Sunday just gone – Women of Letters’ February salon at Northcote’s Regal Ballroom. Topic – Letter to Rude Awakening! The start of my letter:
Dear Rude Awakening, hello. I realise now you came to me three times.
First, you were a Musician. People would get under each other’s skin to your music. Love songs. Set in half-forgotten cities that lay, like camels, in sand and dust. With retired coronels left behind by history. A god-shaped hole or a hole-shaped God. Love songs, but not how-deep-is-your-love love songs. One day, not in Australia mercifully, you became a star. Now hundreds of thousands of people were falling for each other, fucking, feeling their hearts beat and bind, to your songs. And somehow in this Ascent of yours, which felt, yes, almost inevitable, your very modest capacity for love and friendship, the unfeelingness of your heart, the scale of your self-involvement, never entered the frame.
Then, dear Rude Awakening, you were a Professor. In your work you zeroed in on the dirt underneath the gloss of historical narratives. You were forensic in your dissection of the failures of policy and moral imagination. Sharp as a sashimi knife. And don’t get you started on the frightening small-mindedness of this or that populace. Sharp as an Olympic skate blade. And somehow in all of this, your contempt for fellow living-breathing-walking-past-you-in-unsteady -lines human beings, the damage you continued to inflict on those less powerful than you, your inability to feel moral discomfort, let alone a tingle of remorse, never entered the frame.
Finally, dear Rude Awakening, you were a Famous Novelist. You wrote about men and women. About the complex, dizzying webs we weave. What is it that we look for in each other? Why do we hurt each other so? What are we thirsting for? Can this mother of all thirsts ever be quenched? And somehow in all of this, the fact that in your free time you liked to humiliate women, just a tinsy bit, never entered the frame. No, nothing too crazy, you’d merely lead them on ever so expertly, take them out for cosy dinner, tell them how extra-super-special they were, buy them gifts, look deep and hard into their corneas, and then declare yourself disappointed when, after months of this, they’d dare make the first move – those cheap, skirt-hitching sluts! There were many women. You were a handsome devil. I heard these days you email them a 5-page pdf with quotes from leading critics and newspapers around the world praising your singular contribution to the world of letters. What woman won’t get wet reading that?
Oh yes, I remember well what happened. I married the Musician. Was institutionally subordinate to the Professor. Managed, just, to avoid disappointing the Famous Novelist.
Something else was happening though. The world kept applauding. More prizes for the Famous Novelist. More highly competitive grants for the Professor. More sell-out European stadiums for the Musician. The institutions – publishing, academia, the music industry – were looking after them, with great tenderness it felt like, and resolve, keeping the three of them fed, and nicely burped.
You might say they were kind of unstoppable.