Puzzled, pleasured, and pacified by a city stroll

shadow-plants

Plants in a puzzling perspective? Just shadows on the pavement.

massey-door
The room they forgot at Massey University. And forgot and forgot and forgot.

Red doors to heaven? Just a Massey University thing.

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Hard to see but this ngaio tree is populated by kaka, native birds spreading out from Zealandia, a conservation island in a city

Old ngaio tree near the Carillon? Yes, and can you see six kaka nibbling buds and blundering over branches?

Pet rabbit on a leash, resting in a jacket
Buddy-rabbit tucked into a jacket

Toy on a tummy? Just a Buddy-Rabbit tired after his big Saturday walk.

But I am refreshed by a tiny walk across Wellington. Such pleasure, such puzzles. Light and shade. Mini-eccentricities. New native bird life. Student with a rabbit on a leash.

I love my little city.

Daily Post prompt, photos rachel mcalpine cc by 2.0

 

Travel blogs and travel talk

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Marrakech Gare: going places!

Travel blogs: hugely popular for good reason

Travel blogging is a brilliant way to keep a travel diary, manage your trip photos, and keep family and friends up to date with your adventures. Also, you only have to write about each memory once — one post and it’s done — but you can edit at your leisure. You can write into life with this genre.

There’s room for every kind of travel blog: visual, verbal, mundane, philosophical, private, public, chatty, literary, jokey, romantic — it’s all good. A travel blog can quadruple the pleasure of a trip.

Travel conversations are not so easy

These after-the-trip conversations are inevitable. When you return from an exotic place, you are obliged to talk about it. Friends ask about Your Trip (especially in New Zealand, where every country except Australia is a fairly long way away). Or you have an urge to talk about it anyway, bursting to share all your strange and marvellous experiences.

But how? Travel talk can be such a pleasure, but it can also go seriously wrong. Half your audience has already been to the same destination, and the other half has been there in spirit thanks to TripAdvisor and Facebook.

Is there a taxonomy of travel talk? I have been watching how others do it, and I hope to learn from their triumphs and mistakes.

A. Travel talk that I enjoy

  1. Personal experiences combined with insights into broader topics.
  2. A story steeped in joy or excitement or delight or drama or fear: strong frank personal feelings.
  3. People who travel with a specific purpose: how did things pan out?
  4. A story about people.
  5. An amazing fact that I have never heard before.
  6. Stories that grow and grow in response to the listener’s questions.

B. Travel talkers who drive me nuts 

Hello B-team. I’m glad you had an adventure and I wish you all the best, but let’s set a 5 minute limit.

  1. The bore who tells you 1,000 (dubious, random, context-less) “facts” about a place.
  2. The know-it-all who believes that spending 5 minutes in a place gives their every opinion the ring of authority.
  3. The full-time cruise traveller who compares tours, not places.
  4. The super-generaliser.
  5. The person who forgets you used to live there.
  6. Mr and Mrs Cost-a-Lot, Mr and Mrs They-Can’t-Make-Chips, and their friends.

After my next holiday in Kuala Lumpur I’d better prepare an executive summary so that I don’t lapse into category B.

**
This blog post is reprinted from Old Lady Laughing, which nobody ever read. My own photo, cc by 2.0

Singing through migraines

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Me caught in a dazzle of sunlight: something like a migraine aura

A few weeks ago, 200-odd people sang Donizetti’s Requiem to an appreciative audience in the Wellington Salvation Army Citadel. And one of those 200 people was me.

I love this annual workshop, organised by the Wellington Region of the New Zealand Choral Federation. Anyone can join in, anyone at all! On Friday night we start learning an interesting choral work under an exciting director. 24 hours later we perform it, with stunning soloists. In a word, it’s a buzz — intensive learning in a supportive crowd, culminating in one all-or-nothing performance.

The migraine obstacle

Only one problem: I usually get a migraine and don’t make it through to the performance. Staring at little black marks page after page. Sunbeams striking at a particular angle. Bright lights. Heavy concentration. Yep, that’ll do it. But if I go home I’m still happy and satisfied, because I’ve still had most of the experience.

The challenge is always, how long can I last? Two hours, four hours, six hours?

A well-designed score and cunning tricks almost save the day

SCORE-2

Some years we sing from scores that look like ants on the march. They’re tiny, cramped, more black than white, barely readable for me. Usability: fail. Page design: fail.

But the Donizetti score has good margins and layout and plenty of white space. Yes, that helps! I placed myself where the sun didn’t shine, took aspirin, drank loads of water and in short played all my anti-migraine cards. Almost made it.

Perfect timing: singing blind

The audience is waiting. We’re ready to perform. The beautiful soloists walk in. The conductor raises his baton … uh oh, is his face a tiny bit blurry?

Here comes the aura, a shimmering zig-zag lightning that grows and moves along its own sweet path. The conductor is a blank. The score is a blur. But I can’t leave now.

I know the first bit. And I feel fine, just blind, no other symptoms. I won’t lip-synch, I’ll sing. And I do, for the entire performance.

I make concessions. I skip the risky bits, like all those fabulous ff opening high notes. My greatest dread is of singing during a solo — imagine that!

The aura wriggles away in time for the applause. I’m fine, really just fine.

Life lessons for me

  • Learn your music really really really really well. I mean really.
  • You’re not a soloist. A kindly crowd will carry you through.
  • Adapt to circumstances.
  • Do your best. Your best is good enough.
  • Listen to the music in the migraine.
  • Rejoice!

