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A Breath of Fresh Air: A Book Review

Book Reviewed: Dark Winds Over Wellington by Tabatha Wood

From the opening story of Tabatha Wood’s debut short story collection Dark Winds Over Wellington, Wood expertly combines the horrible with the familiar, the extraordinary with the commonplace and by doing so makes our world feel more real in the process.

I’m not saying that her stories lead us to believe in vampires and werewolves and take-over-the-government-bee-aliens and oceanic monsters although Wood’s writing is so vibrant and real if anyone could, she would. No. Wood’s stories of the weird and horrible make her adopted city of Wellington, and my home town, more real because of the depth of humanity they portray.

In the opening story, Heat Pump, a young woman waits anxiously alone in her home for a tradesman to fix her heat pump. This story has a surprising twist on the age-old trope of sexual prey narratives and alters ideas of victimhood. It also deftly explores the nature of gendered power plays.

The story A Good Cup of Coffee starts out with its protagonist feeling ill at ease within herself. This sense of personal discomfort grows to envelop her world. As the title suggests, this story develops observances of Wellington’s almost obsessive coffee culture and considers a more sinister underside to the city’s favourite beverage.

Wood has a lovely physicality to her writing that further supports both the beautiful and that which is less so. She writes about the heat of coffee and weighty warmth of summers as well as the coppery tang-taste-of-blood and things seen and heard that characters wish they hadn’t been witness to.

Additionally, any Wellingtonian would appreciate her references to iconic places. The Bays of The Miramar Peninsula. The wild Southern with Red Rocks at its end. The fountain in the central city beach of Oriental Bay.

Wood not only references the sea and the city’s coastal areas multiple times, as a reader, I get the feeling that the sea plays a large role in her revisioning of her adopted town. Her stories wave in and out of each other as characters appear and disappear and are revisited across her narratives. Tensions rise like dangerously high sea levels and readers are flooded with emotion as they along with the characters, lose loved ones, face challenges with courage and maybe even feel some part of themselves die, only to be reborn.

On completion of the book, I was left wishing I hadn’t finished it. I wanted more horror stories (note, not my usual genre) because they made my daily life feel more vivid. More real. More lived. Wood’s stories imagine winds that cry and curse to make us murderers. They postulate on insect-alien takeovers of our parliament buildings aptly named The Beehive. They tell the stories of sickly boys that long to have super powers and get them. The age-old Vampiric tale of those who feed on the living so they can live forever is also a narrative strand revisited within the text.  However, Wood’s quirky and face paced stories made me not want to live forever, but better. To make more room for fantastical fiction where kids find runes and can calm sea monsters and where encounters with death make people live larger as well as better. For me Wood’s book is part of that living larger. It made me read outside my usual academic feminist theory and literary texts. It made for something else less serious but still meaningful. It made me, as I feel good literature should do, look at the world anew.

See below a link to Tabby’s website:

http://tabathawood.com/

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“Be the change you want to see in the world”

I used this quote by Gandhi in the final article I wrote for my high school magazine. High on the energy of a climate change conference where a real live orange-robe-clad swami strode in and spoke very fast with lots arm gestures, I was ferociously sure I was going to change the world. Not just my world. The world. The whole thing. You know.

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Freshly medicated with mood stabilisers and a hefty 100 hours of therapy clocked in I felt better than I’d felt for a long time. However, I got sick again soon after this and spent the next seven months volunteering at a native plant nursery and teaching myself how to quilt. I knitted all the time too. It was not just moving meditation, although it was this also. It was movement because being still with how bad I was feeling was too painful. I made a huge peggy-square blanket to cover my not-quite-a-double-bed. It has now been washed so many times it has fallen apart.

I’ve tried not to think about the micro-particles from the acrylic yarn seeping into the waterways. Instead I’ve focused on the way the knit and purl of the-not-found-in-nature-colours soothed my troubled mind. How the repetition of needle-click-and-clack was comforting. How despite falling apart emotionally again, I could make things from balls of twisted fibre. Pretty much something from nothing. And how totally cool was that?

At that point in my life (over ten years ago now) the change I wanted to see, of moving garbage heaps and cleaning up oceans, did not happen. It still hasn’t. Both on a oersonal action level and globally. But I do my best to do my bit. I live low waste. I now knit with natural fibres. I use soap nuts instead of chemical-leaching-laundry-powder. I watch Attenborough on You-Tube advocate for The World and think what an awesome angry old man he is.

