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:

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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!

 

 

I’m only in it for the aesthetics

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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.

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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.

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‘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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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

Kirtan Camp 2015 – love gets sweeter everyday …

A few weeks back, I went to Kirtan Camp in the Otaki Gorge. (Kirtan is ‘yoga of sound’, essentially.) It was three nights, three days of beautiful nature, yoga, music, chanting, vegetarian food and lovely people.

It was my treat to myself of deep ‘me time’ after the family-centred intensity that is the summer school holidays. It was restful, and both inspiring AND contemplative. It ended with a Shamanic sound healing journey by Sika Deer, which might sound like the waftiest woo woo thing ever, but I experienced as a powerful healing experience. Like most things which shake you to the foundations and change you forever….words really do fail and I am too protective of this experience to attempt to say too much more about it…but should you ever get the chance to experience Sika’s healing work – jump at it!

I had a love affair with the yurt at the retreat centre – I went to kirtan in it, went to a live flute meditation, did yoga in it and one lovely sunny afternoon, (accidentally) took a nap in the sunshine lying in the grass outside it, as music was being played within. I very much hope there are more yurts in my future – this one was very special.

It was kind of ridiculously idyllic….the chef looked like George Harrison, the kirtan music was sublime, I slept one night in a tent lined with sparkling saris with my head bathed by the moon, I meditated under a giant pine tree in the pitch dark of nearly midnight, ….and there was heaps of free time in the schedule so that everyone dropped the stresses of their lives off their shoulders and by the second day, everyone was moving slower, smiling more and looking very peaceful.

At one point, I’d been sitting beside the river having a heart-to-heart conversation with my friend Nat who owns the yoga studio I teach at, and as we walked (ssslllloooooowwwwwllllyyyyy) back through the forest to the centre, we came upon a group of people playing music together (this song) … dancing barefoot in the sun, children were blowing bubbles, it was ludicrously lovely. I actually had a slightly hysterical giggle/crying fit in response to the sweetness of the scene… it was like a little taste of how life could be if people just relaxed more, played together more and got along together. You know….utopian dreams made (briefly) manifest.

Anyway, have I made you ill with my gushing yet…? Ha ha! Here’s a few pictures…

The main part of the retreat centre…

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(Below) The saris I spent a night gazing up at …

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Lovely kirtan teacher, Chakradhyan of Chant Shack Melbourne. 

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Amazing percussion teacher – Douglas Brush: 

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Nat beside the river with the retreat centre pup…

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Little stone cairn beside the river…

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(Above) Brave people having their first go at leading kirtan…

(Below) The magical yurt, complete with babbling brook….part of me will be forever lying the the warm grass, napping in the sunshine outside this yurt.

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Another garden visit: Paekakariki School Garden

Another beautiful permaculture garden I visited recently, is the Paekakariki School garden. Lots of schools have gardens these days, but they are usually hotch-potch patches of vegetables gone to seed and a few calendula…not the Paekakariki School garden. It’s clearly lovingly and frequently tended, with huge compost and mulch piles, a working greenhouse and an effusion of vegetables, herbs and flowers. There is enough sowing and planting activity happening in this beautiful collective garden, that before Christmas they had a huge plant sale of plants they had grown in the greenhouse.

Below – greenhouse to the left, borage growing freely everywhere, herb and vege beds…somewhat inexplicably, old fridges used for storing tools to the right…

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I love how there are so many flowers – foxgloves, violas, chamomile, borage – growing around the vegetables. So pretty, and so good for the bees!

Below – chamomile….parsley seed heads. (Oh how I love a spindly seed head!)

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Below – Fine looking garlic crop! Strawberries growing in tyres…

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(Below) – This is intriguing – looks like they are constructing a greenhouse from an old jungle-gym frame and recycled plastic bottles threaded onto bamboo canes. Good upcycling, but looks very labour intenstive…

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(Below) One perfect viola – so so pretty… What an inspiring community garden! I didn’t want to leave!

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summer colours

We’re having days (weeks!) of consistent warm weather this summer – a change from the last couple of summers. I’m really feeling the summer vibes this year!

Raspberries and strawberries picked at a place we house-sat:

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I bought a sheet of googly-eyes made from icing, certain they would make for some hilarious baking. I was right. The kids went wild with the icing and silly shapes…

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This is what we got up to on Christmas Day (that’s my family in the water) – is there anything more Southern hemisphere than a Christmas Day river swim?

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Beach lupins ablaze…

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