Keeping secrets

My mantra: write without expectation of any
outcome.  Write into the
unknown.  
Grade two, 1960, seven years old, pen in hand.
And then I go into a
non-fiction class where the facilitator reckons that anyone who can’t write five
sentences on what her book is about is in trouble, or words to that
effect.  I challenged the
notion.  
We are talking about
different processes and perhaps even different times in the life of a
book.  I may well still be at the
beginning whereas she’s talking about the end phase when the book needs to come
together. 
I stood over the cats this morning
as the boy tried to pinch the last of his sister’s food before he had decided
to leave.  He’s a real standover
merchant and so I stood over him, ordering him out of the house until his
sister had finished.
I told the non-fiction writer that
I love to write.  That was a
mistake.  Besides it is not true,
not entirely true.  I write because
I need to write, because not to write would leave me feeling as if my life has
no purpose or meaning.  
I write to
find that meaning and to make sense of my life, but that is not something I
love, not really.  It’s more like
something I am compelled to do, for the pleasure it gives – and indeed it gives
me pleasure – and also for the need.
Hilary Mantel in her essay, ‘Diary’ writes about her experience of hospitalisation for surgery that went
wrong.  She describes her
hallucinations, her ‘hallies’ as she calls them, as if they are real and no
doubt they were real to her when they appeared to her mid fever and pain.  But towards the end of her essay she
talks about her reservations about this writing.  As if she is fearful of being included among the so-called ‘confessional writers’, those who, to use her words, ‘chase their own ambulances’. 
Is that what it’s all about, this
writing of mine?  
I asked a friend
to define the expression.  ‘Chasing
your own ambulance’, as he understands it, means to go looking for an accident,
to write about your trauma, as if to bear witness, thereby encouraging the
reader also to bear witness.  
While
the word ‘confessional’, despite its religious connotations of admitting to
sin, can also mean the notion of disclosing something that has hitherto
remained hidden.  It has perhaps a
more neutral tone, though the notion of sharing secrets to me does not.
For some reason secrets carry the
weight of sin.  Why else keep
something secret unless somewhere along the road there is some sense that
someone has done wrong?  That
someone has something to hide and that something stirs up anxiety or fear.  
We don’t keep unimportant things secret. 
Keeping things secret takes an
effort, which is not to say there aren’t many things we might repress, seemingly
without effort.  They slip out of consciousness and only crop up when the
pressures they exert for exposure rise to the surface.  How did Freud term it? ‘the return of the repressed.’  But that’s not the same as deliberately keeping a secret, one that refuses to leave your consciousness.  
I have long tried to understand my
inability to learn while I was first at university from eighteen years of age
till I was twenty two and went out into the world to take on my first job.  Certainly numbers had me
flummoxed.  
In places they talk of a
female phobia of mathematics and perhaps of the sciences generally, that goes back in
time.  Certainly in my family my father’s
conviction that girls were good for nothing apart from housework, child rearing and
sexual comfort held sway.  
Despite this, my
mother read all her life.  She
still does.  But in my father’s
mind her reading was limited to trashy romance or pot boilers and religious
propaganda like the Catholic Tribune and the Advocate.
The education system within the
Catholic schools I attended both in my primary years and at secondary level
added to this fantasy of female inferiority.  
The focus was on
memory, which we polished with rote learning. Understanding why people might
behave as they do, as explored through English literature and history books,  came through a thick layer of religious conviction. 
For instance, Attila the Hun was a barbarian
who sought to overthrow the Christians. We read and rote learned the lives of
the saints and were encouraged to practice with sincerity and devotion, and an eye to our
calling as dedicated to others.  
If
we were not called to follow God as priests and nuns, then marriage was
the only option, marriage to another Catholic with whom we would bring up
several children, as did my mother, but she had married a convert.  Mixed marriages were then frowned upon. 
There was a system of rules in place that barred deeper explorations of the
meaning of things and I did not come to understand the meaning of the words, concepts and theories until much later in life.  
There were facts and religious beliefs, faith and goodness.  Others practised evil and wrong doing. 
We should not and that was all.  A black and white world, and one which I now prefer to avoid, especially in my writing, other than to describe it.  

Too much pepper

I blogged a poem about childhood abuse yesterday and shuddered at the possible response. People do not like to read these things, I imagined.

On the contrary people have been kind, as so often happens in the blogosphere. I should respond to you all and soon enough I will.

After I had posted my abuse poem, I asked myself, was it by way of abuse of my audience, that I should inflict on them something of that painful experience, that I should make them squirm and feel uncomfortable.

So the very fact of putting writing out there, presenting it to an audience for their ‘consumption’ might well be akin to putting a meal on the table that you hope your guests will enjoy, even as you know it might be unfamiliar to them, too many foreign flavours, or could it be you have added too much pepper, too much spice and the flavours clash with the predictability of their palates and they cannot take in what you have offered them?

Why is it that when we write about something, we are often seen to be doing it?