Outrage on Twitter

Standard

Outrage on Twitter

I like social media. I know the pitfalls, but I love the positives. Many young people are abandoning Facebook, leaving it to the boomer generation it seems. I want to stay connected with young people, and politics, so I am on Twitter too. (I’m also on Instagram, but only to follow my two darling granddaughters).

Lately, I’ve become disillusioned with Twitter. I love all the links to clever political analysis, to satire and literary links. And as a writer, it is a way to promote achievements, post links to successes. But more and more, my thread is filled with people, crying over the cliché level of spilt milk. I don’t care if your bus is late… I don’t care if your latte isn’t perfect… I don’t care that you are locked out of your house briefly.  But yes, you can tweet about it, and maybe your friends do care, and that’s cool too.

But then there is another level. This is more problematic and has been causing me to pause. I am fascinated that people feel free to tweet personal information, not about themselves, but blow by blow accounts of actual private interactions with their children. Do they seek permission before doing this?  Now, as a writer, I can see I’m heading for trouble, as we writers, plunder, plagiarise, copy and steal in the name of fiction. My defense is that as fiction, people are not recognisable (although of course people do see themselves, even when it’s not them).

But, if your child, teenager, young adult, is going through a rough patch, do you tweet a blow by blow account of this? Is this fair.  This child, teenager, young adult, will have a life beyond their mistakes hopefully… but will these tweets about their mistakes, outlast even their achievements as they mature, develop, and change. There seems to me, to be a narcissistic quality to the cries of ‘poor me’, from parents seeking support and affirmation, sharing all these troubles. At times, I have wanted to respond, with ‘stop tweeting and start mothering’… but indeed, I wasn’t the perfect mother and I also know the anguish when a child (no longer a child), goes missing for days and you are desperate with worry. Back then, without Twitter, we networked with friends and our children’s friends for answers.  Twitter seems such a random way to seek solace and support on serious matters.

On the other hand, I love the political traction. I loved it when Mona Eltahawy tweeted non-stop and eventually the young Saudi woman she was supporting, found asylum in Canada – this was real-time activism and it worked. And too, this was about a ‘run away’ child as the young woman was a teenager.  But the difference as I see it, is this young woman was seeking help via Twitter, using it as a tool for her own benefit.

And too, the tribalism. Twitter seems devoid of nuance and compassion at times. It’s not the place for reasoned debate. The very platform requires complex issues to be reduced or drip fed in threads where reason seems to dwindle.

We all seem to enjoy being outraged… I’m beginning to think we might take some advice from Prufrock perhaps, prepare our faces to meet the people we will meet – not to be two-faced, but a chance for more understanding.

Of course, I’m writing this because, I’m outraged… but in truth I laugh a lot as well, following some of the fabulous political satire both local and international…whew!

Coming Home

Standard

E792C440-6128-4758-9D39-91E55A24EC2B-12226-000001283E4774B0

I’m in Nelson. It’s Easter. The radio is playing songs I’ve not heard in years. An earworm becomes a memory weevil, eating its way into my flesh, under my skin, disturbing the carefully packaged emotions, that I wrapped and tied so long ago.

Russell Morris is singing ‘Rachel’s Coming Home’ and I can’t believe the lyrics. I know them all, but I’d forgotten them long ago. It’s an anti-war song, and when I loved it, I was dating an American draft dodger who was on the Icebreakers for seven years. We met in Wellington at the Downtown Club.  Now, I’m visiting my old home town, driving to meet a friend for coffee, I am wiping tears from my freshly applied make-up. Gentle tears, that are about nostalgia, about the state of the world, about this, my home town, the memories unwrapping. I don’t want this. I have tied steel bows around these nicely packaged emotions. I’ve labelled them and I know them by their wrappings, but the tight steel bow means I don’t wish to unwrap them. I think about the Red Cross Nurse from New Zealand, lost somewhere in Syria, and the tears fall freely. I don’t know her.  Is she an excuse for my unravelling?

