Saturday, 31 August 2013

On Writing Not Twerking

For those readers who regularly follow my blog you will know I post weekly. Mostly on a Monday, sometimes a Tuesday but somehow that has slipped back to Saturday. Soz peeps.

Part of me starts to ache if I haven’t posted on time. I’m a lycra clad power walker with a perm hanging out for an endorphin fix. 

So why the hold up? 

Thing is, I’ve been writing some very emotionally draining stuff over the last ten days; a short story involving teenage boys, a party and a car accident and a non-fiction piece about the accidental death of a family member. 

I started to wonder how on earth crime writers do it? Get down to the nitty gritty of death and destruction without becoming drowned in despair? 

Because my fictional characters were like a gaggle of newborn babes. Triplet cling-ons. I had no peace. They invaded my space by day. Then they insisted on sharing the bed, waking me in the night demanding to be fed and coddled. Re-write-dreaming is not relaxing.

Then I moved on to the TRUE story. Digging up an old grief-bone buried for safe keeping. Reliving it all again and some more. Exhausting though it was, I also felt honoured to have given my brother my time. But I started to worry about more than narrative arc. I worried whether his story should actually be shared.

The next day this quote by Neil Gaiman popped up on my newsfeed:

“Be proud of your mistakes. Well, proud may not be exactly the right word, but respect them, treasure them, be kind to them. And, more than that, and more important than that, make them. Make mistakes. Make great mistakes, make wonderful mistakes, make glorious mistakes. Better to make a hundred mistakes than stare at a blank piece of paper too scared to do anything wrong.”

Timely encouragement, not that my story was a mistake, it was more of a risk. I spoke to family members and pushed on. Sent it off and finally got a good night’s sleep.

Then I tried to blog. Everything I started to write felt as flat and lifeless a French crepe on the streets of Paris without Nutella. If my words don’t bounce back at me full of joie de vivre I send them to the naughty chair toute-de-suite. 

I couldn’t even think of a tantalizing recipe to tickle your taste buds. And I didn’t think the faint hearted would want to hear about my cure for an egg bound hen.

I had mentor, Steve B sitting on my shoulder, ‘never write, I can’t think what to write about?’ Arggh. 

The days ticked by…

I obviously needed fresh air. The great Central Otago countryside. Clouds were threatening from the west and a cold front, with snow to 300 metres, was marching in from the south. However the sun was out, so I saddled my trusty horse, Star and headed down to the river. 

After a couple of steep descents I rode along an ancient bullock trail, where if I do a bit of omming and imagine myself in a scratchy woollen riding habit, riding side saddle, I can be a pioneering Scottish lassy heading to town for a sack of flour. Given that I spent the first twenty minutes trying to stop Star from taking off one handed, while gassing to my girlfriend about her love life, I couldn’t switch off and get into character.

I rode on past old gold mining tailings, down the twisty track to the wooden bridge with one plank missing under the spindly oaks. Instead of negotiating the muddy bank and creek bed I swung around, still determined to let Star’s easy rhythm and the solitude excise me from my mental baggage. My thoughts a spaghetti junction of the disturbing kind.

Did I need something really Zen? A good session in a floatation tank for example?

Coming out of the river flat woods, I brushed past a tree, on closer inspection I spied the delicate silvery buds of pussy willow. Halting, I plucked as many stems as I could, with Star jig-jigging and stuffed them into my saddle bag. 

How cool is spring I thought? Reemerging from winter hibernation; no care whether the world is watching. No care what the world thinks. Lookout. Coming, ready or not. 

When I got back it was spitting. I quickly sponged down, curry combed, towel dried and covered Star; lathered from our 2 hour galloping giddy up. 

I was starving. Mmmm, I’ll have last night’s perfectly balanced miso/udon/seaweed/baby kale/leftover roast chicken soup. I was one of Pavlov’s dogs. My saliva welled and almost dripped from my mouth.

Then as I was getting my warmed broth from the above head height microwave kazam:

I had to settle for the dregs in the fridge: mainly noodles no meat. 

I ate in front of my blank computer screen, feeling the temperature drop. Soon the chill rain started. I ran out and double rugged my gallant steed and gave him more hay. 

I returned soaked to the skin. I showered and made a cup of peppermint tea. Then I gave in to the best brain fueling, writer-on-the-verge antidote I know.

