The Rules of the Game.
1. A game of call and response. One person posts something in each of the three strands. The other person responds with their own three posts, that are both response to the last call, and a new call in themselves.
2. The Three Strands are as follows: A: Analytical B: Autobiographical C: Fictional
3. On the whole, the assumption is that Tamara provides text while Sue provides images- generally in the form of photographs. But we can be fluid. Sue can post text, Tamara can post images, in fact, either of us can post anything the site is able to host, as long as it is always an honest response to the previous posting.
4. We attempt to respond in a timely fashion. We attempt to be understanding when such timeliness isn’t easy.
What I noticed first was that all three women were beautiful. And also, that they were young. Not that young, just younger than me. I live my life in a bubble, with my friends that I’ve known forever and the other lovely mothers at the school. I don’t think I’ve sat down for a long time, if ever, with people who were younger than me, a whole generation down, and it was strange. I’ve been feeling old for a while now but this is the first time I’ve seen it confirmed. Not that I’m actually that old. Just old enough for there to be strata below me full of smart lovely women in the middle of their work. A was a scientist. B was an artist. C was a curator.
They began to talk about my website. We really didn’t know each other so that was a good way in. They were surprised at its slightly chatty feel. They found it unusual, and refreshing. It’s true I haven’t seen any other artist’s website that uses language like mine. But I’ve done that deliberately. It’s a kind of experiment: let’s see what happens if I simply try to be completely honest. A, B and C talked about how unusual it was to see an artist describing the difficulties of work and life as I did; the admission that work stopped when Riva was born. And of course, what made us separate, as much as age, if not more so, was the fact that none of them had children.
None of them seemed to be planning to either, though they talked about what they would do if- as though the phantom baby hovered somewhere in the air to be plucked down with a butterfly net, or not, as the case may be. One of them said that simply doing her job left her without time for anything else- she didn’t understand how people managed with children. Another talked about the loss of the community as extended family- how mothers weren’t ever meant to be doing it all on their own. I was with her on that one. One described her colleague’s struggles with childcare. Another talked about how babies weren’t really human till they were two, how they were like larvae- born too soon with those over-large brains. If only you could take them on later, when they were more interesting and ready for some childcare. I told them how deeply alive, how full of feeling, how absolutely human a newborn baby is, and continues to be. How interesting and magnificent. They listened but I’m not sure they were convinced. Riva had been on the phone to me in tears a few moments before. That morning I had dropped her off weeping at school, and I still felt bereft and deeply sad.
It is hard to talk about the joy, about the blessing (I really don’t worship my children, but the nature of that joy is quasi religious) of having children. It’s hard to talk about the joy without it sounding fake, sentimental, brainless and repulsive, all the things it is actually the opposite off. With the other mothers you don’t need to describe. From the outside you see parents regarding the not-that-interesting activities of their offspring with the cliché of a ‘fond smile’ and frankly, I can see how that might seem nauseating. But the initiated can see what’s going on underneath, the miles and miles of root structure- aching, endless, magnificent- deep in the dirt below the smile. How do you pass that on? How to illuminate the thing beyond what’s so visible about being a mother; the drudgery, the boredom, the limits on time and movement, the worry, the tiredness, the compromise, the slapped down careers?
I couldn’t do it- I didn’t even try. And why should I? I don’t need to evangelise childbearing. I never regretted it but I can see what I lost. Magnificent, fulfilled and productive lives exist without children, and when parents (particularly the newer ones) suggest to me that this isn’t the case I always think they are trying to convince themselves, trying, by making the alternative look barren, to comfort themselves in their confusions and difficulty. I won’t let myself go there. But still, it was like a weird apartheid, a radical separation that I felt between myself and A, B and C.
I don’t feel a bit better or wiser or anything-than A, B or C. Mostly the opposite, sadly. And older. I remember saying pretty much everything they said once, the thoughts rushing through my head like a stream over pebbles, glinting with what seemed like truth but too fast moving to be really examined. And why examine it anyway? It’s not relevant till it happens. I envy those women their ability to let their work consume them, their ability to think about what motherhood might be like with even a moment of certainty, and then dismiss those thoughts and move on. I envy them the missing pain-shape that a crying child inscribes.
I love my children and my husband, and I love the work I do, I love it and I love the making of it. But even without children I doubt I would be as successful an artist as B seemed to be. And here’s another of those refreshingly honest things it might be unwise to be saying in public (not that I can really bring myself to care about any of that): while I know my work to be good I’m no good at all at trying to be out in the world with it. Walking to the Underground Station after lunch with C she told me about the programmes at the Institute she worked at. Should I have talked about my work? Should I have asked if I could be a part? Of course I should. But I didn’t. I didn’t know what words to use or how to get them out of my mouth without sounding like a 12 year old. I’ve never understood how you close a deal and it makes me feel stupid. And besides, I just wanted to get home and see Riva.
In my application to CalArts the first words I wrote where “I want to tell stories” but now I can’t seem to find any. I’ve got no stories to give- so I’m going to plunder the past. I have had so many stories, and I know now that very few, if any, of them will become the films I once dreamed off. So here’s the start of a story I worked on at Cal Arts, but that actually stretches back to the days when we lived together Sue, at Shakespeare Walk, and I dreamt of Danny Cohen. My private title for it was MEDKX.
A girl and a boy, in their mid twenties. Let’s say they meet at work. She likes him at once. She’s interested. But he’s in a relationship so- ok- they become friends. They work together. They get on well. The project ends. Perhaps they call each other a few times. Meet for a drink. But nothing much. A little while later they work together again. Now he’s split up with his girlfriend. Interesting. But he’s sad about it- too sad for her to think they could have anything romantic together, so instead the friendship grows. And grows. She never looses the feelings she has for him though, the not-friendship feelings. And as time passes, he starts to have feelings for her. And maybe a year or so on, at his instigation, the friendship becomes romantic- becomes sexual. And she is delighted. She is over the moon.
For a while everything is lovely. They are friends, they are lovers, it’s exactly what she’s imagined a relationship ought to be. It’s alive and sparky. It’s fun. From almost the moment they met she had a sense that she loved him. Now she knows it. And it looks like he loves her too. After about six months they move in together and everything is great. Almost.
There’s just one thing. She can’t stop thinking about his ex girlfriend. The one he was with when they met. The one who left him, and made him so sad. Would he be so sad if I left, she wonders. Somehow, she thinks he wouldn’t, and the idea is unbearable. She can’t shake it. Perhaps he isn’t over her, the ex. Perhaps he still loves her. Perhaps he loves her more than me.
The relationship they have is open and good. It isn’t long before she tells him what she’s thinking. He tells her it isn’t true. That girl is part of the past. She is the one he wants now. She is the one he loves. He believes this, but she can’t. Not quite. And suddenly things aren’t so lovely. He feels frustrated and hurt at her refusal to believe what he says. She feels betrayed, even though she knows he hasn’t done anything. She is consumed with the fear that he will leave her for this other woman, and nothing he can say will convince her otherwise. As the shadow grows, their relationship starts to wilt. The memory of how lovely it was and the strength of their genuine friendship makes them try to work things out, but neither knows how to navigate around this impasse.
Then, one day they are out for a walk. It’s spring time. The trees are in blossom and when the wind blows the blossom falls down like snow. Someone calls his name and they turn. It’s her, the ex girlfriend. She is with a group of friends who hang back as she goes to talk to him. He’s still holding her hand, her, the girl he’s with now, but he seems unaware of her existence as he talks to his ex. He doesn’t even introduce her. It’s very clear. She was right. Whether he knew it or not, he isn’t over that girl. He isn’t over her at all.