A long piece this time. Triggered by a comment to my post yesterday, the writing from Taba, 1985, which I also shared on Facebook, by Brian, my friend since Rosh Pina 1970-72 & a Facebook friend. He wrote, in his brilliant libertinous (a word I just made up, think libertarian & libidinous) style (& I take the liberty of sharing his comment here too, without asking his permiso, I know he’ll dig it):
One night, a mate of mine and I set out to walk to Akaba, oh ok, from Eilat and our humble Chikun then. It was fascinating to see the dancing lights coming closer…But then suddenly half way, our goal in sight, searchlights and guns being cocked! (Second time in Israel) The Jordanian Army is all, Of course we got busted by the armed border and returned. Shame! We were questioned and told them we just wanted to see how the other half lived and get a proper felafel! Got released as hopeless Romantics or loonies. Meshugim! Little did they know! Later, I discovered it was easier to Head South for Sharm on foot. After all i had just helped to build that bloody road in the searing heat and that said something about Israels intentions for Sinai (And the Canal!) Did’nt it?However…international pressure and all that Jazz! Just a little bit of mine, permiso? Oh, on the way i took a diversion and headed for the hills. Up the wadi i saw a green dog. It saw me too. we played a game of stop start, stare shrug and carry on. Well, i did! But aaah, the shoreline the Bedi, the palmetto clumps! Memories were made of that! As i remember on the way down i met one more traveller, we nodded, and i lost my watch in a swamp! Ate a lot of fish and rice, Got very dark, lit fires, Lost and found myself. I;d taken some tabs along. But gloom never arrived!
I replied to Brian’s comment:
Thanks for this fine memoiring, Brian! I also tried to walk from Eilat to Akaba, with a friend, but we unfortunately got busted on the Jordanian side, & that was no ball. I wrote a memoiring about it once, maybe I’ll look for it & post it soon..
Looking for it, I found I’d woven it into a whole other story of several stories & started reading the whole thing, 56,332 words, about 82 pages of single-spaced 12 pt Times Roman, of which I’ve reread almost half by now & must say I’m quite amazed at how today I am able to see the worth of the writing as I never was before, & feel grateful that I’ve reached this stage of my life, & am able at last to publish what I now see as a novella of its kind…
So here is Part 1, the first 19,435 words …
WHAT DO I WANT? WHAT DO i WANT? WHAT do I WANT? What DO I WANT? WHAT DO I want?
I remember the question running on and on as I crossed Dorcas Street to the pub for the 9.30 to 10 pm tea-break, together with four of the other proof-readers I worked with on the afternoon and night shift at the printing factory behind us, my eyes starting to unwind from the rapid shifts of focus needed to read the changing sizes of typefaces in the several pages of whole-page and double-spread ads for another of Myer’s massive sales to appear in tomorrow’s Herald. The question had run through my mind many times before, and had done since, but that was the night I first noticed it, first thought about how it kept returning and nagging at me, and lately without room for a reply in between the repeated questions, probably because by then I knew none of the ones I knew could be satisfactory. Bill pushed open the pub door, and we all waked into the warm and familiar light and friendly buzz of the saloon bar. What do I want to DO? That was, and most often still is, its main form. Not to do, or to not do – that was something I hadn’t let myself experience yet, not since the unremembered times in my childhood when I didn’t know how to distinguish such matters. Young Chris, my new copy-holder who in times we had for talk sometimes in between reading jobs had been talking to me about his ambitions of becoming a professional golfer, telling me how he spent almost every morning on the links, and how there was lots of money in pro golf, went with Michael to the bar to help him bring back the five pots. I went with Bill and David to our table by the window. What do I want to do? Write a best-seller? A best-selling what? Or create, or express myself, or tell a story of my life? Or sell my time for the highest price I can get, doing what? To have money, for what?
But I know what I want to have money for. To enable all of us in my family to have what we want and do what we want. Including to not do or not have whenever we want. I don’t know how to make that kind of money. And one of the things I want to do is create. By create I mean starting out, like I have just now, and putting what I’ve done out where I can see it, then doing some more, and hanging that up too, and more, and seeing where it goes, and getting more ideas on the way, until it takes off, in all kinds of directions, and then – and this is the trick I must learn, the one I’ve never remembered or managed – pulling back to where it’s just one step beyond the place where it started taking off, no more. Already you, my reader, know you’re reading across several time zones. One is back in 1967, in South Melbourne, with me listening to David, also younger than me, the youngest of the proof-readers, telling Bill, the oldest of the group, a retired agricultural machinery salesman, about how he was hoping to get accepted as a flight steward with Qantas and was eager to travel to the States and to Europe. Bill couldn’t see what David was so excited about. I could, David talked about theater and jazz and meeting more more open-minded, more cosmopolitan people. I too had thought how if I was alone I could probably find what I wanted or find out what I wanted better in London or New York than in Melbourne. But I wasn’t alone, and wasn’t likely to be able to make another change of geographic location in any near future. Michael and Chris came back with the beers. Michael was a journalist, full-time with The Sun, lamplighted as a proof-reader for the extra income, which he needed, as by an amazing coincidence I discovered later and elsewhere, not only to keep his young and upwardly progressing and naturally increasing family. He patronized all four of us from his position of professional superiority, but benignly and with good humour.
What do I want? When? No, I’d rather not be here, and I’d rather be here than there, at work, thank god for these tea-breaks, but rather than both I’d like to be home, with Nitza, or alone and trying to write. Write what? And why am I here in Australia? I wanted to come because my mother was sick and I wanted her to meet my new wife and I wasn’t sure she would survive her sickness but she has so we’re still here two years later. And because I had had no stronger want to be anywhere else. And if now I sometimes think about London or the States, it’s too late, how could I leave my mother, or take my pregnant wife to London with nothing to live on? And it’s not like there’s something particular calling me there. Just maybe another intensity, that could trigger things out of me that just aren’t getting triggered.
If the question keeps coming, if the question keeps coming, what do I want what do I want what do i want what do i want, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to be here in Australia or even I don’t want to be working as a proof-reader it means i want something i don’t know what i want – I really kept on getting confused, I wasn’t really hearing the question!
That is what I suddenly realize now. There it was, loud and clear, repeating itself and repeating itself to me, and all I could hear in it was frustration and disappointment with myself for not knowing what I want and not getting any closer to finding out!
What do I want? I want to know what I want!
Put like that, it’s a whole different ball game. I now have a clear mission: to discover what I want. And that’s something I can do first of all in real time, when I’m wanting something, and also in memory of real time past, remembering myself wanting something. And the more of those I can get together, the more I can know what I want. And since one of the things I know I want is to create, then writing a creation made up of these discoveries beside actually relating them to real time contingencies of my ongoing present life is a way to help augment and collate some of these discoveries.
I want to know what I want. What I do with that knowledge in each real time situation is then up to me. I can sacrifice it or go for it, I can be judicious about styles, if I know what I want.
But how can I know what I want in a given situation? Was that what I wanted, to be sitting in that saloon bar drinking the third round (my shout) with four other human beings, totally disregarding what they were talking about though not letting on, giving out a “yair” here and a smile there when it seemed appropriate and no-one knew the better, conducting this discussion inside my head, why am I asking myself what do I want? What do I want? Today I can still find myself drawn into my own thoughts or anxieties while in conversation with people I want to be with. But I know I want to be with them, and I find my way back to them, sometimes with a little help from those friends. One of the things I now know about what I want: I want, sometimes, to be with my friends. And because we want together to discover some of our own & each other’s wants, & what we do with them & how hard it is to discover some, because they’re things we were taught were shameful…
I can know that when I’m wanting to be a friend I’m not wanting to be anything else, any kind of journalist or lover or psychologist or guru or prophet or documenter or hero or manipulator or a success or a failure.
I can know that when I’m wanting to be creative I’m not wanting to be best-seller-writer or any other of the above.
I can know that when I’m wanting to be a lover I’m not wanting to be a macho or a masoch or a seducer or a seduced, I can lie next to you and put my hand on your cheek and feel my love grow.
I can know that when I’m wanting to piss I’m wanting to piss.
I can know that when I’m wanting to run my modest translation business where I’m the only employee, I’m wanting it in only a qualified sense: it’s the best expression I’ve been able to find so far for my want to make a good income for my family; I would certainly prefer to make at least such an income by writing, but the only way I want to write is creatively, and the only thing I want to write about is what I want.
So I’ve come quite a way since I sat in that saloon bar that evening, several months before Jonathan was born, till tonight, twenty-five and a half years later, sitting alone in my room typing this writing, and knowing this is what I want to be doing now and for another few minutes, then I want to print it out & show it to Nitza, because she was at me to write a best-seller today, today she was depressed about or economic future and I was far from optimistic myself and she kept coming at me and calling out “Desperanto! I want that best-seller! You promised me a best-seller! I didn’t want to be a success, I wanted to be married to a success! Where’s the fame? Where’s the money? Stop translating, write the best-seller!” No matter that I didn’t promise, I had had hopes & had expressed them. It got to me. I got into my failure syndrome again. I sat in my arm-chair & lit the joint I’d just rolled, though the night before I’d said to Nitza I wouldn’t smoke today because I was so tired after starting Saturday afternoon & into the evening, yes, she said, it certainly lowers your sexual urge. And I still have the memory of the warm & loving nookies we’ve just learned to share, but was not quite wanting that yet, I was wanting to sleep last night. I got up from the armchair to darken the room and turn on the little lamp beside the computer, and felt a fart coming, and let it, but it felt as if a bit of wet had come out my anus. I took the joint to the toilet, sat down without turning on the light after checking my underpants with my fingers to be sure they were dry, and heard myself thinking the same what do I want what do I want what do I want and remembered the evening in South Melbourne, not for the first time, and then felt I had the beginning of a writing, about then and about now. But I had no idea when I started to write that I know what I want: to know what I want.
Mon 30 Nov 1992, 9:03 pm I date the text. Could become a pleasant evening ritual: dim room, take end of joint to toilet, switch off light, shit & think in the dark what I might want to write tonight. Standing up & scratching away at the psoriasis on my arse and around my penis & my balls, I thought that, and loved the sudden prospect that I can do it every evening, maybe for the rest of my life if I want to, except a couple of nights a week for being with family and friends. Isolating myself, but I see people during the day and I’ll meet my love after midnight. Of course if this could also be a best-seller I could regain my evenings for leisure and friends, and write in the daytime instead of translating. Which is what I now want to do, but in the sense of would if I could but I can’t so it’s good I know what I want & know I can’t do that but can still do what I want to do, in this case: I want to earn a living and I want to write, even separately, & I’d love them to start happening together. Of course I want to write a best-seller. But I only want to write what I want.