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My world has however changed quite dramatically. That sickness at seventeen was not my last. My worst episode to date was to come when I was twenty. I almost didn’t recover from it and in some ways still feel I am putting myself back together from its after effects, even seven years on…

But now my life is good. It is the life I hoped I would be living at seventeen when sickness hit. It is the dream-of-a-life I held onto when at twenty when I struggled so much and was seeped in sadness.

I now live in an amazing little studio with an expansive view over The City. I often sit out at night with a steaming mug of fruit tea and it’s like the stars have fallen and become night clubs and reflected towers. It. Really. Is. That. Beautiful.

I work in a library which I love. Most of the time. I like helping people. I like finding things. I like putting things back in their proper places as well. I feel, finally, now I’m in my proper place. Still in The City I was born in (at least for now, but that is another story.) Still writing. Still talking to her plants. Still stitching.  But now she is also dancing under a star-stolen-sky for all the world to see.

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What Matters

I applaud anyone who has the courage to start making a difference. Because I really do believe that small gestures can grow into larger movements. The grasping hands used to hold the handles of jute-tote-bags can then reach further, hold on stronger, to the little fists of children as they teeter along walls. Our holds need to be strong. We are their protection between balance and falling.

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I write about a metaphorical wall and I use it to comment on a level of care for future generations. It acts as a nice poetic device. It can, however, also be used as a comment on a certain world leader and his tantrums about a different kind of wall. One erected to keep some people out. One that serves as a barrier. One that is all about dividing things. People and land specifically. And these according to wealth ratios and generalised demographic values.

The gesture of a hand hold is so simple. So small. But oh so significant I feel. As a gesture it acts as a beginning grasp, a foundation for possible chains of connection. It prompts people to stand united in picket lines. Kids sing of peace on earth under dark triangles of trees. They are often holding hands. I sometimes want to laugh at the naivety. But I don’t. Because that would mean I would have lost hope.

Because I believe that gestures like hand holds, can become movements, in both senses of the word. The comradery of gesture can inspire body movements in the foot steps strode on pilgrimage. People sit their bodies down next to the statues of long-dead-leaders. They wish they could hear their Wisdoms.  Because the world sure as hell needs Wisdoms. Lines are walked holding placards. Voices are raised, not so much in song this time, but in shout.

 

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They shout out to give voice to an un-balanced climate. They shout out against the inequalities of sex and gender. They make noise for the right to choose. They seek redress for past wrongs. They want apologies for things that have happened. They want promises to prevent them from happening again.

Protesters are often photographed falling to the ground, their blue knees thread bare. This seems to be part of the common experience. Being pushed down has been part of protest for millennia. And yet, while they fall, as individuals, as groups, at the same time some ideas about who can say what and when and how, also fall. Its who gets up again, often with the aid of a helping hand, that matters.

 

 

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You Made It

I’m considering a review on GoodReads for a peak oil book I’m thinking of buying. I’ve read it before, from the library, but I’m thinking it’s worth adding to my personal library. It’s by Sharon Astyk, one of my favourite Futurists. I like her practicality. Her socio-historical contexts where she talks about domestic labour and the industrial revolution, of formal and informal economies, of the gendered nature to work.

I also like that she is a female writer in a pre-dominantly male domain. For most peak oil and climate change writers are men.

This male—as-expert focus surrounding the writing and thinking about certain global issues is an interesting phenomenon and not one I plan to try to answer here. It is too large. Too complicated. What I do want to do is explore a little of what Astyk writes about from her female point of view. That is, its nuances and focuses of small-scale actions on the domestic stage.

Pouring tea

Astyk was an academic. She was studying towards a literary PhD. Then got concerned about The State of The World and with her husband left graduate school, moved to live in rural upstate New York and became a farmer, stay-at-home mother and writer. She now grows and puts up vegetables. Sells meat and eggs. Raises kids who know the names of plants as well as Pokemon.

She lives a Good life. She certainly thinks so. It’s not an easy life by her own admission, but it is a good one. There are few sleep ins. Not a lot of extra cash. Patience, I imagine, is tested daily. But there is also an incredible sense of security. She knows how to be nearly fully self-sufficient in food. How to heat and cool her house according to the seasons in a low energy manner. She can survive without electricity for more than a few hours. She’s done so. Tested it for a whole week. She made do.

