It’s the writer’s stare, I wanted to say to my daughter last night as we sat down to dinner and she caught me gazing in her direction. I was looking at her, in her direction, but my thoughts were elsewhere, though where I cannot say now, just absent thoughts a million miles away.
Perhaps I have taken to adopting my mother’s gaze, that far away look in her eyes when I was young.
I might have wanted her attention or at least to know that she was there in the room with me and not in some distant place where things seemed a lot better than in the crowded lounge room of our house in Camberwell or even later in Cheltenham with the television blaring in the back ground and my mother oblivious to it, even as her eyes were fixed on the screen.
That was until I drew her attention to the antics of one Graham Kennedy and the outrageous things he said.
Everyone in the studio audience laughed, on cue, laughter that might just as well have been out of embarrassment.
Graham Kennedy had a sidekick of sorts, a man named Philip Brady, a gently spoken and serious man who balanced out the extremes.
Even then as a sixteen year old school girl I wondered about the theatrics of putting two such men together, the one irreverent, outrageous, sending shivers of laughter through his audience, because he dared to mock the queen or some other dignitary and the other, po-faced and sensible to a fault.
Like a simple mathematical equation, they cancelled one another out.
Speaking of one which cancels out the other, there was also a two-some nature to my siblings, always paired off with the exception of my older sister who became the one left out, even though she was neither first nor last in line.
If my younger sister had not been born less than two years after me, we two girls might not have been so readily lumped together and my older sister might have been able to pair off with me, as she does these days, but not way back then, when four years older, she seemed aeons away from me.
Besides, it suited me to keep my distance from this sister, given her life as the oldest daughter, her life as the one chosen to take on the bulk of the housework, to follow in my mother’s footsteps in all matters, including her relationship with my father.
I wanted to be able to choose a man of my own, much as I imagined when I was still small that the man I would choose when the time came round would also be Dutch with fair hair and very tall.
I cannot remember the day the idea of me as the chooser turned around to become me as the one who would be chosen; the day when I needed to make myself the object of desire and to cancel out my own.
I went to the Mordialloc social dance one evening during the holidays of my final school year, the year before I began at university. I danced with a man who described himself as a pastry cook.
I had no idea what that meant only he told me he needed to get up early every morning before daylight to set the ovens alight and knead the dough for bread. No mention of pastries, but I imagined they were included in his repertoire.
I lost interest in the pastry cook even as we danced. I had my eyes set on more illustrious men, none of whom I imagine were in the Mordialloc Town Hall that night but it was fun to be chosen, even if the one choosing was not my choice.
To choose or to be chosen are such issues in the mating game. And not just in the business of finding a partner, whether for the short term or for life.
The issue of choice comes into friendships, too.
I’ve recently befriended a woman who told me last time we met that we share the same birth year. Somehow that cemented what already was becoming for me a firm and satisfying friendship.
The more we talked the more she shifted away from my fantasies about her. I had imagined she was Jewish, and therefore in my ridiculous mind, a cut above me, someone who belonged to a group I could never join.
Strange then when I heard she was Serbian born, that I felt a different thrill of connection. Not that the Dutch, Australians and Serbians are closely connected. The Serbians are in disarray today though my friend arrived in Australia many years before the current crisis and not too many years after my own parents had arrived from Holland
This friend read my manuscript. She read my PhD thesis and for this I am grateful. Everyone who writes needs readers, thoughtful readers who will take on the task of giving feedback and of reading meaning into the beginnings of a work that’s not too far off completion but still not there yet.
The point is, this friend and I feel to be on an equal footing. Her circumstances are so different from my own and at the same time we share similarities.
Other friendships can feel less satisfying, most particularly when I fear I am the one tolerated in the relationship, when I am the one filled with desire to be with the other and the other is the one desired.
There’s an intermittent ache inside my ear, that won’t let up. It disturbed my sleep.
My ear is aching now even as I write, as if I have hit on some raw nerve that pulsates in response to the unspoken, for I cannot go into detail here, other than to leave you to ponder the nature of friendship, of reciprocity and of love.
And a writer’s vacant stare.