Thank you, Bookie Monster. If nothing else gets me posting, this does. In fact, as a condition of accepting it, there’s homework in several parts. The first is eleven random facts about me. Without forethought:
1. I’m sitting on a cushion in the window. Outside yellow dusk is settling over the grapevine at the bottom of the rectangular lawn where two wild rabbits chew at the grass. We’re a week into a two-month rural house sit.
2. My feet are dirty from gardening this afternoon in jandals. I pulled grass and nightshade from the herb garden and picked the last tomatoes from their damp and dessicated vines.
3. Sewing implements are scattered at my right hand from my attempt to turn op-shop shorts into a skirt. I’ve done the easy part — cutting them open — the next will require skill.
4. I’ve just read a terrific article about the brain in the belly.
5. The birdsong here is myriad. Myriad. Looks odd here, but in its meaning of having very many elements it stays. Native and imported music.
6. Better get a move on. It’s suddenly dark.
7. My heart has been a little unsettled lately. So has my belly (see above). That the mind has, too, goes without saying. Knowing it helps. So many of our bodies’ gentle maladies pass under the radar.
8. I’m going to try out the rice cooker tonight. I’m skeptical but the householder’s enthusiasm for it was compelling.
9. I’m reading a book I picked up from the Napier Library’s sales table: Francis Petrarch’s My Secret Book:the account of the 14th century poet’s inner dialogue with St Augustine on ‘suffering, desire, fear and joy’.
10. The red yoga mat is rolled up on my left, ready for tomorrow’s morning ‘yoga quickie’.
11. I’m going down to cook dinner, all of it except rice from the garden. I’ll come back in a day or two to complete my assignment.
Until then, blessings.
I’ve been tagged as Emma Neale was tagged so, while the title may not be apt, if tag’s a game, I’ll play along at this “weird self-interview blog-meme thing” (although II still don’t know what a meme is). I’ll adapt the ten questions to answer my own ends.
What is your working title of your
Let me see … (gazing out at the sky, macrocarpas, wheeling gulls) … how about Making Books Fly Faster?
What genre does your
book project fall under?
Cyber-nonfiction … How-To for Dummies … a travelogue, perhaps.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I have trouble remembering actors, and I have left unwatched those movies I ought to have watched, so I nominate instead our three children as they might have been 20 years ago on a lawn with the grandparents’ movie camera: S as pernickety, alternately irascible and affable publisher; A as brilliant renegade designer; J as publicist extraordinaire, axing his way into the wallets of readers.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book project?
I think the provisional title says it neatly but I’ll add: ‘freeing the book from its material trappings’, or more prosaically, ‘working from a traditional publishing model to issue exceptional and original writing digitally’.
book project be self- published administered or represented by an agency run by others?
Rosa Mira Books is entirely self-inflicted. Although many play a valuable part in its activities, I take final responsibility. However, I’m definitely open to finding a like-minded partner, preferably with PR and entrepreneurial dynamism, who is willing to share the joys and vexations of epublishing for an indeterminate income. Enquire in the comments or track me down as you will.
How long did it take you to
write the first draft of your manuscript get your project started?
From the winter’s night when two stars tangoed across the sky above our house and the idea arrived fully formed (the idea, not how to carry it out) until the launch of Rosa Mira Books, two and a half years. The first 18 months I was floundering: I didn’t know a PDF from a Word document and there was little sense of urgency. I had a great ally in Carolyn McCurdie, who attended digital seminars with me and brainstormed, but we gained little traction. When my job with a traditional publisher ended abruptly at the end of 2009, the wheels began to grip. I had a website designed, got the name trademarked, read up, visited business consultants, fretted, negotiated with Dorothee, edited her fine novel, and took the many now-invisible steps that begin a brand new enterprise. Rosa Mira Books and The Glass Harmonica were launched together on 11.1.11.
books projects would you compare this story to within your genre one with?
I seem to be the only publisher in NZ doing just this, although all publishers except those working on heirloom, handbound volumes, are digitising new lists and back-lists and even, if they can retain or regain rights, out-of-print lists. I suspect I’m not the only publisher beginning to put out shorter works, like our 10,000-word series of short stories, novellas and essays — catering to the reader’s shortening attention span, true, but also freeing myself to tackle two or thee projects at once; the editing and preparation of a 100,000-word manuscript makes for a long engagement.
Who or what inspired you to write this book undertake this project?
