Saturday, 20 August 2016

Life, the universe and opera costumes

2 days of sitting around waiting for life to catch up with me again (after a period of working too hard) and life got interesting and stimulating again yesterday. I spent some time working on the NZ Poetry Society's annual anthology (I've got the 160 poems I really like whittled down to 40 I love, and am still figuring out how to fit just one more in without sacrificing a whole page of haiku), and then went off to the opera.

Frankly, I'm not an opera fan. Dad took me to 'Madame Butterfly' when I was very young - too young to sit through the whole thing, but he was an incurable optimist - and I went and saw 'Hansel And Gretel' about fifteen years ago. I don't really remember why, but it might have been a Festival event that my kids' school had cheap tickets for. I can't think why else I would have gone, and it wasn't the best use of my time, even in hindsight.

So when Sylvia (Costumier extraordinaire) mentioned she'd be on stage with the stage manager and other department heads on the opening night of 'Don Giovanni', I was reluctant to commit myself. Wally had no such reluctance - he committed immediately to not going. But then I remembered she still hurts because none of us went to 'Titus Andronicus' (too gory) and I said I'd go if Jennifer would. That turned out to be unfortunate because opening night was at the end of a day when Jennifer was shifting house (as reluctantly as I was going to the opera), her current one being on the market. But she said she'd go, so I said I'd go and eventually I discovered how much it was going to cost me but I booked anyway, because I'd sort of promised.

Jen was knackered, as you'd expect.We took nap shifts - me in the first half, and her in the second - so between us we saw the whole thing. But guess what: even though it seemed a bit flat to start with - Don Giovanni himself was slow to warm up - we both enjoyed it. I was indeed surprised. The singing was in English so we understood most of it, and that helped a lot. There was one singer (Sylvia described her as "deep opera") whose enunciation took second place to her impressive vocal skills, so I've no idea what she sang about, but by and large it was entertaining and I could follow the story. It was actually quite funny - who knew?

The costumes, needless to say, were amazing, especially given that I know what the budget was. In those terms they were miraculous. Sylvia did the sort of job that makes no-one (except her loving family) say, look at those costumes. Had she not, she would have been blamed (by any critics who might have been there) for the production's uneven visual qualities, but as it is she probably won't get any kudos. The costumes just worked, to make the production seamless. I'm so proud of her.

And after I dropped them both off I still had Prime's delayed broadcast of the Bledisloe Cup to look forward to. The opera was lo-o-o-ong (3 hours, including intermission), and I wasn't sure I was going to get home in time, but I did. Wally and I each had a Pineapple Lump every time the ABs scored some points, and we got through the whole bag (though we prematurely had one before Retallick's dive over the line was ruled no try). We ate the last few to celebrate a win of massacre proportions. Given how many players were injured, that's not entirely metaphorical.

As life goes it was a good day.

Don Giovanni, Hannah Playhouse, Wellington; 20-27 August

Friday, 30 January 2015

Catching up

It's been a strange day.

My daily horoscope asked me when my life became a Tarantino movie. Apart from the fact that a horoscope is supposed to tell me stuff, not vice versa, the first image that popped into my head was Uma Thurman snorting heroin, thinking it was coke, and passing out with blood pouring from every orifice. It wasn't that kind of day.

It was the kind of day when everything moves in slow-mo. I went for a run, for example, that took 10 minutes longer than usual, for no discernible reason. The cats took their time turning up for breakfast. A travel agent said she'd ring me back in a few minutes, and I ended up tracking her down through the 0800 number after 40 minutes, because I was waiting to make more phone calls. My computer was so slow that I'd already booked accommodation (by emailing the property) for the funeral we're going to in Taupo next week by the time I got through to the price comparison website, where I discovered I could have saved $50.

By 4.30, when I usually turn on the telly and watch Buffy (Channel 16, The Zone) while I cook dinner, I was exhausted. After dinner we watched 'Puss in Boots', recorded late last year, and I could barely stay awake. Which means that when I do eventually go to bed (soon) I'll probably be wide awake for the first hour, then I'll come back downstairs, make a cup of Sleepy Tea, and read my new 'Green Ideas' which came in the mail today. I don't think I've read the last one yet. Not even sure where it is.

