Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Insanely Busy

I was waiting to explain properly what is going on around here until I knew what's going on. I still don't know what's going on. Not long-term anyway, but I decided it was time to reveal a little about events so far.

I did post about going to Auckland for my uncle's funeral. What I didn't mention in that post was that I knew that when I came back my husband would know whether he had a job or not. As it turned out, he didn't. This of course will shortly cause a radical change in our financial situation, since he was the one with the highly paid specialised IT job and I was the one working part time for average wages (after being out of the work force for many years raising children).

On the following Friday I went to work intending to tell my boss that I would need to look for a second part-time job, or a full-time job, and to ask if he would be my referee. He wasn't there. After I'd been working for a while, the phone went. It was my boss wanting to know if I wanted to work additional hours. Since I've been there seven years and I've never been asked that before, it would have to be one of the stranger coincidences in my life.

Originally I thought it was going to be a permanent part-time job. However it looks as if it will be temporary. There is a full-time person leaving, she has been training me for the last couple of days, and the position is being advertised. So I will have to train the new full-time person. I could apply for it, but I won't. It seems to me as if there is really too much work for one person full-time. With luck they will realise this, and keep me on for a while at least after the new person starts.

In the meantime I'm moving between the two jobs (for different companies - my boss is involved with quite a few) and stacking up as many hours as I can to build up some reserve funds. So my life runs along the lines of "hang out the laundry, go to work, cook dinner, do dishes, iron the laundry and go to bed". Fortunately the adult kids here take turns with the cooking and dishes which means I can fit in a few extras - like my poetry group meeting last night, or taking a walk between work and dinner. But my internet time is severely restricted.

And learning to be super-efficient doesn't seem to be quite the right frame of mind for writing poetry.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Poetry Thursday: The Body Knows

I suspect my body knows a lot. But my body and my brain don't always communicate very well. My brain is apt to make journeys which take it far from paying attention to what my body knows.

I felt this week's prompt at Poetry Thursday - "the body knows..." - demanded that I try and find different approaches to the writing of poetry than my usual brain-driven approach. So I decided to experiment a little. The results, therefore, are more in the nature of an ongoing experiment than a finished poem.

I've been wanting to try drawing myself naked for a while. I finally got around to it. After drawing for a while I wrote by free associating some of the images that came to mind from the drawing session. I'm not a very experienced artist! However one of the resulting drawings was slightly less clumsy looking than the others. I scanned it in to the computer, printed it out, typed out a selection of the words and phrases in a separate document, printed them over the scanned drawing, and then scanned it again. This is the result. To read the words better, click on the image for a larger version. (I thought about cropping the original scan to remove the spiral binding of the sketchbook, but I decided I liked the look and left it in).

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Last Tuesday Walk

Tuesday morning is when I go walking with my neighbour (and sometimes her dog Bella).
Today instead of walking in our own neighbourhood I suggested we drive out to the beach. It was a beautiful morning. We walked along the beach past Cave Rock, past the mums and small children playing in the sand:

as far as Shag Rock:

and then back along the beach

to where we had parked the car.
Then we stopped at a restaurant and had morning tea - which by that time was really lunch.
After getting home I found that I was feeling rather sad as this may be the last Tuesday morning walk. The reason for that is that it looks as if I will soon be working fulltime. The details aren't finalised yet, so I will wait and reveal more later.
There are going to be two challenges: one is the challenge of the new job, and the other is the challenge of readjusting my life and finding time to work, run the house, and still be creative.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

There's New Zealand, and then there's Auckland..

I was up early on Wednesday morning to drive to the airport, where I boarded a flight to Auckland. At about the same time my brother, who had flown to Auckland the night before, was leaving the house where he was staying to drive to Auckland airport. And twenty minutes or so later, my other brother and sister were leaving Wellington airport to fly to Auckland, where we all met up at 9 a.m. Yes, you can fly from Christchurch to Auckland in the same time as it takes to drive across Auckland city.

Technically, of course, Auckland is not one city but three. Manukau city is in the south, and it is where the airport is situated. Auckland city is in the middle, between the Manukau harbour and the Waitemata harbour. And North Shore city is, well, on the North Shore. Which is where we were headed.

