My ‘great complaining notebooks’…some background on ‘Write to the Centre’ …

My whole adult life I have kept journals, capturing bits of my life in words and images. I’ve also taught journal writing classes from time to time. Journal writing is a key part of my creative process as a writer and my self-care regime as a human. Journals get some bad press – sometimes seen as self-indulgent, angsty or just plain pointless. I can only share my own experience with keeping a journal, which has been positive, helpful and life-affirming.

I assumed all writers keep journals of one sort or another, but then I read all of the Mansfield Questionnaire interviews on Booknotes Unbound because there is a great question: ‘Do you keep ‘great complaining notebooks’ a.k.a. journals?‘ I was surprised to discover it is about 50/50, in terms of writerly journal-keeping habits.

Earlier this year I was part of a literary panel and a member of the audience asked us the question ‘If you were the only person left on the planet, would you still write?’ I had the microphone in my hand, so I answered first: ‘Of course!’ I said ‘I love writing, it wouldn’t bother me if no one else was going to read it.’ I anticipated my fellow panelists would agree with me, but instead the other three writers were looking at me incredulously and answered with variations of ‘Hell no! Why bother?’ and talked about how they write with an audience in mind.

This could be a factor in the journal or no journal divide, perhaps? Keeping a journal is essentially writing to/for yourself. You either find intrinsic value in this, or find it as interesting as watching paint dry.

I have been toying with the idea of writing a book about journal writing for a few years but was wrestling with whether other people would find it interesting, or horribly self-indulgent? I decided to leave it to fate (aka, a panel of board members) by applying for a grant, figuring if the panel granted my proposal, it would be signal enough that there was some value in the idea. They liked it and I received a grant to create the book!

A condition of the grant was that the project had to be completed in 2016, so it has been a bit of a race! If all I did was write, a year would seem like a good amount of time…but I’ve been doing it on top of the usual full-load of work, family, etc. Plus I don’t really do fast. If I were a creature, I’d be a snail, for sure.

The book is nearly done, though, all going well with the printing process it will be released on October 15th, & today I got a message from my publishers that they have set up pre-orders on the Haunui website! (We are being optimistic…) Wheee!

Here’s the cover:


I have gone through some real ups and downs during the making of this book – I will write a little bit more about the process in another post… it is a very personal, vulnerable, possibly somewhat naive book…it is not the New Zealand way to be so ‘out there’ with emotions and sometimes ugly private stuff. I feel a little like I am about to walk onto a stage in a crowded auditorium, flash my undies and then cry….or something. And yet….and yet…there is enough of me which believes there is value in sharing this stuff that I am persisting!

My journals aren’t ‘beautiful’, the visual parts are usually pretty haphazard, hastily daubed, scrawled or slapped together and the writing is not profound or intellectual…it is unfettered, raw expression…and is offered as such. Now all I can do is wait for the publication process to unfold and hope that the book is met with open hearts, just as it was created with one.




many moons

moons_1Hello! Its been a few moons since I posted…I took an unintended break there for a bit!

What have I been up to? (I’m going to assume the fact you are reading my website means you are interested…ha ha.) Last year I received a grant from the Earle Creativity Trust to write a book about my life-long practice of keeping a journal. It was so wonderful to get the grant and I’ve been busy working on this time-bound project, which has to be completed in 2016 (a condition of the grant.) It will be coming out SOON and I will write some more about it later this week.

Here’s a bare bones catch-up of the rest of my working/writing life since I wrote my last blog post: I finished year one of a permaculture design course last year, but took this year off the course to work on the journal book. I also had a go at making yoga teaching my main source of income, really didn’t like it and am back to teaching just two classes a week, which is just the right amount for me. I had a year’s contract working for an environmental trust, doing communications and events work, and now I’m back at Massey, teaching writing.

Working with the Palmerston North City Library, I edited this anthology – you can download a .pdf version here. I gave a talk about nature writing at the Massey University-based symposium, ‘Working With Nature: understanding entanglements of humans and nonhumans in the Anthropocene’.  I have a lot to say about nature and writing and nature writing, so I really enjoyed being a part of this great event.

I taught at the 2016 Kahini Retreat – it was terrific, a whole weekend of being steeped in writing and writing conversation. There will be another one in March next year, in case you like the sound of it! Kirsten from Kahini interviewed me for the last one. 

Me and my dear friend, Nga Taonga Puoro artist Rob Thorne  collaborated on a performance combining poetry with music, called ‘Tohu’. Huge satisfying fun, and we hope to do it again soon.