I stop in the middle of the road, indicator flashing, to turn sharp right up the hill to Toswill Road. There’s a driveway to the left off this road, where my in-laws lived in their stylish stucco home with awnings. How I loved those stylish awnings. They were above the road looking out towards the sea. The garden would overflow with flowers and vegetables, fuchsia in abundance at the back door. Beans staked and abundant. I recall Earl Grey tea with home-made lemon shortcake. The delicate balance of flavours remarked upon by me and my mother-in-law, as something to savour and admire. She was a wicked stepmother to my husband. We admired each other. The house looks more modest than I remember.

And then we are cycling. We grew up here. He was from Nelson and I am from Richmond. We take the new cycle track on the old railway line through Stoke. We climb the hill to Bishopdale along the old railway path. I recall my maiden Aunt who caught the train to school, telling us how the train would slow down on the hill climb and students would jump off and race it up the hill.

I’m excited as the cycle path takes us down below the road to an old, but once new subdivision. It’s where my older neighbour Beryl moved after she married. I was invited to stay one night in her brand-new home. I’d been to her wedding. I was in love with the Groom’s younger brother.  In the morning, I was asked to do the dusting. I duly played my part only to be chastised for my inadequate job. I have dusted the surface of a nest of tables, but not the legs. The ignominy of this, never forgotten, for how could I expect to marry if I didn’t know how to dust the table legs.

I glance at the now ageing and less than impressive homes, where Beryl once lived and wonder if she’s there somewhere tucked behind the overgrown shrubs, dusting. She’d be over eighty by now and I speculate her soft brown curls will be going grey, or indeed that she may have died.

The emotion weevil worms its way through my core.  I imagine, remnants of me, along the roadside, skins I shed, small memorial mounds of flesh.  The Black cat dairy in Stoke. How can it still be there? The red and yellow Suburban bus would wend its way along this road towards the city. Each landmark, every corner, crossroad and oh no, there are roundabouts everywhere. They were not here back then these highway interlopers.

We’re cycling at the back of Bishopdale, looking into the back doors of houses I once only knew from the roadside view. I recognise a city of two halves. These humble State houses, grey and gloomy, have remained, they’ve aged, but back then they didn’t seem so gloomy, so very tired and cold.

The Post Boy hotel holds the history of my husband’s family. His grandfather and his grandmother ran this pub. And too, an old school friend of mine, lived with her Uncle who ran this pub. Our memories are merging.

There’s Anzac Memorial park with the almost out of place exotic palm trees. Legend has it an uncle of mine, in the Islands during the war, met his wife, my beautiful Tongan Aunt and showed her a postcard of either the memorial park or the Queens Gardens and claimed they were his family garden… She was an amazing woman who married him despite his extravagant untruths, and she never came to Nelson, instead living on the south coast of Wellington with a beautiful view of the roaring sea and out to Cook strait.

We visit the cemetery in Richmond, where all my recent family lie. Grandmother, Grandfather on my mother’s side. My mother, my father, my beloved Maiden Aunt and a much-loved Bachelor Uncle who as it turned out, was in fact a cousin. I know the cemetery intimately. As kids we walked up our street to the cemetery for something to do. We explored every inch of it. And still, the saddest grave, is the one I always look for as we drive down to the cemetery roundabout. It stands out because it has a white chain link fence. Jenny is buried there. My parents knew her parents. She was 21 and had cancer and had a leg amputated. After her leg was amputated, she got engaged (or this is the story I recall, the utter romance of it all). I must have been ten, or eleven. I feel a pang whenever I pass Jenny’s grave. It looks like the grave of a young child.  There’s a headstone too, further on, for the 18-year-old daughter of a local politician, who took her own life.

