Wednesday, 1 April 2009


I'm loving this Autumn weather. Now that I've settled into a routine of gardening in the morning and working in the afternoon, my garden is looking fabulous, or as fabulous as it can look with a scratchy chicken, 10 galumphing ducks and a playful rabbit running around. The ducks are all maturing, though Runty McShortStuff's voice remains unbroken, and I suppose we can expect piles of eggs soon. This morning I weeded the section of the vegetable garden I sowed a couple of weeks ago, and managed to identify a few tiny parsley plants. I also planted some beetroot and a zillion little spring onion plants. Pak'n'Save had 2 bunches of seedlings for $5 yesterday. I've covered everything with wire frames, netting and stuff like that to keep the poultry out, so I'll just have to wait and see.

We acquired a second rabbit over the weekend, while I was in Auckland immersing myself in Mensa life. She came to us courtesy of Freecycle, and is a little black and white cutie. She's very highly-strung, which is why she needed re-homing, and she bit me this morning for having the audacity to remove the remains of greens that she didn't eat yesterday. Still, she loves to be stroked, and I think once she's settled she'll be good buddies with Robbie (who's been neutered) and they'll run around the garden together. She's very literary - her common name is Lenore (as in Edgar Allan Poe), and her registered name is Cheery Littlebottom. Terry Pratchett fans unite!

The weekend was a blast, as they always are. On Friday I paid a surprise visit to my phone buddy, Mark, who lives in an apartment on Quay St. He was thrilled to see me (for only the second time since we hooked up by phone over a year ago), and we enjoyed lunch at a new restaurant nearby called A & M. I paid, which was fine, though I had been hoping he'd suggest somewhere a little more downmarket (read: cheap). He later apologised, having assumed I was a lot wealthier than him, which I probably am, given that he's on a disability benefit.

In the evening our after dinner guest speaker was supposed to be Jim Mora, but he got called away for "Mucking In", so at the last moment a local member who used to work as an astronomer in South Africa gave us an illustrated talk on measuring the distance of far objects in space. Can't say I understood it all (and he got a bit impatient at some of my questions), but the slides were unbelievably gorgeous - I didn't know galaxies came in shapes other than spirals, so I learned something. After that we did the traditional quiz, which is always fun and provokes many arguments.

On Saturday morning we had a group of fascinating speakers: a MAF officer from Auckland Airport, complete with examples of confiscated goods, a young Chinese calligrapher who is branching out into the Chinese calligraphy equivalent of abstract expressionism, and a psychologist whose specialist area is gifted children. After lunch a bunch went off for a tour of the local SPCA (very tempting!), while some of us stayed around to talk to some potential members who were sitting their Mensa entry test. Of five applicants, three were close enough to be offered retests, and the other 2 were sent on their way. Later in the afternoon there was a tour of Auckland Airport Customs, limited to 20 people (of whom I wasn't one, having registered too late) and I hung around the hotel playing board games. It's always fun to learn some new games, and now I have to try and get hold of "Guillotine" and "Apples to Apples", both greatly entertaining.

Saturday night's dinner was at a Japanese barbecue restaurant in Botany Downs, complete with vegetarian option for yours truly (I prefer my tofu steaks to be firm rather than silken tofu, but it tasted good anyway). Sunday morning began early as the Hurricanes were playing in South Africa at 6am. I had trouble staying awake at that time of the morning, especially as I was watching it from my bed, so I just kept pushing the snooze button on my alarm. It probably drove the occupants of rooms around me nuts, but at least I got to watch the game at 10-minute intervals!

The morning activity was a car rally around West Auckland, including morning tea at Crystal Mountain where we were given key rings as souvenirs, though I was disappointed not to see a single front lawn with rusting cars on it. Our team won, having been the only one to get 100% correct of the questions we had to answer. Lunch was in the hotel after prizegiving, and those of us who didn't immediately have planes to catch spent the rest of the day watching a film-length documentary on the "Ghost Fleet", the story of a great Chinese Admiral who sailed past Africa and goodness knows where else long before the days of European explorers. I fell sleep quite quickly, so only saw the beginning and the end, but it had one of those irritating narrators who make the History Channel unwatcheable, so I didn't mind.