Several vital and hugely capable women have fired me along the way. When I first began to write, and discovered the wondrous comfort of being amongst writers, I heard Paula Boock speak to a group about walking for the first time into a publisher’s office — what a fabulous place to work, she thought, and so I felt, viscerally, as she told the anecdote. ‘One day,’ I told myself. Paula, by then at Longacre Press, was my first editor, for the children’s novel Three’s a Crowd. Barbara Larson, her partner and publishing director of Longacre went on to put out seven more of my books and to employ me as editor. I shared an office with Emma who instigated this post. Longacre (in 2009 subsumed by Random House) was a model of good publishing, a fact I appreciate ever more as my involvement in the industry deepens. Relationships with writers were cordial and respectful; editors and designers were given the time required to do a thorough job; books were beautifully turned out. Barbara was a multi-tasking model of cool efficiency and warm encouragement to staff and authors alike, while to work alongside an editor and writer as skilled, meticulous, funny and brilliant as Emma added to the privilege. Gosh, what am I writing here — testimonials? And why not. These are terrific women, as are invaluable friends Claire and Pam who have never doubted my choices, always encouraged, and who run their own chosen endeavours to the hilt. Coral Atkinson has nourished me with enthusiasm, flowers, apt quotations, apt urls, good sense and sage publishing advice. There are other fine men and women with their fires burning at every turn of the road. Self-started it may be, but this is a truly collaborative enterprise.
What else about your project might pique the reader’s interest?
Rosa Mira’s five shimmering titles (did I say, RMB publishes terrific writing, which means 30 terrific writers represented thus far); Ratty who swans, dangles, swoops and splashes about on the Rosa Mira Blog — employed a year or so ago as the PR Dept, he’s done hardly a hand’s turn since.
The fact that I’m ever on the lookout for exceptional writing, particularly right now essays of around 10,000 words, also that I’m pondering a second list this year, of pre-published books given new life in digital form.
Phew. Thanks, Em.
Now I tag . . . let me see if I can find writers with blogs who are not yet pinned and not about to go AWOL … I’m going through my FB list, in no particular and Pat Deavoll order . . . Coral Atkinson, Dorothee Kocks … I’m going through my FB list … Kay Cooke, Pat Deavoll, and Paul Hersey
In the six or seven weeks since I last wrote here we’ve packed up our home of 17 years, said many fond farewells, long and short, and headed north with A, fresh from Edinburgh, in our laden wagon.
We’ve come to roost for a few weeks at the Whangarei Heads where we lap up the daily swims and eating outdoors. It’s been good to get back into our work, to see that we can knuckle down in a strange environment, and be open to its fresh ambience and opportunities.
The garden here is a marvel — full of bright, brash and succulent plants we don’t see 900 miles south. This china Kingfisher watches the steps. Apparently, a flesh-and-blood replica turned up within a day or two of his posting, stared long and hard, and (one supposes, mournfully) went on its way.
I’m not finding it easy to capture the frilly, curly, spiky plethora of detail in the plants here so bear with me as I practise, making wan and narrow hibisci, less-than-serene water lilies and things . . .
… such as this, which puts me in mind of the manuscripts I regretfully turned away this morning for being, well, a little too obvious. We have hearts in the south, but we speak of them in hushed tones. It’s said that we have sex and suchlike but we paint them in sober colours, abstractly. (Fifty shades of grey — how did she manage to nab that title?)
We of the south might be like the small transparent moth below, simple, monochrome—black lace and glad-wrap. However, put it on a hibiscus flower and colour glows through. Well, it might when I get the hang of colouring in the North.
We’re looking after four ducks and six hens (along with the house and gardens of their usual minders). Today I woke before dawn and fretted. The hens are kept in a shed with all hens need for survival: a pellet dispenser, water dispenser, clean dry wood shavings, laying boxes, a perch and room to move. But when we go to collect the brown eggs and throw in a handful of greens, the hens crowd the doorway. Their heads are high and swivelling, their eyes alight with urgent curiosity. Won’t you let us out?
They aren’t let out. A reason was given but it seems inadequate, lacking in imagination. Sure, the chooks are healthy and vigorous. They lay daily and eat heartily. But I can’t help imagining that, like you and me, they aspire to a richer existence. Hens love to fossick about. They love to explore and find their own morsels. And they love the dust bath. I’ve heard hens purr as they nestle in and shower themselves with sun-warmed dust. In order to go back to sleep, I resolved to make a petition. It will be in the form of a drawing, of caged hens dreaming. I’ll get the girls to sign it — six muddied claws — and we’ll post it on the hen-house door for the owners’ return.
