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Reading Women

As I’ve almost finished my thesis and it is summer, I’ve managed to do a bit of reading and re-reading.

books

Amongst the many books I’ve browsed through, a theme has emerged. These four mid 20th century American women have affected me deeply with their stories. The first thing that hit me was how much better off white middle class women are in the 21st century compared to white middle class women of the 1950s. But then I realised things haven’t changed so much. Women generally, and especially women who don’t “fit” still don’t have it easy.

What is interesting is these contemporaries (who I gather never met or if so only in passing) all had much in common and yet dealt with their reluctance to conform is such different ways.

One and Only is the story of Lu Anne Henderson, best know as Marylou from Kerouac’s “On the Road”. The missing female perspective on ‘the beats’ and the era can be found here. For this group Carolyn Cassady’s “Off the Road” is also a good one, but I found LuAnne’s story more touching and perhaps more honest. It also echoes a comment that I read somewhere recently (and now can’t find the source of but I think perhaps in John Clellon Holmes’ “Go“) that every generation thinks they invented a sexual revolution. Luanne wanted freedom and never really found it.

Alice Denham – July 1956 Playmate of the month, was the first (and only?) playmate to have a story published in the magazine alongside her centrefold. Denham because an adjunct professor of English and although she viewed sex as a “great adventure”, she used it and her body to get where she wanted to go and did reasonably well on it. Sex and brains, an irresistible combination! Her book “Sleeping with the Bad Boys” is well written, (although it could have been better edited) and flips between a tell all romp and  a sad description of another woman wanting to be recognised as an intellectual individual in the 1950s New York literary world run by white middle class men who simply didn’t want to know.

Joyce Johnson again is a female view of the beat scene. Her relationship with Jack Kerouac as “On the Road” was published is the focal point of the book but the more interesting part to me was again her struggle to write and be independent in 50s New York. The pain of the women being pushed to the back is so evident here – the cover photo is so revealing, as are others from that shoot. As the is the title “Minor Characters

cuar02_kerouac070811503  JACK KEROUAC

And then we come to Sylvia, who struggled and escaped and then when the carefully constructed ideal world she created fell apart, ended it all. I call her Sylvia because I’ve been working on a project related to her for 18 months or more and I feel I’ve got to know her.

Sylvia

The ideal world where she felt she had it all was  marriage and motherhood (like a good 50s girl should) and a literary life – with a loving literary husband in the English country side. This in spite of the advice a Smith professor gave her that the achieve a literary life for a woman at that time she must remain single or at least childless. However also the times meant marriage difficulties and she battled depression her whole adult life and I don’t need to say where it ended. My revelation has been her short stories in “Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams“. I think they reveal a lot about Plath that other works perhaps don’t. they are also more measured and avoid the hysteria of some of her more well know works.

I am still thinking about these women. Sadly I see and hear resonances of the stories everyday, repeated even now in 2015. We haven’t come as far as we might think ladies.

Land of Opportunity

When I was in Wellington recently, I started to wonder if my children were getting the opportunities and experiences in their little provincial town that a child of urban Wellington would get. Then I realised it’s about creating opportunities and providing experiences and sometimes stumbling across them.

I grew up in Invercargill and was recently reminded of my “wow it’s a big world out there moment”. When I was maybe 11 or 12, my older brother played me a “Walk on the Wild Side”, insisting on me wearing headphones to fully appreciate the backing vocals. I was instantly enamoured, but it was the lyrics that were the revelation…”shaved her legs then he was a she”….WHAT? Thanks Lou, you brought New York to suburban girl living at the end of the world.

lou-reed_bp

I drag my kids around art galleries, museums, on road trips, to historic sites, bush walks, sports games, swimming lessons, play them Mum music (Iggy Pop). We talk about things in the micro and the macro. I try to bring the world into our home. For example, my 6-year-old loves Antiques Roadshow and Time Team, (my influence of course), but it has been suggested that the “nana gene” is strong in this one. One night recently she started talking to me about the patterns and glazes of medieval floor tiles and how you could date them…she obviously has had the opportunity to learn about this (and now I have found this [.pdf] for her on the web) I am happy to run with that.

Yes the internet (and it was also the hope once held for television) can open our eyes and educate but it also very easy to go down a particular rabbit hole in the internet universe. We can surround ourselves with agreeable people on social media creating a bubble that doesn’t challenge us, we can search out only games or pron or whatever. Like eating only the foods that we know and like, it is often not good for us to have a narrow diet.

