Yoghurt and blogging are good for you

Nancy Devine has honoured me with a stylish blogger award, for which I am grateful.

Here follows my acceptance speech, which at Nancy’s request includes seven things you might not yet know about me:

1. I would spend all day blogging if I could and then feel terribly guilty for it. To me it would be like spending all day long in a coffee shop chatting with like minded friends about things that are of interest to us all. The occasional tense moment might arise, but most of the time we would travel into new areas of thought and occasionally retreat back into safe and familiar territory, always with the knowledge that there is so much more to learn out there.

2. The only way I can justify the hours each week I spend on blogging is to convince myself I do it for the writing practice. This then is an insult to my blogger friends, as if I do not appreciate our time together. Nothing could be further from the truth.

3. When I was little I wanted to have nine children just like my mother and at the same time, despite my reservations about the man who was my father, even then, I imagined I wanted to marry a man just like my father: a tall Dutchman with blue eyes and blond hair and a deep gravelly voice.

4. I have achieved none of these things. My husband is neither tall nor blond. He is fifth generation Australian and descended from convict stock and my children number four.

5. Over the past several months, in fact since I broke my leg last September, I have undertaken to eat a tub of yoghurt a day. I understand yoghurt is good for you in many ways and I now have the fantasy that it might help my bones.

6. One of my great pleasures is to escape into BBC period pieces, the Jane Austen variety. Their worlds seem so much slower than ours, so much more predictable, but I despise the class divisions and the gender divide in those days appalls me. I would not want to live in such an era. So why escape into it? I keep asking myself this question.

7. Despite my best efforts to be generous to others, I fear I have a jealous disposition. I am inclined to resent those who do better than me, particularly when it comes to writing. I suffer such pangs often within the blogosphere where there are so many wonderful writers.

I think it comes as a function of being sixth in line in a family of nine and always looking up to my smart brothers and sisters ahead of me. I could never imagine that I might be as smart as them. No amount of education, psychoanalysis or life experience seems to shake that view completely. I admire intellects that are accessible on the one hand and on the other I wish they were mine.

As for the bloggers to whom I would like to offer this stylish blogger award there are too many to list. Also, I’m aware that many who receive such awards find them onerous.

So I offer this reward as a mark of respect, not as a requirement that you follow through on any of the tasks assigned, the stuff about linking back to the award giver and listing seven things about yourself and passing the award onto five other bloggers.

All these things to me should be voluntary and no one should feel pressure to oblige. Nor should any of my blogger friends feel aggrieved to not be included here. I’d list you all if I could.

That said, I’d like to make the first two awards to Rumi and Rilke who cannot speak for themselves but can only respond via Ruth at Synch-ron-izing and Lorenzo at The Alchemist’s Pillow.

Thereafter I’d like to mention Christina Houen’s relatively new blog. Christina is a wonderful writer who presents views of life in Australia that to me represent something of the essence of being here in this country.

I suspect he would not want an award for all the usual requirements but I cannot go without mentioning the remarkable, Jim Murdoch of The Truth about Lies. His blog is a font of information for all people who read and write. His blog tends to be a series of reviews on a vast array of books.

Jim is a poet who writes beautifully about other people’s writing and occasionally talks about his own writing process.

And finally, though there are so many more I could list here, so many wonderful bloggers whom I have met over the past few years since I took up blogging more seriously, I’d like to mention both Blackland’s Angela Simeone, a young artist whose work, both in her art and her writing is haunting and powerful.

And secondly Lynn Behrendt who strikes me as a brilliant poet and a modest artist whose wonderful work deserves the highest praise and recognition.

Visit these people and you will come to find our more of what I blog for: intelligence, aesthetics, deep sensitivity and a light touch of humour.

These bloggers are all artists and wordsmiths in their own right, and I value the fresh insights they offer on life’s journey.

Finally, and I should not for I have already exceeded my quota, I mention Kass of The K…. is no longer silent, another poet and a wise and generous woman that many of you will already know.

I must stop now because a flood of associations leads me on to other names and other folks. I have met so many wonderful bloggers through my travels. How rich and wonderful is the blogosphere.

Thanks Nancy for prompting these thoughts and enabling me to introduce and boast about some of my blogger friends.