I don’t remember if I’d been hearing the Beatles singing “Do what you want to do” just before that evening as we walked to the pub. It’s possible. I think I’d only started asking myself that question seriously again just before leaving the kibbutz, because until I began feeling I didn’t want to be a kibbutz member any more, that question had always been a secondary or less important kind of thing, maybe frequently occurring in everyday contexts of what do I want to do now if I had time off from work or duties, or even in longer-range contexts like: since the kibbutz makes it possible for me to take courses of different kinds, some by correspondence and some including going to seminars in different places, what kind of course do I want to take? Do I want to volunteer to be a youth-movement instructor for the intake of young Youth Aliyah teenagers who have been brought to the kibbutz? Do I want to make love with this married woman who is suddenly showing an interest in me? She invited me to sit beside her on the bus to Tel Aviv and started asking me questions about myself. Like why do I smoke. I didn’t want to tell her that I’d started not to be a big guy like others I saw smoking, but because I got strangely turned on by girls and women who smoked, and ever since I started my secret masturbation rites I not only liked to have a photo of a woman smoking among the photos I arranged around myself in the locked toilet, which fortunately for me was part of but not inside the small maisonette where I had lived with my mother in South Caulfield, you stepped out of the kitchen and into the backyard and there was another door going into the toilet, fortunately, because then she wouldn’t smell the smoke of the cigarette or two I inevitably smoked as part of the ceremony I hurried to furtively and eagerly but often felt shame and remorse for, sometimes as soon as I came back into the kitchen with the photos well hidden, inside a respectable Film Fun or newspaper or a Pix or a Post, which sometimes also supplied me with pictures. I’m also not sure if that particular Beatles number had already been released. I also don’t know if the way I relate to what I want now is so different to the way I did on the kibbutz, except that now there is no superwant. Even the want that my wants get a fair hearing, the want to express and by expressing to know, is only one more want.
I’m greedy. And I know a want is also a lack. Why shouldn’t I concentrate on what’s there rather than what isn’t? What’s there? Greed. An urge to grow. Very little visible right now of a desire for power over others, perhaps my wants have become more refined. Fears. Violence. Anger. Jealousy. Treacherousness. Self-Condemnation. Self-Abuse. Abuse of Others. Condemnation of Others. But these aren’t things I want. Or lack, but I want to express what I want and know what I want. And what I have wanted that I knew I wanted and what I have wanted that I didn’t know I wanted, and what happened when there was no acknowledgment and what happened when there was.
As we came out of the pub, a bit tipsy but not so much that it should affect our capacity to spot errors in the three hours to go until the shift ended, or so we all had affirmed to each other if not fully confirmed in practice over the weeks since we had begun to form a team for these nightly visits, I realized I had no idea about what any of us had talked about that whole half-hour, except a few phrases from the beginning, before the first beers arrived. All I had been doing was hearing myself repeating the question and thinking about what I could do about it. But what did I want to do? Not much more than I was doing? Oh, much much more. I wanted to be a literary celebrity. But what kind? A poet, one who expressed the true existential angst of this generation, in a world where no one could be happy because there was so much misery in so many places. Some combination of his moral sense and his intellect and his want to feel he was good person, he wouldn’t have said righteous, made him feel that that would be right. But with the slight tipsiness and the laughter he was hearing outside his head it seemed remote, gloomier than he wanted to be. A novelist then, to write the great novel of the era. One that – oh, there’s all that existential angst again. Just a novel about someone then, or a family. Me, because there’s no-one I’m more interested in. I’m not a hero-worshipper, not since Khrushchev spoke at the Twentieth Congress and shattered my last hero his name be erased. But what’s so interesting about me? But then, there’s the kibbutz story, the kibbutz as a microcosm, no? No, to write the impossible, the unfilmable novel, about the impossibility of writing a novel in this day and age. Of course it had to be of the age, of a time, not a place. It couldn’t be the Great Australian Novel, firstly because I wasn’t Australian enough even before I sailed to Israel in 1959 and was certainly less so after having lived there almost six years and then come here with my Israeli wife for what was from the start intended only as a visit, and secondly because a Great Australian Novel couldn’t be great enough, not if someone then wrote the Great American Novel.
Back home, in my little work-room half-way up the stairs, just past the shower-room and the landing and before the staircase ended in front of the large upstairs front room with a veranda that looked out onto Nelson Road, on a set of shelves beside the fireplace with a gas stove inside it, were several large cardboard boxes with novel titles on them. One was labelled Conception, one The Member, and another The Paper Man. There were also more boxes, and files, in some disarray, all with papers in them, and there were numerous notebooks on the shelves too. On a plain wooden table bought, like most of our furniture, in the auction rooms in High Street, St. Kilda, was a portable typewriter and more paper. I brought paper back from the printing factory often enough, there were lots of heaps of proof paper lying around in many places. I had these three novel-boxes, but knew that none of them was the novel I wanted. I had started Conception back at Redan Street, while we were living almost opposite my mother, the time I stopped working and Nitza went teaching. I wasn’t managing to write The Member, even though I had changed its title from The Promised Land, among other reasons because I wanted to focus on the individual in the collective rather than the other way around, and because it would allow me to play with the two senses of the word, so I could have my hero go through the process of wanting to be part of and joining and working in and for and then ceasing to want that submission and involvement and blanket commitment and wanting for the first time since his teens to find out what he wanted, and at the same time relating to my hero’s problems and adventures with his own quite uncommitted and recalcitrant member. But I couldn’t see how the actual story could be particularly interesting to anyone, and I couldn’t see how I could invent something based on it all that would be interesting, let alone great. And I did want great. Conception was also a title that played on two meanings of a word. One was to do with the child taking form in Nitza’s womb, and our lives around this approaching event; the other was to do with the novel’s own conception, occurring side-by-side with the other. And as the child’s conception built on previously formed entities, seed and ova with their ancient and newer encodings, so too Conception built on The Member and on its author’s incapacity to write that novel. He thought he wanted to write an affirmation of his marriage, of marriage, of a shared life as a true parent of literature, or at least of a literature that affirmed life in the sense of continuity through family. But he wasn’t satisfied with hardly anything he’d written. The Paper Man was about a man who read and wrote all his life, for his living as well as in his leisure, and also tried to write and wrote but was never satisfied with anything he’d written. Maybe, I had started thinking lately, I could conceive an even more external frame which could include all three boxes. But I didn’t believe I could. That was why there was something desperate in the question that had been running around my head. Well, I could let it rest for another three hours at least, until the shift was over. And if a break came and there were no proofs to read for an hour or so, I could always get two or three others together to go down into the lunch room and play pontoon. There was an excitement in that that also helped keep the questioning quiet.
“You’re so self-righteous still.” That wasn’t the only thing Nitza said last night when she read the portion I’d written. She got enthusiastic, she got angry that I hadn’t done it till now, she commanded me to write every day, and to apply no censorship, and I don’t have to show what I write or think about what she or Zohar (who also read the portion) or anyone might feel, I just have to write. And of course it has to be a best-seller! What has she been waiting for all her life, putting up with so much, she put on a wonderful scene, and was so glad she could laugh about it, she says I used to take myself so seriously. And about self-righteous, she said OK, that’s you, you’re self-righteous. I asked her to point out an example, but she wouldn’t. Here’s another proper catch: if I say I don’t want to be self-righteous I’m being self-righteous, or wanting to be. Hah, she meant it mainly about the best-seller.
Tell you what, since last night I’ve been happier in general about my general doing what I want than I can remember for years.
[LapTop Writing in Bed Tue 1 Dec 1992, 1:48 am]
I have not wanted to be violent against others. I once hurled a cat from a rooftop into the trees, in Rosh Pina; I’ve smashed the head of a dying kookaburra I shot in mistake for a hawk that was ravaging the chickens on the Hebrew Training Farm near Shepparton, I’ve hit my sons a few times; I once slapped a youth movement trainee on a hike from the kibbutz very hard. I’ve slapped Nitza once. And felt so sorry and so miserable afterwards. But suddenly I think it is not simply goodness that has kept me far from violence, but two kinds of cowardice – one, physical, of being hit back, and the other, emotional and much stronger, of being hated. I think I so hated my father’s violence that the worst thing I could imagine would be to be hated that way.
[Tue 1 Dec 1992, 9:52 pm]
So intensely I hated it, hated him, hated myself cowering under the big heavy dining table, five years old, he brandishing his belt and screaming at me to come out and warning that he would get me and my mother screaming at him to stop this scene and to let me off, and hating him for forcing her to be screaming too, she so hated violence, and what had poor little Rysio done, he’s sick, if he wasn’t sick do you think he wouldn’t eat the good meat you brought home with such trouble, all the wheelingdealing you went through to get it, he’s a good boy, you know he’d appreciate it, he’d love it if he was well, it’s so tasty, but he has a fever, I told you he has a fever before, you don’t listen, and he screaming if he’s sick the meat’ll do him good, it’s such good meat and he hasn’t had good meat for so long if he’s sick that’s why he’s sick and if I tell him to eat he’ll eat, he’s not eating just because of you, you’re inciting him against me, even now, you cow, get out of my way, come out of there and eat when I tell you you little snot-nose how dare you disobey and she screaming no, getting in between him and the table, and I was terrified and I hated it and I hated him, I could really hate him now cos Mamusia was hating him too, hating his violence that could terrorize us so, oh yeah, some collaboration.
He wasn’t violent often either, at least not that I saw or suffered. But the few times I did suffer, the hatred grew more intense each time. The first time was the worst. They collaborated against me, together they terrorized me. I hated it, I hated them but choked because I couldn’t hate them because I had to love them, couldn’t scream against them as they screamed against me, couldn’t tell them to mind their own fucking business. I needed them to love me, what else did I have, I was barely three. I hated the ugly look of their faces the ugly sound of their voices as they raged at me and condemned me, hated them for hating me so, hated them for their sudden interruption of the wonderful self-pleasing I had recently discovered, hated them for making me begin hating myself for making them hate me, and even before I could have any idea of the consequences.
