Once upon a time…

In an hour or so, I will skype an acquaintance whom I met
online and who now lives in New York, about her editing of my manuscript. 
In other words, I will talk to someone on the other side of
the world and we will see one another on the screen as if we are close by and
it will be our first ‘real’ encounter, as face to face as we can get. 
I have a daughter who lives in Japan at the moment and
another visiting Berlin.  I have seen
both of them in the past week on the screen, heard their voices and, although we
have not been able to touch, we have been able to be with one another in ways I
could not have dreamed of as a child except on the Jetsons
Once upon a time, we communicated with our loved ones overseas
in written form  on aerogrammes: thin blue paper with a dark border around
the edge, the image of a plane in one corner, already stamp impregnated on the other top corner at a
cost dependant on its destination and with broken lines around the ends that told you where to
fold, and with sticky bits that jutted out onto rounded corners which you could stick down to form an envelope. 
Such aerogrammes you needed to open with a knife, otherwise
you risked ripping into your beloved one’s written words. 
There were telegrams too, this time on pale yellow paper with
short typed messages that often omitted joining words to cut down on
People sent telegrams sent at times of births
and especially deaths and maybe to announce a wedding or to send greetings at a
wedding when the person could not be there. 
When I was a child, my Dutch relatives phoned maybe once a
year, at Christmas time.  
I watched my mother
take up the phone, its black receiver that stood against the wall in the
hallway near to the bathroom. She sounded  breathless
in anticipation and her words in Dutch were halted as if she were measuring
each word out and weighted in gold.  
dollars a minute these calls cost, or some such ridiculous amount.  It made it hard for anyone to want to speak
and when they did, they reverted to platitudes in their anxiety to reconnect. 
My mother received one such call in Healesville where we
lived for a time.  I watched her pick up
the ringing handset and as if in a movie, she pulled away from the wall when
she heard the news that her mother had died.  
She could not go to the funeral.  She could not say goodbye to her mother.
Could not hold her mother’s cold hard hand when her body was laid out for a
vigil; could not do anything other than imagine her mother’s death and mourn
My daughters overseas were devastated that they, too, could not
be here for their cousin’s funeral last week. 
It’s hard work going to a funeral but harder still not being able to
share the family ritual that connects us and helps us to go on living. 
In an hour or so when I connect with the woman in New York
who will help me to think more about my manuscript, I will notice the quickening
tempo of my own speech, because I am nervous and I dislike seeing myself in the
corner of the screen while I am looking at this other person who fills the
Depending on the connection quality, colours and shapes will
distort.  We will see one another, but
not as we might were we to meet in person.  Still it’s a good thing at least to see
one another when we speak.
Better than a phone call, though this skype call will
not hold the same terrors as the calls my mother made to her family over fifty
years ago when they rang from Holland. 
Just an optimal level of anxiety.
We will be free to speak as many words as we need to
communicate our respective messages, but still I am nervous. 
It’s like waiting for test results at the doctor’s when you
fear you might have some dreaded disease, or exam results when you fear you might
have failed. 
How will I receive her criticism?  I have told her I do not want to re-write the
whole thing, but I am concerned about its structure, the way it hangs together. 
Structure, that monster. 
It stalks me whenever I write. 
What’s your structure here? 
‘Form isn’t an overcoat flung over the flesh of thought (that
old comparison, old in Flaubert’s day); it’s the flesh of thought itself.  You can no more imagine an Idea without a
Form than a Form without an Idea.’
I greet this quote as the words of authority from a great man,
Flaubert, whose mind was more disciplined than mine, who thought in that
rational well-enunciated way through which scholars think, while I straggle around
the edges, barely able to select one thought over another, to create something
that coheres.
And my skype call to New York awaits. 


How books are made.

The dentist did not send us a
reminder of our half yearly visit this year and I have used it as an excuse to
avoid the visit.  Even though I
know in the back of my mind that I should call for an appointment, I use the
dentist’s failure to send out a reminder as an excuse to avoid doing what I
know I must eventually do.  
signed up for the Keiser weight training though, that’s a tick in the box of
the doing-things-good-for-you category, but for the dentist and the rest I
can’t claim much success.  The rest
being all those other jobs I put off until I must get them done, the washing,
report writing, cleaning out cupboards, but I will get there. 
Procrastination I call it, the
demon of progress.  My greatest
avoidance is to immerse myself in the book I tell myself I am writing.  Actually it’s written, mostly, only I
must put it together, make the pieces into a whole, and eliminate that which is
I joined a class recently, six
sessions,  to help us produce a manuscript, and Lee Kofman who takes this class gave me the task of working on my structure, at least four hours a
week.  Lee knows how much I hate
Even the word sends shivers through
me.  I gather that structure is
like a skeleton on which the flesh of the story hangs, but then I think of what
Julian Barnes has Flaubert say to us in his novel, Flaubert’s Parrot:
Books aren’t
made in the way that babies are made: they are made like pyramids.  There’s some long pondered plan, and
then great blocks of stone are placed one on top of the other, and it’s
back-breaking, sweaty time-consuming work.  And all to no purpose! 
It just stands like that in the desert!  But it towers over it prodigiously.  Jackals piss at the base of it and
bourgeois clamber to the top of it, etc.
I lack structure, I entirely lack
structure through out my life.  The
obvious example to me comes in my approach to housework.  I might start to tidy up the kitchen sink,
put dishes in the dishwasher, wipe nearby benches, but as I stand stacking and
wiping a thought will come into my mind about what needs doing elsewhere or an
object will appear in my line of vision that needs to be put somewhere else and I
will traipse up through the hallway to the bedroom or bathroom or wherever and
while in this new room I will see something else that needs attention, the
bathroom cupboard calls for re-arranging for instance, and I will work on
this.  Pathetic really.
I hold my experience of my father
responsible.  My father may have
been a man of structure but he passed none of it down to me.
 The man of structure even as underneath the neatness he was beginning to fall apart.  
When my daughters complain about
writing an essay, their father will insist they come up with a plan first of
all.  Then he will urge them to
work on a beginning, a middle and an end. 
Say what you are going to say, say it and then say what you’ve
said.  Simple. Hey presto – a
typical academic essay. 
To me it’s boring, but if I had
learned this, whether from my father or from the nuns at school, I might not be
in trouble with this book as I am today. 
I do not plan anything in this way,
not anything written.  No, I simply
plunge in where the fancy takes me and I wind up with many possible beginnings,
several chunky middles and an occasional ending, but they do not necessarily
fit well together.   I
cannot get the form.  As Julian Barnes writes:
Form isn’t an
overcoat flung over the flesh of thought (that old comparison, old in
Flaubert’s day); it’s the flesh of thought itself.  You can no more imagine an Idea without a Form than a Form
without an Idea.  Everything in Art
depends on execution: the story of a louse can be as beautiful as the story of
Alexander.  You must write
according to your feelings, be sure those feelings are true, and let everything
else go hang, when a line is good, it ceases to belong to any school.  A line of prose must be as immutable as
a line of poetry.
Blogging is the perfect medium for
me because it can be more chaotic than a novel.  My only structure is the weekly post.  The rest I leave up to chance.  And chance is a fickle creature,
sometimes she offers wondrous gifts and at other times, a load of crap.