My flight wasn't until 9pm (that's Fly Buys for you), so I went to the airport with Fraser, whose flight was at 6, then spent the rest of the time sitting on the floor of Whitcoulls, reading whatever took my fancy. I'm up to Chapter 6 of Joe Bennett's book about the origin of his underpants.

Enough. Time to get to work.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

All better now

I think I'm more or less over the latest depressive episode. I've stopped sleeping 10-12 hours (back to my normal 8) and I'm fairly resigned to the drop in income (read: none) that will occur at the end of this month as a result of Creative New Zealand's response to my last grant application. I've prepared the introduction for tonight's Poetry Society guest, Richard Langston, and I'm really looking forward to the reading. For the rest of the week I'll try and get on top of the competition work, of which I have yet to do any.
I still need to visit my Dad once a week, and that'll be Wednesday this week. My sister reports he is increasingly frail, and I noticed that when I went to lunch with him 2 weeks ago. She described him as "fading", and he's certainly been winding down physically for the last year and a half. However, he's going off to indoor bowls tonight. He hates being so physically weak after a lifetime of activity, and he's summoning up every tiny bit of energy he can find to do the things he enjoys.
Sylvia starts a modelling course tonight. She's well-settled into university, and she and Ben share a class, which means he stays here on Wednesday nights, as well as the weekends, because they have a Classics tutorial first thing on Thursday morning that he would have to get up at 6am for if he were at home in Mana (aw, diddums!) She's also just got word that she's got a job at Te Papa, which she was desperately hoping to get so she wouldn't have to resort to retail, supermarkets, or cafes, the usual haunts of cash-strapped students. That Ursula did the same job, and was popular, didn't hurt her cause, though she still had to front up and present well at the hour-long interview.
Ursula is teaching full-time, loving it, and exhausted! I think our Sunday family dinners are going to be consigned to happy memories. Jennifer has 2 weekend jobs and hasn't come for the last few weeks. I could call it the empty nest syndrome, but I refuse to have my life labelled that way. After all, I'm one of the few people in the world who doesn't put their pants on one leg at a time (though I'm having trouble figuring out how to do that with socks and shoes).
Wally and I played Yahtzee for the first time in a zillion years on Saturday afternoon. I won, which was for the best really.
I've just finished reading 'The Constant Gardener', by John Le Carre. Not sure how much I liked it overall, though I found it compelling reading. The ending was largely unsatisfying, if fairly realistic, and I suppose I had hoped that the 'little people' would win. Now I'm back to Michael Connolly (again). For a complete change of pace, I recently read 'The Bell Jar' for the first time. Now I get it. Such exquisite writing, and I doubt if I have anything new to add to what anyone thinks about it. I've got Sylvia Plath's letters out from the library, but it's obviously not a read from beginning to end kind of a book. Might have to rethink my approach.
Might even read a poem in the open mic tonight, if I can be bothered choosing one. Must get on and submit to JAAM.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

three weeks from hell

I expected a downturn after completing the Iowa Poetry Workshop. I used to counsel art school students, and there was always a period of yuckiness after an exhibition, when the artist lost the momentum of feverishly preparing for something important, was generally exhausted from working (with pleasure) at a high pitch, and completely lost sight of the larger picture. I expect it's the same for poets after a book launch, when the work comes to an end and the main goal is achieved (there is, of course, promotion to do, but it's not the same thing).

So I knew I would come to a standstill after my portfolio was handed in, and was prepared for it. After all, last time I worked that intensively, when I did a similar IIML workshop with Greg O'Brien in 2003, I found I couldn't write anything new for about 3 months. This time was different, though, as I went straight from the workshop to preparing the March issue of a fine line. I had made a start on it during the workshop, so I wouldn't be coming to it from scratch, but it still turned into a major headache. I was working just as hard as I was on study leave, the lead article was a bitch to format, not helped by the writer wanting me to post him a proof before publishing it (he eventually relented when I told him it had to get to the printer, like, yesterday). And then I got a disappointed email from another organisation for inadvertently leaving something out of the magazine that I'd promised to include. I'm old-fashioned enough that I don't make promises that I can't keep, so this was purely a sign of stress.

