August 2011 archive

I haven’t read the book, but in my opinion, it’s not worth reading.

It’s within a week of a year since I broke my leg. At the time recovering from this break seemed interminable. Eight weeks of my life weighed down with a cast from ankle to knee and now I can scarcely even remember that it happened. I no longer even notice the twinges that beset me earlier this year when I was still recovering.

My broken leg has healed and now all I have is the memory and the cast which I could not bring myself to chuck out. For one thing it cost over $900.00 – would you believe? – and for another, it seems sacrilegious to chuck it out. But it’s of no use and when I dragged it out the other day to show my brother-in-law who lives interstate and missed out on the drama of my broken leg, I realised that it could not serve as the basis of any work of art – an earlier fantasy of mine.

The cast was custom made to fit my leg. It has no place in my life anymore, not unless I were to break my leg again in the same place, and that is unlikely. In the next clean up, which I plan to go through over the Christmas holidays I may bite the bullet and consign it to the tip.

I have a chapter in my thesis in which I discuss the furore that erupted over Ann Patchett’s book, Truth and Beauty. The book is her memorial, you might say, to her friend Lucy Grealy, author of the renowned Autobiography of a Face. Grealy died in her early forties of a suspected heroin overdose.

To me both books are beautifully written and well worth reading, but the reason I focus on them in my thesis has more to do with the audience response to these books, particularly as I see them played out within the blogosphere.

There is a post dedicated to discussions of a letter that Suellen Grealy, Lucy’s older sister, wrote to The Guardian about Patchett’s book.

Suellen believes that Ann Patchett has ‘hijacked’ her family’s grief by writing about her younger sister and to some extent about the Grealy family as she has. Mind you, there is not much about Lucy Grealy’s family in Patchett’s book as far as I can see. The book is more about Lucy herself and her relationship with Ann Patchett.

The thing that intrigues me is the degree to which this book has inspired a line of hate mail directed against Patchett for daring to violate the Grealy family’s right to its private grief, or at least for daring to present a different image of Lucy Grealy to the one she presented in her autobiography.

I’m interested in notions of grief, particularly in so far as they relate to issues of privacy and the public sphere. I understand Ann Patchett’s book to be in part her attempt to come to terms with the loss of her beloved friend and a commemoration of their friendship, but also as an expression of, or a space in which to explore, some of Patchett’s anger with her friend for perhaps not making a better fist of things.

Having said that, I don’t sense that Ann Patchett lacks in empathy for her friend, Lucy, whose life sounds as though it was horrendous. There’s something though in the way we live our lives, the uses to which we put our lives, especially when those lives are described in public as in the writing of these two books that then invite others to come along and judge those lives, for good or for ill.

To me there’s a confusion between the content of the writing, the writing itself and the real lives of the people, either those who write or those written about.

In one of the comments on this blog discussing Suellen’s letter of protest, Jack Grealy, a nephew, writes a comment in which he complains about what he considers to be one blog commenter’s attack on his aunt, Suellen. ‘She’s my aunt,’ he seems to say. ‘You can’t talk about her like that.’

But in the public sphere, in the blog world, Suellen Grealy is not simply Jack Grealy’s aunt, she has become a commodity of sorts, a character in a novel.

She has written about her perceptions in her letter to The Guardian and has thereby thrown herself into the mix, her sister Lucy’s book about her own life, and Ann Patchett’s response to that life and in so doing, she has become a source of interest and curiosity for readers throughout the blogosphere. Therefore another commenter, tells Jack Grealy that he’s out of line.

Although Patchett’s book came out in 2004, and Grealy’s ten years earlier, comments still arrive at the blogsite that posted Suellen’s letter from The Guardian.

Lucy is dead, Ann Patchett has gone on to write several more successful novels, and heaven knows what Suellen is up to these days, but the saga continues.

I find extraordinary the extent to which people feel free to comment on this fracas, including those who admit to not having read either book.

They wade in on the fight as if a mob is gathering on the street and people are baying for someone’s blood – any one’s blood it seems, though not Lucy Grealy’s. She’s seen as the true victim, but her friend, Ann Patchett, is fair game for daring to write about Lucy as she has done, or likewise Lucy’s sister, Suellen, for daring to take Patchett to task.

I suppose literary skirmishes are not uncommon. They bring out the worst and the best in us. It is for this reason, too, I think there is some merit to the notion that even the best of writing can disturb and evoke a hostile reader response.

What is it that happens to us when we read? Is there some sense that when we take in the words off the page they become our own and therefore we have the right to judge, not only the standard of the writing, but also the content. It is as if we become both judge and jury, not only of the writer but also of those who are written about.

It is a powerful phenomenon and it’s one reason why I remind myself constantly that writing is a dangerous business. There is a world of potential critics out there ready to berate you for writing things they may not have read, or they may not want to read, or see, or hear, or remember, or for writing in such a way as to stir up emotions in readers for which they have no other outlet than rage directed at the writer, who is only the messenger after all.

