Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fifteen minutes

My work, Soul of the Seal, is featured on In Leaf, a very stylie blog by Lotta Helleberg, an Etsy textile artist.

She does leaf printing from nature, which is a technique I love, using non toxic dyes etc.

Adding another few seconds to my lifetime allocation of fame is an article in the Hamilton Press, a local free weekly paper, about chalk poems. Since the chalk was all washed away within a couple of days of intermittant showers, the photo at least proves that it was there!

As usual, when I am featured in the newspaper, I feel too embarrassed to leave the house for a while. But I will anyway because tonight we are going to see my friend's production of The Taming of the Shrew at the Gardens as part of the same festival as my chalk poems.

There's something magical about Shakespeare in the open air. I still remember a wonderous production by the same company of my favourite Shakespearean play, Twelfth Night. I have seen many versions of Twelfth Night but nothing beats seeing it out among the trees, under a starry night sky.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Love Letters to Hamilton

Kids and mums reading poetry in the White Garden

Months ago, when I was first invited to chalk poetry at the 2009 Hamilton Summer Garden's Festival I was living in Australia with every intention to still be living there in 2009. I took the gig as a ride home for summer holidays in NZ. Yet sometime between arriving in Melbourne at the beginning of December and leaving Whangarei at the beginning of February I had decided I was going to settle down and make my home in Hamilton.

Stream Walk with Gaye Jurisich's beautiful, mysterious installation of blue plastic hanging over the water

So by the time the Festival rolled round, and there were heavy rain warnings, I could postpone my chalk installation because I don't have to go anywhere. I live here, I can just wait for the rain to pass and write my love letters in my own good time. Those of you who have been following Bibliophilia for a while may remember the first time I did Love Letters at Your Feet we did it twice because it rained, hard, in the middle of my writing.

Huge pumpkin, about a metre diameter in the Kitchen Gardens

The weather cleared on Sunday which was the Family Fun Day of the Festival. The Gardens were full of families with small children. As the day progressed I found I invariably had an audience for my writing, often a group of kids following me and reading the words out loud in unison. Which was lovely and funny, but I became acutely aware of the 'adult themes' (as they say) in many of my love poems. Though my sexy poetry is nothing like as explicit as what kids will see on Shortland St at 7pm every night, I still felt uncomfortable about my juxtaposition with the Teddy Bears' Picnic.

Hot honey in the White Garden

Luckily I had decided that this time I would include lots of pieces from my very long poem/play, 'Fall' which is a translation of the Bible's Song of Songs into a modern day romance between a couple of middle-aged public servants living in Wellington. It's a bit raunchy, but no more so than the biblical version so I didn't feel so worried about corrupting the young.

My beloved texted his desire and I trembled to the core of my being.

When I rose, to go to my beloved,
nectar ran off my hands
pure nectar off my fingers
onto the keypad of my phone.

Actually, quite a few parents commented on the excellent teaching moments afforded by having their children read my poems aloud. I had lots of feedback from people as I was writing. Except for the woman who told me she thought I was a vandal (and it did seem to many people that writing on public property, even in chalk, might be an illicit activity; but I guess they hadn't read my listing in the Festival programme) everyone was positive, or at least politely curious.

I am a house and a door for my children

but for my lover
I am a silk tent flapping.

I have a number of methods for writing on the ground, which I alternate as different parts of my body become too painful to continue. I squat, either bobbing up and down as I move rapidly along the path or else sidling in a sort of squatted waddle, which must look pretty funny to watch. Any lengthy squatting is hard on the front of the thighs, and after writing 21 poems over two days I now walk like an ancient and arthritic old lady and cannot lift myself in or out of a seated position without moaning in agony. So I also sometimes sat down to write on the ground, and shuffled myself along on my bottom like a baby that hasn't learned to crawl yet; leaving the palms of my hands raw from the rough concrete (and very impressed than my denim shorts survived this punishing regime). Very occasionally I would stoop, bending from the waist to write, but mostly when working on a low ledge like the lawn sampler rather than at ground level. I attribute the few twinges in my lower back to minimal indulgence in this pose.

