October 2014 archive

Naked on the page

Montaigne shocked everyone when he
wrote about the size of his penis.  To his mind, it was small.  
Why, among the many thoughts I have encountered
today, does this one stay with me?
 There are other images in my head, too: diamonds from
the 1800s that are attached to springs so that when the wearer moves, they tremble,
shimmer and dazzle the eye, diamonds en
tremblant
I tried to have a conversation last
night with one of my daughters about a trend that’s come to my attention
whereby people post images of their so-called private bits to their
lovers. 
It’s not that new, my daughter
tells me.  It’s been around for ages.
Apparently, there is a new law that
forbids the transmission of such images without a person’s consent. 
Jennifer Wilson, on her wonderful
blog, No place for sheep, refers to revenge porn, the business of people taking
it out on others by circulating compromising images or photos of the
person against whom they want revenge.
A while ago I heard about a young woman in the armed forces who had sex with her boyfriend and unbeknown to her he had organised that the
proceedings be videoed and circulated to his friends.  
What’s behind this, I ask
myself.  Why do it?  And what is it like for the person so exposed? 
To have a photo of your labia
online so that the entire world can see, or a shot of your penis, why so shocking? 
There’s the stuff of exhibitionism,
the pleasure we get out of showing off our bodies and the sexual pleasure we get
from being on display. 
Then, there’s the opposite: the
peeping Tom effect.  The pleasure some might
get out of looking, looking in preference to being involved, or being seen. 
I used to think of this as a masculine
activity, the Peeping Tom, the flasher, but women can get in on the act,
too. 
Women whose bodies have been put on
display for centuries. 
When I was a little girl and asked
my mother why the bronze Atlas holding a globe of the world on his shoulders in
the framed print on the wall of her bedroom was naked, she told me, ‘The human
body is beautiful’. 
I had trouble believing her then.  In a strange way I still have trouble.  Bodies can be beautiful but they’re also
haunting and troubling and exciting and frightening and all these things rolled
into one.  Anything to do with body bits,
internal and external seems loaded.
The other day I talked to one of my
sisters about prolapses.  In my mind’s
eye the image that stays with me is the one that first popped in when I was
little. 
One day my mother told me about a
cousin in Holland who had suffered a prolapse on the dance floor.  This cannot be, I now know.  You do not suddenly suffer a prolapse.  I imagine they happen gradually, but when I
was little I saw it happen on the dance floor.
My mother’s cousin’s insides slip
out onto the polished wood floors like glistening red jewels en tremblant.  And my aunt is mortified.  She runs through the room to the toilets dragging
her jewels behind her. 
I have since heard that a
prolapse as described by my mother, the one that happened to her cousin, was of her
cervix.  
This reminds me of other bodily
malformations like hernias.  I’ve not
seen one of these either.  
Again the idea
that your insides slip out of their moorings and appear on the surface of your
skin, like a burst bladder, reminds me of pregnancies, late term when it was
easy to see the imprint of my baby’s foot on the surface of my skin, the round
dome of her head. 
I have dreams where my skin is translucent
and I can see inside my body to the unborn baby squashed inside.  And this can only take place when one is
naked.  Naked on the page.
There is a YouTube series doing the rounds where a woman is interviewed and during conversation the camera stays on
her as she speaks.  She perches on a
stool, against a brick wall backdrop in a well lit room and as the interviewer proceeds
through a series of questions about the woman and her life, her relationship to
herself and her body, the interviewer asks her to take off items of clothing,
one by one. 
By the end of the interview the
woman sits in her underwear.  We do not
see the interviewer. 
There is something strangely
non-sexual about this disrobing.  Something
that puts us in touch with the woman as a whole person, a woman with a body and
mind, not just a sexualised body.  At
least that’s how I experience it.  
A slow
disrobing rather like entering into a meaningful essay where the writer
gradually unfolds ideas, thoughts, images about himself/herself until in the end
we are pared back to basics and somehow have much more than just a naked body,
and not just any body. 
In the YouTube clip so far I have
only seen naked women, and not all of them with ideal bodies. 
There are young bodies and old
bodies and even physically disabled bodies. 
I’ve yet to see a dark skinned body or a fat body or a hairy body or an amputated
body but I imagine there is scope for these and many more. 
One essential ingredient is the
capacity to be articulate in the English language in this instance and a
preparedness to let it all show.    
And finally, I came across this quote
from Anne Patchett: 
‘Forgiveness. The ability to
forgive oneself. Stop here for a few breaths and think about this because it is
the key to making art … I grieve for my own lack of talent and intelligence.
Every. Single. Time. …. This grief of constantly having to face down our own
inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers. Forgiveness, therefore is
key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book
I am capable of writing. Again and again throughout the course of my life I
will forgive myself.’

Kippers and cake

On my fourteenth
birthday I woke up in a strange bed in an even stranger room surrounded by
cakes.  They lined the top of the
wardrobe and sat cheek by jowl on the dressing table and across the chairs.  There was not a surface that did not hold at
least two cakes and even in spaces on the floor Mrs K had stashed a plate
filled with iced meringues. 
     My
brother had driven me to Moe the night before so that I might be bridesmaid the
next day when he and his already pregnant wife to be walked up the altar in the
Newtown Catholic church to take their vows. 
There was to be a reception in the church hall nearby.              
     It
did not take me long to recognise that the cakes in this room were not in
honour of my birthday but for the wedding. 
Mrs K must have cooked for days. I climbed out of bed.  The floor was covered with a circular coiled
rug whose ridges rubbed against my soles. I lifted the covering from one of the
cakes. Surely no one would notice one missing flower.  
    One was not enough.  I looked around for more, from cake to cake,
undressing each from its wrapper and scratching at the raised chunks of
icing.  Then I flopped back onto the bed,
guilty.  I wanted someone to find me?  It was my birthday.  I did not want to eat cake alone.
  Finally, I braved the outside
corridor where Mrs K greeted me.  She waved
a ten shilling note in front of her.
  “For you. Happy birthday.” 
 I took the money and thanked her.
  “Come now.  Breakfast.” 
Mrs K led me down the hallway to the stink of fish.
  “We have kippers.”
I had never heard of kippers before but the smell told me I
would hate to eat them, more so with a stomach full of icing.  I stared at my plate. 
  My brother arrived, clattering through the back door.  He took one look at my face, another at the
plate and accused his mother-in-law to be,
     “Mutti. 
Don’t force her.”
Mrs K lifted my plate and passed it over to my brother.  He emptied it onto his and then reached for
more.
As part of a course in beginning poetry, Earl Livings instructed us to rote learn a poem.  It’s good for you, he said.  Poets do it all the time. 
 The poems I learned as a child, even as late as a fourteen year old, I can still remember with ease, but these days it’s so much harder to rote learn.  
To commit Emily Dickinson’s words to memory.  Words I enjoy reading but remembering them is almost impossible. 
‘I cannot dance upon my toes/no man instructed me…’
How I wish I could have the rote learning capacity of my fourteen year old self, but not her predilection to cakes, her aversion to kippers and her timidity.  

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