I came back from study leave to about 120 emails; this was after dealing with the most urgent ones as they came in. At the point at which I started working on them, the post-performance yuckiness set in. It was going to bring me to a standstill, whether I was ready for it or not! Let's face it, we all know there's no good time to get sick, cliche though it is. Physically, I'm in fine shape. I started the year determined to spend an hour a day in the garden, rain or shine, as my way of looking after my physical, emotional and spiritual needs, and I've managed that. But my mind decided it needed a holiday Those 120 emails looked like Mt Everest at that point, and they were continuing to burgeon, as emails do. Oh, and that was just the NZPS ones - my personal email inbox looks like a virtual landfill (I'm up to over 600 unread, and counting).

So learned helplessness kicked in. "I can't do this." "Why am I even bothering to get up in the morning?" "This job is too big for one person." "I'll never have any time to myself again." (Mental distress is irrational - I'm still doing that hour a day in the garden!) "I don't have time to fundraise and I'll never get paid again." And the worst one of all: "I can't cope." Learned helplessness, unchecked, leads directly to the Black Dog, who likes nothing better than to reinforce the generalisations, extreme thinking (always-never), awfulising and low frustration tolerance that I learned about in Rational-Emotive Behaviour Therapy training.

The obvious answer was to put my training into practice, and start challenging my own irrational beliefs, yada yada yada. How does a stressed person take time out from seemingly insurmountable work demands (I've done almost no promotion of the competition this year yet, and 2 Creative New Zealand deadlines have passed unapplied for already) to work with herself? Well, I have the remedy, and it's getting me slowly back on track - increase my medication! It's a wonderful shortcut (though it doesn't obviate the need to do something about the work load), and I'm feeling better already. You see, anti-depressants don't make the problem go away, but they do boost the mental strength to approach it with something like equanimity.

So now I can get up in the morning unworried about the amount of work I have yet to catch up on. I can enjoy my hour outside without thinking about what awaits me inside, and I can sit down at the computer, make a short list of what I most want to achieve by day's end, and get started. Anything I do beyond that list is a bonus, and I'm no longer immobilised by the thought that by choosing one thing to do I'm leaving out something equally important. It's crisis control - eventually I will catch up, and the world won't blow up if I don't. And then I can go back to my normal maintenance dose.

Ah, Amitriptyline, you are truly my friend.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Iowa Workshop almost over

Well, I'm at the business end of the poetry workshop I've been attending since 6 January - my portfolio is due in on Friday 20th Feb. So why am I not working on it, I hear myself ask. Because I'm having a day off to catch up with some stuff before I settle down to poetry again. I've caught up with all my Mensa work, including decluttering 2 years of emails that were taking up space. I had 3 (count 'em - 3 ) hours in the garden this morning, reclaiming the steps up the middle of the section that haven't been used by anyone but the rabbit and our late duck for a very long time. It looks really nice, and will encourage me to actually visit the back of the garden occasionally. I've mucked out the rabbit's toilet and the ducklings' pen. And I've spent quite a lot of time actually enjoying the ducks. We let them out of the pen for the first time today, and they've been lying in the sun on the back steps, vigilantly watched over by Tui, their surrogate mother (a hen). It's a very cute sight, and even our cat Scarlett went and hung out with them for a bit. I do love my back yard!

The workshop has, of course, been awesome. Having 12 brilliant people sharing their new work and giving each other feedback is a great way to spend a summer. I've written stuff I never would have thought of by myself, and been forced to read other stuff I wouldn't have given time to if I didn't have to. To my own benefit, I might add. The tutor, Lucas, has been inspiring, and his knowledge of poetry is intimidatingly encyclopedic. (If only he wouldn't wear white socks - so distracting.) I now have a definite project for my poetry this year, instead of its being piecemeal and ad hoc. And a deadline. Ever so useful.

Speaking of deadlines. I took a day off to do a grant application to Creative New Zealand early this month. Talk about a headache. I had permission to re-apply for a project we had already been turned down for, which I had to update and polish so I'd have a 'stronger' application. All well and good, but when I was halfway through filling out the online application form the site got overloaded (presumably with all those other applicants doing it on the last day) and I couldn't complete it. Aha, I thought, being reasonably versatile I'll download the paper version and get it done that way. No, they have an answer to that as well. The funding guide is well over 100 pages long, the application form doesn't arrive until page 105, and I couldn't download past page 94! At that point I gave up. It's all too hard, and the site has been live since December so there's no point in complaining that I couldn't get it done on the last day.