Dawn had broken and the lawn was silvered with the night’s rain. The little black rabbit (wild) was grazing just beyond the bedroom window. It sat up suddenly and shook water from its paws — far too cute for an agricultural pest.
I traipsed over the wet lawn to the duck pond, swinging a pannier of pellets. As I approached their wooden trough, a slim brown something shot along the water’s edge and leaped into the tussocks nearby. The tussocks shrieked and squealed in reply.
Only three of the four ducks were present. They dabbled listlessly at the pellets while I called for their unseen mate. Suddenly their heads shot up and as one they launched themselves into the pond and paddled away. Quacks rose from the reeds and their yellow friend swam out to join them. The tight-knit quacktet returned to the pellets. The yellow one leaped into the trough and shovelled up food while the others stood back and waited for it to take its fill.
I went inside and wrote on the daily log: ‘Rat or stoat nest? 5 eggs.’
Someone, sometwo or somethree have been sneaking onto my blog and registering as users when my back was turned. I’ve swept them out the door and removed the option to register from my log-in page. The lesson, I think, is to spend a little more time in the blog-garden myself. Unmown lawns and clambering weeds have always looked enticing to strays.
What do you think about when you swim up and down lanes? I realised this morning that for me it depends on the stroke. My friend and sister-in-law recently passed on tips from her lessons so doing overarm I’m fully absorbed imprinting the new technique, drawing the straight arm and lightly cupped hand across the midline and all the way down to the outer thigh, rolling rather than twisting for a breath, trying to relax so I don’t sink. Backstroking, I think about raising the thumb first, then swiveling the arm so that the pinky re-enters the water then — revelation! — rather than throwing the arm back and scooping, pushing it directly to one’s side, . You can feel the acceleration. Breaststroking, I just bob along. I haven’t had the lesson tips yet so my mind goes wandering across the lanes (gosh, hairy shoulders! I wonder if my cap’s as bunched as a cook’s turban, like hers; eergh! sticking plaster; R’s stroke’s improving; uh-oh, here comes The Splasher with his three-foot flippers). Deep stuff.
Yesterday I had a meeting with a dog that shook me up I realised when I woke this morning with the sense that it had entered my dreams as well. I was at my aunt’s when a friend I hadn’t seen for years turned up with her two-year-old female Rhodesian Ridgeback, a slight, muscular animal (very small for her breed, said J) with black eyes that burned above the muzzle holding her in check as they entered the room. ‘The thing with this breed is not to make eye contact,’ J said. Too late. I’d been scorched. Amber was ready to tear my throat. Nevertheless, I sat while J brought her to meet me. ‘They don’t like being touched, either.’ But my hand had already responded to the soft, enquiring snout. Stones rumbled in her throat. I sat still, willing myself to relax as Amber walked around me, sniffed once more and went to lie down. ‘She’s never accepted someone so readily,’ J said. ‘Thanks for allowing the experiment; most of my friends are too scared.’ This was a very different beast from the lamb in dog’s clothing, the Ridgeback-Lab cross, that we’d minded in April. Amber must be a constant liability to her carers; she would allow for no casual visitors, no careless walking out with dog unrestrained. And yet that something in her, so raw and fierce, so well beyond the timbre of everyday, left its mark on my psyche and I find myself almost hankering to meet her again.
In the absence of ideas, I’m hoping that the fact of opening up a new post here after six weeks away will strike fire, and the flame run will run across the page, leaving interesting scorch marks in its wake.
I had to make up a new password to enter my own blog just now. Was it anything to do with the email I recently received from someone anonymous named as a User on the site? I deleted the evidence, and on I go. Let’s see what happens.
Elderflower champagne. I took the long-handled lopper out to the neighbour’s elderflower bush today while the sun was full upon the flowers which were fully open and fragrant. I lopped about 8 flower heads, then took them in and dropped them unwashed onto a light syrup made of 1 1/2 cups of sugar in 3 1/2 litres of water, 2 1/2 dsp of cider vinegar and the juice of one lemon. I put the pot in the sunroom where it will sit for 24 hours and begin to ferment. Before all this, I bottled yesterday’s batch in small corked glass bottles and larger plastic soda bottles, leaving an inch or so for expansion, and dropping a raisin or two into each. When the raisin rises . . . hmm, I’ve forgotten what it is about the raisins rising. It means bubbles. It means something desired has happened. Anyway, the ‘champagne’ is ready to drink when the top of the plastic bottles go hard with air pressure. Chill and open gingerly.