My husband’s mother and my brother are buried within cooee of each other, having died the same year, within less than two weeks. They lie two footsteps apart. They are in the lawn cemetery at Marsden, in Stoke. He took his own life, barely 22 and she was 47 and too young to die of cancer, having endured long journeys to Christchurch for cobalt treatment and two mastectomies…   At the time, my husband and I didn’t know one another and now we are surprised that we were both within a week or two of each other, were grieving for people we loved so dearly.

On our cycle trip back from Nelson, around Tahunanui, near to the airport, we pass the back of an industrial area. It is here, somewhere across from where I cycle, that my father found my brother’s body. It’s a long time ago, but still there lurks this visceral attention to the location, the unwrapping,

And then we’re off with glee to explore Monaco, to find the A-shaped house that our friend David built, back in the 70’s. It is tidal and we can see the muddy shore in front of this landmark house is more a seashore than a road. Remnants of a high tide obvious in the boulders washed up. This house holds a special memory of reuniting with friends we shared time in London with. Eating Nelson scallops out of a scallop shell, placed on a mound of mashed potato. The 70’s dinner party.

Robinson’s Wine is now a large outlet, bringing back memories when it was famous for Cider and hubby’s first ever hangover. We know the girl who married the boy from Robinson’s. We know the bridge before the corner at Brightwater where their car crashed and the scar she wore after a tracheotomy. Both now dead, but not because of the terrible car crash.

The highways and the hills are filled with the shadows of our childhoods, jointly and then some. We didn’t know each other back then. His mother, my brother, a foot or so apart, link us now as we are linked. Our lads remember holidays down here. The beaches, the bbq’s the rubbitty-dub as their grandfather, my Dad, called the Star and Garter where he drank every day, without fail, come rain or shine. If he ever failed to arrive for his half roast lunch, the owner of the pub would send his daughter on her bike or foot, to knock on his door, to check he was okay.

In Papers Past, there’s a detailed Court Report of an incident involving my grandfather, (my mother’s father) a blacksmith in this very same pub. The offender had made an insulting remark to my grandfather about one of his teenage daughters (my mother’s older sister) and when my grandfather took umbrage, a full glass of beer was hurled at him, smashing on his forehead. The offender claimed to have lost hold of the glass. In a lengthy summary, it seemed there might have been bad blood between my grandfather the blacksmith and the man who hurled the glass. The offender had been caught mistreating a pony by my grandfather and words had been spoken or a stick shaken.

There are memories too, that are too dark to resurrect. Some stories are best left buried. These stories are woven tightly under my skin and the weevil of emotion knows the no-go zones. These are post war stories, a family doing its best, under stress, when the adults were barely coping.

The house where I grew up, is still standing. A few doors down, is the home of my oldest friend, a Dutch immigrant, who arrived in New Zealand aged two. We cycled to college together rain or shine, wearing plastic pleated bonnets over our Panama hats. It was compulsory to wear our Panama hat. In the event of a downpour, where our coats flew open to soak our grey tunics, we would be sent to the sewing room to find an iron to press the grey box pleats into place. Her parents too have died. Both our family homes are owned by strangers. The path across the school paddock to our primary school has grown over and there’s a new and longer route to traverse. We’re both grandmothers and send photos via Viber of the memorable milestones of our grandchildren. Careful not to overdo this, not to compete.

I try to resist all these unbidden not so well-hidden memories. It seems my home town holds my DNA in a way that I cannot ignore. I blame the radio and Russell Morris as I bat away the tears.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing as a Political Act

Standard

I recently attended a Writing Retreat and a workshop run by Mandy Hagar. She made the comment that all writing is a political act. At first, I was perhaps disconnected from this idea, but slowly it wormed its way into my thoughts, throughout the weekend. And eventually, I could see, she is of course, right. The very act of writing is to express a point of view, whether fiction or non-fiction. We write because we feel something and our expressions either overtly or subconsciously reflect our life experience, our class, and indeed, our politics.