I wasn’t thinking of any of that, certainly not of my father, as I cycled home from work. I didn’t think of him much. He died when I was nine and three months, and I didn’t cry when they buried him, or afterwards, and didn’t look back much. I once asked my mother, when she was living on the kibbutz, the kibbutz had this scheme by which members parents could live there, with all benefits, she came about a year after I arrived, had her own apartment, ate with everyone in the dining hall except when sometimes I brought meals from there to her place to eat with her, or with my friends Joe and Amira, and later – I don’t want to name her name, and she worked a few hours a day in the kommuna as they called the communal clothes center where they took in the dried laundry and mended and darned and folded and ironed the shabbat clothes and sorted by the marked numbers and put in members’ boxes, but she found it difficult to talk. Later I suggested she write down her memories, and she did, but other than what she wrote she didn’t want to say when I asked again in East St. Kilda, and I didn’t want to press: I was relieved, I’d asked because I thought it right I should know, someone who wants to be a writer should be interested in such things, but I couldn’t have faced it then, didn’t want to, didn’t want to, any more than she did, there was too much pain there. Pain of acknowledging one’s own secret deceit, collusion, betrayal – of the others in the triad, and of oneself. How draw the triad? Triangles of forces, not one of them independent, though each of the parents could break loose. He died at 40, leaving me in a dyad.
I had thought of him, though, when sitting and writing Conception in the flat almost opposite my mother’s. For the manner of his dying was probably the best piece of potentially literary material I had in my lived experience. And indeed I had written what I though were the most powerful page and a half I had ever written. Many times over the years I have wished to read it, regretting that it had got burned together with all the other writings I burned, including all of The Member and Conception and The Paper Man and much more, in a whole day of feeding the 44-gallon drum incinerator in the backyard of the house we were renting in Avalon, Nitza and I and Jonathan less than a year old, we’d driven north of Sydney in our Combi-van, and found the house and moved in, we had our few possessions with us, having decided the house in South Melbourne was finished for us after coming back from an acid trip with some head-friends on the Mornington Peninsula and discovering that the other head-friends we had let use the house in our absence had abused it, and we were right for a change and a move, I’d stopped working, I had begun a new way of life, but I don’t want to anticipate that, I want that to wait, at least till I start telling of another night at the printing factory, one of several I want to tell about, and one day in Avalon a few weeks after we got there I took all the boxes of papers I’d brought with me except for a few recent notebooks, and burned, because it was all bullshit, because wanting to write was all bullshit, a compulsion that kept me away from direct experience, from here and now here and now. And now here. And here now. And “what isn’t here is nowhere”. With all the cosmic implosions I’d absorbed, the papers were a burden, a testimony of my wasted past of self-delusion, also a temptation to fall back into that stance outside my own life, that false justification for being out there, looking on instead of facing my wants and expressing them – at the time it was both a practical and symbolic act, certainly envisaged as such, but it became dismaying as I realized that tightly packed pages don’t want to burn, and had to unload the incinerator and restack them loosely and pour lots of kerosene and even then take some out and start a primary fire on the ground near the drum and then rake and shovel and shake, it was a sweaty and hot and far from ceremonious and interminable symbolic act. Cycling back in the cool wind, I wasn’t thinking about the page that was still in the box on the shelf, or about my father, or about violence. I was thinking I wouldn’t let it get me down. If I don’t know what I want, if I haven’t known for so long, I’ll go on a bit longer not knowing. Right now I want to ride home. And tomorrow I’ll take the morning off from trying to write. I’ll cycle to town, take a notebook and pen with me, maybe sit in a coffee-lounge or two, then maybe go to Cheshire’s and look at the new books, and whatever I feel like.
Writing this I suddenly realize I only sold the old semi-automatic Standard I bought soon after returning the new Morris Mini I’d bought because I couldn’t keep up the instalments, and bought the bike, only a few months after Jonathan’s birth, maybe a month or more after my mother died, and I had already started on what I just called my new way of life. So after that night in the pub I drove back in the Standard. And I didn’t always drive home straight after work, sometimes I wanted some other scene, or some excitement or titillation. Sometimes I drove to Fitzroy Street St. Kilda, and sat in Cyrano’s, a coffee lounge I had been coming to since we lived in Robe Street, which was before we found the flat in Redan Street which would be so much more convenient for my mother, and sometimes for us, because sometimes, though not often, she’d cook and invite us to dinner, and also she had a television set, and she liked us to come over and watch tv with her, she’d make us the marble cake I liked, but it came to be too much for us. At Cyrano’s I sometimes met Stew, a just slightly seedy unemployed actor and bachelor who lived in a serviced room on Beaconsfield Parade, and we had long philosophical-existential-cultural-poetic conversations. Only occasionally, because it was much more expensive and a proof-reader didn’t exactly have it to burn, I’d go into a night-club, and sit at a table and drink beer and look, a couple of times with Des, another of the proof-readers, a few times alone, hoping to find some women to perv on, some image to feed a masturbation fantasy later, no more, I was satisfied to watch and listen and want in general and maybe sometimes even want someone in particular, or I was scared to be any more active than necessary to drink the beer and light and smoke an occasional cigarette. I wasn’t being unfaithful, but these weren’t things I would’ve or could’ve told Nitza about. Anyway, this night I was driving home.
Nitza was still up. She’d been painting, and had showered, and was sitting in the kitchen with a cup of tea. And waiting for me. Glad to see me. And I was glad to see her. She looked good, her auburn hair dry and combed down to her neck, wearing her pale blue flannely nightgown.
[Wed 2 Dec 1992, 8:43 pmff]
What do I want for? To grow, maybe, wanting maybe since I was conceived. Greedy. To grow, to know, I don’t know. In the womb, growing a body. Out of the womb, growing body and mind and heart and soul and spirit. By wanting, even before knowing I’m wanting, as the tree wants, and then when I’m knowing I’m wanting, as the cub wants to suckle and the male and female to mate and the fledgling to flock and the hunter to catch and to feed, as when thoughts and words and concepts of futures and taboos interfere and condition through fear, of rejection from being loved, of loss of loved ones… and meanwhile myriads of thought-flights that sought to be written evanesce never to be remembered, like how I can want nothing when I’m stoned, nothing that isn’t there, here, now, in me or out of me, watching and enjoying with all senses, the word then was grooving, like now inward feeling after-dinner turbulences in my stomach and my chest, following the feeling inward, need no-one with me, need nothing to be doing or making, not writing, not music, or how I hadn’t seen a tree growing yet that night when I came home from work to Nitza, once when we were living in Jerusalem in the second year of our marriage, we’d moved there so Nitza could go to art school at Bezalel, I was walking with her along the tree-lined hillside plantation in the Rassco residential project where we lived, looking over the Valley whose name I always translated as the Valley of the Crucifixion, but I don’t think that’s what they meant when they called it Emek Hamatzlevah, and I pointed to a tree and said to her “I know that’s a beautiful tree, but somehow I can’t feel it”, and how I saw what I thought was my first tree one evening walking down Nelson Road the second time I ever got stoned, and I stood simply stonied staring at its amazing beauty and life illuminated by the street-lamp above and behind it, a tree on a corner I’d passed hundreds of time, stopped in my tracks and not caring if anyone passed and saw a weirdo staring so intently a tree, and not a fixed staring but one that intensely traced lines of growth from unseen roots through trunk to countless but each-so-distinct leaf-tips, dumbstruck by the simultaneous and ongoing growing vigor and vibrancy and delicacy, half an hour I stood there, so Nitza and Al and Jenny and Colin told me when I got back. But it wasn’t my first tree, though I realized that only a few months later, on my second acid trip, it was with John in Sydney, I’d hitch-hiked all the way there because I wanted to have my second one with him, after having taken the first by myself, proud to tell him I’d tripped, more eager to trip with him than he with me – but suddenly I go off into waves of memories and also of remorse about not having retained contact with him, and with Penny, poor Penny, I must write to her, and to John, and I didn’t say I want to, so here’s something to check out, but later – it was a warm mid-January night, and we were in a little park near King’s Cross, and at one point he was in one part of the park and I in another, and I was looking with astonished amazement and awe and love at a tree, seeing even more into it and of it and with it than that might in Nelson Road even though this one was much more in the dark, the nearest lamp being quite a way away, this was a whole other quality, and I was so delightedly grateful to be experiencing this at last after having lived near trees for thirty-one and a half years, not just the tree but how it lived and interacted with the air and the ground and the other trees and bushes around, but I wasn’t thinking this in words but feeling-seeing-hearing-sensing it, and suddenly the mazed realization: I’ve been here before, I’ve experienced this before, I could see the tree nearest me and the other trees and bushes around it at the forest-edge, and hear the hush and the rustle and feel the warmth of the air. I had experienced that way, without psychotropic chemicals, when I was two or three, in the Polish countryside, vacationing with my parents from outer home in Warsaw. I was there now, and I was here now. For some time I revelled in the memory and played with the idea of how I had lost that capacity, then returned to enjoy the new scene enfolding on the place that had sparked the memory and the thoughts, in awe again at a new wave of appearances, veils upon veils always approaching and enveloping and passing me and always new ones coming, mauve and lilac over the dark hues and shades of the tree-forms. Wanted nothing then, except for it to just keep on happening. And into that later came the wanting to share it. Wanting Nitza to experience it too, wanting to experience something like this with her, wanting to experience being with her as I was being with the tree, to be me with her, to be loving with her. Wanting to tell John about the experience of the tree. Or, wanting nothing when stoned, but when the joint comes, wanting a toke.
Nitza, she’s no bunny.