I was part of Massey University’s ‘writing in / writing of’ talk series, in a panel about Manawatu writers.


In May, I read with Janet Charman, Belinda Diepenheim and Johanna Aitchison at the Palmerston North City Library. I’ve loved Janet’s writing for a long time, so it was a real privilege to read with her when she visited Palmerston North from Auckland.


Last Friday was National Poetry Day and I read with other Seraph Poets and friends at Vic Books in Wellington, Paula Green took some great photographs. 

I also started (with my friend Marolyn Krasner) a writing group we call the Manawatu Sunday Writers Group. We meet, you guessed it, one Sunday per month. There is always tea and cake, it is very casual, very supportive and we don’t intensively workshop stuff (unlike other groups I’ve been part of in the past). We read our work out loud to each other, share writing-life news and opportunities, and have a lot of fun!

Whew! I think that is all the major stuff I’ve been up to over the last year…I’ll probably think of a bunch of stuff I forgot as I drift off to sleep later tonight – that’s usually how it works, right?

My most recent creative act, though, has been painting moons. My friend is opening a shop in town with a theme of earth-based and earth-friendly hand made things. So I’ve been making moon gift tags, wall strings and cards for the shop. It is so much more enjoyable than writing poetry, which is always kind of masochistic and gnarly for me.

I promise it won’t be many moons before I write again!



Opshopping highlights – February/March

My opshopping habits have changed in recent years. I go much less often, I buy much less, and I try not to buy stuff for other people like I used to. (Sometimes I see absolutely perfect gifts, and break this rule…mind you.) However, I do still love a good rummage. Here are the best ‘thrift scores’ of the last two months.

I bought these two cups just because I instantly fell for the colours, the glossy glaze and the leaf motif. The mark on the bottom says ‘Tams ENGLAND’. After some internet research, I found that they were from a pottery in Staffordshire started by John Tams in 1875. These cups are from the 1970s.

thrift_march_1 thrift_march_2

We have PLENTY of cups (I have a weakness for a nice cup) and Fraser has forbidden me to buy more…but if there are new cups I really can’t resist, I wriggle around this rule by culling a couple from the cupboard and returning them to the flow of the shop of opportunity…

I also found this raised relief rose vase – I’ve been on the scope for one for a long time, found plenty, but they are usually chipped to hell and in shabby condition. This one does have a couple of tiny chips, but is in the best condition I have ever seen. Very stoked to find this. I’ve probably been looking for one for at least five years. (Do you have a running list of things you are searching for from the op-shop?)


Cotton 1970s tunic, in amazing condition, given it’s vintage – who could resist this happy green and navy print?


A PRISTINE Poole dish in the most dreamy colour. I may have panted slightly when I spotted this.


& in the category of ‘bought just for my amusement’ – this 1940s recipe book. I love the font on the cover, it’s full of classic wartime NZ advertisements, lots of gag-worthy recipes, unmentionable things done to offal (like poaching it in milk) and horrible slimey desserts (junket with nutmeg, anyone?)


I love this diagram of the best way to organise your kitchen shelves, a la Mrs Beeton, 1943:


I thought it was odd that there was a section on ‘Marketing’ in the sub-title. I thought ‘Oh maybe they mean how to present your jams and cakes for selling at stalls, etc’ but no! The verb ‘marketing’ in 1943 meant GOING TO THE MARKET, and the ‘marketing’ section is tips for savvy and frugal shopping and how to not be outwitted by shop-owners.


Maybe we should reclaim it and instead of ‘going to the supermarket’ we could say ‘I’m supermarketing?’ Aaaand, maybe not.

Anyway, thank you PN op-shop goddesses, for some great finds so far this year.


Apple season

Apple cheeks, apple weeks, the race against the birds…

The inherited tree which has the codlin moth – I know it’s time to strip the tree when the birds begin to peck at the apple tops – this means they are sweet and ready. Cutting around the moth tunnels, making apple sauce which turn into breakfast or crumbles or just eaten with a teaspoon standing at the fridge when I realise I’m starving but have to do the school run in two minutes. (I continue to ‘battle’ against the codlin moth. They are determined creatures.) The commitment of using seasonal abundance. It’s a gift, sure, but it’s work. Sometimes hours and hour of work. Sitting at the table, making the meditation ‘can I take all the peel off in one go?’ Buckets and buckets of practice later tell me that I can’t, but it’s fun trying.

apples_2 apples_3

The Ballerina apple tree which was a wedding present 20 years ago, and moved with us from flat to flat in a big pot, finally planted into the ground here and produces the most beautiful green and red apples, like the ones from Snow White…


This tree on an abandoned section – the way fruit trees give and give, regardless of how they are tended or neglected. Walking onto ‘private property’ to pick the apples. Respecting the tree’s gift more than the human’s claim. Not wanting the generosity of the tree to go unnoticed, unappreciated. Leaving plenty for the birds.


