little red jottings

when a little red pen wanders off the page

Tag: reading

A very bookish sort of Mothers’ Day

I don’t know why I do a Mothers’ Day post every year, but I do. Although this one is so late, it’s sort of morphing into the birthday post and really, it’s just about books.

The Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival was on in mid-May. It was exhausting and wonderful. I went to a creative writing workshop with Glenn Colquhoun and if you ever get the chance to go to any sort of anything with him, do not even blink, just go. It was scary as all get out and then it was affirming and then it gave me what I needed. Dirty up your writing, he said. I ask you, how could you not love a man like that? I heard the lovely Emma Neale and Barbara Brookes read from their new books, discovered Ian Rankin, Victor Rodger, John Lanchester and Stella Duffy, rediscovered Bill Manhire and remembered The Magic Faraway Tree, took Rabbit to hear Selina Tusitala Marsh deliver the keynote address and then learn about making books about bees and monsters, lost it at the circle of laureates when Rob Tuwhare sang his Dad’s poetry, cried again with my sister listening to the marvellous and compassionate Emily Writes, thought about family and memory with Ashleigh Young and Adam Dudding and then crawled home and tried, not very successfully, to reintegrate myself into family and work. I was so happy, thinking and listening, angling towards the light, towards words laid together just so, towards ideas and wairua and the song of it all. I couldn’t be there all the time, attuned like that, but for a few days it fed me.



Each of us, together

20161126_192610Well, that was a week. Ian went to Kaikōura to cover post-earthquake things, and all manner of bollocks descended on me at work.

Home was good, though — our new after-school childcare person is a footballer, so the boys are well thrilled. He is also a jolly good cleaner, so I am well thrilled too. The boys are used to being journo kids — they missed their dad, but flicked straight into helping-out, getting-on-with-it mode.

I kind of enjoyed the quiet and calm of the week, but realised within half an hour of Ian being home that the volume in the house had quadrupled and I had slowed to snail’s pace. I guess we had all been managing and looking after each other and that was good, but we need Ian to relax us and let things go. It was a good reminder of the ways we balance each other, of the dance we do as opposites.

The boys were pretty scratchy, but by the time we had eaten bento, driven round the harbour, played soccer, made a sandcastle, conducted watery experiments on the sandcastle, snuggled on the sand, driven round the best inlet in the city, seen baby stilts and a kingfisher and got home, we seemed to have made it back into ourselves again.

20161126_192514And then we each found our own peace. Ian tidied up and did chores. I planted 40 zucchini seedlings out, picked a salad of baby leaves and flowers, and cut back some lupins and sorrel that had gone to seed. The Cat watched soccer videos. And the Rabbit made things.

He started by cutting back sorrel, but was interrupted by his bowels, which we only knew about because he left the bathroom in a less than ideal state. Then Ian found him in the workshop with a large piece of wood in the vice with the words “side 1” written on it. “What are you doing?” Ian asked. “Making a run for the guinea pigs,” said Rabbit.

Later, we were having dinner. Ian was drinking wine, eating pasta and talking to me. I was drinking wine, eating pasta and reading a book. The Cat was calculating the value of our car relative to the weekly income of a professional footballer (low). The Rabbit was drawing circles and cutting cardboard. Five minutes later, he had finished a set of traffic lights.

20161126_190707“What’s your plan for the lights?” we asked. “I’ll shine a torch on them,” he said. Damned if it doesn’t work, too.


Will you read with me?

My great-aunt told lovely stories about her parents, her mother Mary and her father Percy. Percy was quiet, a bit of a socialist, a reader. Mary was a cheesemaker, a manager, a maker-doer. She would invite everyone for Christmas dinner and he would go out and dig his turnips. In the evenings, Percy would read by the fire, and I imagine Mary would knit or sew or make elaborate plans and organisational lists, not that I’m projecting or anything. After a while, she’d crack it and say, “Do talk to us, Percy.” And he’d slowly put down his book or paper, take off his glasses and look around like a mole emerging into sunlight from the dark and fragrant earth. He might talk then, a little bit, but after a while he’d retreat back into his book and silence would fall again. Not that I’m projecting or anything.

