drained

So drained. So overwhelmed. All I can think about right now is how I don’t have any pictures of Olive and me together. And now there will start to be pictures of Olive and The New and Horrible One. And that really, really depresses me.

There is something both hilarious and terrible about being in tears for most of the evening while a movie called ‘LOL’ plays in the background (the French original, not the Miley Cyrus remake, for the record).

Here’s hoping my face isn’t too puffy for interactions with Camilla Lackberg tomorrow. Because apparently my current tactic in the Game of Briar’s Life is throwing myself into more work than is sensible.

I miss my darling Lolla. I miss that whole part of my then-life, those evenings and afternoons on the Shore. The first Gecko Press book I ever bought was a present for her. Zou and the Box of Kisses. I organised the presents, then, I made the suggestions. One of her particularly precious toys is a stuffed zebra. So it was perfect.

And now I’m down-country, and there’s going to be a new name tagged onto Dom’s name when he goes visiting his sisters, and it absolutely breaks my heart. More than anything else, in this moment, to be honest . I haven’t yet been able to bear putting up the pictures that I have from her and Felix.

Did you know that among all the rest of the eateries, Cuba Street is home to two cafes that happen to be called Olive and Felix? And remember that the daily newspaper in Wellington is the Dominion Post – AKA the Dom?

Escape in the form of someone new really needs to come and sweep me off my feet with Camera Obscura songs, or something.

the teenage dream?

Eventually, in this article/mess, I will talk about Zac & Mia by A.J. Betts. But you have been warned, it seems that it took me a LONG time to get there. Ah well. Enjoy my brand of literary ranting and raving.

In early 2010, I went to Wellington for an Amanda Palmer concert. As was tradition.* Part of my excuse for trekking down country for a musician I had seen more than a couple of times was a) I had a free ticket and b) Neil Gaiman was also in town, hurrah! I had finally actually read some Gaiman by this point, having shamefully not actually touched any of his work when I met him eight-ish months earlier.**

So I dutifully purchased a ticket to the ‘An Evening With…’ type event that was going on at the Town Hall the day after the Amanda show (if memory serves), but I still had time to burn before the gig, and discovered that Neil was doing a session with Australian author Margo Lanagan on YA fiction, chaired by Kate de Goldi. What’s not to like? I bought a ticket, and headed to The Embassy***. And it was thoroughly illuminating.****

There was a sense of agreement among the authors that kids are really good at self-censoring – that’s to say, even when reading things above their intended age, oftentimes the things that are ‘inappropriate’ will just go over their heads. I thoroughly agree with this – I can’t come up with an book-related examples off-hand, but when I look back at all the dirty jokes and suggestive lyrics in films and songs that I watched and listened to without a care in the world as a kid, it does make me think that there’s something to it.

Related to this, both authors seemed to say that despite writing for a range of ages, they don’t go into a story thinking ‘this is something that I’m writing for teenagers’  – rather it is something that is the product of publisher and editorial decisions made on something that has grown of its own accord, without working to fill some sort of age-genre niche. It makes me wonder how things would work if other authors worked in a similar system, how it would (or wouldn’t) affect the way that trends work.

Because that’s what this is basically meant to be about, before that introductory tangent happened. Young adult genre trends, and how strange they are. Really. It really does open your eyes as to just how swayed by current interests the teenage/young person mindset is when you see just how overwhelmingly trend-driven YA fiction is. There are obviously ebbs and flows in terms of what is most popular in the world of regular adult fiction, with occasional strange outliers like Fifty Shades of Grey, but as a whole, people can have specific interests in any genre, and there’s going to be new stuff being churned out on a regular basis, be it thriller, sci-fi, ‘literary fiction’ (borrowing Ellie Catton’s quote marks there), or what-have-you.

But teenagers! My goodness. At this moment, it’s perhaps not so mad as it has been at some points in recent years – it seems to be a bit of a transitional period at present – but having worked in a kids’ department in the height of Meyer-mania, the proliferation of vampire (and later Insert-Paranormal-Creature-of-the-Month – did anyone else read Switched by Amanda Hocking? Or as my former workmate Rosie and I referred to it “that troll book”?) fiction was INSANE. I mean, everyone knows that. If it’s not Twilight, it’s Vampire Academy or Vampire Diaries, or Blue Bloods, or The Mortal Instruments. Money spinners, every one – and I won’t claim to judge them for quality, because I haven’t read most of them. I did read all four Twilight books (and the companion novella The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner) and the first book of The Mortal Instruments, but, in case you’re interested, here are my excuses/reasons.
1. Twilight – I found an abandoned copy at O’Hare Airport on my way to Montreal. Made for good plane reading.
2. New Moon – I forgot to bring a book with my on the plane to Florida, and it was the cheapest English language book in the Montreal airport bookstore.3. Eclipse – I had confessed that I’d read them to a friend, and when she came to visit me she brought a copy of Eclipse with her that she’d found while cleaning out a flat or some such.
4. Breaking Dawn – By this stage, I have to admit, I did actively borrow it from a friend (thanks, Mel!), just so that I could say I’d seen it through to the end.
5. The Short Second Life Of Bree Tanner – Off-site sale store, just myself and much less-than-riveting stock for company. So over the course of a few shifts I stealthily worked by way through the book (as well as a re-read of The Bad Beginning. Miss you, Botany Town Centre (not).
6. City of Bones. I don’t know if Cassandra Clare is quite in the same ‘really?!’ league as Stephenie Meyer, but still. I read this because it was on my Kobo when I was in hospital after my op last year, and it managed to make more sense than Atwood or Asimov in my morphine haze.

