I’m a big girl now

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I’m a big girl now

Pull-ups, wow!

Just me? There was an ad, back in the day. Catchy tune. I’m singing it in my head.

Fine, out loud.

Oh look, there it is:

so that’s a tangent for a start. Gosh.

What was I going to say?

Right – I had a birthday. I’m now THIRTY-ONE.

To my ears, thirty is such a nice round number and when kids ask my age (they do… regularly. High schoolers try to wheedle it out, doing the math… so I just tell them) I say thirty without hesitation. Thirty-one, though, sounds like too much information. An over-share. Like, seriously, I didn’t need your whole life story.

Just me?

Maybe I should title this post ‘Just me?’

So, I’m another year older. Blah blah. My birthday present was going to see Dawn French a month ago. She was brilliant (of course) but that meant not much $$ left for celebrating on my actual birthday.

Two days before my actual birthday, Luuk and I went to a thing put on by the theatre program at Hagley – where I take an evening class. The school of cuisine fed us four courses between scenes. It was a whole do, and great fun, but not strictly birthday fun.

Mum and Dad, the legends they are, were determined to have a meal on my actual birthday, so we had teppanyaki. Delicious and a dinner with a show too because FIRE! Veritable pyrotechnics.

And… exciting news! I got a video camera. So… vlogs coming your way soon. And movies. And we’ll see about that web series I’ve been writing.

Now that I’m THIRTY-ONE, I suppose I am a grown-up. I’m writing this in PJs, naturally. But something very grown-up happened a week ago: I was elected CHAIR of the Canterbury branch of The New Zealand Society of Authors.

I’m a chair.

chair

Yep. I came home and said to Luuk, “You’re married to a chair.”

Not very grown up, after all, perhaps.

In fact, so long as I use the words ‘grown up’, I’m giving myself away, aren’t I?

What does being CHAIR mean? Well, not just running the meetings but that is a big part of it, and I’ve no qualms about running a room, putting on my teacher voice so everything sits down and gets on with it. Back to the agenda folks. Lovely tangent but save it…

So I’m all set for that bit of it. I am aware I don’t know the ins-and-outs of NZ publishing and I don’t know all the names. But I have the gumption to ask. Cold call or cold email (more likely) the top dogs and queen writer-bees of this fine land, asking for favours, tips, tricks…

Unfortunately, I had to take the kids along to the first meeting I chaired; it being school hols. And my lovely Mum being sequestered to do actual paid work… so no sitter. But the kids were pretty good with their lunch boxes and colouring books.

And after the meeting,  we got to see Ray‘s Harley!

harley baby

The kids were so scared by the NOISE that they didn’t want to sit on the back for a photo. So I gave Louis the camera and he took this.

One day, I want an actual ride. This’d be some step up from the farm bikes I’ve been on in the past.

So, ’tis school holidays. Which means no breather for me. Not much writing. Low expectations of productivity. The bare minimum I need to do in the next ten days is…

  • three submissions – a short story competition, a poetry thing, and two flash fiction pieces…
  • write a poem a day because NaPoWriMo is on and so far I’ve managed, and it’s too late to give up now.

How??? In short: we are doing a kind of Playground Tour of Christchurch, basically.

margaret mahy playground

The Margaret Mahy one in the city is brilliant, of course, but ends in soaked kids (and one day I’ll learn to pack a change of clothes…).

playground writing

This one at West Spreydon School is freakin’ awesome. Enormous ropes and screeds of massive tyres, a proper wooden fort and lots of slides. The kids love it so we’ll go back there.

The Cashmere Playground is, as always, excellent. We go there regularly so it’s not so special-occasion-y but close. And close to a decent coffee shop.

Win and win.

While the weather is good, we’re good.

I don’t get much done, just a few poems, a few minutes of nothing but my own thoughts for company, and when I run out of words, I can read.

I’m trying to get on top of one cleaning/tidying job each day. We did the kids’ art one afternoon. Another, I traded out my (design flawed) bedside table for a small bookshelf and tidied my side of the bed. Another day we cleared the lounge and – wait for it – vacuumed! I know. Miracle. Call me Domestic Goddess and be done with it.

Elena is, this moment, drawing me with a crown on.

We are going to make a movie today, so they’re drawing up plans. Yay for happy, busy kids.

 


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that doesn’t seem right

I’ve been aware lately of a few wonderful paradoxes, and I thought I’d share them here because it’s been a while. I’ve been doing nanowrimo (writing. A lot. That is all.) and now that’s done, so I’m back in the world of the living, just in time to put up the Christmas decorations.

Leo says,

What’s a paradox? some might ask. A seeming contradiction. Two things that don’t go together, but SO DO.

For instance: happily listening to an Adele song.

