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.


The stuff of families

My husband’s brother dropped in
this morning, too early for my liking. 
I find myself trying to work off my resentment as I offer him a cup of
My husband has gone for a
shower while I make small talk.  My brother in law sits at the table.  his boots scuff at the floor.
My husband supports my wish to
write uninterrupted in the morning. 
He cannot help that his brother arrives early before he, my husband, has even had a
chance to dress.  
My brother in law
knows the drill.  He knows that
after I have said my hellos and poured him a cup of black and sugar free tea, I
will leave the kitchen and escape to my writing room. 
He knows this and seems
sanguine about it but I am troubled by what seems to me like rudeness. 
You do not leave guests
My husband will join
his brother in a few minutes and then I can close the door on them both and get into my
own world, but for a moment I am riddled with the guilt that comes of not being
How would it be today had my
husband’s brother not suffered trauma at birth all those years ago?  Had he not been starved of oxygen as he
first entered the world?  Had he
not been born with a mild form of cerebral palsy?
My husband’s brother grew up
the oldest of six children but the responsibilities of first born fell to my
husband who came next.  These
responsibilities continue to this day.  
My brother in law passes all his correspondence onto my husband who
sifts through, sorts out and fills out forms as necessary, ever since their
parents died nearly twenty years ago.
My husband and I laughed when a
bowel cancer test kit arrived earlier week, redirected to my husband by his
‘I can fill out the forms,’ my
husband told his brother on the phone, ‘but I can’t take the test for you.’
‘You’ll have to tell me what to
do then,’ my brother in law said, and my husband groaned at the
This is the stuff of
families.  The stuff we do without
question even as we might sometimes resent it.