Auction. That’s the bald wording on the sign we found nailed to our fence yesterday. The agent’s name and details are the only other clues. Is it for a house? Is it nice? Does it have desirable features — contented inhabitants; broad beans sprawling across one corner the garden; a nest of thrushes in the clematis where it climbs the telephone pole near the front door; an old cat wondering where she’ll go when it’s all over; rhododendron flowers scenting the living room; a sun-warmed sofa; a pot of elderflowers fermenting in the corner? Yes to all that. Like the cat, we don’t know what we’ll do if the auction works as it’s supposed to.
The end of the world as we know it. The brouhaha about the end of the Mayan calendar seems to have died down. It was one thing to make movies and jokes about it when December 2012 was still a fair way off but lately interest seems to have died away, or gone underground. I read a prediction the other day, that soon most of us will go under water, that the moon will begin to move in an orbit visible to only a few of us, with a new little moon of its own, that it will be as if the earth is straightening up like a new pupil of the Alexander technique. Well, I’m still making plans for Christmas and the days after it. I still anticipate publishing a few ebooks in 2013, seeing a daughter home from Edinburgh and a grandson into the next size of baby outfits. But I’ll probably join forces with friends who believe that the 21st of December will be a good day, the best day in a long while, to focus attention, with possibly millions of others, on our hopes and longings and, most potently, our intention to see peace and light and love rule in the place of greed and fear and conflict — in ourselves and in our common living room called Earth.
The rat. Has been elusive. I’m off now to try and flush him out.
My laptop hard-drive crashed the other week, so when the call came, it seemed an apt time to put the work on hold and spend a few days with my father while Mum was away. Dad and I get on pretty well so most of the time we happily tinkered about in house and garden, walking down to the village for supplies, or heading into the city. That part wasn’t so easy for Dad. He hasn’t been allowed to drive for a couple of years and he doesn’t quite grasp why his license was revoked. Previously a surveyor (given to accurate assessments) with an impeccable driving record, he would guide me out of the driveway: ‘Easy does it; turn now; don’t clip that car”; onto the highway and across multiple intersections: ‘Not yet, not yet, now go!’ I don’t suppose it matters to him that I’ve been driving for 35 years.
Dad’s fine as long as he’s in the moment. It’s going beyond the moment that’s tricky: remembering what happened five months, five days or five minutes ago, and anticipating what is about to happen in the next day or the next half hour. It was hard for him to recall when Mum was coming home so we gnawed on that question several times a day. There were some funny moments — when the number of knives required for our simple meal kept growing; when I decided not to remind him how to eat a boiled egg (perhaps as a child he gouged the yolk out one end with a knife) — sometimes tinged with irritation (mine): ’No, I don’t know why there’s tea coming out of the hot water kettle’; ‘No, as I said, you don’t need the overnight bag’ (packed with its wild medley of items); ‘we’ll be back in a couple of hours.’ Now and then, when we were hungry and one of us was clumsy, there was exasperation.
The best times were when Dad was absorbed in the garden, whistling as he planted out spring veges, or mowing the lawn; the start of our Scrabble game, when Dad was making bold, logical moves, and before he started forgetting that he’d already thrown in the last hand, and the hand before that.
Also, walking companionably along the wild, shingly beach which offers its finest gifts to those who know only this moment now.
On Monday we walked in the regenerating kauri forest of Titirangi. Our daughter was in labour. On the way home I called in to a little church. It was as simple and still as a pond without ducks, frogs or dragonflies. I prayed for our daughter to be strong and well, full of light and stamina. I wanted the same for her baby, and for the man at her side.
I looked up at the simply patterned window filtering mauve light and thought about our frailty, how lives disappear (this was the ‘soldiers’ memorial’ church) and how those of us who stay alive, who seek depth and meaning, see that life grows increasingly complex, both strong and fragile in turn and simultaneously. The more notice we take of life’s quiet movements and nudges, the more we sense how narrow is the path we walk, the path between now and eternity. We see how all things (plants, people, jobs, things) are both breaking down and striking out anew, how they continuously disintegrate and re-form.
I thought about how uncomfortable life feels some hours, some days, especially when we find ourselves without certainties — between places, between jobs, between roles — which is where life struggles to reconfigure itself, to regenerate. To give birth.
On Monday, our daughter and son-in-law were on the cusp of parenthood: any remnant childishness gone forever. Very soon we would become ‘elders’ to the first of a new generation.
And so it came to pass.
I was thinking this morning about the archer.
