Writers At Work Seminar Notes for Feather Man

POEMS USED IN NOVEL FEATHER MAN: either from Flying the Coop (FTC) or Chemical Bodies (CB)

(Flying the Coop is available in the Australian Literary Resources Room, N411, University of Sydney.)

Holmleigh p.49 – FM p54

Jim-Glitter p176 – FM p98

Bath FTC p86 – FM p219

FM p229 – Thumbnail pressing… (Teacher who bit the chalk at primary school).

[Maternity Ward p90

Oblivion p91

Clinical Facilities p92

Not Hollywood p97] ——–FM p252

[Shriven p214

Slates and Sums p143

Welcome Reef Collage p87] —–FM p254

Red Sox – FM p259 and P283

(from ANU Print Workshop limited edition artists’ book)

Yellow Metal Men p173 – FM p265

Memory p180 – FM p267

Bluebeard in the Cracked Mirror- Chemical Bodies p48 – FM p267

Dancing New Year’s Eve p182 – FM p267

Three Wise Monkeys (orig. ‘Appreciation’ poem ’94) p212 – FM p268, 269.

Mortal Bite p188 – FM pp 270 and 286

Touch p209 – FM p272

Lead Coffin – CB p27 – FM p277

Gregarious Fish – CB p30 – FM p289

Reportage – CB p55 – FM p292

Singularity – CB p33 – FM p294

Martian Landing  p172 – FM p302

Dreams and paintings taken from personal dream diary:

FM p248 – Underground Tunnel and Where on the Tiny Page was her Heart

FM p276 – The Wool that is his Will

FM p276 – Torture Typewriter

TITLES:

The first title was Pure Fiction. Here are some other try-outs.

FOUR SUITORS

REDMOND

A RECKITT’S BLUE

TAKING NOTICE

THE BLANK WALL

THE LAST DOOR

THE SMALLEST KEY

THE COLLEGE OF DISORDER

A PERFECT FIT

LITERARY ALLUSIONS:

Children’s Books:  Saggy Baggy the Elephant, The Three Billy Goats Gruff, Scuffy the Tugboat. From Grimms Fairy Tales:  Rose Red and Rose White, Rumplestiltskin, Bluebeard. Plus references to Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella.

Myths:  Atalanta and the Golden Apples, Lyce and Daphnis, Jason and Medea (Pammy), Narcissus and Echo.

Music references are in the Acknowledgements.

For Notes on the Novel please go to my website: www.rhyllmcmaster.com

This unpublished poem was a precursor to my novel, written two years before I started.

25.1.98

ONE FINE DAY

One calm summer night

it all unraveled

fell apart like a downhill

steeple-chase.

Or did it?

Imaginings

make bad beginnings:

a tone in the air

a bird in the moonlight with its liquid singing

the sound doom-laden.

Brain fluids made decisions

based on an age-old concept or agenda.

Life or time or some other

they took their toll, nit-picking

counting their pennies.

Who’s to know what triggered

the head-start to misery?

The wrong word carefully waiting

the glance that fell with a crash of splinters

like a pain in the elbow, the jarring nuance.

What do we fear most?

Snakes for certain.

Large carnivores, confinement

deep water, darkness and blood.

Some say other people or one fine day

the scrutiny of someone

made suddenly a stranger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EDITING:

This is an earlier Contents page:

WILLY

Overture

OUT OF THE RECKITT’S BLUE  11

 

Primary

FATE  17

THE CACTUS GARDEN  23

BITTERNESS  27

MISERY  30

THE NAME OF THE ANIMAL  32

TRUTH, JUSTICE, HAPPINESS  43

ADORATION AND LOATHING  44

THE WATERFORD PEN  45

DREGS INTO GOLD 46

PLACE OF BIRTH 47

SANCTUARY  48

DRYNESS AND PRECISION  49

 

Fermata

[Pause as long as you like]

CONTEMPLATION, EUROPEAN  53

 

OBEDIENCE 54

THE COQUETTE  56

APASSIONATA  58

THE RUSSIAN WOMAN 60

SYMBIOSIS  62

SIX BATTERY CHICKENS  63

ASHES TO ASHES  65

FAME AND HER SISTER, POWER  66

ROUND ONE  68

TAKE THE BLAME  73

WAKING IN THE NIGHT  79

WODEN AND HIS SON, THOR 82

TENNESSEE WALTZ 83

PETER

Transitional

INTERREGNUM  88

SAOS IN THE NIGHT 90

INTERRUPTION 93

CECI N’EST PAS UN BISCUIT 94

TAKING NOTICE  99

CAUSTIC SODA  109

REDMOND

Secondary

JOURNEY TO A WAR  113

INTENTION  122

EXHIBITING SYMPTOMS  130

FINE PRINT  133

HAPPY THE BRIDE THE SUN SHINES ON  138

AN OCULAR TREATISE  141

THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM  142

BRIDAL VALE  145

FROM A DISTANCE  150

A DAY AT THE RACES  152

THE BLANK WALL, THE LAST DOOR, THE SMALLEST KEY  155

BUT ALL THE PROMISES WE MADE/FROM THE CRADLE TO THE GRAVE  165

INTERDICTION  172

PAUL

Closing

SPONTANEOUS OCCURENCES  175

MY A-CHY BREAK-Y HEART  182

RESPITE CARE  186

INSET  191

LICKING THE WOUND  193

IF DOGS HAVE SOULS, DO PARASITES HAVE INTENT?  196

THE WOOL THAT IS HIS WILL  197

LIVE AND LEARN  199

BAD MOON RISING  202

ATTENTION TO DETAIL 206

TELOS 213

FINIS  216

THE FORMULA  218

 

Reprise

DA CAPO  222

CHASING SOOKY’S NAME:

As the novel investigates the loss of identity through damage, I make a play on Sooky’s name throughout the novel. Sooky is her nickname, given to her by her father as a sort of disparagement. He also calls her his Popsy (another disparaging term with sexual implications), or Darl when he’s forgotten her name altogether.

