Journal and Journey are similar-sounding enough: well, they descend from the same Latin, it seems. Travelling in my journal is something I can do when I’m not free to move. I can never get enough of journeying, although, when I travel, I worry all the time that I’m not travelling properly.
Last year, I went to Sichuan, three days on the hard bunk in a slow train from the coast. When I got there — after the peppery taxi-driver had stopped in the middle of the road to bawl out a woman in an SUV — I met two truly gung-ho Germans who had cycled from Dusseldorf. Real journeymen; looking for work, in Chengdu.
I think I need three or four notebooks, of different sorts. A book for timed writing (what a good tip that is, to set a timer) which exercises the muscle, or keeps it stretched.
A second book of working notes: ideas and overheard snippets with story potential.
Here is one of these from a note in my phone. A scrawny man on the train to Paraparaumu was reading a book on beekeeping. What I glimpsed was the chapter heading; ‘A Current Flow of Nectar’. The sunshine on the bank of dry golden grass beside the tracks promised a honeyed life. Electric honey.
The third book records what I’ve read; other people’s words.
The fourth book is as misty as the morning swirls over Lucas Creek. When the mist burns off, then I’ll know what to do.
The actual books and the pens take on a fetishistic significance. I like to write in a large book but they’re heavy to carry around. Perhaps I don’t really want to journey at all with my journals. Perhaps I just want to drill down into a single place like a grub driving into a couch-grass root.
Glenys has recently retired from a long career and is learning to move in new directions. She is discovering the joys of being a grandparent, having time to smell the roses, and learning new ways of making sense of past events, moving forward into the future in creative ways.
I open the ranch slider this morning and breathe in the cool air, enjoying the shards of sunlight trying to warm me up. I watch the blackbirds and sparrows on the lawn and under the hedge and listen as they talk to each other: their gentle chirping. My thoughts go to my first grandson in Australia. Their birds are so loud and raucous. When Weylyn was little — he is only three now — he used to hear the birds and would want to be taken outside to see them. We would rush to watch the brightly coloured parakeets and white cockatoos. I would stand holding him for hours. I wonder whether listening to those birds has made him so clamourous and noisy. Last month though he was more interested in the television and it was a quick rush outside to look at the cockatoo eating the cat food. But his new young brother, Callan, he had to be part of it: he loved watching the bird and so did I, hours gone again.
I wandered into the garden just now to enjoy the last rose of the season. Its pale pink colour with darker pink edges, its lovely scent, and then across to the lemon tree. And here, I have another grandson, Lachie who loves seeing how the green colour of the lemons gradually changes to a pale yellow, soon becoming brighter yellow. How does this happen? He points it out, and then rushes to the ‘caterpillar tree’, checks, and with a worried look, tells me there are no caterpillars left.
In three and a half years, I thought it would never happen, three little grandsons, all born one year apart in January. They have brought a whole new meaning to my life, a reminder of the pleasure of looking at life through the eyes of a young child, enjoying my own ‘second childhood’.
Elizabeth believes the written word is a powerful medium. Having worked most of her life in the visual arts she is excited now to be exploring this new territory.
I could ask myself why write a journal at all — to risk discovery, or find myself burning it one day.
Unceremoniously. But then there is a flicker like a gentle flash on the inward eye, drowned out by the pressing needs of the day, that speaks of an internal journey, of things calling to be explored, things to unpack and investigate.
These days the world feels like such a different place. There is something I need to know but I am not quite sure what it is. I am trying to learn to accept 'what life brings ' but I don’t like how it feels sometimes, as though the whole world has taken on a tonal change. It’s not how I wanted it to be, it’s not predictable, it’s a precarious and uncomfortable place. I wonder is this how “it” is now, what I thought mattered so intensely in the past, no longer matters.
Yesterday I held my baby grandson and felt his body softening and moulding into mine, getting heavier. I could feel sleep descending even though I could not see his face and I put my cheek next to his as he let go and I felt his spirit melt into mine, as one.
What pleasure. Does it get any better than this? How fortunate am I. Is this “it” then— no narrative needed?
I woke early this morning to write and from the upstairs bedroom saw the morning light emerging over the hills while deliciously enjoying an uninterrupted moment with teapot and tray. Strong exciting pinks softened to lighter salmons and to the wintery grey of another day, all before I reached the end of the page.
As my eyes scan over my words I realise the shifts and changes in the life I write about are like this light outside the window, a constantly changing picture. In writing I find the space to see what is really happening.
Jo is an English teacher and avid reader who writes to scratch a creative itch. She’s trying to reassemble her childhood memories into stories.
Behind the high court is a little triangular park folded into Emily Place. Pohutukawa have been left to grow their own way and have taken up astonishing shapes and attitudes. An arborist once told me their natural inclination is to first grow up, then when their limbs become too heavy, to gently recline. These recumbent old dears have been tired for a very long time and have draped themselves heavily across the path, down the hill and towards the road. It’s a marvel that the council, usually so intent on pushing things into shape, has accommodated this elderly wilfulness and even propped up some of the branches on poles. But one limb is so low to the footpath it leaves an arch of only about a metre. Just before, a tall man with long awkward limbs of his own struggled under this gap, uncertain which way to fold his knees and body to make it through.
