Monday, October 31, 2005

Demeter's Dark Ride

A dear old friend, Helen Varley Jamieson, is Impressario for a show called Demeter's Dark Ride- An Attraction, on in Wellington at the moment, so I went along with a bunch of friends to check it out. I highly recommend it, so I'm not going to give away the many phantasmagorical surprises just in case, dear reader, you have the opportunity to take a ride that is scarey, and funny, and weird and wonderful.

From the moment you approach BATS theatre along Kent Terrace, where Mr Fennessy the blind street musician is playing his piano, and the ferryman is trading tickets for tokens, you know this is something very different from the ususal theatre experience. The main entrance is closed off and the little Pit Bar is where the audience gathers to wait for our guides, under the excellent care of the Duchess and Count Burgandy. Once assembled, the punters are led around the side entrance and into the underworld for a winding journey of Eleusian Mystery. We are led through Demeter's search for Persephone, Victorian spiritualism and amusement park House of Horrors ... "these latter contemporary scary dark rides provided a wonderful balance to the fruitiness of Greek mythology, perceived by some as over-ripe figs, slightly moldy, not very sexy, and tainted by overuse." (from the programme notes).

It was all good, some of it fabulous: my favourite scene was the Baubo (the naughty talking bottom). And my fortune from the Aleuromancer (I think) was:

"A poet understands Nature better than a scientist." (Novalis)

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Worldly goods at home

This is the trailer with all my worldly goods that we drove from Purua to Kapiti this week. It is now unloaded into my new room. I am sneaking in little bits of unpacking around the deadlines I have to meet in the next few days... and I have just hung an Indian cotton bedspread on the walls, which are rough planks the colour of manuka honey but stained and studded with nails and staples. The cloth is printed with a Persian-style tree of life, floral and paisley in maroons and mossy greens and blues. Suddenly, the 70's hippy look of this room reminds me of one I saw a long time ago, which made such an impression on me that years later I wrote a poem about it:

The Romance of Dust

I have mostly clung steady to these islands

Minding generations of pot plants and books

While everyone else wanders the world.

When I was seventeen-

my-favourite-number-years old,

my new best friend was a gypsy

and I was still sure that interesting lives

could only be lived on or near continents.

But as we rapidly prepared to escape Hamilton

I glimpsed her long-absent flatmate’s room:

It was a bazaar of hippy exotica

the four poster bed draped with saris

little glass cubes of patchouli on an old duchess

intricate incense holders and loops of beads

All covered in a thick dust which,

gilded by sunset through batik curtains

looked like

sunflower pollen

teddybear plush

my best velvet ribbon

Since then, a continental excursion

confirmed that you take your life

along when you leave.

Boredom and loneliness can hitchhike

anywhere if you let them.

And so I have been content to stay

and cultivate the mysteries of home

and the romance of dust.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

G-d speaks

Last weekend I was spending some time with two older ladies who I had never met before. First we visited the Thames Historical Museum which is one of those fun places full of old bits and pieces that people have donated and that volunteers curated. (Thames was a lively gold mining and gum digging village about 120 years ago, now its mostly a sleepy holiday destination.) 99% of the museum is concerned with 120 years of European settlement. 1% represents the previous 400 years of Maori life there. Anyway, I was looking at the old movie posters when I overheard my companions looking at the token Maori display-shelf and poster on the other side of the room.

"Maoris (sic) used to be such good gardeners"

"Yes, they'd all go out and do their little bit together, wouldn't they?"

"Such a shame now isn't it?"

"They just don't bother any more."

"Oooh, is that an old sewing machine?"

I seethed and writhed but felt I'd missed my chance to interrupt their unabashed racist stereotyping.

Later in the afternoon we were strolling down a country road, admiring a large, immaculately maintained, imaginatively planned, garden including the tidiest orchard I've ever seen, many special flowers and trees that my old ladies admired and a huge fortified vegetable garden. As we strolled back for a second look, the gardener appeared from behind a tree where she was relaxing in her beautiful creation and we all offered effusive and sincere compliments. I can't tell you how I pleased I was to see she was unmistakably Maori.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Once upon a time...

