Monday, July 11, 2011

The younger people with the ache of youth were eating all the cheese

The title of today’s post is a line from ‘Somewhere Else’ by Grace Paley. The rest of this post is stuff I’ve been up to over the last week (and has nothing to do with cheese).

Kay One Double-Ewe One

On Tuesday evening I went to the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary (aka Zealandia) to observe a researcher recording kiwi calls for a Dom Post column I’m writing. It was the first time I’ve ever seen a kiwi without a pane of glass between us (I saw five; the closest was probably a forty centimetres from my foot). It was also the first time I’ve been called upon to use radio telemetry (I picked it up quickly, apparently). I will withhold my ra-ra ‘the sanctuary is a precious asset’ carry-on for Your Weekend in a little under three weeks.

Appetite for Deconstruction

On Thursday evening I graced the podium at the Brooklyn Masonic Lodge. Twas a strange old place, secluded up a winding drive, the main hall had a small square dance floor (3m x 3m maybe) in the centre for post-initiation jigs and burning Dan Brown books (I guess).

But no goats were slaughtered on Thursday. There weren’t even any secret handshakes. No, I was there along with poet Jenny Bornholdt, children’s writer Philippa Werry and TradeMe guru and columnist Mike O’Donnell to talk about “Appetites” (however we chose to take that theme) in a fundraising evening for Brooklyn School.

The event was chaired by Radio National’s Kathryn Ryan (it was strange to hear her, let alone see hear, outside of the 9-noon window). There was mulled wine (it was a howling southerly), nibbles and a raffle (M. came along and won third prize: result!). Funds raised from the evening went toward buying books for the year ones and twos. Philippa Werry quoted Mario Vargas Llosa’s Nobel acceptance speech where he said that learning to read was the most important thing that ever happened to him. True, true.

I spoke about my appetite for basketball, which was stoked by the rejection encountered as a third former (Year 9) when I didn’t make one of my school’s three basketball squads, and how this passion is essentially the same as my passion for writing (basketball as a 13-year-old involved a lot of making up stories on my driveway while I wore through another nylon net, with regular doses of rejection when ever I came too close to the real world). To frame this discussion I read from my story-in-progress (or story-for-which-progress-stalled-some-time-ago) ‘The Wishing Cave’, which I included in my Abandoned Blog Posts post last month.

Time’s A Goon

On Friday I signed 1,020 stickers for the Commonwealth Foundation. The stickers will be stuck inside copies of A Man Melting (if they end up buying 1,020 that’ll do wondrous things to my sales figures) for the head of the Commonwealth Foundation to give as gifts (along with 2011 Best Book winner, A Memory of Love) to ambassadors and other embassy-types.

[Aside: In an abandoned passage from an abandoned novel, I once wondered what if every reproduction of a famous painting, say Lady with an Ermine, was another pair of eyes for the original artwork, which by virtue of it being a masterpiece possessed a kind of sentience. What would Lady with an Ermine conclude about humanity from its 1,000 vantage points and four centuries of surveillance? How would this differ from The Madonna of The Rocks' views? I was reminded of this 'What If' when considering what sort of hands my book might end up as a result of this Commonwealth Foundation gifting. Wouldn't it be a funky art project to install tiny spycams in the spine of each book and watch the goings on in consulate drawing rooms (and oxfam second hand stores)? Yes, but unfortunately it'd also be considered espionage.]

My brother flexed his photograpic muscle and made this timelapse film of my 67 minute signing vigil (an average of one signature every 3.97 seconds), complete with tracking shots and sunset over the bays, Kilbirnie and Miramar.

I asked Damien Wilkins if we could use a song off The Close Readers’ fabulous album, Group Hug. He replied: ‘Another of my goals achieved: to be background music!’ The song used is: 'What Did I Do Right?'. You can find out more about the Close Readers and buy their album here.

You know how sometimes your activities over a given period are coloured by the book you’re reading at the time (and how the book is coloured by what’s going on around you)? Well, the compression of 67 minutes of mindless, OOS-risking activity into a 1:17 timelapse seems to me emanently linked to the theme of A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, which I blogged about yesterday.

