Who’s going to do it?

PC160002_1This can happen: you find yourself up on a stool tonging moss from crevices in the aluminium windows, and I’m talking inside the house.

It’s in the order of nose-picking — wrong and thrilling at the same time.

Fired by that novel experience, I got out the sewing machine to hem the new bed cover. The man of the house strolled by on his way to the kettle. ‘What are you doing?’

‘Just out of curiosity, would it ever occur to you to replace shabby curtains or … hem a bedspread?’

Blink, blink. ‘No.’

‘What if you lived on your own?’

‘Well, sooner or later I suppose I’d have to compromise.’ (His peccable aesthetic, I presume.)

‘What do you mean?”

‘I’d get new curtains.’

‘How would you, exactly?

‘Um. I’d measure up the gap and go to the drapery. Do they have those? Or Spotlight. And I’d tell the women the measurements.’


‘And I’d bring the material home … and weep over it.’

Bududuudududududud (sewing machine ) ‘Oh.’

‘No, actually, I’d probably end up nailing it to the ceiling.’



Domestic warmth

PC060091He seized the base of the disintegrated log basket and thrust it into the fire.

She urged him to move over so she could also watch the woven cane blacken in the flames, then she ran for the camera.

He remonstrated with her as she opened the  door and fire roared back from the gust of air: We don’t want a chimney fire.

She laughed.

He said, Don’t be stupid. You’ll melt the camera.

She said, Melt, schmelt. and took another photo.

He slammed the door on the flames.

She went off to download her photos, and  two days later turned life into art with a small a.



Photo by Sophie H.

Northeasterly rain: the wet, persistent, three-day kind. I’ve strung the washing up under the house, wiped the windows off for the second time, split some firewood, and huddled up to the wood burner; even the fire slouches along in this weather.

I wouldn’t mind something to snack on — something reminiscent of warmer days — so I’ve checked through the i-photo cake tins and come up with … Oriental lily anthers, dredged in pollen, to be chomped down with a glass of fresh rain water.


Polly still doesn’t get it

And then this morning I read that military spending worldwide has increased 45% in the last decade. A tidy sum at 1,226 billion dollars. (Curiously enough, now I look for the BBC page, it’s been removed from the headlines, as if it’s just too embarrassing to leave lying about.) What kind of malevolent energy does that represent, and whose? Theirs? Ours?

Is there enough benevolence, enough light, enough dancing in the snow, enough sweetness in the earth and stars, enough compassionate wisdom and will to live (and let live) to make this sum and what it has paid for look like the pile of wet ashes it will one day be?

Spending on arms has diminished since the recession began. We can hope that the pinch makes room for new ways of seeing, and of being.



img_5831This is Polly, got up in the top half of my gi. I wrote something for the recent pecha kucha evening (12 speakers, each with 2o images addressed for 20 seconds each) about the interface of writing and karate. I said that each might be seen as a way of containing and giving shape to the energy of Mars, in which we all partake, although its expression in each is unique.

It is the need to act on the world, to validate and make manifest who we are. Thwarted, this urge will find its release by fearful, angry, or devious means, sometimes in outright aggression. One of life’s tasks is to become skilful in the expression of our own Martian (or masculine) energy. Until then, we are likely to blame others for our own unwieldy impulses, to practise passive aggression, to be haphazard in our efforts, and fall short of our own hopes.

Gosh, is this turning into a sermon, or what? Almost done. I find karate a good way to observe, contain, generate and give shape – physically and mentally – to the Mars energy. Writing does much the same but on subtler levels. Both are means of acting with increasing accuracy, first on oneself, then upon the world.

Polly hasn’t got a clue what I’m talking about. Good dog.


6-foot dialogue

img_7799I know I’ve used this image already but there’s more to be said about the feet, of which two are engaged to be married, two are homeless overseas, and two belong to the parents of the other four. One of the parents was discussing with another parent recently the states of daughterhood and motherhood — what a tricky little dance they represent at times as we try to gauge how much of our lives we owe yet to our offspring, how much to our parents, and what to ourselves as we follow our own stars. Never mind what we feel apart from the debts and oughts. Some people don’t actually like the people they’re related to (I’m lucky enough to know I’d probably choose mine all over again, she hastened to add), and some are pathologically attached. But we’re all tempted at times to rush in where patient stand-offishness would serve the situation better; or to put our heads in the sand when compassionate intervention is called for.