I once heard a US city - I think it was Philadelphia - described as having "Our Lady of Perpetual Construction" for its patron saint. Auckland is rather like that. Roadworks and new motorways everywhere, but still they can't keep up with the traffic. I thought we would be able to drive right through from the airport to the North Shore on the motorway, but there is quite a large section from the airport to just south of the central city that has no motorway yet, so we sat in rather slow traffic for quite some distance (not that we sped up all that much when we got on the motorway either). It occurred to me that the "rush hour" is misnamed, as it is the hour when no-one can rush anywhere. And in Auckland, the rush hour seems to be spreading out to take over most of the day. Cars everywhere. Huge suburbs of nothing but houses - no cafes, supermarkets, post offices, corner shops or other facilities - which of course means more cars. And almost everywhere you go, you can see the Sky Tower. The symbol of the Auckland landscape, what uniquely identifies Auckland, used to be the harbour bridge - now it is the casino.

To be fair to Auckland, there are some older suburbs that are wonderful and gracious and close to amenities. (But only the rich can afford to live there). The situation between two harbours means that there are many beautiful spots - plenty of green reserves with birdsong and glimpses of water.

I spent a year living in Auckland over thirty years ago, when we could live cheaply in a rundown suburb close to the City Centre (now gentrified). Before the traffic became almost impossibly congested. I don't think I want to go back.

The reason we were there was to attend my uncle's funeral. The cemetery at least, is in a lovely spot by an inlet in the upper reaches of the Waitemata harbour. He was a navigator in Lancaster bombers in World War 11. As we stood by the graveside, the air filled with the sound of cicadas, and wading birds wandering over the far end of the lawn, an Air Force Orion on a training exercise flew circles overhead. A fitting tribute.

I had a four hour wait at the airport on my return as we all had different flight times. The interflora shop was filled with red roses, and heartshaped chocolates - three small chocolates in a bag for $6. The cafe was selling pink iced heart shaped biscuits. It was Valentine's Day. By the time I reached home, it was past bedtime. It's a good thing that Valentine's Day is not a big thing over here for most people. It has really only arrived in the last few years, pushed by retailers. Not too many people of my generation bother with it.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Poetry Thursday: Prose Poems

I've had a busy week so I was glad of the prompt which enabled me to post an old poem from my files. If it is a poem. What makes a prose poem?

I don't think I can answer this, but I believe that it is not really a question that is specific to prose poetry. The question "is it a poem?" is the same question whether it is a piece of writing that has rhyme and metre, or has line breaks, some sort of metre but no rhyme, or whether it is set out in prose (or any variant in between these).

Is it poetry, verse or a jingle?
Is it poetry, or a political statement with line breaks?
Is it poetry or just a rather strange piece of prose?

I don't know.

The first time I found out there was such a thing as a "prose poem" was at the first every poetry workshop I attended. I was browsing a collection of poetry books that were available for our inspiration, and came across the work of Charles Simic. His prose poems are delightfully surreal. I hope you might consider exploring them. In the meantime, here is my own contribution:

Six Blind Men and an Elephant

This is a joke my children used to tell. They would pick some unsuspecting person and ask “I’ve got a riddle for you. What is the difference between an elephant and a hammerfor?” They were just waiting for the question “What’s a hammerfor?” and then they could say “Banging nails in”. We know this joke pretty well by now, so the other day when my daughter asked “what’s a hammerfor?” I said “Banging nails in” almost without thinking and then she asked “what’s a metaphor?” Of course the thing about a metaphor is that it’s really only useful if we know both the things being compared. So I might say for instance that a book is a magic carpet that takes us to other worlds. You know, and I know, dozens of ways that a book is not at all like a magic carpet and that’s why we can appreciate the point of the comparison. And then there’s the old story about six blind men and an elephant. One of them felt the trunk and said it was like a snake. Another had a hold of the tail. “An elephant is very much like a rope” he said. A third, grasping the leg, declared that the elephant was like a tree. And so on. But anyone who hasn’t seen an elephant is left with the image of a snake in a tree which has a rope hanging from one branch, which really doesn’t help much at all. So when I learnt that atoms have nuclei with orbiting electrons, I thought of planetary systems and believed I knew what was going on. Then I learnt that light is particles, called photons, which made some sort of sense, until I learnt about light waves. So which is it, particles or waves? Both, and neither, depending on the mathematics, and that’s when physics started to get confusing. Somewhere around Stage 2 I was completely lost, which is to say, I could do the maths and come up with the right answers, but I just couldn’t picture it any more. That was pretty scary, because up till then I thought I could get a handle on just about anything. And somewhere in the years between then and now, the physicists stopped talking about waves and particles and started talking about tiny strings curled up in about ten or thirteen directions. Now, when I think of Einstein saying “God does not play dice with the universe”, all I can picture is God playing Cat’s Cradle.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Bruises and Boggarts

