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.


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.


10 thoughts on “My latest lament”

  1. “I am an avoider. I have avoided the thing I most want to write about, because it is difficult to say.” you wrote, and raised my interest in that something sensational might follow… but then you wrote “I’m off in a new direction looking for new ideas, new forces, new passions.”
    So I will look forward to your next offering, as I have your past offerings, trying to divine what it is “you most want to write about”. As a writer, you do pique a reader’s interest!

    1. Thanks, Simon. My writing tends to circle old wounds, around and around and one dayIi might get to the heart of it, but in the meantime I give off hints. Thanks for your words of encouragement. I offer the same to you in your writing and research.

  2. Amazing what one finds when one digs deep… and, if I am typical, equally distracting as the things you are writing about when traces of a new seam emerge from the muck. Rsearch is an adventure… and, on another note, my husband often points out that few people die of ‘old age’ these days.

    1. It’s interesting to note that no one talks of people dying of ‘old age’ as your husband suggests, Christine. No such thing as simply wearing out. Perhaps it’s because some old parts can be replaced with new ones, but of course eventually we must all wear out unless of course we break down beforehand. And yes, I agree research can be an adventure, it’s just that I can also be lazy about it. Thanks, Christine.

  3. I have also never kissed a man with hair on his face and it’s not on my bucket list. My father detested facial hair. He was forever nagging me to shave it off. He could tolerate a moustache—just about. I first grew a beard when I was maybe seventeen or eighteen. Three times I think I’ve shaved it off. Carrie’s never seen me without one Her previous husband—of nearly thirty years—also had one and even thicker than mine. Beards are in again apparently. My daughter’s husband has a beard as has her current partner. I can’t say I especially like the look of beards on men—some suit them, some not so much—but I like having one; it gives my face character. The first time I shaved it off and went into work it took them until lunchtime to notice. I found that very strange.

    I’m not a hypochondriac but I’m also not a well man; I genuinely suffer from a number of minor (and a couple of not-so-minor) ailments and because they’re a constant in my life—I can’t shift position on the couch without something hurting—they’re never far from my mind but I’m not looking for new and interesting things to agonise over and if I have a sore throat and a headache I don’t immediately assume I’m coming down with bubonic plague; I only visit my doctor when I absolutely have to mostly (based on experience) because I don’t have a huge amount of faith in them. Males tend to be reluctant to visit their GPs apparently. I’m not. I just don’t see the point in bothering them over something or nothing. I found what I took to be a lump in one of my testes and didn’t sit around; the next day I made an appointment and the doctor arranged for a scan. By the time of the scan whatever it was had gone away and hasn’t come back but I’m not stupid. That said now it’s gone I don’t constantly check for its return.

    Bowels are another thing I don’t worry much about. I get tested every two years—it’s something they do here—and was fine last year. I’m neither slow not fast. But I certainly never read on the toilet. Never. I tried it one out of curiosity and HATED it. I do think on the loo and have had countless good ideas in lavatories and bathrooms—I guess it’s the quiet—but apart from that I regard them as functional rooms and I spend as little time in them as necessary.

    I’m not an avoider but I don’t think you need to dig too deeply into most subjects; most things (and I include people here) aren’t that complex. Philosophers are very guilty of complicating things that the rest of us just get on with. And poets. This poet anyway. The older I get the more I realise that understanding is a pipe dream. I used to play a game with my friend Sean. It never had a name or anything but it would start off with one of use asking a mundane question like “Why did you cross the road.” The answer was usually: “To get to the other side.” “And why did you want to get to the other side?” “To go home.” “And why do you want to go home?” “To get my tea.” “And why do you want your tea?” “Because I’m hungry.” And on we would go, drilling down, drilling down. The final answer no matter where we stared was always, “Because God created us that way.” (Sean was a believer.) Eventually we never bothered with the list of questions and as soon as either of us asked the other anything we’d answer, “God.” But ‘God’ is not the answer nor is the big bang if you’re that way inclined. They may be the first causes but that’s another thing. Why did your dad do the things he did? God. The big bang. Take your pick. Perhaps both. The key point in my novel ‘Milligan and Murphy’ was: There are no reasons for unreasonable things. So stop looking for them. They’re not there. Sometimes “Because” is all the answer there is.

    1. I thought of you as I was writing this post, Jim, aware of your beard and assuming that you must like facial hair. No harm on differences of opinion. There are so many differences here, but then you are an unusual person, I’d say and therefore it’s not surprising you don’t fit the norm of non-toilet sitting in men, of non hypochondriasis etc.
      Despite my own tendency to extreme fears regarding my health I tend to be pretty healthy and am rarely ill, which makes the times when I suffer a cold or some such malady worse. I get a bit overtaken by it, at least underneath. Though I’m pretty good at keeping these things to myself except in my writing.
      Thanks, Jim.

  4. I think you’re too harsh on yourself, Elisabeth. You’ve delved further into the past and yourself than most people have the courage to do. The thing is, there’s always further to dig, deeper we can go. Still, celebrate the level you’ve reached, too. x

    1. Thanks, Louise. I didn’t read your comment as harsh, while you’re busy telling me I’m too hard on myself. It’s very easy to over look our achievements. I read somewhere a writer who said ‘you’re only as good as your next book’, which seems pretty grim. Forever striving and never satisfied.

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