Now, that’s a bit mean. There is a happy song on her new album. The last track. I know this because I went out and bought it (so strange for me) and I’ve been listening to it on loop, obsessively (less strange). And very happily. So there you have it.

adele is awesome
Another example of paradox: you want something done, ask a busy person.

So you get it. Paradoxes everywhere actually. The one I’m most aware of at the moment is less pithy. It’s about being certain of uncertainty, about being happy but not entirely content. I’ve been looking for part time teaching work and, at the same time, looking at my writing – my nine complete manuscripts, a couple of which are pretty close to being finished, so far as I can tell – and where to take it next, how to publish and publish well.

writing and tea

In both cases, there are things I can do to improve my chances and then there’s just a tonne of stuff beyond my control. I’m impatient to be in the classroom again, and I’m impatient to be published, but at the same time, I’m loving writing, and I know what I need to be working on, and I’ve enjoyed relief teaching much more than I expected. In some ways relief is a good fit with writing. And if I do suddenly get a big break and have to do a world book tour, I won’t have to take time off and mess anyone around…

But seriously, that’s only slightly less likely than finding a teaching job in Christchurch.

Maybe. Hard to say for sure.

Louis started school a couple of weeks ago and he’s so happy there. Elena’s still loving kindy and they’re both becoming more independent.

starting school

They’re happy, healthy, adorable, and relatively low-maintenance kids. I’m not dreading the summer holidays the way I was dreading school hols earlier in the year. I’ll still be able to write and find some time by myself.

happy kids boating

What I’m saying is, life is good – it’s great. But I’m still wanting more, wanting things to change.

Here’s another paradox for you: holidays. Is it just me who’s always tired at the end of them? I really am so much better at work, in my routine. I can write in a quiet house, by myself, for hours and at the end feel energised and rested.

nanowrimoing

Maybe I’m weird.

Okay, definitely.

Here’s another one: if you want to do something really well, you have to make it a priority, focus… get going toward those 10k hours we supposedly need to put in if we want to be brilliant at a thing. Any thing. But, that said, if you reduce yourself to one thing, one defining interest, especially in the arts, then you can’t do it in a way that’s relevant to the world around you. I recently started playing basketball. Now, I’m no sportswoman. I mean, I have zero interest in sport-watching, and it’s fun to play, but I’m not very committed to winning. I won’t push myself so hard that I get injured or asthmatic. If I’m stuffed, I sub-off. If someone shoves me, I back-off. But I’ve been LOVING basketball. I did not see that coming. Now, if I’m not open to trying new things, then I’ll quickly run out of things to write about. If I limit my characters to my experiences and interests and point-of-view then my stories will be so narrow.

Plus, life is more fun if you try new things.

such fun

And the next one isn’t so much a paradox, as just an unfortunate truth that I’m grappling with: you can’t do everything. You have to choose what matters and what matters less and what doesn’t matter. But there are too many wonderful things, and too many important things. You can’t even do the majority of them, to be frank. If you try to do all the wonderful and important things then you’ll be miserable: there’s simply too much to do and not enough time. And so there are some hard decisions to be made. Finish writing on deadline or go to the climate march, for instance. Both are important, but doing both would be stressful and unnecessary. I think I might come back to this in a future blog: the saying ‘no’ to things subject. It’s a big one. Tricky and important.

Here’s a tricky paradox: missing a place and being glad to be somewhere else. Ah, Paris, how you mess me around. Paris is EVERYWHERE, can I just say? I mean even when it’s not being shot up by nut-jobs, it is everywhere. I’ve been supervising NCEA exams and we confiscated a pencil case so it was sitting up the front, and it’s got the Eiffel Tower on it – of course! Paris is a hard place to leave behind anyway but seriously enough with papering the world in Eiffel Towers.

And then there’s an awful act of terrorism, so you have my permission again (not that you need it), and these past few weeks people keep saying to me, ‘you must be glad not to be there’, and I am. We were there in January for all the Charlie Hebdo palaver, and I am glad to miss out on all that stress and chaos and merde.

me and invalides

(Elena took this photo on the day that the Charlie Hebdo situation was shut down. We had an appointment in Paris and arrived early. We were waiting and she was playing with my phone. That’s Invalides in the background. I think it captures how tired, stressed, and overwhelmed I was feeling.)

But I also really want to be there. I want to hug my friends so, SO tight. Especially, but not limited to, those who lost friends at the Bataclan. I’m heartsick for them. One friend, a poet, has been posting little details of her day on facebook – about getting her bag checked at every shop, and not minding, but thinking the cursory glance in her purse wouldn’t likely catch anything dangerous if it were hidden in among the flotsam; about saying bonjour and merci to the guards outside the mosque – people she walks past every day and has never spoken to before. This is the stuff that makes me want to be there, and also so glad to be here.

