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Well, that was rather a long stretch between posts, wasn’t it?

We are both still here, though. Helen H has been busy gaining herself an MA in Creative Writing and I’ve been busy coming to terms with one of life’s curve-balls.

I remember last year some of our readers (are you still out there, readers? I wouldn’t blame you for wandering off…) were surprised that Helen and I had only met once for five minutes. Since then, Helen came and stayed with me for a night and was the guest poet at a local live poetry night. She read beautifully and sold lots of copies of her chapbook. We had some great chats and a fantastic morning of op-shopping.

Then, over the summer I spent a delightful day with Helen at her place. There she is (above) sitting at her kitchen table. Her house is wonderful – a true artist’s nest – and we spent the day in animated conversation about writing & the writing world and our hopes, ambitions, delusions and dilemmas…

Now we are tucked up our separate corners of the country, both working on editing/polishing/refining/reworking our poetry manuscripts. Wish us both luck!

Now that she’s slept on my living room floor and I’ve drunk tea at her kitchen table, I feel like we are ‘proper’ friends…not just an online project.

Sorry about the long absence. It is lovely to be back.

Late last year Helen Show Your Workings did some hand printing of cloth and she sent me a wonderful sampler of what she’d been up to. I’ve used every last scrap in different projects – brooches, bunny ears, but here is one that I wear most days – a brown floral tunic I sewed recently – Helen’s contribution to this collaboration in cloth is the wonderful right hand pocket.

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There is more than one way for long-distance artist friends to work together.

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I’ve kept journals faithfully since I was about 20. When I finish one, I toss it into a huge box ‘with the others’.

Recently, I decided to embark on what I call ‘The Journal Project’. I’m working on a poetry book and wanted to generate a whole lot of new material, so that only my very best stuff will end up in the book. I see a lot of poetry books published with what I call ‘filler’ poems – the poems that are ‘meh’, that are ‘ok’, that have one or two nice lines but aren’t that great as a whole. Because I’m a virgo, a control freak, a perfectionist…I want to produce a book full of the very best poems I am capable of writing. I have plenty of ‘filler’ poems – but I don’t want to use them in the manuscript.

I know – pretty high standards for myself…and it means a couple of things – firstly, I can keep stringing out this book writing thing because ‘it’s not there yet, not yet’ and secondly, probably my very best writing is some amazingly talented poet’s ‘filler’.

Anyway, I thought a good way to generate some new material might be to read through my old journals – see if there are the seeds of poems there, or if just revisiting my younger selves triggers memories etc. So I got the journals out (there are 32) put them in chronological order and started at the beginning – the university years.

It’s kinda painful really. Not dark painful, but squirmy and embarrased painful. There is all that insecure, angsty stuff of one’s early 20s. But it’s good, illuminating – and it is resulting in new poems and other writings, not to mention a whole lot of reflection on my life – which can’t be a bad thing, right?

I’ve gotten as far as my OE to England. I’m looking forward to getting into my child-having years, because then I might actually recognize the person writing as myself. At the moment the breathless young thing scrawling excitedly about music and boys and feminism seems like someone I vaguely knew once, very long ago.

One things for sure – I’ve come a long way, baby. And I can say with some certainty that apart from perhaps my flawless, unwrinkly skin and thinner butt, I would not go back to those early 20-something years for anything.

I like the ‘me’ of today much more.

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I was thinking the other day how readers of our very erratic, but hopefully interesting blog, might assume that Helen and I are close friends.

Well, we are certainly friends – there is a genuine affection between us, we regularly send each other thoughtful and generous gifts, supportive emails and we share thoughts and ideas on our writing…

…but we have only met once, for about five minutes. We were both stall-holding at a Craft 2.0 market, so although excited to finally meet one another – the day was so chaotic and busy that we met, hugged and fizzed over one another for a few minutes…then later there were quick visits to one another’s stalls and that was it.

There is so much I don’t know about Helen, nor she about me. I don’t know stuff that friends know about one another, like where she met her husband, how long they’ve been together, what she studied at university. I don’t know her favourite colour or what she is likely to order at a cafe. I don’t know if she likes sushi or coloured stockings, like I do.

Yet, I do know her – I know what she thinks about motherhood, I know her tastes in poetry, I know a little of what she loves.

Ours is a very 21st century friendship, I think. We ‘met’ online – I actually forget how or where exactly now (can you remember, Helen?) We quickly became friends via email and blog comments, quite soon after meeting we had engaged in this project together.

I love the internet for how these connections can be made – I have made many friends through the internet now – some have been brief flirtations, others have evolved into deep and lasting ‘in real life’ friendships.

I know Helen and I will continue to get to know each other over time, and one day I hope to know her well enough to be able to give her order to the barista if I’m waiting for her at a cafe – in the meantime, her ongoing presence in my email in box and letter box is a wonderful addition to my life.

New in the Leaf Journal:

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Inspired by HH’s cake tour of Melbourne – I made this image.

The text (from a vintage childrens’ book) says: ‘She bought some honey and rose leaf meringues and two loaves of violet petal bread.’

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HH responded with the above collage. (We are big on the cake theme!)

The text says:
Atomic Housewife – so easily satisfied.

‘The year 2000 used to seem so far ahead into the future – we would all be eating pills for dinner and driving spaceships – but already it is slipping into the past.’

New in the Daler Journal:

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I made this one, last year. The text says:

‘If you can raise your eyes up from time to time and take in the horizon you will remember that there is and wild and lovely world beyond the parametres of your small and dusty brain, your stale thoughts.

Look into this.’

