I just wrote the final few words of my novel in between facebook chatting with my sister, about tuberculosis and her close call with norovirus. I left the main character there with her daughter, future uncertain, difficult, laced with the hard push to survive. She’s been through the worst though.
And even before putting the final polish on the thing, even though this is the third version, I think it’s not good enough. That’s how I work, no savouring the moment, no forgetting, few and far instances of relief and distant relaxation on a dimly lit shore where the sea suds the land. Nah. On to the next thing. How will I make the next the better? How will I become good enough?
There is no good enough. There will always be more, less, worthy, unworthy. It’s all relative, subjective, but shit is shit, right? And if no one wants to read it, it’s shit. Perhaps … although I think it’s more complex than that.
I’ve never cared about that. It’s my opinion I care about and in my opinion it’s constantly and definitively not good enough. I wonder what it would take: accolades from colleagues, a few hundred words of praise, one valued seal of approval – no, not even then. It’s a disease this not good enough.
Too freckly, too fat, not intelligent enough, too intelligent, too tall, short, plain. Never just enough.
It seems to only make it worse that suffering from not good enough at my age is ludicrous, other people have serious shit to worry about. No home. War. Famine. Genocide. Donald fucking Trump. The planet. But not good enough is persistent and tough, habit-forming. Intergenerational, in fact. And you know what, enough is enough.
It’s enough. I’m enough. The world is enough. I want to enjoy it. Not good enough can go jump. It’s stopped me for too long, enjoying this miraculous, privileged life.
Things learned from writing this novel:
Transitions are easy and simple. You could keep a catalogue of them if you want. You don’t even need to build up to a flashback or anything like, just simply, quickly signpost the hell out of everything.
‘Three summers ago…’
‘At midnight when the moon turned to a cool sliver’
‘She was twelve when she first saw him…’
The space opens in the late Sunday afternoon, overwhelming with the all consuming urge to reach out to someone; to share the inner reaches of my mind.
Phone my mother? … we’ll just talk about what she’s eating for dinner and things we’ve done … nothing that will cross the divide. My best friend, but she never answers. The guy from the dating site who wrote ‘you seem great’ but will never realize that sometimes just staring at clouds, the way they overlap, occasionally tenderly, other times domineering, and their shades, stallion grey, old soot, to apricot ice-cream hues, bring tears to my eyes.
And then, quite unexpectedly, she offers me this:
“Joe’s mother had lived in this street since she was born. Put her brain, together with the other million brains, women’s brains, that recorded in such tiny loving anxious detail the histories of the windowsills, skins of paint, replaced curtains and salvaged baulks of timber, there would be a recording instrument, a sort of six-dimensional map which included the histories and lives and loves of people, London – a section map in depth.” Doris Lessing in The Four Gated City and my eyes grow hot, because she understands and here we are, all in, together. This, makes everything worth it. And this is how we fight, all in, together.
And the trees of my city suburb dropping their fluffy yellow dish brush flowers, or throwing tiny dark combs into the gutters, or just plainly being stark and white day in and day out, they too, are in, altogether. And the cats that come to eye the chickens behind their wire mesh fence and jump away, at the chickens aggressive united clucking, their fur on end, they too, are in, altogether.
And here I go, dripping with an origin I thought I had left behind, long ago and my flatmate with her Sicilian sea-salted skin and the other with his Indian eyes observing, this Australian city, now, not quite new, yet still, surprising, fascinating. Here we go, all in, altogether.
Just watch us go. Because finally, here we are, all in, altogether.
I have this little red notebook. It has to be red. It has always been red. In there, I write inspirational ideas, snippets that I have come across and will need to remind myself of later. In there, also are little things I have learned, rules I must remember to live by and goals, for future works or ways to manage my lifestyle. Tales of Prince Vijaya and his mother, a rather amorous North Indian princess who seduced a lion and consequently gave birth to him, lie next to quotes like this:
“Time was elastic; space was a spinning wheel. All time, past or future, real or imaginary, was pure presence. Space transformed itself ceaselessly … Time was a pliable substance that weaved an unbroken present.” Octavio Paz: In Search of the Present, Nobel Lecture, 1990.
“Triumphing in life comes above all else from being useful to society.” Hugo…
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It’s the middle-of-the-day tram. The Friday middle-of-the-day tram. The time when everybody really needs to get anywhere, or anybody really needs to get everywhere.
There’s a group of large, handsome white men by the door. They’re all wearing tan chinos and holding sunglasses. A girl with dark eyeliner and sad beagle eyes slides her wallet away, closes her bag and takes a seat at the back. We continue on our rickety, jerky way. I thought the boy with the luminescent skin and floppy dark hair was looking at me. He’s got those beautiful, deep brown eyes. He smiles a little when I swipe my card and the little beep of acceptance resounds. I have to reach my arm out a long way because one chino man, the blond, is in my way. After I’ve done it he sits down out of the way. A muttering man in jandals with matching matted hair and beard gets on. He and his odour of stale cheese, sweat and urine pace the tram. Finally, he settles beside the blond chino man and directs his mutters to him.