Writers are Vampires

Last night I read Jim Murdoch’s wonderful blog post about our ‘better halves’. In it he lists a number of writers and the women who are, to use that old expression, ‘the wind beneath their wings’.

Life as the spouse of a writer is a tricky one, especially when both are writers. Jim capped his post off by telling us about his wife of fourteen years, also a writer, Carrie Berry.

Jim and I have communicated long and hard about the nature of the blogosphere and the autobiographical. Jim describes himself as a private man and suddenly there it is: he is telling us something more personal – which he does from time to time – and again, I am enthralled by the vagaries of this space, the blogosphere, in which we reveal so much about ourselves, even as we conceal so much as well.

I met a writer, Lucy Sussex, at LaTrobe last week and we talked about the business of fictionalising people from our lives in order to protect them and us from the sorts of upsets that occur when someone is seen to be portrayed unfairly,when we are forced through the written word to look at ourselves through someone else’s eyes, and we do not like what we see there.

Lucy Sussex describes writers as ‘vampires’. We suck the lifeblood out of people. We feed off others. I shudder to think this may be true.

In an essay ‘On hurting People’s Feelings’ Carolyn Wells Kraus writes about the nature of biography as an act of autobiography. She argues that ‘reducing a person’s story on a page, robs it of complexity’. Non-fiction, she argues ‘sucks the life of a person onto the page’ and distorts that life to the author’s own ends. Characters are slanted in the direction of the author’s obsessions.

‘The real problem,’ Kraus writes ‘is that you’re borrowing the peoples’ identities to tell your own story.’ Kraus quotes at length from her own writing and others to demonstrate the ways in which a writer’s bias influences the description of other characters. And so in telling the stories of others we inevitably tell our own stories.

‘There is no script,’ Kraus argues, ‘only improvisation. We fill in the outlines from the details. All we know of the world as writers is what we see – images, words, scenes. We supply the meaning, and we alter that meaning with every sleight of hand.’

I say of myself as an autobiographer – and I’ve heard this said of other writers, like Helen Garner – to some extent we get away with it because we write about ourselves with ‘unflinching honesty’. Certainly Garner writes the most embarrassing things about herself that some might consider highly self-critical. But I know all too well that we are selective about our self-criticisms when we write.

I will not write in my blog about the things that ‘really’ trouble me, the things of which I feel most ashamed. I might write about things that once caused me to feel shame but over time and often times through the writing itself I have overcome that shame. I will not pass on other shameful secrets that resonate for me here now.

I think of WikiLeaks and the great kafuffle in the world about all this ‘indecent exposure’. We are a puritanical lot, by and large, and full of contradictions. The things we will tolerate as opposed to the things that unsettle us.

I gather here in Australia, Julian Assange is considered something of a hero, a man in search of freedom of speech, a whistle blower extraordinaire; whereas in the US he is considered a dangerous force. Noam Chomsky who spoke on the radio here during the week does not see Assange negatively, but Chomsky reckons a good proportion of Americans do. And yet America is home to freedom of speech.

I doubt that there is such a thing as free speech. We might have the right to speak as we please in certain ‘democratic’ countries, but there are always consequences to whatever we say, and on top of that there are also the necessary restrictions on freedom of speech when the speaking out hurts others, such as in situations of racial vilification and the like. And then, how is there freedom for the writer who uses another person’s experience to colour their story, sometimes unwittingly?

I am working on a chapter in my thesis on shame. Shame links to the desire for revenge, through what Helen Block Lewis has described as ‘humiliation fury’, the fury we feel after we have had our noses rubbed into our vulnerability and are left reeling from the abuse, assaulted, belittled, and shamed.

The anonymity of the Internet might allow us to hide our shame and to hide from our shame, but oftentimes it reinforces the shame for me. The number of times I sit at the keyboard reading back over something I have posted and cringe at what I have put there is equaled only by the shame I feel on behalf of others whom I consider have written too explicitly, and yet I persist in taking off my psychological clothes, revealing these inner thoughts on line, even as I know that there are experiences that look one way to me, but will be read in a different way by others.

Others will critique my perspective in ways I had not anticipated. Again, I cringe at my own willingness to expose myself in this way and yet without the autobiographical how can we learn about ourselves through other people’s internal worlds, however constructed they may be.