On Love and Art and Maps

On our very first date my husband and I discovered that we share a love of maps.  In retrospect I can see now that we were coming from completely different planets, so to speak. His the planet in which the words “Cadastral” and “Great Circles” featured majorly. Mine the planet of the isolated farmhouse at the end of the road and my desire to visit it. But we both still find maps beautiful and own several sets of topographic maps. We have kept quiet about this bond, until now that is. Because Art and Maps are IN.

A Map of the World According to Illustrators and StorytellersTelling your life story through maps is the new therapy de jour. A great place to start is with a beautiful book entitled A Map of the World According to Illustrators and Storytellers. This book plays down accuracy in favour of getting the message across. Eighty-nine creatives map out their lives and their places. The variety of approaches is gobsmacking. One of my favourites is the Happy Planet Map on page 212. It may inspire you to look at your surroundings, and your life, and create your own map of how you feel about them.

Mapping ManhattanAnother take on maps and art and life  is Mapping Manhattan A Love (and Sometimes Hate) Story in Maps by 75 New Yorkers. Here random New Yorkers were given simple, identical outline maps of New York and asked to tell their story of this city in any way that they liked. Seventy-five posted back their offerings to Becky Cooper who put them together into this fascinating little book. She says of this initiative:

Maps and Memories are bound together, a little like songs and love affairs are.

Making Art from MapsIn Making Art from Maps, the author Jill Berry starts from the belief that we all love maps. She loves them and she also loves art. These two loves started gelling somewhere along the way and resulted in this book where Jill and forty-one artists take maps and do astonishingly transformative things with them. This 2016 book would be a useful addition to the library of anyone who likes playing around with paper.

And closer to home, Even Smith’s Journal recognises that the day of the map is upon us in their online magazine of January 04 2017 with an article entitled Retro Maps of Modern Cities. The idea behind this approach is to treat maps as art and not just as guides to places.

So, if you’ve tried journalling and failed; succumbed to colouring-in and now sit with several partly completed books; and possibly even resorted to adult join-the-dots books (and please let this be just a very few of you) – but still you feel hollow, still your life mission has not been revealed to you, then let it be known that Mapping Your Life is the trending new thing.

More about maps

 

What were you reading when …?

Britt Marie was hereWhat were you reading when all the events of 2016 took place? Looking back on my reading year, here’s what brought me a bit of comfort in those weird and wonderful times:

Brexit – well I never saw that one coming. The book on hand was Britt-Marie Was Here – another winner from Fredrik Backman, the author of the sensationally successful A Man Called Ove. This novel is set in small town Sweden (still a member of the EU by the way), so a bit of a geographic link there.

The election build-up in America – would it never end? I got through a whole heap of reads like The Portable Veblen. Nothing like an American novel on squirrels and dysfunctional families to get one through the voting road show.

 Leonard Cohen died. I took solace in a murder mystery The Lewis Man by Peter May. All grey skies and peaty remains and the odd bird on a wire. Perfect.

The satanic mechanic Trump got elected – I was on holiday in Cape Town and indulging in a very South African read The Satanic Mechanic by Sally Andrew. One of those Alexander McCall Smith type reads – with recipes thrown into the mix as well. I just buried my head in the sand, something like the ostriches in the book.

When the Kaikoura quakes hit, I was still on holiday. It was a weird feeling to be so far away from New Zealand at that time. I’d moved on to a short, whimsical read that I picked up in an independent bookstore – The Reader on the 6.27. Translated from the French, this is an enchanting novel about the love of books and reading. It served me very well at that time.

John Key resigned while I was reading The Muse. This is a great novel to immerse yourself in by the author who wrote The Miniaturist. I preferred this second book (and the first was not bad The Reader on the 6.27at all either). If you are an art lover and would like a change of scene to Spain, this should go onto your list.

Finally what was I reading at the end of the year? One of those crumbling mansion, upstairs downstairs, governess novels – The Shadow Hour by Kate Riordan. And dipping in to the silliest book I found all year Knit Your own Moustache. No I am not making this up!

How about you? What books sustained you last year? What books are carrying you gently into 2017?

Trevor Noah in my Christmas stocking!