Her real name, as heralded in the epigraph, is Lyce. But as you can see below, her mother mispronounces it as Lice-ee – hence the jokes at school about her having head lice. Sooky doesn’t want anyone to know her real name and generally feels uncomfortable about calling people by name; it’s too intimate.  It isn’t until the end when Paul calls out to her that we understand that her name should be pronounced Lee-sa. I have no idea how Lyce is properly pronounced.

The name trail starts with the epigraph, then moves to pages 28, 29; then p120:

Once, I dance with the man of my desires, a dark-haired University student. I don’t see him coming across the room until he asks me to dance. He has black, irresolute eyes. He does not look as if he owns either a surf board or a souped-up car. He asks my name. I hate saying my real name: they always get it wrong, so I have to repeat it.

I wish I had a name like Barbara or Carole or Linda, not one that makes me stand out from the crowd, and not one that attracts silly jokes.

‘You’ve got a very special name—it’s classical,’ my mother reproves me, on the defensive. ‘Classical Greek.’ She looks momentarily doubtful. ‘Or Roman. It means fidelity. Anyway, your father chose it.’

‘How would you like a name that makes you sound like a bug?’ I retort.

Since my father’s defection I have decided to discard my nickname, but I have no good alternative to fall back on. I hesitate and stutter. Now I feel nameless.

The trail continues on p124, then the bottom of p131 where Peter calls her “Baby or Honey Heart and on more formal occasions uses my real name.”

On p149 Pammy calls her Doll, (but she calls everyone Doll.)

On p155 Redmond calls her Sweetheart.

The next reference is p175: Even my classmates are censorious. I have contravened some rule. I have gone too far. I have usurped the boys’ role. I am not a proper girl. They form a ring round me, circling and taunting. I am the eye of the storm.

‘You’ve got to salute the flag,’ said one girl I particularly hate. ‘That’s the Queen.’

‘You’ve got to love the Queen or you’ll get in trouble.’ Puling Caroline adjusts her hair ribbon.

‘You’re stupid,’ contributes a bigger boy and pushes me. Behind him, two younger boys chant my name. They make monkey gestures and mimic combing their hair for lice.

We are standing under the school building. The wooden school rooms sit high up on cement poles. Wooden slats that throw confusing zebra stripes of sunlight across the cement floor enclose the persecutory space underneath. It forms a dry playground with benches round the walls where we sit to eat our lunch. School monitors forbid us to rise from the benches until the bell rings for play. Then they allow us to do skipping, play Elastics or throw tennis balls until the going-in bell tolls. Because of the cement floor and cement poles dotted through the space they do not let us run.

A smaller boy eyes me, then jumps into the circle and shoves. ‘Sissy!’ he hisses.

Clive calls her Honey on p179.

On p200 Sooky wrestles with the strangeness of her married name.

A reference to her name (undisclosed) on p209.

Lucas calls her Dearie on p221.

Sooky tells Paul her real name on p.245. He recognizes the reference to Lyce and the issue of fidelity, and sending Daphnis blind.  She writes down her last name for him on p247.

On p297 Sooky signs her name in the water of the painting (but the reader can’t see it, of course.)

Then we come to p303 where at last her name is said aloud by Paul, with the right pronunciation, and she accepts that it sounds quite normal:

[This section below is also an example of editing.  This section was originally in the present tense.]

-THE FORMULA.

Any action, in the fullness of time, sinks to nothingness.

In nothing it remains, tormented, secret, unless it gains momentum, when, made volatile, it trundles to the top, into the willed layers of our lives, becomes again action, ineffable or vile, that by its nature, in time’s fullness, swims to oblivion.

The phone rang in the office. I picked it up. ‘Will you get that?’ called Paul from the kitchen. ‘Lyce?’

Pammy’s urgent voice was in my ear, but the world didn’t stop, it just kept spinning and sluicing through its tidal bulge. ‘It’s terrible, Doll,’ she wailed, ‘I said to him, you better go and see about it. I can’t keep up with every little sniffle, go to a doctor. But you know what he’s like.’

‘Lee…sa!’ Paul called again, louder this time, and longer. ‘Is that for me?’

My name sounded quite unexceptional, the way he said it.

On p306 she signs her letter to Redmond as Lyce. Then, just like her father, Paul uses the word ‘popsy’ on the last page 309.


 

PLAYING WITH TENSE:

Chapter 56 was originally in the past tense.

In Chapter 36 I played around with tense changes for the first time. It came about almost as a happy accident in the editing process. I liked the effect and so I kept it:

p196:  Up till this point it’s been past tense, with dialogue in the past tense. Then I change to present tense – ‘Always,’ I think, and my father’s dirty German ditty arrives in my head:’  I hoped this worked in the same way that a close-up in a film suddenly pulls you right into the action, though it is in fact an artifice.  Then I go back to the past tense until the last line: ‘Drugged with sex, drunk on hope, I say it.’