But Christmas is coming, and being here in the sun wins.

summer wins

I am glad to be home and for summer coming, and pohutakawa blossoming up the road.

pohutakawa

Brandy snaps and pavlova and lots of bubbly and long evenings on the deck, with the barbecue and Adele crooning away in the background (probably just in my head because everyone else will be sick of her and her album will be banned in our house… it’s only a matter of time.)

in my head

Oh, I won’t.


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and the winners are…

Earlier this year, a couple of days after we got to Christchurch (after relocating from France and visiting people for a few weeks in the north island before tripping down the country) I applied for a program the NZ Society of Author’s runs each year, called ‘CompleteMS’. Basically, I want some editorial-flavoured feedback from someone in the writing and publishing industry. I’ve had helpful criticism and lovely praise from my writers’ group and assorted reader/writer-friends, and I know this particular story has its strengths but it isn’t getting bites from literary agents. There are many reasons literary agents don’t bite – it’s not all about the quality of the work but that’s a factor. So rather than rush head-long into self-publishing, or continue firing off queries to agents, hoping someone will fall head-over-heels for this manuscript in its current form, I’m hoping to lift my game a bit, take this novel up another notch.

So I applied and I’ve won one of the twelve assessments they award each year! Hurrah!

Thanks to The NZ Society of Authors and CreativeNZ, I’ll have some help from… mystery guest. I have no idea who my assessor is, but I’ve posted off the big, fat envelope. It’ll take a month or two to get the thing back, with notes and all that, and then there’s a work-shopping session, a chance to talk through the issues and next-steps. And then I’ll be ready to rewrite the thing, again. Make it magic. Fine-tune. Or, you know, rip out great hunks and suture the wounds.

It could happen. It’ll hurt but if that’s what it needs…

So, yeah, that’s my news. Yay! It feels like a big smack of a kiss of legitimacy, to have something I wrote recognised as kind of up-and-coming. I even get my bio on the NZSA website.

In the meantime, while I wait, I’m still working: rewriting another many-times edited manuscript, one that has already had some professional editing. It’s not a magic fix-all, and I’ve gone several rounds with this baby, even after those assessments. I suppose, for all that, my expectations of this CompleteMS thing are in-check. It’s an honour to be supported in my work, but I still have to do the work.

We’re in school hols so with 2 kids under-toe I’m scrabbling at time to get at the manuscript. After sunset, I say fair game and let the kids at their screens, and pour myself a glass of wine and try to switch on my brain (and yes, I’m aware that’s counter-intuitive). If I can just get into it a bit them the odd interruption won’t hurt: I can go make hot chocolates or find someone a dummy, or build a mattress “slide bridge” and then return to my page and pick up where I left off. But I have to get my head into what I’m working on to begin with, and some days that takes longer than others. I went and hid in my bedroom this evening and read a whole chapter aloud. Off the back of that I managed several new paragraphs, necessary because of the massive changes I’ve made in the previous three chapters (cut the bulk of two of them – bam. Ow.)

So, yeah, that’s me, word snatching when I’m a bit past it. Today we roller-skated.

That's how we roll

Tomorrow we’re hanging with friends, assuming we don’t get snowed in. Thursday we’re going to try gymnastics on for size. There’s a school holiday thing on with heaps of stuff to do… so we’re doing, rather than bumming around at home, getting annoyed at one another. Or that’s the goal. I’d get more writing/editing done if we stayed in, but I’d be fobbing off the kids and I do try to delay that till later in the day.


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ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Christchurch. It’s an odd place. And I’m in an odd space, straddling the fence (as uncomfy as it sounds) between the arrogance of a newcomer who hasn’t yet seen the diversity and complexity of a place and so can make sweeping judgements based on a narrow view (ie. man, cantabs are a fit bunch, all biking up Hackthorne Road at half-8 every morning…) and the other side of the fence: feeling completely ill-qualified to say or even really think anything with any kind of certainty about this place.

a different perspective

Living here, on the hill, where I’ve never lived and spent very little time before, I am realising that some of my assumptions about Christchurch, in the more-than-decade I lived here before, were always a bit skewed to my neighbourhood, the demographic of the majority of my friends and acquaintances, my similarly-limited experience of the other cities I’d lived in (Auckland and Hong Kong) and the things I liked and didn’t like about those ex-homes…

a different demographic

Kids are a quick introduction to a wider demographic. Though some would say the parent-crowd is a narrow demographic, it’s still new to me.

Socialising without widely-used and widely-available public transport is different. The hours here are generally so much earlier than in France. I went to a writers group that was all over before nine and we didn’t even open all the wine. Catching-up with old friends and making new ones are both different experiences to hanging out with people you bump into every other day. Sight-seeing in a place that you feel you belong to is different from sight-seeing in a foreign land.