The book she has authored that I am considering buying is called ‘Making Home.’ This phrase seems to me to be at the heart of the much-needed attitudinal shift from ‘buying all’ to ‘making do.’ Home making in this sense serves as a way of living where there is a sharp change from habitual consumption patterns to a more dynamic and creative approach.

Living with less does not need to only be about doing without. It can also be about living more creatively and using what you already have in a different and more imaginative way. This, to me, is not only hopeful regarding the sheer mass of stuff produced by our current industrial capitalist world but it also heralds a more fulfilling way of living. I really do believe that we can change the world for the better through the things we make.

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Resolute – A Re-evaluation

So far this blog has been a haphazard poetry blog where I have explored issues relating to my personal feminine experience. There was also the poem titled ‘An Arthritic Love Affair’ that chronicled some of my feelings of living with a chronic pain condition.

2018 served as a year where I used pain as creative material. This was useful. Cathartic even. But I want the coming year to have a slightly different focus.

I will still use poetry and words to process the world around me. If I didn’t do that, I wouldn’t be being true to myself and the identity called ‘Writer’ I so wholly and fully embrace as part of who I am.

But in addition to my creative lyrical work of poems, stories and my longer ongoing novel project I seek to write a bit more about The World ‘Out There.’

It’s not going to be a Trump rant. Or an environmental diatribe. Although it would be easy enough to do either. No. I plan to write about the ways I manage a very frightening world. This is a world that is shit scary even for someone who does not struggle with anxiety. And I am a worrier. I worry well. It’s a not-very-well-kept-secret skill. One marked by bitten nails, nervous tapping feet and a sometimes too inward focused self-obsession.

As a feminist I hesitate to ascribe myself to such words as ‘domesticity’ and ‘women’s work.’ However, the areas I find myself gravitating towards in my daily life in order to cope with this (I quote myself) ‘shit scary world,’ are those of the hearth and home. Cooking, baking, gardening and textile crafts like DIY dressmaking and knitting.

This gravitation towards the domestic is a theme I hope to explore more in future blog posts drawing on the writings of investigative journalist Emily Matchar and peak oil writer Sharon Asytk as well as radical homemaking advocate Shannon Hayes. These three women all negotiate women’s roles and rights in the 21st century in slightly different, but I feel, equally interesting and important ways. But more on that later.

The domain name of this blog ‘Geographic Hearts’ was created on a whim of fancy. I liked it for its poetic effect. And its intended obscurity of meaning. I imagined it as a fashion label marked in a flowing cursive script adorning locally made eco-dyed clothes in soft earthen hues. It would claim rights to upcycled denim dresses with gradations of blues like a twilit sky. It owned the look of nana knit cardigans upcycled with velvet flower and bird-in-flight-embroideries.

However, as cool as it would be to have Geographic Hearts purely as a poetry/ fashion blog, I have evolved alongside it. I now realise how suitable this name is for all I hope this blog will grow to be. The title (as stated in my bio) is about loving where I am in the world.  While that is my little South Pacific city of Wellington and the islands of Aotearoa New Zealand it is also, I think, a feeling one finds inside themselves. This is a feeling most of us search for with no map, compass or even any sense of direction.

So, this blog will contain (as well as poems) missives about the World I find myself in. Both daily routines where tea stews in vintage tea pots, i harvest herbs from my container garden and I make time to watch the sky, but also the Wider World and my interactions with the politics and issues of our times.

How I negotiate, process and make sense of them is the story I hope to convey in this blog. It is a little bit alternative, or ‘hippie’ as my brother would say. There is a distinctly green tinge to its politics. There is also an overarching theme of believing in the power of creativity to get you through.

I leave you with these questions. Where is your ‘Geographic Heart?’ Is it a place? A feeling? A person? A pet? A favourite dress or pair of denims? Is it all the above? Do you feel safe in your skin? Do you want to change the world by loving it from where you are right now?

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A POEM: Apology

 

The world is saying sorry today.

Sorry for the things she can’t control.

 

Like Earthquakes.

And Volcanic eruptions.

And over-population.

 

The first two are functions of geology.

While the last is the fault of humanity.

