Be concerned but not alarmed

One of our cats has gone missing,
the grey one, the boy.  The one who
is most persistent in his hunger and calls for attention.  My husband tells me this morning, in that combined serious
but also light hearted way of his that says ‘be concerned but not alarmed’, ‘the
cat has not been around for two days’. 
We both know that our cats have a
tendency, each one of them to stray from time to time, for days on end.  And usually they reappear.  But I have no memory of the boy disappearing.  Besides, I’ve been away myself for the
past four days at a conference and I wonder if the two are connected.
I am not the chief carer of the
cats.  I share responsibility with
my husband and with whichever of our daughters are around, but the cat might
have resented the disruption to our house hold routine and taken himself off somewhere.
Forgive me for
anthropomorphising.  At this
conference among other things a few people talked about the notion of ‘post
human lives’.  I won’t go all
theoretical on you other than to say, the notion of post human lives has
something to do with the idea that human beings and animals, and machines, as
well as cyber creatures, all organisms, have more in common than we like to
think.  We tend to create
artificial divides here.  That’s a
crude rendering of this idea of the post human which I continually have the
impulse to call ‘subhuman’.
I relish these conferences, the
ones on autobiography and biography, and on what is roughly called life writing
studies, because there are all these people – in Canberra three hundred of them
– who come together from all over the world to talk about the way people think, paint, photograph, sing and write about their own lives and the lives of
others.  And increasingly, there are
people like me who write and theorise more explicitly about their own lives. 
At the conference in a paper on
digital lives, I talked about my blog. 
The hazards, the pitfalls the exquisite joys of blogging, all dressed up
in a skimpy frock of what gets called ‘blogging theory’. 
And now after all the pleasures of
meeting new people, and of crawling around in my head with new ideas and notions, I
find myself fretting for the cat. 
You might recognise him if you saw
him, a grey cat, a large cat, a boy cat, who has been neutered and who perhaps
resents this because sometimes he looks as though he’s scowling.  But he is a loyal cat.  A gift to one of our daughters from one
of her boyfriends several years ago. 
That daughter has since left
home.  That relationship between
boyfriend and girlfriend  is over
but the cat remains in our care, as many animals do after children leave
home.  They might even be considered
to take the place of the children who leave home. 
And there are other dramas and
sadness afoot – too complex, too personal, to on-the-boil to mention here now, but
the cat’s absence stands as a reminder of the temporality of life, and it frightens me.

Is this really me?

Last night I trawled through photos which one of my brothers has collected onto a CD, photos that cover the span of my mother’s life from her birth in 1919 until she turned eighty five.

I went back to 1952 in search of photos that mark my birth. There is one photo underneath which my older sister has written my name. I recognise my sister’s handwriting, but I fear she has it wrong.

Is this really me, in the first with my mother,in the second with my older sister and brother, or is it another brother, who was born some seventeen months earlier? He and I were the first two of our parents’ children born in Australia. My mother has described this brother’s birth as difficult. The hospital was crowded and they left my mother outside on the veranda. When she felt the need to bear down no one heard her cries for help. Not until he was nearly there.

Several years ago when I was raging against my mother and reluctant to acknowledge our connection, I still wanted to know something about my birth, so I disguised my interest under a curiosity about what all her births were like and my mother obliged me by writing up her memories of each one of our births.

Given there are nine of us my mother’s memories must become confused and conflated, but mine she remembers as a forceps delivery.

I check my forehead for bumps, for signs of the imprint of those metal clamps on my head. Forced into the world, dragged into life. I want some evidence of what it was like and can find none.

When you have spent several years in analysis probing the deepest recesses of your mind you become acquainted with the notion of your internal baby. Still I look for external evidence and there is almost none. It annoys me that I cannot lay claim to this image with any certainty. I want to look into the eyes of my baby self and see myself there, but I cannot. I can only imagine and even then I may be looking into my baby brother’s eyes.

On the other hand there are numerous images available from my life as a ten year old, twelve year old and fourteen year old. These I recognise as me, though you may not.

I thought I was ugly as a child. I look now and think not so, not so ugly at all. Why then did I feel I was ugly. Was it simply by virtue of contrasting myself to my two younger sisters who were always considered the pretty ones? Or was it something else, some sense that the way I felt inside, all the badness I carried with me in those days should be translated directly onto my face, to turn it ugly overnight?

I thought of myself then as like a gargoyle, those ugly creatures that clung to the edges of roof tops in the ornate houses that surrounded the streets where we lived.

I am about to start work on a paper about autobiography as fiction or in excess of fiction. What is your take on this? When I write about myself as in autobiographical practice is it necessarily fictional to some degree or is it necessarily the true story of my life?

Why do I even bother to ask the question? We all know the answer. It’s one of those horrible endless questions some of us agonise over. Like the nature/nurture argument some of us battled over at university: Is it your genetic make up and hereditary or is your environment, your education and upbringing that determines how you turn out?

Why do we get into such artificial polarised debates? Of course, the answer is neither one nor the other. Of course, the answer is both and more besides, but our perspective affects the degree to which we might favour one or the other.

In the argument over autobiography as fact or fiction, I tend more towards the fictional side of things, even as I use the stuff of my life as it ‘really ‘ happened in my memory as my building blocks.

The way I recast the story of my life, the way I re-remember events, even as many of these events can be corroborated by others, including my siblings, I still do not regard them as the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

I’m comfortable with a certain level of truth in fiction, emotional truth I call it, universal truths that lie in the stories we tell one another about our lives. These are distinct from outright lies and fabrications, falsehoods and distortions. I’m not interested in those, but more often than not such falsifications can be seen through. At least I hope they can be seen through.

Maybe authenticity is a better word. Authentic accounts of lives lived rooted in the past but brought into the present in our fictional interpretations of our memories. The blogosphere is full of it.