[This is a precursor piece that did not make it to the novel. I think I meant it to be the first chapter. Once again, note the date: 12.3.98

What is the essence of my story?

There is none.

Before, nothing happened.  Then something was noticed.  There must, logically, have been an interim between the nothing and the something, but logic is not interesting.

My story is interesting because it is complicated.  Being complicated, it cannot be broken down to an essence.

You can’t look at a story of life and say, “That was the beginning”, because infinite regress gets in the way.  There’s always another part of the story you suddenly remember as being significant.

The beginning vanishes.

Ludwig Wittgenstein said, ‘The solution to the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of this problem.’  He was probably right, but I suspect he was looking for an essence nevertheless.

Once, in memory, there was no story.  Once upon there was no time, no motive, no movement, no reason for thinking, no connecting rods, no encroachment.  Then we start to see patterns on the screen and each field of pattern seems to hold a meaning.  But move far enough back for the large perspective and the stories within stories are too tiny to make out.  The big picture is simply the haze of the Milky Way.

But my story does exist and it must be possible to tell its subtleties and describe its incremental drift.  My story came into existence bit by bit, by shifts that are only just discernible, even in retrospect.  Like life itself, the world of my story comes out of next to nothing and replicates itself.

I would like to start somewhere arbitrarily left of centre.  My first move will be shown in time to be significant, but right now it doesn’t seem to matter where I begin.

[This is an earlier version of what became Chapter 55 – The Last Detail.

(The Last Detail is also a play on the name of a film with Jack Nicholson).

The James Hillman and Wittgenstein quotes are good examples of what was formerly peppered throughout the text, usually at the beginning or end of chapters.]

 

EXTRACT FROM THE CHAPTER ‘ATTENTION TO DETAIL’.

As I understand it, Fate is an enormous brain that exists outside ourselves. Fate acts as the international connector. It links this occurrence with that one, it modifies restrictions, hunts constellations, makes sure that everlasting reiterations reiterate, compels unchanging players towards strange events.

Fate has a large temporal lobe, its centre for memory and an inexhaustible storage capacity. Fate’s brain has a few extra components, different from ours. It has a centre for mysteries, where it composes and poses riddles. A centre for irony convolutes like a walnut, curving and re-curving back on itself. And last, it has a centre for the implementation of natural, retributive justice.

Other than that, Fate’s brain is much the same as ours, a few percentages of difference, say like the chromosomal difference between humans and chimpanzees.

Did you know that scientists now believe that the Aids virus may have crossed the species barrier when people started eating monkeys? The moral is, don’t tamper with the seal of Fate. Watch out for karma (that’s in a tiny section of Fate’s brain next to, but not necessarily connected with, the centre for empathy) and follow a healthy diet, preferably vegetarian.

Oh, and don’t eat primates. That’s one addiction that could settle on your back.

‘A face is being made, often against your will, as witness to your character.’ – James Hillman.

Redmond is late for his appointment next evening. (Something is telling him ‘Don’t go round tonight’ but he has always been resistant to the unconscious). I have plenty of time to set myself up. I have a paint sheet down, the canvas chair in place. My easel is at a slant away from the door and I have prepared my surface, using thick layers of gesso and chalk, almost to the consistency of plaster.

I have in place a large photographer’s light. I want to pull the blinds and paint Redmond in unnatural light. I want dark shadow to fall on his face. Besides, I want to take some photographs.

I have decided on a mix of mediums, two contrasting substances; water based paint and pigment, oil and wax on canvas. I need to be able to do generalised, transparent and translucent surfaces and intricate detail. The sort of detail you might see under an electron microscope.

I hear him arrive. He talks to Paul in the hallway. I know he is trying to tie the first snares in some sort of relationship. Just as he did with my mother. A relationship that says, We know how difficult she is. Eventually we will find we can disregard her.’

I know it won’t work with Paul though my mother was a pushover. It still makes me angry, this disenfranchising by subterfuge, even when I know to expect it.

He comes in and gives me the noncommittal incline of the head.

I say,’ Let’s begin’ and tell him to sit in the chair, make himself comfortable.

I say, ‘You’ll have to stay in the pose but I’ll give you breaks.’ He can do nothing but sit bolt upright in the canvas chair, but he shifts his arms about.

‘Would you like me to look natural?’

‘As much as you can.’ (He might be fashioned from stainless-steel.)

Immediately he stiffens up. He will ache all over by the time I’m finished with him. He has no impulse towards transformation but I can guide him, by my echo, towards its water.

‘Coo – ee’ he calls, irritated.

‘Eee’ I respond, out of frame, from the far side of the creek.

I will bring him, passive, suffering, to be rooted to the spot, there to confront frailty, limitation and the transitory. I will situate him in deep context, translucent. No more provisional touring. I am going to cut him free from his black metal walking case.

‘Here’s death,’ I’ll suggest. Woven in its netting of cold air, riding a field of wind. ‘Take a deep breath.’

I have no intention of painting him as he appears. That was never my resolve. I am intent on my own perspective. I have no interest in the image he assumes, but rather in the point in space from which I stare at him. Only then can I be the observer effecting transformation. Only then can I paint the Redmond who compels me.

Here is a childish riddle: What do you get when you join an Ee to a Coo? Answer: Death of the heart. I draw the blinds. The sun has set and the room becomes dark, so dark that Redmond almost disappears in amongst the clutter in the room.