New Zealanders seem obsessed with their houses, their diets and which brand of yogurt or detergent is best, but actually those are probably international obsessions and I’m someone who a) doesn’t own a house, b) has had to change brands of everything (and used to teach media studies, so can preach with the best about how marketing is aiming for brand loyalty big time – YOU’RE BEING MANIPULATED), and c) my most successful diet involved generous doses of bread and cheese. I walked a lot. I still walk a lot. I have no intention of cutting bread or cheese. Or cheesy bread.

In some ways, things and people seem same-old, but at second glance not really at all. And, of course, Christchurch has changed. We were here for the earthquakes and a year of aftershocks and demolition and adjusting. But in the three years we’ve been away, the demolition has gone rip-roaring on and driving through the city I keep getting completely disoriented. Rebuilding has now (finally!) begun, in some areas anyway, and in the empty spaces, the waiting, other cool stuff, temporary or not, has sprung up: bars and cafes made of scaffolding and builder’s plastic, art installations framed by cranes and construction. And then there’s the street art. It’s not new, but I suppose I came to appreciate the street art in Paris and coming back, it’s a nice surprise.

official street art, an oxymoron?

So there’s the official kind, which is impressive and some is just plain beautiful…

elephant street art

street art in christchurch

…but street art with permission seems a little oxymoronic, don’t it?

unofficial art installation

And then there’s the unofficial kind, the twisted remains of steel reinforcement, the pillars channeling roman ruins (the poorly upkept type, sure) and the illegible paint-job behind the security fencing.

So walking through christchurch is a vastly different but not unpleasent experience. The cathedral’s a bit of a shock everytime I drive up Colombo Street and I’m suddenly there (so many of the buildings in the lead-up have gone that I don’t realise I’m close until I’m there). I’m not one for fierce attachment to buildings and that might be because I moved internationally when I was twelve, twice, and then again when I was fourteen, inter-island-ally, and so my concept of ‘home’ is indecisive, to say the least. I am very glad, however, that they are saving the Art Centre.

cranes and work

For my non-cantab readers, this was the old university buildings but has long been an arts and culture centre of the city, with weekend markets and every day artist studios, theatres, cinemas, museum space, community classes, galleries, the works. The first time I ever exhibited paintings it was on the street outside this place. I took a creative writing class here while I was working on my first ever novel. Luuk and I went on our first date to see ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’ at the Court Theatre and then to Dux-de-Lux for their legendary seafood pizza.

Just over the road from this pile of rocks, is the YMCA, and they’ve been hosting a whole hoard of street art in an exhibition which closes, um, tomorrow…

spectre exhibition, chch ymca

Large and small, super-famous and not-so. Street art of a variety of shapes and flavours.

tilt and banksy

Tilt and Banksy co-built this half-white, half intense tags and full-colour, room. The nearest picture here reads, ‘I can’t believe you morons actually buy this shit.’

Heh.

canapes, can o' peas - what's the dif?

Having just spent three years wrestling with French, this one resonated.

not louis vuitton

This one just made me laugh because I had a friend in Paris who was a designer for Louis Vuitton and even he said he couldn’t say it right.

Luuk and I walked the streets after seeing the exhibition and found heaps of work on the walls of the city. ‘Tis a right mess in there, but it’s cool to see progress and there’s something therapeutic and metaphoric about finding beauty in a mess.

I’m happy to say it’s not metaphorical for my life as a whole right now. We are settling down and our place is nearly organised. The routines are starting to fall into place and it’s not hard to find beauty. Don’t look at the crumbs on the carpet or the coffee grinds on the kitchen bench, just feast your eyes on the Southern Alps, the bright, dusty plains, the immense sky, the motley autumn trees, and if you listen, you’ll hear the birds in the Kowhai outside the kitchen window.

In my next installment I might show you around the house a bit. By then I’ll finally have all the pictures up on the wall.


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new digs

We’ve had three quakes in three days and so I think it’s fair to say that the country has stopped putting out the good china for us. We’re back to being ordinary kiwis again, except that we occasionally (all the time) yell at our kids in more than one language.

So, how are we settling in? I don’t know. My head is as all-over-the-show as the canterbury sky and let me tell you, that’s one damn interesting, constantly changing sky.

changing skies

I’ve finally got a little writing done, which makes things feel a bit normal. The kids are sleeping, concurrently, and I’ve pulled myself away from Sim City, which is fun but as dangerous as Candy Crush in this new iPad format. Great for a bit of down-time when chaos and boxes are piling up around you, but not great for feeling like you might be a little bit in control of your life.

Which I am.

I might be.

‘Tis possible.

