I’d rather not

I nearly didn’t tell you.  I’ve had the strange pleasure of winning a
literary award last week.  And ever since
I’ve had this impulse to play it down, while at the same time I want to shout
it to the world.
I won.
At last someone recognises something
in my writing that’s worth, not only a trophy and a certificate, but also a
$2000.00 cheque.  On top of which the
organisers of the first ever Lane Cove literary awards flew me to Sydney and
provided accommodation over night at the Stamford hotel near the airport so I
could make an early get away the next morning. 
There were four other awards, besides
mine for memoir, two for local writers, one for short story and another for poetry. 
It is the first time I have arrived
at an airport alone to be greeted, not by family or friends, but by a man
holding up a cardboard sign with my name on it. 
The man who held up the sign was
one of the librarians who had been given the task of collecting me from the
airport because the other librarians were busy organising the event.  We travelled through busy Sydney streets to
the Lane Cove library and all the way I wondered whether it was really
Was this me?  A prize winner or a fraud? 
They must have it wrong. 
All the while as the two judges read
out the names of the short listed, first in the short story category and then
in memoir, I wondered whether they might end up calling out another name,
not mine.
The evening flutters by, drowned
out of my memory by my tiredness the next day. 
I needed to wake at 4.30 am in order to be ready for my 6 o’clock flight
back to Melbourne. 
I discovered then something I had not
realised before on the plane to Sydney in a book about compulsions and eating disorders.  
I discovered that one of the reasons that people
might choose to starve themselves to death is, not only to do with trying to get
some control over their lives and suppress their desires, but also to do with competition, and with their refusal
to compete.
The idea is that the person who tries
to take control over her life by getting control of her eating, does so by
working hard to convince herself that she has no such desire for food, or
nourishment, or even for love. 
It gets tangled up in sexuality as
well.  The two great life forces, food
and sex, bound together as we know biologically, determinants for personal
survival but also survival of our species. 
They’re also bound up in pleasure.
Adam Phillips re-tells the story of
a man named Bartleby, Bartleby a scrivener in Wall Street in the 1800s, who for some unfathomable reason
when his boss asks him to undertake the work for which he is employed, says
‘I would prefer not to.’
Herman Melville wrote the story in 1853 and
for years people have struggled to understand what it’s about. 
Bartleby takes up the position of one
who goes on strike.  
I refuse to
I will not be drawn in to whatever
it is you have arranged for me. 
I will assert myself by my refusal, even if it
kills me. 
These ideas stay with me.  I’m trying them out, rolling them around
inside my mouth as if savouring a new flavour, a new texture, a new sensation
and it pleases me to see things from this angle. 
There is a reason behind starving
oneself to death.  
There is a reason
behind someone’s refusal to participate and compete.  
There is a reason behind what on the surface
seems like the maddest of behaviours. 
And I am getting one step closer to
understanding it. 
How then can I link the competition
of awards night with my own competitive impulses and my contradictory desires
to water them down? 
So many times I have gone to say about
this award:
It’s no big deal. 
How many times have I told myself
it’s not one of the big awards?  It’s
more a beginner’s award. 
How many times do I compete with my
own success as if I cannot bear to allow it? 
Is this what women do, and more so
than men?
I’ve a sneaking feeling that’s
Women are used to hiding in the
To be on centre stage for more than
a few minutes can be overwhelming. 
It’s easier to be like Bartleby and
rejoice in resistance.
I’d rather not.