To choose or to be chosen

It’s the writer’s stare, I wanted to say to my daughter last night as we sat down to dinner and she caught me gazing in her direction. I was looking at her, in her direction, but my thoughts were elsewhere, though where I cannot say now, just absent thoughts a million miles away.

Perhaps I have taken to adopting my mother’s gaze, that far away look in her eyes when I was young.


I might have wanted her attention or at least to know that she was there in the room with me and not in some distant place where things seemed a lot better than in the crowded lounge room of our house in Camberwell or even later in Cheltenham with the television blaring in the back ground and my mother oblivious to it, even as her eyes were fixed on the screen.

That was until I drew her attention to the antics of one Graham Kennedy and the outrageous things he said.

Everyone in the studio audience laughed, on cue, laughter that might just as well have been out of embarrassment.

Graham Kennedy had a sidekick of sorts, a man named Philip Brady, a gently spoken and serious man who balanced out the extremes.

Even then as a sixteen year old school girl I wondered about the theatrics of putting two such men together, the one irreverent, outrageous, sending shivers of laughter through his audience, because he dared to mock the queen or some other dignitary and the other, po-faced and sensible to a fault.

Like a simple mathematical equation, they cancelled one another out.

Speaking of one which cancels out the other, there was also a two-some nature to my siblings, always paired off with the exception of my older sister who became the one left out, even though she was neither first nor last in line.

If my younger sister had not been born less than two years after me, we two girls might not have been so readily lumped together and my older sister might have been able to pair off with me, as she does these days, but not way back then, when four years older, she seemed aeons away from me.

Besides, it suited me to keep my distance from this sister, given her life as the oldest daughter, her life as the one chosen to take on the bulk of the housework, to follow in my mother’s footsteps in all matters, including her relationship with my father.

I wanted to be able to choose a man of my own, much as I imagined when I was still small that the man I would choose when the time came round would also be Dutch with fair hair and very tall.

I cannot remember the day the idea of me as the chooser turned around to become me as the one who would be chosen; the day when I needed to make myself the object of desire and to cancel out my own.

I went to the Mordialloc social dance one evening during the holidays of my final school year, the year before I began at university. I danced with a man who described himself as a pastry cook.

I had no idea what that meant only he told me he needed to get up early every morning before daylight to set the ovens alight and knead the dough for bread. No mention of pastries, but I imagined they were included in his repertoire.

I lost interest in the pastry cook even as we danced. I had my eyes set on more illustrious men, none of whom I imagine were in the Mordialloc Town Hall that night but it was fun to be chosen, even if the one choosing was not my choice.

To choose or to be chosen are such issues in the mating game. And not just in the business of finding a partner, whether for the short term or for life.

The issue of choice comes into friendships, too.

I’ve recently befriended a woman who told me last time we met that we share the same birth year. Somehow that cemented what already was becoming for me a firm and satisfying friendship.

The more we talked the more she shifted away from my fantasies about her. I had imagined she was Jewish, and therefore in my ridiculous mind, a cut above me, someone who belonged to a group I could never join.

Strange then when I heard she was Serbian born, that I felt a different thrill of connection. Not that the Dutch, Australians and Serbians are closely connected.  The Serbians are in disarray today though my friend arrived in Australia many years before the current crisis and not too many years after my own parents had arrived from Holland

This friend read my manuscript. She read my PhD thesis and for this I am grateful. Everyone who writes needs readers, thoughtful readers who will take on the task of giving feedback and of reading meaning into the beginnings of a work that’s not too far off completion but still not there yet.

The point is, this friend and I feel to be on an equal footing. Her circumstances are so different from my own and at the same time we share similarities.

Other friendships can feel less satisfying, most particularly when I fear I am the one tolerated in the relationship, when I am the one filled with desire to be with the other and the other is the one desired.

There’s an intermittent ache inside my ear, that won’t let up. It disturbed my sleep.

My ear is aching now even as I write, as if I have hit on some raw nerve that pulsates in response to the unspoken, for I cannot go into detail here, other than to leave you to ponder  the nature of friendship, of reciprocity and of love.

And a writer’s vacant stare.