Born a CrimeSouth African born comedian Trevor Noah is a terrific talker – let there be no doubt about that. But can he write? Well here’s our chance to find out with his hot-off-the press biography Born a Crime.

Not the first sentence in the book, but right near the start of Chapter 1, is the following sentence:

I was nine years old when my mother threw me out of a moving car.

And the book careens onward from there. It is hilarious, heart-warming, revealing, educational, embarrassing (if you were born white in South Africa when I was), and yes, it is extremely well written.

Trevor Noah is worshipped in South Africa and by South Africans worldwide (I attended one of his shows in Christchurch a couple of years ago). On my recent SA holiday, all over Cape Town and Durban I saw people of all shapes, sizes, ages, colours and genders wearing Trevor Noah Born a Crime Tees. There were even a smattering of Trevor Noah for President shirts – and it is my one holiday regret that I did not buy one!

But he is also internationally known as the host of the award winning Daily Show, and now has his home in New York. If you are one of the few souls yet to hear him at his best, have a listen to this clip on airport announcements. Straight after that you might like to make a list of all the people who would love to find this book in their Christmas stocking, here’s mine:

  • Mothers and sons – Noah is at his best when he is on this topic;
  • People who love biographies of  the Poor Boy Makes Good ilk;
  • People who thought they understood South African politics (pause here for hysterical laughter);
  • South Africans everywhere;
  • People who like a good laugh – and that’s pretty much all of us.

But, it’s not really a book review if you just love everything, so I have to confide that I hate the title Born A Crime which I don’t believe does the book any favours. Even though Noah references the title on page 26, it just doesn’t work for me.

So, in answer to the question “Can Trevor Noah write?” The answer is a resounding “Yes”. Trevor Noah can indeed walk the talk!

Born a Crime
by Trevor Noah
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781473635289

I draw the line

Art Before BreakfastIn any interaction where I mention that I try to draw every day, there is a point straight after the words leave my lips when I can hear the drawbridge being cranked up, and see the intervening moat filling up with tablets, apps, Pokemon and the sundry small, useless products of 3D printing. And, as if from a distant galaxy, I hear the person on the other side of the moat say some variation of the following: “Oh I can’t draw a thing. I can’t even draw a stick man.”

And let’s say, just for the moment, that you are stick-man challenged, still I bet you had the chance to draw and paint and play music when you were at school. What is a great concern for many educators nowadays is that the swing to a predominantly technology-based education system like STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) means that many children will be deprived of the opportunity to develop their own direct, tactile creativity, and will be doomed to a life of thinking that creativity is the manipulation of someone else’s genius.

ArtlessWhich is why I am such a huge fan of The Big Draw – The world’s largest drawing festival. Most education systems nowadays focus on STEM curricula. The Big Draw is part of an initiative to change STEM to STEAM through the addition of the Arts. And we have a chance to be part of this initiative at Art Box Gallery in Christchurch until Friday 28th October. Art Box is the venue for the Christchurch Big Draw which has invited 20 New Zealand artists to show us just how important drawing is. How we simply cannot afford to let Art slip through the cracks. How the British Arts Education Trust believes  “Art can change lives”.

I went along to The Big Draw with my colleague and art-buddy, Masha. Debra McLeod was in attendance to share some arty gems with us – she is always so welcoming and knowledgeable. It was a struggle to drag Masha past Ina Johann’s Parallel Lines – mapping another life (and it was only exhibit 2 of 20), and I wanted my little drawing books to morph into the likes of Mario Luz’s Sketchbooks.

All the artists in this Big Draw exhibition are known in their field and for sure you will come away with a different slant on life. But here’s an idea – maybe the next Christchurch Big Draw could feature the sketchbooks of ordinary, everyday sketchers: the people who draw though they will never be known for it, and the children who are just starting out on drawing.

Back we meandered to Central Library Manchester – just that little bit altered. There to search out more beautiful drawing books. Paul Klee is reputed to have said that drawing  “is the act of  taking a line for a walk”. To-day Masha and I took a walk for the lines!

Roberta and Masha with Sandra Thomson's Coral Reef and Fated.
Roberta and Masha with Sandra Thomson’s Coral Reef and Fated.