I raised the point at my last book club meeting and a fellow book clubber pointed out to me, that all my novels have been political. It caught me by surprise, and then I was flattered.  Especially, my first novel which was indeed about the unspoken class system in New Zealand.  I wrote about marching girls and book clubs and had the most interesting outcome.  I was expecting marching girls to flock to read it (and some did), but mostly book clubs, and as a result, many of them feted me… the fascinating thing about this, was the prevailing theme from these book clubs… they still viewed marching as this very quaint, odd and er… working class thing… and so although they liked my book (some even loved it), in a weird and sometimes confronting way, I was faced with my own conflicting allegiances.  Over and over I heard women say ‘Oh, I always wanted to be a marching girl… but my mother wouldn’t allow it’… or something to this effect.  It had the impact of expressing a quaint longing, but almost a relief that indeed, ‘their mother’ wouldn’t allow it. They were unconsciously placing themselves firmly in the middle class, with some relief, it seemed.

Too my novel about Greece, was an attempt to write a little about the Greek Civil War, because I knew that many people knew nothing about it, and that in Greece, it is often the great unspoken conversation. I was also fascinated with the burial and unburial rituals in Greece… what could be seen in the current climate, as a very sensible use and re-use of land… so yes, political. And too, the little-known story of the Greek girls who came to New Zealand under a Government scheme in the sixties.

As for my second novel, about a middle-aged man and his step-daughter. I did set out to write about broken marriages, how the past informs the present and the love between fractured families. How friendship can happen when hearts heal.

Then, on Twitter this week, I got into a bit of to and fro about reviewing. I posited the idea that a book review is also political, neither right nor wrong, just a point of view, imbued with the reviewer’s bias, and life experience. Of course, of bias there should be none in the perfect review, but that’s impossible, perhaps. Readers and reviewers alike, bring their past and present to the page. It’s why we engage. To find something of ourselves we recognise, or to know more about others. Someone commented that readers like or dislike a book, but a reviewer must be more objective and support their opinion with research and reasons for the book’s failures or achievements.    It’s all true, but still, the reviewer’s life experience is the key informant of their response, just like any reader… who likes or dislikes.  But too, in book group, I find, the more flaws a book has, the more discussion it generates. So, it seems, imperfection, allows our political responses to creep into the cracks and we share our responses. This way the book continues to have an impact beyond the written word, often in a way, that a book we all agree to love, does not.

I’ve not read ‘Unsheltered’ by Barbara Kingsolver, but at my book group meeting which I hosted recently, everyone else had, and they all really liked it (they saw its flaws, at times didactic) but they loved what Kingsolver was doing on the page, the two stories, the one house.  I see on Goodreads that many fans of Kingsolver are not so enthused. My book group is full of feisty, clever, intelligent women and I trust their judgement… so of course, I will now read this book. I will ignore the reviews. 😊

Which books win prizes, which books make the best seller list, and which books get a lot of publicity is also inherently political. And yet, as writers we all know, that even just the one reader that a writer touches (I’m quoting Mandy Hagar again), can make the writing of the book worthwhile.

Poetry with Brownies

Standard

Poetry with Brownies

You probably have to be a Kiwi to catch the lovely pun in this title. It’s Waitangi Day here Downunder in New Zealand. To celebrate, I went to a poetry reading at our National Library. The ‘brownies’ were both real in the form of delicious squares of home-made chocolate and more importantly, Maori poets. There was a formal line-up of established guest poets and an open mike. I had gone with two books slipped into my handbag, in the event, that it had become appropriate for me to take my turn during the open mike. I soon realised, this was not my time or place to read.

I arrived as the readings had begun and there was standing room only. Stupidly, I’d worn sling back heels (pretty yellow shoes), and thankfully, some generous person, perhaps noting my grey hair, offered me a seat. Imagine my shock when after sitting down, I looked up and at the back of the head of a rapist. This man had once been a sort of friend. We were not close friends, but he was a friend of a friend. This man is a poet. He is tall, handsome, wears kaftans and wrote poems about Vietnam. I know him, but I also know he’s been in jail as a convicted rapist. I’m ashamed to know him. I’m ashamed of my shame. I’m uncertain what is the right reaction. I don’t want him to know I’m sitting behind him. I try to make myself smaller. I remember how I used to love encountering him – the larger than life and lavish kiss on both cheeks as he bent in his tall handsome way, expansive in kaftan and greeting. I gave away his signed poetry book when I read about his conviction. The thing is, it seems he was guilty not once but twice of rape.

