Monday, November 23, 2009

what happened to the last two weeks?

In an amazing display of un-timeliness, those that I work for remembered that I'm good at writing, and asked me to do rather A LOT of it. In the last two weeks, I have written two fifteen page development plans for thematic research initiatives, two submissions to Government, about four fake Evidence Portfolios, and a plethora of smaller stuff . . . .

Thus, I'm a TAD behind on ye olde Nanowrimo - but I am not disheartened. I've written another 2000 words today on *the book* and will just keep on at it throughout the summer. Come February, I will be revising the first draft. That's a promise.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

losing my momentum . . . and finding it again

I've been a bit quiet - perhaps because my momentum got lost in a plethora of actual work, and, I have to admit, a fabulous busy weekend with parties and friends . . . . ooops.

However, thanks to Andrea's mean words, I am now reinvigorated, and have written my first 250 words of the day - I am planning several blocks like that interspersed with writing a "roadmap" (it's a metaphor, I think). Fortunately, mine is not on nanotechnology: it is on indigenous knowledges, peoples and identities, which is actually probably harder to "map" than nanotech.

My hiatus has also been caused by the nature of what I'm writing. I got stuck in a literary bog of hopelessness and despair as I tried to write the first person account of the Armenian genocide. I've taken heart from the fact that many of you don't write sequentially and have decided to set this section aside for a while, to be returned to in short bursts rather than total immersion, as I was getting too sad, too overcome by the horror of history, and the shortness of human memory.

Here are the things that saved me from the bog:

Thank you Martin Luther King Jr, for this quote that reminds me that there is hope in Lucine's story. It bends towards justice. I love this concept, which contains within it an image of a plant seeking light.

Then there is this: Chagall's double portrait with a glass of wine, in which the artist and his beloved reinact the joyous Jewish marriage ceremony, both Paris and the shtetl in the background. My book must do this too - show the Adana and London, the past and the future, the dead and the living.

This picture, and those words, have seen me through writing 40,000 words about slavery; they've been beside me as I wrote 20,000 words about the expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal; they've helped me write a conference paper on Chaim Potok's responses to the Holocaust. They'll do me right now.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

further updates on THE BOOK, including an imagined conversation with Toni Morrison

Above my computer - an ugly work Dell - hangs a yellow post-it (are there really any other kind, Kate?) on which I have scrawled:

I'm trying my best, Toni, I really am. It takes quite a lot of work - I'm sure you know this, as a Nobel Laureate etc etc.
Several things have happened: my main character has a job! It turns out she's a journalist - or at least, a journalism student. You see, I didn't know that until I wrote it. This is one of the more terrifying things about writing - even the author is not really in control. The story takes on a life of its own. Also - she has a name! She is Lucine (last name to come - I have to ask my Armenian colleague if she minds me pilfering hers) - Lucine means 'moon' in Armenian.
The political as hell bit is going to form much of the next section, in the guise of papers Lucine has smuggled into Syria hidden in her shoe. There will be extracts from real eyewitness accounts etc here I think. Better not give the game away too much - suffice to say I am at the moment setting up a beautiful culture with words, only to then destroy it. Yuck.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

NanNoWriMo: otherwise known as insanity

I'm hoping to update fairly regularly - but for those of you who come here thanks to Andrea's lovely linking - here's a space holder - a random paragraph from the first day's writing.

So these biscuits evoke for me a multitude of meanings: on one simple level they are the taste of Christmas to my family, a flavour that reminds us all of the warm kitchen and the large tree, my mother rolling out the dough and chilling it before shaping the pears with their clove stalks. On another – the story of Mrs Kassardjian who embraced my young parents so far from home on their first Christmas as soon-to-be parents, at that liminal moment before my family came into being. And more distant, more resonant – a cultural memory of a way of life I never witnessed, a side by side existence, of cultural pickpocketing, in a part of the world that we now all associate with extreme ethnic divisions. So they bring hope, in a way, that the biscuit can remind us of a hodge podge, a melange, a mongrel culture that drew on all around it, that is called one thing but claimed by another – that we can all be a little more like Mrs Kassardjian, an Armenian refugee making Greek biscuits in London for two New Zealanders who’d never been to Greece or Armenia – but who passed those flavours – almond, cloves – to their children.

I will actually blog about the process, and the loveliness of my husband and children as they live with me through this - maybe tomorrow, maybe the day after. You see, I still have to work; and cook; and do research! Tonight I'm off to share recipes with some of my favourite women . . . . some of theirs may be stolen for THE BOOK. They don't know about the evil thieving ways of writers, as of yet . . . .