We got back to Christchurch nearly four weeks ago and moved into this place exactly two weeks ago. We’re in a completely different neighbourhood than when we lived here before, on the hill in an otherwise pancake-like city. The feel of it is totally new to us, which is at the very least a good distraction from the complex combo of disappointment and confusion and coming-home feelings around returning, and at most a big help in that whole reverse culture shock thang.

helpful. So helpful.

A new kind of view.

So, two weeks in, we’ve been tapping away at the to-do lists. Louis will be starting Kindy in a couple of weeks, and we’ve found a play group, and maybe a fruit & veggie co-op, and we’ve joined Alliance Française. My 30th birthday party is in the works, so that will be a great big catch-up and I’ve been driving all over the city visiting old friends and colleagues. That stuff’s all great fun but not good for helping life to feel normal. There’s no real routine yet and oh how I need routine.

Kindy will impose something of a timetable. Come June, Elena will start Kindy too and then we’ll be in business, but in the meantime I’m going to have to be out and about and sociable or risk losing my mind, and my temper, at home with the wee ones all day, every day.

I know, I know, I’m an extrovert and doesn’t that mean I lap up the social stuff and… well, sometimes. Only when I’m spending a good chunk of the day, undisturbed, on my own, getting my writing done, not managing children’s activities and/or health & safety at the same time.

One of our weekly outings will probably be to the local library – all of 2kms away and containing both a playground and a cafe within its multi-purpose community centre-ish borders.

After the ‘how are you settling’ question, people usually ask, ‘are you missing France yet?”

Yes. The bread, obviously, and people: all my dear friends. And childcare. And the price of fresh mozzarella.

And the price of wine. We have a divine balcony and the sun is baking us just nicely, but I’m rationing the frosty drink that goes best with it.

That said, we have been enjoying the perks of NZ. The March weather has been fabulous, and we have a view which takes in a good portion of the southern alps and a sliver of the Pacific Ocean. Can’t complain. Also, we get four days off for Easter in NZ, and we went to the beach on Friday and Saturday. Two different beaches, in fact.

And they say there's no sun in sumner.

At Sumner, on Good Friday.

late afternoon on the beach, christchurch, nz

Same as ever… but not, in fact.

cliffs and containers

Containers, protecting the road in case earthquakes bring down any more of the cliffs. But a good half of the containers are also art now, so that’s cool.

Speaking of containers, our shipping is stuck in Singapore. Missed the boat and so we have to wait an extra week. So, basically, it’s going to arrive on ANZAC day, which is now a proper public holiday (if it lands on a weekend you get the Monday), but that means it’s going to be May, probably, before we see our couch and our washing machine and the kids’ beds. (They’re on mattresses on the floor in the meantime.)

I am looking forward to the arrival of that container so much, it verges on the ridiculous. Mum is being a laundry superhero in the meantime but still… we can’t settle yet. We unpacked all our storage in two or three days, in a mad rush, as if we could set up properly, but we can’t until the rest arrives and I must have realised that on day four, I’d guess, because I haven’t unpacked or organised anything in the house since then. Luuk’s done some building and buying and rearranging, but I’ve stalled.

I wonder if, having got a bit of solitary time and writing done today, I’ll start setting-up and rearranging the house again. It might feel less futile to sort out the space, now that I’ve done work in the space, and presumably will do more tomorrow, or the day after, or – hold the phone – both.

Wait for it…

Nope. No sudden hankering to put together the dvd shelves. Oh, but I could do an eclair citron.

 

Except I really couldn’t. Lemon mousse is more complicated than it looks.

But there’s a Tui and a couple of Fantails in our garden. So it’s a mixed bag this moving back thing. Pros and cons. Highs and lows. The kids are awake, but there’s a library just a short drive away. Maybe I can read a little more of my book.


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The 100 Days Project

This year was the fourth year I’ve participated in the 100 Days Project. It is a creative exercise in which participants repeat the same artistic (little-a artistic, broad definition of art) process or task each day for 100 days. This is definitely of the quantity-over-quality-leads-to-quality school of thought.

I’ve done a variety of visual and written tasks in the past, and this year I combined the two in 100 lies we tell kids.

This year was the first year I’ve participated in the Day 100 Show. In fact, this year, there are three of these exhibitions. The Europe one was just for one day, in IJsselstein, in the Netherlands, but the Wellington show is on all week and the Auckland show is this coming weekend, so if you can get along, have a look at all the incredible collections people have put together over the past 100 days.

Day 100 show, Europe

The Day 100 Show, in Europe, at the IJsselstein Library, last Saturday.

100 lies we tell kids

My exhibit.

IJsselstein 100 day show

The ‘ninos’, the eyes, a few monkeys, and at the end the 5 year old twins’ ‘Hearts and Houses’ exhibit.