We also need to recognise that for many children (and adults) opportunities just aren’t there, or people just don’t know how to use or recognise them. School of course is a great environment for when the opportunities and experiences aren’t available in the home and school trips can provide those ‘eyes wide open’ moments. It is sad when I find that some schools can’t provide such opportunities as all resources must go into the core curriculum. Our own schools ensure no one misses out, however this is just not an option in some areas.

This is why I was very happy to contribute to this initiative from the Dowse who are a LEOTC provider.

And yeah I suppose I could give money more locally or perhaps wider (eg UNICEF) but I just hope one kid gets to stand in front of some art and gasp or cry or be affected and have their world widened by this scheme.


Tusiata Buchanan-Falema’a with a work by Reuben Patterson she chose for Pic ‘n Mix, at the Dowse.

I am very lucky these days to be travelling a bit for work and last week I got to Wellington for two days.

I like visiting Wellington, not sure how I’d do living there again though. I had a lot of fun at the second hand book stores

Embedded image permalink chapman

Nice to pick up some of David Merritt’s Landrover Press poems. There is something special about buying a single poem…..

Oh and the food…the food was wonderful and authentic and so much variety.

Sadly our National Gallery at Te Papa (yes I know) was closed for a rehang. I could have paid to see the the impressionist exhibition but I really was looking forward to seeing my old friends (McCahon, Clairmont etc). I was going to snark about this until several people reminded me that perhaps it wasn’t as awful as going to Paris to find the Louvre  or Musée d’Orsay closed. But still, but still.

However coming home is good and we are rich here in Dunedin in other ways. I also cannot deny my deep suburban-ness where I take pleasure in the look and smell of a freshly mown lawn.

Why I Backed the Bull

The amazing Christchurch Art Gallery is the gallery that could. It’s the gallery that still operates to an amazing level even when its closed.

It is the public gallery that has just managed to raise over $200,000 to bring Michael Parekowhai’s Chapman’s Homer permanently to Christchurch via the Pledge Me Back The Bull campaign.

So why did I, a resident of Dunedin, back the bull?

Well the artwork is awesome. Ok that is trite, I found this work deeply moving. It is so unsubtley strong but attenuated by the delicacy of a concert grand piano, albeit a bronze one. The bull is undoubtedly a strong statement and pianos can be either. In this case the strength to support a bull but also capable of calm and storm (videos feature another Parekowhai Piano). Christchurch seems to have taken this work to its heart.

Why Christchurch? Well they WANT it, in fact the Director of CAG, Jenny Harper, obviously wants it a lot.  The letter about my initial donation was hand signed (not a printed sig) and also had a personal note. That’s dedication. I ended up deciding to donate more. The CAG has always seemed to me intent on creating relationships with it’s audience. There is give and take and it has always felt personal and warm and truly invested. I don’t know how they managed this, but that is my relationship with CAG and I don’t even live in Christchurch. I am even a “Friend of the Gallery”….They are doing something very very right. It’s not that others don’t care, but many galleries have a ‘take us or leave us’ attitude, or something horribly one sided. I see change but I admit, my heart belongs to CAG.  And, after a loooong time I am finally able and very happy to give back to them. Also I can always visit…

Congratulations to the Christchurch Art Gallery and to Christchurch. And a huge pat on the back to staff but especially Jenny Harper, who wanted this to happen, and made it happen.

Seeing is believing

I have had an eventful time. Last week I reluctantly sought help for a persistent visual disturbance through the miracle of a twitter friend who works in the eye department at the hospital to see help immediately. So after a scramble to find someone to look after the children I ended up in ED, diagnosed with a detached retina and had acute surgery* the next day.

My vision the past week, at best, has been something like the first 5-6 seconds of this

Which really makes you appreciate full vision. Also I am not allowed to drive for about a month, and as the only driver in the family that has also presented problems. However travelling by bus, however tedious enables you to NOTICE things. Even if sometimes you notice incorrectly (due to the poor eyesight) e.g. The man I saw walking a very large cat which turned out to be a labradoodle. Taking time and noticing is very good and I have realised that seeing is only part of things even though is stuffed up my plans to go to the local showings of the New Zealand International Film Festival.

An example of seeing &  feeling might be this video that I found on YouTube which completely captured my own recent visit to Seacliff. I think this video – and its only a video – also captures the feel of the place. Its hard to say as I’ve been there several times and it certainly has an atmosphere. Interested to hear if readers get anything from the video.

However, the visual is just out of my reach for now, as is a long term prognosis on my sight.