 

Yet we blame Her and ignore her warning signs

Like self-obsessed teenagers with back

Pocket-flip mirrors and candy-flavoured lip gloss.

 

The Earth’s apology is so beautiful though.

It is so genuine.

Even if we don’t recognise it for what it is.

 

Her peace lily skies

(they are that pale, that sensuous)

Lick the face of the world

And with a heart full of flower buds and

Glitter-penned letters we watch her glow

Into being.

 

Today she just wants to be looked after,

To be cared for,

She just wants to be loved.

The State of The World has been on my mind what with the Climate Talks in Poland occurring at present. As the talks are extended I am both filled with Hope that Change will be sparked and also a belly-ache-dread that The Signs will be missed and we will continue to hurtle towards climate catastrophe…

So to process these feelings I wrote a poem. Because writing is how I process everything… Words are how I make sense of My World and The World.

This poem, titled Apology, personifies The World as a Gaia type figure, a romanticized heroine who is saying sorry for the fevers and the fires she creates in gestures of rebellion against the hurt being done to her. Humanity is the mean teenage girlfriend who is more interested in how she looks than listening to the words of Earth.

 

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A POEM: Consummation

I want to wrap my mouth around the globe

As if it were a stripy sweet and me,

A hungry child.

I want to eat the trees. The cars. The cities.

To sip the oceans like a drowning woman, desperately,

Trying to grab a gasp

Of air.

 

But i’m, bad at drowning

( I love life too much!)

So I cough water, like a tubercular mother, trying

To hide the blood.

And from my choke-hold-of-a-breath comes The Things of Dreams

Racy-red-satin-dresses and Hawaiin-black-pearl-necklaces

Peace lily corsages, Diana diamond tiaras, lace lingerie.

The sort of clothes and jewels goddesses should wear

On the days they help make worlds.

 

My World Made New

Has kowhai’s slapping the world yellow,

Sugar cookies dusted with glitter in the shapes of tiny silver stars

And women, naked, as at the end of a strip show.

But this is not dirty entertainment.

This birth.

This is life.

 

In My World snakes are curled like medusa wigs around the bald skulls

Of the chemotherapy women with cut-off breasts.

Eden is the name of a perfume brand by a silver-lashed celebrity.

And apples are collected to be cut and stewed

For The Winter

When even the heart of The World

Grows cold.

This is a poem I wrote about what it means to me to be a woman desperately trying to find things that hold her steady and safe feeling inside herself in a Crazy World.

It uses imagery from fairy tales and folklore (The Drowning Woman, Blood as a transformative substance, words of Goddesses and the The Symbol of The Apple where it signifies love as well as danger.)  

It is what I term in my personal lexicon as a ‘Release and Wretch’ poem. One I wrote quickly with few edits and where it served as a record of a train of thought  as I tried to get a feeling of un-comfortability free from  inside myself. 

The title ‘Consummation’ refers to the completion of a ritual mind frame and the end of one way of seeing yourself in The World and the ushering in of another. 

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A POEM: An Arthritic Love Affair

Pain makes the world real.

Things like misspelt last names

And wrong receipts, pale,

like a shocked at nudity face, because who knew

you could feel this much.

It’s like if you could see your nerve endings they would pulse

Like quickening lovers hearts because there is a world out there

Of cute student boys who talk, awkwardly, about air vent systems and turn

their faces towards you with crinkles in their smiles.

These papered grins speak of textbook evenings and numbered nights,

Countdowns (you, hope) to a date on a Friday 13th because

That means cheap pizza from a place called Hell and dancing

In a black silk dress at a club with roses festooning the clapboard sign because

it’s rock star night and what is metal without romance?

But.

But you only have a smile and a fading memory of a face.

So your nerves are raw

more like the sparklers that burn-to-blacken kids fingers

Close to the quick.

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A POEM: The New Woman

She is switch-blades cut

To-the-thin

Vintage satin ball gowns with hacked-to-short-hems

She is Quant on Ecstasy.

 

She is a rose in an old time movie.

Black to the Heart.

Not evil, as such, but full

Of complicated emotions like lust

And envy.

 

She is a Turn of the Century Designer

Introducing mourning garb to Day Wear.

She is not giving a fuck

Smoking like a train

Sleeping with Russian aristocrats

 

But after, lying in the silk of the night

She wonders

About The Lost Princess

And whether she is still alive.