Tuesday, June 30, 2009

June Baby

It's Mum's birthday today, her first birthday in the after-life.

She now belongs to the would-have-been birthday world: she would have been 81 years old.

One year ago I blogged a happy birthday to her, a congratulations for attaining her 80th.

It was quite a triumph for her to have reached that milestone, as she was already deep into her death agony (which unaccountably lasted another 12 days...)

She survived that long by sheer force of will, much as she had achieved so much in her at times very difficult life, by the strength of her love for life and for her husband and family, and her determination to survive against the odds.

She was one tough cookie, a powerful person in a misleadingly frail package, and her children were well trained up to remember and celebrate her birthday and there is no way we would ever stop now.

Happy birthday Mum.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Darwin 200

I'm getting a buzz out of kind of participating in DARWIN 200 because I am rereading Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World.

The Lost World Read 2009
programme (click to see the website) organised for a mass reading of the text, and the book I'm reading was published especially for the purpose. On the back it says:

This book is being distributed free as part of The Lost World Read 2009. Once you have finished reading it please pass it on to someone else.

Darwin 200
is of course the commemoration of Charles Darwin's bicentenary, and the celebrations this year also mark 150 years since he published the famous book on his theories on natural selection.

Arithmetic is not one of my strong points, but that means he was 50 years old, doesn't it, when he made himself one of the great names of world history.

The vox pop canvassed on the streets of my city this week found a young woman who counted the death of Michael Jackson, coincidentally at the age of 50 years, as one of the defining moments of world history.

I guess time will tell on that one. I'm not saying she's not right.

It could be that Michael Jackson's example and era has marked the end of human natural selection, and the culmination of humanity's new ability to unnaturally select.

The sadness when you finish reading a really good book

The Supply Party, Martin Edmond (East Street 2009)

Last night I finished reading this book, that had occupied the privileged bedtime reading spot. In the past few nights, as it drew up towards its final chapters (or did it fall away towards them?) a sadness grew in me that I would soon be coming to the end of the story. The familiar - but not that familiar - sweet regret and almost a disbelief that one is nearing the end of a really good book.

I could read it again, sure (in fact many chapters I had already read at least twice, because of my habit of browsing a book thoroughly before deciding to read it), but it will never again be the FIRST time I have read it.

This is one great book. Trouble is I felt that way about Martin Edmond's Luca Antara too, which is plainly a masterpiece. So am I getting soft in my old age, and just loving every book I pick up? Or am I just being a little more discerning lately about what I will read?

To quote Wellington poet Geoff Cochrane:

I hear of a hot new writer and I think, What are the chances? But what are the chances of his being any good?

Lately I have felt like sticking to the tried-and-true. Not in the mood for the next best thing, who might (he or she) just be a clever marketing gig from a publicist for whom every new voice is stunning.

In the kind of winter I'm living through this year (elemental) it's really important to have a trustworthy book in your lap because it's too damn cold to go into unheated rooms fossicking for another option.

The colder it gets, the more I appreciated struggling through the Australian desert. Must reread some Patrick White next.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The silver sliver

The cliche fingernail moon stabbed its bright dent into the blue flesh of the sky, in two of the books I was reading on the same day.
Then it was really there in the sky as I took an evening walk last night. And my heart leapt up.

Beneath the Surface

"At one stage I began to relate water to the process of memory."

~ Fiona Kidman

I am currently reading Fiona Kidman's new volume of memoir Beside the Dark Pool. It's such a powerful reading experience, I am being taken back through my own life along with Fiona.

As with all good memoir, the reader is not permitted to remain objective. I find my own memories stirring in the depths as Fiona relives her life, especially through the stormy and "liberating" seventies and eighties. Her courage encourages me to reach back and remember; and as I have lived through so many of the "interesting times" she has lived through, it's been a rich time casting the mind back.

Moments of decision. Stranding on a lonely shore and experiencing the vastness of opportunity, the smallness of the safe places. Choosing a heroine, a model, or making your own important contribution - never mind the opposition - and coping with the fallout later. The abandonment and exhilaration of standing on the front lines of protest. Love. Friendship. Grief. And lines of poetry always to hand.