So, here I am, to celebrate Waitangi Day. In my handbag is a poem published in the ‘Friday Poem’ publication with a line about my first sex having been ‘technically’ rape, but that I’m from a generation who knew how to take half the blame (along those lines).   This poem is burning a hole in my handbag. This is a poem I had planned to read at open mike.  This man in front of me is confronting me, my poem and my beliefs.

Should I offer him compassion?  Is he the sum of these rapes, or is he more than that?  Has he served his time, and should I forgive? All of this is swirling around inside my head, but then thankfully, I am seduced by the poetry. It is raw, it is political, it is passionate, and it is visceral. I forget my misery at where I am seated and lose myself in the best poetry reading, I’ve ever attended. I’m reminded of poetry readings in the past, where people contain their emotions, control their voices, insist that the words themselves should speak as if the words need no encouragement or timbre from the owner. But this is different. These poets do not care about that. They read with a force that emanates from within. The words fly out carried by their emotions, their life force, their humour. These are mostly young Maori with stories to tell, some of them for the first time ever. I am overwhelmed at the beauty of the readings, the impact, the rawness rendered into such lovely language, the anger and pain transformed by poetry, but not diluted.

I am unable to live inside my head and listen to the poems and have surrendered my heart as well.

I slip away, unnoticed by the rapist (once a friend), slyly, and somewhat ashamed of myself. I catch up with two friends I am happy to see, and we marvel at this beautiful morning of poetry.  I think about my own poetry still inside my handbag, safely within the book covers.

Blow the Wind Southerly

Standard

 

Dear Nor’wester

 

Now we will have to sweep

all the leaves you’ve blown

across our paths and garden

 

pieces of trees in the shape

of leaves, yellow, red and

even the freshly green

 

the dying fronds of the

punga skirts whipped off

and carelessly flung

 

to land thwack on the

bedroom deck startling

us as from peaceful sleep

 

your whine is impolite

you cause the blind to rattle

and the roses lose delight

 

our neighbour’s pohutakawa

dances, I’ll grant you this

a mesmerising flagrant bliss

 

but our kowhai and camellia

seem to huddle side by side

as if supporting one another

 

the sea looks grey and

angry, more confused

than splendidly wild

 

the whine you bring

Nor’wester is the

tantrum of a child

 

not like the southerly

when the sea rushes

with enviable vitality

 

dear Nor’wester, I need

to tell you, I much

prefer the southerly

 

blow the wind southerly

 

 

 

 

 

Love Birds

Standard

 

50508734_225331938375758_8434851470494400512_n

These two came to visit us one evening. We’ve lived in our house on the hill for over thirty years. Usually, the kererū (wood pigeons), dive bomb us on our zig-zag path down to the road. They dance on flax bushes and crash through the bush at almost head height, frightening me frequently, followed by my joyful relieved laughter.

It’s a privilege to live among the bush and birds. For twenty years we had a cat called Red who roamed the sloping roof of our elderly house. She never killed the kererū or tui, but when Red died, we found the smaller birds (sparrows, blackbirds), got cheekier and came closer on our deck. They had obviously kept away.

This beautiful photo is of two kereru sitting on our deck railing while we were inside eating dinner. We had planned a BBQ but the weather closed in. Someone on Twitter suggested the birds are wearing white aprons, ready to do the dishes. Someone else suggested they are making their vows. And indeed, we held a wedding in our garden late December 2017. A friend said, the kereru heard we do good weddings.