From the darkness he says,’ Oh, and for the first time I understand something about him, that in my panic to protect myself, I have missed. Fueling his fervour with himself is his desperation to guard against disappearing. Hence the drive for prestige, the unremitting making of serial connections, B ruling out A, C deleting B; the ruthless, final discarding of those to whom he has attributed an overblown significance.

This portrait, he believes, will provide him with proof of his grandiose existence. After this, no-one can devalue him.

I make my way across the room to switch on the photographer’s light. Now Redmond springs into prominence. He shields his eyes from the glare and his right eye is watering. He looks up at me, stricken, but he will bear anything to have this portrait done.

He says ‘Sorry to hold you up tonight but I was feeling a bit off-colour.’

‘That’s alright. I’m not in a hurry.’

‘No, well … I think it’s migraine actually.’ He is eager to discuss his symptoms. He tries to tell me something about a chiropractor who wanted to hang him by his feet, a known cure for migraine. I wish he would. Charlatans attract charlatans

I let him chatter on and say nothing. I adjust the light so it throws half his face into black shadow.

‘And I get these funny flashing lights if I look sideways. That’s migraine isn’t it?’

‘Sure to be. Certainly sounds like it to me.’ (I have no idea or rather I have an idea but it doesn’t spell ‘migraine’.)

I walk to the easel. I know how this portrait will look. It is all there, situated in front of me. I will proceed with care but that is because I am so sure, buoyed up by a bounce of spirits. This work will have the authority of justification and the discipline of passion. I know I am about to construct a moral framework on which, tatters of flesh on a decomposing body, will hang the truth.

Still, I can’t help getting excited: You put your left hand in,/you put your sinister hand out,/ You do the hokey pokey/ and you shake it all about …

I know what I am going to call it. My best work always comes with a title that floats in, fully formed.

The first part of the painting is in water colour, although properly speaking it is tempera because I threw an egg yolk into a mix of pigment and water. I want this painting to have the look of a fresco, that luminous bonding of architectural form and bulk behind the evanescent curtain of thin colour. I scrape into it with my palette knife. I want it to bleed the way light bleeds through fog.

Do you want to have a look at it as it progresses? Okay, but I’m not going to show it to Redmond. Not yet.

Here is a man, one whom you can almost see through, facing the viewer with his body falling sideways. If you did manage to see through him you would hit the monumental structure of the wall behind the fresco, that which cannot be modified. The adamant, unchanging, exploitative, obsessive, aggressive, fearful, defending, destructive self. The self that does not know itself and is its own poverty.

The figure in this landscape does not observe that we live in a matrix, molecules imbedded in a living grid of relativity that holds us and the world together in a common fiction. He will not see that there is no possibility of disentangling ourselves from the plot. He will not understand Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle; that the observed is being influenced by the observer, nor that, despite relativity, it is necessary to distinguish between the objective and the subjective. Nothing is autonomous because carbon needs to resonate.

He is extreme in his stiffness, balancing, unnatural, on one tipping heel. He is losing his footing. He is out of proportion with and has no relationship to his surroundings. His face is huge. He is standing or rather falling on the edge of one of Australia’s east coast creeks. Brown pebbles, some leaf fall, the scimitars of eucalypts, the dense, glutinous, shiny black thread of a leech on an underwater rock.

Water, that precipitous resource, that insinuating transformer, sheets over a rock shelf. It falls to a pool deep enough to swim in on a hot day. Deep enough and with enough water life to sustain a platypus or two and calm enough to see your face in. A clump of stiff-leaved Lomandra stands in green beside the water.

I stop. A third of the work I have marked in with charcoal and a few referential patches of colour, but I’ve done well in an hour and I must preserve the sitter. He has a long way to go, many rivers to cross.

‘I must take a break. You must be tired. But could I take a few photographs first? I like to be able to refer to them.’

I confuse him and make him suspicious when I ask him to stand up. I take some quick shots, then before he has time to demur, ask him to lean sideways. I shoot off more film then come in close and get some grainy textured shots of his surprised face, with one hand up, pulling, dubious, at his top lip.

‘Turn your head slowly, please.’ As he responds I aim and click. I have the camera on the right speed to catch those thin gradations of movement, those ghosting ellipses, those overlapping time frames that only cameras or mirrors can catch. Hold a hand mirror up to a mirror, angle it right and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

‘Sorry,’ I say. ‘I have a funny way of working. I like to get some action shots. It helps me establish more natural expression.’

‘Oh well.’ He is so stilted. ‘You must know what you’re doing.’

He is finding it hard to work out my credit rating but my residence in Paul’s gallery puts me into the millionaire’s class. It doesn’t mean he won’t try to undermine me but he will step with caution. I know the name of the animal.

When you name something it becomes invested with substance, soul, that which you look for in the eyes. When it isn’t there, when the glass of the eyes is opaque or far too brilliant to see through, it is an unholy shock. Then you name it madness or evil.

Evil: ‘n., anything causing injury or harm.’ Not too strong a word. We have to be careful with words as we do with paint; both volatile substances.

Paul has inculcated me into the tea industry. Now, I offer tea and my attention to people who come to the gallery. On automatic, I offer tea to Redmond and he accepts. He likes the niceties; that proves he is a regular fellow.

I take him out to the sitting room. I don’t want to leave him in the studio looking at my painting.