I think I have been watching too much CSI. I found myself looking at the bruises on my legs and wondering what the coroner would make of them if I died in an accident today. They are particularly distinctive small bruises in little lines. I must admit, the first time I had them I was stumped for quite a while, until I realised they were from squeezing through the strands of wire fences while I was out orienteering. The more athletic young males of course vault over the fences, barely touching except maybe for a hand on top of the fence post for balance.

This is where we were orienteering on Sunday.

The longer courses went right to the top of the hill, but since I do the "short red" course - technically difficult but not too strenuous - the course setter took us mostly into the forest at the bottom of the valley on the right. Since I'm just getting back into orienteering after doing very little last year, I was grateful for the shortness of the course and lack of significant climb. Nothing comes without a downside and in this case it was lots of boggy swampy ground, and lots of prickles. But overall I was pretty pleased with my efforts which show that all my hill climbing in the last few months is paying off. The winner took 52 minutes, I took 1 hour 22 minutes, and the slowest on the course was 2 hours 30 minutes (someone who got lost and added a big extra loop to the course).

If you'd told me when I was a teenager that one day I'd be competing in organised sport, I'd have laughed. This is because I lack coordination for ball sports, and I can't run. OK, to some extent I believe that anyone can improve at anything they want to if they practice enough. But I also believe in inborn differences between people. And I think I have good reason to believe I can't run. I was a real outdoor kid, often found up trees, loving the beach, able to swim long distances (slowly) and going for long Sunday afternoon walks with my father. I loved the outdoors. But I wasn't speedy. Fortunately I went to a small primary school and there wasn't much in the way of athletics. Once a year we went to the interschool sports day where I would take part in the obligatory running race, finish twenty or thirty yards behind everyone else (and that was the heats, not the final), feel stupid for a little while and then enjoy the day in the sun with my family, with treats such as pies for lunch and ice creams.

The humiliation I still remember though was at Brownies. Once a Brownie had passed the initial simple tests like learning the Brownie law and promise, it was time for enrolment. And the enrolment ceremony involved being chased by a boggart. Not a real boggart, of course. Another Brownie was chosen to be the boggart. I had to start at one side of the fairy ring, the boggart started at the other side, and I was chased twice around the fairy ring before running to the centre. The story was that if the boggart caught you, you couldn't be a Brownie. I don't think it ever occurred to anyone that the boggart would ever catch anyone. After all that would mean running 33% faster. But just before I got to the centre, I felt the boggart tag me. And of course the leaders had to pretend that it hadn't happened. So, apart from feeling utterly humiliated that I was so slow that it hadn't occurred to them that anyone could be that slow, I learnt that adults should really think carefully before they threated a punishment that they have no intention of carrying out.

That was all sprinting, of course. Maybe if we had had cross country running at school, it would have been a different matter. All my children seem to have had to run cross country at school, but it didn't seem to happen so much back then.

After I first heard about orienteering and thinking that sounded fun, it took me a while to get into it because I thought I would have to be able to run better. But in fact there's room for all abilities, and good navigation makes up for a lot. When I started, my children were small. Walking round the easy courses with a two or three year old in tow is a wonderful excuse to be slow. I'm not expecting to win anything this year, unless the faster runners in my age group make some huge mistakes in navigation, but I aim to get to no more than 25% slower than the winning time.

Blogger has forced me to upgrade, finally. It seems to be OK. But it works no better with Safari than the old blogger does.