Our pohutukawa at home can’t be indulged like this. We prune it every ten years or so, trimming out dead wood and removing branches that threaten the chimney, protrude across the lawn and block the light. It was sad this year to have to lose the branch that held the rope swing. Now it’s chopped into neat sections - next year’s firewood. Children loved that swing with its yellow nylon rope and bum-smoothed slab of six by three. Mounting it took some daring: stand on the planter box, grab the rope, leap - hauling legs onto seat in one move - then hope not to bang into the corner of the house on the way back. So many bruised knuckles, so many skinned knees.
And now we are thinking of taking a leap and letting go our home of 28 years, the only one we have lived in together. It’s a good house. It doesn’t catch enough sun and is cold in the winter, but the garden is finally finished. This house has re-modelled, re-decorated and transformed itself as we have; grown to suit new purposes, changed to reflect new tastes. My husband once said the house is us. It’s time to think about leaving. We can never leave.
Cheryl Nicol is a writer and historian who has recently reconnected with her Christchurch roots after 33 years away.
My mother used to say, when we complained about things, that we didn’t appreciate how lucky we were.
Trying to lip-read Mr Ed on a telly behind a shopfront window wasn’t my idea of lucky. Owning a television wasn’t hers. Life in the slow lane was just her speed – never mind that we were only about three decades behind the rest of the developed world. The proof was right there in one of my father’s old issues of Popular Mechanics.
“Television is ready for the home!” announced the September 1933 edition. These were the words of Russian-American inventor, engineer and pioneer of television technology, Doctor Vladimir Kosmich Zworykin, a name not exactly compatible with a mouthful of dry crackers.
Television deprivation was one thing. Even movie-going was extremely rare. We didn’t call them movies then; this word was an Americanism not yet part of our Kiwi vernacular. Whether they were movies, pictures or plain one syllable ‘flicks’, they all cost money. And my mother didn’t spend money on entertainment when we could make our own out of old cardboard boxes, crepe paper and bits of string.
She was keen to avoid the flock mentality and what she believed was a frivolous waste of my father’s hard-earned money, but in a weak moment she made an exception for Pollyanna, starring Hayley Mills.
It was my first time in a picture theatre, a fantasy palace with its subtle lighting, ornate balconies and boxes and vast fancy ceiling. Much more interesting than church, I thought. But then everything was more interesting than church.
The lights went down, the great wall of curtains parted and a loud drumroll brought everyone to their feet. Expecting to hear a hymn I was startled by my flip seat trying to swallow me by grabbing my bottom as I stood up. Instead of a hymn, the national anthem exhorted God to save our gracious queen, signalling her arrival on horseback. She and her horse looked enormous on the screen. I had never seen anything so huge in my short little life.
Having chosen to spend the last twenty years raising her four children Angela now finds herself without an excuse to not nurture some creativity within her life. She hopes to pursue her love of words and in time gift her stories to those she loves.
The memory is foggy. Like a scene from an old movie. But the sound echoes strongly in my head. “Someone stop that child crying”, says the nurse. Out of the corner of my eye I can see her, a vision in white, standing at the long bench on the other side of the room. She has her back to me. “Give her a comic to look at. Maybe that will quieten her down”. The bed feels hard beneath me. Then there is a strange smell as a mask is lowered over my face.
I wake up in a room with sea-green painted walls, in the Lister Presbyterian Hospital in Takapuna, alone. No one comes to visit. I am lonely and sick, sick in the bed. I don’t know why my parents haven’t come. The other children on the ward have visitors. In my desperation to hear their conversation and feel close to someone, I roll through the vomit and teeter on the edge of the bed.
My tonsils are gone, ice cream and jelly is my reward. On discharge day my parents do come to collect me.
It is 1966 and I will soon be three.
Janet is a recently retired school teacher who has lived and worked in several Asian countries as well as in New Zealand schools and institutions. She is now experimenting with writing memoir.
I was inconsolable. They tried everything to stop my crying, offering toys, speaking kind words, trying to make me smile.
It was my first day at school and I had been summoned to the headmaster’s office by a big kid. He’d entered the classroom and announced ‘Janet Bovett has to go to the headmaster’s office.’ Nobody thought to tell me that the school centenary was about to be celebrated and that I, as the youngest pupil, had been selected for a photo in the Taranaki Daily News.
I thought I’d done something wrong and was petrified. I’d heard previously that there were guillotines at school, and I reasoned that a headmaster must have something to do with heads being cut off.
I, as a five year old, had made the wrong connection.
Ruth comes from a large and complex Australian family. She met her life partner, a New Zealander, during a student visit to China during the Cultural Revolution, fifty years ago. The road taken thereafter has been full, stimulating and rewarding. Ruth is writing a memoire reflecting on a life well lived.