Somehow unlike the cast from my broken leg, certain published writings can never be consigned to the tip. They go on being worn, even after the leg has healed.

An unfaithful blogger

Force of habit and I flick on the central heating even when it’s no longer necessary, Not today at least, not today when the temperature will reach 19 degrees C, if the pundits are correct, and the sun shines brightly.

Today I will write to time. I have almost no time spare. Job after job presents itself to me but I must get on and make the most of it and still find time for writing, for practice, which in some ways is how I view my blog.

I write with the greatest energy first thing in the morning. As the day progresses my energy fades. Is this the case for you?

Once when I was younger I imagined myself to be a writer who pounded the key board into the wee hours of the morning but not today. Today I can only vegetate late at night in front of a BBC DVD or some such other entertainment, my escape from the demands and excesses of my life.

To avoid the spectre of words only, I include here a picture of a much younger self, one who never dreamed of being in charge of a computer.

My younger self here used to think that I’d like to be dead by the time I hit sixty. No more ghastly old age for me, I thought then. I’ve since changed my mind. Charging up to sixty, these days I think of this age as still young enough to enjoy.

One of my daughters talked to me last night about my blog. I trembled inside. Daughters can be critical about such things. She’d been reading my blog lately, she said and she was amazed at some of the comments, the things that people focussed on in their comments.

She did not complain about my posts. This daughter has a fine and logical mind. She would probably look for the central theme or argument in whatever I have written and probably want to concentrate on that, whereas bloggers, she observes, myself included, often get distracted by what to her seems like a sort of trivial digression from the piece or something to the side.

I do it myself, whatever reverberates for me, I tend to respond to something small that may not relate to the central point of the post.

My daughter is impressed, she says, by the fact that I try to respond to everyone’s comments however slight. I’m not so impressed myself. In fact, lately I fear I’ve been a faithless blogger. I have managed a post once a week and I have managed to respond to comments but beyond that I have scarcely been out visiting in weeks.

This appals me. My inner critic says it’s not good enough. I take the view that if you enjoy people’s visits you must reciprocate and visit in turn. But I have become such a home body of late, not quite a recluse but when another daughter asked me if I could drop her off to Melbourne university today for its open day at 10 in the morning, my heart shuddered.

She had planned to take the train. She ought to take the train, but if I drive her – she’s not yet in possession of a drivers’ licence herself yet, not yet eighteen, nor has she enough practice hours clocked on – then she will have extra time to get all the millions of things she needs to get done, including her sleep.

So of course I will oblige, for which reason I am writing here to time, and trying at the same time to apologise to one and all for my slackness of late in not visiting as often as I would have liked.

My homebody tendencies are related to some extent to the fact that I’m on the final run with my thesis. I have an end date, a date planned for submission, 28 October, some seven or so weeks away and I have so much to do to get the thing into shape.

At times when I would normally go out to visit blog friends, I am frantic trying to correct typos, restructure whole chapters or just generally get on the defensive.

One of my supervisors reckons now is the time to get on the defensive. To cover every little possibility where an unknown examiner might quibble with what I have to say.

Not only do I have to clarify my argument, I must also say something about what might be obvious to someone else but is not so to me, namely why I have chosen NOT to explore so and so’s ideas in this area or why I have elected to follow the course I have chosen.

It’s hideous stuff, not my style at all, but it’s what academics must do, I gather. Fortunately, I have no intention or need to become an academic. I enjoy dabbling in academia but I am no where near rigorous enough. Besides I hate intellectual arguing. I prefer to speculate, to play around with thoughts, to explore foreign territories or to revisit the familiar but I have no wish to hammer home a point anywhere.

My supervisor, one of them, at least – I’m lucky, I have two of the best – also remarks on how I write with conviction when it comes to the sections on infant development and the like, areas in which she feels more cynical, whereas when I write about the writings of someone like Helen Garner, or the Brett sisters, Doris and Lily or Ann Patchett and Lucy Grealy, all writers whose work I explore to some extent in my thesis, I am full of words like ‘perhaps’ or ‘maybe’. In other words, she says, I write speculatively.

I suspect this will not do. But I cannot write with any confidence – even including about a text – in relation to another person unless they tell me clearly what they think, and even then, I cannot be confident that what I have heard is accurate. I cannot be sure of anything.

But developmental theory, which I suppose after all these years of practising, sits in my blood and bones in a way that offers me confidence, whereas to someone else it might all sound speculative and foreign.

I do not think these things in absolutes, but more intuitively. I suppose that applies to anything I read. If it makes sense and fits in somehow with my world view and experience I’m likely to take it on board, but not as gospel truth, not any more.

No more gospel truths for me, everything in moderation, with a grain of salt as they say, everything held with conviction at times, but also held lightly.

Life’s too short to get into arguments, except perhaps when it involves life or death. And I’m not talking pro or anti abortion and such like here. I’m talking love and hate. Read that as you will.

My time is up.

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