Self Portrait

When I was seventeen, I sold my doll and all her little frocks and coloured, knitted things. At the time I thought I ought to sell her, it seemed important to have some extra money. She was advertised for £1. It was near Christmas – a good time for selling. A woman came and I saw her alone with the doll in the front room where my mother had made a fire, as she did only on Christmas Day and other holidays.

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Writing is what I love doing. There is almost nothing like it. Even playing two or three close sets of tennis will not quite compete with having a good poetic theme discover you, and then managing to nut it out, to make it chime like a bell. No wonder the French critics are so fond of talking about the jouissance of a text. When a poetic shape-and-theme I’ve been struggling with comes good, it comes like an express train. And, whether painful or pleasing, writing has become an absolute necessity, so that I grow fretful, grumpy, zany, if I haven’t written anything decent for several days.

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Not being of an introspective temperament, nor an accomplished portraitist, I find it easier to talk about my milieu than myself. I spent my childhood in northern New South Wales. My mother’s people had come to farm in the district around the tum of the century, and most of her family had married, lived and died there. Though my father was a newcomer from the coast, he too had relatives in the town. For some years my younger brother and I were the babies of the kin group.

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When I read fiction I want the words to take my spirit into the places beneath the surface of the everyday world. I want the freshness of dreams to be again revealed to me. I want to know the loveliness and terror of what lies beyond the last star, of what lies sweetly cradled in the blood and juices of the human heart. I long to feel the shock when the tulip spikes the damp soil, feel the blissful impact of the truth, see the glint, the glimmer, the shimmer of another reality. When I read I wish to enjoy the company of the writer and the company of the people and the things in the story, to participate with all of them in the seductive mystery. I desire to be enchanted.

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Imagine me, myself, ten years on, a survivor of what is amusingly called ‘retirement’, though it will have been a matter of movement into rather than out of work. Let me, in short, give the four-day forecast; no weatherman will venture on the fifth, even to enforce the kind of superstition I am practising in these lines. Let us say the verbal magic works, and I reach seventy. What can I say now by way of analysing the character which I now confront in the time scale of then, across the years of future toil? Let me speak to that self in tones of restrained intimacy; restrained, because he frightens me a little.

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If we are not what we eat, and we are not, nor what we read, as we are also not, nevertheless a plate of latkes and a page of Saroyan do something to limn the portrait, as the crashing waves delineate the shoreline rock.

Naah.

Skip that.

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