Archive for March, 2008

Part the XIV: In Which the Deaf Girl Resolves to Find a Bloke

Posted in Uncategorized on March 27, 2008 by ladyredjess

Given that the most risqué my life gets these days is going to bed smelling of Agent Provocateur Sauce, and that the most romance I can muster is singing along to the Elephant Love Medley from Moulin Rouge whilst eating peanut butter out of the jar with a knife, I figured it was about time I tried to find myself a bloke.

As you may have noticed, men and I don’t quite see eye-to-eye on many things. I’m a feminist and I make no apologies for it. This doesn’t mean that I hate all men – far from it – it just means that I refuse to compromise my beliefs for a more just society. H once had a go at me for being so dogmatic and I replied, well, if it hadn’t been for Emmeline Pankhurst and her hunger strikes in prison and her protests, English women wouldn’t have got the vote. Unless people make a noise about inequality, it will be conveniently ignored.

Added to this is the problem of having grown up with a sensitive, generous, humorous gay brother (aside from outbursts like the above, which are rare), which means that I expect every man I come across also to be sensitive, generous and humorous, and simply can’t fathom it when they aren’t. Clearly, there is something wrong with them all.

Then there is the problem of being an opinionated, outspoken, highly intelligent, attractive and articulate young lady, which many men, particularly reserved English men, find confronting. And finally, of course, there is the major problem of having a disability.

My friends just don’t understand why I can’t go up to a man in a bar and start chatting to him. ‘It doesn’t matter that you can’t hear, it’s so noisy that we can’t either.’ That isn’t the point. What is the point is that for nearly 30 years (having got meningitis when I was 3 and a half), I have been conditioned to try and fit in, to hide my deafness and to appear as ‘normal’ as possible, and that, therefore, the disclosure of a disability is something to be avoided at all costs. Even I can see how patently ridiculous this thinking is, and yet I can’t do anything about it – it’s become instinctive – I’ve become colonised and appropriated into the world of the hearing. It isn’t my parents’ fault either – we lived in a remote part of the country where they had little access to resources that explained how to bring up a deaf child, I was sent to a hearing school as otherwise I would have had to go to a boarding school for deaf children in Sydney, 7 hours’ drive away, and my mother could only rely upon her wits, which dictated that I should be just like everyone else. And this is one of the reasons why I pay so much attention to my appearance (aside from a incurable weakness for stilettos, handbags, cardies and lingerie): a girl that pretty couldn’t possibly have a problem, could she?

So why am I even bothering? Aside from the fact that I’m a healthy young girl who likes her Agent Provocateur, I’m conscious of becoming too selfish and too staid by spending so much time on my own. And then, of course, I’m an incurable romantic, in the tradition of Byron and Heathcliff, rather than namby hearts and roses, and I want someone to write poetry for. So I’ve decided that, rather than climbing up on my white stallion all a-clankin’ in my armour, I shall divest myself of my metal, sign up to an internet dating website and try walking, unarmed, with the hopefuls.

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Insomnia and Illness

Posted in Uncategorized on March 18, 2008 by ladyredjess

I have forgotten how to go to sleep. It started the Sunday before last, and every night since then I’ve been kept awake by conversations with myself, new threads for my thesis, tirades against our flatmate’s boyfriend who, at 25, still can’t even aim into the toilet bowl correctly, and ideas for the endings of stories. I do exercises to banish any thoughts from my head (muscular relaxation, pushing thoughts out with a broom) but they spring back like bouncy young vines and keep growing and curling in my mind. I need weedkiller.

So, with not enough sleep, I have naturally become ill, and a few days this week were decadently (any time I have when I’m not writing or studying feels decadent) passed wrapped in my pink mohair rug on my bed, reading Flaubert’s Sentimental Education. Sometimes I felt as aimless as Frederic himself, wandering the streets of revolutionary Paris and thinking about his amour and generally not doing anything with himself, and other times I wanted to give him a good kick up the arse and tell him to get a job.

One of the things that makes Flaubert such an excellent writer is his attention to detail. Here is a paragraph describing Frederic in love:

‘They nearly always stayed out of doors at the top of the stairs, with the tops of trees yellowed by the autumn rising in uneven curves up to the pale horizon in front of them; or else they went to the far end of the avenue, to a summer-house whose only furniture was a sofa covered in grey linen. The mirror was stained with black spots; the walls gave off a musty smell; and they stayed there talking about themselves, about others, about anything and everything, in an ecstasy of delight. Sometimes the sunbeams, coming through the Venetian blind, would stretch what looked like the strings of a lyre from ceiling to floor, and specks of dust would whirl about in these luminous bars. She amused herself by breaking them with her hand; Frederic would gently seize it and gaze at the tracery of her veins, the grain of her skin, the shape of her fingers. For him, each of her fingers was something more than a thing, almost a person.’ (Penguin, 1964, p. 271).

It’s the grounding of love through the details of the particular – the spots on the mirror, the mustiness of the walls, the yellowing trees, the strips of sunlight – that makes this such an evocative piece. Also, I have a fondness for the way light falls through shutters and windows. I like Emily Dickinson’s ‘There’s a certain slant of light’ – her entire poem on a shape of sunlight in a room – and (for I am sometimes a popular culture whore), the line from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Aspects of Love: ‘Shuttered rooms/with sunlight breaking through.’ It reminds me of summer afternoons in the long holidays on the farm, bored out of my mind, lying under the fan on the prickly carpet and contemplating the light.