Anyway, the homeless one revealed her status on Facebook (in which place parents cut another delicate caper), ‘But, Mum, I’ve got a safe place to sleep,’ she wrote. ‘What, chained to a park bench?’ I jotted back.

But no, she’s safely, illegally, ensconced in the attic over a fudge kitchen. Just for a few days.

Sweet as.


On the road to strange?

pen2October 2007. Returning from a rainy bush walk on the Mississippi, I cheered myself up, and tested my knees, hips and footing, doing what we used to call a Dutch leap. One of the Middle Eastern contingent exclaimed (I paraphrase), ‘Omg, you can use your body. You bike and swim, and walk for miles.’ (Next day I climbed a tree, too, just for him.) His point was that the writers in his acquaintance smoked and talked and sat in cafes, oh, and wrote. But they didn’t DO things.

Well, he had his own quirks, I’m sure. But I was thinking today about the things we do, and the little ways we have, that make us distinct. And how as we get older, these distinctions grow distincter, until we’re finally ossified in our eccentricities. Does it have to happen like that? How do we forge on, doing what we feel compelled to do in this life, AND remain supple, malleable and permeable, and if not ‘normal’ which doesn’t exist, then at least richly human and approachable?



knittingThree occur to me, from this week: the new washing machine with our taps and plug (R.I.P. the trusty friend that washed perhaps 5,000 loads in her 19 years); myself with a ball of wool and the 6.5s (Knitting for Africa); and the one that’s fully engaging heart and mind … momentously, wonderfully, marking a new era in parenthood, daughterhood, and inlawfulness:

Sophie and Ryan!
Sophie and Ryan!

Taking what’s near

I sat out on the door-sill of the old shed, under the grapevine, to read through the newly arrived book contract, feeling the thrills of hope and desire (that word again) that accompany a new venture.

Ker-thug. A brown leaf, large as a hand, and as gnarled, dropped onto the open pages. And a second. I looked up and saw the remnant grapes, bird-pecked, and shrivelled into currants. The cat threw herself down a few feet away. They all remind me not to cling; that beauty and glory are momentary. They say, Don’t want too much. Have (lightly hold, enjoy, marvel at) what you have already. Be here now.

And look what the honey-man just brought in, here and now, to our kitchen table. Pure gold. A window for a gingerbread cathedral.

cathedral windows


Devices and desires

3/5 of the familial feet

In the interests of beautiful feet (the material version thereof), I was shopping for a new piece of sandpaper.

Banish ‘callous’ heels said the tiny print on the box, and believe me, by the end of summer, mine are ruthless and I want them gone. I was in the 1,2,3-dollar shop, shushing my qualms, for the sake of unsnagged sheets and stockings. The device was a ‘nutmeg’ grater inside an egg with one flattened face to which could be attached a disc of emery paper for the finishing buff. The box further read, ‘U.S. and Worldwide Patents Pending’ and ‘Made in China’, which sounds slippery any way you hear it.

Egged on by a yip of anticipation at — no, from — my heels, I didn’t stop long to think about who wasn’t making enough money from the manufacture if this nifty gadget. I paid my $2, took the egg, and left. My feet are a work in progress.

This morning’s front page is crowned with the laughing face of the chief instigator of Dunedin’s Coming-Like-It-Or-Not Stadium(2010)/Aquarium(2030)/Sunken Treasure(2050). The disapproval of a majority of citizens has been formally quashed. (But really, could a plume of smoke and pair of little horns make his appearance any more Machiavellian?)

Like me with my heel-egg, he wants what he wants and nothing short of a bolt from Zeus was ever going to stop him. The Stop the Stadium movement built up its own impressive head of steam, but since the boys in power have refused to even glance its way, alternative means of disapproval are called for.

