The workspace hijack

In light of recent developments, mostly on the study front, I thought about issuing a statement amongst friends along the lines of: I’m going underground for a bit. By way of apology for being a bit shit. Shit at being sociable and keeping in touch. And just a bit shit in general. And then I remembered that I’m pretty much underground already, as far as extracurricular stuff goes. And probably more than just a little bit shit at all the stuff I’d like to be less shit at. So the memo’s sort of pointless.

I remember a while back my sister saying her personal comms fell by the wayside when a small person entered the fray. I commiserated, sort of, in an abstract way.

Please don’t consider this a blanket apology if you’re in any way on the receiving end of my shitness. If you are, I plan on one day joining you (maybe one day soon!), one on one, for one or several beverages in an adult-only environment, and I will issue you with your own unique, highly personalised, how-shit-am-I apology, retrospectively. Once I am less shit, less frazzled, less covered in shit (and by shit I don’t mean actual shit, just shit of the toothpaste and Weetbix variety smothered all down one arm unbeknownst to me until I’m sitting in a mid-morning meeting and happen to extend my peripheral vision beyond its usual bleary myopia), more Zen and more generally open-minded to happenings beyond my inbox/the kitchen/baby lunchbox/bill schedule. It’s gonna be awesome (and you may need to see me to my taxi afterwards, and possibly even pay for my taxi… and then I’ll issue you a whole new apology some time after).

Although I’m ever-resistant to baby pimping and mommy-blogging (but – disclaimer – I do love me a good mommy blog), please accept the following photo essay as an explanation of sorts.

Here is my home workspace, and a fairly good indication of its regular (read: daily) hijacking. Here is my excuse for every “What are you doing this weekend…?”  and “Are you still writing?” (Although admittedly the latter is a question  that gets asked less frequently these days.)

So your laptop's out of action. Big deal. Want a pen?
So your laptop’s out of action. Big deal. Want a pen?
So this email you need to send... just how important is it, really? I'll trade you 5 minutes of email time for an hour of YouTube Peppa Pig. Deal?
This email you need to send… just how important is it, really? I’ll trade you 5 minutes of email time for an hour of YouTube Peppa Pig. Deal? (Okay, kiddo, deal.)
So what do you call this, then? Notes for the next novel? This isn't a patch on that's not my puppy...
What do you call this, then? Notes for the next novel? This isn’t a patch on That’s not my puppy
So this is Windows 8? That's all very well, but how the hell do you log into this thing?
So this is Windows 8? That’s all very well, but how the hell do you log into this thing?

the world on a Friday night


This is what I get up to, home alone, on a Friday night. Digging out old Moleskine diaries and colouring in the world maps. I do it every year, and it means I’m forever destined to pay about 5 x more each year for a diary (than your trusty Collins option, say) because I want to keep the maps consistent. I think this was last year’s effort (if not, then the year before – things get mighty blurry round here these days).

As I traced the outlines of the world and then turned it two-toned — first black ocean and then black land mass — I thought about loved ones in various places. And then I thought about things like Syria and refugees and nuclear weapons. I also accidentally (due to the thickness of my pen and the thinness of numerous flecks on the globe) obliterated a fair number of the world’s more meagre islands. I felt omnipotent and a bit cruel. I also listened to a lot of The Veils and drank some vodka. But let it be noted I was killing off small islands before any vodka effects set in. And I have a remarkably steady hand, so even deep inside my Veils-and-vodka fugue I was respectfully firm of hand. Even the most jaggedy outcrops (e.g. the right hand side of Iceland) came out on top.

Tomorrow will be full of chlorine and tunnel-chasing. Also, I have run out of maps to colour in for the year (any donations of old Moleskine maps most appreciated), so must divert my attentions to more trifling things than charting the world. Cartography be damned; I think I’ll turn my hand to locating the best darned tunnels in town and then maybe top it all off by attempting to conceal small pieces of vegetable in masses and masses of mince. Don’t picture Martha Stewart because it will be nothing like that at all.

end of the American deodorant

2012 in pictures


So I needed a reason for coming here, however arbitrary. New Year’s giant boot upside the ass gave me one good reason. But, apart from the tyranny of unresolved resolutions that prey on my mind each year around this time, the thing that’s really been giving me pause is the all too foreseeable end of the American deodorant. (There are workarounds to be found, though — mere millimetres from the end of its life, I recapped the deodorant — out of respect, I guess, and also it had started crumbling the final shards of its being all over the carpet (it is — or was — deodorant of the retractable stick variety) — so it will be forever immortalised, never completely spent.)

