Betty Duffy

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Voice of Disdain

Last year, I gave up arguing for Lent—not chocolate or coffee or swearing. I had a sense I was taking the easy way out because chocolate and coffee mean so much to me. Here they are on my desk, my constant companion. But in the wee hours of the morning as young Duffys are getting ready for school and Mr. Duffy is looking for the articles that make up his uniform, I have argued, spoken with that tone I use, before I have even opened my eyes. This is a sticky point for me—my voice of disdain is so ingrained in me I am unaware of its provocation. It is me—I am the voice of disdain. “Do you have to dump the laundry out of the baskets to find one sock?” Never mind that the laundry has been sitting in the basket all week, clean but unfolded. It’s hard for me, I comfort myself. It’s hard to keep the laundry clean, let alone put it away. But my challenges with laundry are not the issue here. The issue is that I always give myself the instant gratification of saying exactly what I think, of defending myself while at the same time using a cutting tone that redirects or deflects the arrow off of me, and back to the one who sent it.

I have to be right at the expense of peace in my home, at the expense of my own interior calm, at the expense of my children’s innocence—they are cultivating under my influence their own voice of disdain. And when I hear it coming our of their mouths I want to smack them—even though the tone they are using is most certainly the gift I’ve given them.

I am in most ways an unlikable hypocrite—though if I’m brutally honest, this is a characteristic of myself I deeply cherish. My sticking point—another one, that is—is that an awareness of my flaws and my inability to part with them makes up 90% of my inspiration for writing. Self-improvement, at a very base level, seems to threaten my writing by relieving me of my internal conflict. This was so when I was in college and my sins were more obvious—sex, drugs, rock and roll—ridding myself of these influences would have made my writing less interesting, I thought. But lo—cleaning up my obvious offences has just made room for new, more hidden conflicts. And I love them. I cherish my conflicts because they make finding material for stories so darn easy. I suppose this is what Pope Benedict XI meant when he said in a December 8, 2005 Homily:

"In a word, we think that evil is basically good, we think we need it, at least a little, in order to experience the fullness of being….The person who abandons himself totally in God’s hands does not become God’s puppet, a boring “yes man.” ….The person who turns to God does not become smaller but greater, for through God and with God … he becomes truly himself….It is only then that his heart truly awakens and he becomes a sensitive, hence, benevolent and open person. The closer a person is to God, the closer he is to other people."

As a writer, I find the irony in my behavior or the things that happen to me, and I mock them, turn them into satire—see what a fool she is. She has let you in on what she hopes for herself, and she proceeds to undermine them. But if I am a fiction writer as I aspire to be—I’m supposed to be able to use my imagination to come up with conflicts. Every story I write cannot be about me and my dazzling inner struggles.

And as a mother, I can’t be buddies with evil, no matter how insignificant that evil feels. At some point, I’m going to have get a little cozier with God if I want to model for my kids that “sensitive, benevolent and open” behavior, I guess I thought they would spontaneously develop in spite of me.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

I could write a blog about your blog. Let's just leave it at, you always get it right, you are a wonderful voice for mother's and the job of motherhood. Thank you!