the vanity project (i)

You know when you write your name over and over until it doesn’t seem like it’s yours. Or like it’s so much yours you feel ill with it, with the sprawling scrawly endlessly sicked-up excess of it. Well, that’s what I was doing tonight, only with my KATY woodblocks. I started arranging them in daylight and finished when it was completely dark outside.

On the phone tonight Dad said touch wood and I knew right away what I would be doing when I got off the phone. I also knew I would be killing significant amounts of time tonight, just waiting, so it made perfect sense to kill time with my wooden blocks. And I was touching wood while I did, which seemed like the most productive/least agitated thing I could do while also biding time.

My aunt gave me my name in blocks when I was a baby. My grandmother kept a lower case d on the drinks table next to her chair in the den since forever. She touched it about a million times a sitting. She’d rest her hand on the top of the stem of the d and squeeze, praying for the immediate and the non-specific, all at once. It was a habit. She was sent away to the other side with the d beside her. My grandfather, in the coffin right beside her, was sent away with a packet of cigarettes in his breast pocket. Dad and his siblings wanted to tuck his lighter in there too but it was a fire hazard. The church man assured them he’d get a light on the way through.

Sad songs on jangly pianos

So, today. The Queen is on Facebook. It has been a week of quirks and television. Our ghost has given up its pranks for now, though, which is a bit disappointing. Although various other characters — a veritable spate of them — have appeared from out of the ancient woodwork only slightly more crinkled than they were when last I saw them.

There’s sun at home time. Today for the first time I noticed the shoes slung over the phone lines in our street. It all augurs well. They’ve been there for a while, too. I could tell because the sunlight was catching their cobwebs.

I am fighting the urge to abandon this and go and watch Grand Designs. Our new TV set-up is quite something (even better in the weekend when we turn it into a hut with blankets and pillows and stuff). I can cook and watch TV simultaneously (not when I’m in the hut, though). Which is practically revolutionary.

Tonight we finally watched The Man in the Hat doco on Peter McLeavey (as he takes the longest walk from Thorndon to Cuba Street EVER, but it’s all the more charming/ambling/familiar for it). I wasn’t cooking as we watched it, and neither was I in the TV hut (given that it’s only Monday, and that’s not school-night behaviour).

Speaking of docos, Aro Valley highlights so far:

  • Aro Video (and their 10-trip concession cards)
  • Shoes on the wire
  • Aro Cafe coffee (and their food)
  • Aro Fish & Chips
  • The philosophy school (I haven’t been to class in a while — I think my philosophy fad may have permanently passed now — but the exterior is impressive enough on its own)
  • Our cul-de-sac, apart from the Bird Shit Tree, which isn’t cool (although it does make us clean the car more often).

Ew. Can’t believe I just used BULLET POINTS here (also not sure why I’ve started accentuating words in caps of late, either, but we’ll leave that for now) — makes me feel like I’m at work. But they did tidy things up a bit, so I’ll leave them.

Another list I started compiling in my head today (not sure whether or not to use bullet points here… dilemma) —

my life’s ambitions and/or obsessions/preoccupations (for this week):

  • Crown Lynn Air New Zealand koru plates
  • Laurence Aberhart photography
  • Lampshades
  • Sad songs on jangly pianos (but more on that in a minute)
  • Card making marathons
  • Ghost baiting

Today it was my night to introduce new music to Simon. Mostly of the sad-songs-on-jangly-piano variety. I listened to Perfume Genius a lot today. This is him here. Look at his face and listen to the words and if your facial muscles don’t so much as twitch then you’re officially a monster.

fairy lights & bucket fountain

Okay, so just quickly. I’m not even sure what I’m doing here. 1.44am. I guess I just felt like checking in.

Reading out loud is super awesome. Being read to, out loud, is even better. Listening is good. And hard. I am really shit at it. Or I’m okay at it when it doesn’t really matter and sub par when it probably does.

I have been all about the traps. This morning (or should I say yesterday morning) I smacked myself in the head with the receiver of an old-school phone while trying to silence my programmed wake-up call. And a few hours before that I had to get someone to prise a boot from my foot with joint-dislocating force. It was so nice to have my foot back, even if those boots will never see the light of day again.

Sometimes it’s the things you can’t pay for (or the things you’re used to having and are for some reason parted with) that you end up wanting the most. Like a foot, for example. The boot itself is inconsequential in the scheme of things. 

I think I might read my book now. For like five minutes or something. In my own bed, no chance of injuring myself with the bedside furniture in the dark of early morning.