You may have thought that the end of the American deodorant would turn out to be an allegory about American life — an allusion to a masked stench associated with fiscal cliff-hanging or the political quagmire of proposed gun reform, maybe…  But it’s not, sorry. For all the possible soapboxes I could stand on, that’s not one I would feel comfortable debating from. Also, my little bro goes in for all that stuff far better than I ever could. Here.

No, I’m talking about an actual stick of deodorant. I bought it in a Walgreens in Grass Valley in late May of this year. It was super cheap. I think I paid less than US $3 for it. Plus it was damned good quality. I got nearly six months out of that deodorant. That’s less than US 50c a month. Not that I make a point of working out what each of my toiletries costs me on a monthly basis… but I’m fairly confident that’s a bargain like no other on my cosmetics shelf. (I just calculated… daytime moisturiser = $5 per week; night-time moisturiser = $5 per week. My moisturisers and my American deodorant wouldn’t even fit on the same chart.)

I don’t know why I felt so sad about it coming to an end. All good deodorants do. (And bad deodorants, probably.) I should probably point out that as part of the Walgreens deodorant purchase I also bought a spectacularly shitty, eye-gougingly bad eyeliner: the worst, most crayon-like, eyelid-incompatible eyeliner I have ever had the displeasure of gouging my eyes with. So it’s swings and roundabouts… and there’s some consolation in knowing that.

Also in my nearly six months of American deodorant use, I have been reminded of many happy times in Walgreens, a lot of those spent buying Junior Mints. The best memory, though, gave us much to speculate on for the rest of our time in America, and I still don’t have a conclusive answer. Overheard in a Walgreens in San Francisco:

[So and so] to shaved meats, please… Or… [So and so] to shave needs… There were three of us hearing this (four if you count Oscar), and for some reason, although we couldn’t agree which was correct, we still exited the Walgreens without seeking out empirical evidence. And the more opinions we solicited from knowledgeable American folk, the more divided things became.  And although I frequented many a Walgreens after this, I never did find a shave needs or a shaved meats section.

As luck would have it, I found a new deodorant under my bed. It’s about five years old — not that you’d know it — and this time it’s spray on (I note from the packaging that not once is the word aerosol used). And now I have written myself into a strange little cul de sac, realising I have just spent 500 and something words talking about deodorant, with no witty segue making itself apparent, and not an allegory in sight.

So. In cases of no segue, photos of small children (or cats) work a treat.

Oscar, playing with designer toys this week at the New Dowse:

Osc in a box

for the love of vegetables

I think the secret to me continuing to come here will be keeping things simple and brief. For the time being, at least.

This is a celery flower I made today, just by chopping a bunch of celery at the stump. Before today I never knew celery could be pretty. I also tried to make a stamp out of it. That didn’t work so well. It also earned me some strange looks.

But what can I say… I spend a lot of time these days with vegetables. I turn weekend pureeing sessions into soup-making extravaganzas and all of a sudden it’s not the weekend any more, and all I can remember is the things I did with vegetables, nothing else.

The other night I had a dream and in that dream the only thing I remember (I think possibly it was actually the only thing in the dream) was a broken Pyrex jug (I also spend a lot of time with Pyrex jugs). It was kind of Dali-esque, only in a domestic setting (instead of lunar-looking empty nightscapes picture an expanse of marble benchtop – equally unsettling in its own way). The image of it stuck with me for ages. I spent more time thinking about it than I probably should have. It has changed my relationship with Pyrex jugs. Maybe not irrevocably. But for now it feels like I will never look at Pyrex jugs the same way again.

Three other things of domestic note:

1. The other day my stick blender started smoking. You know what I mean. (It didn’t cave under the immense workload demanded of it and head down the road for a packet of B&H.) And I kept using it, desperate, determined to see every ounce of swede (or whatever it was) pulverised beyond recognition if it was the last thing I ever did. And, billowing with smoke, it honoured its commitment. And it hasn’t smoked again since.