At my permaculture course, Duncan brings two beautiful baskets of apples from his small farm. Four heritage varieties – enough for everyone to take a few home to taste. On the permaculture course, people are passionate about plants, about fruit trees, about the earth. People have strong opinions – in discussion time the debates are weighty, rich, sometimes a little heated…but at lunch time, we sit around munching Duncan’s apples. That they are fine, crisp, tasty apples, we all agree on.

apples_5 apples_6 apples_7

The beauty of the simple backyard apple, wet from being rinsed in cold water, fresh-picked off the tree.


the huge scruffy melange of humanity

Some days you can really feel the fire – then other days, you are like a squished snail or a washed-up jellyfish and you wonder where the fiery-you with the self-belief and the staunch intent went…but it’s all in there…different bits surface on different days…the trick is to not pay either state too much mind….it’s all just the huge scruffy melange of humanity inside you. everything nothing

I’m only in it for the aesthetics


Not really. But I do get enormous pleasure from taking my twee basket and a sharp knife out to the garden and seeing what is ready to eat, filling the basket with a bit of this, a bit of that…and then just enjoying looking at it for a while, before prepping the vegetables for cooking or fridge storage.


Sometimes I wonder if the internet needs more photographs of vegetables that I grew…but if there is always room for more cat pictures, then I reckon there’s room for my photos of cavolo nero, too. It’s a handsome vegetable, cavolo nero, don’t you think? Dignified.


‘nature’ will not let your plans get in the way of her onward romping…

I love weeds. I love plants which sprout in cracks, parking lots, on barren concrete rooftops. I have a fascination and somehow, an admiration (while respecting what a terrible pest some of these plants become) for when plants go dominantly feral and take over, in the vein of the ‘terrible beauty’ concept that Yeats coined.

Type in ‘Kudzu, USA‘ to google images and you will see what I mean. Known as ‘the vine that ate the south’, this plant was introduced to the USA from Japan and is now rampant in the south, taking over whole buildings, whole abandoned towns. It is awesome, in the original meaning of the word. It fills me with awe. It also fuels the part of my imagination that ponders what the world might look like without humans, post-humans.

Whenever I see plants ‘pushing back’, I always stop in my tracks and contemplate the scene. Or abandoned places where the plants have been left to do what they will without our weeding, clipping and manicuring.

I love the way the roots of this tree have escaped the tidy concrete box it was planted in. Isn’t this a potent visual metaphor? Don’t we all feel like this sometimes? That we are outgrowing the parametres of our lives? Pushing past our received roles?


This is a shed in the back of an abandoned house I passed on a walk. Whenever I see abandoned places I go and have a mooch around, always curious about the terrain post-people. I don’t know if you can see, but the shed is full of plants, convolvulus, jasmine and self-seeded pittosporums…and what was once a vegetable bed to the right is now a sea of convolvulus.


This is a glasshouse at the back of a place (a beautiful place!) where we holiday sometimes. An aloe has been left to grow and grow and grow in a glasshouse, to the point it has smashed through the glass (can you imagine the upwards and outwards force needed by the plant to break glass? Amazing.) Isn’t there something kind of awful and wonderful about it, all at once?




I will not be stopped by your ridiculous human edges, borders and constraints…say the plants, through their actions. This indomitable onwards energy is what I love about nature.


I’m going to be speaking at this symposium, WORKING WITH NATURE coming up next month. I’m very excited by the topic – a topic close to my heart and much on my mind pretty much all the time. I kind of drives me a little crazy that humans talk so much about ‘nature’ as something separate from ourselves, when we are so obviously part of nature. We ARE nature. All life is symbiotic. I also SEE through my yoga teaching, how removed from ‘nature’ people can be in terms of how removed from their breath and body they are and the amazing beneficial effects of returning to body awareness and deep conscious breath.

‘I’m an animal…and you’re an animal, too’. -Neko Case