Over the last few years I’ve found the astrological zodiac a helpful sort of map of the inner terrain. A person needn’t believe in the efficacy of astrology as a system to find that it nonetheless elucidates many of the tasks we master and the psychological ground we traverse on our way to becoming self-aware, self-determining people who can work out our own salvation (albeit ‘with with fear and trembling’). It also makes useful representation of the dilemmas we face serially, cyclically and/or simultaneously.
The archer I was thinking of is the centaur taking aim with his bow and arrow, which is the symbol for Sagittarius. On the zodiacal wheel, it sits opposite Gemini, represented by the twins whose dual energy is perpetual restlessness. Looking at both signs, a dilemma is immediately apparent: is it better to choose one thing or two? Better to keep all options open, or narrow down the focus to a single point?
Ideally, a person would find a way between the horns of the dilemma by acknowledging the lure of each, and giving each its due, but that’s easier said than done.
I’m feeling the push and pull at present as I consider how to proceed in my work with Rosa Mira Books. My objective is to create a sensitive conduit for writing that (in my estimation) needs to be published; writing that would leave us poorer if none of us had a chance to read it. My means of doing that is to publish digitally, which allows (potentially) for immediate global circulation of the work.
That objective is the bull’s-eye. The rings around the bull’s-eye might encompass my secondary objectives: bringing notice and income to the author, and over time providing myself with a trickle, or even a stream, of income.
Preparing that work for publication is costly and time-consuming and at this early stage is far from recompensed by subsequent sales. So I find myself casting around for alternative ways to meet costs. The rat and I have a pretty happy relationship. I enjoy drawing him, and it seems that he’s a poser and dresser-up from way back … and yet, and yet … I can’t help wondering if my happy evening doodlings are the best use of my time. Does it mean the arrowhead is swaying wildly about and likely to miss the target by a merry mile? It’s ebooks I mean to circulate, not rats.
Perhaps it’s a road I’m on, as well as a flight path (and kinks in the road add interest to any journey). Perhaps I can do two things (or more) in aid of the one thing; play with pencils by night then stand up and take aim at the reading world by day. What do you think?
It seems important to write something although I have no idea as I open this page what it will be. I’ll stick in my latest drawing and see where I go from there.
When I was young and very idealistic, I would be seized by intense longings (weren’t we all?) and one such ‘seizure’ concerned the sense that there awaited a realm of experience beyond anything I’d known thus far, that was immediate and quintessential, independent of past conditioning or forward planning. I’m trying to recapture the gist of it. It was akin to the desire to head off into the world/the wilds with a few dollars, a notebook, and a spare t-shirt, and just see what happened. Just seeing what happens is probably what I mean. Mightn’t that still be the simplest, most potent state we can experience?
I don’t mean a passive, helpless state. I mean the one that might be one thin veil away at any given moment: a state of vibrant, expectant just seeing what happens. Like being a baby again, but a baby who sees and knows itself also. And if something happens, then you’re ready to participate. If nothing happens, you can go on with the status quo.
Of course we’re each an amalgam of our past experiences and choices, of our current commitments, activities, and beliefs known or unknown, and of the trajectory that all of these have set us upon, but . . . it’s there still, glimmering: that longing for the footloose moment of pure possibility. We approach it when we write or paint, or set out on a walk with no aim, or when we hunker down to watch an ant or a bird in its intricate manoeuvrings. I suppose it’s what ‘mindfulness’ aims at, and meditation or contemplative prayer. But these names suggest technique and practice and I wonder if this notional state depends ultimately upon any of those.
The young and idealistic person who still inhabits this house of the self reminds me that just seeing what happens still represents, for me at least, an ideal, and therefore a possibility. I don’t know who wrote the words pinned on my noticeboard but they are not unrelated: Put aside conceptions of who you are and where you’re going. Open to the unknown and to being lived by Life. Invite the call of the future to speak to you.
Yesterday afternoon, I put on a thick jacket and scarf, plunged my hands into the pockets, and walked across to my aunt’s. Walking without a dog has a different texture. Oddly, I feel bolder, more alert, and I walk faster. Polly had slowed down a little in her last year, just a little. Rain, wet grass, or cold asphalt made her drag on the anchor. Our walks had become ruminative. Anyway, I miss her, but she turned up in a dream the other night, happy.
Back to the walk: a couple of young women climbed from their car with bags of groceries, chattering as they went in their gate and up to the front door. A cat ran along the footpath, following them. Suddenly the girls were shouting. The front door slammed shut. Puss reappeared.
In real life, one eye was missing but I don’t want to scare you.