Deja Vu around the Lawn Sampler

All the pain (including a bizarre huge blister on top the knuckle of my right index finger) was worth it because I got to fulfil my dream of transforming my favourite park in the world into a book of my own poetry. I reckon I may have offered a few kids (and adults) another way to think about poetry than boring schoolroom obscurities. Making, and reading, poetry with your whole body is exciting!

Crystanthemum Walk

If you can get to the Hamilton Gardens before it rains, here's where to go looking for my poetry:
  • Rhododendren Walk
  • Camellia Walk
  • Stream Walk
  • Crysanthemum Walk
  • Woodlands Walk
  • English Country Garden
  • Japanese Garden of Contemplation
  • Chinese Scholars Garden
  • Italian Rennaissance Garden
  • Herb Garden
  • Kitchen Garden
  • Lawn Sampler
  • American Modernist Garden

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Hamilton Gardens is my favourite park in the whole world, and today I got to turn it into an artist's book by writing my poetry all over it in chalk.

I wrote for five hours today and tomorrow I get to go back and do another two or three, to get all the poems I want to write into all the places I want to write them.

Right now I can't actually identify any part of my body that isn't sore, scraped, grazed, blistered, bruised, aching or exhausted.

So, I'm sorry, you are going to have to wait for the big post about Love Letters at Your Feet. Right now I'm going to bed.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Today's Post Brought to You by Winnie

Back when I was living in the rainforest, my friend Misha Hoo, told me about an exercise for summoning your inner resources. It involved visualising 'Self-Healer', 'Self-Nurturer', 'Trust', 'Forgiveness', 'Intuition' etc as images or characters and communicating with them. When I tried this on myself, my Intuition appeared in the form of a little toy horse, similar in shape to the horse in Science of Sleep, but more colourful.

Soon after the little horse of intuition made itself at home in my imagination I had a substantial sale on Etsy, found my PayPal account flush with US dollars and decided I wanted the horse to exist in the real world, not just my imagination.

I've been following Gretel's lovely blog, Middle of Nowhere, for a year or two, enjoying her stories and photos of rural life in England and admiring the distinctive needle felt animals that she makes. So when my idea of manifesting my intuitive little horse co-incided with the financial means to achieve it, of course I asked Gretel to work her magic on my intuition.

Despite being very busy, she agreed to add me to the end of her long waiting list. Some months later, she sent me a sketch and after a little negotiation about hooves, began to make him. Gretel was great at providing me with progress updates, so I knew that my little horse was challenging from the start. It was fascinating, but a little sickening to see the photos of the mane-making process, a bit like watching a gorey hospital drama, but knowing it's your soon-to-be-adopted baby being sliced and diced. I appreciate him all the more so for knowing how much labour went into his creation.

And now Winnie is here! And he such a perfect wee dapper, darling thing. Every detail is exquisite. Everytime I look at him I feel happy and pleased. And he has a twinkle in his little glass eye as he watches me. Like any proud mother I've enjoyed my sense of naches* as I've read the admiring comments about him on Gretel's blog. And can boast that Winnie is already a minor internet celebrity, having been featured on another blog called Cuteable.

I almost cried when I found the wee heart on the base of his hoof.

*Naches means sense of pride in other's achievements.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Happy Bibliophiliac

A small excerpt of the happy sticker chart in my journal

Thank you to everyone who participated in my happiness giveaway competition. The 13 people who shared some of their happiness tips did so with such enthusiasm, generosity, wit and compassion that every message I read was like a warm hug. I've been inspired and delighted by your contributions, and I hope you don't hold back on sending more tips just because this competition is finished.

In time honoured tradition I put all the names in my green sunhat and asked my housemate to take his attention from the cricket for a few seconds to pull out the winner's name. Jane from Dunedin won the box of handmade goodies, which is lovely as she has been one of Bibliphilia's most loyal and interactive readers since I began. Also when I told her the news, she was languishing on the sofa with the 'flu, so seemed greatly cheered by her win.