I’m just all about the tangents today, aren’t I? It has been a long day.

Anyway. We were talking about trends! So, as most people will be aware, the next major Young Adult Fiction Trend after paranormal romance was/is Dystopia. Which is very much more up my alley. You all of know my Atwood obsession – and more specifically my Atwood speculative fiction obsession. A good dystopia is just brilliant, and I can’t quite put my finger on why. The cautionary tale element, perhaps, or maybe I just have no faith in the future of the human race? Depends on the day. Regardless, The Handmaid’s Tale and the Maddaddam trilogy are some of my favourite books of all time. And suddenly, there were going to be new dystopic books written in such a way as to be consumed swiftly and easily. Frabjous day!

The Hunger Games was excellent, to a point. I’m not unique in my opinion that the second two books suffered because of the assumed timing/publisher pressure following the huge popularity of the first. Divergent had a similar fate, as did the Uglies books (though neither were quite on the same level as The Hunger Games) – great first book to hook you, but everything rather gets a little too big too fast, and the writing quality drops as a consequence. I tend to think that the ideas are better than the execution in some of these YA dystopias, which isn’t the end of the world, I suppose – I’m sure it fuels the imagination of fledgling writers finding their feet through fanfic.

But even the day of Dystopic Dominance seems to be drawing to an end, and John Green is perhaps the main man behind this transition. Real life is cool again – and in particular, the brand of ‘sick lit’ as it is sometimes uncomfortably known, that he seems to have kicked off with The Fault in Our Stars (correct me if I’m wrong – and obviously I know that books in this vein have existed forever, but none have had quite the same following). I really loved the book, when I read it last year while in the throes of being desperately unwell. One of his other books was one of my other post-op reads (Paper Towns, I think?) along with the aforementioned Cassandra Clare title. Now, kids with cancer are having their stories shared more passionately than ever. I just finished reading Zac & Mia by A.J. Betts, and I thoroughly enjoyed it – but at the same time, it felt a little like I was reading the Aussie version of TFiOS, with less pretentious protagonists and a shuffle of specific cancer-locations. Love on the oncology ward, the new Love in Post-Apocalyptic Appalachia, or Love & Fangs in the Pacific Northwest.

It seems like such a strange niche to have such prominence. Is it the sparkly strands of hope beyond all odds? Is it the fact that many a child will have seen a classmate or relative suffer through the pain of cancer (or another serious illness, though these genre books don’t seem to have stepped out of that box yet)? I’m not a cancer patient, obviously, but my health background meant that there were a fair few moments while reading Zac & Mia that I felt uncomfortable with how familiar these things sounded – the bruises and scars on arms from needles, that constant whir/drip of IVs, the way in which such intensive drugs just sap your life force entirely. I’ve sat in haemotology, with my IV attached, surrounded by patients undergoing chemo. I’ve been put under, not knowing exactly what’s going to happen when I wake up, I’ve had a puffy steroid face, I’ve had slight fond reminisces of a catheter.

Basically, I can relate to some of the goings on of these characters more than I’d like to. I suppose it’s not helped by the fact that I’m currently in a bit of a flap about my health going forward, but I felt constantly on edge while reading hospital scenes in Zac & Mia, even as I felt compelled to read on, felt compassion, empathy. What does a healthy reader take from these stories? Do they zone in on the love stories, with the cancer simply part of the love story? Do they read on, knowing that one of the bright young things could relapse and deteriorate at any moment, so that they the reader can then cry along with the protagonist left alive? Is it glamourising illness, despite painting a pretty damn unhappy and unpleasant image of it?

I don’t know. I’m probably overthinking it.

Trends are strange things, guys.

Perhaps there will be a part two tomorrow when I’ve had more time to digest the book, and I’m less exhausted (funny, right? because when am I ever not exhausted?). All this being said, I would still recommend it.