All the moderate stability of my surroundings unsettles him. He sits, uneasy, on a couch. I pass him his cup, careful not to touch his hand. Here is another human form I will never touch again, for as long as we both shall live.

‘You wouldn’t have an Aspirin, would you? I’ve got this sinusitisy thing …’

‘No, I’m sure I haven’t. Sorry.’ I visualise the Aspirin packet on its shelf in the bathroom cabinet.

He rubs the side of his nose, then his eye. He puts his cup down unfinished. His hand plucks at the arm of the couch, an autonomous movement, his brain ticking over the data.

He prepares himself to say something of deep moment.

‘I think it’s best if we separate – for a while. I need time alone to um, sort out my priorities. But we’ll still talk.’ He is riddled with promises. The talking has finished, the work begun.

‘Yes, we both need to get our priorities sorted out. Mmnn. Time for it to work its way through.’

‘What?’ He glances at me. He never bothers to look me in the face unless I am disturbing his equilibrium.

‘I am terribly sorry about your eye. You must find it quite limiting.’

He looks sour. He hates the suggestion of limitation.

Now I begin my murder. I shall murder him three times.

First there is murder through the agency of chance.

‘I do feel responsible. I should have been more careful. I didn’t have any inkling (what a delightful word) how contagious they were. The funny thing is, I suppose I got mine from Peter. Did I ever talk to you about Peter?’ What a lovely chat we are having.

‘What do you mean ‘responsible’? What are you talking about?’

He is cross, put out. He has no time for me. I have always irritated him. He needs to go away, as he says, and incubate.

‘The cold sore. I must have passed it on. As I say, I think I got it from my old boyfriend. I can’t remember having one before that. They do lie dormant though. I’m quite an expert on them now.’ I laugh. I watch his eyes. They are black with suppressed resentment, only mitigated by the tortuous relief map of the silver worm trail across his right eye.

‘Unless… I suppose it’s possible … he often had that funny thing on his lip … I could have got it from Willy.’

His face drains of colour. No kidding, that is not a turn of phrase. He has grown a deadly white that begins at his forehead and permutes down, quite different from his usual high colour. (He usually complements his hair. I’ve always admired his tonal arrangements).

He stands up. He is at an impasse. The bait of the portrait is still there and I can see that he can’t believe what I’m saying. Chance and Fate work for him, not for me. He is in possession of everything and everything has his best interests at heart. We are all working for the man.

Besides, he is immortal. Look at how he fights off the very idea of death. He labors at it every morning, staring into his shaving mirror, chocking himself up, rattling the scaffolding. Self-presentation is self-preservation. Last thing at night he looks in the mirror as he cleans his teeth, checks that he’s still there.

Luck will set its seal, every wish will be fulfilled, so long as he doesn’t panic; if he clings to the omnipotence of thought, he will not disappear…

He doesn’t want to talk anymore. He looks subdued. ‘I must go.’ He hits his coat pockets. ‘I should catch the last tube.’

‘Tomorrow? Will you sit again tomorrow? I should probably only need three sittings in all. Then I work from memory.’

‘Yes, alright. I’ll give you a call if I can’t make it.’

He is eager to go. I escort him up the hall. As he steps down into the street, his familiar movement, the way he steps sideways, his hands in his pockets, sends a pang of loss and memory through me. Sadness when I expect satiation. Tears well in my eyes. Already I think of him as absent. I can feel regret bumping alongside the platelets of my blood, filling up the reservoir of my heart. It is the very transience of the objects of our attachment that moves us to tears. Love is a condition of impermanence, created at the very moment of dispossession.

I feel tired as I close the door. I trail to the bathroom to undress. I like to dress in a motley collection of bed clothes. I pay more attention to what I wear to bed than to my daytime appearance. First a pair of black tights, for it is still chilly at night. Over the tights a second-hand, salmon silk petticoat, slippery for turning over in. On top of that, tonight I choose a short, blue satin peignoir. I like the idea that if I die in my sleep the undertakers will get a laugh at my disordered taste in night attire. It makes me feel inventive, the thought of making strangers laugh.

Before I switch out the light I stop to stare at myself in the mirror. ‘What do you want?’ I ask the image and the image shinnies out of the silver, a composed, spaceless, imagined portrait that speaks behind its eyes.

Second, there is murder through intent – I wish him harm.

Paul is a considerable lump in my bed. My bed. If only I had been able to work out the intransigent problem of beds, none of this might have happened.

‘What is it you want?’ my head whispers. ‘Hot or cold, wet or dry?’

‘Jack Spratt could eat no fat,
his wife could eat no lean
and so, between themselves,
they licked the platter clean.’

Once, fascinated by my grandparents’ four poster, I asked my grandmother why she didn’t have her own bed. ‘Plenty of time to be alone on your deathbed,’ she told me.

Ludwig Wittgenstein said, ‘The solution to the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of this problem.’


DISJOINTED PIECES OF PURE FICTION:

[These are a range of precursor notes to the novel, some of which were used, most not. Notice the dates –a couple of years in some cases before I actually started on the first draft in 2000.]

