Archives for category: Learning

Sometimes you might wonder things about the people behind these blogs you read…but you feel a bit weird about asking them random questions in the comments, or via email. It can feel too confrontational, too odd. Or maybe you have a slightly THORNY question?


Well, now thanks to the postmodern madness of the internet, you can ask us anything anonymously via a little platform called formspring. The questions just arrive in our formspring in-boxes with no clue as to where they came from.

HH’s formspring is here

HL’s formspring is here.

I joined for a bit of a laugh about three weeks ago, not really thinking anyone would ask me anything much after the first couple of days, but so far I have answered 73 questions! Some of them have been pretty raw/deep/bold questions! Answering them has been very thought-provoking…at times even a little bit uncomfortable, and yet…I am enjoying it in some strange way…I don’t entirely understand why…

I want to do a little plug for a beautiful New Zealand magazine, extra curricular (for creative folk).

It is all about our country’s artists and makers and illustrators and creative-types, but in an accessible way. It is a very welcoming magazine. They are all people making art in their spare time. It is absolutely sweet and lovely in terms of the design, the photography and the content. After reading it, I wanted to drop everything in my daily life and get making things.

Please do support it if you are interesting in NZ art/craft/illustration/handmade…recently another NZ magazine World Sweet World announced it was to stop after just a handful of issues. This is only issue two of extra curricular, but I wish for it many more issues. I can see it becoming NZ’s version of the equally lovely Frankie.

You can buy it here. It has a blog here, and a facebook page here.

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.


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.

Page by Helen L, response from Helen H.

Do I have spare strength and certainty? Well, some days I have plenty to spare other days I have a negative balance. These fleeting things, yes, they slip through our fingers and letting yourself surrender to that is so hard. I guess it’s connected to trying to live in the present. Each moment passes and instantly becomes the past. The light of stars reach us in the present but is light years old.

What we perceive as present is the vivid fringe of memory tinged with anticipation.

Alfred North Whitehead,

But of course Buddha would say

You shouldn’t chase after the past or place expectations on the future. What is past is left behind. The future is as yet unreached. Whatever quality is present you clearly see right there, right there.

I guess the problem is that these are such big concepts for us to get our heads around: time; mortality; our place in the world. We are so tiny in the big picture, yet we still atempt to make our mark on the universe, on a piece of paper, in the genes of our children.

How wonderful that we have the ability to have these thoughts, even if they do make our brains feel like exploding! Sometimes I feel like humankind is all a big computer/connected brain trying to figure out the answer to “Life the universe and everything”, maybe the answer is “42”. In the meantime we are alive, we are self-aware, conscious, struggling for understanding, learning, growing. Life is precious yet precarious. I think that this was not the case it might not be worth living. Certainty is just us soothing ourselves, perhaps it is better to be uncertain, on the edge, alive.