And this is retirement. Or would be, if I could just tell the rest of the Poetry Society committee that I don't want to do it any more, thank you. Someone asked me today who it is that keeps drawing me back in. I think that's obvious. It's me. I've been telling everyone (except the committee) for the last 14 months that I don't want to do it any more, and yet I'm still at it. Answering emails, reconciling the Xero account, processing the snail mail.

I get lots of amazing feedback from people who thank me for all I do for poetry, but that's not why I keep doing it. I don't get paid, so it's not that either. I've already promised various people (other than the committee) that I'd stop on specific dates. So far it's been November 2013, August 2014 and November 2014. I could try that again, but it's not really working, and we all know the definition of madness.

So here's what it is: shame.There are lot of undone things that I would be leaving behind for someone else to sort out if I simply stopped, as I keep meaning to do. I haven't filed anything for 2 years. The books don't balance (this is not a fraud problem - there's MORE money than there should be, if I'd been getting the bookkeeping right). There's paperwork in 3 rooms of my house. The to-do pile keeps falling over. I have a list of catch-up work that I look at every day and ignore, because I'd rather be out on the garden, or working on the quilt I'm making for my daughter's 10th anniversary, or writing poems. I'm not even getting the annual competition under way, because the committee decided to include a new section - this year only - themed on Gallipoli. A sensible idea, but more work than I usually do.

If I quit, here and now, never go to another committee meeting, skip the monthly meetings, stop opening emails, collecting mail, writing cheques and updating the membership list, the Poetry Society is going to be in deep shit, and I'll be terminally embarrassed at the mess I've made of things.

If I'm in a Tarantino movie, it's 'Reservoir Dogs' and I'm in a Mexican standoff of my own making.

I need help.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Atlas Shrugged - and I don't blame him

I have been reading Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged for 5 years. Well, 3 weeks, but it feels like 5 years. My second-hand Kindle tells me I'm 40% through the book, and I've turned to Terry Pratchett for some light relief.

I started with Zac's copy of Lords and Ladies because the Mensa Annual Gathering Dinner had that title as its theme, accompanied by a pretty picture I thought was something to do with Hunger Games but was actually Game of Thrones. Both have the word "Game" in them and are ridiculously popular with some of the people I mix with, so you'll understand my confusion. I was planning to go as Granny Weatherwax, but the opportunity to dress in velvet and wear a tiara won out in the end. Wally went as Lorde.

We were the only ones who dressed up.

But I digress. The thing about Pratchett is that I find the Discworld both more realistic and a lot more entertaining than Rand's amorphous People's State of America, which she never actually names; the fact that a lot of "action" (I use the word loosely) happens between Colorado and New York is a clue.

I thought there might be some excuse if she were writing in support of the rampant anti-Communist times of McCarthyism, and indeed the book was published in 1957, so there is an element of that, I suspect. That unpleasantry was largely over by the time the book was released, and McCarthy died in 1957.

Nevertheless, Wikipedia tells me the book "includes elements of science fiction, mystery, and romance". I'm slowly seeing hints of the first, agree with the second, and can only assume (regarding the third) that she had some very passive relationships, if there is anything remotely autobiographical here. Again, though, that's probably the times.

As I see it, the main problem with the book is that she has used a nominally fictional vehicle for disseminating extreme views - hence its reputation as a right-wing manifesto - but it's really boring. You wanna read dystopian, Margaret Atwood is the go-to to go to.

In discussion with Jennifer (who hasn't read it), we thought that maybe she needed to write her manifesto as a frankly political book and get it out of her system before turning to fiction. It might have given Karl Marx a run for his money, though what I've read of him (Chapter 33, actually) wasn't that entertaining or enlightening either. So maybe not such a good idea. And besides, it turns out it was her fourth novel.

There are actually some good things in it. I particularly liked the sermon, dressed as conversation, that outlined a very cogent and coherent view of money as a tool, rather than being intrinsically evil in itself. I find convincing the argument that excessive government intervention stifles entrepreneurial effort and production - "excessive" being the operative word.

