Thank you very much…

… for your encouragement and support. I was very moved by all the kind words and offers of help.  I hesitated for a long time before I posted my self-indulgent rant on Sunday, but you have made feel much less alone.

Please forgive me if I don’t reply to each of your lovely comments individually. I was slightly overwhelmed at the number and quality of all your comments and find it difficult (and embarrassing) to respond. But know that I read and appreciated each one of them. [And I’ve made another appointment with my doctor.]

Thank you again.

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Getting to Know Each Other

It’s the 4th anniversary of dVerse Poets Pub and we’re celebrating all week. For today’s prompt, I’m using some ice-breaking tricks and techniques so all the pub goers can get to know each other a little better. The instructions were as follows:

1) Find three words that describe you well or mean a lot to you – you don’t need to explain why they mean so much to you, but they do have to be oozing with significance. For example, for me, I might choose: Vienna, swoosh and fairness.
2) Now, choose three words to describe things or people that you are grateful for, to build on the gratitude discussion we were having yesterday.
Let me again give an example: children, words, friends.
3) Now write a short poem (no longer than 12 lines please, but it can be shorter if you like) incorporating these six words.
 To my surprise (but perhaps to nobody else’s), my poem came out a tad more melancholy than I had expected…

 

Words between friends

all bridges, camp-fires, the silences still precious…

Words between children

flash-floods, fence-mends…

I’m always too late

but all heart for all that.

My quest for fairness a shade too thorough,

digging deep long after they’ve moved on.

Should I surrender to the swoosh

alone in the snow?

My sky is always cold and gray.

This means nothing to me…  Oh, Vienna!

 

Maybe this song is to blame – one of the first I remember recording from the radio.

 

Acceptance Speeches and Gratitude

JK Simmons receiving his Oscar, photo by John Shearer by AP Photo.
JK Simmons receiving his Oscar, photo by John Shearer by AP Photo.

Warning: this post is incredibly loud and extremely personal. Viewers of a more generalist or nervous disposition should skip ahead to the next book review.

I heard that, with small exceptions, the Oscars ceremony on Sunday night was overly long and dull. I was never planning to watch it and was only mildly interested in the winners. [I have only seen 2-3 of the films across all nominated categories, most of them on airplanes, such is my social life]. But I struggled downstairs with a terrible migraine, so got to see live reactions on Twitter to the music, the surprise awards, the speeches.

Ah, the speeches! Some of them were political, rebellious, personal, memorable…  good for them. Typical acceptance speeches, of course, are all about gratitude, acknowledgement and thanks to collaborators and supporters. ‘I thank my parents, my spouse, my children, my dog…’

What to do, however, if those nearest and dearest are not at all supportive? I’ve written about it before. I’ve written a poem about it from the point of view of the supportive (and hitherto neglected) spouse. I’m not going to repeat myself. I don’t want to whine. I’ll just share with you a collection of anecdotes. Some of them are personal, some of them have been told to me by others. I suspect there is a glint of universality in most of them.

I really, really want to become a writer. All my teachers tell me I have talent. — What a waste of your intellectual capacities! You could do so many other things. Do that as a hobby, once you have got a good job under your belt, such as medicine or economics.

I did get to study what I was passionate about: languages and then anthropology. I even briefly got to work as an academic, but … it’s not like social sciences are real sciences, right? Surely an academic job in real science takes precedence. Why don’t you find a nice portable job, that you can take with you wherever you have to go to follow your husband?

This consultancy job is taking off, and you may be paid three times as much as your spouse, but it’s not really conducive to family life, is it? If you want to raise happy children, shouldn’t you find something more part-time, more flexible, even if it’s lower paid?

Patricia Arquette's rousing speech on gender equality. Photo from the Daily Mail.
Patricia Arquette’s rousing speech on gender equality. Photo from the Daily Mail.