On Saturday H and I went to the National Gallery to look at Alison Watt’s exhibition Phantom which was, essentially, huge paintings of swathes of white fabric. The paintings were very poorly displayed and we didn’t think much of it at all until we watched the accompanying video. Despite an incredibly odd start, in which it looked like the painter was being stalked by her interviewer, it developed into an interesting depiction of her work and the ideas behind it. One concept was that the hole made by a fold in the fabric is about the possibility of all that is unseen. I like this idea – which is called ‘negativity’ – and I use it in my thesis, in the sense that those things which we can’t see or hear are not necessarily a loss, but rather something that is productive. The shapes in Watt’s folds were also undeniably feminine, reminding me of vulvas, and I was surprised that no mention was made of this. Perhaps she hadn’t intended it that way and it was, as usual, just my indecent mind. In the video the painting were arranged in her studio so as to take up all available space and it appeared as though she was working among a sea of sheets, but in the gallery they were hung solitarily upon the walls, and it felt very empty.

London and I

Posted in Uncategorized on March 7, 2008 by ladyredjess

I will never love London – the city’s streets harbour too much of my unhappiness for that – but recently we have been jostling into a … slightly less aggressive relationship. I blame Tim Burton and the way his cobbles glistened in Sweeney Todd with the London damp and how, on an evening a few weeks ago, the fog rolled along the streets, reminding me of lamp posts and frock coats. I marvelled that our dingy East End suburb, which is Victorian if you approach it from one end, but perfectly depressing if you come through the council flats at the opposite end, could be so evocative.

This sentience has been augmented by a book of poetry I found on the shelves at the library – Sean Borodale’s Notes for an Atlas, an account of his walks through London. I am very particular about my poetry – well, I am about most things – and this work passes the bar. It’s a very visual piece of work (unsurprisingly, as Borodale is also an artist), grounded by wonderful detail and an interesting technique, whereby the writer puts his reader into his shoes, yet he rarely relies upon the sometimes clunking ‘you.’ For example:

‘Pass black railings and flowers
of iron set within the railings at intervals. See a
bed in a basement room. Read GIVE WAY. A
man with a snooker cue under his right arm,
walking, looks into a bag he carries and there is
a sparkle once. Pass men kissing in a room.
Over the window of the room in blue letters
read TAVERNA. Hear, “God some of the
blokes can’t hold the beer … and language I
can’t understand.” Car. Hear the steps of a
woman. Crying horn of a siren. And hear, “I’ve
never seen you smile so much.”
(Isinglass, 2003, p. 126)

What delighted me most about the work was these snippets of overheard conversation. I once read in an autobiography of a deaf man that what he missed most was not being able to hear, but not being able to overhear. I would agree with this only up to a point – if I could hear the madwoman I work with wittering on all day (to herself, if not to some poor bastard unlucky to be caught in conversation with her), I’d be dragged down into her depths of derangement. However, it is true that there’s something almost exotic about banalities when you can’t hear them.

The poet relies heavily upon the upon the senses of sound and sight, and the effect of this is a certain detachment. The flaneur isn’t overcome or invaded by smells, and he certainly doesn’t touch anything – his body is sealed off and impregnable. This seems to be characteristic of Londoners in general – they huddle not only against the cold but against possible eye contact and – God forbid it – a friendly smile.

The work isn’t difficult to read, but it’s dense, so I only dip into it now and then. There isn’t a driving narrative, only my interest in where he walks and whether his language will change according to the socioeconomics of the areas he’s in. So far I haven’t read enough to tell.

I’ve also been reading Nabakov’s short stories, which make my own efforts at short story writing seem paltry. However some of the endings are far too enigmatic, and though I have guilty of doing this myself, I think it’s lazy on the part of the writer to let the reader try and make meaning of some abrupt, surrealist series of events. This might appeal to some, but I don’t like being left completely mystified.

Nabakov also uses second person sometimes. This style can be quite didactic, but when he uses it as a love letter, as in ‘Sounds’, it becomes touchingly intimate. I’m tempted to go back to Lolita, but I find it a disturbing work, not least because it’s so beautifully crafted that the subject matter is rendered less insidious than it seems, but I’ll leave all this for another day.

Lesbians in the Library

Posted in Uncategorized on March 2, 2008 by ladyredjess

I issue books to so many people at the library that I rarely remember a face, but I do get impressions about people when they come up to me. If I’ve had an altercation with someone (usually an elderly society member or an overbearing male academic), I’ll have a very bad feeling about them, but I still won’t recall what they look like. This is one of the reasons why I like my job: it’s as boring as batshit, but I leave everything behind at the door. However I always remember the pretty boys.

A few weeks ago two young girls came up (by ‘young’ I mean early twenties, because I’m starting to feel my age) and I could sense something about them, but couldn’t put my finger on what it was. I started issuing the books and came across one whose date sheet was all filled up, so I got another one out of the drawer. The date sheets are like postage stamps, so we can either glue them into the book, or lick them. I’m too lazy, usually, to unscrew the glue, so I just lick them. When I did it this time, one of the girl collapsed with laughter against her friend, and I remembered what it was about them: they were lesbians, newly in love and finding all things oral very amusing. I fought down a blush, and solemnly issued the rest of the books.

Since then I’ve been using the glue, and I have become very deft. I’m hoping that one of the pretty boys will see me with my hand on the shaft, and will delicately raise an eyebrow.