Friday, February 09, 2007


I think our finance minister is sleep deprived and hallucinating. His latest brilliant idea is a levy on fixed rate mortgages. The backgournd to this is that the main inflation control weapon in New Zealand is interest rates. When inflation gets too high, the Reserve Bank raises the official cash rate, which supposedly dampens demand and inflation is kept in control.

Unfortunately our high interest rates attract overseas investors, which mean that the exchange rate is high, and exporters suffer. Supposedly the economy is strong but the balance of payments is terrible, because people are rushing to buy cheap imports, and exporters are earning next to nothing.

Supposedly the imposition of an additional levy on fixed rate mortgages will dampen demand for housing, while not offering any additional incentive to overseas investors.

Here's what I don't get: the idea is that a raise in the official cash rate takes to long to flow through, so doesn't decrease demand for mortgages immediately. This seems strange to me, as surely it will decrease demand for new mortgages. It's only the existing ones that aren't affected until they are due for renewal, and surely the government doesn't want to throw people out of their houses? (Oh, I have just figured it out - if their mortgage costs go up, they won't have money for other things like, say, food and clothes, so that reduced spending in these areas will keep inflation down).

Secondly, house ownership rates in New Zealand are at an all time low, and it is predicted that huge numbers of people will never be able to afford their own home. And yet demand increases. That's because of the baby boomers looking to property as an investment. So maybe to dampen demand they could find some measure to increase taxes on property investors, and leave young people struggling to buy their first homes alone? Or maybe even help them along?

As the banks say in this article, this idea will never float, because about 1.2 million people in the country have mortgages, and that's a lot of votes (in a country of 4 million).

And I'm very glad to say that despite interest rates of nearly 8 percent, and house prices that are very high in relation to wages, compared to many other countries, my eldest daughter has successfully managed to buy her first home and will be moving out in a month. (I'll miss her. But I'm happy for her). It's not big, it needs a few repairs, but it is attractive and conveniently sited close to a very regular bus route.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Poetry Thursday: Change

This week's prompt at Poetry Thursday is change.
I'm a little distracted this week by things I can't post about yet. I find myself spending my time on physical work in the garden and the like and not thinking too much. I have written some lines on this week's topic at Poetry Thursday - I'm not sure if it's a poem yet. I decided to post anyway, and to think of this as my writing notebook, and the lines as a very rough first draft.

Somehow I hate to miss Poetry Thursday.

The More it Changes...

With each breath out
I scatter myself to the wind.
The child who shares my name
shares little of my substance.
Each minute a slow burning of molecules,
each inhalation a replacement. Why then do I imagine
that I am her, and she is me? I am my own observer.
I change along with what I observe
and feel myself the same. Every minute I remake
even my memories. Even as they die, my neurons
play Chinese whispers with their successors.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

I May Never Need to Read Another Book...

...after spending the evening watching "All the Great Books (Abridged)" performed by the Outwits.

This is part of our city council's Summertimes programme and was therefore free (sort of - the bucket was passed round at the end for donations).

Many people took their picnic hampers, wine, etc and enjoyed the setting in the gardens.

Katherine Mansfield (she was a "short" story writer)

The Trojan horse

Just in case the 76 books covered weren't enough for me, my daughter introduced me to this website:
Book a Minute

(A sample: The Confessions of Augustine: "I was bad. I was very, very bad. Not any more though.")

Thursday, February 01, 2007


For Poetry Thursday

We were invited to write a poem using the language of science. It was suggested fro instance that we start with the formula "let x equal".

My response is a little different. My first encounter with scientific method was in the later years of primary school, when we did small experiments with titles like "How do we know that air exists?". This is when I was introduced to the methodical setting out of experiments in sections. As far as I recall, they were titled "to show", "method", "results" and "conclusion". For some reason this is what first made me fall in love with science.

So, here is my rough draft of a poem based on those four sections:


To show:
that the (he)art
and love
in spring and the moon
in June
or any other time makes the world go
round or
square or any other

If there is any since love
is not methodical but
if love be madness
there may yet be method in it

If love is not blind then
at least it produces
hallucinations of perfection
temporary amnesia
possibly followed by small irritations
assuming unreasonable proportions
and an inevitable cooling which is not measurable
with a thermometer

which is what we have learnt
or alternatively which is an end
at least until the next time
when it all starts again.