I read a book.

Monday, 19 August 2013

On Being Famous

Not long after I moved to Queenstown I reinvented my corporate self into a sunflower grower. I didn’t want to work for an adventure tourism business; the pay just didn’t rate after my marketing manager salary + bonus and company car. I diversified. I tried something I would never have done while living in the big smoke. I became a flower grower. At the time sunflowers had morphed into a cuddly kitten equivalent. They were everywhere: on cards, knickers, T-shirts, posters. What the world needed was freshly picked sunflowers to adorn their kitchens; to give to their loved ones on Valentine’s Day. And I was going to be the quality purveyor.

I found some other ‘growers’. They were cagey to say the least. But a researcher near Massey gave me a few tips. I sourced my seed and ploughed the land. Put in a rabbit proof fence in a small arid patch in the Gibbston valley and off I sowed. 

Talk about beginners luck. 12 weeks later (after tapping into a dam over the boundary for irrigation purposes) I was selling my blooms to Turners and Growers for $5.00 a head. I made mistakes and I learnt quickly. I inadvertently became a florist because the trendy cafes who bought my blooms struggled to arrange their heavy heads. As the craze caught on, I kept abreast of new hybrids thanks to my US based sister.

I also became news. My lovely friend Meaghan was a reporter at the Southland Times. I made the front cover one season. ‘World famous in Southland,’ I joked. But I enjoyed it all the while. I worked hard. My back often ached and my fingernails were always black. I thanked my lucky seedlings I hadn’t been born the daughter of a market gardener. Don’t use your back like a crane I reminded myself each time I hoisted heavy rubbish bin sized buckets of heady yellow blooms into my Landrover. My biceps bulged.

Queenstown had a population of 8,000, twenty years ago when I arrived as a virtual newlywed. I ran my deliveries round town in my jean shorts, black singlet and work boots. Dust and sweat no doubt on my tanned shoulders.

Soon after my husband and I dabbled in real estate in the seaside town of Riverton. Dubbed the Riviera of the South by hardy Invercargillites, who didn’t know better. We bought a crib with a mate and put in on our credit card. Then lashed out for an old hotel for not much more than a Jap import. I’m mentioning this, not because I can offer you any advice as a property developer, but because we hit the news again. 

Crikey I even turned up in close-up black and white when I won the best dressed woman at the Riverton Easter Races. After a blue gin with the club secretary post win, I excused myself to return to my friends (who we could now accommodate in our pub turned guesthouse), via the ladies. I soon found myself cowering in a cubicle barely breathing. Two fellow contestants were talking about me. 

‘Did you see that woman who won? 


‘Gorrr, thet’s not fasch-shun.’

Admittedly I had hung my number over a cigarette burn on my Streetlife swing coat, as I jigged like a bored pre-race filly with the other contestants. And hoped like hell the judges wouldn’t notice the twist ties I hurriedly put around my plaits in our sunny estuary facing kitchen earlier.  Despite having indicated that I like having my name in print I did not want to be standing around being judged by a man in a beige mac. I wanted to be back with my friends in the grandstand making $2 bets on horses called, Lady Jayne and Prince Scott A lot. With winning came protocol, cash and seed pearl jewellery. I suspect I was the first best dressed lady to canter around the birdcage on an imaginary horse while waving at my support crew.

However winning comes with a certain emptiness, when you haven’t worked for it. I had bought a nice hat for the races. But those ladies who’d laboured over their matching caramel toned suits and bonnets with chiffon bows deserved to win, not me.

I started thinking about this winning stage in my life, reading the Sunday paper yesterday. I wondered if I’ve got time left to do SOMETHING. Something that gets noticed? 

Ten months and 40 blog posts in, is possibly a bit premature to expect a mention as a blogger-of-note. Although I’m heartened every time I see a bio beneath a mag story that mentions the writer is a blogger.
I’m not talking about getting my photo in the paper again (Meaghan has long since moved on). And I’ve too much crag and sag for that. 

But I would like to write something good before dementia sets in. Not only for  myself; I’d liked to achieve something in writery form that gives my children the incentive to aim high. Especially if they choose a creative life. I want them to pick away at their dreams, hold them close and realize that making-it-without-faking-it is far more satisfying.