So, this image, taken with a phone, through the glass, has struck a chord with many people on Facebook and Twitter, so I decided to share it with you, my blog readers.  Our house goes on the market late January (this is not a sales pitch), and this image of the kererū will see us through as we shift our view to further up the hill.

 

Gluten or Gluten free (and real cream) for the Kiwi

Standard

I’ve been reading a friend’s tips for bloggers. The quirky, and highly original Rachel McAlpine has inspired me. I usually try to blog about things relating to my writing life or share my ‘writing’. Taking a tip from Rachel’s recent blog to bloggers, I’m tackling today, an issue that interests me. It’s about food and its on my mind.

We’ve just said farewell to our son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter who flew home to Seoul last night. While they were here, I enjoyed preparing and cooking food for them. It’s a pleasure I share with my local granddaughter. We are happiest together in the kitchen cooking. She particularly loves licking the bowl when baking cakes, at the creamed butter and sugar stage. Not to mention whipped cream! We prefer the Zany Zeus or Lewis Road double cream (the sort of cream we took for granted back in the 50’s and 60’s). My Korean daughter-in-law loves my meringues. I use the very simple ‘Bill’s Food’ Bill Granger, recipe for these. They never fail.  My son from Seoul adores Bill’s white chocolate cheesecake recipe (again, very simple).

One of the new easy highlights over this holiday, was a recipe I used from Annabel Langbein’s ‘Through the Seasons’ (Melt in the Mouth spiced stone fruit). I cooked apricots, plums and nectarines for three hours in the oven at 120 C, marinated in sugary water, vanilla and star anise. The flavour of the fruit intensified although still for me, the acidity remained. But with sour cream and brown sugar, the acidity was counter-balanced nicely.  Living in Seoul for 4 ½ months last year, I feasted almost daily on frozen mango chunks and a highlight always in Korea, is eating Mango Bing Su. I am selective about which fruits I eat. My digestive system seems to find most fruit too acidic. Whereas my husband eats fruit every day and especially loves stone fruit. I seem to live on bananas.

img_2563

This morning reading the Herald newspaper, I saw an article on the problem Kiwis have with gluten. I can admit to being one of those Kiwis. Mine is not a serious gluten allergy, but I have learned to manage my intake. In 2013, I spent three months in Siem Reap as a volunteer ESOL teacher and found all my digestive issues miraculously vanished. My specialist said it could have been the Cambodian rice. Who knows?  I found in the heat, I lost a lot of weight, even though I was drinking half pint 50c beers at night to cool down. So, I began visiting the Blue Pumpkin cafe each day to drink coffee and eat a millefeuille. I didn’t gain weight, but I also didn’t have any issues with the pastry.

unnamed

 

This set me to thinking about my fifties and sixties childhood. We didn’t eat much bread back then. My mother was a wonderful cook (coal range) and we always biked home from school to eat cooked lunches. We didn’t own a car, so as a result, we didn’t do ‘picnics’ very often. So, sandwiches were not really part of my repertoire. And I often choose a small sausage roll rather than an overstuffed, oversized focaccia at a café.

Over the past ten years, I’ve spent quite a lot of money, buying ‘gluten free’ breads. Not enjoying them that much but mostly for toast. Then I worked out that sourdough bread seemed different and was more easily digested. A neighbour who makes her own, gave me some of her sourdough scoby. My first loaf was a miracle loaf (photo included).  My subsequent loaves have been delicious but not as perfectly formed. I tend now, with loving care to my scoby.

img_0084

P.S.

In the 1970’s, I lived in Norway, doing my Kiwi OE.  I worked in a ski resort in the Haukeli mountains and learned to make Danish breakfast rolls (rundstykker). I haven’t made them in years, but when our son was here with his family from Seoul, we had a picnic in a local park (a Kiwi BBQ) for his friends and their young families. I made rundstykker and they were very popular (easy to make but not gluten free). I’d forgotten how light and delicious they are.

img_0085