I was born third in a litter of seven. To be fair, the litter took twenty years to assemble, and before the last was born, the two oldest had already fled. There are no stories of my birth. Instead, a harrowing event when I was three and dying from pneumonia, became my true birth. The often repeated story of my fraility defined who I became in my parents’ eyes: the runt of the litter and not very bright. It is all relative of course, but hot on the heels of a brilliant older sister and an outrageous brother who demanded my parents’ attention, I felt there was not much hope for me.
My saving grace was that I was also seen as the “pretty little one”, the family pet. I wasn’t meant to be clever, just good. I soon discovered that there were many roles to play practising my “goodness”. I found a particular niche by becoming my mother’s little helper - especially to the three youngest boys. After all, I was named Bonita, daughter of a good woman.
The last of the litter was the only one with a “real” birth story. The only one, my mother said, who was born while she was conscious and not under the influence of “laughing gas”. And that only happened because he emerged in the back of an ambulance on the way to hospital. Ever after it became a dramatic moment to pass a particular curve in the road where my father had called out to the driver to stop. Although no blame was attached, I wondered if it was my fault. She had awakened me in the middle of night to find her shoes – and to mind the younger children. Foggy with sleep, I couldn’t respond adequately. I had no idea where her shoes might be. She wandered from room to room trying to find them herself. She wouldn’t leave the house without them until it was almost too late.
They called him Jonnie Risk. I assumed it was because of his risky birth. In fact, it was our Scottish grandmother’s family name. We’d never heard of it before. The last of the litter was only one who received a name with such gravitas. It didn’t suit him. In fact, it was I who became the ultimate risk taker in the family.
Liz and her family moved to New Zealand in the mid 70s. As she gradually relinquishes her working life, she is relishing the opportunities to immerse herself in writing and her love of words.
A whole new enchanting world is opening up!
At the age of twelve years, having anxiously navigated the perils of the Scottish Qualifying Examination (the ‘Qualy’), I started at the Ardrossan Academy in my new royal blue blazer with the school’s ambitious motto of ‘Ad Astra’ emblazoned on the breast pocket. Big changes lay ahead for me. I had been the dux of my primary school and now suddenly competition had arrived in the form of an influx of pupils who had also passed the examination and who lived elsewhere in the area. I was fiercely competitive. Newcomers Daniel Sturgeon and Ellen Love both seemed astonishingly clever and soon occupied the top spots in the class and I was knocked down the pecking order.
About this time I realised that I didn’t want to be seen as a swot and a ‘goody goody.’ I consciously embarked on a strategy to fit in. This was a several pronged approach involving sport, music and boys. In hockey, I started from a lowly position in the Year One ‘D’ team in which I demonstrated little aptitude and less speed. I opted for left half, a position that nobody wanted, and gradually ascended to the Year One ‘A’ team. My diversification into singing was less successful. The nadir for me was when I was asked to mime in the choir at the Ayrshire Schools Music Festival.
My main issue though, was finding a strategy for dealing with the looming boy problem at secondary school. Nothing in my upbringing as an only child had prepared me for entering into the flirtatious fray fraught with unforeseen pitfalls, and loss of control. My solution was to acquire a boyfriend. Rae proved to be kind, popular and great fun. My parents were less enamoured. The low point came when it was reported to my mother, that I had spent an entire school cruise to the Iberian Peninsula sitting on Rae Mathieson’s lap.
Our friendship survived the ensuing fallout. When it was time to apply for tertiary education, I was encouraged to choose a university away from home. Our relationship continued fitfully at first but finally the distance between Edinburgh and Glasgow proved too far. Our last meeting was in my little room in the Pollock Halls in Edinburgh. A ball dress was hanging on the wardrobe door. We had little to say to one another. Our friendship had kept me safe while I grew up. I hope I was kind.
Janet is starting to discover the writer within reflecting on her own life and that of her larger family.
My father loved to chase fires. The second the sirens began wailing on a westerly wind he would be off looking for the fire. Sometimes he took us.
It was July 1967 just before tea-time. The sky was starting to turn pinky orange from the glow of the flames in the quickening dusk as my father, gripped with fire fever, let my two brothers and I bundle into the back of the old green Hillman Humber. We left behind my mother staring at the vanishing Humber, a baby brother and uneaten dinners.
My Dad was hunched over the wheel heading speeding towards the flames, determined to get as close as possible for the best view. I sat in the back adrenalin pumping my system in mounting trepidation and excitement.
When we got closer, I realized, with a sinking feeling, that the burning building was the Henderson Picture Theatre, the place where I had spent many a Saturday afternoon watching the news of the world segments, the westerns in black and white, The Wizard of OZ and also the place where I, carefully, spent my 6d pocket money on lollies, sherbet, or a chocolate bomb ice cream.
As the flames leapt into the darkening sky and timber cracked, popped and exploded we watched, in morbid fascination, what seemed to be half the population of Henderson and the firemen desperately trying but not succeeding to bring the fire under control.
It had burnt to the ground. Gone.
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