I bang my hands on the cafe table. There are six of us here, the writers of the Riparian website. We meet weekly for coffee at one of Albury’s great cafes: Zoi or the Green Zebra or BBB or Canvas or Retro. We hardly ever talk about writing.
A few seconds ago I was making a point about—well it doesn’t matter now— literary appropriation, say, or the universal basic income, or the publishing industry— something that seemed important at the time. I have contributed what I thought was some big profound insight.
And Dotti has turned it into a pun.
I can’t even remember what the pun was now. None of us can. We can’t remember any of the puns Dotti used to drop in to our conversations, to divert us all to laughter and groans. Her word games were things of a moment, to be enjoyed and complained about and then forgotten.
Dotti enlivened us.
I say, ‘It’s the lowest form of wit, you know.’
And Dotti, being a gentle soul, doesn’t point out what a lazy cliché that is, or that I have no idea who said it first, or that it isn’t even about puns, it’s about sarcasm. She doesn’t say any of that because she is kind, and also because she isn’t interested in winning points.
Dotti is here to play. And the thing she most enjoys playing with is words.
Remember, re-member: that was another funny word. Member, as in a cock, a pizzle, a spouter … what else? Love truncheon … maybe that was where they got ‘banged up’ from. Then there was your Member of Parliament. Your Honorable Member. And the member-ship of course, crew members, cargo members: day after day at sea … All the lives and limbs shipped out of sight, out of mind. Out of memory. Not important enough to be forgotten: just un-remembered. Dis-membered.(Of Breath and Blood, p119)
Dotti loved words. She found them rich and magical and hilarious.
Rosemary lifts the envelope on the bunny rug. ‘Try me.’ .. the dimpling face, the flailing fistlets, so bonny!
Try me. Had her mother been tried? … Women: tried and tried again; trussed and tossed into rivers to sink innocent or swim satanic …(“Rosemary” Only One Life p 50)
Dotti enjoyed stories, but more than that she enjoyed voices. Words, arranged with care, in a way that could capture the essence of another person. She spent hours in that act of generosity—to bring someone else alive on the page.
Like they said, no rest for the wicked. Wicked. With a capital letter, you could hear it, the stamp, the sizzling brand of it in the judge’s voice. ‘Wanton wickedness.’ What was it about ‘w’? Wanton, wilful, wayward, wrecked … wicked witch … wishful, witchful thinking …(Of Breath and Blood, p 24)
Dotti’s work is rich with voices. She has left us a glorious collection of monologues, plays, poems, short stories and novels. Many publications, many awards. It is truly dazzling.
Funny word, prove. When you proved bread, you kneaded it … But when they proved you guilty, they never stopped kneading, they kneaded and kneaded till every last tiny iota of rise was kneaded out of you. Kneadless: you became needless. Even words, even sentences: their word against your word; their sentences against your … full stop.’(Of Breath and Blood, p 119)
Dotti’s work mattered. But at another level, she knew that none of this matters. What is really important is that we can sit here in this moment and talk, that we can throw words around and roar and laugh and flap our hands up and down, because the important questions don’t have answers and because a grocer might be grosser, and a sentence is also a sentence.
Dotti didn’t bother defending her word games. She knew that none of this is made to last. The grand statement and the silly pun are things of the moment. They dissolve and disappear.
Words are air. They give us voice and soon, like us, they are gone.
But they are beautiful. It is all beautiful.
Thank you Dotti.
I don’t know what love is. It’s a very complicated word. Dotti would play around with that one. But in the heart love is simple.
We loved you Dotti. We love you. We’re going to miss you.
*the title of this post comes from Of Breath and Blood, p 4
*The photo shows members of the creative committee for Write Around the Murray. Dotti is third from right.