My aunt was out but her trees were singing. She keeps no cat and she puts out seeds and sugar water for the birds. The trees have grown wild and full of shelter. Tuis and bellbirds clacked and chimed and chortled. Finches, waxeyes and sparrows chattered and chirped. I stood for a while as the music rained down. It must have been like this once, here on earth. Not very long ago.
Today I put a wet weetbix on a slice of gib-board on the corner of the deck. A couple of waxeyes made streaking reconnaissance flights directly over it. Within a few minutes the whole whanau were there, scoffing as fast as they could go. When a blackbird dared land on the board, they rose up in a body and threw him off.
I like to think that Polly and I chose each other fifteen years ago when we met. Considering the litter, I was drawn by her colouring and sweetly curious nature. Perhaps she recognised in me the answer to her own nervous excitability. We soon found that she had a very big voice: at eight weeks, every bark blew her backwards over the floor by an inch or two.
Still young, Polly delivered a litter of outlandish pups on R’s birthday. She was a devoted but dejected mother and the day the last pup left home she leaped from her milky bed and back into her own prolonged puppyhood. She only ever wanted to be my companion.
Her life was uncomplicated, punctuated here and there by my absences and one horrible incident. Polly had always shown ridiculous aggression towards big black dogs and men in black, but her greatest fear was of Weimaraners with their sleek pelts and piercing green eyes (one lived next door and a quiet chat with its owner was never possible if we met out walking). One day the nor’west was howling through, felling branches, when we came upon two strange dogs, one, as it turned out, a Weimaraner. Polly smelt danger and fled into the bush. Silent as stealth, the dogs followed and I did, too. Down in the gully, she was screaming. They’d rolled her in leaf-litter and the black brute was shaking her as if she were a mouthful of moss. I heard myself roar, a deep, primeval bellow that made the dog throw up his head. He recalled the century and that he was no longer a wolf.
I clasp her; frail with fright
she is momentarily lighter
then back it comes, her full weight
and the wet-iron smell of blood.
The years slid by. Children left home. Polly’s favourite places on earth were Naseby in the Maniototo and the beach at Doctors’ Point — as long as I was there, or one of her mother substitutes.
Last summer she developed a skin irritation where the dog once punctured her. By the time we had it biopsied, she also had another cancer. The vet suggested she might live two more months.
And so it proved. Right on the transit of Venus Polly turned fifteen. We celebrated with her in the snow above Akaroa. Two days later it became clear her life was almost spent so I made the appointment with Atropos and her merciful syringe.
She’s buried where the beehive was, beneath a circle of Polly-anthus and spring bulbs.
Polly has flown back to the great dog-spark in the sky where it’s perpetually rubbish day on a beach edged with rabitty tussocks and freshened by a keen spring wind.
Stringing fruit together is about the most straightforward thing I can come up with at present.
As I write, the man of the house is up on a chair behind me, prising bits of plaster from the ceiling and letting water into a bucket as he tries to find the source of The Latest Leak.
The dog lies at my feet with the question (mine) hovering over her: will she (beset with tumours) make it to her 15th birthday at the transit of Venus on the 6th of June? On Sunday her low spirits had me thinking this would be the week to embrace ‘the privilege of offering her a peaceful end’ as one correspondent so graciously put it. Today she is again hungry, active and curious.
As for the rest, all is
shadowed dappled by questions: Should we go on trusting the financial shoestring on which we apparently dangle? Will life go on providing what we need, as long as we go on doing what it seems good to do – whether or not it has an explicit financial outcome (and most of it doesn’t)? So far so good but who knows if we’re not about to plunge into a great sinkhole of naivety.
Are my current spiritual explorations off the wall/planet/radar of good sense? And does that matter, as long as I find the subject matter fascinating and the mental exercise helpful?
Does it matter (to myself, to anyone else) whether I finish the three or four half-written manuscripts that I’ve scarcely touched in the last two years? Will anyone buy our house? Am I capable of knitting a baby blanket by spring?
How active should any of us be in response to the precarious state of affairs at Fukushima, besides signing petitions for international cooperation, and scanning dodgy-looking websites for information? Should we in the south try to lure our northern offspring home; stock up on lentils, rice and grains before their growing territories are contaminated? The questions around this one are enormous and not readily grappled with. Who wants to entertain a siege mentality when levity and delight are so much better for us all than fretting and fear?
Enough questions? There are plenty more where these came from. That said, I’m not unhappy. There’s no shortage of useful, enlivening ways to spend the hours and days, each of which delivers its quotient of wonder and cause for gratefulness. There’s a towel stuffed in the ceiling. The dog’s eager for her dinner. You and I still share this one life on our beautiful Earth.
