Where is she now?

This morning on my way home from
dropping my daughter off at her work, I travelled back through local streets.  In front of a block of housing commission
flats at the end of Munroe Street I saw a temporary sign pitched on the nature
strip like a billboard, ‘Humanist Society of Victoria’, with its bold blue logo. 
It gave me a jolt.  Such an unlikely place for such a sign. 
Somewhere inside one of the flats I
imagined a small group of mostly older people sitting around with cups of tea
or coffee in a cluttered lounge room discussing all matters humanist. 
And this, against the backdrop of a
radio program to which I listened in the car, where a woman described her
husband’s struggle with lung cancer. 
This woman coped by sending out weekly emails to friends and family to
keep them in the loop in all things ‘Russell’. 
The emails helped Russell’s wife to
sort through her own thinking. 
I arrived home before the program
ended and so I’m left with snatches of thought. 
The woman’s emails, the few I heard were lyrical and well written.  She put in details that many other emails
might lack. 
She described the hospital smells
and the way her husband grunted at her when she reminded him to take his salt/sugar
preparation in order to keep his electrolytes in balance between chemo
episodes. 
After he had snapped at her one time to many, she asked, ‘Do
you talk to the nurses this way?’
And he said, ‘No. I don’t love the
nurses.’
 A poignant reminder of how the people we love
can at times treat us like shit because they love us and know we love them in
return. 
In one of her other emails, Russell’s wife tells the story of an elderly homeless woman who sits on street
corners with a fluffy white dog in a trolley and asks for money.  If you tell this woman you have no money to
give she rails against you, as if you are selfish and rotten. 
One day the woman of the white
fluffy dog set upon the woman of the emails with such a tirade that the woman
of the emails said to her,
‘My husband has cancer.’
And the woman of the fluffy dog
responded,
‘I don’t even have a husband, you
bitch.’
It puts me in mind of another story
I’ve been following on Jennifer Wilson’s blog where she writes about a love
affair gone wrong. 
I had noticed that Jennifer had posted
less of late.  Her ex-husband had died
and I figured maybe she was finding the grief too much.  But it turns out there was more to Jennifer’s
absence, including the beginning of an affair that had sent her
spiralling. 
It ended badly – as affairs so often
do – when the wife of the man with whom Jennifer was having the affair, found
out. 
The secret was no more and the man
elected to drop Jennifer for his wife.
A common enough story.
Stories, stories everywhere and my
head reels. 
I changed the screen image on my
computer last night and for a minute considered putting up a picture of my
mother some months before she died. 

There on my computer screen I saw
my mother’s eyes and they glared at me. 
It felt like a reprimand. 
How dare you, she seemed to say,
how dare you go on living while I am no more? 
How dare you still have blood
flowing through your veins, a heart beat that keeps the blood pumping and
breath in you lungs, while I am dead?
I wanted to apologise to her for
this, and for the way I might use my fantasy of my mother in my writing. 
While she was alive, I did not feel
that my mother was a mother I could rail against, a mother I could treat badly,
which is not to say there weren’t times when I did treat her badly.
My mother of the fragile and low
disposition that required she believe in goodness in everyone and shunned all
that she considered wrong.
I wish now my mother had approached
her life with a greater awareness of its complexity, that we could have talked
about all things humanist, like the people at the end of Monroe Street, rather
than avoid conflict and discussion.  
My mother
instead fell back on her religion and her belief in God and the wall came up
and she shut me out, and shut out her doubts. 
And where is she now?
Looking down on me from heaven, and
saying I told you so?  I’m up here with
him and having a ball. 

Or is she no more in all but her spirit
and my memory of her, this woman who feared to go into the unknown and into
doubt.

