July 2016 archive

My latest lament

Today, I drink from a cup that features fourteen different varieties of moustaches. The cup is a cast off from one of my daughters who now lives in Japan.

It has a wider base than at the lip to give the impression of a shaving mug, one you dip your brush into in order to create the froth so necessary for that clean shave men covet, or in the case of those who sport beards and moustaches, to build up a froth healthy enough to make a clean line where skin and hair meet, a certainty.

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I prefer my men’s faces to be clean-shaven.

The bristles on my father’s cheeks and chin sent shivers through me whenever I brushed against his skin after my mother insisted I lean over to kiss him goodnight.

I suspect I have never kissed a man with hair on his face. I can only imagine the sensation of moustache or beard against my all too fragile lips.

They’re bad at the moment, my lips. I doubt I have scurvy but some redness on my lower lip refuses to clear up, left over from a cold sore weeks ago. It will not shift.

I imagine the worst, a rare melanoma that will have me in the ground in a few months time, or surgery on my lip and having to wear one of those tiny band aids you see on people’s faces when they have had a mole or some other blemish removed.

It’s hard not to notice these things on a person’s face. The unwanted spot or fleshy rise on an otherwise unblemished face drags the eye towards it, the way your tongue fossicks around your mouth when you have a cracked tooth or gum ulcer.

In my fantasy, all these bodily irritations get worse with thinking about them.

My current pet hypochondriasis revolves around the idea of developing bowel cancer. It used to be cancer of the breast but these days my breasts have settled post menopause and they no longer have their monthly burst of lumpiness.

But my bowels are slow.

I got it from my mother.

When I worked as a social worker in Prince Henry’s Hospital near the shrine in the 1970s the number of older women who went to great pains to explain to the doctor how troubled they were because they could not move their bowels, shocked me.

Though why it should have puzzled me then, given my mother was already worrying about hers, is itself a puzzle.

My mother kept a packet of NuLax on the refrigerator. A green and yellow box, it held a slab of compressed dried fruit, figs mostly. She broke off one piece each day and chewed on it. Otherwise she would be constipated.

My father never needed such assistance, nor my brothers. It seemed it was an affliction of women.

Every man I have known has made it his business to sit on the toilet with a newspaper or book for some time each day to assist his bowels. I have never seen a woman do this.

When I was young I spent time in the laundry toilet to read Reader’s Digests or to look for salacious bits about movie stars in Time magazine, but I did not sit on the toilet to shit.

I sat on the toilet seat fully clothed. Ready to spring up if called, ever ready to leave off what I was doing.

Perhaps it is this tendency to be ever ready, ever vigilant, ever on call that is the cause of my tendency towards constipation, that I never spend enough time in the toilet. Though I have also read that spending long periods on the toilet straining after a shit lead to piles.

The nuns told us that if we were to sit bow legged on the concrete or on the cold brick wall at school we would develop piles. In those days I did not know what the word meant. I imagined callouses, a type of hardening of the fleshy part of your bum, the way the skin on your feet goes hard and dry and dead from carrying around your weight all day.

I am an avoider. I have avoided the thing I most want to write about, because it is difficult to say.

I am like my husband. I find it difficult to stick with one thing. Like a bee in search of pollen, I flit from one subject to the next. I flit from one book to the next, from one writer to the next.

I do not stay long enough with each writer’s work to get to the bottom of their arguments. After a while they begin to feel old and tired. I want an injection of new blood.

And so in my thesis I shifted from trauma to shame, to envy and hatred. I shifted from Janet Malcolm to the Brett sisters, from Nietsche to Gerald Murnane.

I am a fickle lover. I develop a passion that runs so hot for a time it could melt butter and then it cools and I’m off in a new direction looking for new ideas, new forces, new passions.

This cannot be the way a serious research student travels. A serious student I imagine begins to dig at one spot and continues to dig deep. A serious student digs and digs until she can unearth new artefacts that have lain dormant for years buried under layers of earth.

A serious student perseveres.