To want is forbidden. To obey is the commandment. Body’s will, heart’s will, mind’s will are evil, man’s will is evil from his youth, do as He says, submit to his will, and all will be forgiven, or not, want not waste not. OK for the believers, maybe, but I wasn’t even raised to be a believer, I was left with the prohibition and shame and guilt and no view of redemption. Shame, shame. I know they didn’t know any better, my parents, know they loved me, with it all. My daddy bought me an electric railway-train. For my third birthday. It had lots of tracks and he showed me how to put them together on the thick dining-room carpet, and then he started it, and it whizzed around the tracks, turning curves and diagonals and over a bridge, I played with it a lot for the three months I had it, but then I had to leave it behind when we packed hastily because German planes were already bombing Warsaw, at first my parents told me we’d be back in a short while, the war would be over very soon, England and France were very strong and good countries and they would now hit Nasty Germany very hard and we’d come back and I could play with my train again, and a few months later in Vilna, which is where they both screamed down into my little bed that night and my life changed when I learned that I had to be other than I really am or not want what I really want in order to retain their love, they told me (last toke on last joint of last score maybe for a while) a couple of months after that, that it didn’t look like the war would be ending so soon after all, and we weren’t going back because the Germans had taken half of Poland and the Russians the other half, and they couldn’t get one for me now because we were refugees, and also weren’t going to stay here much longer, but I would soon they hoped be riding on a real train, on a long, long journey for many days and many nights, all the way across Russia and Siberia to Japan, a country where the people who live there have a different color of skin and their eyes sit differently in their faces, and they wear different kinds of clothes, and they showed me pictures. And it was so nice, being there with them, and their being so nice to me, and to each other, that I forgot about my electric train, and didn’t remember it until I read about it in one of the three notebooks my mother wrote for me of her memories, two at the kibbutz and one when she came back to Melbourne, probably more because she felt I didn’t really want her living with me in the one apartment I’d rented in Ramat Aviv because I wanted a place I could be independent in, and bring girls to, one night I asked her to go out for the evening, to a show and a long coffee somewhere alone because she knew absolutely no-one in Tel Aviv, but had come with me because where could she go after I left the kibbutz, I got jobs teaching English and was able to support both of us, but that wasn’t how I wanted to live, but I had no regrets about leaving the kibbutz, I didn’t want to live there any more, to work at what others decide I will work, to decide with others where others will work, and not only work, putting collective wants before personal wants, while the collective’s wants had to be guided by the members’ sense of the movement’s wants, I wanted my mother to feel good but there was nothing more I could or wanted to do for her, I remember even feeling as I was doing carpenting and other things around the house that this is the sort of thing I want to be doing with a wife, not with my mother, and it wasn’t as if we had things to talk about, or common interests, she read lots of Harold Robbins, and I was taking Philosophy and English-&-American-Literature in my first year at Tel Aviv University on the old monastery grounds of Abu Kabir on the edge of Jaffa, because I didn’t know how to go on with the novel I’d started imagining in the kibbutz, The Promised Land, and I thought in the meantime it might be good for a writer to learn about what writers in these fields had done. And I met a girl there whom I became close to and in time wanted to be intimate with, and it couldn’t be her place because she had a husband, and we didn’t want a hotel or a place under the stars, too cold, and I thought my mother would understand, and agree, and she did. It rained. She came back wet and smiled and politely asked me how my evening had been, and said that’s nice when I said nice, and said she had been fine but she had lost her umbrella. I didn’t do it again, but about three weeks later she said she thought she’d like to go back to Melbourne, where she had friends she could visit, she could rent a place and get a part-time job to supplement her German reparations and pension, and she expected the major reparations payment any time now, she might be able to buy a small flat, but she didn’t have enough for the flight back. I was glad she wanted to go, I wanted her to go, and I wouldn’t miss her much, as long as she wasn’t on my conscience, and I bought her a ticket and paid it off every month for a year. It didn’t stay a bachelor place long. I had a few crazy months, and then I met Nitza and was glad to have found a safe harbor and a girl I wanted to live with and love and play with and make love with and do house things with and look after and be looked after. But we moved to another apartment, cheaper and smaller and more suited to our closeness and in Tel Aviv, just over the old Railway Station which is now a parking lot between Yehudah Halevy and Harakevet, Train Street, I used to run across the railway lines when I got up late after nights of warm love, or pleasant falling asleep embraced, or we’d gone out, to a movie and/or a coffee lounge, maybe been with Benny and Hannah, or Elisha, or Yoram until he got married, or Jacques and Helit, or Tamar and Amos and their crowd, rushing to catch the bus to work teaching matriculation English at the Technical High School in Ramat Aviv, which was where they were starting to build the new campus of Tel Aviv University, the same campus I would return to in 1972 after I came down off Mount Canaan, to work as an English Style Editor of abstracts for their Hebrew periodical on Theory of Literature and to complete the B.A. degree course I’d dropped out of at the end of my second year, and then to go on to a Ph.D and becoming first and Instructor and then a Lecturer in the English Department. Until about two years ago, I don’t remember the date, in sense of time past since then it seems very very long ago, maybe longer ago as some of the earliest things I’ve written about tonight, as surprised as any reader at how the memories can flow. And I didn’t catch the ones that evanesced. But I’m glad, and excited, about how it’s happening.
Elisha and Danny both called today and I told them I was writing again, and they were happy for me. I want to see Elisha before he leaves in a week, want to talk more about Rosh Pina. Jonathan, you and Orit faxed me about your studies, and Orit faxed a letter to her parents which I mailed on. Earlier this evening Ohav asked us to a test screening of his movie, the first time we’d seen it wholly edited, and even though the sound was out of synch it was amazing and we were proud to have been part of helping it happen. After the show Ohav went to work in Jerusalem, Sharon drove him. and Nitza and Zohar and Tzippi and I drove back in the Escort, we drove Nitza home and Zohar and Tzippi and I drove on to the Kerem and ate at Zion’s, I had a siniyah after so many years, Zohar was fixing and painting our bathroom and toilet today. At home I cut him half of the tiny hash ball.
[Thu 3 Dec 1992, 10:50 pm]
Do I want to come in here and lock the doors and pull one of my secret files out of hiding and look at the pictures & imagine one of those figures dominating me as I obey her instructions with my own hands and fingers and the pressure of the elastic of my underpants, or even without pictures sit back deep in the armchair and imagine the fingers are those of a woman who is always here just waiting for me to sit down there? I want to put those fingers to the keys of the keyboard and let another streaming of me flow through me and beyond & into other minds, now, and later I want these fingers and hands to touch Nitza, sometimes to feel her and receive her, sometimes to transmit myself and let her feel me, and maybe also sometimes to thrill her, and if sometimes she thrills me that’s thrilling, but the loving is more delicious, penis in vagina, vagina holding penis, two entire bodies and minds and hearts and souls and spirits intent on and assisting a single moving center, axis, original dynamic organic piston-and-cylinder, rising flow and ebb and flow and ebb and flow of one rhythm out of two rhythms. Later, maybe not even tonight. Now I want to write.
I wanted the child, I wanted Nitza to have and love the child, I wanted us to be a family, wanted to be a father, though I knew I didn’t really know much about what that meant. I’d never wanted it before I married Nitza, I started thinking pleasantly about it soon afterwards, something about the pleasantness of being with her, and the way she noticed all sorts of beautiful things in nature, like bud-forms or bird-flights, and showed me them and I imagined a child being shown them, and some things about her affectionate warm friendly caring without any show of injured martyrdom, so different from my memories of my mother, lots of things, how her body looked built for child-bearing and felt so soft yet firm and so inviting to touch and her skin so smooth and gentle and her smile so moving from mischievous to innocent and sweet and yellow sun-rays in the brown globes of her dancing eyes, but I have just gone on beyond what brought on thoughts of parenting, and I was in no hurry in those days, I lay on the bed in the bedroom that looked over the railway tracks, looking at Nitza who was standing up in a negligee by the wardrobe hanging a dress on a coathanger, after we had a lovely late afternoon’s love-making after I came home from the University, and afterwards we had leaned out the window watching the flocks of swallows doing their playful circlings in the evening sky, and I thought yes, it will be lovely, but not now. I had my B.A. to finish, having been allowed to complete the entire program in two years both because of my advanced age when I enrolled at 26, in 1962 and because I was such a good student, and I had just received word that I’d been awarded a scholarship to graduate school at Cornell. I didn’t go to Cornell, though when I’d gone to the interview at the America-Israel Educational Foundation at the embassy building in Hayarkon Street I was most enthusiastic, and had evidently made quite an impression. I dropped out, though I hadn’t heard that term yet. I had lots of papers to write, apart from later having to prepare for finals, and to write the papers I also had to do a lot of reading. I was writing about writers I’d never read until I started these courses, I was interpreting, describing, making claims about universal meanings, I was getting excellent grades, and then one day I got a paper back that I’d written about something by D.H. Lawrence, with a 74, and a remark that I was making pretentious claims. I was pissed off, asked the professor why, he showed me how unsubstantiated what I’d said was, but I was still angry. And somewhere I knew they had to be pretentious, any claims I could make about another writer would be pretentious. But I didn’t say that, not to him and not to myself. To him I said that I still thought it was a permissible interpretation. But when I got home I started to rage inside, and what I did say to myself was that I didn’t want to spend my time studying and writing what other writers had written, or what professors said or what critics had written about what other writers had written, I wanted to do my own writing. And I didn’t go back to the university. And I didn’t go to Cornell. I went to see Dan Krauskopf at the Foundation and told him I was sorry to have troubled him, I’d decided not to go on studying, I was going to write a great novel. But I didn’t have a clue how to do it. If anything, everything I’d learned just made it seem so much more impossible.