2 thoughts on “To choose or to be chosen”

  1. Relationships are odd things. I’ve always thought so. I remember my dad asking me once if I was having a relationship with a certain woman. I said I was but I’m not sure I was answering the question he was asking. The word “relationship” seemed insufficient; it required qualification. We related, yes, but in what way? There are so few words to choose from and most are inadequate. We weren’t lovers, which is what he was asking nor were we in love as far as I could tell. Did she and I choose to relate or were we forced by circumstance to acknowledge the commonalities that drew us to each other? I didn’t mind the… and here’s a loaded word if ever there was one… the attraction but I was old enough not to misconstrue it. They say opposites attract. It can be true but I suspect it’s truer that we’re drawn to people who are similar to us in the ways that’re important at the time. At the time she and I were at low points in our lives. I had nothing to do with her mess and she had nothing to do with mine. Both our messes were of our own making although at first neither of us knew what the other had done. It was enough to know they’d messed up. We didn’t know the other would understand but we expected they would or at least we hoped.

    I’ve never broken up with anyone in my life. The choice was one always open to me but never one I knew how to make. Some weeks ago—actually it’s probably months now—I stopped commenting on a blog. For a long time I was the only person to say anything and I felt duty bound to continue and I did until he gave up responding to my comments. Then I felt stupid and stopped. I still get notifications whenever he posts but I don’t read his entries. Every time I see his name I feel bad though. I’d started commenting because it looked like we have stuff in common. We were both writers so that’s always a start but not enough. We were both male and English speakers if it comes to that. I believe he was married too. Not sure about kids but he probably had kids. Most married couple do.

    I remember when my first girlfriend—the first proper one, the first one to let me do stuff—broke up with me. I was devastated but mostly I was confused. We were in love and love was forever. God, I was naïve. The point is she’d chosen not to be with me. I’d been rejected and it was a bitter pill to swallow. Why would anyone reject me? I was nice. And I was. I was also possessive but I saw that as a part of being nice. I wanted to be with her all the time and couldn’t understand why she didn’t feel the same. Forty years later there’s a part of me that still doesn’t quite get it.

    When I look back on… I was going to write “most” but that falls short… all of my relationships just kind of happened. I didn’t choose to become friends with you. There was a time when we weren’t friends—there was a time when we’d never heard of each other—and then one day we realised we were friends of sorts. If there was choice it was unconscious, certainly on my part. I have had people approach me—I can think of three occasions—and ask to be my friend and we became friends or at least friendly; there is a difference. I’ve never done it. The same goes for all my romantic relationships. They just happened. I suppose I chose to let them happen but the truth is I was so grateful there was nothing to say bar, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

    As far as reciprocity goes I’ve had few relationships where we were equals. Yes, there would’ve been some give and take but I’m not sure the load was ever shared equally and I’m not suggesting for a moment that I always took the heavy end. I think I’m more of a burden now than I’ve ever been but for some reason Carrie chooses to put up with me. I guess she expects in time her time will come.

  2. Your response here, Jim, sent shivers through me, beginning with the idea of you stopping to comment on someone else’s blog because they stopped responding to you. I fear that might be me, not that I’ve stopped responding to your responses but I never feel I do them justice – you are so generous with your thoughts – and I’m not good at visiting other people’s blogs at all these days. Facebook has taken over, only for the convenience and the fact that it takes less of my time.
    There were days when I spent hours visiting other people’s blogs and commenting to the point where I worried I was neglecting my other writing. I’m sure you’ve heard that often times.
    Getting back to you. You were the one, you and Dave King – now gone to God – were two folks who kindly responded to my blog in the early days before I had any other visitors as far as I could tell. And I am ever so grateful. You gave me courage to go on. And now you continue to be my most loyal follower and it matters to me that even if no one else has a word to say about what I write here I can pretty well always rely on you to respond.
    I imagine that might feel like a burden to you, Jim, at least sometimes, and I’d like to think you don’t ever feel so obliged that you respond against your will.
    Anyhow, all that said, I see us as two good old online friends who share the joys and struggles of writing on opposite sides of the world and i hope we go on like this until one or other of us pops off this earth. Thanks, Jim.

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