Whew! I sent off my thesis proposal this afternoon, along with my application to enroll for a doctorate and an application for a scholarship which will enable me to study full time for three years. Knowing that my six pages (including bibliography) had some $70,000 dollars riding on it created a bit of pressure to do a particularly fine job!

Among the many challenges of developing this proposal was the catch-22 of limited library access until I am enrolled, but being unable to enroll until I submit my proposal which should demonstrate that I have done some library research already. This was further complicated by deciding to live approximately 600 kilometers away from my university of choice and its library. This distance won't be a such a big deal when I am enrolled and can access all yummy electronic journals and distance services of the library, but it is a very very long way with out that magic username and password.

I have managed a couple of visits to the library on my travels up and down the island this spring, but unfortunately I also kept changing my mind about my thesis topic, so in the end I didn't really have access to all the literature I needed for the final version. Fortunately, my years of working as a government bureaucrat have finely honed my ability (or at least my confidence in my ability) to sound authoritative with minimal evidence and no time. I know that it won't be the talent I need to finish the actual doctorate, but I am very much hoping it works for getting let through the gates to those ivory towers.

I feel a bit like I'm setting out on a fairytale quest which will involve succeeding at a number of apparently impossible tasks. The first is telling the right story to impress the gatekeepers of the ivory towers, where I will be given the magical tools I need to complete my journey through the towers and beyond. The mysteries that will be revealed to me upon correct use of the magic tools will eventually lead me on into another journey that right now I can't yet imagine. Like the Tarot's Fool I am following my intuition, open to all possibilities and facing the unknown and its challenges with equanimity.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Asparagus loves seaweed

You may be getting sick of asparagus postings, but the season is short, so bear with me for now, and then I will switch to raspberry reports.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Finished books

Today I finished making five books! They had all been at various stages of partial completion, some for a painfully long time.

Four copies of Karori Sanctuary: Interleaving finally got their covers after being schlepped up and down the island naked for two months, two of them bound and two of them unbound. All that remains is to sign and number them. Karori is an open edition so I pretty much make them on demand, in batches of four or six or sometimes 12 when I'm really cooking. There's still another three close to finished. They are pretty consistently popular, especially selling from exhibitions so I was completely out of stock from being on the road so much this spring. Two of these latest copies are for the gift shop at the real Karori Sanctuary in Wellington. It's where I wrote the poem on my birthday last year. I've been trying to get them to stock the book for ages, and finally it's happening. That leaves two copies in stock right now, so if you want one, let me know and I can get it to you this week for $80NZ.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Chicken Little

Four chickens live underneath my studio, or at least under the porch in front of my studio. When I have a snack sometimes I like to drop little scraps of food through the spaces in the porch floor. The chickens all rush madly over to where ever the food has dropped out of their sky and peck at it, or pick it up and run away so the others can't share it. They never look up to see where the apple core or carrot bits are coming from. They just seem to accept the mysterious manna from above as a delightful surprise.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Gald to Fedex to Nigeria

I got an email from my website today.  The email function on the website is designed to avoid spammers clogging up my mail box.   It's worked perfectly well until today.  Today I received this email.  (I've deleted the name just in case it's not actually a spam scam and R- G- is a real person and a potential customer who I am not only blowing off, but making fun of on my blog).

Hello sales,
My name is R- G- i will like to have your products as a gifts
from your gallery for my parent who are celebrating their 30th Wedding
Annivasary, the shipping will be through FEDEX, TO NIGERIA so i will
be gald to have your reply asap. I will be glad if you can send me
your website address to choose. Payment will be make by my credit card
info for you to charge, Visa or Master Card. So get back to me as soon
as possible.
Await for your response.
R- G-

1. I'm not sure how the scam would work if she is going to give me her credit card number, but at this stage I don't have the facility to process credit card transactions so her number will do me no good anyway.
2. Nigeria is like a red-flag code word for dodgy internet deals- hello! Apologies to the vast majority of Nigerians who I'm confident are scrupulously honest in their business dealings. It must be terrible trying to get an honest internet business going from Nigeria.
3. She (or more likely the programme calling itself R-G-) sent this message from my gallery website so the only reason she could want my website address is to get my email address. I don't think that's a good idea.
4. I wouldn't want to discriminate against potential customers with excruciatingly bad grammar and spelling but I am selling poetry books. If you are illiterate, you are almost certainly not my target market.