By the time summer came around a couple of months later and the school where I was teaching went on vacation, as did my private student I was teaching English conversation to, a leading Israeli actor who later went on to great overseas successes, I had not got anywhere with the novel, and in the meantime I had also caused Nitza a great pain. I had betrayed her. I didn’t see or feel it that way, but for her it was pure betrayal, and it shattered her innocent belief and hope that with her, with me, with us, it would be different. Not that we’d talked it out explicitly before, or made our wants clear to each other. We had set no clear borders. I didn’t ask her how she would feel if I had sex with another woman and didn’t raise the possibility of her having sex with another man. We told each other briefly about the sexual experiences we’d had before meeting each other, and I had felt a jealousy about the two men she told me about but I didn’t say that to her or myself. I even didn’t take as a clear indication her anguish at a couple of parties we’d been to together where I had flirted and danced close and kissed and caressed other women, I saw her misery, she cried, I heard clearest when she said she felt like a fool, being there, seeing me doing to other women things that I do to her, in public, with everyone seeing her seeing me, and she didn’t want to let other men do things to her as they danced. She took me by surprise, I didn’t really know her, I had been mixing in these circles where such mixing and public petting as you dance was a norm, as was discreet adultery, and I hadn’t heard from any of those ladies about a pain of the kind I was seeing now. So we stopped going to those parties, but then one evening when I went out by myself as I often did, to walk and think alone about my paralysis in writing and to wonder what to do or how, or just to be by myself and let thoughts come, and sometimes I would finish up by going to Dizengoff Street, and sitting at a sidewalk table in Cafe Cassit, with a cup of espresso, and there at the next table was the blonde girl from the bookshop I had gone into one day some time before I met Nitza, and I had been very attracted but felt she was unattainable, having seen her before, at Cassit, in the company of one or two very celebrity types, so what chance would I have, and I’d never have approached her, but she smiled hello and looked an invitation at me from the next table and I didn’t even try to resist. She knew I was married, she’d seen me around, she didn’t understand why I hadn’t approached her that time in the bookstore, which she remembered, because I had hung around for a while. We walked to her place, and then I came home, and I didn’t tell Nitza. And I called her another night when Nitza was supposed to be working all night at the graphic designer’s where she was doing montage work, I came to her place again, and when I came home, late but before Nitza should have come home, she was there, and already crying. She accused me, and I admitted it. She cried long that night and I couldn’t console her. But she stayed with me, and she accepted my promise not to see that girl again. And again, I didn’t think it might happen with someone else, so we didn’t make any clear rules. We were neither of us very happy, with ourselves, with each other. And when summer came around, and Benny and Elisha talked about going down to Eilat for a while, and Benny went first, without Chana, I decided to go with Elisha and spend a few weeks away from my marriage, from Nitza, maybe that would help click my novel into motion, and maybe then I’d know better how and if I wanted to go on living with Nitza. But nothing of that kind happened in Eilat. We would sit on the beach some of the daytime, or sit in an oriental restaurant eating and drinking beer and listening to the dogs barking, go to nightclubs at nights, get very drunk, and stagger back to our concrete bunker-apartment with the desert-cooler. There were the three of us, and an American blues-singer and guitarist and his dark-haired Yemenite girlfriend. We did the rounds in his Volkswagen sometimes. And one afternoon on the beach, after deciding there was nowhere in Eilat we wanted to go, Steve and I decided we wanted to go and have a look at Akaba at night. Just last week an Israeli had escaped the Jordanians, it was in the paper and in the radio, and we thought it shouldn’t be too difficult to move almost unseen along the beach, cross a few fences, and then just walk into Akaba, and look around, maybe go into some bars there and check out the scene, which might be so much more exotic than in Eilat though Elisha didn’t think so, and then walk back unseen by morning, you could tell by the lights it wasn’t so far away. Even in the unlikely event of us getting caught, Steve was an American and I an Australian citizen, they couldn’t regard us as Israelis.
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Sat 5 Dec 1992, 4:43 pmff
Still I have some shit places I fall into. Last night and this morning. And I still lay it on her until I see it’s my own place.
When I thought all was understood and absorbed and forgiven, suddenly it returns, the fear of being thought inadequate, selfish, of being again rejected and unloved. And the safe place with her isn’t a safe place any more, but it’s me who’s doing that.
[Sun 6 Dec 1992, 9:38 pm]
KNOW, FLOW, GO WITH THE FLOW, LET THE MEMORIES OF JOY COME IN, these are guiding phrases from different times, and there have been many more of that kind, that in different situations I would repeat to myself, and still do. Unlike the what do I want what do I want thought that recurs unbidden and most often is depressing because it tells me I want but don’t know what I want, and evidently don’t want to be or be doing etc. not only at the time but in general, these are the kind I’ve been glad to remember, the kind also intended to make things better, or to be better.
Go with the flow. That – not just the slogan, but the feeling that I could flow and know that there was/is a flow I was/am part of, that I suddenly had done/been that after so long not even conceiving of it, and that I could again, and that it could even be a new way of being – was one of my first joyous discoveries soon after I had my first smokes of hashish. And again it came up in conversation last night, after so long of not remembering or thinking it or its primacy.
Let the memories of joy come in, that was a much later one, and belongs to the first positive step of my what? return to my self? – I really don’t know what to call it, maybe therapy. It came from Talli, almost two years ago, on one of the ecstasy nights at her & Sidney’s place in Surrey while we were there during the Gulf War, as a suggestion, after we’d been talking together, about me, about how I remembered so little, in general, and especially how little of joy. Because I had learned to associate joy with shame and guilt and punishment, that very first time. But I could remember joys. I could remember the joy of the day I had lain on the grass in the Alexandria Gardens, stupefied with the wonder of worlds of sky and trees and bushes and grass, the joy that I was experiencing all this so intensely. A whole afternoon I had lain there, after smoking hashish for the first time the night before, at home. I could almost put myself there again. And I could remember other joys. The joy of riding with Nitza, the two of us lying on top of our furniture on the back of an open truck from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, soon after my release from two weeks in Zarka prison camp just outside Amman and then a few days on remand in the Russian Compound in Jerusalem and another two weeks in Be’er-Sheva jail, and the joy of Jonathan’s successful birth, after the doctor had said there were difficulties and he would have to use forceps. I thanked God for hospitals then. The joy of seeing Nitza, smiling at me, with long hair, her leather coat now covering a flat stomach, stepping out the door of Prahran hospital, while I held him wrapped up in my arms. And it wasn’t a question of deserving them or not. But what made me not remember had to do with a thing or self in me that said I don’t deserve it, or I should beware… The way Talli put it, though, it could be something I could actively open myself to. I didn’t quite know if memories of joy would come, but if I made that a goal, it might have some good effect. It did. And then something else would come up, and I would forget.
Whatever the phrase, and however useful sometimes, I would keep forgetting it until I remembered it again, and often I couldn’t make any use of it, but sometimes it helped.
Like tonight, remembering how Nitza said to me on Friday evening, after I told her I felt it was so important for me to be writing, that I’d betrayed my writing all this time, and in a funny way it made her feel good that she wasn’t the only one I’d betrayed – she’s sharp, but she is on my side, not against me, she’s been a better defense attorney for me than I have been for myself – remembering that as I sat in my darkened room before writing, thinking how what I’d been writing about mostly during the past week has been my betrayals, I got into thinking about what’s that got to do with wanting, and surely I want to know more than what I want, if I do things I don’t want, like betraying, or don’t do things I want, you could say I always do what I want, and also that whatever I’ve done I had to do, as Abi put it last night when I told him how I’d been angry at Elisha for not warning me off the crazy stuff, he said he saw it too, but he didn’t think you could tell someone who’s into crazy stuff that it’s crazy, it’s evidently something he has to go through, or you could say that there’s all these wants because there’s all these selves, and you can get to know them better so you can function more harmoniously, or go with the flow with fewer disturbances. Still these seem like different things, but I want to write, and not only the painful things, but the pain is part of the flow, and even if it’s part of the disturbances, they too are part of the flow, but I don’t want to forget the memories of joy, they are not only my best defense attorneys and supports, they are also a way of reunion with the flow. I know, you can say flow, you can say fate, you can say these are everything that happens including your responses and choices or that they are what at every moment awaits your response and your choice, and at that point you can let your disturbances and fears prevent you responding the way that is responsive to and in and part of the flow, or not, your wants have to be part of the flow, and so on and so forth, the thinking can go on and on, no answers there about what to do, so I got my arse off the armchair and onto the chair in front of the monitor and started this writing.
Flow, like the Tao, like lying beside Nitza, touching without wanting more than that touch, until the next want.
Sitting facing the monitor, watching the flickering cursor, what can it be to flow?
On off on off on off until I switch the machine off, until next time. When I translate, or write a business letter, the flickering simply marks a spot, to tell me where I am on the screen. When I’m in a writing session and don’t know what to write next, it becomes a demanding little jigger, even when the screen, like now, is full of words. And I start to feel all I’ve written tonight is babble, and can’t remember memories of joy, or feel that my writing is of value. And can’t understand why wants should be important or interesting, some prefer deeper questions like the meaning of life, some look for social or cultural insights or protests, some prefer gossip, most don’t read any more anyway.
I had a lot of such confusions of thought about writing in South Melbourne during the months before Jonathan was born, and more, I didn’t know what genre to write in, what person to write in, what period to write of, what themes to focus on, what about political involvement, philosophical issues, psychological understanding, how to narrate the experience and feelings of a younger person, an idealist of a certain kind, say, from the perspective of someone who had outgrown or rejected those ideals, or from a dual perspective that would do justice to the former even though the author identified more with the latter narrator. I wanted to do justice to the young man who had left Australia in 1959 for the humanistic ideal of building a revolutionary cell of the just socialist society of the future in a kibbutz in his long and terribly persecuted people’s recently regained homeland, yet I now felt that he had allowed himself to be manipulated and misled and had misled himself and others. I wanted to do him justice, and for two reasons – if I didn’t, he wouldn’t be a credible main character for my novel, and he was the only one I could think of; also, if I couldn’t, it meant that he had just been stupid, and since he had been me I thought that meant that I was simply stupid, and if I’m stupid, what am I doing thinking I can write a great novel, maybe that’s just as stupid an idea for me as the other, and as the university had been. Though I didn’t often let myself think that far. The university period was simply put aside as something I was a bit ashamed of, but could be forgiven because I’d been so involved with the kibbutz before that, and had at a certain stage before leaving Melbourne wished I could go to University, but members of the movement preparing to go to kibbutz weren’t supposed to go to university, the idea was to get to the kibbutz and then learn or study what the kibbutz needed you to work at, still, I’d gone for a semester, also in Eng Lit and Philosophy, had gone to lectures and tutorials, on Hopkins and Eliot and Plato, and liked it a bit. I’d liked quite a lot of the period at Abu Kabir too, but after leaving it felt that there too I had been betraying myself because I should be writing my novel, I had gained in some general knowledge which in a sense also paralyzed me because I had been exposed to greatness in literature of a degree I had not realized existed, and in analytical terms that made me realize what immense complexity and profundity and comprehensiveness was required for greatness, something surely beyond the potentialities of what story material I had. So maybe I should write a historical novel, or a complete fiction, creating characters for all the categories required, or science fiction, or… Pages with all kinds of attempts, and with possible outlines that were never followed up, filled several cartons on the shelves. But what above all “forgave” me the University period was the fact that I’d met Nitza there. At least whenever I felt glad about my marriage with Nitza. Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t think about it but was glad to find her when I came home, sometimes I felt how could I have done such a thing as to limit and tie myself to this one person, whom I mostly liked and sometimes loved but how could I be sure that this was as much as I could love, maybe someone I hadn’t met yet I might have loved more intensely, I wanted to love intensely, sometimes I felt I’d made a mismatch intellectually, as though there were levels of thought I couldn’t share with her and find mutual stimulation in as I might with someone else, sometimes I felt trapped, and sometimes I felt resentful, sometimes I felt that I loved her more than she loved me, and sometimes felt unappreciated, and sometimes felt rejected and unloved, sometimes I felt we were limited with each other sexually, and while it was often nice I had started feeling the need to masturbate in private as well again, and to invoke those masochistic fantasies which I did not want to fully actualize with her, and sometimes I felt liking and admiring and loving and sometimes felt liked and admired and loved.