Sunday, August 16, 2009

death of a poet, yes. death of a culture? maybe.

While the infantile New Zealand print media STILL talk about the ruckus on the school boy rugby field, and the reactions of two principals who should know better; or laments the greedy people who so love not working and having children in poverty that they have enjoyed spendy benefits for years ($1000 p/w with eight children - could you do it?), other things have happened. People have been born (you'll have to scroll down, sorry); people have died. In particular, poet Alistair Te Ariki Campbell has died.

Campbell was eighty-four. He is survived by five children, and a body of work that extends over fifty years, and still haunts the reader with its relevance, power and pity. When I was sixteen, I chose this one as my lyric piece for my grade 7 Trinity College Speech and Drama exams:

Purple Chaos

'Chaos is purple,' you said.
'A painter's phrase,' I said,
'Chaos is a colourless force,
tossing up stars, flowers
and children.
and has no beginning,
and no end.'

But lying in bed,
washed up,
I know you are right.
You were talking of something else,
you were talking of death.
Purple chaos has surged through me,
leaving me stranded -
a husk,
an empty shell,
on a long white swerving beach.

Something has died,
something precious has died.
It may have been a flower,
a star,
it may have been a child -
but whatever it was, my love,
it seems to have died.

Haere ra, Te Ariki. Your Meg waits for you, as do many of your old friends. In 2000, Campbell spoke at the funeral of Lauris Edmond, reading a poem he'd written in her memory. It concluded:

"It will be back,
with the songs of birds,
to light up your house,
restore laughter to your children
and grandchildren.

Love never dies.
Love never dies."

Now that's all the news that's fit to print: love never dies.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

more controversy at my alma mater

Pundit's David Young - another Old Waikatoan - has drawn attention this week to an academic controversy that's been simmering away at the University of Waikato for just over a year. A Master's thesis supervised by political scientist and all round stand-up guy Dov Bing was withdrawn from the University Library and the University's online thesis repository after a complaint was made by the subject of the thesis, Neo-Nazi Kerry Bolton (who I'm actually not going to link to, because, you know, sometimes there ARE NOT two sides to the story). The thesis is now back on the shelves, but controversy remains.

Like David Young, I was at Waikato when the "Kupka Affair" exploded nine years ago, and was actually in the midst of an honours dissertation on Modern Jewish Literature at the time. I knew all the parties involved and was present at most of the protests and meetings. I was not a journalist or unbiased bystander. So you may wish to discount my memories: taking over University Council Meeting in peaceful protest, the room bought to hushed and guilty silence as a Holocaust survivor spoke of the pain caused by being interviewed about being German in New Zealand by a man who publicly denies the historical truth of the Holocaust. Watching my professors weep openly as they discovered that the University, a community they'd been part of for over twenty years, treated them as troublemakers and pariahs for daring to question the validity of the awarding of Kupka's thesis.

I cannot help but see this new controversy in the light of attitudes that emerged at that time. Dr Bing, and others were labelled radical and impartial - as if it is possible to be impartial about the Holocaust - and their opinions were marginalised. To have the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research - another good man, Doug Sutton - perpetuate the notion that there is a balanced (ie two sided) approach to Holocaust denial - makes a mockery of what Universities stand for. The deniers use the discourse of balance to undermine the historic truth of events in Europe; they use our human discomfort with a period of human history we would rather forget; they use our inability to imagine six million dead to tell us that perhaps they didn't really die.

It is the reponsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and expose lies: not to provide mealy-mouthed justification for the protection of lies and those who propagate them. To attempt to discount Bing's supervision because of his "long-standing" views against neo-Nazi groups is more than ridiculous - it is obscene. Thanks to people like Dr Dov Bing and Dr Norman Simms , the University of Waikato was a place that encouraged global perspectives, historical analysis with depth and breadth, polyglot understanding of literary contexts, and canonical texts read with twenty-first century eyes. Let's hope they are given the freedom and support to continue to do so.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

auckland: the city I live in

So, it's Queen's Birthday weekend - wonderful - three days with my lovely family and friends. I'm unlikely to blog until Tuesday - when I'm planning a loooong and insightful polemic about the cuts to tertiary funding and research and development funding in the Budget.

But - the sun shines - kind of - and there's a lot to do this weekend. Tonight, after picking Bella up from drama in St Benedict's St, we're taking all three kids to the iconic Real Groovy to hear Midnight Youth perform. Kids are planning their rockstar outfits as we speak, so to speak. Then home for Friday night fush'n'chups.

Saturday, we're dressing up in our best princess costumes (the whole family - according to Zoe, the world's bossiest nearly five-year old) to attend Princess Wishes - an ice extravaganza, followed by lunch with some lovely friends.