So, I guess what I’m saying is that there’s precedent, and it’s taken me a long time to realise that not everyone holds with reading in company. Some people find it disconcerting and kind of rude, and they want you to come out and talk to them or at least keep an ear open for what they’re saying.

But we readers go a long way under when we’re reading, and spoken words take a long time to reach us down there. Surfacing takes effort, and we don’t function so well bobbing about with the chat and the questions and all. Haul me out of the water and talk to me on dry land or let me sink back down. Better yet, join me underwater.  My sister knows how this works. Every now and then we’ll go out for coffee, and somewhere between the stories that must be told and the ordering of drinks one of us will ask if it’s okay to read. Then we’ll sit there, coffee at our elbows, books in our hands, and read together. Together and apart.

Taking stock

I’m on a new mission to WRITE REGULARLY, which I imagine will go much like my perpetual mission to EXERCISE MORE and BE NICER, ie. I’ll slowly build up my capacity to do these things over a few months, then lapse, then get cross with myself, then start again, although hopefully from a slightly better starting point than the last time. If I look back, I am fitter and writing more than a couple of years ago, but I’m still a cranky old troll, so I guess that’s five points to will power and habit and ten points off for genetics and embedded personality types.

Anyway. We’re home after an excellent holiday in Melbourne, and I have nothing much to say, so I thought I’d just do a general round-up of my state, mood, environment and outlook.

1. The world is unbearably sad and it’d be great if people could stop shooting each other, planes, animals, etc.

2. The rivers are all fucked and I felt less responsible for this when I wasn’t eating cheese.

3. Keeping warm requires significant effort, wood-chopping, fire maintenance and hot drink consumption during the Dunedin winter.

4. I discovered the Dixie Chicks. Slow, I know.

5. If I can watch five episodes of West Wing in the time it takes Ian to watch one, should I bowl ahead and let him catch up in his own sweet time, or should this be a “together” activity?

6. My sister’s having a baby really soon! And I’ll be there! And she is amazing! And I am really looking forward to meeting the wee one! You can expect more exclamationary posts on this topic in weeks to come.

7. Our house is not sunny, but it is light, clean (this week), and pretty.

8. Soon it will be spring and the bulbs will come up.

9. The Cat’s favourite holiday activities were: iPad (strictly rationed), soccer, the zoo, the children’s farm, and book shopping. He just got 30 soccer books out of the library. I really must remember that he’s an introvert and needs equal doses of fresh air and solitude. This shouldn’t be hard. He’s quite a lot like me.

10. The Rabbit’s favourite holiday activity was vacuum cleaning, and he deeply appreciated the heating system in the house we stayed in. I should remember that he likes to keep his burrow warm and tidy. This shouldn’t be hard. He’s quite a lot like me.

Fourteen things

One: Going home
Vincent O’Sullivan has written a 14-episode account of Ralph Hotere’s journey home. The number recalls Hotere’s use of the number, his referencing of the Stations of the Cross and of his 14 siblings. Frustratingly, the full version is only available to subscribers (when did the Listener change that?).

Two: Favourite birds (my son will be so cross that I haven’t used the proper full names, but the truth is, I can’t remember them)
mandarin duck
black cockatoo
superb lyrebird

Three: Books that got me through my childhood, and my children’s
Corduroy, Don Freeman
Any of the Frances books, Russell Hoban (illustrated by Garth Williams)
Tell Me What It’s Like to Be Big, Joyce Dunbar (illustrated by Debi Gliori)
Mr Gumpy’s Outing, John Burningham
Big Momma Makes the World, Phyllis Root (illustrated by Helen Oxenbury)
The Ramona books, Beverly Cleary
Big Sister and Little Sister, Charlotte Zolotow (illustrated by Martha Alexander)
Virginia Wolf, Kyo Maclear (illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault)
Come On, Daisy!, Jane Simmons
The Raft, Jim LaMarche
The Tiger Who Came to Tea and the Mog books, Judith Kerr
Dogger and everything else, Shirley Hughes
far too much by Noel Streatfeild
Anne of Green Gables and all the rest, LM Montgomery
bonus: Kitten’s First Full Moon, Kevin Henke + about a hundred others