2. The other day (actually it was a few weeks ago now, but I don’t get here often) the Sodastream machine exploded everywhere. It was cataclysmic and traumatic and fortunately I didn’t have a small child in the kitchen with me at the time.

3. Recently, for the first time, I experienced Tupperware rage. I caught myself in the throes of this rage and made myself walk away from the cupboard. So much Tupperware (seriously, so much) and so few lids. I don’t get it. All I can think is that somewhere in some parallel universe there are a bunch of Tupperware lids, missing bath plugs and orphaned socks hanging out having a damn good laugh.

And that is also why I should keep things short here. There are only so many domestic encounters a person can handle being subjected to second-hand.

I like hanging out with vegetables, though. It’s a total conceit but it makes me feel at one with things. I think of colonial New Zealand women with giant shelf-bosoms (I don’t know why I had to include that detail, but it’s all part of the conceit) preparing meals and it makes me feel like maybe nothing much really changes (outside of everything always changing, that is). That there will always be women (men too, probably, but not with shelf-bosoms) standing at sinks, accidentally wet around the tummy mark, accumulating piles of peelings, caught in very prosaic reveries (has such-and-such a bill been paid… where have the parking tickets disappeared to, etc). I like vegetable time the way I imagine I might have liked gardening if I had come into genetic possession of a green thumb.

Anyway, this isn’t particularly brief.

So, to end, a quote from Ann Patchett, from her Kindle Single, The Getaway Car.

Leaf Magic


Today is Margaret Mahy day in our house. We started with my 34 year-old copy of Leaf Magic but had to retire that one pretty quickly on account of it being completely spineless and because Oscar’s eight month-old reading habits have more to do with tugging than any kind of actual reading. I let him attempt to lick the leaves on the front cover for for a bit, though, before we moved onto his shiny new Margaret Mahy storybook compendium. To be honest we didn’t get too far with that one, either, although Oscar did fixate on a teddy bear in The Witch in the Cherry Tree for a while. His book interaction usually involves him singling out an object (in this case the teddy bear), making a big kissy mouth at it, trying to eat said object and yelling at it, with his dribbly little mouth affixed to the page.

Also we moved on from reading time because I got weepy reading to him and trying to explain Margaret Mahy’s passing, and also because he spied the shiny bin in his room and wanted to marvel at his big warped reflection in it.


Margaret wrote this inscription when I was three months old. And some years later (hopefully not too many years later, because my attention to detail is rubbish) I used it for writing practice. Interestingly enough I corrected the spelling of my name and reciprocated by misspelling hers (as well as introducing a few extra misspellings). Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery and all.

In happier literary news, four new Katherine Mansfield stories have been discovered. I learned of this shortly before I learnt about Margaret. It was an emotional rollercoaster of an evening.

And here’s Oscar practising his reading on a more durable target: my brother’s Listener article from last week.

the penguin talisman

School’s back from summer and Aro Valley is abuzz with the beautiful bright-eyedness of youth. As I purposefully pace the streets in my probably very uncool gym gear (which is either on a par with or fractionally worse than my post-pregnancy predilection for all things cotton knit) I get to overhear conversations like this one (fresh off the streets, only three hours old):

I made my first gay friend today.


I know! I was so excited!

Kinda sweet, and a hell of a lot better than bigotry on the streets of Wellington, for sure. I guess it just makes me feel ancient, especially when my conversations go something like:

ME: I made it to the supermarket today!

SIMON: Yay. (Actually, yay is not a word Simon uses particularly often. Or ever, come to think of it.)

ME: I know! I got you new batteries and shaved chicken, and baby wipes were on special!

I usually catch myself midway through these conversations and think of the get better work stories ad campaign the Police ran a while back.

And speaking of work. I think I’ve only got four weeks before I re-enter the workforce. I’m a bit excited, which I definitely wasn’t expecting. Not that it will give me better work stories. I never really had good work stories. Or probably it’s more that I never really had the energy or inclination to discuss work-related things after hours. Periodically Simon asks me to explain what I do. He still doesn’t really know. And, to be fair, I’m not particularly good at explaining. But I’m not very good at explaining anything (unless you give me an hour and a piece of paper), especially if it’s something I should be good at explaining. Like my book. Back in the day when it was still an occasional subject of conversation and people asked for a précis, I would look blankly at them and defer to Simon, who would always dutifully step in with the Cliff Notes.

