by Yule Heibel on February 12, 2005

I entered a CBC literary writing contest some months ago (and I’m not linking to the contest site directly — you should work for this and sleuth, if you’re really interested, ha!). The contest has three categories: short story; travel writing-slash-memoir; poetry. I entered the oddly balled-up “travel writing/ memoir” category. Last week I received a letter that informed me that CBC had a record number of entries, that I didn’t win first or second prize (which comes with a tidy CDN$6K and CDN$4K prize — yowza!), but that I made the short list of 29 out of 795. Whah-hey! That’s 3.6-something percent, isn’t it? (You see, when it’s in your favour, it’s soothing to apply numbers, innit?)

The point is….

The point is that I’m mulling over why I ever entered a fiction/ memoir contest in the first place.

The point is….

Well, there is no point, except to say that this particular entry is what is sometimes termed a “brain dump”: I am taking my shirt off (see, I wear my brain on my chest, um, breasts, um, those wobbly bits) and telling the internet that I have lost my North Star, my drive, my focus. There is just too much to do, and whatever technology you’ve got, it only goes so far.

Therefore, I must ramble. (It’s only 2pm…) Mother may I?

A while ago — nearly a week ago, actually, but who is counting? — a friend sent me one of those questionnaires full of quirky inquiries, which you’re supposed to answer and then send back to the sender as well as to as many other people as you can think of.

Well, I would never do that to my friends, would I? I’ll just post it on my blog instead, ha.

My inquisitor sent her completed questionnaire, which includes the question (and it’s number 13), “What characteristic do you despise?” She had answered “passive-aggressiveness,” and it made me think about how that’s a real hot-button issue for quite a few people. It’s interesting to note that most people would admit to hating passive-aggressives. Thinking about it, I’ve concluded that it’s a classic Freudian problem — you know, the kind of problem we all think we’re so bloody superior to. What happens — and if any reader has, unlike myself, actually studied psychiatry, please jump in — is that a person exhibiting passive-aggressive behaviour is experiencing a crisis regarding taboo feelings s/he has for an object. Typically (I think) the object to which the taboo has become attached is a parent, and the crisis is provoked by the fact that the person (let’s call him/her the subject) can’t acknowledge certain taboo feelings s/he has for the object. Let’s say I hate my mother, or I want to sleep with her, or I want to usurp my father’s place, or kill him (better!), or let’s call to mind any of these vehement and often sexual (and sexually violent/ violated) feelings: let’s say I experience them — perhaps because my life is the shits, or because I’m a shit, or because the mother or father is the shits — but I can’t even acknowledge that these conditions or these feelings exist because I need to maintain this Leibnizian insanity that this is the best of all possible worlds. Well, if that happens, I’m a candidate for passive-aggressive behaviour: I will act in a passive-aggressive manner toward substitute objects, perhaps in the hope that they will “repent,” that they will “understand,” that they will do all the things the passive-aggressive individual should be doing, and that they will “forgive,” which is what the passive-aggressive individual wants the now taboo object to do: forgive him for his sins, the most serious of which is probably having the gall to question, at whatever pathetic subliminal level the subject has allowed him- or herself to do so, the loathsome status quo.

What I want to know is: why does passive-aggressiveness have this massive ability to push buttons in others? Is it because we, too, are at heart our taboo object’s assassins, just waiting for our chance to kill the father and fuck the mother (or vice versa or both together), that we’re all just dying to do what mustn’t be done to those we love? Does it push our buttons because it proves we’re all saps who cling to the “best of all possible” lie? Does it make us angry because in the end we realise that we haven’t found a political solution to our illusions? And why oh why do people continue to behave in passive-aggressive ways? Surely they must realise everyone hates them for it?

Here’s the qwizz:

What you are supposed to do is copy (not forward) this entire e-mail questionnaire and paste it onto a new e-mail that you’ll send. Change all the answers so they apply to you and then send this to a whole bunch of people including the person who sent it to you. The theory is that you will learn a lot of little things about your friends, if you didn’t know them already!

1. What time did you get up this morning? 9:30am

2. Diamonds or pearls? diamonds

3. What was the last film you saw at the cinema? …Uhm, can’t remember, but I think it might have been a Harry Potter movie a couple of summers ago. Do DVDs count? In that case, I just watched The Matrix last night, and wasn’t too impressed.

