Sunday, December 16, 2007

The end of The Family Drama

My friend's family is worse than my family, I know. Her mother says things to her like: 'You'll never have children'. I don't understand how she puts up with it; bluntness and rudeness is not my family's thing. My family are polite and helpful to the last.

My mother has never said anything nasty to me. When we looked after my beloved niece Safiya together last weekend, she brought a newspaper clipping with her: a Sunday Telegraph article about exclusive dating agencies in which couples gave evidence of laying out 1000s to find a partner relatively inoffensive to their material sensibilities. It won't work for me as I don't care that much for men, money or mating right now.

It was the pre-Christmas one-side-of-the-family dinner yesterday and I had considered my preparations for it with Maria, my therapist. I said that I was less vulnerable this time, as one side of my fortress was up and I would try and manoeuvre it to face down any questions. My sisters' fortresses were almost impenetrable: job; house; children; marriage. I had 'Job' and that gave the family some sense of relief; I would be able to fend off an attack from the west. let's say. There was a moment where I wished I were twelve and could righteously have a tantrum . My aunt who I haven't seen since my younger sister's wedding, greeted me with, 'I hear you've got a job!'. I don't know whether my expression visibly hardened and my face distorted in rage, but I did reply, 'Well I have always been working of course, but yes, this is a new job.' I then stomped upstairs to find Charlie and Danny changing Safiya's nappy, and I raged freely about how who-cares-about-this-stupid-new-job-just-because-I'm-getting-paid-properly-doesn't-mean-it's-any more-important-than-all-the-other-work-I've-done-virtually-for-free. In fact I declared, somewhat disingenuously, I work far less hard here than I did in all my freelance work, and am making far less impact on humanity, etc.

It is my father's fault I know; I don't blame my aunt. My father has long been fending off questions on his middle-daughter's career as it was rather messy and unclear to say the least. But I DO expect more of him: a little damn imagination, a suspension of disbelief. When I was in Cairo working as a staff writer on a new journal, he came over to visit and sulked and pleaded me to train as a teacher so I could have a proper career. When I told him about my voluntary and consultancy work with the women's rights organisation, he just ignored me, right out ignored me; he simply couldn't fathom it - he didn't have the imagination. I expect this from my family and friends: a suspension of disbelief, a suspension of anxious judgement; a suspension of contempt. But family especially are caught up in the fictitious drama that is said to be 'the family'.

The family is not a single drama, at one moment in space and time. A drama demands a set of characters each playing out their fateful roles, some accepting of their banal fate, others see-sawing vertiginously between triumph and tragedy, as every other one looks on in despair, relief or glee.

The lives of members of a single family are no longer closely intertwined. My life and that of a cousin is unknown, even unbelievable, to another member. We are each caught up in myriad, ever-multiplying 'dramas' that stretch across space and time. My fate may well impact little upon my cousin's and my tragedy would not be his, and that, my friends, is no tragedy.

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