– Bourke Street … that’s where my missus lives
– She lives there
– She left me, my missus
– They took her.
– Bourke Street … that’s where my missus lives.
Blond chino guy frowns and leans in as though it’s his duty to understand. He seems nice. Muttering, rat-nest beard man gets off yelling back,
– Bourke Street
– You take care mate .. watch the cars mate!
Yells blond chino man. I realize something’s going on. The chino men stop their chatter. They congregate. One’s at one exit and two are at the other.
– Oh! You’re gonna get off. You don’t have to get off.
The chinos stand at the doors and signal to one another eyes alert like prairie dogs. They alight in unison.
They’ve cornered an old woman. Her red pleated skirt and long grey hair tied back with a ribbon seem lifeless. She’s fragile next to them, the tall chino inspectors.
Next, a baby-faced guy, penguin waddles on. He’s swimming in a huge white t-shirt with a gravy stain that says ‘bed-head.’ It makes me smile. He pulls it out, away from his skin, every so often. He’s wearing a red cap, baggy, saggy shorts and white socks with sandals. His shiny blue eyes are sparkly and far away. He paces up and down the tram and smiles to himself as though he’s about to giggle.
– I love my cat!
He suddenly bursts out with it, smiling even more.
That’s just the way there.
On the way back first it’s the young, pale couple, haggard wraiths. They appear on the other side of the tracks. She sits down in the tram shelter. He fidgets and paces and crosses directly in front of the approaching tram. My hand flies to my mouth. My heart skips a beat. It misses by a hair. He’s in a white t-shirt, bright pink shorts and jandals. He keeps pacing and scratching his legs. They are covered in a welty rash. I notice hers are too. She’s so skinny I can see the bones around her eye sockets and the black make-up around her eyes is smudged down to her cheeks. Her hands and head shake. Her eyes too.
– WHERE’S THE MONEY!?
The boy shrugs, paces, scratches. Her head shakes.
– WHY’D YOU SPEND IT ALL!
– You knew it was all we had! I can’t believe you left it there!
– I need those cigarettes!!
She wrings her hands and waves them about at him in frustrated chopping motions. He crosses again. They argue some more. She runs her hands through her hair, tearing it out.
They seem like such a cliché, a parody of young drug addicts that I keep thinking it can’t be real. That someone will come out soon and credit the performance to a new interactive theatre group performing soon somewhere in Fitzroy.
The second act gets on at the council flats in Collingwood. Three aboriginal men in caps, jandals and football shirts. They approach the tram spreading out and staggering. A little gang. Their dark skin is shiny with sweat.
– A bunch of arseholes!
A wave of acrid, alcohol or meth smell invades the tram. The Asian boy next to them visibly squirms. A couple quickly disembark.
– COME ON! Smile! You sad bastards!
Slurs one and just saves himself from falling as the tram lurches forward. They all talk at once, loudly, in a slurry monotone.
– Betcha they’d smile if I swung naked here.
One of them clings onto the side rail and giggles.
– Yeah, bro.
The one sitting down opposite frowns and hangs his head.
– Don’t cha get like that! What’ cha getting pissed off for?
– I’VE GOT EVERY RIGHT TO GET PISSED OFF!
The words lumber out of his mouth infiltrating the tram. The other makes his way to the door. Their yelling leaves and the tram still resounds with it for a moment. Again, it doesn’t seem real, just farcical. Finally, near home it’s the scruffy man with the transparent blue eyes.
– I saw you getting off the train in Preston yesterday.
He says to the clean-cut boy opposite him.
– Wasn’t me.
The boy looks away and I recognise the man from other days when he said the same thing to me. I wonder if he’d be satisfied if someone answered,
– Yes, so you did.
I’m a failure, by anybody’s standards, and I just can’t seem to care. Well, that’s not wholly true. I just moved to a new city and have been meeting a lot of new people and there is always that moment when you ask each other, ‘so what do you do?’ and, as I answer, I can almost visibly see people threading me into their patch-work world view and if there was a discard button they would be subtly leaning up against something in order to push it while I wasn’t looking. Ah, well, now you see that that’s really my paranoia. Most people aren’t really like that … most people won’t pigeonhole immediately, right? I certainly don’t.
And yet, fundamentally I don’t care.
I don’t have a home. I don’t have a ‘significant’ other or any other at all … except maybe that voice in my head that calls me my secret name and sometimes tells me ‘you’re an idiot’ and other times ‘come on, be calm, you can do this.’ I don’t have success. Google me and there’s no story of overcoming adversity to be the top at my game, no, just ……nothing … a visible void. I don’t have a car. I don’t have any children. I don’t have a career and I don’t have an underground cave full of treasure. Nor do I have a fairy Godmother (not quite sure how she got in here).
I have no status.
And yet, strangely, I’m ok. In fact, I’m better than ok. I’m fucking happy. AND GRATEFUL.