I can’t help wondering, though: where does power come from and where reside? How does it accumulate, and to what does it ultimately adhere? Even the name, Stop the Stadium, directs a certain potency towards the unwanted project. People think about it, imagine it; sparks fly about it — and these non-material energies ought not to be underestimated. What if we all found creative ways to ignore it? Yawned about it and went for walks instead over Dunedin’s lovely hills; threw more compost on our vege gardens; found ways to honour the patch of ground and river and harbour over which the conceived monstrosity looms?

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions, but they persist, and I know that the force of desire, and the force of opposition have to meet somewhere, eventually (and there’s an awful lot of glass at stake in this particular configuration) …


In the web

img_7123Before one daughter photographed the other photographing this obliging Pisan dog now introduced to you, they had spent the entire night walking round and round Siena, there being no room for them in the inns. NZ girls WOOFing in Italy. At any moment, however, they were only a text message away from home. I think this is leading to a discussion about ‘small world’.

This morning I sat and looked at a lighted candle for a little while, and tried to think about breathing without thinking about it. I find this very hard (hints and companions are welcome). And yet I didn’t feel alone. People all over the world do something similar — tens, maybe hundreds of thousands at any given time.

I opened emails from friends: E in Argentina planning for my visit there in September so we can finish co-writing a bilingual novel; D in Utah delights in my delight in her manuscript; Burmese K, newly emigrated to the US, has a translation for me to edit. We’ll meet in September, too. I’ve heard from India, Edinburgh and Iowa this week. Overnight ‘Meeneusia’ has commented on my blog, whose own blog language I can’t even discern, but our lives and thoughts have now touched.

What once seemed extraordinary is now the ordinary, fabulous, webby fabric of our lives.

Just as rich as going away later in the year will be staying home tonight with friends, face to face, sharing food by the fire.

Face to face or via the ethers, whatever we do, we do with others — even breathing quietly in a room alone.



img_5760… and the darkness has not overcome it.





Good Friday


And he bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud, and laid him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock;and he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.

Mark 15:46


Bring on the dogs


A bit gloomy today. Springing out of bed early (hooray for daylight-spending!) and swimming failed to work their usual magic. The postie brought tripe, I wrote half a page of tripe, and nobody emailed. Didn’t want to blog, probably ever again.

But gloom, like the fudge that arrived today from Edinburgh in an paper bag, has a way of melting. My housemate was cheerful; a friend shared some exquisite news; and for some reason I remembered the dogs of Iowa.

p7250012There in autumn 18 months ago, I caught wind of news that the city’s hounds had been given the freedom of the municipal pool. What matter a few hairs, drool and yellow water on the last day of the season?

Big dogs hit the water running. Little ones minced about the fringes of the toddlers’ pool. Some were too precious for words, or water.



Autumn losses

We live in the midst of death, and many life-forms die because we live. Think of all we consume, and of the lives we interrupt inadvertently — on country roads, with the cleaning rag, underfoot.

Yesterday I heard a terrific thud and, heart pounding, looked out into the vege garden. Two thrushes among the spinach: twinned in flight, together they’d struck glass. Stunned, beak to beak, first the larger one died, then the smaller.

death in the spinach

When we built our deck, I was the one who insisted on glass, for the view. Seen from the garden yesterday, in the morning light it mirrored a vista of blue and gold, distant trees, a clear, enticing sky.

Mea culpa.

The warm bodies were heavy in my hands.

The cooled bodies on a rhubarb leaf were light — mere bone and feathers.

You and I go on living — at least for now.



We tried these at work early in March. They didn’t taste quite foody nor the jam exactly jammy so we applied one to the windowsill — an offering to the birds and insects, the sun, rain, moulds, microbes and spirits of the air.

Four weeks later:

spurned, wan but entire
spurned, wan, but entire

I doubt if many of us stand up so staunchly to rejection.


Ert or inert?