  • 4.11.99: The security light is reflected in the pond.  Slightly inebriated by the beer I am drinking, drunk with the twilight, like a moth or a late-flying bird, I think it is the moon.
  • END SENTENCE: I come out of sleep and am reluctant at first to start a new day.  The miasma of boredom hangs for a space as I detach myself from the mysteries of dream that were so rich and satisfying.
  • If only I could dream my way through life like a grub in a cocoon.  Then I remember, as if a special synapse in the brain has connected, that there is one feeling stronger, though more evanescent, than all the rest.  Every day, sometimes for just a second, I feel immortal.  I have felt this way for a very long time, this wave, a perpetual urgency, a call, a click-on function in the control panel of my brain that has been active since the time when I have been storing memory and experience.  Of course, like all the rest, I will die one day, perhaps soon, but there is no reality in this thought.  Generally, I feel immortal.
  • 4.11.99: “People seem to think it will all add up, but it never does, because humans never do.”
  • 15.3.2000: Images that remain poignantly vital even if, or because, they are dead – James Hillman, The Force of Character. (used)-Interregnum.
  • 15.3.2000: The core of memory is imagination – Freud. Epigraph?  (used in text – 10/6)
  • Access to character comes through the study of images, not the examination of morals.  James Hillman, The Force of Character.  Epigraph? (used)
  • 10.2.99: The day of the funeral I woke feeling unaccountably happy.  It was a small, private gathering at the crematorium chapel.  The retired minister hadn’t known my husband and spoke a carefully worded eulogy of sorts which steered adroitly round the fact that he hadn’t a clue whom he was consigning to the flames.  That was when it occurred to me that part of my sense of buoyancy was because, for the first time, I could paint my portrait of him and he could not refute me.
  • HILLMAN:
  • ‘Decision knows when and where to stop, to let the moment of death conclude a work.’ (used).
  • Fear – ‘Everything eats away at everything else in an intricate interlocking system from which there is no escape.’
  • ‘The traits of power are paranoid traits’
  • ‘Attempts to control the uncontrollable only exacerbate the excess’
  • ‘office seekers are a raging hungry pack’
  • Exhibitionism – ‘self-presentation is as primary as self-preservation.  It displays one’s power.’(Used)
  • ‘The sexual is basic to the fascination of power’
  • Ambition – ‘staying alive proudly is ambition enough’
  • Concentration – ‘All held together in the intensity of thought resulting in masterful strokes of action.’
  • ‘Concentration trusts solitude, enjoys silence.  “And it rises with an agreeable determination to the challenge of tensions, crises and no-win dilemmas.”  P.159 Kinds of Power – Hillman

REPORT IN A NATIONAL NEWSPAPER ON WOMEN’S BEHAVIOUR (1 Jan 2000) includes a wish list for changes in men’s behaviour – ‘They will not need to control or humiliate women to feel good about themselves’

  • Theophrastos of Lesbos – 371-287 BC – on Nastiness:  “he will go to bed with his wife with his hands unwashed and his shoes on”.
  • He is not like that at all. His nastiness is subliminal.  A coiled snake at the base of his brain.
  • Hillman:  “A bad character is simply one who does not imagine who he is”
  • ‘innocent of himself, governed by ignorance and denial.’
  • ‘Ignorance of soul is evil” – Socrates.
  • “Character forces me to encounter each event in my peculiar style.  No one else walks as I do, and this is my courage, my dignity, my integrity, my morality, and my ruin.” – Hillman.
  • ‘Unconscious acts become personified – ignorant, cruel, enraged, arbitrary – but not “unconscious”’ – Hillman.

[This piece was the central image of the novel. It came to me first before the narrative got going.]  See p.270

Out of the left hand window of the car, as bright as a spotlight, I see the moon rise fast and huge over the shapely and mindless paddocks and I watch, with an inside eye, the image of the earth draw up above the moon’s horizon. I breathe evenly through my expectation, on the edge of an excitement that almost spills over. The longer the image takes to tick out its field of data, to unfold its ribbons of matter, the sillier with pleasure I am. Perfect and unified against a backdrop so black, so dense.  A deep happiness pervades my bones, elation catches in my throat. How seamless it looks, earthrise from the moon. Sublime as a thought that appears on the edge of sleep; as pure as quietly approaching death. Requiting of some deep need for unity of field.

I once looked down on the central Australian desert coming back from India.  The ground looked like a mock-up of a lunar landscape. What did those first astronauts feel, watching the ball of the earth rise in all its completeness, looking as un-earthlike as a Christmas bauble?  Did they feel like conquerors of new lands, yet strangely different from any conquerors before, having no inhabitants to spoil the view, no contact to make?  Did they feel, coming back to earth, forever superior?

Perfect detachment and death; if not twins, then close cousins.  Chasing detachment’s form is dangerous work. As dangerous as poking at death with a stick for it may rise up to greet you.  I know what I’m talking about, having had a fascination, all my life, with those twin orbs that stare back like snakes’ eyes.

References:

James Hillman – ‘The Force of Character’, Ballantine Publishing Group, 1999; ‘Kinds of Power’, Doubleday, 1995; ‘The Dream and the Underworld’, Harper & Row, 1979; ‘The Soul’s Code’, Random, 1996; ‘The Essential James Hillman – A Blue Fire’, Routledge, 1989; ‘The Myth of Analysis’, Northwestern University Press, 1997; ‘Puer Papers’, Spring Publications, 1979.

Greek epitaph: “I, who was such, am now a slab, a tomb, a stone, an image.” (used).

[Here is an example of an early surreal piece that was edited out, although I retained sections of it on p.300, 301, 302]:

Here is your last look at him, before he becomes a stone, a fixed image.  He sits in the canvas chair with his burnished hair.  The slender spirochaetes that first travelled from moist lip to raw red, receptive nasal passage, are sending out new battalions to that ineffable, velvet, inner well of his eye.  Now they know the way, so they disperse.  It is a two-pronged attack.

