When the letters of Penelope Fitzgerald, So I Have Thought of You, were published a couple of years ago, one of the reviews remarked on her creation of the character ‘Daddy’ in her letters to her daughters. ‘Daddy’ referred to her husband whose employment problems, disinterest, perhaps alcoholism, all feature in her letters with a sense of humourous detachment, an impossible state of mind to imagine given that she bore the brunt of these difficulties.
When writing to friends or talking to them on the phone, in the past year or so, I have become aware of a character that I unconsciously create, that of Mother L. She is this harried woman, forever at the mercy of a demanding child, rushing to complete chores, always behind or entirely forgetful of deadlines, unable to focus, perhaps even unable to breathe at liberty. She seems so enticing that I cannot help but mention how she is when people ask me how I am. Truth is I could be her. But I am not. At least not always. In vast stretches of hours, maybe I turn into her for a few minutes. But I see myself as her when people ask me how I am. The interesting thing is that I do not see myself as her when I am meeting people in person. Then how are you extracts a more realistic answer. The character of Mother L, so easy to conjure in words, is not that easy to enact. She remains a source of amusement, a means to objectify an extreme, a creation.
In a sense, I play both Penelope Fitzgerald and her husband Desmond. And like her, in my own unconscious way, I create a character to gain a perspective of my daily life.