Naked on the page

Montaigne shocked everyone when he
wrote about the size of his penis.  To his mind, it was small.  
Why, among the many thoughts I have encountered
today, does this one stay with me?
 There are other images in my head, too: diamonds from
the 1800s that are attached to springs so that when the wearer moves, they tremble,
shimmer and dazzle the eye, diamonds en
tremblant
I tried to have a conversation last
night with one of my daughters about a trend that’s come to my attention
whereby people post images of their so-called private bits to their
lovers. 
It’s not that new, my daughter
tells me.  It’s been around for ages.
Apparently, there is a new law that
forbids the transmission of such images without a person’s consent. 
Jennifer Wilson, on her wonderful
blog, No place for sheep, refers to revenge porn, the business of people taking
it out on others by circulating compromising images or photos of the
person against whom they want revenge.
A while ago I heard about a young woman in the armed forces who had sex with her boyfriend and unbeknown to her he had organised that the
proceedings be videoed and circulated to his friends.  
What’s behind this, I ask
myself.  Why do it?  And what is it like for the person so exposed? 
To have a photo of your labia
online so that the entire world can see, or a shot of your penis, why so shocking? 
There’s the stuff of exhibitionism,
the pleasure we get out of showing off our bodies and the sexual pleasure we get
from being on display. 
Then, there’s the opposite: the
peeping Tom effect.  The pleasure some might
get out of looking, looking in preference to being involved, or being seen. 
I used to think of this as a masculine
activity, the Peeping Tom, the flasher, but women can get in on the act,
too. 
Women whose bodies have been put on
display for centuries. 
When I was a little girl and asked
my mother why the bronze Atlas holding a globe of the world on his shoulders in
the framed print on the wall of her bedroom was naked, she told me, ‘The human
body is beautiful’. 
I had trouble believing her then.  In a strange way I still have trouble.  Bodies can be beautiful but they’re also
haunting and troubling and exciting and frightening and all these things rolled
into one.  Anything to do with body bits,
internal and external seems loaded.
The other day I talked to one of my
sisters about prolapses.  In my mind’s
eye the image that stays with me is the one that first popped in when I was
little. 
One day my mother told me about a
cousin in Holland who had suffered a prolapse on the dance floor.  This cannot be, I now know.  You do not suddenly suffer a prolapse.  I imagine they happen gradually, but when I
was little I saw it happen on the dance floor.
My mother’s cousin’s insides slip
out onto the polished wood floors like glistening red jewels en tremblant.  And my aunt is mortified.  She runs through the room to the toilets dragging
her jewels behind her. 
I have since heard that a
prolapse as described by my mother, the one that happened to her cousin, was of her
cervix.  
This reminds me of other bodily
malformations like hernias.  I’ve not
seen one of these either.  
Again the idea
that your insides slip out of their moorings and appear on the surface of your
skin, like a burst bladder, reminds me of pregnancies, late term when it was
easy to see the imprint of my baby’s foot on the surface of my skin, the round
dome of her head. 
I have dreams where my skin is translucent
and I can see inside my body to the unborn baby squashed inside.  And this can only take place when one is
naked.  Naked on the page.
There is a YouTube series doing the rounds where a woman is interviewed and during conversation the camera stays on
her as she speaks.  She perches on a
stool, against a brick wall backdrop in a well lit room and as the interviewer proceeds
through a series of questions about the woman and her life, her relationship to
herself and her body, the interviewer asks her to take off items of clothing,
one by one. 
By the end of the interview the
woman sits in her underwear.  We do not
see the interviewer. 
There is something strangely
non-sexual about this disrobing.  Something
that puts us in touch with the woman as a whole person, a woman with a body and
mind, not just a sexualised body.  At
least that’s how I experience it.  
A slow
disrobing rather like entering into a meaningful essay where the writer
gradually unfolds ideas, thoughts, images about himself/herself until in the end
we are pared back to basics and somehow have much more than just a naked body,
and not just any body. 
In the YouTube clip so far I have
only seen naked women, and not all of them with ideal bodies. 
There are young bodies and old
bodies and even physically disabled bodies. 
I’ve yet to see a dark skinned body or a fat body or a hairy body or an amputated
body but I imagine there is scope for these and many more. 
One essential ingredient is the
capacity to be articulate in the English language in this instance and a
preparedness to let it all show.    
And finally, I came across this quote
from Anne Patchett: 
‘Forgiveness. The ability to
forgive oneself. Stop here for a few breaths and think about this because it is
the key to making art … I grieve for my own lack of talent and intelligence.
Every. Single. Time. …. This grief of constantly having to face down our own
inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers. Forgiveness, therefore is
key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book
I am capable of writing. Again and again throughout the course of my life I
will forgive myself.’