Anyway I best shut up and get on with it. And btw to all columnists, comment writing bloggers and thought provoking journalists - I think you’re marvellous, so never stop. You never know, one day a Will I Am of the blogosphere may appear and sponsor us all so we never die out. 

Or feel the need to be famous.

(photo by Meaghan Miller, 1995)

Monday, 12 August 2013

In Praise of #fridayshorts

I like to keep up with social media goings-ons so when I saw, “#fridayshorts The hotly contested New Zealand Book Council’s weekly short short-story competition. Kudos beats a mere cash prize” in the going up column of the Sunday mag a couple of weeks back, I thought I’d give it a try. 

Experts say you need to try new things to keep your brain from disintegrating as you age. Like washing your teeth with your left hand if you happen to be right handed for example. I do grapple daily with words. But not in the form of the short 140 character short.  

When last week’s words: bucolic, fun, end, hedge, fib, honey were tweeted. I took one look and thought I’d pass. I had to look bucolic up in the dictionary. I was already picturing James Herriot hedgerows, but I had to be sure. I was going out in public. 

 At the same time I was actually working on a frivolous children’s story, A Quest for No Chocolate by A Girl Named Cocoa. I wasn’t in the mood to be distracted, a strange phenomenon that sometimes occurs in my cerebral cortex and one, in this world of self-doubt and writing only for writer friends, I need to slap the reins and run with.
But at 3.05pm when the wordy river in my head ebbed into a stagnant siding, I had my first attempt it went:

 Miss Honey zipped along the bucolic hedge row, looking for Henry

– nah too long already. I rechecked the required words. Then dashed out:

You’re fibbing Henry. You can’t end it now? Not after we just… you know… roamed in the bucolic hedgerow? Henry?

I double checked I had the correct words and 140 character length. Tweeted it and went and got the kids off the bus. Mildly excited at the prospect of checking the impending outcome. Definitely not expecting to win or anything. #fridayshorts closes at 5pm, the grand announcement made soon after.

The Book Council choose: one winner and two honourable mentions.

Later driving home I checked my emails (it was dark and I live down quiet road: shingle/rural aspect). Blow me down with a feather quill, was that my tweet insignia I just saw? From @nzbookcouncil?

I slowed down to a virtual halt and refreshed the screen.

And our #rāmereshorts #fridayshorts winner of much kudos is @radiomum Great stuff! And honourable mention @janeebloom & @UpsideBackwards

Yee ha. Talk about happy. A night at home, eating tomatoe soup and chicken chips on the sofa watching, ‘Kath & Kimdrella’, with my lovely almost 15 daughter lay before me. Annabel Langbein’s, Ultimate chocolate cake, fit to satisfy a dinner party of 12 was happily expanding and cooking. The house would have sold in seconds.

After a speedy round of thank-yous to @nzbookcouncil and congrats to the winner: @radiomum and fellow place getter: @UpsideBackwards a giddy night of giggly girl-dom followed.

To be fair I didn’t go too crazy. I’m having a dry August. Well to be scrupulously honest the days of 2nd & 3rd August were not dry but every other day up until now has been. Don’t fret I’m not asking to be sponsored. Things could change any day. Nor am I standing on my sober pedestal acting all pious. I am however wondering when the whites of my eyes will shine with a Macleans zing of confidence and when I’ll wake up feeling refreshed? The Panadol I chuffed through last week as my drug of choice and necessity to get me through a stinky flu virus, must have left my liver by now? I’m four days clean. Where are you God-of-bounce?

Anyway post happy news, I didn’t cartwheel nude across the lawn either. A display I foolishly promised my children years ago I’d do, if I ever got/get a book published. Magazines don’t count so I haven’t fulfilled that reckless display of naturalist gymnastics yet. But as the sand in the hourglass rapidly slips through, with those grains goes my dream of ever getting into ethically sourced hardback and so too does the appeal of disrobing in public.

Later I received my first ever RETWEET: 

Description: Jane Bloomfield

Henry you’re fibbing. You can’t end it now honey? After we just…you know…roamed in this bucolic hedgerow? Henry? #fridayshorts

Retweeted by

Description: NZ Book Council

To 2334 followers.

As author friend Melinda Szymanik says; you have to take the pats on the back when you get them. 

Good times were had on Friday night at Club Kudos. And if nothing else happens for the rest of the year I may need to remind myself of that. sands through the hourglass, so (slip) the days of our lives. 

Happy writing…

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