Below Ground Above Karori

On Saturday I went on a tour of the Wrights Hill Fortress, which was built hastily during WWII when fears of a Japanese invasion were at their peak. The tour was a tie-in with Wayne Barrar’s exhibition of underground photos from around the world, ‘An Expanding Subterra’ which is on at the Wellington City Gallery until this weekend. Barrar was there with his camera and tripod, but the tour was led by Mike Lee, the chairman of the society looking after and restoring the fortress.

 The complex is surprisingly huge. So huge that Lee and his dedicated team have only managed to restore one of the three gun placements (though no guns as they were sold as scrap to Japan (!!) in the 1960s) since 1989. We were also taken to the unrestored parts and the contrast was huge. I really hope that the unrestored parts remain that way. The wetas also seemed to prefer the decayed to the done-up.

If you’re looking for better photography than my snapshots, you should check out my brother’s new blog (he’s good with the photoshop, not so much with the proof reading; when our powers combine, we are Captain Blogger).

The Vestigial Ess

I’m not one of those editor-types who knows the hard and fast rules of grammar and keeps a copy of Strunk and White beside my PC. In musical terms, I learnt to write all proper-like by ear. As a result my foundations are always shifting. I go through phases with punctuation: at the moment I am emerging from a reliance on em-dashes (and finding room for parentheses); I once vowed never to use a semi-colon.
At the moment, without any scientific basis or proclamation from a higher authority, I find myself removing the terminal “s” from words such as “towards”, “besides”, and “backwards”. This is a recent evolution of my move away from “whilst” to “while”.

[Aside: There a dude who runs training courses at work who says “while-ist” which is incredibly distracting when you’re trying ever-so-hard to focus on what’s new in Microsoft Office 2007; it’s also inefficient.]

The thing is, I still type “whilst” and “towards” most of the time and I’m trying to take note of what I actually say in conversation (unconcious usage being the self-taught grammarian’s bible). But for now it’s farewell to those superfluous susserations and hopefully hello to a cleaner, simpler voice on the page.


On Sunday I spoke with a helicopter pilot and the director of a helicopter training and tour operator at the Lifeflight offices by the airport (they run the Westpac Rescue Helicopter). I had questions to ask about choppers because I’m writing a story for The Griffith Review (“the leading Australian journal of ideas and analysis” according to their own press, but this accords with my knowledge, especially from my time in Australia 2004-2007) sort of on spec. They asked if I had something that fit the theme of their next issue, which is “islands”. I said not really, but I have some unfinished pieces which I could scrub up. They liked the sound of my helicopter story and said I had till the end of July… which meant I needed to get my head around helicopters pronto.

The two guys I spoke to yesterday were generous with their time and most helpful (one even offered to read through what I write, though I'm not sure I'm up for that kind of technical scrutiny). This week I’m going to devote my AMs to chugging on with the novel (Parenthetical Progress Report: going pretty well right now, maybe 15% done with 3.5 months of amazing productivity ahead of me, hohoho) and churning out my chopper story in the PM.

Country and Western (Poetry)

Today (Monday) I walked to Te Papa in my lunch hour (it was surprisingly dry and unblustery) to listen to Jenny Bornholdt, Airini Beautrais and Bernadette Hall read and discuss their latest poetry collections, chaired by Bill Manhire.  It was the first of twelve Writers on Mondays sessions for the year and I hope to make it along to all that I can.

I've been meaning to do a poetry collection / anthology reading summary post since February... It's been so long that I've read two Airini Beautrais collections in that time (Secret Heart and Western Line) and haven't yet raved about them (though I did mention her in my interview on Unity Books' website).

The reading today was a bit, I dunno... umph-less. I'm not sure the experiement to have the other two poets comment on their favourite poems in the collection of the poet who just read worked. There didn't seem much scope for conflict or discussion.

It may have been the audience (and/or the lack of mulled wine), but I felt like Jenny Bornholdt got a lot more laughs on Thursday night; and I was expecting Airini Beatrais' charms and curses from Western Line to kill.
(When I read these poems, I tend to hear Kim Hill's voice rather than Airini's [Radio NZ interview here]; maybe the audience felt similarly confused).

Not a wasted lunchtime venture by any stretch, but something a little short of magic.

Trailing Off
Tomorrow I'm on the 6.30am flight to Auckland for work... School visits: yay! Early start: boo!

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