How did I read it so wrong?

I’m doing battle with hurt feelings, the feelings I get when someone whom I thought shared my experience of pleasure and goodness in time spent together, does not.

My favourite and much-loved writing group is folding, because there are some who are not getting as much satisfaction out of meeting as in the past.

I had no idea they were dissatisfied but when I reflect on it, I can understand that we spend a good deal of time catching up on how each of us is faring in the world and not so much time on writing exercises and the like.

Groups can slip into sloppy ways.

As far as I can understand, the groups that survive tend to be those that are task focussed, groups that continue to spend the bulk of their time together working on a shared preoccupation, whether we’re talking walking groups, theatrical groups, or writing groups.

As long as the focus stays on the shared interest, such groups tend to survive.

But we can get lazy and enjoy the camaraderie of friendship too much and then spend a good deal of time nattering.

We natter about our writing lives and that’s fine, but it should not become the focus of our time together.

But it has.

So, even as I recognise that the others, or at least a couple of the other writers, aren’t happy with the way things are going and they want change – not a total dissolution, they say, but a different approach with the emphasis once more on the act of writing – I still feel a sting.

I’m trying not to take it personally.

Perhaps because it came as a shock to me, a surprise at least, the degree to which the lynch pin of our group is unhappy with the way we’re meeting that hurts most of all.

It’s a residue of my way of operating on the world. A familiar feeling that I thought I’d grown beyond.

It’s that point of rupture that can happen within groups or between couples when one realises, seemingly out of nowhere, that the other doesn’t share your feelings about the relationship.

I should have seen it coming, some part of me says, I should have known this was the case.

The idea that it came from nowhere, that this friend was sitting there harbouring such dissatisfaction and I didn’t see, leaves me in a state of disbelief. Like I’ve been fooled into complacency only to have the rug pulled out from underneath.

Like one person within a committed couple – and anecdotally it seems it’s more often a man – is devastated when he realises for the first time that his partner is unhappy and wants to leave.

It comes as such a shock. He had no idea. He was busy getting on with what he considered to be his role: bringing in the bread and butter, performing his fatherly duty with the kids, out in the morning back home at night, only to discover that day after day while he was away, his partner– who might also have gone out to earn some bread (though her job paid less, so there’s no butter), but still she’s out to work and trying hard both to earn that living and also to keep the household together, to fetch after the kids and so on with the resentment building up in her day after day to explosion point – wants to leave.

He’s totally bewildered.

Why did she go?

I was away recently at a Freefall writing class. Agonising over arguments with the facilitator about what I sense to be her pressure ‘to show’ more through dialogue and ‘to tell’ less.

She reckons I have a tendency to tell and that I can get lulled by the thoughts in my own head.

It’s not the first time, I’ve been told this. I need somehow to get outside of my head and try harder to imagine and to demonstrate through my writing what might go on in the heads of others.

I can describe their outward appearance, but I need to have them saying things, things I might well need to imagine, given I can’t remember the words real people have said.

That’s okay. I’m happy to make up words but I prefer to make up my own words because they’re closer to home. They’re safer. More authentic.


On the train home one night late from school after umpire practice, a stranger began a conversation with me.

‘You talk too fast, he said. He had been eavesdropping on a conversation between me and my sister. A nondescript man, in dark suit, white shirt and tie.

‘Excuse me,’ I said, and my words held multiple meanings.

An apology, a sarcastic response and a request for clarity.

‘Just listen to you,’ the man said. ‘One hundred words to the minute.’

We reached our station and left the train, my ears smarting from the slap of his words. What did he mean?

My sister was not troubled. Maybe she agreed with him. I did not ask.

When we reached home, I slung my school bag across the floor to my bedroom door and walked past the lounge room to get to the kitchen and a snack before dinner. My father sat in his usual place by the window and my mother opposite. He had not yet started to drink, or if he had, he had not yet drunk enough brandy to turn him from a quiet man into the raving raging lunatic he often times became.

‘A man on the train said I talk too fast,’ I said to my mother. I said it in the form of a question with a rising inflection: Do you agree? what do you think? I directed it towards my mother, but my father responded.

‘Just like a schizophrenic,’ he said, and my mind did cartwheels.