Some settle in and start the familiar trek across the white marble of his cornea, insistent as snails at night.  Reaching the iris they slide cross the bars and slats of colour until they can see, at the pupil’s edge, as if down the wrong end of a kaleidoscope, the black, soft, suffuse coating of the retina on the posterior wall of the eye.  There, where the optic nerve enters, there where the layers of light-sensitive cells spark, receiving the images. They float, these mute spirochaetes, timeless, face down, searching for the bottom of the basalt pool, the pebbly base of the leaf-stained creek, trying to discern sand from golden water in the estuary, merging soundlessly with the glassy-green and yellow ocean.

They look like they are gliding, but they are eating as they go.  Down the white rayon filaments of nerve fibres and into the creamy ripplets of the brain’s grey matter.

Yet others are finding their way from the sphenoid sinus to the cavernous sinus within the dura mata. They like it there, on the edge of the salty, venous lake.  They call up reinforcements, dig in to the soft sand.  They will not be easily routed.  And like any army, when they move on they will leave a putrid mess behind.

Surf sighs up the beach, the scurf line of foam hangs, quiescent lace, until yet another wavelet erases the previous pattern. Continuation, repetition, overlay, washing over, nothing, dark space, replication, creeping, repeating, image after image, the clock never stops its ticking, but Fate and I are the vision mixers, we have pulled camera, the pool of light where he sits goes blank.

There is no image without light, only the after image in your own eye chamber, which runs ahead of you for a moment, a dog losing itself in the dim light, out for an evening traverse, you see the tip of its tail, then it is beyond the limit of visual purple, lost to sight. (used) .

PORTRAITS:

  • Image – the full force of character revealed as in a work of art.
  • “Essence of us is an insistence on being witnessed – by others, by gods, by the cosmos itself – the image will out.”
  • “We become, as we age, more like apparitions, sepulchral effigies.” (used)
  • “We are left as traces, lasting in our very thinness, microlayers of pigment and carbon, which yet can portray the substantial profundities of a face.” (used)
  • Hillman – Force of Character.

(No portrait of him?  Do I do a portrait of him?  Is he sitting for me when I kiss him?  He can’t resist having his portrait taken.  I come into my own, become famous after we divorce.  He needs the publicity.  Forced to witness me.  Will I witness him?  Or tear him up?

See p.307 for the final version of this excerpt written very early on -25.5.2000:

You could ask, with some justification, what I thought I was doing, marrying Willy’s son.  They say innocence attracts evil, but not even innocence is as simple as that.  I might have thought I was repairing the past or at the least, attempting to re-write it.  Our lives are pure fiction after all.

I think what I was after was something I thought had been stolen from me.  I thought Redmond might give it back, whatever it was.

Was it the grandiosity of childhood?  That is taken away from us, by hook or by crook.  Was it laughter and lightness?  I don’t know any more.  What I had lost was not Redmond’s to give back, that is for sure.

It was probably one of  a number of pure and simple things, as simple a solution to a problem as the Uncertainty Principle was to physics, as pure a fiction as has even been fabricated.

Purity and truth. Here’s wishing. Something ordinary that you might find was lying around, yours for the taking, like freedom or love. (used) .

 

[Here is the publisher’s reader’s report. This is from Diana Giese who later became my editor.]

PURE FICTION by  Rhyll McMaster

It’s only a paper moon

Sailing over a cardboard sea

But it wouldn’t be make believe If you believed in me.

Lyce is someone defined by men. The sections of the manuscript are given their names: Willy, Peter, Redmond, Paul. Her self-told story is a struggle for an authentic sense of self beyond the phoniness of the lives she sees around her as a child and adolescent in Brisbane, and as an aspiring painter in London. She uses her creative work both to break free and to take revenge on her past.

This is a compelling piece of work. It vividly evokes particular milieux and times. The characters are sharp and memorable, though none is likeable. They are instantly recognizable from their speech, for which McMaster has an excellent ear. Their voices provide a mordant chorus throughout the story, resurfacing from the past to chime in with comments on Lyce’s present or future actions. She also has a distinctive voice, describing her life and times with pitiless scorn and blackest humour. As she moves from childhood to adolescence and adulthood, the style adapts. Throughout, it is tough and assured. Occasionally the feelings evoked are so edgy that the page seems to glitter dangerously.

The manuscript is structured so that the reader is drawn inexorably on. The prose has real power as Lyce circles back, creating her little malicious explosions, to her chilling revenge.

The manuscript can, however, be made even better. There are some over-long passages which could be judiciously cut. Sometimes paragraphs are over-written, with one clever conceit too many. Pruning would add to their effect.

There are constant references to myth, fairy-tales and nursery rhymes. Some of these are truly resonant, while others just seem like props. Insistent refrains from songs such as Paper Moon work better. Short quotations by everyone from Blake to William James are scattered around rather haphazardly. The story mostly doesn’t need these buttresses. It’s strong enough on its own. Each one should be rigorously reconsidered during the editing process.

The chapter headings are intriguing, and make the reader want to plunge in (The Blank Wall, The Last Door, The Smallest Key; The Waterford Pen; The Robber Bridegroom). ‘Willy’ is far too obvious a name for a child-abuser, and should be changed. So should the work’s title. Pure Fiction suggests some dreary treatise. What about Make Believe, also taken from Paper Moon?