To which HH responded with her experiences playing around with Keri Smith’slatest art exploration books:

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‘Poking holes into this page using a pencil – frees me up!’

and

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on Keri Smith’s manifesto ‘How To Be An Explorer of the World’ Helen says:

‘(a colour photocopied page) from my new personal journal. Addicted. Doodles are good & idea 23 ‘Document shapes made by water’. Try this!

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It’s been rather a long time since I updated the journal project on here. Sorry about that! These pages were actually made late last year, early this year….somehow now it is March.

I have been very busy back inside that aforementioned dusty brain. However, it’s bright and fresh out here in the world – & it’s nice to be back.

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“I suppose I ought to tell a story, but I don’t know anymore,” said the old man.
“You can make one up, I know,” said the boy. “Mother says that you can turn anything you look at into a story, and everything even that you touch.”
“Ah, but that kind of tale and story is worth nothing. The real ones come of themselves. They knock at the forehead and say ‘Here we are!'”
“Won’t there be a knock soon?” said the boy. And his mother laughed, while she put elder flowers in the teapot and poured boiling water over them. “Please tell me a story.”
“Yes – if a story comes of itself. But tales and stories are very grand – they only come when it pleases them.”

-from Elder Tree Mother by Hans Christian Andersen

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I said: “Let me eat cake!”

and Billie said “You shall eat cake!”

So we did…

(and in the wee pocket, are tiny photographs of all the cake Helen ate in whilst in Melbourne, plus what looks like are some notes she scrawled about her cakes, and cake-places reccommended)

“Sunbeam Cakes – 10.33 am, Mentone. Sunbeam House Cake – an apple custard tart with almonds.

Krustie Doughnut with apricot filling – excellent cake woman-ship! Light handed pastry, not overly sweet, pleasant service, good old-fashioned quality cake shop. Four stars.

Queen Victoria Market – Coffee Merchant – Yoghurt Cake with fruit. Three stars.

Nice and light but nothing amazing. Nicer to eat still warm.

Castagnaccio – chestnut, pine nut & rosemary. Five stars.

Excellent Castagnaccio – moist, but not too sweet. True Italian sweet.

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“Sister Mary Mackillop”, said the little bird, “Jesus says to go directly to Sunbeam Cakes and purchase a jelly finger, I can say this with great certainty. The Neenish Tarts are also excellent.”

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Helen H records in pictures, her cake-focussed trip to Melbourne in October ’08.

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I just read this book.
I have to confess – I picked it up in the library getting my Penelopes confused and thinking it was going to be by Penelope Lively, a writer I love, so I was a little confused at first to get home and start reading and realise I was reading a New Zealand book! But I have READ Penelope Todd’s ‘Zillah’ books for young adults and enjoyed them very much indeed, so it was a happy accident.

This book is an account of Penelope Todd’s realisation, as her children were leaving home, that she felt completely empty inside, confused and as though she had been role-playing her life instead of living it genuinely.  In the book, she candidly reveals what it took for her to feel at home in her own skin again. She was most courageous and did things that most people only daydream of doing – she changed her name, she engaged in three years intensive Jungian therapy, she questioned her Christian faith and came out the other end a non-believer, she took a writing retreat, sans family, in a remote part of Spain (hence the title), she even flirted with an extra-marital affair.

I found the book engaging and read it in two binge sessions. There was something very comforting to me about reading this intelligent and pragmatic woman’s story.  There were several excerpts which moved me to copy them out into my journal. Here’s one – she discusses the contradictory impulses of the writer:

“The impulses are contradictory: to remain hidden; to come out as escort to your writing. The  writer’s life is a strange dance between the two. You write in long seclusion, knowing that what comes onto the page is a mix of bone and viscera, tough and tender; the things you’re proud of and thing that have the potential to shame you; then the work is ready and you can choose to herald it with a bold bragadaccio, walk coyly or proudly at it’s side, or be dragged in it’s wake. I alternate between the last two approaches, suspecting always that the flame of joy, unhooded, will invite the snuffer.

When the work isn’t perfect – and it never is – you are braced for every kind of ridicule. Sometimes there seems to be too much riding on it all and you think you’d rather sell confectionary or deliver mail for a living.

However, I recently found out that a family motto from my father’s side was Portet Vive. It behoves us to live. I choose a magnificent over a mundane interpretation. It behoves us to live well: richly, broadly, deeply and intricately – which adverbs for me, describe the route that writing seems to take.”

Amen to that!

There were a couple of things that I didn’t like so much in the book, one was that the author has a fascination with insects and writes about them frequently throughout the book – insects she observes in her surroundings and their metaphorical power for her. I found these bits a little forced, at times. The other thing is towards the end of the book she writes, verrrryyy vaguely and cagily about an extra-marital affair she flirted with but did not consummate. While I understand that she is writing about real people and has the feelings and privacy of those involved to consider – the writing around this stuff was so very cagey, the details so skant I question whether she needed to leave it in the book – in the form she offers it, it doesn’t add much.

These very minor considerations aside, I heartily recommend this book! It is full of wisdom and the story of her time at the Spanish retreat is compelling and at times, amusing. Penelope Todd has given all writers who are also parents a real gift with this book – she shows that it IS possible to have a fufilling creative life and a family. She talks eloquently about the struggle and the juggle. The writing is witty and eloquent and I came away feeling most heartened.

I also recommend her young adult novels – they are gripping, hip and edgy.

Another Helen Squared collaboration.

Handpainted calico by Helen Heath, turned into geeky matching rosette brooches by Helen Lehndorf.