BiddyWhatever she is doing or not doing, a cat is a cat is a cat (and we call this one Biddy). I wonder if the same can be said of a person. If you stopped thinking for a few minutes, and laid aside every habit, tic, job, expectation, should or ought — each veil or disguise — awake, wordless, doing nothing, who or what would you be?



Foot of clay, sculptor R. Huber
Foot of clay, sculptor R. Huber

Beautiful feet. They’re to be found in the work place, on the radio, among your friends and family, via the internet, on your street and, if you’re blessed, in your own home. They might be buffed and trim, cracked and calloused, or hidden away in shoes and socks. They belong to people who are glad to be alive and are responsible for themselves, who won’t judge or slander, who pay attention, who choose — as far as they’re able — not to act from fear or aggression, whose self-knowledge blossoms into compassion, and who are often also joyful, curious and funny. They make you glad to be alive. They make you grow. I can think of quite a few and I’m immeasurably richer for knowing them. Soprano Judy Bellingham sang about them yesterday in the Catholic Basilica, to the music of Handel, in the words of Isaiah:

How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace and bring glad tidings of good things.


Time in the intertidal zone

time up

My challenge today: to make this dead fish marry the idea of time accelerating. Is it merely an idea, or are the days, weeks and months racing by at rates previously reserved for seconds, minutes and hours? Of course the explanation might be a purely mechanical: a month in 2009 is roughly 1/600 of my lifespan thus far. In 1969 it represented only 1/130; 1/24 in late 1960. Whether or not the whole train is rattling along more swiftly, it seems that anything not meant to be on board these days is flying out the windows. As the clackety-clack grows ever more insistent, we passengers are appraising the bundles in our laps, before things get torn from our grips regardless. Damp squibs, flotsam, and white elephants; gewgaws, small beer and small potatoes: they gotta go. What’s worth keeping? I ask myself this question most days, in one form or another, and for now I’m sticking with fresh veges, breathing more, true friends, the book I’m reading, and Scrubs. It’s on — have to go. What? The fish? It was found on the beach at the foot of a cliff — 100 metres below the train track.


Herbal Heaven?

 Drunken hitchhiker
                Drunken hitchhiker                         Â
I collected this stupefied fellow off a magic mushroom. The fly agarics, or amanita muscaria, have proliferated in the recent wet spell, daubing enough insanity around the fringes of the local park for the whole city to take leave of their senses. (Some already have, but the Stadium is another matter.) Anyway, Cicada was ready to exchange the hallucinogenic vapours of amanita for the cuff of my jacket, and ride home with me and Dog. Last seen shuffling tipsily into the wisteria vine.


Leave your shoes
Leave your shoes

It’s strange how happiness comes along and catches you up. Sometimes you can make it happen (swim out of your shoes; here I am at Lake Alexandrina; the ducks moved aside) and other times it comes all by itself and lifts you into the heart of your work or play; it makes your son laugh and the bread rise; plans come to pass and last night’s leftovers taste excellent for lunch. (As long as there’s food to be had) hungry and happy are probably friends.

It doesn’t necessarily help you work out how to put links on your website, or how to fiddle those widget things to best advantage, but it gives you patience, openness and good questions.

How long can I make it last? How can I make it last? Can I?

Getting started

Creeping forward …

the organic way
... the organic way.

Okay, here we go again. I see I have one comment (yippee! and thank you). I just haven’t figured out how to respond to it yet, except here. This tidal J, seen at Purukanui Beach in the Catlins, reminds me that interesting things happen, inch by inch, shell by shell, if we simply do what we do, and follow the groove at our feet…

I’m groping for the groove that’ll lead to the explanation of how to enlarge the tiny box I’m writing in. Until then…

Getting started

Penelope checks out blogland

It feels pretty much like this.

What’s down here? Plenty of fellow bloggers, screenfuls of instructions, a whole new html language, and glimmers and flashes of … what the? … I’ll let you know if I catch one.

My new blogsite name will hint at what I’m about, but I have to figure out a nifty way to put it on screen, so bear with me. Meanwhile, I’m a bit nervous; something just brushed past my ear, and I’m running out of breath. Call back in a day or so, won’t you?