So far, one way and another, it’s all holding together.
Since we’ve had our house on the market for six months and failed to find the perfect inhabitant for it (i.e. one who not only loves it, but buys it too) we were a little tired of ‘wait and see’ as the year began to unfold, so decided to go off anyway, for a change of scene. We came to the Victorian coast, house-sitting as we go on with our work, albeit more sporadically than usual. It makes sense to tip ourselves sideways now and then. In the scramble back to upright, there is a span of time in which the world is seen with keener eyes: old problems are touched with fresh colours; novel possibilities appear. Of course we bring ourselves with us, but a different habitat seems to allow for different responses to be made to familiar prompts.
Incredibly, our marriage turned 30. (That’s a pearl wedding, someone said, which explains the huge pearly shell R found on our outing.) That day we walked over headlands and trudged raw gold-sand beaches and marvelled at southern ocean rollers pounding ashore. We talked about why we’re still together; why we’re glad about that; why it’s sometimes hard; what we yet aspire to, each and as a pair. The most important aim seems to be towards suppleness, of mind, body and spirit, for our own sakes and for the sake of the other — so we don’t hinder, frustrate or burden the other unnecessarily before circumstance or age make incursions on our freedom of choice.
Well, that sounds a bit heavy-handed, even compulsory, negatively phrased as it is. Let’s just say we mean to go on encouraging one another and playing at life in every way we will for as long as we’re allowed to.
House-sitting, we find ourselves in a kind of Australian Florida, where the well-heeled retire. It’s great for walking, and for swimming now the sun’s finally appeared. We had the sea to ourselves today.
The dog we walk is big.
The houses on the beach are small.
Not all dogs have the chance to get sand between their toes. Over coffee we observed the downtown sidewalk cafe dog.
Autumn brings on the munchies as the body tries to add a layer for winter. I was flicking through the Argentina 2009 photos the other day and realised how often we photographed our food before we ate it. Well, more likely I did, since it was probably nothing out of the ordinary for Elena.
On buses, we ate miniature cracker biscuits out of packets that matched our clothing.
You may have met the pastelitas already. The neighbour made them and we ate them still warm.
Okay, we’re full now.
But you can find a little more of Elena here.
Alas, this water sculpture has none of the luminosity and little of the beauty of the photo I was drawing from — except that it’s an utterly pleasing composition — but there’s a treat in store for you by photographer Heinz Meier.
It’s been a lovely, Indian summer, Easter. We walked the beaches and the dog whose biopsy results this week seem to indicate that fifteen or a little under will be her life span. Meanwhile, she’s still perky and bright, but needing to wear a coat of my devising to stop her gnawing at irritated skin.
The second batch of hot cross buns I made was worth eating.
We attended a Tenebrae service on Friday night — readings from the gospel of John, exquisite part singing, and candles extinguished one by one — and greeted the dawn on Sunday.
I’m reading Nicholas Nickleby, very slowly; NN’s altercations with Squeerses have marked my fallings-asleep several nights running.
There are two Peasgood Nonsuch apples left dangling on the extremity of one branch, and an entire crop of raspberries (the first ever) holding their breath at the very ends of their long wands, hoping the warm weather will hold long enough for them to plump and redden. Meanwhile, today there was A Loganberry.
Before the thunder storm we went to the beach. It was agonisingly beautiful, as ever. The waves were backlit so you could see shreds of seaweed suspended in green before they broke. Since our last visit, the sea had rearranged the sand and all but the most stalwart rocks. Polly was in heaven, which we were glad about since she’s having an operation this week and afterwards will doubtless take to her bed for a few days, quivering with well-earned hypochondria.
Someone should have set up a video camera beside one of the deep little pools that had formed in the lee of the rocks. Polly wasn’t the only dog we saw that expected to go flying through knee-deep water.
I drove three hours north and my three younger siblings drove south for two. They had come from the middle east and the north island and the garden city.
The sun shone. We lunched by the Waihi River.
It couldn’t have been nicer. C laid out the lunch; B gathered firewood; K produced goats’ cheese and fudge; I poured the tea. C had thought to bring a knife. B had thought to bring a proper (not an iphone) camera.
K had thought to bring walking shoes. I had thought to bring sunscreen, which we all applied since none of us had thought to bring a hat. We walked upriver, gazing at the blue hills — past the 1000 sheep and the 500,000 bees, under the trees, over the poop, past the one sheep stung on the nose by one bee and running in circles, through the gully and back — thinking all along, how wonderful to set up camp here till the end of summer.
