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!

 

 

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

art will eat itself

I am working on two writing projects at the moment (around the day job, the kids, the endless house-keeping and cooking)…..(‘oh to be a writer, a real writer!’ to quote Katherine Mansfield.)

One is my next collection of poems and the other is less simple – a project involving over a decade of journals. I am scanning a whole lot of journal pages from 1999-2012…it will be a very visual book. This project is tricky – I haven’t quite found my way with it yet. It’s like it isn’t sure what it wants to be….I don’t want it to be a ‘how to’ about journaling, because I don’t find those books especially helpful myself…plus I don’t think I have much to add to that canon….however it may have elements of that. I am writing some prose pieces to sit amongst the scanned journal pages, but I’m not sure they are right in tone. It’s like I am putting together a book that is almost devouring itself – like the OUROBOROS. I’m both sharing parts of my journals and yet critiquing them and journaling and the creative process all at once.  It’s all very messy and more than a little scary, however I’m going to keep chipping away at it and trust that as I work the shape of the book will become clear. Basically, I am trying to write the sort of book I would be excited to find in a bookshop….full of images, honesty, ruminations on creative process, thoughtful mess.

In the meantime, I take comfort from writers who have gone before me.

‘Any writer who knows what he is doing isn’t doing very much.’

-Nelson Algren

&

‘The furtherest out you can go is the best place to be.’

-Stanley Elkin’