Satuday evening, I'm making roast chicken and entertaining the extended family . . . haven't decided upon the dessert yet - ideas in the comments please . . .

Sunday - dinner with some more lovely friends at the fabulous child-friendly Auckland institution, the Mexican Cafe. Then the dads are taking the children to Night at the Museum to wander through the exhibits in the dark and talk to dinosaurs . . . mothers may drink wine, eat chocolate and watch some ER at this point.

Monday! Well if the weather is fine, we'll do a little biking in Cornwall Park - if weather is foul, it'll be Wii sports and baking all day.


Monday, May 25, 2009

following on from yesterday; a serious discussion about gendered roles

I was anticipating enjoying the panel discussion "I am what I own" that was advertised as one of the highlights of late @ the museum - along with the delightful Sonic Musuem project. The panel, chaired by columnist Finlay McDonald, consisted of music journalist Nick Bollinger, designer Dean Poole, broadcaster Carole Hirschfield, Oxfam NZ CEO Barry Coates, and curator Jonathan Mane-Wheoki. What could have been an interesting discussion, with perspectives from a range of erudite and passionate people was redeemed from complete triviality by the presence of Coates, who brought developing world attitudes to possessions to the table AND offered the comment on the need for artefacts for institutions such as museums and art galleries that I had thought Mane-Wheoki would make, being a curator and all.

What ruined the panel discussion for me, and for those I was with (see my friend Anya's review) was the way Carole was 'cast' as the spendthrift consumer whose only real contribution to the discussion was a list of Prada bags she has owned . . . now, I like handbags as much as the next girl, and I really like Carole - she's a smart, gorgeous, down to earth woman whose made a great career for herself based on both the smarts and the gorgeousness. BUT I dislike intensely a puported intelligent discussion of the position "I am what I own" denigrating into a trivial female who likes stuff for stuff's sake pitted against five men, including her own husband, who were taking much loftier positions about the importance of stuff. Particularly annoying was the reverence with which the audience and panel treated Bollinger's discourse on music and the art of collecting - compared with the laughter that had greeted Hirschfield's claim to collect Prada handbags. Now, is that a gendered value judgement or what? Stuff men collect (music, computers, countries) is worthy of curating and writing about, while stuff women collect is laughable.

I'm not actually a harpy - this kind of public acceptance of gendered roles irritates me because it reduces human beings to cliches. If Carole was happy to take the role of consumer, that's fine - they needed, however, to include another woman who could take another view point too. And perhaps next time, Finlay and Carole could keep chat about the size of their mortgage to a minimum? We actually wanted more of a conversation that, at times, referenced everything from High Fidelity to Margaret Atwood's Payback, managing to keep a sizable crowd that seemed brimful of the intelligentsia engaged. We like panel discussions; we like Prada handbags; we like to think the two are not mutually exclusive - and most of all, we like to think that there is more than one way to be a woman in the twenty-first century.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

very very trivial things (and some of import)

Here's my sister and me at Late@ the Museum a couple of weeks ago. I do like the way, without actually thinking it through, we match. We were a bit sad that Norrie didn't want to know what we were wearing (just wanted to comment on our legs - which are unfortunately NOT in the picture) so I'll tell you now: Jane - oxblood crocodile platform pumps (unsure); ubiquitous black opaques probably from stall in Korea; fan print ruffled mini skirt, Top Shop, thrifted (by me - a Jacqueline Fahey moment); crew neck merino from Glassons; leather jacket from market in Florence; bag (unseen) Chloe. Me - pointy-toe witchy-poo shboots, thrifted; zambesi arabesques leggings; bow-neck mini sack dress from lovely girl at that market-y sort of shop in high street by the pumpkin patch; zambesi cord jacket (can't remember its special name); bag Louis Vuitton. Our brown/cream/coral tones with black make us look especially matchy-matchy, which is quite unusual for us . . .

This, of course was pre- Hillary controversy, with Vanda Vitali wandering around looking small, glamorous and deadly, like a mix between ol' Nuclear Wintour, your high school art teacher, and the women's studies lecturer who liked to overuse dichotomy in class discussions. I smiled broadly at her, just so she'd not think I was one of the trivial fashionistas there to view the lovely if somewhat predictable Cybele range, Halcyon. I did like this dress:but the rest of the beautiful garments were the sort of thing I always think I'd like to wear when I'm old. Which I am not, yet.