I get to go out and meet strangers. I get to choose who I talk to, who I don’t. Where I walk, whether I walk, how I walk. I get to amble through parks, talk to birds, feel the sun, smile at passersby.
I get to feel my mind reaching out, encompassing the whole world, feeling pain and joy and love. I get to embrace the world with my mind.
I get to remember, to cherish and to learn.
And I get to sit here and write these words and share them with anyone at all. Just because the world involves impossibilities, realizes intricacies and anomalies and weaves a pure chaos that doesn’t discriminate.
I say I’m a writer and those words line up beside me, solid, soldiers, and I must tilt my chin, upward, and command. Stand by them. Pretend to everyone … in every instance… that that statement means the very same thing.
And now, when I think of the ‘business’ of writing, of publishing, marketing, it brings tears to my eyes – something so, so removed from what I feel about writing. And yet, if I accept that this is my ambition, my goal, I must take responsibility and accept that now this is my ‘game’ and take responsibility to stand behind my work and themes and yet…
Words wind themselves down from …….corners of rooms witnesses to drunkenness and boring domestic scenes of dissatisfaction, acceptance and steady, windborne love. We are shorn of impertinence, shorn of immediacy, immaturity, expectancy. We take kindness. Shield ourselves from the wrong that is like a tidal wave, upturning, inundating, destroying, everything in its wake.
We can wake.
We can walk.
We can love.
Overcome. Retaliate. Placate.
We can change. We can optimize. Be honest. Shed. Stand face to face. Support. Man to man. Hand in hand. Lover. Visitor. Stranger. Future…
Talking about our emotions – is important, sometimes even, imperative.
Everyone knows this. I’m sure they do. So why is it so hard?
Many of us in New Zealand ‘talk’ about our emotions through creating, through our art. ‘There’ is where we present our emotional honesty, let it all out … process and reach out … really communicate.
But what about those so ensconced in the ‘toughen up,’ idea that art is never going to be an option. I know of families with endemic emotional suppression – they’ve been at it for generations and generations. They are the type that give shoulder hugs and not only never, ever deal directly with the person they are in conflict with but don’t even admit there is a conflict, ‘what’s his problem?’ ‘He’ll get over it,’ ‘just get on with it.’ They love one another deeply, are proud of one another and are fiercely loyal but by jove there ain’t no way they would tell one another that.
In New Zealand we have a problem with suicide. I want to understand it more. I have never studied mental health, psychology or sociology. But I have always loved people, wanted to help them, even when I wasn’t that healthy myself. In my opinion, despite everything, despite all the disadvantages, biases, injustices, your upbringing might have dealt you, your adult relationships are your responsibility. A shared responsibility adult-to-adult and that includes especially family. It’s your responsibility to break down the childhood roles that may no longer work for you, understand your family as best you can, understand yourself as best you can, identify the positive. Hold on firmly to the positive, recognize any negative that can be worked on and slowly, firmly and with compassion, change it.
Show yourself compassion too. That doesn’t mean making excuses, or stubbornly refusing blame, just admitting we’re human and as such sometimes ruled by emotions. We all like to be admired. We all like to be good at things. But I think it’s important to remember being good at something is about what you actually do or create – whether it be bake a cake, run a marathon, or give a public speech – it’s not about how it stacks up in comparison to someone else. All told, if you are honest with yourself, this doesn’t really factor, it has nothing to do with how you sincerely feel about what you’ve done, or who you are.
It may be that a lot of parents aren’t good at talking about emotions with their children partly because they find it difficult to be honest about how they feel about aspects of themselves. Everyone has weaknesses, moments of shame, moments of pain, admitting to them and talking about them makes them just that .. brief moments, maybe even moments of learning in a healthy life. If your parents were the ‘just get on with it’ type, the type that barely looked up from the television when you arrived home from years overseas – there are probably reasons for this. You can change it. You can break that cycle. Find out why. Make them talk. Uncover their fear. Feel it. Truly empathize with it. Talk to your children and make sure they can talk about their emotions. Don’t give up on it. Tell your stories and get them to tell you theirs. It’s important.
Life is complicated. Stuff happens. Sometimes we want things we can’t quite have. Things are taken from us, unfairly. We feel alone, unloved. Everyone feels these things at some stage. And sometimes there are worse things, things we need help to understand. We all have stuff going on in our lives and if you don’t speak up when you are feeling these things no one will ever know. You will become powerless. Talking about emotions is choosing to spread them out, inspect them, alleviate them. It’s part of the search for a solution. If you know someone who you really think suffers from emotional suppression, a deep inability to talk about or even admit to their emotions. Don’t give up on them. Share yours with them. Keep giving them the chance to take back some of the power and talk about their emotions.
It’s really not healthy to keep everything inside – bottle everything up. The bottle will explode. Injuring not only you but all those around you. Don’t let it get to this.
Parents talk to your kids. Kids talk to your parents. Don’t give up on each other. Give each other the chance to be healthy.
All I’m saying is ….
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 or www.depression.org.nz
Community Action on Suicide Prevention Education and Research (CASPER):www.casper.org.nz