Tonight we almost danced.

The day before yesterday I wrote a prose poem (um, for want of a better description) on a sick bag, partially to distract myself from turbulence.

Tonight I was quite taken with fairy lights and the very spluttery bucket fountain.

Tomorrow I don’t know what.


Well well. I have spent the last ten minutes or so transfixed by pictures of unicorns. Only because I couldn’t find the photos of the rainbow I took from the Harbour Bridge this afternoon from a moving taxi. Stupid phone camera. I think there might have been one good photo in there too – the great syringe of Sky Tower momentarily radiant with rainbow light. I saw at least three rainbows today. It only occurred to me to photograph the third. Although I shouldn’t have bothered, as it turned out. Anyway, this is by far the best unicorn I have seen tonight.

Maybe it’s actually impossible to capture a rainbow on film. Like singling Bigfoot out for a mugshot or catching a mirage in a bucket or… I know it’s actually not impossible but at the time it did feel like a pretty elusive and unoutsmartable thing to be attempting to apprehend.

Solitary non-leisure travel is a funny thing. I like it, so long as I don’t have to be upright or civil in the red-eye hours. I won’t do that for anyone. (Unless, like this morning, they’re two years old and they sneak into my room and blindside me with their bamboozling cuteness before I am awake enough to understand what I have blearily agreed to.)   

It’s weird and kind of nice being alone for such long stretches of time. Unless it’s bumpy upon landing and I have no one’s hand to hold. That always feels a bit strange. It’s also weird finding something stupidly funny and having no outlet for it outside my own head. No one to validate the thing’s funniness. Which might mean that it’s not funny at all.

Like yesterday at the Auckland baggage carousel there was a taxi man waiting with his little blackboard thingy. He was waiting to pick up someone called A CHIU. Not particularly funny to most, maybe, but it felt like a bit of a missed opportunity to me, all on my own. And, what’s more, laughing uproariously all on your own = crazy.

Some things I will never learn, no matter how much I travel. Like: to cut down on items of hand luggage so as not to get tangled up in them with no sympathetic person beside me to share the burden of my overpacking habit. And to remember to keep a pen on my person at all times.

I don’t know what, exactly, I was planning to do on the flight home tonight. But I accidentally boarded the plane with no pen on my person, and began to get a quite antsy about it. The thing that’s ridiculous though was that even if I had had a pen on my person, all I would have done was sit there and watch hopefully as the drinks trolley advanced slowly down the aisle towards me. Or maybe eavesdrop a little. Or sleep. And it’s not like I was going to write anything of note on a 50-minute flight with about 5cm elbow room on either side of me. Maybe it’s a security blanket thing. Maybe it goes some way to explaining why I have such a giant personal collection of writing instruments.

 Today I thought a bit about how I really quite like Auckland. After all this time, I actually do. I pretty much spent most of my years as a minor there. Now I mostly just pass through. Yesterday the taxi stopped at the Ranfurly Road traffic lights and I looked in at the dairy where we used to sneak away from boarding school to buy 10-packs of cigarettes, back in the day when there was such a thing as 10-packs of cigarettes. Now it’s just strange snatches of memory, usually triggered from the backseat of a moving car, in transit between here and there.

In between meetings this morning I sat editing a Very Serious Document at a cafe down by the water. I thought back to younger me in the Auckland days. I wondered what younger me would have thought of older me. Older me, sitting with a fucked back with too many bags around me. Trying to stare at the words in front of me instead of the sunshowers out on the water. Checking the time. Checking emails without really even reading them. Mentally preparing for the day of glass-walled meetings ahead. Letting my tea go cold.  

the old Wellington

I have no voice. Really. It’s quite funny. I reckon I could get by for ages without talking. People look at me with puppy eyes, which is amusing enough in itself, temporarily. My huskiness is much more endearing than Simon’s current lung-wrenching, gravel-toned cough, for example.

Crushed ice and wool-lined slippers help, but sleep doesn’t. This morning Bruce gave me some lozenges that singers use, but they tasted like something you’d stick in your car’s engine or baste your tyres with, so for now I have opted for silence.

I’m not a huge fan of internet malady-talkers. (e.g. the I’m so sick of being sick Facebook status update, usually from the same person every three weeks or so.) That’s not what I’m meaning to do here. My cute muteness is just an intro.

I’m not from Wellington originally. I came to Wellington full-time in — I think — July or August of 2000. So by my reckoning I’m coming up a decade in this fine town. I don’t mean that sarcastically, either. I really can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be.

