Shy: A Memoir, Sian Prior, Text, 2014.
OK, I admit I read this book to see what Sian Prior said about Paul Kelly and their break-up. For those who do not know, Paul Kelly is an Australian musician, a much loved and respected singer and songwriter. He writes fairly amazing songs about his life and what is going on around him, and most of them can be read as poems. He is hard-working and prolific and can still pull a good crowd, and at fifty-nine, it seems that he can still pull the ladies, too.
It was no real surprise to find that Sian Prior expresses a lot of rage in this book, all of it directed at Paul Kelly. After a lovely night out he told he that, after ten years together, he did not want to be in a relationship with her any more, that he wanted to be with other women. This revelation came out of the blue and hit her like a thunderbolt, although with hindsight she could see that the signs were all there, if only she had been paying attention. The situation was made worse by the fact that before they got together Kelly had a smack habit and she gave him an ultimatum: heroin or her. He chose her and said that he liked the person he was when he was with her and promised to be faithful. Sadly for her, it turned out that he had not been faithful, and when he told her he wanted to be free to do horizontal folk dancing with other ladies, she was devastated. Ten years of love and friendship and shared life down the gurgler.
Sian Prior is a journalist, writer, opera singer, musician, and a lot more besides. She is ENOUGH, but she never felt that way. Her father drowned when she was young, after saving two other people who got into trouble swimming in the ocean. Her mother sounds like a remarkable woman, and a good role model, but Prior was shy and awkward, and she never ‘grew out of it’ as some people do. Although she could go onstage and perform, speak to large crowds, and schmooze at celebrity parties, she felt anxious and unsure of herself.
I think most people are ‘shy’ to some degree; no one is brimming with confidence and self-belief 24/7. I did not learn anything new from this book about the cause of shyness, but I did learn all about Ms Prior’s insecurities and it was all rather dreary. She wrote the memoir as part of her PhD in creative writing. Enough said, probably, given my dislike of that sort of writing. I really have no clue why anyone with such a high public profile would want to publish something so very personal. She is obviously extremely angry with Paul Kelly and the parts of the book about him feel like payback.
There were a few bits that made me think:
One day I heard a woman on the radio talking about social media and the ‘virtual self’. She described how people use Facebook and Twitter, posting photos and updates, comments and gags, to ‘display themselves’ to the world. The presenter asked her if she thought we were all ‘tinkering with what we’ve put online in order to project the image of ourselves that we want to project’. The social media expert told him we’re all ‘sculpting ourselves’ using the medium of digital data, creating ‘virtual doppelgangers’ out there in cyberspace in order to ‘craft Brand Me.’
I can relate to that. I think that when I was on Twitter I was trying out ‘public selves’, but it felt kind of empty, really. I am a private person in real life, so it was surprising to me that I blabbed so much about myself online for a while. I guess it was something I needed to try, but those selves werre not ‘me’.
When Tom [she uses a pseudonym for Paul Kelly] was working away from home he used to write to me every night. A letter from London. A missive from Massachusetts. A poem from Paris. Words were our love tokens. They kept the connection. They counted for a lot… Did he sit down and write to me in between fucking different women? I guess there’s no reason he should have kept it to one a night. If the offers were there, I mean. What’s the difference between one or several other women? Writing to me might have been a nice little break. A palate cleanser.
Did he think of those other women as hamburgers, or as steak? Or as some other variety of meat?
Ouch. I wonder what Paul Kelly thought when he read that vicious serve of character assessment?