What gives you the right?

The telephone rang and interrupted my first fitful efforts at sleeping.
‘You fucking bitch,’ he said. ‘You fucking bitch.’ His voice trailed off. Time slowed down. Is this a dream, I wondered? Is this a phone call in my sleep? In a minute I’ll wake up.
‘Everyone knows what you’ve been up to. Everyone knows but me. I’m the last to know.’
I found my voice, but the words were croaky.
‘What are you talking about?’ I knew what he was talking about but I wanted to deny it even as I knew it was true. I wanted to think it did not matter. I wanted him to think it did not matter that I had betrayed him.

I had slept with someone else. Slept with, such a euphemism. Had sex with, fucked, shagged, you name it in biblical terms. That I had gone off with another man while he was away for weeks on end.

Somehow he expected me to sit at home, the good and loving girlfriend, the good and loving partner, always faithful, irrespective of how he behaved.
‘I’m coming over now,’ he said. ‘I’ve got your stuff. You can have it back. I never want to see you again.’

The dial tone buzzed in my ear. I kept the phone close. I could not believe he had rung off. Soon he would be here. I dragged on my dressing gown. Good, I thought. He’ll be here soon. I’ll settle him down. I’ll soothe him. A few gentle words.

I heard his car pull up in the carport below. I looked through the blinds. He opened the car door and flung the books and clothes that I had left behind at his house as a mark of our relationship.

When we had separated three months earlier, we agreed on an amicable split. We agreed to go our separate ways, that we would each be free now to explore new relationships.

I pulled up the blinds and swung open the window. ‘Come up,’ I said. ‘Don’t just throw stuff. Come up and talk.’ He continued to throw more books, my old grey cardigan, my CD case, my sunglasses onto the pile. I kept my voice low. I did not want to wake the neighbours.

‘Please talk,’ I said again to the silent man whose arm moved up and down like a piston as he threw the last of my shoes onto the pile. He slammed his car door shut. He had not cut the engine. He reversed without looking up to see me.

That was how we left it. The end of the scene. The death of a relationship. Silence is the best revenge.

I have no trouble with the word ‘hate’ these days. It rolls off my tongue easily. I can tell someone that I hate someone else; even that I hate them as long as I also feel a fondness, a love for the one to whom I might direct the word hate, otherwise I can only talk about such hateful feelings behind someone’s back.

I can try to qualify my comments, when I am angry with my husband for instance, to say to him, I really hate it when you do that, not, I hate you when you do that, but the truth is, in that moment, I hate him.

I know well enough that it is a sign of confidence in her mother’s love when a child is able to say to her mother directly, ‘I hate you’. To know that her mother will tolerate such an expression and not retaliate or go under into shock and horror, or be destroyed by it because this mother recognises that her child says these words out of hurt or disappointment in the mother whom the child also loves.

It is not unusual to hear such utterances from three and four year olds, but as we get older it seems we learn to modify such outbursts. We learn, if we have gone to the right behavioural schools, to criticise the behaviour, not the person.

‘It’s not ‘you’ I hate, it’s what you do…when you get drunk, when you refuse to tidy your room, when you don’t pull your weight, when you carry on like that, when you’re slack, when you give up on yourself, when you stop caring about others, about me.’ It’s okay to hate these things, these behaviours, but to hate the person who does these things becomes a no-no.

It is important to distinguish the person from the behaviour and yet, the satisfaction that comes from really being able to say to someone or of someone, ‘I hate you’ knows no bounds. It gives great satisfaction, and yet almost immediately there is a wish to qualify it. I hate you when…

We throw around the word ‘love’ with such ease, but the word ‘hate’ we are wary of, for good reasons – all those wars, all that bloodshed.

Hatred is not something to spread, but it can be spread in subtle and secret ways and often even by people who purport to love and to care.

When I was at the Writer’s House, Peter Bishop urged me to write into my rage. Write into your rage he said, vomit onto the page.

Peter Bishop also says to write out of ‘doubts and loves’. Where do we put the hate? I wondered. Is not hate on a continuum with the love? The ones we love are the ones we hate, beginning with our parents.

When I first read William Gaddis’s words quote in the Sunday Age in an article by Don Watson I knew that these words were important for me.
‘The best writing worth reading comes like suicide from outrage or revenge.’

It is not the first time I have been in a creative hole as deep as this. It is not the first time that I have sat alone at my writing desk wishing for something to come to me, some thread, some thought, some feeling or image that I might follow, but it is no less painful. I ache all over with the refusal. My mind will not give it up. My mind will not let the words flow, will not let me arrive at some point where I can think, ah ha I have it. I know now what I am writing about. I know now what this book is about. I can proceed. I start again and again, so many false starts so many attempts to move beyond this desperate feeling of not knowing what I am doing.