ALONG THE DARK BAY THE GENTLE CURVING WAVES LAPPED QUIETLY in constant succession, like the soft swells rising and receding with the suspiration of some friendly gigantic subaquaceous being. I felt good and light-headed, no sense of threat yet or danger. I was sensing the beauty of the scene with an intensity born of an exhilaration of a sudden sense of freedom, of the kind that comes only when going into something unknown, knowing I might not come back from it and there might be no tomorrow. There was no moon, we had known there wouldn’t be before deciding to set out, the darkness might give us our chances. After all, we knew how to hide, we’d both loved playing hide-and-seek as children, and I had always been an excellent and committed player in the extensive night-field games we used to play in the youth movement back in Australia. In the dark they wouldn’t be able to shoot us even if we did get seen, and we were fairly fit and in our light clothes could probably outrun any booted soldiers and hide somewhere again and finally get back safe. From the interview in the papers with the Israeli fisherman who’d been drawn into their waters and escaped his guards last week, we understood that the Jordanian soldiers between the border and Akaba were not too numerous or well-organized or brilliant. It was an exciting thing to do. We had sat there on the beach earlier in the afternoon, Steve and Yardena and Elisha and I, and the talk had got around to how there was nothing any of us really wanted to do. Benny – who always said that people always do what they want to anyway, which for him seemed to resolve all problems, he always looked happy whenever we saw him – had gone back to Tel Aviv, to Chana. For him it had been like a holiday, a man needs a regular break from marital life. For me, I had come to Eilat out of despair, I think. I didn’t know how to write my great novel. I didn’t know if I wanted to go on being married. I felt I had ruined that, for her, and for me, by betraying her with that blonde, a couple of nights, and how Nitza cried when she discovered, when I admitted it. So I had come to Eilat also to feel like a bachelor again. But I hadn’t been trying to pick up girls, or if I’d started chatting to any I’d quickly lost interest or courage and hadn’t felt any real attraction, except to Yardena, who was Steve’s girl, and I liked Steve, already felt him a friend after only a few nights. We had done all the bars together, at some of them Steve and Yardena performed, he played American folk and blues and country and sang and Yardena sang with him and did some soloes in her strong dark husky voice, we drank a lot, got very drunk more than once, I remember myself lying in the street for hours unable to move back towards the little desert-cooled concrete house where we were staying, Elisha and Benny had left me behind only after I had vociferously told them to go on and I wanted to be alone, I wouldn’t let them stay with me, stood where I was leaning against the wall of the bar we had come out of, and repeated that I want to be by myself. And Yardena, she told me many years later, remembers me one night dancing barefoot on a pile of broken glass. Whatever, sitting there on the beach that afternoon there was nothing I wanted to do. Steve said maybe we should smoke some hashish, but that generated no enthusiasm. I don’t know about the others, but I had never tried it, and imagined it would be just a different kind of intoxication or inebriation, and I’d had more than I wanted of that the last few nights. In fact, one night, when I was already very drunk, someone offered me some hashish, and I asked Steve what he thought it would do on top of the drink, and he advised me against it, so I didn’t do it. So what next. But there was nothing next, and somehow it became more than an issue of what to do next, it became something like philosophical or existential, as if my whole being hang in the balance, would I be capable of wanting something ever again? Could I want something enough to want to do it only because I wanted to? Sitting there, looking around me, I suddenly said: “I’ve always wanted to see Akaba”.
It was true. I had wanted it ever since my first visit to Eilat, on a group tour from the kibbutz, through the craters of the Negev and the reconstructed cities of Avdat and Shivta, and Mitzada, and King Solomon’s Mines at Timna, to camp out at night on the shore the Red Sea after a drive through the city, and the lights of the city of Akaba beckoning to me with all the exoticism I carried from mixtures of stories about Beirut and some of my own secret fantasies, what might be there for me in some night club, arabesque seductions of a kind I could never expect to really happen to me in Israel – all these longings focused on Akaba because it was there as a physically close but unreachable town where I might be seduced by that other woman who so fascinated my imagination because of her utter otherness. I had been there twice more while living on the kibbutz, and each time had stared at the lights of Akaba with longing, though also repeatedly astounded by the daytime view of the numerous red hues of the mountains and the changes they went through as the sun began to set. I didn’t say: “I want to go to sleep early tonight, and get up tomorrow and spend the whole day looking at the changes on the mountains”.
Steve and I weren’t talking now. We’d decided to start moving silently, though we hadn’t seen any signs of a border. We knew voices carry far at night in open spaces. And there might be Israeli patrols this side of the border, and Jordanian patrols the other side. We walked some meters apart, now he more forward, now I. I walked close to the water, and kept glancing at different aspects of the view as I walked forward, now out to sea…
Tue 8 Dec 1992, 5:39 pm
… now around, the ranges of hills on either side of the almost flat water, like the partially open legs of a huge woman floating and we like lice on the edge of her pubis, now ahead towards the still distant lights and then right past more darkness to another set of lights further south where they said the Jordanian-Saudi border was, then back towards the already distant lights of Eilat and to where they tailed off to the south before the Israel-Egypt border, the shapes of land ruled by four countries around us, and probably all along the shore line high dunes like those to our left above the widening beach…
Last night Nitza asked me if in my writing I was being defense attorney for what I was and did in the scenes that I write of. I told her I’d written how when thinking of writing The Member I had grappled with that question. I am and I’m not. If then I’d felt my falling for the revolutionary and collective vision for so many years of my prime was stupid, though when living in East St. Kilda and South Melbourne I didn’t think I was past it, what can I say about how I risked my whole life in one essentially purposeless action? Stupid, indefensible. No justification. But it’s a true story, and writing it casts light on my wants and more, not only then, but today.
And then there is another approach entirely, to flow without looking back, for any relating to the past takes energies of mind spirit soul heart and body from attention to the present and to what really offers itself. I have been through that, it became my new way of life in 1968, and went on so though not without intrusions and collapses for more than three years, and much later I also tried to make that a priniciple of writing, but that writing is dull, not something I want to either read or publish, and probably that kind of flow that bars away memories, stories, attachments, concerns – even the kind that I messed myself up with Friday night and Saturday, because I felt unappreciated again and unloved and something else I don’t remember right now – just doesn’t go with writing, or maybe whatever comes in, without restrictions even against apparently negative emotions, is part of the flow. But they say the I that can know and join with the flow is the I with no attachments. To desire appreciation is an interference. But I felt when I finally said to her, “Look, I also want appreciation, I appreciate appreciation”, and she said, “OK, you need appreciation” and I agreed with that too, that I’d broken through yet another interference, because I’d been ashamed to come out with that.
… We had now passed a number of signs, boards on wooden poles stuck up in the darkness jutting out of the sand, all saying in Hebrew, English and Arabic “Beware, Border in front of you. Do not go beyond this point.” We came to a stop in front of a large and high barbed-wire concertina that ran from inside the water and right up and onto the dunes. It seemed to make more sense to go through the spaces between the wires, even if it meant a lot of bending and contorting ourselves so as not to get caught on it, than to go up along the fence and try to penetrate inland. We crossed, and went on walking in silence, thinking we had already crossed the border, we’d got past the Israelis, the really tough ones, now it’d be easy. But soon we came to another of these large rolled barbed-wire fences. The loops were higher than we were standing up. We went through that one too, now no longer sure we were out of Israeli territory. Then, after something like three cricket pitches, another. And after a similar distance, another. Then, for a long stretch nothing, until we started hearing music, very soft at first, then louder and mixed with other sounds as the sand strip became shorter and a fenced lawn came down from the dunes and we saw a large building with lights in many windows, and the voices and music, Western music, were coming from there. It had to be a tourist hotel, the Jordanian equivalent to the few sea-front hotels in Eilat. There were palm-trees around it, and also several scattered on the lawn…
This story is not one I really want to write, I thought two-and-a-half years later, immediately after writing the title “Crossing the Border” on the page on my large work-table in the room in our Redan Street apartment which I had taken as my “study”. It was inconsequential, compared to what might be done with a novel focused on the kibbutz. I pulled out my last attempt at beginning that novel, two pages with many crossings out and emendations on them, an attempt at describing my first bus ride to the kibbutz, with Sam, who had come to pick us up in Haifa, and with April, who had arrived with me. Then I put that away too. There had to be a better way.
One day, while Nitza was out working, John came to visit. He was younger then than Steve was when we crossed the border, and Steve was quite a few years younger than me. John was a younger friend of Peter’s, and Peter was my younger assistant sub-editor and a reporter at the Jewish Herald. He had come one day to wait for Peter and we had got talking. I was fascinated with his free thinking and felt that he was the first person I’d met who had seen through the façades but had also got beyond or leaped over the negative responses of protest or despair or resigned endurance that seemed all that remained and yet so unattractive. We continued the talk after I finished work, and I brought him home to dinner, and then we talked some more, and then I drove him home and we sat in the car for more hours, into the early morning. He talked about himself, about his interests – his mind, being real, he thought most people weren’t real, like he could feel when someone was real, how he liked to “groove” on things, all kinds of things that he really “digged”, music, nature, he often went to the Botanical Gardens and felt really “far out” – his difficulties, which he called “hang-ups”, and he analyzed some of them with such acuteness, I hadn’t heard anyone speaking so about his own processes before. And I talked theory, how I understood some of the things he talked about, things I knew from my reading. Since then he had visited several times, and only a couple of nights before he had knocked on our door at three o’clock in the morning, giving Nitza quite a fright, and I came out to see who it was out of sleep and in pyjamas, and he smiled his wide smile and his dark eyes were twinkling under his shock of black hair, and he said “I’m sorry to wake you guys, but can I crash here tonight?” “Crash?” I asked. “Yes, I’m out of bread and I feel very weak, I’m very stoned, I was at a party, and…” I waved him in, told him to make himself at home in the living room, I’d just tell Nitza. I went back and told her, she didn’t like it but didn’t want us to throw him out. I came out and said, “OK, John, I’ll bring out some blankets and you can sleep on the couch.” “Hey, maybe you feel like sitting up and talking with me a bit. We could have a cup of tea…” I said OK, and we sat up talking. He told me his greatest hang-up these days was about not knowing if people were conning him. And also the mind-fucking power-games people play. “Like, I do it myself. Like when you’re at a party and people are smoking, there’s always something about the guy who has the dope, like he’s mind-fucking you…” Then, after going on for about twenty minutes, while I listened and asked questions in my fascinated desire to understand, he said “You can’t understand unless you go through these scenes. But we’ve been talking only about me all of this time. Tell me something about you.” I didn’t know what. There was nothing in my experience on such a level, or I had not attained to such a level of thinking about my experience. I thought maybe a story about something I’d done, and then I thought of the border-crossing adventure, but felt it was not of comparable interest or value.