What a great guide she is, with her frankness and lucidity and her self-control as she reveals with great clarity the feminist revolution as it was acted out within the family circle, the Springbok Tour, Muldoonism, Labour activism, NZ literary politics and the at times vicious feuding, etc.

She deserves special congratulation for the light she shines on the two faces of one particularly feared old man of letters. I am among the many who have personally witnessed his smiling duplicity while blood dripped from the rhetorical knife hidden up his sleeve, and I whooped with joy when I saw how honest Fiona had been. O brave and admirable stateswoman!

This is the story of a NZ woman who has been an important literary figure; we owe her much appreciation for her past deeds, and her generosity continues with this latest of her works.

This book is beautifully written. An indispensable piece of literary and social history as well as a moving instalment of autobiography. Highly recommended.

There is a useful and informative post about it on Mary McCallum's blog "O Audacious Book"

Here is Graham Beattie's review on his Bookman Blog.

And there's a NZ Herald review.

There's a good review in this week's Listener too, but it won't be online until the 11th of July.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

An Hour with Judith Thurman

The Auckland Writers & Readers Festival I attended last month was marvellous - too full of excellent content to claim any one experience was the "best".

For me one of the many highlights was hearing Judith Thurman give the 2009 Michael King Memorial Lecture.

The standard of this annual lecture (devoted to discussing the art of biography) is very high. Last year, Hermione Lee gave the lecture and I was also privileged to attend that. What a great opportunity for a New Zealand audience to hear from cutting edge exponents of the biographical endeavour.

Peter Wells (who by the way has newly entered the Blogiverse with his own blog) introduced the elegant, very cool Thurman by revealing she was wearing Yves St Laurent. Thurman elaborated further, and even more impressively to my mind, by divulging that she had acquired the garment at a thrift store.

She then went on to deliver an exquisitely written, interesting and funny lecture, telling us something of her own story: how she came to the place of telling other people's stories.

She was generous with advice and garnered wisdom. I jotted down such pearls as:

"Biography is the art of high-minded betrayal and dirty-minded fidelity."

[She would not write on a living subject]: "The storyteller takes his authority from death." - Walter Benjamin.

[Writing is sometimes] "a line by line combat with self-forgery"

[Describing a Classical Music Radio DJ]: "every vowel comes from a different country"

"The more you care about a subject, the more anxious you are, the stiffer, the more afraid of failure."

Her descriptions of learning to be a NEW YORKER writer were enthralling, both because she so clearly believes it is the best place for a journalist to be, and the high standards demanded of the writer are balanced by what must be the beguiling freedom to excel.

The grammatical perfectionists at the New Yorker did not seem to scare her, and we learnt why when she told us that her mother was a grammarian martinet who had taken it upon herself to punctuate the stream of consciousness in Ulysses.

Thurman took the audience in a hilarious meander through multiple versions of the opening paragraph of dozens of drafts of an (eventually successful) attempt to write a New Yorker essay on the subject of TOFU.

It was an assured exercise from writing class, and refreshing in its self-parody.

Top quality. Congratulations to the AWRF for continuing to supply speakers of such calibre.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Solstice Celebration

Thanks to the miracle of modern technology, the solstice carnival viewing pleasure can continue...

My friend Fieke has put her video of the Dunedin Midwinter Carnival on YouTube. I especially enjoyed seeing the boutique fireworks from a different angle (I was right underneath them, and spent a bit of effort ducking the sparks!)

The Otago Daily Times has put up galleries of photos (these are from last year!) and reader photos from this year.

And so here in the South we head into the deepening winter as the year falls away from its technical midpoint (I say 'technical' because here in Dunedin it usually gets a lot colder after the solstice, although soon the light will soon start seeping back earlier in the mornings and later into the evenings.)

Another advantage of living in the 21st Century is that I can also revel in the Northern summer solstice festivities thanks to Google. It's a kind of gluttony to observe both summer and winter rituals simultaneously...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Longest Year

The Tabby made her debut into Blogland one year ago today.

It's been a hell of a year.

The Longest Night

It is that time of year again, the night of the pagan festivities.

Dunedin's Octagon is alive to a cultural melange of primal drumming, solemn medieval stilt-walking, Morris dancing, colourful lanterns and sausage sizzles.