Of beards and men

Of Beards and ManI have never seen my husband without a beard. Were he to remove it in the dead of night and presume to present himself at breakfast without this major accessory, I might fall about with the vapours and require resuscitation. Come to think of it, I have never dated  any man without facial hair. Heaven knows what this says about me!

Good thing then for both of us that it’s 2016 and Beards Are In! Without turning a hair, turns out I have married a fashion icon – and all because he couldn’t be bothered with all the hassle of shaving when he was very young. And it was OK in his particular field of endeavour – engineering. Only geologists are more likely to have facial hair, and I dated one of those as well.

Exactly how popular are beards right now? According to the Huffington Post June 2015, over 67% of New York men have beards. After reading a very entertaining review in The Oldie magazine on the book entitled Of Beards and Men (The Revealing History of Facial Hair), I did a catalogue search only to find that Christchurch Libraries did not (yet) own this book. Which is why we have the marvelous Request An Item form online. If ever you see an item you would love to read, and we don’t have it on our shelves, you can put in a request for the library to buy that item – and you may well be lucky. Like I was with Oldstone-Moore’s fascinating book on the history of beards – of which he says:

To a surprising degree, we find that the history of men is written on their faces.

But even if history is not your bag, there are loads of other books where facial hair plays a prominent role:

Book-O-BeardsFor example, have you ever been mortified when your little one screams blue murder at the sight of their first bearded man? Try Book-o-Beards which is billed as a “wearable book”  This means it has “die-cut holes, which invite the reader to try out the six bearded masks.” This is beard-speak for: How To Terrify Your Toddler At Bedtime In Six Easy Steps.

Once you’ve damaged the littlies, move right on to your resident Young Adult with the graphic novel: The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil which is a “smooth fable of a man whose unkempt facial hair ravages the tidy city of Here”.

After that, how about a bit of travel writing with the intriguingly entitled Drinking Arak Off An Ayatollah’s Beard, or perhaps you are more interested in a gender record breaker? There’s To the Poles (without A Beard) about a young British woman who walked into the record books by becoming the first British woman to reach the South Pole on foot, and a year later hauled her sled to the more physically challenging North Pole.

The Art of Growing a BeardSome people, however, need instructions for everything. Not for them the simple act of ceasing to shave. Oh No, they need a book to tell them how to grow a beard, and amazingly, the library has that too. The Art of Growing a Beard will help you to get your beard “through the awkward growing-in phase with dignity, and tips on everything from grooming to eating and kissing.”

But let Oldstone-Moore (who does indeed sport a beard. I checked) have the last word:

The clean-shaven face of today, Oldstone-Moore says, has come to signify a virtuous and sociable man. Whereas a beard marks someone as self-reliant and unconventional. History, then, has established specific meanings for facial hair, which both inspire and constrain a man’s choices in how he presents himself to the world.

So, not only has my husband saved time on shaving (and money on the cost of  razors for something like 35 years), but he is also self-reliant, unconventional and something of a trendsetter.

Who’d have thought!

See some facial hair of days gone by in our set Moustaches for Movember.

The Beautiful Librarians

The Beautiful LibrariansI get a little frisson of excitement when I am reading a novel and one of the characters turns out to have had superior career guidance and is a librarian. And September was my month of librarian-related reads. It all started with The Beautiful Librarians, a 2015 poetry collection by Sean O’Brien:

The beautiful librarians are dead,

The fairly recent graduates who sat

Like Francoise Hardy’s shampooed sisters

With cardigans across their shoulders

On quiet evenings at the issue desk,

Stamping books and never looking up

At where I stood in adoration.

This Must be the PlaceThen I started to see patterns, and books with library characters jumped off the shelves at me. Like Teresa in Maggie O’Farrell’s latest novel: This Must be the Place. Teresa meets a young man when she is helping tourniquet his nephew’s wound. He asks if she is a nurse and she replies:

“No, a librarian” she said, adding, “but we do a first-aid course as part of our training.”

Well, let’s just say that he was lucky he got her and not me. But he tracks her down, visiting all the libraries in Brooklyn. Although this really is Love At First Sight (good luck with that all you first-aidy library types), they absolutely do not live happily ever after.