I wonder if I’ll look back on this time as a haze of Downton Abbey and detective fiction. As an almost-summer with a tiny little baby who has suddenly become a giant big lump of baby. It’s all blurry already. I tried to capture some stuff on film and when I watch it back it’s 20 versions of the same thing: Oscar lying there gurgling and me squeaking out my inane narration (mostly: Oscar! Oscar! Good boy! over and over). I guess it’s all fodder for the time capsule.

So March is the month of me spending small parcels of time away from my little possum so that I don’t fall to pieces on my work days or spend all my time calling home for updates and staring at a bigger than life-sized screensaver photo of Oscar’s head when I should be working. It’s all very strategic. And so far, so good. Mind you, to date I have only had two night time outings without him, and a handful of hour-long stretches outside of the house on my own. Tomorrow is an epic exercise in *me time* — three Readers and Writers sessions during the day and an Arts Festival gig tomorrow night. It could quite possibly blow my mind. Right now I feel like I did the night before I went to Rainbow’s End for the first time as a small child.

This week I unearthed my penguin talisman (above). I kept spotting it tucked away high on the laundry shelf. Many years ago my sister Amy made it for me out of a milk bottle, a bunch of stones, some papier mâché, paint and lacquer. I’ve had it about as long as I’ve had James’ pieta. Maybe 19 years? I think it was supposed to be a doorstop. But it’s pretty flimsy, never doorstop material, really, so now it’s a talisman. Maybe it’s dumb to bestow supernatural qualities on inanimate objects, or to pray to spotty penguins. Whatever gets you through, I say. God, penguins… I look at the penguin and I think: It will all be okay. I think it and I believe it. And somehow the penguin helps with the believing part, whacky as that may be.

I also have my worry dolls. They’re not de rigeur at the moment. Or, they fell out of fashion and now I can’t remember where I put them.

Oscar and I like to walk around Te Papa. It’s one of those things you never do as a worker. I’ve spent some time standing in front of this painting lately, drawing strength from it.


I am scared. I stand up. Seems like the bravest thing to do.

A month in images

In the rash and heady early hours of this year I cut myself what I thought was a pretty cushy deal: one blog post per month, minimum. And so today’s leap day leapt upon me and now here I am, working to deadline, watery White Russian in hand, trying to scrape together enough words and stuff to do justice to the February that Was.

Trouble is, I can barely remember February. The pressure is humungous. Plus the White Russian is making my arms ever so slightly floppy. Also I am a newly-converted early-to-bedder and most useful thoughts swiftly exit my head about the time the six o’clock news kicks off, and it’s a slippery slope into sleep mode from there. The upside of this is that I read a grand total of six (adult) books in February (Goodreads kindly keeps track for me). The downside is that nighttime is now almost exclusively for rest. Not making stuff. Unless making stuff includes sandwiches and fruit salad at ~5.30 most mornings. (And that in itself is just downright weird. It feels weird just writing it. But it’s true. This is life now.)

Here are some February photos/images. I thought I would talk my way through them and maybe find/remember something/some things of interest as I go. Figure 1 (above) I made while Oscar was napping last week. I think the internet has done it to me. I have a thing about thumbnails and how they’re pretty. Or how they can be pretty if arranged the right way. (Speaking of pretty, I went to see the new(ish?) contemporary collection at Te Papa last week and eavesdropped on a group of students talking through the meaning of one of the paintings. How the white signified freedom and the black signified societal pressure or something. And I thought: bullshit. And I thought: I just want to look at things that are pretty. I spent a lot of time entranced by an early Peter Robinson, taken with it because one of the objects looked like a giant truffle and another was studded with ruby-like gems. And they were shiny. And pretty. A major in art history (admittedly earned some years ago now) and that’s the extent of it. I like art because I don’t have to attach words to it. That’s what words are for. I will attach words to words ad infinitum, no problem, but art lets me be dumb.)

Anyway, I’m in the process of turning the black and white thumbnails into postcards. If you want some, message me or something. I’m not going to do the Felt shop thing any more; it’s too much like hard work and hard work means staying up past my bedtime.

