Here is the response to your task, followed by a commentary.
Response (Anger Fifties)
Brother, I love you,
but can we sit down with someone
(a therapist maybe)
about how you attacked me
last night in your kitchen
posturing like a gammon,
like a thug?
I see now your texts
were asking for help,
but this anger is toxic.
It shocked me. I left.
Grow up! You’re a man in your fifties.
Therapy? I joked you’d suggest that.
Attacked! Where was the violence?
Just you—as ever—self-obsessed,
on the run.
Can we talk? About what?
To make you feel better, that’s what.
I’m right to be angry.
You’re see-through. Get lost.
Your so-tender feelings are just to protect you.
You ran away avoiding my questions.
Why you don’t care for your dead father’s sister.
Why must we call you to care for your mother?
Why am I always let down by you all?
I’m so disappointed with you,
I meant what I said
in my email
Please read it again, and think about talking,
why not with a counsellor,
someone like that.
Your aggression has given me nights
I won’t answer your questions
when they’re phrased to attack.
Our father died.
Please not you too.
I sent my new book—
let me know if you read it.
I was relieved
not to see you
back home this month.
I was scared of your anger,
what it does to my family.
Did your Spain trip go well?
Hope you’re getting some help.
Man up, you fucktard!
Just deal with my anger.
I vented at you—
no big deal, what’s the problem?
The problem is you can’t accept
you’re at fault.
Can’t answer my questions
so now I’m the problem.
Don’t patronize me
with ersatz emotions.
All this because you can’t face
My feelings are real—you’re a bully to doubt them.
These emails show you don’t know
me or yourself.
I’m happy with that so long it’s productive.
Anger is fine—it’s the way you express it.
Aggression that’s borderline—what—
Don’t be surprised if it gets no reward.
We’re all laughing at you here.
Your self-serving bluster,
You won’t face my questions however I phrase them,
so you gaslight with aspersions on my mental condition.
Please send your address for Xmas best wishes etc.
The next time we meet, try to act like an adult.
This email you sent without self-awareness,
with a cruelty who knew you were capable of.
Is this the real you? Or what are you suffering?
Hope you have help with whatever’s so troubling.
But no contact again, please.
Best to wife and family—
you needn’t bother with season’s greetings.
My father died
when I was still a boy.
No one ever let me grieve.
My son died
before he was born.
To be lectured by you
on emotional intelligence!
You’re just some weeping narcissist’s wound.
Your dead father’s sister turned eighty, remember?
Did you remember to send a card?
Your task asked me to address a recent conflict with my youngest brother who lives in Ireland. This conflict flared up when I visited him and his wife and daughter in his home during the trip to Cork recorded in Response 40. That evening, out of the blue, he verbally attacked me (ironically enough, he had just returned from a yoga class). He accused me of all sorts of things, but the occasion for the attack was his feeling that he had been dumped with the care of our aging and ill paternal aunt. I was taken aback by the high and, to me, unacceptable level of aggression, and said so in an email the following day, suggesting we might meet together with a counsellor to talk through the issues. This generated a jeering response, and in the subsequent exchange of mails over the past couple of months, he has amplified his jeers and insults, while seeing only self-interest in my offer of mediation and self-regard in my expression of hurt. My last email to him was intended to suspend contact, perhaps indefinitely, though he could not resist getting in an accusatory last word.
Obviously, the preceding paragraph is my take on events. And in my response, above, I have tried to invest in my brother's perspective to the same extent as my own, and have tried not to hide when I may have seemed ridiculous.
My procedure was simple. First, I put together the email trail beginning with the mail I sent on 3 July, the morning after the showdown in his kitchen, and ending with my brother’s final short email from earlier this month. In the task, you ask me to consider if any of the formal aspects of Response 28 (a response we both feel to have been particularly satisfying) could help to deal with this painful material. I took the most obvious aspect of Response 28, which was to make the passages of text correspond in number of words to the number of the task—in this case, fifty. So, I reworked all ten emails in the exchange (mine in italics, his in roman) so that each is now exactly fifty words long. There's an allusion intended to my age, of course — I’m fifty and my brother points this out (as a rebuke to my supposed immaturity) in one of the mails. But I was thinking of middle age as such, as a period when the pain and legacies of unresolved stuff tends to have hardened into resentment and pathological coping strategies.
I’ve tried at moments to reveal what may be the buried motives for the conflict, but I don’t think the rewritten passages are more interesting than the original emails. It’s fair to say that my brother is fonder of the thesaurus than the dictionary, but the rewritten prose loses some of the vivid contempt expressed in his mails, as in the following examples.
- To be lectured on emotional intelligence by you isn’t quite on a par with your previous fictions but shur what do I expect from a weeping narcissists wound.
- You’ve reacted pathetically with gaslighting melodrama.
- the flailing histrionic bluster of your self serving emails was predicted and it is, as ever, disappointing.
- you’re see through and I can’t be bothered right now. you are and always have been a selfish prick.
I note here that I doubt that ‘fucktard’ (in 4) is part of my brother’s personal lexicon, but the ableist term is used here to generate the same effect on the reader as I experienced when I read the language my brother used of me in his mails: several examples of ‘don’t give a shit’, as well as ‘selfish prick’, ‘langer’ (a slang term also meaning prick) and so on. Out of context, these terms may seem quaint and the effect had to be amplified with a genuinely offensive epithet.
If the rewritten passages are less interesting than the originals, then the fact of composing them according to a strict numerical constraint has given me some emotional control of the material. This conflict has caused me many nights of insomnia and has stained the joy in many otherwise happy days as you and I prepare for the birth of our child. I don't know if the damage to my relationship with my brother can be repaired. I don’t know if I want it to be. And yet, I care deeply for him. So, this response has been the beginning of a grieving process, and the taking of a distance between my feelings and the future.
You ask me in the task to consider a very interesting question, ‘How does the apparatus make the experience?’, which would take a lot of words to do justice to, so I will try to answer it in a separate post in the Reflections section of this website.