100 collages

100 collages.

100 eyes

100 eyes.

100 ninos

100 Ninos.

There were a dozen or so exhibitors and we managed to video chat, eventually, with Emma Rogan, the kiwi who started the whole project up a few years ago.

handy to have tech support on site.

In the foreground: Luuk, being tech support, and figuring out how to get around Emma’s hotel wifi restrictions… which did eventually work.

In the background: 100 octopuses!

My absolute favourite were the blind contour drawings, a style thing I’m definitely going to have to try.

blind contour drawings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This artist drew all sorts of things but the drawings themselves were all kinds of weird and wonderful.

pumpkins and giraffes

 

 

These giraffes were probably my favourite.

This the first time I’ve participated in an art exhibition and I absolutely loved it. Artistic community for the win, frankly, and going out for drinks and dinner and quadri-lingual conversation afterwards = all good. Bit tiring but GOOD.

The whole 100 days thing brings out some interesting stuff about artistic process and whatever it takes to call one’s self an artist. Some of the exhibitors displayed their work in day-by-day-order and I definitely noticed how the first half are kind of steady, good but perhaps a bit predictable, and then there’s a hitch in the middle, sometimes the quality isn’t so strong, motivation is low, perhaps a day or two get missed, but the second 50 days are really interesting. Things get a bit desperate, but creativity really comes into play. Those off-the-wall, bold ideas, which are hard to feel sure about at the time, come out, and often they’re the best bits of all. I’m very aware, as a writer, than when I’m working on a given scene I’m rarely certain of the quality of my work, and even if I’m certain, I’m not objective. I’m often wrong about the strength of my writing when I’m drafting it, but later I can see more clearly.

This project is a great way of gaining some confidence as an artist, to trust your own gut and try things, not expecting everything to work well, but knowing that good work comes out of LOTS OF WORK.

Luuk and I had the weekend on our own in the Netherlands. Mum arrived from NZ last Thursday and bravely babysat the kiddos for the weekend, despite jetlag. She’s staying for the holidays so we’ll be doing lots of Paris sights and perhaps Luuk and I will nab another couple of nights out with our handy live-in babysitter around. Louis is off school, though Elena’s nursery goes on as per usual, so Mum and I will have the kids with us most of the time – tomorrow, at the Louvre, and Thursday perhaps Montmartre.

As usual, I’m writing/editing in all the down-time – the kids are napping now, and whenever they’re busy playing I’ll snatch some words. I’m editing one project, though I got an editor’s report back on another this morning. A third is sitting in a couple of slush piles, and a fourth is probably a quarter of the way through draft 1 in my journal, perhaps ready to go for nanowrimo. Which may or may not happen, depending on my editing progress and the speed with which people get through their slush piles.

I have to say, it is rather good to have the 100 days project behind me. My photos and paintings and words from the project might, one day, boil down to make a fun coffee-table style book, but no mad rush there. It could make a good Christmas present, I suppose, but I just don’t see it happening in the next month or two. So if you want to read all the lies, have a scroll through my 100 days project page, here.


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credit where credit’s due

I have a pretty good life. It would be easy to sit back and say, ‘look how well I’ve done.’ No one would like me any more and things would go downhill a little from there, but it would be easy to think that way.

It would be easy to jump from that train of thought to another which says that people who are doing it rough have done that to themselves.

I want to be honest – give credit where it’s due. I can take a tiny percentage of the blame for how good my life is. TINY.

I have done some good things, yes, but through no virtue of my own…

– I was born to a stable home, never went hungry, was not abused, did not even witness addiction until well into adulthood.

– I was always expected to get an education. People believed I was capable of learning, of looking after myself, of becoming a contributing member of society.

– I was taught how to save and spend money wisely. I was taught how to cook healthy and cheap meals. I was taught how to read and write and think for myself, to question authority. To not be a sucker. To not go into debt on a car.

– I went to excellent state schools. I had friends from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, boys and girls, and several with severe disabilities.

– The personalities in my family meant that there were lots of engaged (cough-enraged) discussions and debates over the dinner table.

– I lived overseas. I saw that whole societies operated differently to the way I thought was ‘normal’. I realised ‘normal’ was a myth.

This was all before puberty. I was given a damn good start in life. And through no virtue of my own, I do not struggle with anxiety, depression, addiction or severe health problems.

Wouldn’t it be IGNORANT and ARROGANT to assume that other people should be able to have a life as sweet and comfy as mine, if they just set their minds to it? If they just believed in themselves, and got to work, and quit making stupid decisions?

Someone whose home life was unstable, who was not infused with security and confidence from the word ‘go’.

Someone who was emotionally and/or physically abused by the very people meant to care for and love them.