It’s a lot harder to head for the hills with a 16 week-old in tow. Tomorrow we hit the road and tonight I wander around the house making mental lists of stuff Oscar needs and then promptly forgetting… Man, for a chilled out wee kid who demands nothing of the world but food and smiles, that boy is high maintenance. To better reflect the state of things, we have renamed our den/library Oscar’s cloak room. I should probably mention, too, that his cloak room is merely an anteroom to his bedroom, and for now his bedroom is only used for costume changes and the admiration of dangling objects. Between the hours of 5.45am and 7.55pm, our living area is Oscar’s play area, our bedroom is his bedroom 24/7, and the kitchen table hosts his (increasingly messy) bath each night. And, needless to say, he dominates the laundry. By my reckoning, it’s only the study and the bathroom he hasn’t got his paws on yet. Which might explain why I can count on one hand the number of times I have been into the study in the past four months.

Road trips are cool, though.

This is a photo of a painting of the Canterbury Plains. It’s by Pauline Trengrove, who I believe is Sir Miles Warren’s sister. It lives above my bed and has followed me around the country for the past 14 or so years. I guess it’s not without irony that in the case of an earthquake it could be the first thing to scone us. On the anniversary of the February earthquake I stayed in my pyjamas for the morning and reunited myself with the internet, reading earthquake blog posts and crying my way through the comments. I thought a lot about all my Christchurch family (and, thinking about them, cried some more) and how they’re dispersing. How I’m glad my grandparents, who both passed away shortly before the February quake, didn’t live to see it. On the night of the day it happened, needing to do something to occupy myself, I stripped the apple trees in my garden and made trays and trays of muffins. Now I look out at the garden and the apples are there again (my need for muffin rampages is long gone, though). That day Oscar wasn’t even a twinkle in anyone’s eye and now he’s nigh on four months old. I know 2011 was downright ratshit for so many people. But for me it was wonderful. And I guess, in a roundabout way, the earthquake helped it to be wonderful. That’s a pretty vague statement, I know. Sometimes you realise life is too short to be spending it worrying.

And this needs no explanation.

I love my street. It’s full of meatheads and bohemians. Not sure what whoever wrote this was on about, though. Every time I pass it I try to work out what it’s meaning to say. A solution? Not knowing is really bugging me.

Earlier in February, with the Piri Weepu bottle feeding incident, I thought about the furore a lot. With my work hat on, I tried to understand it from a PR perspective, as a reductive media portrayal of hero (Piri) against villain (La Leche et al), and as an abject failure of public service messaging — before and during and after the fact. With my mommy hat on I paid close attention to the outpouring of public sentiment. Having recently failed pretty spectacularly at breastfeeding myself, I had a vested interest in the debate and my own views on the matter (which have since softened as the memory of all that angst and frustration — and guilt — fades). And then when Facebook banned pictures of women breastfeeding I thought about breast stuff even more. And I remembered how in intermediate we used our calculators to spell out BOOBLESS. (Or 55378008 turned upside down.) Now it just seems pointless and juvenile and insensitive. Back then it was a naughty revelation. Wanting to channel my inner tween or something, I found a caculator font (since we don’t have a single working calculator in the house) and replicated it (above). And I saw something I never saw back then. When I look at it now I see GODBLESS as much as I see BOOBLESS. That tripped me out for a bit. Mind you, in recent weeks I have also been known to absentmindedly pat a pair of scrunched up leggings, mistaking them for a cat (WTF? I’m really not sure why that happened, or why I continued to pat them even after I realised my mistake). And one night at about 3 in the morning I sat up in bed marvelling at the fact that thicken rhymes with chicken. In hindsight I don’t know what’s so mindblowing about this, but at the time it was pretty significant.

Now there are only 28 minutes left of February, which makes it very late indeed. It’s pissing down. I’ve meandered for long enough. In March I will make an effort to wear clothes that aren’t always cotton knit. I will continue to hone my extremely rubbish one income budgeting skills. I will sleep more and will not go to bed in lasagne-encrusted pyjamas. I will not watch lunchtime Emmerdale. But I may sometimes allow myself the occasional 4pm Murder She Wrote treat. All lofty goals. And that’s all nothing compared with the month of new and exciting adventures Oscar has in store. Such fun! (As Miranda’s mother would say.)