CNZ snookers you every which way. Once you've been turned down for any project you aren't allowed to re-apply for the same project. So that means to get money for the Poetry Society to function I have to think up a new way to present what we do. Find a new angle. Pretty it up. Reinvent the wheel so they won't recognise it.

I'm going to have a sherry and give the ducks their dinner (not necessarily in that order). On Monday night Kate Camp is opening our 2009 monthly poetry readings, so if the sherry doesn't get me and I can tear myself away from the ducks, I'll get on with writing my introduction for her.

And tonight the Hurricanes are playing their first game of the Super 14 season so I've got something to look forward to for now, at least.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Happy New Year

Officially I'm still working, since for the self-employed, public holidays are more of a guideline. I've been updating the competitions and submissions section of the Members' Pages on the website, so I'm feeling virtuous today. I also did 2 hours in the garden this morning. That wasn't virtue, it was pure physical pleasure. Christmas was great, surrounded by family and a family-free friend, with too much food and not enough presents. (My fault - when people asked I couldn't think of anything I actually wanted!) I stayed up late on New Year's Eve, but more by accident, since I was playing on the computer and couldn't drag myself away. I have nights like that.

Best thing this week was going to see 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' (Dir. David Fincher, starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett). The only review I read before seeing it was at the New Yorker online, and it wasn't warmly recommended. I shan't read that reviewer again - I adored the movie. It was extraordinarily long, at nearly 3 hours, but I didn't actually notice until it was all over and I looked at my watch after we left the theatre. Pitt was kind of bland (think Keanu Reeves, only so much better-looking), and somehow the role suited that treatment. Blanchett was all jittery and very F Scott Fitzgerald (the original story was his). There were some very funny moments, and also enormous pathos. A World War II scene at sea was particularly gruelling. And the company I was with (Mensans and families) enjoyed it just as much as I did. Strongly recommended.

I've just finished reading 'Another Fine Myth', by Richard Asprin, a writer I'm not familiar with. It's a fantasy, with human and non-human characters, who generally take each other in their stride. More Tom Holt than Terry Pratchett, though not as funny, and the humour is as much in the references to other dimensions, as in the situations in the active one. A relatively mundane adventure as adventures go, but well-enough-written, and with the potential for heaps of sequels. Pointless fun, in other words. The quotes at the beginning of each chapter are inspired lunacy and lift the book into a series (if indeed it is) worth looking out for.

Prior to that I read John Connolly's 'The Book of Lost Things', a much more conventional fantasy adventure, with the additional complexity of grief and loss driving the narrative. I loved it, and found the characters, even the mythical stereotypes, very sympathetic and likable. My daughter had heard of it, so it's probably on Book Club lists.

I seem to be over my crime thriller binge. Except that when we were in Whitcoull's looking for Wally's half-birthday present (Fred Dagg on DVD) we spotted a 'Dexter' omnibus - the 3 novels about the lovable Miami serial killer on which the TV programmes were based. Couldn't resist the 25% off sale, so Dexter is now ours to read at our leisure. We've already decided not to read Book 3 until after we've seen Series 3 on The Box (where it appears some time before free-to-air), so we don't spoil the fun and agony of waiting a week between every episode to find out what happens. Very old-fashioned, I know, when you can find things out on the net, but the anticipation is half the pleasure, as it is with so many things.

My sister arrives tonight fresh from her drunken week with our cousin in Auckland, having left England for good after 40 years. Talk about burning your bridges. I'm picking her up from the airport and then taking her to Dad's tomorrow, where she'll drive him nuts by acting on every vague thought he is foolish enough to have out loud. I predict the kitchen will be painted (in her colours, not his, though he'll agree, to "keep the peace") by the end of the month. She was talking about it when she was here earlier in the year looking after Dad when he got sick at the end of a long winter, so I know she won't take long to get on to it. I was planning to get it done (in his choice of colour) before she got here, but the time was simply too rushed in the end, and we couldn't manage a family working bee that suited everyone. And he'll complain to me and my other sister that it was her idea (which it largely was, after he agreed it might be nice to have a change, but I wasn't there, so who knows?). Ah, families - gotta love 'em.