Whatever the final title, this would make a terrific book. I recommend publication.

Here are some more revisions, plus deletions of quotes that originally I had peppered through the manuscript:

  • At the end of the Round One chapter:  You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough. – Wm. Blake
  • At the end of the Waking In the Night chapter:  The world continues and it continues because it is a repetition. – Kierkegaard
  • A chapter called Truth, Justice, Happiness was transferred to p.271, beginning with ‘Only me. I want to be only me.’ And ending with: ‘I believed for so long in a universal touchstone, an abiding truth.’
  • At the beginning of the Interruption chapter:  The ageing process is probably the most perfect model of passive synthesis. –Levinas
  • At the beginning of The World of Boys chapter:  [previously called Ceci N’est Pas Un Biscuit]: The source of ethical existence is the face of the other, its appeal for response. – James Hillman.
  • At the beginning of Bluebeard’s Wives chapter: [previously called Intention]

He appears to be a fine, upstanding man. He owns that castle over yonder and all the country as far as the eye can see. But sister, take care, for don’t you see he has a blue beard?

Ah, it’s not so blue, she replies. – Bluebeard and His Seven Wives.

  • At the beginning of The Last Detail chapter:  A face is being made, often against your will, as witness to your character. – James Hillman.
  • At the bottom of p293: Ludwig Wittgenstein said, The solution to the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of this problem.
  • At the beginning of the Image chapter:  n., a likeness or similitude. An optical counterpart or appearance of an object, such as is produced by reflection from a mirror or refraction by a lens [including the lens of a body of water]. An idea or conception. Archaic, an illusion or apparition.
  • Last page:  There are more worms unattached to hooks than impaled upon them; therefore, on the whole, says Nature to her fishy children, bite at every worm and take your chances. – William James.

NARCISSISM & CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT – REDMOND:

 

The root causes of narcissistic tendencies: if the child does not get adequate mothering/fathering, and does not have itself reflected back in a positive manner by its parents, then its image of itself and of the world may become negative and mistrustful, and as well they may get stuck in an immature attitude.

It is the child in us who feels the narcissistic rage.

The narcissist will want to repay the insult inflicted on the childish ‘grandiose’ self. They will feel an unforgiving fury at any person who hasn’t completely mirrored them. What is more, they can never be satisfied because their needs are so huge.  [Chap.48, Pure Fiction, p.264-5.]

As adults they have to have complete control over intimate others because they crave that mirroring so badly… they are manipulative control freaks. This often puts them in love-hate relationships, such as the one depicted in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

 

Narcissists are incapable of thinking themselves into someone else’s situation because their grandiose self needs all the attention. ‘Me, first and last,’ is always their motto: [Chap 29, The Prize, P156 ] [p193-4] [p201-2] [p209]

A child cannot be expected to have much insight into its situation, the one that is making it feel helpless and unlistened to. It just feels angry at anything that crosses its path or thwarts its desires in any way.

[The fairytale of Bluebeard is a good example of narcissistic rage.] [p185-6] [p188]

So the child who has been humiliated will come to adulthood lacking empathy, and will attempt unconsciously to avenge their psychic pain by humiliating other people. [ Chap 30, Bluebeard’s Wives, p164-5, 6, 7-8.]  [Chap31, Exhibiting Symptoms, p169-174]

Narcissists are extremely touchy. Their rage is always latently explosive, ready to erupt.

Their rage implies vindictiveness and envy, emotions which are socially unacceptable, so those feelings are banished to the shadows. [p217-18][p219]

They are all-or-nothing types psychologically: ‘If I have bad thoughts I am not perfect – therefore I am totally worthless.’ This feeling is intolerable, so has to be repressed along with acknowledgement of their rage.  But their dark shadows will rise up to haunt them in dreams – one common dream is of shadowy threatening figures chasing them.

They feel like hollow people who at any moment will be found out, so they strive to protect their vulnerable selves by bolstering their public persona. They are often charming on the outside and petty tyrants in private. [Chap33, Fine Print, p178-9]

This constant defense of their jelly-like interiors makes them very frightened people. [p292]  Fear breeds implacable hatred and unyielding rage at those they perceive to be attacking them. [p179…] [p234-5]

Narcissists are very hard to treat in psychotherapy because of this unyielding rage. [p224-5]

Sooky can sometimes be considered to have narcissistic tendencies too:[ p162.]

The difference between her and Redmond becomes clear as the novel progresses, because Sooky has empathy at crucial moments in her development, and even more crucially, has self-critical reflection, something Redmond lacks.[ Chap.58, The Loved One, p.299…] [p258-9][chaps49, 50,p266…]

Redmond cannot afford to think about his motives, as it might destroy him. He needs always to feel perfectly self-justified. This lack of self-critical reflection implies that narcissists are amoral. When deciding on a course of action, their neediness will always come first. [p236-7-8]

A distinction must be made between the narcissist’s emotional but unconscious feelings such as their rage, which they have little control over, and their purposeful, thought-out actions which are bent on restoring divine justice to themselves… they are self-justification’s poster boy. [p285…] [p290]

Refs: Individuation & Narcissism, Mario Jacoby, Routledge, 1990.  A Pattern of Madness, Neville Symington, Karnac, 2002.

See Eileen Chong’s essay: ‘Reclaiming Identity in Rhyll McMaster’s Feather Man’, Hecate Vol.34 No.2, 2008.

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