A riff on “old people are…” by Renee

My friend and fellow New Zealand writer and role model Renee just did a rant and a rave on the theme of “Old is an all-purpose synonym for bad. Old people is an all-purpose synonym for  50 shades of bad.” Renee regards herself as fairly old — stereotype her at your peril! I just had to share. It starts like this…

ONE

Boozers, losers, out of jail bruisers. Jockeys, cockies, once were great soccies. Litterers, knitters, reliable house sitters. Miners, diners, intelligent signers. Gardeners, cooks, some who write books. Piano and guitar players, definitely some Gays.  Singers, clingers, ringers and wingers. Wealthy, stealthy, against all odds healthy. Runners, gunners, dedicated punners. Winners and players, sinners and swayers. Rich, poor, curious, bored. Patient, walker, creepy grey stalker. Painters, fainters, always some ranters. Fat, skinny, tall, short. New, old, borrowed, bought. Fraught, taught, occasionally sought. Preachers, teachers, some who make Features. Bad-tempered, kind, clear-sighted, blind. Some bold, some rolled, some polled, some sold. Doctors, nurses, lecturers, bursars.  Bouncers, prancers, dedicated dancers.  Happy, sad, conniving, bad.  Lout, devout, chock full of doubt. Whingers, Ginjas, society’s fringes.   Packers, actors, determined hackers.  Loving, hating, dating, waiting…

You can read TWO and THREE on her blog.

Renee’s Wednesday Busk: Old People Are …

The healing power of writing: poems about dying wisely

Morning glory flowers, one in bloom, one dead

On my blog Poems In The Wild, I will be posting poems about the dying and death of a dear brother-in-law, some years ago, starting tomorrow. When I wrote them, the process was cathartic and the writing helped me to process and learn from the experience. Writing the poems made me feel close again to my brother-in-law even after his death.

You may well find these poems of interest on various levels.

  • If you have lost someone and are looking for comfort or catharsis or clarity
  • If you are interested in the way writing can heal
  • If you too are mystified or frightened by death.

I can’t wash away your grief but perhaps I can stand alongside you for a moment or two.

You’ll find the poems on my blog, starting here with a short introduction:

Facing the unbearable: poems about dying wisely


pic & poem by rachel mcalpine cc-by-2.0

Reasons for writing: be glib or be puzzled

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My sister Lesley (left) who accidentally triggered Fixing Mrs Philpott. Photo: Nilu Izadi 

What prompts you to write a particular book, a specific book? For example, why did I write Fixing Mrs Philpott— rather than a memoir, a book about ageing, or a novel from scratch about an entirely different character?

“Why did the author write this book?”

This is a stock question at any writers’ festival, and authors learn to answer in a way that satisfies the audience. But the “reasons” we trot out are usually a minefield of guesses, coincidences, fictions and facts. They are excuses, not reasons. We shape our reply for the audience and our own needs, and it’s as true as we can make it. Behind that carefully constructed answer is a mystery and a puzzle. Which is not a bad thing.

My high school English teachers used to ask us this standard question about every poem and every novel that we studied, and it puzzled me deeply. Especially as they seemed utterly confident they knew the answer, and that there was only one correct answer. Even at the age of 12 I was astonished at their answers and their certainty, because I was equally certain that they were wrong.

Unpicking some reasons for writing Fixing Mrs Philpott

Circumstances played a part. A few years ago, my sister told me that her 80-year-old friend was looking for some mildly erotic short stories to revive her lost sex drive. I was very busy at the time and certainly didn’t have time to write a novel … but it occurred to me that I could handle short stories. They were short, that’s why. And I could write them one at a time.

So I gathered true confessions about real life sex from friends and acquaintances (but why?). I elaborated (but why?), I embellished (but why?) and the result was Scarlet Heels: 26 stories about sex.

Then at the Frankfurt Book Fair, publishers and agents advised me with one voice to reverse-engineer the short stories into a novel. With 26 random characters in eight different countries? Yeah, right! What a ridiculous idea.

Nobody forced me to jump through that hoop, and yet I did. (Why?) After three false starts (modelled on 1001 Nights, an Agatha Christie house party, and The Canterbury Tales) I finally hammered the stories into a single entity by using the Hero’s Journey screenplay model. A single male character was added to the mix. Eventually I had a plot and an earthquake-resistant structure, instead of a string of episodes:

Odd little Mrs Philpott has a couple of problems on the back burner. At 70 she is convinced that her life is over, plus she has a “relationship problem” with her husband Bill — and then the earthquakes begin. So off she goes, a small woman in a large car dragging a yellow caravan. On a shaky road trip around Canterbury, she receives a torrent of all-too-personal advice from an ever-expanding community of friends. Further disasters test her to the limit. In a final violent confrontation, she must either prove that she is well and truly fixed — or lose everything.

fixing-mrs-p-cover-small

But these are not logical reasons

Would you have perceived a lack of time as a reason to write short stories? Would you have written the short stories just because your sister asked you to find some for a friend? Would you have struggled to create a genuine, well plotted novel out of those maverick short stories, without a contract or commitment from agent or publisher?

I like to think I select my own path as a writer, but my feet carry me inexorably along peculiar tracks to odd destinations. And that’s exactly how I like it.

How about you? Are you more logical, more sensible than this? That’s fine, because we need all sorts of writers. Or maybe you know exactly what I mean.


A dirty old day in terrorized New Zealand

headlines

Now let us do our duty: a swift scan
of the headlines for one shameful day
in a land of slime
and terror.

Minister not keen on drive
Freedom campers use beach as toilet
New Zealand, man up like Dan Carter
Melania wants to start clean

Police honesty box charge
A dance with The Boss
Closure for cat lover
Dog saved from kayak

Easter Sunday trading is here
Pineapple on pizza—for or against?
People safe after fire
When your succulent won’t stop growing

Stop there! It’s all too much.
Why fixate on the false and the filthy?
Take it away.
Let’s all emigrate to the USA.


poem & screenshot by rachel mcalpine CC BY 2.0