Monday, October 10, 2005


The other day Al, Katie and I went down to the South Coast to collect seaweed to put on Al's asparagus patch. Thanks to a tip from Sarah in Island Bay we knew there were mountains of seaweed on the beach between Lyall Bay and Houghton Bay (just past the point called Arthur's Nose, on the 1930's map I am currently making into a book). 'Beach' is a word that conjurs up images of white sand, blue seas and palm trees doesn't it? Not on the South Coast I'm afraid. Think crunchy grey stones, turgid Antartic currents and salt-blasted grass instead.

Even though the morning in Wellington had been clear and warm, by mid-afternoon it was blasting an icy wind on Cook Strait. I changed into my long underwear and about six more layers of clothing including a colourful hat (knitted by 100 year old Edna), so it wasn't too bad. There was no incentive to dawdle so the three of us swiftly filled the trailer with a mound of seaweed that from a distance looked like cold brown slime. Up close however, (and oh boy, did I get up close) it is beautiful: an incredible diversity of colours, textures and shapes.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Banned books that shaped me

I don't usually post meme's (topics or templates from other blogs) but I quite like this one I found on Zydeco Fish. It's a list of (attempted) banned books, which you (the blogger) bold all the ones you have read. This is a little late, as Banned Book Week was September 24-October 1. The American Library Association has a list of the 100 most frequently challenged books from 1990-2000. I feel pretty proud of my deviant reading history.

Scary Stories (Series) by Alvin Schwartz
Daddy'’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling part of book one, then I got bored
Forever by Judy Blume
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Alice (Series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Giver by Lois Lowry
ItÂ’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris
Goosebumps (Series) by R.L. Stine
A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
The Color Purple by Alice Walker saw the movie
Sex by Madonna
Earth'’s Children (Series) by Jean M. Auel
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine LÂ’Engle
Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers
In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
The Stupids (Series) by Harry Allard one of them
The Witches by Roald Dahl
The New Joy of Gay Sex by Charles Silverstein
Anastasia Krupnik (Series) by Lois Lowry
The Goats by Brock Cole
Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
Blubber by Judy Blume
Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan
Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam
We All Fall Down by Robert Cormier
Final Exit by Derek Humphry
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
What'’s Happening to my Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters by Lynda Madaras
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Beloved by Toni Morrison
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
The Pigman by Paul Zindel
Bumps in the Night by Harry Allard
Deenie by Judy Blume
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden
The Boy Who Lost His Face by Louis Sachar
Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat by Alvin Schwartz
A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)
Asking About Sex and Growing Up by Joanna Cole
Cujo by Stephen King
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell
Boys and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
Ordinary People by Judith Guest
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
What'’s Happening to my Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Sons by Lynda Madaras
Are You There, God? It'’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Crazy Lady by Jane Conly
Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher
Fade by Robert Cormier
Guess What? by Mem Fox
The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Native Son by Richard Wright
Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women'’s Fantasies by Nancy Friday
Curses, Hexes and Spells by Daniel Cohen
Jack by A.M. Homes
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo A. Anaya
Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle
Carrie by Stephen King
Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
Arizona Kid by Ron Koertge
Family Secrets by Norma Klein
Mommy Laid An Egg by Babette Cole
The Dead Zone by Stephen King
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
Always Running by Luis Rodriguez
Private Parts by Howard Stern
Where's Waldo? by Martin Hanford
Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman
Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
Running Loose by Chris Crutcher
Sex Education by Jenny Davis
The Drowning of Stephen Jones by Bette Greene
Girls and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy
How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
View from the Cherry Tree by Willo Davis Roberts
The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
The Terrorist by Caroline Cooney
Jump Ship to Freedom by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier

Most of these I read before I was 18. Some of them were my favourite books at a particular age and I reread them many times. I guess that powerful, compelling quality is what makes people want to ban them. There's no point in banning sexy or subversive books that are boring .