This evening as I attempted to compose my sickly self in a darkened steamy room, I had one of those flooring childhood flashbacks. My first memory of coming to Wellington as a kid.

I remember not being well. I think I must have had a chest infection. I remember everything having a funny smell, everything tasting strange and musty, but it must have been coming from inside me. I remember being sort of febrile and disoriented, intruiged in a fuzzy sort of way. I remember it being bone-bitingly cold as well, so I’m guessing it was winter.

We were staying with my aunt and my uncle and my cousins. The cousins were older. I actually don’t remember very much at all about the trip. It’s all a bit fish-eyed. I might have been four. Five maybe. I’ll consult with my mother about this tomorrow. (I thought it best to write this with the partial memory still unfettered, none of the gaps filled in.)

I remember things being goat-tracky, landscape-wise. Also the cousins had their own underground world. Subterranean cubbyhouses and secret clubs, that kind of thing, under the house. It was immensely impressive to someone of my inferior years. I think just being let in to their sunken den made me all at once forget my childish ailments. I didn’t want to blot my copybook. I remember being acutely aware of the extreme privilege that was being bestowed upon me by being brought into their fold. It sounds silly now.

In later years we used to drive through Wellington on university holidays on our way back home. Bex and I would make mix tapes and make our way up to Picton late at night, smoking with the VW/Fiat windows wound down. Wellington was a place of harbour lights and stopping by.

Sometimes I would stop over for a couple of days and crash with my Vic friends. 262 The Terrace. That was where Simon lived, way back before any of this. There was a hole in the bathroom floor people used to fall into. Takeaway food was the only way to ensure sanitary dining. It was vile and beautiful and chaotic and eye-opening. It felt like a halfway house or a commune. I can’t even really go into it here. I remember every inch of that place vividly. It’s one of those places you hope you’ll only encounter once. But then it’s also one of those places that you’ll look back on for the rest of your life knowing that you’ll never get any of that craziness back again. It’s a myth.

So I suppose tonight I thought about my mythical Wellington. Chapter One. The time before I came to dwell here. All brought on by a dose of laryngitis and a lukewarm bath. Funny how these dinky old recollections come about.

the sky in postcards

It didn’t look anything like this today. I am about to drink brandy and warm my feet. Baxo is huddled behind the warm awning of my laptop screen. I am listening to Boomin’ Granny. I used to put it on repeat and let it go all night, just that one song. If you can call it a song? There was something calming about it. I saw you in the check out line – you dropped your coupons – and you were looking fine.

Just before, woefully underclothed at the bus stop, I had time to think about the Blog Explosion. (Funny how when you put capital letters on something it looks that much more noteworthy and like a Real Thing.) It wasn’t really a lofty or particularly probing train of thought. I started by thinking about myself. Which is a hard thing to help. I wish I could. I would like not to think about myself. It would be so much easier if I didn’t wake up with myself every morning. Not that I’m making excuses or anything.

So, an approximation of my bus stop thinking process:

ME: I should write that media release when I get home.

ME: But I should probably write a blog. I haven’t had the inclination to write anything whatsoever in ages.

ME: I’ve got nothing to say. God I’m boring.

ME: Or is it that everything else is boring?

ME: But I have to write something. 

(Picture me now squinting, straining for subject matter, coming up with nothing. A man carrying plastic bags sits down a bit too close to me. The bus at the corner honks louder and longer than is strictly necessary at the daydreaming driver in front, chastising them for their green-turning-arrow-oblivion. Plus it’s cold. It’s getting late. It’s nothing like anything you might see on a postcard.)