Someone surrounded by addiction.

Someone who was not taught how to spend money wisely. Who doesn’t understand that a pair of sneakers or a car are never an ‘investment’. That $10 can buy one take-away meal or a whole day’s worth of groceries.

Someone who never learned how to cook healthy, yummy food.

Someone not confident in their ability to read and understand, to communicate effectively.

Someone who was punished for questioning authority, or who only ever saw adults believing every bit of spin going. Every advertisement promising to peel 30 years off your age. And perhaps they live in a neighbourhood with a bunch of loan sharks.

Someone who only ever had friends who looked and talked and lived the same way they do.

I could go on.

Well, I just got lucky, didn’t I? Some would say ‘blessed’. Whoever gets credit, it’s not really me, is it? My parents get some credit, but they can’t take all the credit for their nice lives either. So, my grandparents get some credit, and indeed some of them came from some pretty dire situations.

I think it’s time to stop the blame game. Be thankful, and humble, and treat others with compassion and grace.

Some people need a lot more help than I do. That’s not because I am better than them. NOT AT ALL. I do not DESERVE a happier, healthier existence. I am not entitled to more.

We will probably go on disagreeing (we being society) about just how to best lift people out of the cycle of poverty, but can we please discuss THAT rather than all the eye rolling, finger-pointing, ‘not my problem’ B.S.?

*deep breath*

That said, let’s actually have these discussions. Let’s get involved and speak up. Let’s tell the politicians that we do care and we expect them to do something about it. We’re stuck with them for the next god-knows-how-long. AND THEY’RE STUCK WITH US.

 


  • 2

and then

So, I was going to write a blog post or two about our summer road trip, our 3,500 or so kilometers and 4 countries (and yes, the sound of music tour).

But then we got home and the rentrée has been BUSY, but also about a hundred times easier than the past two years. I was going to call that post ‘third time’s the charm’ because I finally feel like I’ve a clue what’s going on.

But then grandma died.

I knew this would probably happen while I was here, on the far side of the globe. Even when we first left NZ, two and a half years ago, I wondered, as you do when you’ve got grandparents in their late 80s and you move to the other side of the world.

Louis and his great grandparentsGrandma and Grandpa with Louis, just before we left NZ.

I’m 29 and a week ago I had 3 living grandparents. All in all, I’m incredibly lucky. I spent ten years of my life living just a few kms away from Mum’s parents, and school was a stone’s throw from their house. We spent a lot of time with them, until we moved to the south island, but even at that distance, we had skype, and often twice annual visits, and a foundation of knowing one another well enough that a bit of distance didn’t freeze us up. On seeing each other there was plenty to catch up on, plenty of connection.

grandma and baby LouisShe took a lot of good photos with Louis, turns out.

And now, I’m on the far side of the globe and everyone, even my sister who lives in Ohio, is coming together to mourn and celebrate and all that… but not me. We visited at Christmas. Things had deteriorated. I said goodbye and knew. I thought I knew and it turns out I did.

grandma and big Louislast wee cuddle, last January

Funny how fully expecting a thing to happen doesn’t actually make all that much difference to how you feel when it actually does.

Grandma was (past tense)
a great artist
mistaken for the queen
by six year olds
hostess of a hundred afternoon teas
taught me how to make beds with hospital corners, andailsa caradus
that cross-stitch should look the same on the back
that a thimble can be worth a lot of money
that jelly beans aren’t just for kids
that its worth crossing town for just the right frame
or cup of tea and sandwich.
Believed in quality.
Believed in a lot, in fact,
but not in hell
and not in drink
proud great grand daughter of temperance suffragist
stubborn and generous

Grandma is (present tense)
fondly remembered,
and a link between me
and so many wide-spread people,
a lot of whom believe she is (present tense)
still going strong on another plane.

party, grandmagood sport, Grandma

(proving to the great grandkids, that a party hat is nothing to be afraid of)


  • 1

whelmed

It’s a lazy Sunday here, and tomorrow is 14 Juillet (known as Bastille day only outside of France, apparently). Sundays are so much nicer when Monday’s a holiday.

This is what we’ve been doing:

and a few minutes later:

Movies, music, food. Hanging out like pros.

It is summer holidays and so far so good. The weather has been lousy, and continues so today, but I got to the market, and we have friends coming around tonight. During the week, I crossed paths with friends who have kids, and we all keep each other company. I had writers’ group. Things are going okay.

And yet, I am feeling rather under-whelmed, just at the moment. I’ve been solidly working on writing for two and a half years now… and the reasonable bit of my brain knows I’m getting better, and I’ve written LOADS, but there’s a little bit of my brain, a bit that is both a) irrepressible, and b) immune to logic.