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Happy New Year, People of the Book

Tuesday was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and the greeting is L'Shanah Tova Tiketevu, may you be inscribed for a good year in the book of life. Rosh Hashanah marks the first of the ten Days of Awe which will close on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. One of the themes for this period is that G-d opens a book for each of us on Rosh Hashanah to write our names, and who will live, who will die, who will have a good year or a bad year. The book is closed on Yom Kippur and that's that until next year. Repentance, prayer and good deeds are the way to make sure a good year gets written up in the book.

On Rosh Hashanah we read the first words of Genesis, In the beginning.... While watching Ayelet and Fred roll the heavy Torah scroll all the way back to the beginning, and all the ensuing awkwardness of having all the weight of the parchment on only one of the two rollers, I had a wave of sympathy for readers and writers of the pre-codex era. (In case you don't know and can't be bothered following the link, codex is the kind of modern book you know best, with sequential pages attached to a spine and covers.) Even with a smaller scroll it would be a hassle to find your way around different sections. Yet, I expect G-d is juggling a lot of scrolls this time of year.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Paekakariki Village

Today is my first day working in my new studio at Paekakariki. Apart from the irritation of not being able to find certain pieces of equipment (eg mouse, double adapter, little ruler etc) when I want them, it is lovely to be at work in this place. It's been so long (too long, almost two months) since I could settle in and concentrate on creating a new book, that it feels a bit overwhelming. I took a break at lunchtime and went for a walk. The tide was crashing wild high waves right against the sea wall with no beach to be seen so I explored the quiet seaside village.

Along the beach most of the houses are little old baches, obviously lived in and loved. The smaller number of newish houses are more likely to be quirky than ostentatious. There are a couple of churches, a bowling club, a recently closed pub, a cool cafe, a dairy, an organic vege shop, an art gallery, a hairdressers, an arty second hand furniture shop, and best of all, two very good second hand book shops. Not the kind where you exchange blockbuster paperback novels across a counter buried under mounds of old Playboys. These bookshops sell real books, they invite and reward browsing bibliophiles.

In the middle of a Wednesday I saw numerous people walking around, generally with dogs and or children, but often just folks of all ages... most of whom offered a friendly greeting as we passed eachother. It's a small place, not much developed probably because it is wedged into a wee gap between the sea and a huge looming ridge (with the railway tracks and the main highway between the village and the hill). I suspect you could walk every street in Paekakariki, linger on the beach and still be home in an hour. There is also a railway station, and frequent commuter trains which take you north 10 minutes to all the mall shopping one could want and south 50 minutes to central Wellington.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Potty Post

Sometime in the past two weeks new signage has been installed in all the cubicles of the women's toilets at the University of Waikato library (and possibly the men's toilets and other buildings but I didn't check them).

The sign, on the inside of each door says: Please use the toilet this way (with a silhouette of an androgynous person on a pedastal toilet with their feet on the floor, their bum on the seat, and their arms straight out in front of them as though trying to reach for the distant roll of paper on the door); NOT this way! (with a silhouette of a person squatting precariously with their feet on the pedastal toilet.)

This brought to my mind a number of interesting thoughts as I encountered these signs every break I took during a full day of research last week (and in the interests of research I made a point of investigating different facilities in the library to assess how widespread the signs are).

It's not hard to imagine that many among the diverse student body come from cultures where squatting is the usual practice for relieving oneself. It's also not hard to imagine that the bizarrely high pedastal seats in the library are an exceptionally risky place to squat. It is hard to imagine the University Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Hazard Management Strategy anticipating the dangers prior to a tragic incident caused by inappropriate toilet squatting. I wonder if there was more than one incident (broken bones? concussion? death?) and if so, how many would it take before OSH decided that such signs were needed. I wonder if there are plans to supplement the signage with educational street theatre in the university quad where the drama club could act out correct toilet posture and the dreadful consequences of non-conformance.

But why discriminate against squatters. It is supposed to be better for our health to squat than sit. What about accomadating, or even encouraging squatting on campus. Make foot stools available for squatters (and short people like me). Or special squatting cubicles with holes in the floor- if disabled toilets can be provided for people who need them, why not squatting facilities?). Hell, why not lower all the toilets on campus to knee height?