From there I wondered about our compulsion to blog. Not just to blog but to digitally proliferate with such fervour that the big ball of matter that is the internet doubles its volume every 11 hours.* 
I get it, most of the time. I get being online. I get why it’s good. I know what I like about it. I stay away from the dumb stuff. The web delights me. It is such a strange monstrous nebulously spongy thing. It’s one big bottomless cyber maw, rejecting nothing. It is revolutionary in big and small ways. It is also a bit revolting.
But the web is just a thing. We put it there, filled it up and made it what it is today (and a mere half of what it will be 11 hours from now). It’s just a macabre over-inflated warped hall-of-mirrors reflection of ourselves. The world’s newest biggest dumping ground, twinkling inside the lit-up husks of our computer screens.
In part the web interests me in the same way garage sales do. The casual but grubby voyeurism. The sheer boundaryless democracy of it. The bargains to be had and the pathos to be felt. Bobbing-headed car-dogs and posies of scented plastic flowers and desiderata plaques mixed in with pristine children’s encyclopedias, unchipped Crown Lynn and art heirlooms that haven’t seen the light outside the hicktown shed for decades.
But going back to me thinking about blogs as I waited for the bus, what I ended up thinking was: why do we do it? What is this human need… This need to chatter away about nothing?
Sometimes in the dark of night I like to personify the web. Metaphoricise it, if that’s even a word. It’s a game I play now that I’ve stopped putting Boomin’ Granny on repeat all night long.
Like: a giant driftnet catching flotsam and jetsam and stuff like the plastic shit you pull off six packs of beer.   
Or a big lucky dip barrel.
Or. Actually I’m out of ideas now. You could give me some more, if you felt like it. I would like that. There’s a comments thingy down below which allows you to do that sort of thing.
Now it is brandy time. On that, Lord Byron was enbalmed in a vat of brandy. I am the picture of restraint by comparison.
* A few years ago IBM predicted that by the year 2010 the web would double in size every 11 hours. I’m not sure if it worked out bang on prediction. Someone told me the other day the web now doubles in size every week. But who are you supposed to believe in this day and age? [And, whatever you do, don’t take it from me.] Someone also told me that 1500000000000000000 bytes of new information was posted to the web last year. Well, true or not – and I’m sure it’s probably staggering – a number that big means absolutely nothing to me. It’s like saying infinity plus one

street signs (it will all be okay)

I saw this today on Buckle Street, driving by, and drove back tonight to get a photo of it. It has been made with ripped up bandages and rags. I’d like to know who made it, and what possessed them.

I like it when messages from the street come out of nowhere and stay with me. Or when something stands out (like the giant carwash-advertising bear standing by the Basin, waving at passing cars). It’s like the freeway information sign that speaks to Steve Martin’s character in LA Story.

It will all be okay.

It is Sunday night. No, actually it’s one minute into Monday morning. I woulda posted this earlier but Henry Rollins talked all night.

It’s like that saying I got given to me on a card one time. It will all be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.

It took me a while to work out what that meant, but I kept the card pinned to the fridge until I figured I had a handle on it. Something about having faith in what lies ahead, a belief in some kind of order and balance in the world, and some other stuff.

And here’s one of the super-cyberly-ubiquitous Keep Calm posters.

It’s framed and hung to the left of the front door, so that I see it when I leave the house every morning. On the mornings when I remember to look.

[Remembering to look is a whole other thing, which I will talk about maybe later this week. I started thinking about it on Friday after work when I got off the bus, looking up at my street as I waited to cross the road. I craned my neck more vigorously than usual, or something, and took in all of the shaggy greenbelt looming above my street. And I thought to myself ‘holy shit – that’s right – there’s a greenbelt right there. When in theory I should notice or in some way register it every day. But anyway.]

It’s good to remember to keep calm and carry on. And that it will all be okay, in the end, wherever and whatever the end may be. 



this is water

I have been meaning to write this particular thing for a while.

See how the words are crooked? That’s because I accidentally scanned them that way, and now that I am sitting down there’s no way that even the dormant perfectionist in me is going to get me back up again to rescan it.

I first read This is Water when it was still online. I think I read it online, when David Foster Wallace was still alive. Now he is not alive and This is Water (well, the original transcript of his address to the graduating class of Kenyon College) is no longer online. It got pulled down and the words got turned into the thing I just scanned crookedly: This is Water.

Part of the reason it took me so long to get around to writing this was because I couldn’t find it online any more. And I also couldn’t find the pocket book it had been turned into on our shelves. It is a small book and our shelves are positively cavernous (or not so much cavernous as they are like a Sunday afternoon excavation project, if you can be bothered really digging for the book you think you might be after, which is mostly not the case at all).

I have been thinking about DFW a bit lately. Maybe partly because Mark Linkous just recently took a text message, walked out on a group of friends, slightly distressed, and shot himself in the chest. Not that DFW and ML are in any particular way similar. It’s just a bit – I don’t know – shit when you realise that sometimes (often) sheer cleverness, even outlandish talent, provides no shield against the demons. That, in fact, the presence of cleverness and talent seems to actually heighten or make more probable the exposure to the influence of the demons. (Actually, don’t let me get started on that. It isn’t what I wanted to write about, and now I am hijacking my own post with my own side-trackedness.)

So, the basic premise of This is Water (paraphrased): two little fish are swimming around and an older fish swims past and says to them: how’s the water? One little fish turns to the other little fish and says: what the hell is water?

DFW isn’t – or should I say wasn’t – one for neat, tidily wrapped up little parables.