That dangerous cluster of neurons (I took science until they let me stop. I was 15. I don’t even know how to spell neurons. No squiggly red line – good) is getting me down.

I’m feeling rather overwhelmed by how much work goes into writing (and rewriting and editing) a decent novel. I’m not a naturally gifted wordsmith. I’m not a speedy reader. I have to work hard at this stuff.

working, at the playground

Working hard. At the playground.

I’ve been working hard for two and a half years now. That’s as long as it took me to get my B.A. – which you might argue is about as useful. I had to do another year of study on top of my degree before it made me employable. And there was always more to being employable than those qualifications.

It’s possible that publication, or even finding a literary agent, is a ways off. Maybe not, but maybe. I actually had a dream last night, in which a friend, who has written a lot less than me, got a book deal. If that were to happen, sure I’d be very happy for them, but I’d also be angry. I’m a little bit angry anyway. And it was just a dream! Two people I studied with have prize-nominated published books, and one of them won the freekin’ Booker.

Now, I know, comparison is a foolish idea. But there it is. The brain goes there anyway, don’t it?

 

writer with angst

Louis, with writers’ angst.

I’m terribly impatient. And most of my anger is to do with impatience. If I stick at this long enough (and I will because I love writing) then surely it will pay off… eventually.

Exactly what ‘paying off’ looks like, might not be just what I think it is now.

I recently had one (of seven – oy vey) of my manuscripts assessed and got comprehensive editorial feedback from a professional in the publishing industry. There are lots of positives in her report, but what I was seeking (and what I got) was advice on how to lift my game.

I’ve got plenty of work to do. Perhaps not all of it is strictly NECESSARY. But I do intend to go through the entire thing again and fix up that which is (now) obviously improvable. And for a while, before I touch it, I need to just think about what I want to do. Especially about the opening chapter. (But I really am horribly impatient.)

so many words

So many words.

One of the discouraging things is that two of the editor’s concerns are to do with things I added, relatively recently, in response to other people’s feedback! (Including the opening chapter.) I made big gut-wrenching changes… and it’s possible they didn’t work. It’s always frustrating to try something and have it not work.

But it’s part of the learning process, says the reasonable bit of my brain. Writing is not all you do. Writing is not all you are.

Look at your lovely kids and all the things they’re learning. Look at that fantastic feast you’re slapping together without a recipe and when did you start understanding french on the radio???

But still. Gr. Writing a book is a slog. A first draft is something I now find easy, but that is far and a long ways from a book. In fact, what happens to first drafts, in this house…

That about sums it up.

 


  • 10

who wants to be a princess?

Not me. No thank you! Even the modern day ones (sans corsets and impractical dresses) have lives that I just could not ever possibly want. Forget wandering down to the market for a nice block of cheese and some tomatoes, and eating picnics in the park with your family.

If you put on a bit of weight you’re gonna be hounded by the media, and you’d better watch every word that passes your lips for fear of it becoming a headline and/or a foreign-affairs disaster.

People say that little girls want to be princesses, as if they’re hard-wired that way.elena's favourite jacket

Elena’s favourite coat is not the pink one. Shock horror.

That’s just rubbish. Little girls (and little boys) want to be loved and accepted by their peers and their parents and whoever else they know and love. Part of this includes wanting to look a particular way – and in most societies girls who look like princesses are more likely to be loved and accepted.

Which is just awful. But there it is. No one’s surprised. The trick to love and acceptance, if you have a vagina, is to look a particular way. A couple of people might care that you’re kind or talented or whatever, but basically, priority number one is appearance.

Though god knows what a princess looks like. Or should I say, Disney knows what a princess looks like.

disney knows

I haven’t seen frozen and I’m sure it does wonders for the whole pretty-but-useless trend. Well done, but whatever.

Why do girl heroes have to be princesses? Don’t we all agree that democracy is the goal here? It’s problematic, sure. But not as problematic as a monarchy.

I managed to explain this to a bunch of post-lunch-lethargic fourteen year-olds so it can’t be that complicated. Democracy is the goal of governments seeking to protect human rights. Monarchy, while it remains a valued, perhaps important, symbol, is not what we are aiming for.

I saw a great tweet just now:

 


(LOTR = Lord of the Rings. ST:TNG = Star trek: The next generation)

 

Nice, eh? But tea and holograms aside, I think we can all agree that power should not be used by half a dozen royals and no one else. So we can agree than little girls (and boys) probably shouldn’t be aiming to become actual monarchs.

Just powerful.

But really? People who seek power first and foremost, at least in all the stories I can think of, usually turn out to be the villains.

I’m going to get off the soap box now (partly because Elena is wearing disney princess sneakers to nursery), but I can’t be the only one baffled (and angry, yes) about this fixation.

Wearing a dress can be problematic.