Oh, come off it, being a trailing spouse isn’t that bad, is it? So you had to quit your job, but just look at your lifestyle in what is considered one of the most livable cities in the world! You can meet your lady friends for coffee and lunch, you can go to the gym, or, better still, explore the lovely nature surrounding you. You’ve got time on your hands, such a luxury! Lonely – psha! You can Skype your friends and family anytime. Anyone would envy you!

What do you mean, you want to start your own business? But who is going to handle all the organisational things this family needs? After all, you’re the only one who can speak the language…

What do you mean, you want to cut back on your work to focus on your writing? Writing will never pay the bills. If you’re not the next J K Rowling, you might as well not bother. Focus on your real job – just don’t travel so much with it. I can’t handle the kids all day – there’s very little time to do anything while they are in school.

OK, sure, honey, I’m supportive. When are you going to finish that book? Why are you wasting time on poetry? What have you been doing all day, why are you so tired? When are you going to get your book contract? Why should I go to the parents’ evening instead of you, so you can write –  haven’t you had enough time during the day?

Marion Cotillard in 2008. Photo: Digital Spy.
Marion Cotillard in 2008. Photo: Digital Spy.

This past weekend I had good news. After years of unseen labour and cold showers, I had very positive and personalised feedback about my writing from editors and agents at a conference organised by the Geneva Writers’ Group. They encouraged me to keep going, to finish my second novel as quickly as possible and to send it to them. Yes, I know there’s a long, hard road still ahead of me, that there are no guarantees. But it’s that first step, and so much better than I had ever allowed myself to hope for.

I come home in a disbelieving, golden haze, basking in their warm words. I open the door very nearly breathless, eager to celebrate with my loved ones, bring out the bugles, roll out the red carpet, open the champagne. Instead, I don’t even get the question: ‘So, how did it go?’

I’m realistic about the attention span and degree of empathy of little boys. In my exuberance, I pour out my joy regardless… but soon get bogged down in dinner questions, homework completed, cooking, setting the table and preparing schoolbags for the first day back after the holidays. I get to hear about levels completed on Super Mario Galaxy during my absence, while the older ‘child’ barely raises his head from his phone to listen to my anecdotes about the day. I expect to be brought down to earth by family commitments and daily life – but not necessarily a ball and chain weighing me down just as I am soaring.

Finally, at supper, I open a bottle of Pouilly-Fuissé that I’ve been keeping for special occasions and say, ‘Here’s to me!’ as we clinked our glasses.

‘Oh,’ replies my supportive spouse, ‘Why you?’

 

This is whom I’m going to mention in my acceptance speech:

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About Supportive Spouses

I am always bemused by the acknowledgements pages in any great works published by men*, with that little throwaway remark: ‘Thank you to my wonderful/beautiful/lovely/take your pick wife, without whose support this would not have been possible.’  And perhaps some of them mean it, perhaps in some cases it’s just lip service, but how many are really aware of all it entails, being supportive to a genius?  I wonder how many of these wives struggled with their own monsters, black dogs and depressions.  Vivien Eliot, this one’s for you!

 

Thank You to My Wife for All Her Wonderful Support

The slit of her smile

split the face in dozens of jagged shards

each piercing each striking

at simulacrum of heart.

 

The effort of small talk

all weather-beaten smooth

crashed against the deserted, rambling beaches of her mind.

 

In the morning she could will the robot limbs to stretch

the hands to prepare, the voice to chide,

even goodbye kiss when called upon.

But bland pop on the radio did not drive

enemies away and back at the house

she would freeze into a lump

huddled in safety of naughty corner.

Calls postponed, duties not done till urgency bites

and school runs once more.

Sit still in self-embrace

and breathe and swallow

breathe some more

 

Take tiny step after baby step –

Don’t glance below! Don’t look ahead! –

soap sud slippery her grip

she braces, she faces, interlaces

then that sharp fell swing

where all she can do is hate.

 

But not one word passes the slit

which passes for a smile

on what passes for the face of the supportive wife.

 

* Increasingly, women too will thank their supportive spouses, but there is a difference in the level of ‘taking for granted-ness’.