review — i am a human being

Jackson is a great human and a stellar poet, and so I decided to review their new collection I Am A Human for the Unity Books Auckland website (oh yeah, by the way, we have one of those now, look at all those titles and think about the fact that aaaaall those titles were loaded manually, with at least 600 loaded by yours truly).

Continue reading review — i am a human being

Salt Lick

last time
all of us
a smaller, self-contained, of the moment
kind of all of us
we sat at the water
she went into the ocean
her feet cautious then
enraptured
the elongated vowels of a toddler
whose life is
overwhelming/exciting/in danger
pick one
she’s not sure herself
trying to stamp down
the water as it licks her ankles
swift kicks and sun hats
and sandals up on the sand

we watched and laughed and talked and said
we’ll keep in touch

Review: How Does It Hurt?

how does it hurtBooksellers NZ review blog – How Does It Hurt? by Stephanie de Montalk.

Here’s my latest review for Booksellers NZ. I felt a very deep connection with elements of this book – a memoir/essay collection/non-fiction wonderland focusing on chronic pain. Stephanie’s own experiences are at once entirely different and so very familiar to my own. Every page held a combination of new understanding of both the experiences of others and how to put into words my own experiences.

I fought the urge to make the review entirely third person without my own involvement, because it’s the sort of book that you are automatically involved in, whether you yourself have experienced pain of this sort or not. It’s informative where it’s not relatable. It’s a book that could play an important role in the understand the experience of others. It’s just a damn good book, too.

Here’s the first snippet.

A review should, as a rule, be an impersonal thing. But occasionally a book falls into your hands that resounds with you in such a tortuously familiar way that it’s impossible not to feel your own related experiences playing in the background as your read. With that in mind, this is a review of Stephanie de Montalk’s How Does It Hurt?, my reading of which was underpinned by my own experiences with chronic pain and illness and the medical world.

The rest can be read on the Booksellers NZ blog.

I also had my latest radio review today, which I will link to when the audio clip is up. The book in question this time around was Aquarium by David Vann, and it was altogether excellent. More on that later, hopefully!

How Does It Hurt? is published by Victoria University Press with an RRP of $40 and can be purchased at all sorts of good bookstores across NZ. Like this one!

Hospital haiku. December 4–8.

I trim the stems of
hospital tulips with my
ostomy scissors

Lounging
Medically important lounging photo by Uther ‘Prolific Playwright/Published Poet’ Dean.

 

My plans to blog on the daily were slightly messed around by ill health. After several days in a row of leaving work early due to feeling rather deathly, I finally relented and went into ED on Friday night, thinking that they would give me some fluids and maybe some codeine and send me on my way. But now it’s Monday afternoon and I only just got home a few hours ago.

So to make up for the days lost to a phone-only internet void (and, you know, being hospital-level unwell), here is a selection of random, occasionally drug addled, haiku/short poetry from those lost days.

HOSPITAL HAIKU

I trim the stems of
hospital tulips with my
ostomy scissors

His fingers fly
Writing; counting syllables
Of five, seven, five

The nurse’s glove broke
Latex gave way to warm flesh
Precious skin contact

Mail, Facebook, Twitter
Textual interactions
Words to keep afloat

Tonight at midnight
Lost in an internet blur
I may read Buzzfeed

Arms take turns itching
Fingers one-by-one on fire
Then last are the shins

Pillows that whistle
Every time you try to
Gently rest your head

White blankets and sheets
Lightly patterned white/blue gowns
Pale ghosts at night

I would try to sleep
But I have already and
The steroids say no.

Now waiting, waiting
Free me to the outside world
It’s almost sunny

Orange juice is a
Generous term for this stuff.

get off my lawn

the curious circumstances
where the cool kids across the way
off-season students
play music from their
kindergarten days
and the appropriateness
(for the unwilling listener)
that the closing track of the evening
is ‘suicidal girls’
because of the way that
i would do truly anything
to get that racket gone
their speakers and voices both

the karaka tree

the karaka tree was full of berries
we couldn’t eat them / orange and hard
tiny cherries of another time
crushed them between our fingers
and rubbed into the grass
I scared myself into scalding
hot water / the only way to be sure
that I would bite my nails
chew a knuckle bored in the boughs
die a death of karaka-stained teeth
a small blonde body in the jonquils

fears

Tumblr has become my confession box; this place remains slightly more honed. But my most recent ‘yes, this deserves a frenzied Tumblr post’ moment seems to have grown and spread, an idea or a virus. The end result is what will tell the difference, I suppose, but ultimately it is this – what are the fears that are creeping on my mind, and will  writing them out, sending them into the internet (so the world and the ether all at once, audience depending) change anything? Will admitting them in this space lighten the load, or simply provide more ammunition for people to doubt me, and for me to doubt myself?

Only one way to find out.

Here some things that I fear. In moderate detail.

I fear that my best writing days are behind me, that I haven’t improved my craft since I was sixteen. I have not had creative work published since I was in my first year of university, and that was only because I’d been lucky enough to have work submitted by my glorious former English/Creative Writing teacher at high school. I had chances to make the most of noteworthy names in my undergraduate courses – but I was too anxious, too depressed, too insert-synonym-for-terrified to let my classmates see my work, let alone the tutors and lecturers that we had. I passed my stage three prose course with a fairly good grade – but I’m sure it could have been an absolutely glorious grade if I had gone to more than the first lecture and workshop and then had borderline panic attacks every time I thought about going to a class taught by Witi Ihimaera.