The Quiet SpectacularAnd you might not identify with this particular librarian, but the choice of library characters is wide, and there will be one for you:

Take Loretta, who is a school librarian in Laurence Fearnley’s 2016 novel The Quiet Spectacular and who has embarked on compiling The Dangerous Book for Menopausal Women while waiting to collect her son from after-school activities. Hesitant in her dealings with semi-feral packs of teenagers in the school library, she forms a bond with one of them – Chance. No one falls in love with Loretta at first sight, but there is more to library life than that. There’s involvement in even one person’s life that helps to turn it around. Agree?

The Book of SpeculationAnd not all the books I discovered are about lady librarians. The Book of Speculation has a young male librarian – Simon Watson. Simon is a loner who is about to lose his library job.  If the words “crumbling” “mysterious package” and “antiquarian bookseller” are a turn-on for you, then you will love this book. It also has a stunningly beautiful cover.

All these books are recent additions to the library collection. All are well worth reading.  All involve librarians. So all you librarians out there, remember these books as you hand out your gazillionth computer pass, download your umpteenth document and wrestle with the wonders of 3D printing yet again. Know that you still have allure, that your library mystique is still there. And that, at least in the minds-eye of these four authors, you remain A Beautiful Librarian!

Are you a Wonderful Relic?

Time You Let me In
You read (and write) poetry

Are you a Wonderful Relic? I am. But how do I know? I first came upon the term in one of Johnny Moore’s columns in The Press (Friday 19th August 2016). He had the following to say:

I pay myself less in my business by generating an income elsewhere – writing for the wider Fairfax audience on the Stuff platform and for those wonderful relics who keep the whole boat afloat by continuing to buy and read the physical paper.

As I was sitting up in bed at the time – sipping my morning tea and paging through said newspaper (to which I subscribe), I think we can safely say that I am a Wonderful Relic. And I love it, so much better than being an Old Age Pensioner, a Gold Card holder or a University of the Third Age wannabe.

But don’t assume you have to be old to be a Wonderful Relic. Some people are born that way – and a lot of us seem to end up working in libraries. Check your Wonderful Relic status in this little quiz:

  • Art Jornal Courage
    You keep an art journal

    You subscribe to a newspaper or a magazine (1 to 2 points)

  • You also buy books (1 point per book)
  • You go to Literary Festivals like WORD Christchurch (1 point)
  • You belong to a book group (1 point per group)
  • You read poetry (1), write poetry (1), read your poems in public (off the scale Wonderful Relic – allocate yourself as many points as you like.)
  • You keep a paper diary (1), you keep a journal (1), you draw in both of them (off the scale Wonderful Relic – see above)
  • You love stationery shops – after libraries, they are your favourite places (1 point each)

And it’s not that you disdain the use of eResources, you can download eBooks using OverDrive, use PressReader, take courses on Lynda.com and play around on Photoshop with the best of them. But when push comes to shove, at heart Wonderful Relics are aesthetes – we like things to look good, we are tactile in our approach to life and that may be where technology falls short for us.

This morning I heard, yet again, the dull thud of my morning paper hitting the front door. I remembered Johnny Moore and his reference to Wonderful Relics keeping the whole publishing industry afloat and as I took my first sip of tea I thought, it’s OK Johnny because like all the other Wonderful Relics:  I will go down with this ship!

Book Group
You belong to a book group

 

Tickled Fiction – WORD Christchurch

Can Kiwi writers do comedy? New Zealand writers are repeatedly told that their work is too dark, too serious. Is this true? Three local writers got together at this event to tickle this topic. Here’s what emerged:

Damien Wilkins

Damien Wilkins. Image supplied
Damien Wilkins. Image supplied

Damien read from his novel Dad Art – in his words ‘a mid-life crisis book about a basically contented life with a pulsing vein of anxiety’  – and it was funny. Not in a here’s-a-funny-joke way, but in subtle observations that make you think ‘I know someone exactly like that’  (and it may even be me). His excerpt was an account of a motley crew in a Te Reo class. Think I recognised myself there! Damien feels that one of the ways that comedy works in fiction is through structure, that is repeated references within the story. A sort of insider knowledge type of humour, one in which he has ‘created echoes’.