The woman can write well when she's not being didactic, but that's not often enough. She has a lovely turn of phrase about every 10%, and can describe the beauty of individual achievement with elegance, when she thinks of it. But mostly (so far) she seems to be criticising any human element in business decisions. Anyone who might be remotely sympathetic to the plight of the 'working man' is portrayed as pretty wimpy and a general waste of space.

It doesn't help that the female protagonist's surname is the same as one of my cats, but that's not her fault.

So my original question, posted on Facebook, as to why this book is on 'must read' lists remains unanswered by the book itself. Perhaps I have to finish it and find out what happened to all the disappeared industrialists before I can make a final attempt at judgement.

If you want to read it, so you can tick it on those lists that appear periodically on Facebook, I suggest you start with the Wikipedia entry. It makes more sense than reading the book, and I wish I'd read that first.

And don't, as most people seem to, condemn it on the basis of its reputation as being in support of a libertarian economy (which is kind of is, but not entirely). Its worst crime is basically how tediously it's written.

Now, back to Hogfather


Monday, 9 September 2013

September 9th: Holiday's almost over - just the technical matter of getting home from Auckland Airport. Ottawa and Vancouver airports have unlimited free wi-fi; Auckland has allowed me to sign up for a free half-hour. Somehow I'm leaving here with lighter bags than when I arrived. I didn't eat much of the gift foodstuffs, honestly. I'm pretty sure I'm over the worst of the jet lag, and I'll be able to answer emails properly soon. By tomorrow it'll be almost as though I was never away, except that I have an awesome collection of good times with Ursula and Penelope to hold on to. And quite a lot of maple syrup. Post script: Oh, PC with big flat screen that I can read, and a keyboard that actually fits my fingers - I love you. I won't go away again (soon). Except for the weekend of the 21st when Sylvia and I go to Auckland to see 'Wicked'.
September 5th: Day 5, Vancouver Airport: battery about to run down, only enough money for 1 more donut, and I'm going off air for 3 days. I'll be at the Mensa NZ Annual Gathering in Auckland, talking, eating, talking, playing games, talking - until I drop from jet lag. See y'all back in Welly next week.
September 4th: Vancouver, Day 4: shopping. I know, I've already bought all the gifts, the shoes, the hat, and a forest of maple syrup products. But we went to the sewing shop. THE SEWING SHOP, people. The 5 heavy glass jars of Vegemite that are staying in Vancouver have been replaced by some essential quilting equipment that is WAY cheaper here. And another hat (with attached paws). And possibly an egg-shaped kitchen timer that hatches a chicken when the time is up. And some more maple syrup stuff because you can never have too much maple syrup, right? What we couldn't find today (and we tried really hard) was Beavers' Tails. Just not a Vancouver thing :( I have officially spent all my cash and quite a lot of my savings, as represented by next month's visa bill. I have just enough coins left to buy either a cup of tea or a maple-dipped donut at Tim Horton's when I go to the airport tomorrow. Since Air NZ will supply me with tea... Had dinner with all the home stay students tonight - French, Japanese and Brazilian - after their first day back at English Language School, so that was interesting. They're downstairs in my bedroom, otherwise known as the rumpus room, playing pool tonight. I might join them. Or I might read some more quilting books. I love being on holiday.
September 3rd: Vancouver, Day 3: a rest day. We had a quiet day at home, having a guided tour of Helen's quilts and looking at quilting books. If it seems like that wouldn't take all day, it didn't. I slept really late. Rodney's gone to Las Vegas for a conference, so it's just me and Helen at home, along with the tenant in the basement apartment and the three home stay students, all of whom I have now met. School starts again tomorrow, so they've all returned from their assorted holidays. Dinner at Elliot's (offspring number 2) tonight, and it was a lot of fun getting together with the boys again. Elliot is a musician/composer and a member of several bands and one of his musical associates was at dinner too. They're all incredibly smart and talented, with just the right kind of crazy sense of humour I enjoy. So now the only one I haven't caught up with is Meta, the oldest, because she has been at Burning Man and probably won't get back before I leave. Still no kittens, though I had the pleasure of watching them leaping around inside their mum today.