Now you may go about your business as usual. Someone once said to me that no one  wants to read about YOU, unless you are Steve Braunias.

*Getting eye surgery under a local anaesthetic is… “interesting”

Dead Souls Tribe

Someone once gave me some very sage advice. “The things you have to work hard for are the best“. At the time I wasn’t very impressed with this, but actually it’s true, for me at least. Frequently I have to work hard* to attend things and today I dragged the family out early on a long promised outing, so I could make it home in time to get organised to go to a reading at Dead Soul Books.

These events always remind me how small Dunedin is and how good this can be. I turned up on my own not really expecting to know anyone except Dean Havard:- proprietor of Dead Souls books and also the man behind Kilmog Press. But as people arrived, it seemed like I knew nearly everyone. And the readers: Former Burns fellow, David Eggleton ; current Burns fellow David HowardLynley Edmeades, poet and one of the people behind Deep South. Dunedin is rich in the arts. The event was a launch for Vaughan Rapatahana’s books Toa and China as Kafka (a Kilmog Press book).

The setting was brilliant (Dead Souls is an atmospheric, old world bookshop), and the readings very good. I am sometimes wary of poetry, in fact I told someone at Dead Souls today that poetry makes me feel out of my depth. But I am a reader and consumer of poems. What I like is when a poem speaks to me, whispers in my ear, stays with me long after. Some times they reach out and grabs at me and today’s poems did that; Vaughan’s readings especially so. A poem from China as Kafka ‘At Waikanae’  described asa lovely, lyrical poem reminiscing about the teenaged poet and his cousin mowing the lawns at their urupa, tending the graves of their whanaunga. ” But it spoke to me of living and working on the Kapiti Coast, of the tangi and the urupa I encountered and the sadness. I felt homesick.

Rapatahana also read from his novel Toa “a road trip through the ‘skinny country’ where Mahon, an ex-university philosophy lecturer, and his gun ‘Molly’ blast their way across the country in a black Mark IV.” Now that’s a book you have to read – and I’m looking forward to reading my copy.

I often think of tribes (in a postmodern sense) as I move through life and especially at events like this. I’ve never quite found my tribe. There has always been a disconnect. Occasionally, like today I find myself on the edge of a group and think, “maybe this?” But mainly I think I live at the intersection of many – in that slim crossover area of a Venn diagram; a lost soul perhaps?

But did today’s poetry stay with me? Yes. Humming on the drive home and then while I cleaned out the rabbit hutch and I noticed how sweet the new hay smelled. It followed me to the supermarket and then while I folded the washing. And now while I write this…and that is all good.

Reading
Worst photo ever – David Howard, David Eggleton, Vaughan Rapatahana (and others) today at Dead Souls Bookshop

* It may not sound like work, but for me a trip to the public pools is like entering one of the seven circles of hell.

I have a new job and a major difference from my old job is the lack of a uniform. This is NOT good. I loved my uniform. Not because of what it stood for but a) I suit navy and b) it meant I didn’t have to think about clothes.

I am not a fashionable girl.

In fact in times past when I haven’t had a uniform, I’ve adopted one. e.g. when I was a Mum at home with three small children – T-shirt and jeans. IT person (and cable fairy) jeans and shirts. So I’ve been pondering what sort of pseudo uniform I could have now and this got me thinking about uniform & designers.

Exhibit one: The Air New Zealand Trelise Cooper Uniform. Its ok. I guess it works. I am not a Trelise fan.  In fact I over heard a funny conversation the other day in an op shop.

Manager “What a hideous blouse”

Assistant “But it’s Trelise!”

Manager “I guess its marvellous then”

Much laughter

So sorry but my uniform won’t be Cooper, my needs are more practical, less flouncy. I guess that means Alexander McQueen is out. Now I have to say I liked Mr McQueen’s designs of old because…well…they were artful..but not really for me. But isn’t this lovely? Owes quite a bit to the photography but still…

But the whole McQueen continuum following his death is creepy and as well a US$300 skull scarf is not me; Kmart has cotton knockoffs for $5 and skulls have been so done …

Robert Mapplethorpe, ‘Self-Portrait’ 1988
Robert Mapplethorpe (1988)

The only thing I have decided I would wear daily, if it was acceptable, is not a sculptural Isabella Blow hat but this:

In fact I am making one.

I think the Amish, Mennonites are on to something. Although plain dress and other garb related to religious observance is often considered restrictive and sometimes a form of control, I personally can see immense freedom in it.

Bring me a uniform (or at the very least a shrubbery).

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