You cannot trust her

A cousin of mine has died.  I did not know him well.  The last time I saw him we were
children.  My mother stays in touch
with his parents but we cousins have lost all contact.  He was living in Queensland but I know
nothing else at this stage other than that he was dead for four days before
they found him and the police said there were no suspicious circumstances, or
words to that effect.  He died of
natural cases. 

To me there is something
horrendous about the idea of dying alone, not so much the fact of dying itself
but of being left unburied or non-cremated, left unattended after death.   To be found eventually in a state
of decay. 
I once wrote a short story about
this, in the early days when I first began to tackle the short story form and
made the mistake of giving it to my husband to read.  He was furious with me after he had
read the story because to him it lacked any redeeming features and disturbed him too much.
It was a good lesson for me in that
I stopped asking my husband to read my writing in early drafts.  People talk about the need to have your
‘best’ reader for early drafts of your writing, someone whom you can trust to
be honest about the writing, someone able to make constructive suggestions
about how to improve it, not someone who will undermine your efforts, or, almost
worse still, someone who will praise your writing to the heavens without
observing how and whether the piece is working.
I have a couple of friends to whom
I send early drafts of my writing, one to whom I send fiction, another to whom
I send my more non-fictional efforts. 
Both approach the task in different ways.
First up though, I call on my upon reader
self.  She is unreliable.  I
cannot trust her.  As much as I cannot trust our former dog – the one we call the bronze heeler.  He offers nothing other than an image of the real thing.

Doubtless, you’ve heard the
expression: ‘murder your darlings’? 
It’s hard to murder your darlings without an accomplice, someone who
will tell you what darlings need to be killed off.  On my own I am not good at detecting such perils in my
writing.  My darlings seduce me
into thinking they should stay.  I should
spare them, if not for now, then for later.
 I read recently that someone has decided to promote October
as the month in which you only buy what you need month.  For some reason this notion appeals to
me.  The idea is that every time
you go to make a purchase in October you ask yourself the question: Do I really
need this?  And if you do not, then you return the item to the shelves. 
If I could apply the same principle
to my writing, I might never create the darlings I would later need to kill off.
 On the other hand, for a writer
not to allow whatever emerges to creep onto the page might be problematic.  It’s better to have darlings to kill off than to have nothing at all. 

And here again I think of my cousin, gone now.  I do not know whether he had a family of his own beyond his family of origin.  I only know that at the time of his death he was isolated and perhaps all too easily forgotten.   

Among her seventy two reasons why writers
write, Margaret Atwood includes one about memorialising the past.  It’s our way of keeping on going after
we are gone, in the written word. 
The trouble is so many of our words will get buried under the weight of
the world’s words.  
Given that the Internet never forgets, these words could be a tribute to my unnamed cousin.  I hope someone somewhere cares enough to remember him better than I can here.

The best laid plans…

The new packet of biros on my desk includes three bullet point observations on the back, including:
• Writes for over a kilometre
The whole idea seems odd to me. Who would want to write for a kilometre? Then again the purpose of a biro is to produce ink when pressed down hard against the page, whereas the purpose of writing is to produce images and ideas that communicate. To tell stories.

Whenever I sit down to write the thoughts that pop into my mind first are based on my most recent experience, as if my mind is dominated by the here and now.

For instance, this morning my thoughts steer back to late last night when I stayed up in order to collect my daughter from a party. We had agreed I would collect her at one am. I designed my evening around this event.

I set my alarm for half past twelve. I tried to sleep from eleven but it was not easy. I cannot sleep on demand any more than I can write on demand. Even so I drifted into sleep and woke at midnight before the alarm woke me. I made myself a cup of tea in a bid to shake off my drowsiness.

My daughter rang half an hour later just as I was about to leave. She had decided I need not collect her after all. She would stay at her older sister’s house nearby instead. If I could please collect her in the morning.

I protested. She protested. She knows by now how much I hate these sudden changes in plans. I know by now how much she is prone to making them.

It is in the nature of youth, I observe: The best laid plans are cast aside at the last minute and new plans made with gay abandon. People like me, people who prefer a level of certainty in the day to day running of their lives are left reeling.

I sat in my chair gasping after the first phone call, furious with this latest change of plan, after all, had not I organised my night around it? And now I needed to rearrange my thinking and try to sleep on demand all the while worrying about my daughter and what it was that should cause this latest change of plan.

In ten minutes my daughter had changed back to the original plan and I collected her after all.

Last night as I sat with my irritation, I told myself not to write about this. It is too close to the present and too close to those near and dear to me.

As I waited for the alarm I re-read an article about the way in which the Internet never forgets. I’ve written about this before. The way that everything that is marked down in cyberspace will be forever recorded for posterity. It’s one of the reasons why writers write, Margaret Atwood argues: to stave off death by providing a record of events that can go on forever.

But this article on the way the Internet never forgets – Jefrey Rosen’s The web Means the end of forgetting – paints a much more sinister picture, one that suggests other people will hold against you forever what you have written or shown about yourself in pictorial form.

When you are older and looking for that plum job, the powers that be, the folks who decide on whether or not you get the job, will be able to trawl through the Internet archives and drag up all sorts of stuff taken out of context that will invariably reflect badly on the person you once were.

They will conclude from this archival footage that the information gathered informs them of the person you are today and they will not therefore give you the job. Or let you into the country, as in the case of the sixty-six-year old psychotherapist from Canada who could not get into America because there was Internet evidence that thirty years earlier he had experimented with LSD and had written papers for his students to that effect.

An image of me in my ill-begotten youth when I’m half ashamed to say I used to smoke cigarettes.

Never fear, there’s this outfit called ‘Reputation Defender’ who will clean up your image on the Internet if need be and for a fee, recast you in a better light.

All this talk about the dreadful things that can happen to a person via the Internet when another person decides to use the things the first person has written about to bring them to account years later. It gags free speech.

And is it true or are we bloggers living in a fool’s world in which it might seem not to matter too much while we record our most intimate thoughts only to then have them held against us in years to come when the thought police get out with their stainless steel knives insisting we wash our mouths out with soap for the things we have said?

Please pardon all the mixed metaphors here. I’m on a roll and fearful of stopping in case I dare never write a word again.

I must keep my slate clean. Leave no tell take signs exist of a life not necessarily as well lived as it might have been.

My biro is nearing the end of its mile.