*The tradition being that I had a compulsion to travel far and wide in pursuit of as many AFP concerts as possible. Last tally was fifteen, I think, including one Coachella slot, one Dresden Dolls show, one performance/reading with her and Neil at a bookstore and one performance of “Delilah” in her lounge. But I digress.

** This was the time that AFP and Neil were performing together at the Housingworks Bookstore, when I came in early with the gang, as it was in those NY-y days, and I was sitting pretty in a corner keeping out of the way when Neil walked past, then stopped and came towards me, saying “You must be the other barely legal lesbian (cf. @thebarelylegals, an on-going Twitter joke circa May 2009), from New Zealand! I’m Neil.” And he stuck his hand out to shake, and apologised for having forgotten my actual name. He had met Kayla, the other part of the boisterous Bed-Stuy  duo the day before, hence the ‘otherness’. It was possibly the most surreal moment of my life. Gods bless my bright pink hair.

***Where, in hindsight, I probably interacted with some of my now-colleagues at the Unity satellite store.

****Keep in mind that everything is being jotted down by memory, now, and this was four years ago, and those four years have been full of illness and drugs and surgery and depression and many other things which may have slightly tinkered with my memory.

the invisible man (with no disrepect to wells or ellison)

I wrote this for you, before I knew better, before I understood how to reach in and tease the air from greedy alveoli back into the process, less catching in my chest as when you’re on my mind. I wrote this in the moment, reflexive and bemused, a parallel existence in my imagination, not dramatic enough for paper, not reasonable enough for real life, just a hope, skip and a dreamy jump away from this moment, alone in the hills.

Learning so much, about overwriting but not underwriting, about strange magician’s ciphers and the things that people do not know. Dozing in the swansong of summer, so far past and still it lingers, warmth better than any medication at slowing the mind to a couch-bound crawl.

The lives of others, in other words, the world I threaten to join, leaving my own in the dust, my stories coagulating in a past now forgotten, embracing The Word in other ways. And I may wrap myself in them all day and night, but I will need you, or another, or another still – someone to listen, to read me in another way.

14 WAYS TO HAVE A RAD TIME, EVEN IF YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER IS THE PORCELAIN THRONE.

So, I always enjoy reading lists that bloggers like Gala Darling create – inspirational lists of things to do, places to go, ways to cheer yourself up, ways to celebrate life… all kinds of things. Thing is, by its very nature, IBD – or even severe IBS, I’ll admit it – kind of limits your social/adventuring options. So, I bring to you…

14 WAYS TO HAVE A RAD TIME, EVEN IF YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER IS THE PORCELAIN THRONE.

[Section 1 – at home! since, you know, if you’re sick, home is often where the heart, and the head, and the wHole body are]

1. Bubble bath. Perks include – it can calm you down (and stress can be a factor for some people with bowel problems), you can douse yourself in all kinds of sparkly delicious smells to disguise any (probably imaginary, but no less disturbing!) lingering odours that you may be inflicted with, AND, most conveniently, more often than not, it’s the same room as your toilet. SUPER WIN.

2. Bring your world to the bathroom. I’m talking iPod docks, books, laptops/tablets/phones, you name it, it will enhance the bathroom experience.

3. Dance party. If you’re up to it, shaking your groove thing can be very cathartic.

4. Cooking something fabulous. Since nobody knows your own specific colon/digestive system idiosyncrasies better than you do, cook some amazing feast that caters to your specific dietary requirements. Alternatively, junk food that fits your needs is good too. Sometimes, eating ‘healthy’ can be hard for a low-residue dieting IBDer, but hey, if you want an excuse to gorge on something ‘bad’ under the guise of ‘it’s the only thing I can digest except poached chicken!’ I say MORE POWER TO YOU.

5. Redecorating. Having a room/home that you actually like to be in seriously enhances the experience of being at home, and if you’re stuck at home because your colon is telling you that that’s the only thing doing right now, then between voyages to the loo, contemplate how your room could be more badass, and make it happen.

6. Movie/TV show marathoning. Before I ‘knew’ I was sick – but was symptomatic, and depressed, and therefore basically never leaving the house if I could help it, I got through a hell of a lot of Gilmore Girls and Buffy. My life is better for having those shows in my life. Good can come of being a brain-addled, pipe-twisted couch potato!

7. WRITE! Case in point. To be honest, though, when I was at my worst, I was also not really in the right mindset for writing. These last few months have played host to my largest writing output, both blogging and creative writing, in year. But capture what moments you can. You never know how good it might be to look back and see how far you’ve come.

[section 2 – AWAY from home! scary! but possible!]