If you want to read the original (entertaining) competition entries, go here, but for quick reference I have summarised the happiness tips of Bibliophilia readers along with some of my own into a a handy list to print out and keep by the phone. As a policy analyst by profession, I am well aware of the hazards of lumping together people's comments under general headings. I trust a lively debate will ensue in the comments section challenging my controversial taxonomy of happiness.

Since this blog is called Bibliophilia, you will not be surprised to see how often books appear as sources of happiness, whether reading them, making them or writing them.

Sensual pleasures and escapism

  • A cup of tea and a lie down. Especially with biscuits. And a good book/escapist fiction. Couch and loads of comfy pillows.
  • Selective TV watching eg old re-runs of Seinfeld, a cheesy Sci-fi DVD or watching my faaavourite TV shows with a bestie - it's the highlight of our week and we spend days anticipating it, and then analysing the episode later!!
  • Music from your past eg an old compilation tape you made years ago and be hit with nostalgia as the songs take you back in time... or opening iTunes and finding a band I used to love listening to when I was younger and turning it up LOUD
  • Having a bath. A long, deep, hot bath, taking a book with me so I can remember to drop it just outside the bath before I fall asleep.
  • Finding the perfect shoes in your size on sale in a recycled clothing store!
  • Getting or giving a soothing foot or neck massage
  • Exercise: Swimming laps in any body of water, yoga, tai chi qi gong, bicycling, walking
  • Food: cooking/sharing/eating fresh food; baking treats
  • Singing: alone or in a group
Connecting with people, place and all life
  • Friends: I really can't overstate the happiness quotient of spending time with friends, eg, Sunday morning a big lazy big pancake cookup with friends. Yummalicious!!
  • A walk in the woods. Taking the dogs along is an even better idea.
  • Children eg giving my daughter a hug and a kiss, blowing bubbles with my daughter, playing cricket with my son. We take a bat, a ball and (if we're feeling really energetic) a set of stumps to a nearby field and take turns batting and bowling, to an audience of appreciative tui and the occasional jogger. (One brave soul wrote 'anything with children' but I wonder if she's had a two year old tantrum in the supermarket lately).
  • Giving gifts eg spontaneous present giving; buy a lotto ticket at the checkout of the supermarket then give it to the person behind you as you leave and watch their look of shock as you say Good Luck; taking a cup of tea and a biscuit to whoever you live with; sending surprise packages through the mail.
  • Being "in the moment" in a beautiful spot eg the rock garden seats in the Botanic Garden, listening to Blues Music on a sunny, summery afternoon, eating a picnic lunch, getting out to the beach or forest or anything not a city. The ocean. Being in it, being on it, looking at it, being near it. It's all good. Walking up a hill and finding a good "happy place" to sit, play, and realise how beautiful it is here and how lucky I am to live here. Taking a walk someplace quiet and pretty. Twilight.
  • Laugher, play and silliness eg playing silly games at circus, like the ones you played in primary school. Get a bunch of friends together and play hug tiggy in the park. Promise you'll feel happy
  • Hugs: eg a loving, reassuring hug (usually from partner), or hugging my household cat. Best blood pressure reducer EVER. Also see 'Children' and 'Laughter' above.
Satisfaction and meaning
  • Writing. Those times when I can concentrate on writing, without any distractions - they don't happen as often as I want, but I love them when they do happen.
  • Creating. A project allows one to exist in the moment away from all ones cares. When you finally arise from the project to exist in the world again, things probably haven't gotten any better, but here is this awesome thing that you made!
  • Starting a new stitching project - although this does mean I have more started projects than finished ones...
  • Being inspired to paint and having it turn out well
  • Reflection. It can take the form of journal keeping, photography, a long chat, or (for me) workbooking and blogging. It allows a purge if that's what needed, and a revisiting of ones past successes, and a reaffirmation of why you do what you do.
  • NTS book (Note to Self). On a fresh page each time, I write a compliment someone might have given me - in quote marks with the persons name and date under it, or it might be a line from a song that is uplifting or has meaning to you right now, writing a personal best. The trick is not to dwell on any entries, in fact, forget about them until your Self needs some loving and reassurance, then you get to open just one page to see what you have to share with your Self.
  • Creating order eg making a list; rearrange your house, it's such a treat to see everything in a new place, it's like you're seeing it for the first time again...
  • Learning something new whether reading or watching new information or theories or trying to make or fix something with my hands (very rarely does learning new computer software make me happy though).