4. What is your favourite TV show? …I don’t watch tv, but again, my DVD collection is (one-sidedly) extensive (lots of BBC stuff) — So, I’ll put down AbFab

5. What did you have for breakfast? [L-l-l-lov-vuh-vuh-vuh, followed by] Champagne mimosa, fresh-baked croissants, cafe-au-lait…

6. What is your middle name? Frederika

7. What is your favourite cuisine? Italian

8. What food do you dislike? Organ meats; stale couscous; anything rancid; bad fats; farmed fish; turnips, parsnips, rooties generally

9. What is your favourite Potato Chip flavour? Any sort, really — depends on how late at night it is.

10. What is your favourite CD at the moment? Oliver Nelson, “Blues and the Abstract Truth”

11. What kind of car do you drive? Honda Odyssey (yes, a minivan)

12. What is your favourite sandwich? Fresh baguette, with cheese or ham or roast beef, or maybe Boursin, and tomato slices

13. What characteristic do you despise? Exploitative manipulative snobbery (the sort of people who ask “what kind of car do you drive?” only to use the information as a put-down. [ I suppose this is a variant of passive-aggressiveness!]

14. Favourite item of clothing? See question #2

15. If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation, where would you go? Greece, London, depends…

16. What color is your bathroom? White tile, flesh-coloured walls

17. Favourite brand of clothing? Sweat-shop free, without visible branding — unless it’s haute couture (Jil Sander, eg.), which I can’t afford…

18. Where would you retire to? If I had enough money: perhaps Zurich — it’s centrally located, has a great airport, and is easy to leave (this is very important). Without that kind of cash, however, probably right here, Victoria (for now, anyway). Ironically, Victoria is very difficult to leave, unless you’re an excellent swimmer or have lots of money for planes.

19. Favourite time of day? Late evening

20. What was your most memorable birthday? Please, I’m of an age where I try to forget… and since I was born right after xmas, I’ve been trying to forget for as long as I can remember!

21. Where were you born? Duesseldorf (Dazzledorf), Germany

22. Favourite sport to watch? Difficult to answer; I’m not a fan of sports. Dressage?

23. Who was your childhood heartthrob? haha, this is funny: Peter Wyngarde — he played “Jason King” and in “Department s”

24. Who do you least expect to send this back to you? No idea; I suppose it depends on whether I actually send it out whether anyone reads this and knows how to click my name to get to the “mail to” link….

25. Person you expect to send it back first? See above

26. What fabric detergent do you use? Cheapest and with least number of additives available, currently: Kirkland (generic Costco detergent) — comes in a huge bucket, lasts forever.

27. Coke or Pepsi? Cabernet Sauvignon

28. Are you a morning person or night owl? Night owl

29. What is your shoe size? 9.5

30. Do you have any pets? Two children & a husband. Oh, and a Cairn Terrier, Jigger.


maria February 13, 2005 at 2:53 pm

Congrats on being in that top 29 — really. You should enjoy that, even if it doesn’t come with the appropriate fraction of the prize money!!!

I would love to read your entry!

Yule Heibel February 13, 2005 at 3:54 pm

Thanks, Maria — but you won’t read my entry, not your life! I’m too embarassed by it, ack, ack! 😉

Yule Heibel February 13, 2005 at 10:16 pm

Ok, on second thought, my response (above) was too coy. I mean, here I am, writing a blog where I swear, expose myself, and go out on limbs. So what’s the problem with “exposing” the memoir piece? …Well, I guess it has something to do with not having figured out how to make a narrative out of a childhood that was really quite unequivocally miserable. Of the three principal people responsible for it (my mother, my father, and I), two are dead, which brings a kind of peace, but I somehow haven’t figured out how to assume stewardship of this, er, “history.” I tried to submit my little story to CBC with a pseudonymn, but they don’t allow it, and not being able to do so almost stopped me from entering in the first place! Yeah, I still want to hide….

Oh, and the other thing that made me uncomfortable was the word limit: 2,000 to 2,500 words! Being of the prolix persuasion, limiting myself to 2,500 words (and my piece was exactly that) increased my sense of clumsiness!

brian moffatt February 19, 2005 at 2:38 pm

Okay, this passive-aggressive thing. I’m not clear on exactly what it is let alone your faux-psychiatric interp of it, so I’ll just leave it alone…assuming that this post is a coy version of passive aggressiveness on your part in order that we the readers of your blog will demand that you post your CBC entry. But…

congrats all the same. Didn’t you find the limit liberating in a way? And thanks for the qwizz

Yule Heibel February 20, 2005 at 1:25 am

Ah, touch

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