The Museum of Failure 2

Ruled by the clock, I do not write well to the notion I have only a small parcel of time before I must advance onto the next project. It adds to my list of inadequacies, which weigh heavily at the moment. A failure to write as I imagine others do, even when I know they don’t. To write effortlessly and produce startling results from the depths of my imagination. Instead my mind skims the surface for what’s happening in my life. 

To go deeper needs boundless time, to muse, to let my mind wander. I have read many a fiction writer argue the need to lose yourself, to go into that liminal space that is neither here nor there. 

Even last night’s dreams evade me from the instant I opened my eyes. And although it’s still early morning, still dark in this household, the meanderings of my dreams have escaped into my clumsy thoughts of the day ahead. A day with a deadline and a workshop that begins at 8.00 am sharp, during which I will communicate through zoom with seven other people, six of whom (including me) will workshop their writing, and six of whom live in various places scattered throughout the United States of America. 

The workshoppers live in places whose names are familiar to me, Chicago, Iowa, Tucson and outskirts of Philly, as in Philadelphia. Although I am far away from these people, I sense a connection through our interest in writing and also six of our lot are women. 

As usual, I’m the oldest. I tell myself this does not matter. It should not matter but in my floating mind of comparisons it does. 

It is the deepest hazard in a writers’ life to go into the pit of self-criticism, into the museum of failure, but I find myself here again whenever I encounter a new group of writers and begin again the journey of figuring out where I belong in my imagined pecking order.

There is no actual pecking order but growing up with eight siblings, I veer towards it fast. I veer towards questions such as how we are going? Should I say something? Should I keep my mouth shut? And what of what I say?

 Ever since the days of the analysts I have fears for my behaviour in groups. 

When one of the unknown analysts critiqued my behaviour during my analytic training and said I had a habit of saying things that shut the group down. This knowledge came to me as feedback from my mentor. 

At the time, he told me I should not take this feedback too seriously. After I had asked who said this, and could I speak to them. Could I get some clarity on how it was the things I said things shut down the group? 

He claimed not to know. ‘It’s early days,’ he said. ‘Feedback is often like this, in the early days.’ 

Then why offer it?

Still, I preferred some feedback relative to another colleague who said there was none for her. No one critiquing her performance during the training though she was critical of theirs as was I. 

We both entered the museum of failure as failures. We each were asked to leave the training. And to this day the residue of those criticisms, the idea that I say things in groups whereby I shut the group down hangs heavily. Especially when my conscious thought is one of wanting to get the group talking. 

As it was in my family. Channelling my mother. She loved nothing more than to have us all seated in the loungeroom in a circle around the low coffee table. A plate of biscuits doing the rounds, handed from one person to the next, or one of us going around the room to offer each in turn a biscuit to accompany the tea or coffee we drank every day more often than was wise. 

But these gatherings happened rarely and only on Sundays or after we grew into adults and came home to visit. Then no matter how many of us there were, my mother ushered us from the kitchen where we preferred to mingle into the lounge room where my father sat. 

He rarely entered the kitchen when I was a child except to tell one or another of us off for some misdemeanour, or to tell my mother her food was inedible. I have almost no memory of him in the kitchens of my adolescence though he was there at the head of the table in the Camberwell house when I was small. 

A dark brooding presence. He said things that stopped the conversation. Perhaps it was this trait in me, handed down from father to daughter that the analysts detected. Someone who said things that were so shocking they stopped people in their tracks. That upset people into speechless silence. 

First companions

The year I turned eighteen, I came home one evening to an empty house and felt for the first time a loss of companionship I had never known before.

I clutched my first pay check in my hands from my holiday job with the post office where I lined up with several other students and regular postal employees at the conveyor belt sorting out letters by size and postcode. 

It was a heady job for one who was not good with numbers and took me a while to recognise the four digits that signified the differnt suburbs.

It was a job that lasted less than a month in the rush to Christmas following my final year exams but it was a job that after that first week provided a yellow envelope with a payslip inside and a wad of cash, the largest I had ever seen in one place. And it was mine.

I had earned it and wanted only to share some of it with my mother so that I might join the ranks of my older siblings and be yet another helper in her bid to survive. But my mother was still away at work and my other siblings were out somewhere.

No welcoming party. No one to greet me and I cried furious tears at this moment of triumph when I had no one to celebrate with me. 

Although my siblings were not with me at this moment, I have learned to hold them in mind for all the years since I left home.

They’re always in my mind, milling around, jostling for position, each trying to outdo the other in our judgments. 

My siblings never leave me. Whenever I am part of a group, the people in said group morph into my family and I find myself counting, three, four, seven eight, as long as there are up to nine or eleven including parents we are at full compliment. 

I look around whenever I am in such a numerical group and marvel at how much physical room my family took up when we were all grown and sometimes met. 

I marvel at the space we occupy on the earth.

Much like my mother once said to me soon before she died, how pleased she was when her seventh great-grandchild had arrived on the earth that none of this would be possible without her. 

This puzzled me as if my mother considered it all began with her. As if she had forgotten about her own parents and my father’s parents and the ones who came before. 

I am often in a tug of war in my mind between the great chain of links from one to the other and how important we each are to one another and this other sense, my mother’s sense of wanting to matter and fearing that without her none of us would come into being, me and my siblings, who in my mind, never go away.