Four: Authors I’ve found myself consuming in bulk
George Perec
Italo Calvino
Primo Levi
Laurence Fearnley
Janette Turner Hospital
Nigel Cox
Sara Maitland
Jeanette Winterson
Maurice Gee
Philip Pullman
Ann Patchett
Jim Crace
Michael Ondaatje
(see the children’s list above)

Five: Foods that make life better
smoked salmon
salad, lots of it
roast chicken, then chicken soup
poisson cru
fennel seed and olive oil biscuits

Six: 14-letter words

Seven: What I want in a house
a chair by a window, just for reading
a kitchen that I can eat, cook, talk, and read in
a space for the kids to play
a front porch
a sheltered space to eat outside
plenty of trees
a glasshouse
vegetable patches
a workspace
bookshelves in every room
a woodburner

Eight: Condiments, loosely interpreted
lemons — fresh, juiced, zested, preserved
fennel seeds
sea salt
tomato sauce
a book
a friend

Nine: Punctuation that makes text prettier
fanciful ampersands
the Oxford comma
double quote marks
full stops
question marks, sparingly
well-placed commas
tidy, well-aligned bullet points
parentheses, occasionally

Ten: Plants I like to have in my garden

Eleven: The elements of a fine day
a small boy’s arms around my neck
that first cup of coffee
a shower
a walk, run, or yoga class
a kiss
seeing something through my children’s eyes

Twelve: A 14-year-old dancer

Thirteen: Colin McCahon’s Stations

Fourteen: A sonnet, of course
Not in a silver casket cool with pearls
Or rich with red corundum or with blue,
Locked, and the key withheld, as other girls
Have given their loves, I give my love to you;
Not in a lovers’-knot, not in a ring
Worked in such fashion, and the legend plain—
Semper fidelis, where a secret spring
Kennels a drop of mischief for the brain:
Love in the open hand, no thing but that,
Ungemmed, unhidden, wishing not to hurt,
As one should bring you cowslips in a hat
Swung from the hand, or apples in her skirt,
I bring you, calling out as children do:
“Look what I have!—And these are all for you.”
Edna St. Vincent Millay

Something to catch my eye

Well, I’m a reader, of course. One of my favourite picture books (Guji-Guji — do you know it?) starts with an egg — a big, odd, unexpected egg — rolling into a nest. And the caption is “Mother Duck didn’t notice. She was reading.” The picture shows beautiful, homely Mother Duck, glasses perched on nose, sitting high on her pile of eggs, book open in front of her. That’s how to nest, I thought. We could be friends. The next time we see Mother Duck with a book, she’s reading to her babies — ducklings one, two, three, and a fourth, who just happens to look a lot like a crocodile. She doesn’t have a book in any of the other pictures, but I like to think that while Guji-Guji is working out how to save the duck flock, she’s tucked away somewhere, watching her other babies sleep, reading herself into calm and clarity.

I’m not too picky about what I read; the main thing is to have something to catch my eye. It could be a cereal packet, a shampoo bottle, a sign on the train, one of the Cat’s books, a magazine, a novel, a travel guide, something with heft — it doesn’t matter too much what, as long as there’s print and something approaching sentences. And there are lots of places to read. The breakfast table is perfect, or would be if everyone would be quiet and the radio was off and there were no lunches to make. So, actually, that’s not such a good option, except for every now and then, when I get up early, earlier than the children, and sit in the sun and drink my coffee and read. And I do read at breakfast anyway, but it doesn’t work so well because my ears stop working and then I miss what people are saying, but it’s like there’s a sea rushing in around me, and sooner or later a wave breaks through and I am pulled out of the words and into the plan for the day or a request for water or a geography game or a cuddle. Which is nice too.

Or it might not be the breakfast table. The bathroom is good, and bed, and the sofa. A library is a real treat, and one of the best is a café, quiet, light, peaceful, my sister on the other side of the table, coffee at hand, no need to talk. Standing at the kitchen bench works well, and if I’m careful I can make it look like I’m cooking, or eating afternoon tea, or organising drinks.

And the boys look to be readers too, searching out their own inner worlds, learning rhythm, and texture, and thought. The Cat took to it early — a duck to water, so to speak — but the Rabbit has made a more sidelong approach, taking time to warm to each book, to absorb it piecemeal, in slow, broken morsels, before relaxing, body snugged into mine, each key word warm and waiting on his tongue, as we tell each other a story.

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