… We paused in our walking for a while to exchange smiles of triumph. We were in Jordan, on the outskirts of Akaba. Should we go into the hotel for a beer? We decided to look at the place from a bit closer by, and started up the slope towards the brightly lit windows, until we saw figures through the glass dressed in formal wear and decided it was not the kind of place where we would pass unnoticed. So down the grassy slope and to the sand, to continue walking eastward. Soon the hotel was a way behind us, we no longer heard the voices and the music. We saw no signs of army. Perhaps it would be like this all the way to Akaba now, because if they had patrols they would probably be closer to the border. I was already imagining us walking along a street in the bar district, there had to be a bar district, and looking in doors and deciding which bar to go into. The exhilaration I had felt earlier had become more of a euphoria. We walked on, past a ridge that came southward into the dune, and suddenly the whole dune opened up into a wadi, down which in winter masses of water probably flowed into the sea, but now it was summer and the bed was dry sand and just beyond the middle of the gap, closer to the opposite wall of the wadi, stood a jeep, with maybe six armed soldiers around it. They called us to come over. We looked at each other. We can’t outrun a jeep, so we’d better not look as if we want to run, was basically what we agreed on as we headed for the soldiers. To the snapped question in Arabic, we said “English?” “Ah, Inglesi”, and he called something over his shoulder to where we suddenly saw another group of soldiers around a command-car. One of them came running down the slope. “You speak English?” I asked. “English, yes, speak English”. “Good, then maybe you can tell us why these men have stopped us, we’re out walking on the beach.” “Papers! Give papers!” He thrust out his hand for our documents. “No papers here.” “No papers? Where papers?” “Papers in hotel. Akaba. Hotel. We go walk, beach, we go there, we come back”. “Where papers? What hotel?” We didn’t have a name of a hotel to give him. “Akaba Hotel”. “Akaba Hotel? Why you walk here? Is not allowed.” “We didn’t know. OK, we won’t walk here any more. We go back now.” “OK”, said the soldier, and we started moving off. Suddenly another soldier came running from the group higher up, calling out something, and all the soldiers near the jeep pointed their rifles at us. “Stop!” shouted the one who “spoke English”. We stopped. The man spoke again “Captain say you come with us”.
Wed 9 Dec 1992, 5:34 pm
NOT MAKING & TAKING A JOINT BEFORE WRITING, FOR A COMBINATION of reasons, makes me tired afterwards, and I’m a bit depressed anyway, money problems mainly, don’t want to talk about that now, and there’s only enough for one and I don’t know when there’ll be more, and I’ve been intending to try switching to writing “straight”, so far I’ve just felt that it would be easier to get into the flow by starting a bit stoned, it gives that little extra something which anyone who smokes hash knows he or she gets, that edge it gives to conversation as well as perception, and I think also to the writing – it’s true I told Nitza a few weeks ago that all the stoned writing I’d done over recent years I didn’t like because getting stoned was also a way of avoiding facing things I didn’t want to face, but as I told her two nights ago, now that I’m into facing these things it helps me face them. But tonight I’m starting without.
John came in that afternoon with quite a bit of apologizing. He didn’t want to disturb me in my writing, he was sorry about disturbing Nitza the other night, he hoped she wasn’t too upset. I took him into my study and suggested he sit on the chair to the right of the table, and sat down on my own chair which faced the window. I told him I’d been thinking about some of the things he’d been talking to me about and that they seemed connected to stuff I’d reading about alienation and the quest for authenticity, and he said he couldn’t relate to such ideas, it made him mad to think that people made up theories that could explain him, when he knew everything he experienced was what it was, not something that could be generalized, even when some of his hang-ups were like each other. He kept looking at me quizzically as he spoke, as if wondering whether to say something he’d decided before coming to say, and finally he said it: “Look, I think you understand some of what I talk to you about, but you could understand it a lot better if you had the kind of experience you can get from smoking hash”. I said I didn’t want to try drugs, I would prefer to see what I could do with my mind without any outside influences, what kind of experiences and understandings I could reach. He answered that there were things worth experiencing that could be experienced only with the help of hash. Like what, I asked. He said mind things, and body things, like you get to feel all your skin tingling, you look at the design in the carpet and start seeing it in so much detail you never saw before and you’re grooving on it, and sounds, and seeing how your thoughts come and where they come from, and it’s such a groove, what have you got to lose, you should at least experience it once in your life. I said I was afraid of addiction. He said it wasn’t addictive, that was a lie, only hard drugs are addictive. I said it might lead to hard drugs, and he said that was another lie, only people who want to do hard drugs will do them. I asked how long it would affect me for, because I didn’t want Nitza to come home and find me under the influence, I knew she didn’t like John, and didn’t like the fact that he smoked dope. He said only about three hours. I looked at the alarm-clock on the table and saw there were about three or four hours till Nitza was due home. “OK”, I said, and raised my arms.
“OK, let’s go to the kitchen, you can make us a cup of tea while I make the joint”. I put the kettle on and sat down beside him at the round table in the corner of the kitchen. He brought out a pack of Tally-Ho papers, and a small half-inch cube wrapped in silver paper which he unwrapped to reveal a piece of hard black resin. “Smell it,” he said. “Nepalese. Very special.” He started heating the piece with a lighted match, and then crumbled off little bits of it onto the row of tobacco he had taken from a cigarette and spread out on a paper, talking all the while about how glad he was that I’d agreed, how good I would feel, how he’d be able to say things to me now and know I’d know what he meant. When it was rolled, he said “Look, you don’t smoke it like an ordinary cigarette, you draw slow and long and take the smoke in and keep it in your lungs for as long as you can, and meanwhile you pass the joint back, that way we don’t waste any, cos it’s expensive stuff. I’ll show you, and then you try to smoke it as I do”. He did, and then I did my best to imitate him, and we kept passing it to each other until it was finished. “It’s a pity you don’t have any sounds here” he said, and continued “tell you what, I’ll see if there’s anything good on the radio.” “When does it start having an effect?” I asked. “What, don’t you feel any different? I’m already getting a buzz, and feeling a tingling in my skin. “And look how red that red is there.” I just felt something like an unpleasant heat in my head. “Maybe it only works for some people?” “Wait a little while longer. Maybe you need a bit more. Have some tea.” I drank some of the tea I’d poured before he lit the joint. I was starting to feel queasy, nauseous, and the tea only seemed to make it worse. John was fiddling with the radio and saying something about the flowers in the vase on the window-sill, and how the best music he liked hearing when he was stoned was Charlie Mingus, but I couldn’t make it out. I didn’t like the way I was feeling. And that feeling was getting worse and worse. Hot and heavy in the face and head, nauseous below, I was sorry I’d agreed to try it. And then I coughed, and with the cough I felt the biliousness rise up towards my mouth and I got up and staggered to the toilet and put my head over the bowl and spewed my guts out for something like ten minutes. Well, I thought, my body rejected it, so now I know, so it’s not so bad that I tried, but now we’ve finished with that. John was apologetic again when I came out, but I told him not to worry, at least I’d learned something. Then I asked him to leave, because I wanted to lie down, I felt weak, a rest might do me good. He packed up his things and left, saying “Maybe some other time”, to which I replied “No thank you, I don’t want to feel like this ever again”.
I didn’t ever again want to feel the way I felt when I heard the Jordanian soldier tell us we had to go with them. This was not at all what we’d wanted. Still, we hadn’t been shot at or injured, perhaps we could talk our way out of it. Now the soldiers crowded around us, pressing their rifle-points into our ribs, pushing us up the hill to the command-car. We walked forward, expressing our objections to what we kept insisting was the undeserved treatment we were getting, saying over and over again “Tourists. American. Australian. Akaba. Hotel,” but among the things they were saying were words like “Israeel. We kill Golda Meir. We kill Moshe Dayan. We kill you.”
We climbed into the back of the command-car and sat, each of us with two soldiers either side of him. After some time the car began driving into the wadi. Soon we passed through a gate in a barbed-wire fenced compound where there were several huts and a number of tents. They made us dismount and held our arms as they led us to one of the huts that had a little porch and garden outside it. Four men in pyjamas were sitting on easy-chairs in the garden. On the porch was a chair and a table with drinks on it. As we were led in, one of the men, taller and of broader build than the others, with a large black mustache over thick lips, stood up and said something to the soldiers who had brought us in. They immediately let go our arms and moved aside. “Welcome,” he said to us. “You say you are lost?”
“No,” I said, “we’re tourists. We went for an evening walk along the beach. I don’t know why your soldiers stopped us.”
“Ah,” he said, and translated, or perhaps said something else in Arabic, to the others in the pyjama quartet. Then, to us: “Sit, please”, pointing to the chair and saying something to a soldier who disappeared into the hut and immediately reappeared with another chair. We sat down.
“Would you like drink? Please, take.” He motioned to one of the soldiers, who poured us glasses of lemonade from the jug on the table. We thanked him, and drank gladly.
“You are English? I visit England one time, before three year.”
“I’m American”, said Steve. “Australian”, I said.
“You like cigarette?” He took a packet from a small stool beside one of the easy chairs and extended it. A soldier brought it to us. We each took one. I looked at the inscription before the soldier lit it. “Re’em”, I said. “Yes, Egyptian. You know?”
“No. Haven’t tried local cigarettes.” This was starting to look hopeful again.
We smoked. And watched the mustached men in pyjamas as they conversed among each other, occasionally glancing at us. The one who had addressed us seemed pleased with the situation, possibly a pleasant diversion from routine, a chance to show off his English to his colleagues. Two of the others seemed to share his mood, but the fourth was glowering and spoke with an angry and impatient tone, and our interlocutor seemed to have much respect for him.