I knew this word from movies where people were sent off to tumbled down blue stone mansions in the middle of some bleak countryside and left there because no one else knew how to handle this condition called schizophrenia, which struck me as a fancy name for mad.

Was I mad? What was mad?

I didn’t feel mad, not crazy mad but I was angry at my dad for making things worse. For muddling me even more.

I could not see myself through the eyes of others and this man on the train had set me thinking, as I am thinking now, about my beloved writing group.

How could I have read it so wrong?

The optimist sees the doughnut and the pessimist sees the hole

I’ve been working on a short story for which I cannot find an ending. Why am I so bad at endings? I tend to wrap them up too neatly or leave the story dangling in mid space as if I have left it off half dressed.

I don’t like endings of any sort. I want things to be left in such a way that they can always be resumed at a later date. So for me the idea of riding off into the sunset or happily ever after does not sit well.

I suppose the ultimate ending is death and I don’t want to talk about death again, at least not for the moment. I’ve been on about death too much of late, or at least in my head I have.

My mother told me on New Years Eve that she had said a little prayer to herself, asking that she might last out 2012.
‘I can’t see why it’s not possible. I feel well. The doctor says I’m well. There’s nothing wrong with me except my heart, so there’s no reason why I can’t go on.’

My mother then proceeded to tell me the story of a woman who had lived nearby in the units at her retirement village. This woman came to see my mother one day and told her about a recent visit to the doctor. The doctor had told the woman that she was in the best of health. The woman was delighted at this news and told my mother as much. The next morning her husband found the woman dead in their bed.

‘It just goes to show,’ my mother said. ‘You can never know. The doctors can’t always get it right.’

And here I am talking about death again or am I talking about something more, about the wish for certainty perhaps?

Those who visit clairvoyants and the like, are they looking for some sort of certainty? It’s rather like reading your horoscope. The horoscope says today you’ll have a great day; make lots of money; meet someone fascinating; and so it goes.

We want to believe the best that’s on offer. We tend to downplay the worst, or at least many of us do. And of course, there are those others who focus on the negative.

This was always the contrast between my parents: my father’s negativity and my mother’s optimism.
‘The optimist sees the doughnut and pessimist sees the hole.’ This maxim I learned early in my life and it has stayed with me.

Everyone of our children is away at the moment, overseas or house-sitting or interstate and it is quiet for once in a way that I find unsettling. Perhaps that is why in my dream last night I went back in time to my life before I had children, to when I was much younger, a university student all over again and looking for accommodation.

My house is far less cluttered than it was, now after my annual Christmas clean up, but in my dream the house I occupied was full of clutter and signs of renovation.

That has to be a good sign, I think. Renovation. Hopefully I’ll go on renovating until I die, if not literally, then at least metaphorically.

It is change I look forward to and change that terrifies me. Change is the one great certainty besides death.

Nothing stands still and yet I sometimes want it to. This house for instance. It is over one hundred years old and my present family has lived in it for just over thirty. We moved into this house in 1980. We have twice renovated it and although our daughters say it’s time for another I am past such massive house renovations. The next step will be to sell it and to move into a smaller place.

Last night as I stood brushing my teeth and contemplating the silence of the place without the usual noisy clatter of other people and lights burning at all hours, I thought this place is too big for the two of us.

One day I will want to move out. Not now, not for several years, not until our youngest is past her university days and well onto a career of some sort, but relatively speaking one day, sooner in the scale of time than later.

What a task that will be, to shift out of this house that has seen so much of our lives. My children say we must never sell this house. We must always keep it, and pass it on to them, but that is unlikely to happen for all sorts of reasons, financial among them, but also, I suspect, our children will need to make homes and lives of their own.

They will have this house in their memories just as I have the houses of my childhood in my memory.

I remember the house on Wentworth Avenue best of all and my mother remembers her house on the Marnixplein. From the perspective of our memories, it no longer matters to us what happens to these houses, it matters most, for us at least, that we can remember them.

The house of my mother’s memory from the inside.

My mother’s room today.

Memory enables us to avoid the ending because we can repeat the scenarios over and again in our minds for as long as we like, and usually they shift closer to how we would like them to be.