And the audience whom I tried to send away only five minutes ago is back again, my parents and siblings in the front row alongside my conscience. They say to me again, in a chorus, what are you on about? We don’t want to know this. Tell us a story instead and make it good. Make it interesting.

But if I start to tell a story, I fear I will be in trouble with someone. That someone will tap me on the shoulder and say ‘What gives you the right?’

Love like Treacle, Hate like Quicksand.

I find myself feeling irritated by my experience within the blogosphere of late. Endless arguments about the nature of writing. It’s my own fault. I bring up a topic and then others come in with counter arguments. I do not object to counter arguments by and large but I find myself increasingly irritated by a tendency I detect within the blogosphere to emphasize the good and the lovely, to steer clear of the negative and for some to read my writing as though I write in absolutes.

I’m as bad as the next person. I try hard not to insult people and I write comments of praise here and there to all manner of people whose work I appreciate. It is not this to which I object, it is more the emphasis on writing that does not distress or surprise. This troubles me.

It probably hits on a raw nerve. I think of a paper Jane Adamson presented several years ago in which she talked about the poet, John Keats. She talked about the way Keats valued an openness of mind. It was Keats who coined the term ‘negative capability’, the notion that ideally we seek to approach our work without expectations or desires, that we keep an open mind.

Keats tried to practise this in his poetry but it was more difficult in his personal life. There was a chap by the name of Charles Dilke. Keats despised him. We know this through correspondence in which Keats berates Dilke for his closed mind, his rigidity of thinking. The paradox is that in his considerations of Dilke, Keats himself was doing the very thing he railed against.

I see this tendency within myself. I rail against the ‘sweetness and light’ I find throughout the blogosphere and yet I do it myself. I try to be friendly and sociable and I do not enjoy carping comments anywhere. I want appreciation and good will, too.

Given my interest in life writing and the desire for revenge there must be something of these impulses within me, and with which I must grapple. I own up to this. Millions I suspect would not.

I own up to wanting to see my enemies suffer, but it stops there. I do not spend my time in pursuit of my enemies, seeking to bring about their downfall. I make a point of avoiding the people I dislike. It seems the best way, the safest way and if the feelings are mutual and we stay clear of one another then all goes well.

At the Freud conference in Melbourne last week, Salman Akhtar talked about the way we invite certain people to our dinner parties. We invite those we love. We invite those we like and we also invite those we hate – those we hate are typically married to those we love. Akhtar meant this as a joke.

We invite those we hate, he said, because after they have left our dinner we can feel relieved and virtuous.
‘Phew, thank goodness, they’ve gone’. And then we can talk about the ones we hate behind their backs and we can feel good.

I think this is my struggle within the blogosphere – the effort to integrate all three aspects – the loving, the liking and the hating – both internally and externally given my suspicion that these elements live within me as much as I experience them outside of me.

If my world – internal and external – were populated by only one or another of these elements, if it were all love, or liking or hate, it would be a dreadful world indeed. Boring and/or destructive.

Too much love is like treacle – you get stuck in it. Too much hate is like quicksand – you drown, your mouth filled with dry gritty bits of earth. Too much liking and life becomes a sort of blancmange – all of the one sickly sweet consistency with nothing to get your teeth into.

This then becomes a sort of plea to allow for more robust and healthy ‘hating’ in our lives. Healthy in the sense that we can know about the feeling – even speak about it in our writing – without necessarily acting upon it.

One of my brothers once kicked me. His foot landed on my pubic bone. It landed with such force that I fell over. He was angry about something. I’m not sure that even he knew what he was angry about. Perhaps I had provoked him, little sister that I was. Perhaps he resented the circumstances of the moment. We were about to get into the car, all nine of us – the two oldest had left home by then – in any case the car would have been full.

One grey station wagon packed with nine bodies, adults and children alike. We four in the middle, aged between eight and twelve, squeezed into the back section of the car, the place where these days most people put their dogs or groceries.

There were no fixed seats. We sat legs out in front and leaned against the rear side windows, my sister and I on one side, my two brothers opposite. My brothers’ legs were longer than ours, and there was never room enough. They needed to bend them and hold onto their knees to fit. My sister and I irritated our brothers by stretching out from time to time. They did the same to us.

We knew to keep quiet about any disagreements about who took up too much space. My father in the driver’s seat did not tolerate noise. My brother kicked me before we climbed into the car and I forgot to keep quiet.

My brother’s punishment, my father’s sharp tongue, a slap across the face, was worse than any kick I had received.