8. Go to the beach. So, this may sound wacky on several levels, especially for those of you reading this from wintery northern hemisphere climes, but with a little forethought, beach-tripping can be totally doable, even if you’re not at your best. I think the trick is to find a moderately-frequented beach – one that’s popular enough to have more than one public toilet, ideally one that’s actually occasionally cleaned, but not so popular as to mean you’re going to be queuing for ages and risking major bikini-bottom trauma. Let’s be honest – it’s a possibility. Swimming’s not even essential, nor is lying in the sun – just find a shady tree (pohutukawas are best for it, if you’re lucky enough to live in my part of the world) and listen to the waves. Build a sand castle – hell, build a sand-toilet-idol. LIVE THE SUMMER DREAM.

9. Catch a ferry somewhere. Sticking to the seaside theme, if you live somewhere with a harbour, hop on a ferry – they have bathrooms! – and go somewhere new. Or somewhere old. Or anywhere, really. Enjoy being out on the ocean. It’s a damn fine thing.

10. Movies. Your friends will love you for being the one who ‘takes one for the team’ when you offer to take the seat at the end of the row. Little do they know (or maybe they do) it’s just smart planning. Keep your ticket on you. Avoid popcorn, unless a) your intestines don’t have an aversion to it, in which case yay! lucky you or b) you know you’ll have a delayed reaction and that buttery goodness is worth the repercussions. I feel ya. I’ve been there. It’s bittersweet.

11. Art galleries/museums. Major galleries and museums will generally be pretty well kitted out for public facilities – and what’s more, often they’ll give you a handy dandy map when you go in, WHICH SHOWS YOU WHERE THEY ALL ARE. It’s like they’re made for us. Just make sure you check out the map before you go wandering into any old wings that may not be quite so well equipped, okay? Nothing like hobble-running through a voclano-exhibit to try to catch the train on time.

12. Visit your parents/grandparents/siblings/close-and-understanding friends. Especially the first two – always good to keep those that brought you into being happy. A way to leave the house and still have unfettered access to a bathroom? It’s possible! Plus depending on the parent/grandparent/sibling/close-and-understanding friend in question, who knows what kind of delicious baked goods they might unleash upon you?

13. Gigs. I’ll admit, I do still get a little anxious going out to concerts, and, realistically, going to the symphony may not be ideal for the colonly-challenged, but a gig at a regular ol’ bar or rock club? Totally doable. Stay away from major crush areas, towards the side or the back – or even a mezzanine, if there is one – and you’ll benefit in more health and safety related ways than just having an easy UC/Crohn’s escape route. I’d recommend scoping out where the bathrooms are beforehand, though, and maybe steer clear of venues you know have poor lavatory hygiene. Get wrapped up and absorbed in the music, and it’s amazing how, even for a couple of hours, intestines can miraculously settle down.

14. Bush walks. I guess you overseas folks would be more likely to call it hiking, but here, bush walking suits me just fine. This isn’t exactly recommended if you’re in the middle of a mega-flare, but if you’re in a bit of an in-between place like I am, it’s not impossible. No big quests, mind you, but take a drive out to somewhere gorgeous – where the drive is part of the fun – with a small loop track. If you’re in Auckland, check out the Hunua Falls – you can loop down to the falls and back (and by back, I mean the carpark with a Department of Conservation administered toilet block, chur, guys!) in ten minutes, if you need to. You can venture further up other tracks if you want, but even just that little track take you through old forests and up to the beautiful waterfall and the big waterhole thing it falls into. Glorious.

I may add a second installment of this list at some time, especially as I explore the world of not-constant-symptom-ness and what is possible in it. You can do anything is a foolish adage for the chronically ill – but am I going to let that stop my imagination running wild? Hell to the no.

for katarina stratford (365 pieces – january 9th)

trying in vain
to name
ten things i hate about you

because when you’re not here
it would be easier

let me count the ways

i hate, i hate, i hate
i hate that you’re not here.

and

i hate that i’m not there.
(especially this one)

and

and

there should be more
there must

and yet

absence is doing
what the wise folks say

this heart grows fonder / brighter / wider
while you’re away

so mostly
as so eloquently is was put
(julia stiles pouting ponytailed relatable riot grrling voice)

i hate the way i don’t hate you

there’s nothing can be done
you’re mine

deal with it, bitch.

a city in shades of grey (365 pieces – january 5th)

that is all the rain-world knows
a palette tainted by torrid prose
but still, that’s the way it goes
even as erotica draws to a close

the world still shines in shades
of grey, not fifty, but thousands
each nuance painted by another hue
unlimited and endless / 

then the sun breaks through

and all the shades of grey
are turned to colour and to light
until time comes when day is done
and blackly falls (twi)light

 

(not my finest work… i also wrote a shockingly awful sestina today, but let’s not even go there. but STICKING TO THE PLAN.)