Ooooh and after the Winter Festival Parade, the fireworks off the HOYTS roof.

Happy Solstice!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

No business like snow business

Good weather for penguins, and, apparently, panel beaters.

Snow to sea level and my road over the mountain impassable for 2 days.

Lovely. And it was that real snow, with the soft powdery flakes that get painted delicately on every leaf and every frond.

The silent snow that has painted the world white while you were asleep.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Walrus is David Bain

If you play the Beatles song 'REVOLUTION #9' you can hear "Number nine, number nine..." but if you play the vinyl backwards it says "Turn me on dead man, turn me on dead man..."

This is audible and very clear.

Also, there are nine letters in the name McCartney.

The notorious "Paul is Dead" hoax is in fact more likely to be true, than the possibility that when David Bain rang the police, having discovered all his family shot dead, that instead of saying "I can't breathe" he is actually saying "I shot the prick".

I'd love to blame the internet for this stupidity, but this kind of stupidity has been around a long time...

Some New Books

The separation of life from work has been so successful that my blogging has suffered.

Not that blogging substituted for lifestyle, necessarily (I do have to consider the possibility that it did, though!), but my heavenly new lifestyle still involves no TV, no internet, no phone; so blogging has to steal time from urban office hours, and that is hard to justify when your to-do list runs to 13 pages, as mine does...

I have been too busy having this marvellous new lifestyle - reading things I'm not paid to read, swanning around looking at wading birds, learning to cook again, moving pieces of furniture to and fro, sussing out the new library and corner store...

I never even did a report on the Auckland Writers Festival even though it was excellent and I took notes. (I had a bit of a road block in not making up my mind whether the blog report belonged on my work blog or the Tabby's blog...)

Anyways Vanda did a good report and linked to other good reports.

There was plenty wonderful about that festival, and maybe I'll find some time to jot down some thoughts and impressions.

Meanwhile as a placeholder, here is a pic of one of the piles of books I brought back from the festival.

Among the highlights? I had the pleasure to see two of my literary heroes in person: Martin Edmond and David Malouf.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The PhD Cupboard

Many years ago I closed the door on my never-completed doctoral research. Literally.

My PhD had been ABD for a while, and then it was just BAD.

I put all the material evidence for my five years of hard work in a far flung wardrobe in my house, at the very corner of the small study I never use any more except for storage, and I shut that door tight.

I honestly can't recall when I last looked in that corner. It must have been so long ago that I had even forgotten the failed PhD was sitting in there, freshly coiled and waiting to spring like a Jack in the Box, when I lifted the lid today, innocently thinking, hmm I wonder what's in here?

I'm gradually emptying out this house you see, ahead of selling it. It's a big job for a hoarder, who comes from a long line of hoarders.

So there, neatly stacked and almost hopefully so, it seemed today, are the file boxes and the ring binders, labelled and tidy and so irrelevant to me now, surely I should just… ??

Chuck the lot? Nooooooooooooooooo…..

I still have hopes that some day I will turn it all into a novel.

Like all of those of us who have not actually ever written a novel, I do sometimes entertain the thought that this or that raw wound or healed scar might contain the makings of a good novel.

But I understand from good authority that it is not as easy at it looks to turn your failures into fictions.

It's not even that easy to hide the bodies.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Fridge Magnets

What can I say? I like them. I think it is beneficial to think positively, and to repeat aspirations.

My favourite right now is:






Life goes on

Meet my lovely daughter. She had surgery today and it went very well though of course you never know that it will at the time, though of course you hope for the best.

Another of those tough days that come along from time to time.

Faced, endured, overcome.

David Bain "Not Guilty" Verdict. Yay!

I never believed that the case against him was proven beyond reasonable doubt.

The first trial was a travesty and has been rightfully wiped from the record.

Well done to the legal team and supporters and friends of David Bain.

TV3 coverage.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Doris Lessing On Cats

Specially chosen, the pre-bedtime reading. There's a pile of books there, and not all make the cut. This one did though, and was purrfect to dream with!

Have just finished reading the three essays that make up this lovely little book. Isn't it strange how many authors are also cat lovers? Lessing uses her considerable literary skills to convey the relationship between cats and cats and cats and people.