The family frown

I dropped my youngest daughter at
her work this morning.  The sky was
overcast and we rejoiced together in the rain that fell over night. It has been
so dry in Melbourne since before Christmas and the plants are wilting. 
On the way home I caught the
beginning of a programme, 360 Documentaries, devoted to the humble frown.  It has set me thinking. 
The presenter argues in favour of the
frown in this age of forced happiness when even the slightest hint of sorrow
gets shunned. 
Rachel Kohn one of the programme’s guests speculated that the mark of Cain as described in the book of Genesis
might in fact be a frown.  A mark
etched on Cain’s forehead after he had killed his younger brother through
jealousy and was then sent by God to wander the earth forever.
Apparently Cain feared that if he
were a fugitive people would want to murder him as he had murdered his
brother, and so it seems, at least according to Rachel Kohn, God struck him
with the mark of Cain as a warning for people to keep away.  It was perhaps an attempt at curbing retaliation from vigilantes.  
We joke in my family about the
family frown.  My father had one,
my brothers and certainly I have a pronounced frown that deepens for me when I concentrate.  And this was another point
made in the programme that people do not frown simply to express displeasure
when they are sad or angry or when they disapprove, they frown when they
It  is akin to the way your mouth might move when working on
something fiddly with your fingers. I’ve seen it in my husband.  He pries loose the clasp on a piece of
broken jewellery, or something else small that requires concentration and fine
eye hand coordination.  As he
wriggles the pliers his mouth moves in unison.  My sister too when we were younger opened her mouth wide
into a full circle whenever she applied mascara.
I thought about frowning first in
adolescence.  I thought about it as
a way of alerting the nuns that I was not as happy at home.  I practised being bright and cheerful
at school.  This seemed the best
way to win the nun’s approval but in between times I frowned.  
I enjoyed the way the two sides of
my forehead came together, skin on skin, to form that vertical line in the
middle above my nose. The nuns might take me more seriously I reckoned and they
might know that despite my happy go lucky exterior things were not right. 
A frown is a form of
communication.  The Radio National presenter
talked about the tendency these days to use botox and surgery to eliminate  frown lines, to eliminate the mark of Cain
perhaps, or to hide our occasional murderous impulses.
One of my brothers once accused me
of writing in such a way as to make people unhappy.  As if I strive to cultivate a frown for
sympathy perhaps or to offload my own sorrow.  I’m not sure about this. 
On Face Book there are many
opportunities to feel happy: the lol cats; the sudden performances of musicians
in shopping centres who burst into song; the happy stories of down and outs who
make it against all odds. 
I scroll through and occasionally download these as they pop
up on the pages of my friends. 
They have a sweet flavour like eating sugar on cereal.  They help me through the day.  But it is the sad stories, the stories
of hardship and of loss that tend to stay with me. 
So perhaps my brother is
right.  Perhaps I want to linger
longer on the exquisite pleasure of melancholy, the way it weaves its way into
my life like a thread that I might follow for sometime until it comes time to
change threads and then I can feel happy again for a while.  Always glad to be alive,
however deep the sadness.  
To feel
is to be alive. 
To feel nothing, to suffer boredom,
to sense the absolute deadness of despair, the unbearable lightness of being,
is something I can entertain, but only occasionally- like last week.  Like a small dollop of Hot English mustard,
it infuses the taste but too much would blow off my head.  Take away my frown. 
Years ago I saw my father-in-law minutes
after he had died and his whole face, once a bag of wrinkles and harsh lines, was
softened such that I almost could not recognise him.  
The slack face of death is something that will come to us
all one day but while we are alive, I’m all for the occasional frown mixed in
with plenty of laughter lines. 

Don’t despair

Today is the ninety fifth
anniversary of my father’s birth. 
He’s been dead now for nigh on thirty years.  Gone from this world for so long and yet he still seems alive
to me.  
Maybe the fact that he died
from a series of heart attacks in his sixty-fifth year has made me toey and
fearful that I too will cop a heart attack simply by association.
What did the doctor first ask me
last week when I visited her and told her of my fears of having a stroke? 
‘Is it in the family?’ 
Stroke is not in my family, I said, but
heart attack is.
I’m late to writing this morning
because I spent over an hour waiting in the doctor’s rooms to have three vials
of blood taken for measuring and an ECG to help me overcome my fears.  The doctor last week was confident
that all was well, but still I’m having these tests for good measure.   
This morning the practice nurse
took blood from my left arm.  I watched as she applied the tourniquet to plump up my
vein.  I watched as she scrabbled about
my arm much like a cat plumping up a cushion until she was satisfied.  Then I watched as she plunged in the
needle, a slight prick and no other sensation, not even a twinge as the blood
raced into the syringes, one, two and three. 
The whole procedure took only a
matter of minutes, but the paperwork took twice as long.  The nurse checked and double checked
the spelling of my name, my date of birth, my address.  She was determined it should be exactly
so.  And fair enough, too.  I would
not want my blood mixed up with someone else’s. 
Then the nurse lined me up for an ECG.  I was naked from the top to my middle.  I froze on the examination table until she
offered me a blanket, almost by way of accusation.
‘I don’t want you cold,’ she
said.  ‘It can interfere with your
I huddled under the thick layers of
the hospital type blanket, which she had folded over my middle.  She left enough naked skin exposed for
the plastic pads which she stuck strategically across my torso, concentrating on
my heart side.  
This procedure also
took only a few minutes and the paper work was less dramatic, once only instead of
three times to be certain all details were correct. 
I have felt miserable ever
since.  The morning’s wait in the
doctor’s rooms for over an hour interfered with my Saturday morning writing
routine, but more than that it has addled my mind.  
While I waited I read crap magazines when I could have plucked the novel
from within my handbag and launched into more of William Maxwell.  I’ve been carrying him around with me
for weeks now.  But serious writing
seemed too heavy and magazine writing too light.  
This Goldilocks cannot settle into anything.  I have washing to hang out.  I have bills to draw up and pay.  I have a blog post to write and all of
this weighs heavily.  
Worst of all
is the sense that my writing has turned to mush overnight.  I’m swamped with jealousy by the
success of a recently found writing friend, Kate Richards, and her wonderful book, Madness
This feeling will pass, I tell myself and I hear Mr Bennett’s voice in my
head.  Mr Bennet from Jane Austen’s
Pride and Prejudice when he tells his second daughter Elizabeth how heartily ashamed he feels for
allowing his youngest daughter, Lydia to go off to camp with the militia at
Brighton.  Lydia leaves the militia to elope with the scurrilous Captain Wickham and the entire family of Bennett girls are
threatened with the shame and disapproval that pursued young women whose connections
were tarnished by a fallen sister in those days.
‘I’m heartily ashamed of myself,
Lizzie,’ he says.  ‘But don’t despair.  It’ll pass and no doubt
more quickly than it should.’
I wish Kate well.  I want her book to succeed, but oh how
I wish it were my turn to have a book out there, ready for the readers’ judgement. 
Mine’s not ready yet and I fear now
it never will be.