BUT Vanda Vitali is - old enough to know better than to dimiss a nation's valid concerns as ignorant noisemaking - and, one would hope, mature enough to understand that while she, and the Museum as a whole, may have finely argued professional reasons - such as correct storage, public access etc - for seeking to clarify the meaning of Sir Ed's will, to be seen to be failing to take into account the personal and public history of the Hillary family is, shall we say, unfortunate in someone who's in the business of preserving history.

As one who's entered the archives of the Museum on many occasions for work, I know the vast and amazing resources and artefacts stored there. I'm also keenly aware of current international practises regarding ensuring access for indigenous peoples to artefacts with wairua - perhaps the Hillary papers and ephemera could be regarded in this light, as containing wairua and requiring frequent handling by the whanau to preserve, share and document that spirit? Perhaps I should tweet the Prime Minister and offer my services in the dispute resolution? Trivialities aside, this conflict reflects very real concern in the museums and heritage sector (did you know we were a sector?) about the stewardship of the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

strange things are afoot at the circle k

After a little over six months at this "new job", I'm finally feeling like I can predict how busy I'm going to be and therefore how much down time I might have to do other kinds of writing. So I'm setting myself a challenge for the next year: I have a thesis chapter to adapt into a journal article; a conference paper to adapt into an article for one of my favourite sites ; and, most momentously of all - and rather inspired by the dedication and success of the lovely Andrea - I'm rededicating this year of writerly thinking to the BOOK. Yes, I may even have to put a word-count tool in eventually . . . once I've figured out how one does that. There'll still be rants, clothes and other Kate-like stuff, but I'm going to try and use this blog to make me write. I have money, and a room of my own, so there's really no excuse now.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

thoughts on John Key, especially now the blogosphere's a-twitter with his WSJ appearance

The preferred mythology about academia states that innocent students arrive, largely untainted by politics, and are corrupted into radical views through the influence of their left-wing professors, who use the lecture theatre as a bully pulpit for postmodern relativism and politically correct thought.

Three recent American studies suggest that this myth is just that – a myth. Despite much of the neo-conservative rhetoric about Barack Obama being based on his so-called ‘elitism’, which is shorthand for being too well spoken and over-educated, the studies, one of which has been recently published in PS: Political Science and Politics, the Journal of the American Political Science Association, draw similar conclusions: that the politics of academics have little or no impact on those of their students, even in political science departments. It seems that other old myth – peer pressure is to blame. Professor April Kelly-Woessner (a liberal Democrat) and her husband, Professor Matthew Woessner (a conservative Republican) found that while students do tend to move towards left-wing politics while at university, this is largely because of the influence of their peers and what was going on outside the classroom.

What was going on outside the classroom? Well, in the last six years, there’s been an unjustifiable war and a consciously anti-elitist president. Before that, in the nineties, there was another war, and another neo-con, slightly more elitist president. And overarching all of that has been the ‘culture wars’, from whence the basis for these studies originates. Since the late 1980s, conservative thinkers and think tanks have tended towards a position that equates education with liberalism, wishy-washy thinking and weasel words. Thus fell the legacy of conservative intellectuals such as William F Buckley and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, whose contributions to American society were once necessary reading for anyone at all interested in the United States, particularly US foreign policy. Since the ascendancy of Bushes senior and junior, conservatism has become synonymous with anti-intellectualism, in part because of the perceived influence of radical professors on the politics of right-thinking Americans. Whole conservative colleges had to be established to protect the little darlings against having their prejudices challenged.

All that has now changed: the election of consciously intellectual and well-spoken Barack Obama, and the serendipitous release of these studies, suggests that perhaps intellectuals may be in for some better press. Obama’s embrace of the education that made him who he is today, like his unashamed embracing of the less than PR perfect influences in his life – Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his grandmother – suggests that we might be able to talk now about education now outside the premises of the culture wars, and instead talk about what exposure to ideas can do for a young mind.

Which brings us to New Zealand. We’ve gone the other way – having failed to re-elect a consciously intellectual woman and her academic economist deputy – we’re now depending on an ‘aw shucks’ businessman and a Southland farmer who likes to downplay his own intellect to manage us out of a worldwide crisis. John Key is a very intelligent man – but he likes us to forget that, because New Zealanders seem stuck in the midst of the culture wars, perpetually informed by that old chestnut that those who can do, and those that can’t teach. Obama’s election has reconfigured the traditional discourse of power – and has relocated presidentiality in the person of a black man, a community organiser, a reconciler. Let’s hope that in New Zealand we can similarly relocate intellect into the discourses of power – and embrace leaders who are not ashamed to talk of things other than imports and short-selling.
Because we all need a place to talk about things that really DON'T matter, as well as ones that really do.