I’m like a gold prospector looking all the time for surface gold. I flit from one site to the next, enthusiastic for a time but ever ready to move on the next site once I’ve managed to get down a few feet. I might find a cup handle, a coin but I have not managed to unearth entire unknown civilisations.

This is my lament.

I have to ask myself. Should I be this dogged archaeologist? Should I be more disciplined? Or is it enough that I travel broadly across the surface of other people’s lives always coming back to the essential perspective from which I view these lives, from my own perspective and even then only in so far as I am consciously aware of that perspective?

I know that unconscious forces divide and conquer me at every turn. These forces take hold whenever I write.

I want to write on the one hand I think this, on the other that. I want to qualify everything I write. I do not want to be dogmatic.

Perhaps this too is why I spread my trajectory far and wide.

Perhaps it’s not all laziness and  lack of discipline. Perhaps it has something to do with a need to avoid a linear one-dimensional thinking that might dig deep but does not include other perspectives.

There is no answer to any of this. It just is.

 

On laundromats, longing and lost opportunities

My fears were unfounded. I knew it the moment we drove into the campsite, which was nothing like the campsite I had imagined.

In my imagination I had seen cars, tents and caravans dotted cheek by jowl within a large hollowed area near a main road somewhere. But the Blanket Bay campsite on the southernmost point of the Great Ocean Road region in Cape Otway is designed to keep people far enough apart with large swathes of eucalypts and cascading casuarinas to give the illusion of being secluded in the bush.

Our particular spot overlooked the sea, which you reached via a series of stone steps carved into the sandy slope. The waves thundered at night, as if we were in a gale and louder than I remember from other trips to the beach.

But the weather held out for us during our two day stay and although it was cold, the sun shone for much of our first full day and made walking along the beach and other walks through the bush almost overheated. Especially with thermals underneath.

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The washing machine hose had snapped from its body the day before we went camping and flooded the laundry. Fortunately my daughter heard the unaccountable rush of water and I got to the taps before it had lapped into the kitchen and onto the parquetry.

As a consequence we’ve been without a washing machine for over a week now and the dirty clothes are piling up.

I’ve spent some time trying to locate a person who can locate the missing hose for a Kleenmaid washing machine, given Kleenmaid have gone out of business, and then fit it. He’s coming early next week, and in the meantime I will make at least one trip to the Laundromat.

I have not set foot inside a Laundromat since I was a young woman in the days when every weekend I took my pile of clothes in a basket or a bag along with my stash of coins and container of soap powder for a weekly wash.

Sometimes it was just a matter of loading up one of the machines with the dirty clothes then taking off to the shops to do whatever task I allocated myself in the thirty minutes or so it took to complete the load.

Other times I sat and waited.

It was on one such visit to the Laundromat on Kooyong Road in Caulfield near where I shared an upstairs apartment with my younger sister, during what I think of these days as my promiscuous year, where I encountered some of my deepest longings.

The Laundromat was, as you can imagine, a row of machines on one side, fitted into the wall front loaders and on the other wall even larger driers.

On this day a young man came in to do his washing. He sat with a book in his hands  and as he shuffled the pages I wondered whether he might be the one.

But we did not lock eyes when he caught me looking in his direction and I soon abandoned all hope of connecting with him.

There was someone out there I knew who would be a kindred spirit.  Someone who would think like me. Someone right for me. If only we could connect.

It was an odd thought and yet it formed the basis of my optimistic stance on most things these days. Whenever things feel bad I tell myself something good will happen.

I tell myself things will not always be this bad, but the series of events in recent weeks including the dishwasher and another failed opportunity to get my manuscript into publication  leaves me longing all over again.

Better to long for things I say, than to sulk.

The impulse to sulk is to slip into a state of mind that says I’ll never get this book into print.

And I found the man whom I eventually married all those years ago and although the fantasy of stars in my eyes and a sensation of love at first sight never happened, enough good rolled in thereafter to qualify as a good enough life.

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At the end of our camping trip as we pulled out onto the main road I turned back to watch the retreating trees under which we had sheltered for two nights and thought to myself I can do this again and next time I will not be so fearful.

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