He says: “The immediate point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.”

The water is all around us. But do we see it?

I don’t really want to summarise (but I will, of course I will,  in my own long-winded way). DFW is addressing a bunch of arts grads. He’s talking to them about going out into the world, about the value of a liberal arts education, more or less. He’s talking about the power of observing the world from all different kinds of angles, about mundanity and empathy. About getting through. About the fluidity of meaning. About critical thinking and our own unstoppable self-centredness.

He says: “Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence.”

And that this is true for all of us.

And that some of us over-intellectualise and get stuck in our own skulls.

And how somehow we need to exercise control over the world inside our heads, decide what to think and to care about, and to see outside ourselves.

How we need to get through the day in, day out meaningfully. Because most of adult life is just that. Getting through the boring shit.

And that we get to choose. What to believe in. What to make real.

And then he says: “I wish you all way more than luck.”


Okay, so…. what I was going to write about was my walk to work every morning, and sometimes my walk home. How sometimes I look around me and think: this is water. I try to remember to be present. To notice it. Before the day starts with all kinds of people in it and all my attention gets sucked up and blown away.

I walk down the hill and through the cemetery every day. I had been doing this for about four years before I learned about the motorway project blitzing through the middle of it, and the mass grave that now sits beside it.

In Art History at secondary school when we studied Rita Angus I remember her Wellington paintings, and her Bolton Street Cemetery paintings. Often when I walk through the cemetery every morning I think of Rita Angus being right where I’m walking.

It’s kind of cool to think about.

Sometimes I panic because I feel like I am losing sight of the thing that is water. So I just try and concentrate really hard on the small and beautiful things around me. The things I see every day and might forget.

Autopilot is easier than anything that requires effort. Especially the older you get. That’s what I think, anyway.

A while ago I wrote about a piece of rock I saw every day. It looked like a heart.

Noticing is a thing I try and practice most mornings, even if I have ceased to notice most things by the time I have hit the dregs of my morning coffee.

It’s not even a writing thing, noticing. It’s just a working out what matters to me thing. And I only really work it out about 5% of the time (to put an arbitrary number on it).

And here is one of my other daily views. I took the photos on my phone, and then tried to put them together as a composite/panoramic photo. Note the crooked building in the middle, the change in lighting and the half a bus…

night excursions

This is a picture I took on my phone this evening in Martinborough. It’s a little wooden church with the lights on inside, at the very end of sunset.

I just went through my camera photos and discovered a lot of wobbly photos I have taken recently on night excursions. Some of which I will share here, some I will relegate to the recycle bin where they belong. Actually, many of the ones I will share most likely belong in the recycle bin too, but there is something charming about their wobbliness, or I want to keep them as a mental note of the evening.

I like night a lot. I am a night person. Night is weird, though. Everything changes. Perspective changes. In the dead of night things mushroom or snowball or balloon – whatever the word is. Things take on eerie shapes, quite divorced from their innocent daytime form.

Things look nice at night. Lights are nice. Candlelight is nice. Dim rooms are nice. Light against dark is nice. I think partly I take night excursion photos because I like the way things look when I cannot see them properly, and really for no other reason than that. I like things lit up. I like walking when it’s nearly night time and seeing people’s lights come on.  [On that, Ali Smith wrote a really good story about that – the feeling you get when you see the lights in other people’s houses. I did try and find the story, but it’s buried somewhere three-deep and I gave up. I think the story is in the collection called Hotel World.]

I have an old favourite book called Night, by A. Alvarez. It’s really just a study of what night – and darkness – is. I might read it again, now that I have pulled it out, right after I finish reading my field study of melancholy.

I like this quote, from Don DeLillo’s Americana: I began in the dark and would no doubt end the same way. But somewhere between the beginning and the end there would have to be an attempt to explain the darkness, if only to myself, no matter how strange a form the explanation would take, and regardless of consequence.

Dark is a bit of a clusterfuck, when you think about it. Maybe it pays not to, most of the time [see earlier post on overthinking].

I didn’t take the No Exit photo. It is a (bad) photo of a photo by Leigh Mitchell Anyon from his Night Series. I had to get the camera on an angle where the light wouldn’t reflect in the glass, so there are a few foreign objects (namely circular black object above right hand barrel) that aren’t in the original.

This is Oriental Parade on a still night.

This is a pretty lightshow at a concert.

This is some kind of fairground attraction.

These are fireworks that look like jellyfish.

This is a full moon.

And these are apartment lights that nearly look like cats’ eyes.