided I had indeed failed. 

I told myself it was okay then.  I was planning to live with my boyfriend and thought that I might be pregnant. I was not yet on the pill.  I could not know I was pregnant for sure because I had not had a period for over a year, not since I finished school and stopped eating. 

To my mind then unprotected sex did not matter much.  My mother had told me that women stopped menstruating during war time because they were starving.  It was nature’s way, she said, to prevent  more babies and conserve limited resources.

Still, I reasoned, I could get pregnant.  One of my university friends, Helen, who had starved herself even more than me, became pregnant.  She had already left her teacher training to become a mother.  I could become a mother, too. 

That would be something to do, some consolation for discontinuing at university.


See this tree, it reflects my feeling: a single blossom during autumn on a tree whose leaves have not yet fallen but were burned to a crisp during the hottest of summers.  A flower out of time, out of place.

Or is that a touch too melodramatic? 


Jim Murdoch said...

I’m not used to failure. There are things in life I haven’t achieved but it’s wrong to automatically assume because that’s the case I’ve failed. If a goal is beyond me—whether physically, mentally or (let’s go there) spiritually—how can I be said to have failed? That said a feeling of failure, like a feeling of guilt, does not need any rational basis to exist and the simple fact is that quite often I do feel like a failure. Mostly this is because I set impossible standards for myself, standards that guarantee failure. But not always. Sometimes failure comes about due to factors beyond our control. Like my failure as an author if you measure success in terms of books sold as opposed to books written.

At school I was mostly not a failure. I was top of my class and top of the year in several subjects but I’ve never lived down the shame I felt when I got a D in History. There were reasons—the teachers’ strike that year didn’t help—but mostly they feel like excuses. I wasn’t interested—I didn’t want to take the subject in the first place but the only alternatives were Geography (which I hated even more) and Modern Studies which I was believed (unfairly I’m sure) was history-for-dummies—and so I didn’t apply myself unlike subjects like Maths, Engineering Drawing and Music which were just plain fun. I never studied. At least that’s how I remember it. I learned by osmosis. I suppose I must’ve studied but I never thought of it as study; studying was swotting and I certainly never crammed before an exam. But that D in History—all my other scores were A’s and B’s, three of each—was an embarrassment and it never appeared on my CV.

My parents also believed that poor nutrition during wartime contributed to the fact my mother didn’t fall pregnant. They’d been married some twenty-one years before I was born; my brother followed three years afterwards and then my sister three years after that. They’d hoped for a fourth apparently but after that my mum went on the change.

I try to relate to your flower. In some respects I have blossomed late in life. There’s no one around to tell me I can’t live my life the way I choose and yet I still feel most people would disapprove. Certainly those I once cared about would not only disapprove, they would judge. They would give me an F. They wouldn’t understand. I’m not sure I do but understanding’s not everything. I don’t understand what that flower’s still doing alive. But I’m not going to deny it its existence just because I’ve failed to comprehend it.

Unknown said...

This post made me feel very sad indeed ...

Anthony Duce said...

The doubt of failure and melodrama go together well. Enjoyed..