“Cigarette good?” he asked as we were finishing the smokes.
“Very good. Thank you. But we would like to get back to our hotel now.” I had started answering the questions, and Steve seemed to be willing enough for me to go on.
“Ah, of course. So you tourists. Where your papers?”
“At the hotel. We didn’t think we needed them for a walk on the beach.”
“Ah. What hotel?”
“The Akaba Hotel”.
“Ah. And when you arrive in Akaba?”
“Yesterday? From where?”
“How you come to Amman?”
“By plane, from Bombay.”
“Ah. And from Amman, how you come to Akaba?”
“Bus. You stop in Petra, yes?”
Petra. That sounded like a trap, a trick question. I tried to think fast. Of course the Jordanians knew, as we knew that Petra was a great goal for Israeli adventurers. The already legendary Red Rock had even become the title and leitmotif of an Israeli pop song, some young Israelis had gone there and come back to tell the tale, some had been shot. If I said yes, it might us associate us in their minds with Israelis. We had after all been caught walking from the direction of Israel. The question was: did the bus from Amman to Akaba go through Petra? We hadn’t looked at any road-maps of Jordan before setting out, so it would have to be a guess. But I knew Amman was a lot further east than Jerusalem, and Petra was more or less in a straight line directly south from Jerusalem to Akaba. So a bus from Jerusalem would go through Petra, but a bus from Amman probably wouldn’t. But how many roads south did the Jordanians have? I could see that I had been pausing too long over my glass of lemonade, and the pyjamaed men with mustaches were watching me intently. I decided to answer.
“No?” The man who had addressed us got up quickly from his easy chair and approached us, saying something angry in Arabic. The soldiers who had been standing aside pulled us up to a standing position, grabbed our arms, and turned us to face the officer in pyjamas who was climbing the stairs rapidly. He stopped in front of me and gave me a resounding and painful slap across my right cheek. “You lie to me!” he said, and turned to Steve and gave him the same treatment. I wanted to say, OK, you caught us, you’ve punished us, now let us go home, I don’t want to play any more, but he had already said some other things to the soldiers, and blindfolds were put over our eyes and they were dragging us away, down the garden, walking on and on between them as they continued muttering threats to us, until finally the long trek ended and we found ourselves pushed into a dark barn-like structure, released inside, and the door locked behind us, the only light coming from distant lamp-posts that could be glimpsed through cracks in the thick wooden door and the planks nailed to the outside of the small barred window. “Tomorrow we shoot you”, we heard one of them shout from outside, and a few others tried to repeat that. “Tomorrow we shoot you”.
Thu 10 Dec 1992, 2:06 pm
PATHETIC. THAT’S THE ONLY RIGHT WORD, FOR ME, FOR HER, I thought in the bath was how I wanted to start today’s writing. Painful, shameful to accept when we so often like to think ourselves heroic, or at least reasonable, at least at this stage of our life if not in earlier times. Yesterday when I got the bank balance and saw the size of the overdraft after all the Visa-card payments, for our tickets to New York and then to London, and the expenses in France, and she not knowing how she’d make a living and how and if to invest in another ArtExpo showing, depressed all day, even when and after I put in my writing time. And I came to bed with my sorrow and lay beside her as I rubbed the Vitamin E oil into my psoriatic areas, and she stroked my head, and then I asked her how she was and she told me about her fears. I said we evidently fall into our individual patterns, she into anxiety, I into shame and guilt, and then she told me about her own shame and guilt, and I said yes, but you can never catch yourself wholly, not when you think you’re great and not when you think you’re an asshole, and none of that helps in a crisis, what’s relevant is what we want to do next. And she said if that’s how you feel how come you’re so down too, and I said I can feel it now, but part of me’s still there, and also having you to say it to makes it more real for me too.
She talked of how confused she was about the paintings she sold, and her shame, contempt for herself and for the buyers, sometimes, and we talked of alternatives, and maybe other ways of marketing her stock, and we’d see, and she was agitated, she said, couldn’t fall asleep but wanted to because she wanted to get up early to go to the life-drawing group in the morning, she put my hand on her stomach to feel the agitation and pressure and I left my hand there and suggested deep breathing, and after some time she fell asleep, and after some time I fell asleep. Comfort, no nookie.
I pulled out the plug and reached for the soap and soaped myself and was about to turn on the shower when I saw the flooding on the floor. The drain-hole was blocked, of course, from the plastering work Zohar had done without covering it. I plugged the bath, pushed my hand into the drain and managed to clear it, unplugged the bath, finished my shower, dried myself, shaved naked under the heater, and the next half-hour or so I spent squeegeeing and soaking up the water that had spread into the corridor and the kitchen as well as the bathroom. A long time since I’d had a flood, the last serious one in the basement room in New Haven in late 1980, when my boxes of writings had been threatened. Barefoot, in a t-shirt, I worked and enjoyed the coldness and the physicality, a bit ashamed that I didn’t do it more often.
Ashamed, pathetic, foolish. Standing in the dark prison-shed I don’t know how many kilometers from the now invisible and no-longer-beckoning lights of Akaba, that wasn’t all I felt. I was afraid too, but now suddenly I was also concerned about how Nitza would feel when she found out I was a captive in Jordan, as she would fairly soon. When Elisha and Yardena realized we weren’t coming back so soon, Elisha would contact her. I didn’t want her to be going through anxiety and I didn’t know what else because of me, I didn’t want her to suffer, I wanted to call out I don’t want to play any more, and for this all to be over. At least I knew what I wanted.
I had been imprisoned once before, on that journey of flight from the Germans, but then I was either in my mother’s arms or beside her, we had been captured by the Russians near the Lithuanian border, and put into a large barn that had a small outdoor enclosure surrounded by high barbed-wire fences, with hundreds of other prisoners cramped together both inside and outside. My father had gone on ahead of us to make arrangements to get us safely across the border, but the place where he had left us was raided by Russian soldiers and here we were in this compound that stank even in the freezing cold, because there were no toilet facilities and people did what they had to wherever they could. Days and nights of hunger, anxiety and acute discomfort. One day as were standing outside my mother gave me a slice of bread and whispered to me not to turn it over, because there was butter on the underside, she didn’t want anybody to see it because they might take it from me, she said, though later she wrote that she’d been afraid that people would think that if she had got me such an expensive item as butter was in the prison’s black market, then there must be more on us than met the eye and we might have our precious hidden resources taken from us, people might even kill us to get some of what was on us. I had diamonds hidden in the lining of my coat, she had given one away for the butter.
How, with that experience in my early history, had I gone of my own free will and put myself in a situation like this? Steve and I talked a little, in whispers after the first sentences we spoke to each other evoked shouts and bangings of rifle-butts on the door of the dark hut, speculating about what would be done with us. We decided that if we were interrogated some more we’d admit having come in from Israel, but we’d insist we were tourists, and had done this for the adventure. We were scared, sure, but not totally terrified, after all, American and Australian citizenship had to count for something. Then we stopped talking, each of us returning to the turmoil of his own thoughts and feelings. I was also feeling a pressure building up in my bowels. After some time I knocked timidly on the door. No response. I said to Steve: “Maybe the guards are sleeping”. We had made a systematic exploratiion of the walls of the hut. There was no way out except the door. I banged harder on the door. Still no reply. Could we possibly break it down and get out and away without getting caught and maybe shot? I banged some more. Now the shouting began outside. We didn’t know what to say in their language, so I made sounds of pain. They seemed to understand, because the tone of the shouting changed, and among the words shouted at us we heard the word “Tomorrow”. So that was it. No shit. I didn’t want to stink up the place.
Somehow we made it through the night. Neither of us slept. Soon after the first light began seeping in through the cracks, the door opened. Three soldiers stood there, two with rifles pointed at us. The one that had opened the door stooped down and picked up a tray that had two enamel mugs of dark tea on it, and offered it to us. I put my hand on my stomach and made pain sounds and pointed to my arse. He put the tray down inside the door, and closed it.
We drank the tea, it was very strong and very sweet. And then we waited. After some time the same three opened the door again, and the one who had carried the tea came in with some cloths, with which he blindfolded us, and tied our hands together behind our backs, Then we were pushed forward, to walk a while. The cloths were taken off us outside what our noses had already told us was a latrine pit. There were wooden partitions, but nothing to sit on, we had to squat over the trench. When we were through we were blindfolded and tied again, and led back to our hut, untied, and left inside.
That wasn’t so bad, we said to each other. We waited a couple of hours for the next eventuation. Again the same procedure, but this time when the blindfolds were removed we were in a corridor inside an office hut. We were told to sit on a bench outside a door. Every now and then some soldiers passed us without looking at us or our guards. Then the door facing us opened, and a soldier said something to our guards and the one next to me grabbed my arm under the armpit and pulled me to my feet and walked me into the room. I had time to exchange glances with Steve.
A large desk, a mustached and uniformed officer behind it. I was sat down opposite him. He spoke to me in good English, he had studied at Oxford, he said. He explained to me that I had been hit because I had lied, and I had better not lie any more, they had ways of checking everything I said, even in Israel. I told him my story, and he said, “We think you’re spies”. I told him he could check with the Australian consulate, I demanded to be put in touch with the Australian consul. He said I could make no demands, I had been caught without papers, I had lied, he didn’t even have to believe I was Australian. My story didn’t make sense, no-one would do something so reckless unless he had a good reason. But he took down my name, and I gave an address in Australia. Then he said, if your story is true, then maybe you can help us. And if you help us, maybe we can help you. And looked at me. I didn’t understand what he meant.
“How did you arrive to where you were caught?”
“We walked, from Eilat.”
“And the Israeli patrols didn’t stop you?”
“We didn’t see any Israeli patrols.”
“And where did you come to Eilat from?”
“How long were you there?”
“A couple of weeks.”
“And how did you come to Eilat from Tel Aviv?”
“I see.” He said something to the guard. My interrogation seemed to be over. I was taken outside, and Steve was led in. After some time he came out, and we were blindfolded and taken to the hut again. The rest of the day and the night passed as the previous night had, with another two mugs of tea, this time with dry bread. Steve and I exchanged notes – we had told basically the same story.
It was the next afternoon when we were taken to be interrogated again. This time Steve was taken in first. He was in there much longer than the first time. Then it was my turn.