Danyl Mclaughlan

Danyl McLaughlan. Image supplied
Danyl McLaughlan. Image supplied

Danyl read from his novel Mysterious Mysteries of the Aro Valley. Set in the Aro valley near Wellington, Danyl researches his novels very carefully – after all he knows people who live there. When asked if readers take offence at some of his observations, he replied that what seemed to offend them most was if he altered the geography in any way! He’s a big believer in writing funny stuff in, thinking it is fantastic and then removing most of it on the next reading. Definitely a ‘less is more’ approach to comedy in writing. He also likes to make fun of conventional wisdom but feels that makes his humour unpalatable to the ‘cultural gatekeepers’.

Robert Glancy

Robert Glancy. Image supplied
Robert Glancy. Image supplied

Robert (call me Bob) was all set to read from his latest work Please Do Not Disturb, but had brought the wrong book. By this stage we were nicely warmed up so we all thought that was hilarious. Instead he read from Terms and Conditions – his novel on being a Corporate Lawyer. In this book the devil is in the detail. He calls himself ‘the devil’s ghost writer’. His advice to readers is – always read the small print! He loves the act of writing but says that self-editing ‘is like performing an autopsy on yourself’. Bob finds tackling topics from weird angles can be funny. He also writes what he likes. You are always going to offend someone in his opinion. If that’s a worry to you, you’re in the wrong job.

They all hated the title given to this festival event – Tickled Fiction, finding it childish, shallow and borderline pervy. Put on the spot in question time Bob said he liked ‘You Write Funny’ as an alternative.

As indeed they do, write funny, that is.

WORD Christchurch

Ask A Mortician: Caitlin Doughty – WORD Christchurch

If Caitlin Doughty had her way, we’d all be dealing with death very differently. Mortician and author of Smoke Gets In Your Eyes she believes we have become too distanced from caring for our dead. Less than 100 years ago, that was what people did, they cared for their own dead. A sold-out Concert Hall audience at The Piano was ready to be convinced.

Caitlin_Doughty_in_red_evergreen_background
Caitlin Doughty. Image supplied

This was one of those events that barely needed a co-presenter. Not that he did any harm, but the forcefield of Caitlin’s presentation was so dynamic that I believe it would have been better to just give her a podium and free rein. She is just bursting with life, engaging, articulate and with the Best Hair At The Festival (a hitherto unexploited literary category.)

Our current means of dealing with the dead is 99% money driven. We have bought into the juggernaut that is the funeral business. In particular Doughty has the embalming business in her cross hairs. Nowadays she believes most embalming is completely unnecessary, expensive and results in corpses that do not even look like the deceased. Yet we continue with this practice – and I use that ‘we’ intentionally – apparently New Zealand ranks second in the world after the States in embalming statistics.

Not only is this bad for our pockets, but Doughty does not believe it has done our grieving process any favours either. Take children, for example. Doughty herself had a traumatic first encounter with death when she was about eight years old. No one spoke her through it and the spectre of death haunted her for ages. She jokingly refers to her relationship with death as the longest relationship of her life.

Smoke Gets in Your EyesHow did it all start? Straight out of a Medieval History degree she ‘tricked’ her way into employment in a funeral home where she was lucky enough to be given opportunities to do all aspects of the work, like scrape bones out of ovens, fetch bodies from where they had died under bridges and deal with grieving family members. She remembers (and how could a girl ever forget) at the age of 22 being left alone in the morgue to shave her first corpse. She feared she would get this horribly wrong with her wee pink razor and lashings of shaving cream. But bodies she says are just people, only a lot easier to deal with.

What are the alternatives to the expensive over-professionalised approach to death we are currently saddled with? The first hurdle to get over is to believe that the dead body is beautiful just as it is and that there is a sacred quality to caring for the dead.  Everyone deserves ‘a good death’ but to get that you need to think about your own death and you need to talk about death to your family members. A good death is not going to happen all by itself.

The second hurdle is to become better informed about alternatives. Like initiatives to develop the composting of bodies, where instead of burning corpses, they are allowed to rot in an enhanced composting environment and so turn into soil in 6-8 weeks. There is also alkaline hydrolysis which flash decomposes the body and finally there is conservation burial where burials happen in endangered land and conservation areas.