My new friend, Winnie, poses on top of Jane's prize parcel (packed into the same box that Winnie arrived in). Look out for Winnie's story in my next post.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Watching paste dry (and last chance to win!)

It's 100% humidity here in Hamilton. Ah, humidity, the bane of a book artist's life. Most of the stress of the past ten days of making these 25 little books has been related to waiting for paper to dry, either from painting or pasting.

Today is the deadline for mailing off the finished edition and I was getting a little worried that the books just wouldn't be dry enough to send in time (uncontrolled drying in transit could warp them). I mentioned this problem to my new housemate and she said she had an old dehumidifier* in the garage I could use if I could get it to work. It turned out to be easy to fix with toothpicks and cellotape so I installed the humming machine in a closet with the drying edition of little books and left it to run over night.

Soon I will pack them up and post them off to America, but I wanted to write a quick post and remind you all that today is your last chance to enter my first giveaway! Answer the skill question (three things that make you happy) in the comments section and go in the draw to win a surprise package of goodies handcrafted by me, including two blank books and a fabric vessel.

The draw will take place tomorrow, Saturday 14 February (NZ time) and the winner, and uber-list of happiness announced later in the weekend!

* I still chuckle when I remember a German housemate years ago who mispronounced this word as dehumaniser.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

4 studios, 2 towns and 27 books in 10 days!

This week I've stayed at four different houses in two towns, culminating with moving into my own room in a lovely share house which I hope will provide me with the stability I need to really get to work.

This week of moving around also unexpectedly coincided with an exciting commission to make an edition of 25 little books (plus two samples) within 10 days. Unlike say, sketching or crochet, making an edition of books is not a particularly mobile activity.

The clock started while I was house-sitting for Katie and Nip in Whangarei. No-one familiar with my process will be surprised that I chose this project to try out an unfamiliar technique. The book structure (what Alisa Golden calls a flower fold) is the same one I used for The Optimistic Heart in an edition of 1000 (although only 400 or so were completed before the reamining unassembled pieces got water damaged). Even though I made The Optimistic Heart edition in back in 2004, I vividly remember the efficient assembly line process I used to make such a lot of books. But it would be too easy, too boring, to simply replicate what I've done before. So my first step this time was to hand paint every page on both sides before printing the text.** After some trial and error, I discovered that line drying followed by pressing under piles of books created the most beautiful results.

The house-sit included a beautiful studio with a ledge in front of the window, just wide enough to work on. I completed the two samples and sent them off to the USA on Day 3. Day 4 I moved out of the house-sit into a Couchsurf with Chris and Tagish. There I started cut most of the pages for edition on their dining table (but forgot to take a photo).

Day 5 I packed up again for a ride to Hamilton where I was house-sitting for Sarah, Ramona and Eli. Their kitchen bench is just the right height for me to work comfortably standing up and I finished cutting the pages and started folding them.

Day 6 I moved into my big sunny room in a character villa sharehouse full of funky art and two cats called Bubbles (who has already made herself at home in my bed) and Minx. Day 7 (today) I painted the covers and pasted all the pages, so that right now the text blocks and covers are drying in separate stacks of books. When I was sorting all my things for storage last year I discarded my lovely book-pressing masonite boards.** Big books are ok for pressing, but awkward to work with as they are not of uniform size and weight.

The fiddliest part of making this kind of book is putting wax paper masks between every single fold so that none of the adhesive goes where it shouldn't. On a book like this with lots of folds nearly half the time the assembly time is spent on making and placing masks before the paste dries.

With all that behind me, I now have three days remaining in which to print, cut and glue the covers and attach them to the text blocks so that they look like the samples pictured below, and then package them up to send off for their adventures in America.

* Sadly the timeframe means the text is laser rather than letterpress printed
** In this case, the pasted-up pages; more traditionally, the sewn-together book pages
*** If anyone knows where I left my masonite boards wrapped in brown paper, please let me know