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Twelve Days of Christmas – Day One

Diary of a Free Woman
Day One: True Love
23 December 2009

Today is the day my marriage will end.

(Although I don’t know this while I sweat in the Perth heat, crushing spices and simmering two vegetable curries for my husband’s mother’s family Christmas party.)

My mother-in-law’s annual family Christmas party is a thing of tradition; and, for people like me – from another planet, and with a small family far away in the Balkans, where Christmases are different – a thing of some discomfort. But I have been in Australia for ten years; I like being here; and I have always liked observing and pretending I belong. It’s a good game, comforting to strays and hosts alike.

Twelve Days of Christmas is a diary in twelve parts. It maps out my marriage breakup and examines the role of writing in the process of revelation – no: the creation – of identity. Be warned, gentle reader. It contains strong language, nudity, sexual references and adult themes.

Twelve Days of Christmas will also, I suddenly realise, have elements of the weight loss blog, that burgeoning genre, the sad marker of our times. Like a weight loss blog, my blog will also poeticise a path to the true, concealed self, which will, hopefully— and not without arduous application of discipline— emerge from masses of irrelevant blubber.

***

Today is the day my marriage will end.

See this beginning, for instance. It’s a device, called a flashback; and its role is to help me, the writer, get you, the reader, in.

An observant reader will quickly see that today’s entry is not being written on the day — but retrospectively; after the fact. Not as a diary, but as a work of fiction.

Flashbacks are very effective.

But when it comes to blogs, they could conceivably be called cheating. Blogs are supposed to belong to what the critical discourse calls “veridical” or “revelatory” genres; genres which seek to give the illusion of truth. So what’s a literary device doing in a blog? Is fictionalisation allowed here? Should bloggers ever work consciously on the idea of provoking reader interest?

To tell the truth, I don’t know. This is the first time in my life I’m writing a blog. I am an academic. I’ve written much scholarship; I’ve written many poems and stories; I teach on-line; I write as I breathe. For a long time, people have been saying to me: write a blog; write a blog; you should write a blog. I know other academics blog. But I have never had the guts to do it.

I tell myself I don’t have the time. I tell myself blogs are for the self-indulgent; a waste of time. I tell myself nobody would want to read them anyway. I tell myself I don’t know how to write blogs. All of which may be true, but that’s beside the point. These are Voices of Self Doubt, and I have been listening to them for a long time in relation to many other genres of writing. These are voices which I thought I have learned to conquer in this last decade of my migratory life (I came to Australia in 1999, for love, having followed the man who is the sine qua non of this story about breakup) and in the twelve years of being a professional writer. Although I am a grown up writer now, these thoughts persist, and are particularly loud when I imagine myself writing a blog.

As many times before, I fall back on the thought that I’ve been invited to do this. The invitation makes this blog an assignment. (Wow: a piece of fake “veridical” writing, written with elements of fiction, which is actually an assignment and a report. How complex writing is; how intricate the webs we weave underneath our attempts to create the illusion of simplicity and truth.) But there’s one good thing about assignments: they lend legitimacy. If I got invited, then I must do it. Someone else wants this; not I. My job is to be interesting.

The conclusion: bring on the literary devices. It’s my blog and I’ll flashback if I want to.

***

Today is the day my marriage will end.

I do not know this while I set out the million trinkets for the children in my husband’s family, which I had bought in an over-crowded Mall the previous night and carried home in bulging plastic bags, on the table for wrapping.

Oh-oh. No. Here it is: this is where she starts whining. This is where she begins to paint herself as the poor unsupported woman who did all the work in the relationship. Back to embittered girl-stuff, eh? No matter how smart or exotic the girls are, they’re all the same deep down, right?

Right. But although blogs are supposed to be revelatory, nobody wants too much revealing; or at least not of this kind. Oh no, no, no, no, no. Venting about divorce might be too acerbic, too difficult, too female. It might cut too close to the bone of the illusions we inhabit. (Oh yes; it might).

But relax, relax, cringing reader. No, I don’t want this blog as a means of what poet Petrarch, my friend from the fourteenth century, called “cantando duol se disacerba” – “singing, pain makes itself less bitter”. We all know that therapeutic venting makes for incredibly bad writing. And I like my illusions as much as the next person.

Instead, dear reader, I propose an experiment.

In this diary, I will attempt to apply writing like a poultice to the process of broken thinking and living; like a blade to diseased skin or an organ. I will use writing as a way to incise; to reveal; to cut loose; and most importantly, to shape. I will use writing as a way of doing; of owning. I will use it to understand my own thoughts, too loud and too scattered now. I will use it as an instrument of agency and proof of existence. (Which surrealist poet was it again, who said that nothing exists until it has been written down?)

Men have been doing this for centuries. They reveled in owning and shaping, and imposed their creative stamp on things. (The pen, like the sword, has always been a symbol for the penis; I find myself comforted by the arrival of keyboards, which finally gender the joy of writing female). I want to use writing as a way of existing beyond marriage; a way of re-discovering piercing pleasure and confidence in my mind, and therefore body. I want to use writing as the surviving lover, the one to cling to. My one true love.

***

Today is the day my marriage will end.

I don’t not know this while I sit at my mother-in-law’s party and watch our five-year-old daughter improvise a ballet dance on the lawn. In the lights of a four-wheel drive parked in her grandmother’s driveway, her toes are pointed beautifully. She lifts her little expressive and tender arms; and although her eyes are frightened of the crowd of relatives and other children cheering her on, she dances. She does. My beautiful, brave girl.

Today is the day my marriage will end.

The day begins with no knowledge of doom; yet I know that the breakup is there, in the organic makeup of the earth, in the air filled with barbecue fumes. Like a cancerous growth: murderous, yet still unannounced. I am the body that has known the dull ache of the tumour’s growth; but not the confusion of certainty.

And then, when we get home, the words are exchanged. And then I know it.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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Danijela Kambaskovic-Schwartz is based in Western Australia and currently works at the University of Western Australia. She has had poetry published in Cordite and Overland, and won the David Campbell Prize for an unpublished poem in 2008 with a work called 'A Migrant Writer on a Bus (Thinking of Kundera)'.

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