But we didn’t.
We said goodbye. Until next time.
Ascend with me a minute to 4000 metres, and whizz across the Andes to the intersection of Bolivia, Chile and (for our purposes) Argentina: see a vast grassland; terracotta mountains on a Himalayan scale; shimmering salt flats pierced by emerald ponds; tiny adobe hamlets; vicunas, flamingos, vultures and perhaps even a puma. You can be one of the 100 tourists who make it up here this year. This is Puna. (That link is from a travel writer; this one is from Wiki.)
My friend Elena Bossi has edited a book called PUNA, that she’s giving away in PDF format. She lives in Jujuy in the north of Argentina, and recently tackled the day-and-a-half drive from Salta into the high Andes, where locals had been interviewed about life in this high and spare environment. Elena edited the interviews to bring alive the voices, mostly of farmers and harvesters of salt. She’s included in the book folk tales, poems and literary offerings from the region ‘to make a universal idea of the souls of the people’. The photos are stunning, too.
There’s only one drawback for the fools among us who haven’t taken their Spanish studies seriously enough: it hasn’t been translated into English. Not yet. But I know it will have been beautifully written.
Anyway, if you read Spanish, or know someone who does, help yourself here. You’re in for a treat and I’m envious. Elena would like to see this book ‘diffused’ (I love her wonderfully apt English) so please consider posting it on your own blog, especially if you have a Spanish readership.
And of course if you’d like to translate PUNA, that’d be fantastic. I’d put the English version on Rosa Mira Books, perhaps not for free, but for a small sum so I could reimburse the translator in due course.
Driving back to Dunedin on Sunday afternoon with music playing in one ear (the pup chewed the other ear’s phone, and the car’s radio speakers stopped working years ago) and my thoughts who-knows-where, I noticed a car running up behind me, with a red and a yellow light flashing on its front. I looked for police markings or a top-light but there was neither. Who was this prankster trying to intimidate me?
I held my course as I realised what a clever ploy it was, to trick a woman on her own into pulling over on a wide and lonely stretch of road . . . a toy pistol, a threat, and she’d probably hand over her wallet in a flash. I looked at the oncoming traffic. Would any of it stop if I pulled over and jumped out, waving my arms?
At the same time as I finally heard the wee-woo, I saw the driver pointing at the verge. I pulled over and he did too.
For a moment I considered telling the handsome young police officer that I was on my way home from a funeral (true) — but I was feeling far from glum after a rich and happy time with whanau. I suppose I was mildly relieved to see him, too, even if he was telling me off for ignoring him and his siren for so long as I sailed along at 113 kph.
I told him off for creeping me out in his bright green, unmarked car.
I accepted the fine and 20 demerit points without a murmur.
My first-ever speeding ticket.
Clouds stream overhead from north-east to south-west, dissolving and morphing as they go.
Lilies in the tub outside the window have begun to brown and curl and drop their skirts.
The peasgood nonsuch apples cling to their branches and fatten, and silver bean-slivers emerge from fiery flower sheaths.
Clouds, lilies, beans and apples do what they do, no questions asked.
Only humans wonder whether what they’re doing makes any sense. Sometimes, when I’m feeling more than usually sense-less, I come back to what God is reputed in the book of Exodus to have said when Moses asked for his identity: ‘I am that I am’. Another rendering of ‘ehweh‘ is: ‘I shall become who I am becoming.’ And if it’s good enough for God . . .
Perhaps it doesn’t matter whether I choose this course of action or that. Is it possible that, in the way of apples, beans and clouds, the human organism goes inexorably on, growing and auto-correcting until it resembles a well formed . . . human being?
Settle down, puss.
Assemble your tools and an able assistant.
Dampen the area to be covered, which preferably includes a crack.
Tip most of the cement into the barrow. Keep some in the bag in case — as with icing — you make the mixture too sloppy.
Gloves are optional. I like drawing them.
Pour water by cupfuls into the cement, stirring as you go with a spade and, if you like, a piece of kindling.
To test for consistency, fill a cup with the mixture then invert and empty it, as you do a sand castle. The slurry should slump to half its original height. Add more cement or water accordingly.
Seize the ready moment and tip the mixture into the corner.
Pounce on it with your trowel. Shape and smooth the concrete into place. Admire its gleaming surface.
Hunt around the house for beads and buttons.
Sit in the sun beside the concrete puddle and idly stick them in. When your pattern is complete, poke the beads down a little harder. Let them be gripped.