Question time. Oh dear. First two not too bad – we got the afterlife question. Nada for her, said Doughty. She sees her life as a film reel that just runs out eventually and flaps about for a bit before it goes still. God forbid that the afterlife should be peopled by everyone she has ever known – all those dead people lining up to meet her at the Pearly Gates, thanks but no thanks. We got a question on hospital deaths, a euthanasia query and a formaldehyde question (look it up on Google lady!) Then the mic fell into the hands of a man who rambled all over the terrain, couldn’t get to a question, and just at the point when you want to trample over other patrons heads and wrench the mic out of his hand to ask your own perfect question, Doughty somehow managed to wrest a possible interpretation from his ramblings out of him.

As for my question, it might not be perfect, but I could have spat it out in nine words:

“Has being a mortician ever affected your love life?”

I believe she would have loved it!

Caitlin Doughty and Marcus Elliott
Caitlin Doughty and Marcus Elliott

See our photos from the Caitlin Doughty session.

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Grieving and Living: What Abi Taught Us – WORD Christchurch

Lucy Hone. Image supplied
Lucy Hone. Image supplied

‘Buy This Book’. I have never, in all the many blogs I have written started a blog with these three words.

Lucy Hone wrote What Abi Taught Us after the traumatic death of her 12 year old daughter Abi in a car accident. Abi left the house to go for a drive with family friends. And she never came back. How does one cope with a life event like this?

Standing alone centre stage, without even the use of the podium provided, Lucy Hone reached out to all of us to share her strategies for survival in the face of one of life’s crueller events.

She made us think about what resilience meant to us, that it is not a suit of armour that you don, but rather a way of leaning into pain and hardship that allows us to feel the emotion while continuing to function in our lives, which just carry right on.

She used her studies in Psychology and  qualifications in Resilience Psychology to work out what strategies we need to nurture our own mental health – even in the face of the unthinkable.  The three Determinants of Happiness are: 50% from your genetic start point ( the Mum and Dad stuff), 10% from outside influences (winning the lotto or surviving an earthquake) and 40% from our own thoughts and actions. And it is in that wriggle room of 40% that Hone has developed the five strategies that we all need:

What Abi Taught UsStrategy 1 – Choose where you focus your attention

We don’t have infinite processing capacity. Our brains can only manage 7 pieces of information at a time. Genetically (and understandably, for survival’s sake) we are hard-wired to notice the bad stuff. We need to practise noticing what is going well. People who have higher gratitude scores have better well-being. Lucy has a sign in her kitchen – a bright pink poster and on it the words: ACCEPT THE GOOD. She refers to it often.

Strategy 2 – Never Lose Hope

Lucy paid tribute to the building we were in – the brand new The Piano – as a concrete manifestation of hope for Christchurch. She stressed how important it is to recognise that we all have some big hopes and many smaller ones. When tragedy occurs, turn to your smaller hopes. Ask yourself: What am I hoping for now? It may be something very small. Go for that smaller hope.

Strategy 3 – Nurture Your Relationships

Good relationships are a great predictor of happiness. Be careful with your communications, even when you are in pain. It takes 5 positive interactions to cancel out one negative communication. The negative is unfortunately very powerful.

Strategy 4 – Ask yourself: Is this thing helping or harming me?

Lucy and her husband chose not to view the motor vehicle in which Abi lost her life. They asked themselves this question and the answer was No, this will not help. It is a very simple tool. It will help you get up out of bed, put one foot in front of the next and grieve and function at the same time.

Strategy 5 – Understand that struggle is a part of life

Sometimes we just have to be brave. Sometimes the happy FaceBook version of our life is so far from the truth. We have to allow ourselves to feel sad. Resilience Therapy understands that the bad stuff will happen – just don’t get stuck in one emotional state for too long. Try not to bottle it up. Lucy worried that she might cry in this presentation. Then she thought – So What. Crying is just crying. She grieves while simultaneously living.

Abi loved the book Allegiant from the Divergent Trilogy and had highlighted a passage from it. Lucy found this passage after Abi had died. She sees what she is doing as being like a line from that highlited quote, that she is making:

the slow walk towards a better life

There was not a dry eye in the Concert Hall at 12pm.

Thank you for talking to us Lucy.

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