On that note, I also fear that if I did find myself accepted into a masters programme (as I have wanted to do since the aforementioned English teacher basically introduced me to the concept of the IIML etc), I would descend into the same I’m-not-good-enough spiral, that I would take all judgements too harshly, that I just couldn’t hack it. Honestly, that sort of fear is probably part of why I decided that I should investigate publishing and editing as a career choice. So that I could think critically about my work from the perspective of the people with the power. So that I could learn what people are looking for when they work their ways through submissions. The contacts and connections that I have made since I moved to Wellington are probably helping that somewhat – I don’t feel like the total outsider to the literary world that I once did, but I still live on the fringe.

I fear that I have shot myself in the foot with pursuing ‘journalistic’ writing in various forms, especially over the past few months. It’s not that I don’t enjoy writing these things, but I feel as if it jeopardises some people’s opinions of me and my work. Yes, I have written reviews, and feature type pieces, and musician interviews – but that doesn’t define me or what my goals and intentions are. My first and foremost love is still prose (and sort of poetry too, even if I won’t admit that up front terribly often). Articles are a way of getting paid to write things. And that’s still rather amazing to me.

Not everything has to do with writing, don’t worry.

I fear loneliness. Oftentimes, since I’ve moved here, it feels as though my connection to friendship is through the internet, and real life is just a place where I work and go to class. I don’t choose for it to be that way, but I’m still so stuck in my ways of the same group of friends through undergrad, and attaching myself to D’s friendship groups – and generally just using the (reasonable) excuse of being too sick (both in body and mind, thanks hindsight) to put effort into things like socialising. I’ve lost my touch, if ever I had it – and the problem is, the people whose company I tend to like most are probably those who least feel the need for another person in their life.

Related to that, I fear my own desirability – both romantically and platonically. I look at myself critically, and struggle to figure out what would draw anyone to me. This is before I even take into account the whole busted gut situation. Sometimes I worry that I’ve thrown myself too far into this book world – it is, after all, all that I’ve ever really known. Music, and words. I know that in theory there is more to me than that, but so often I struggle to come up with anything else. It’s reading, writing, publishing – or listening, playing, singing. Every gerund rooted in decisions that I made many years ago.

I have never felt ‘attractive’. I have always been the pursuer in any potential relationships (not that my backlist is terribly heavy there), I don’t have people paying attention to me in any way. When the fact that I ‘like’ someone comes up (rarely do I let that happen, but happen it has), I’m always faced with a ‘wait, really? I had no idea’. I just don’t know how to show it. I fear that this is something I just have to accept, that people don’t consider me a possibility until I put myself out there, ready to be shot down. It’s what I have come to expect. I didn’t walk away from the three years with Dom and keep my ability to trust people intact.

I fear my body, what it does and what it may not be able to do. This is where things maybe get a bit heavy. You’ve been warned. I have a chronic illness – we know that. It’s not fun, but for the most part, it’s manageable. Ish. But let’s now add to that the fact that at my age my mother had melanoma. One of my medications also makes me more susceptible to melanoma. More recently, she has had seizures and been hospitalised for them.  My father, not yet 60,  has had arthritis for years, has another autoimmune condition (not Crohn’s, like I do) and has also had heart issues. So I come from… imperfect stock healthwise, shall we say. All of this contributes to a fear of my health’s twists and turns. I already get IBD-related arthritic pain, at times. Bad knees are not the domain of one in their mid-twenties.

And related to all of that, I fear for my future. I was an IVF baby. I took eight years to come about. And whilst my two younger siblings then came about naturally, there was obviously something not cooperating that needed to be nudged for things to start happening. Because of the strange tag thing on my ear, Mum used to say that they mixed me up badly in the lab – now it feels a little more self-destructive to say that, since my health has deteriorated. So I fear having a genetic tendency towards problems in the future – not to mention the fact that since I have already had abdominal surgery and am guaranteed at least one more… it all adds up to make things like pregnancy that little bit more difficult. And it’s all the worse to worry about these things when you don’t really have a means to make them happen, anyway. It was one thing for me to wonder about it 6+ months ago when I was in an established relationship – not as something to have happen any time super soon, but something to be aware of.

Now that there’s nobody alongside me, it feels pointless to even wonder about these things, but still they play on my mind.

There are other things, of course – noises in the night, disasters, the usual. I am lucky, I suppose (ha), that I don’t have any crippling phobias of any kind, I can dislike spiders but not leap away from them – I’d flinch if a mouse scurried by but I wouldn’t scream.

But these things, even if they are me wrapping myself in knots, are weighing me down.

held

i meant to find some comfort in the keyboard, finding myself awake later than i should
borderline hyperventilation, reliving moments best left to the past, ill-chosen reminders
for every word of reassurance, this too shall pass, you are so strong
once in a while the breakdown, the relinquishing of control to that baser part
known for its lingering, its fears, its dread – it descends and the wind outside will not dislodge it
the rise and fall, lost in the trough where bad dreams feed and breed
the but, the every but that comes to mind
so easily shot down, words are wind, since this is some strange fantasy after all
alms given in casual words
he told me i lacked empathy, smug and meditative
i told him empathy is why i’m still here

sometimes my illness makes me feel strong
sometimes i tell myself that it is what has led me to this place
that it is no bad thing to have your path drawn in strange ways
better sense tells me that it was not health that drove me this way
in goals and in dreams
but it is what i owe my unhappiness to
directly, indirectly, every day, looking at scars
a constant thrum of malcontent
no end in sight, just a lifetime of people telling me
how strong, how brave, how inspirational
and waiting for the next drug or op
i do not want sympathy
i just want to be better
i want to have energy so that i may be able to live
i want to not live in fear, or less of it at least
i want to not have to use this page
as a diary or a one-sided counsel
i just want to be better.