So my friend Helen Lehndorf, the 2013 Massey Visiting Artist, and I are doing this gig in Wellington and Palmerston North campuses over the next couple of Wednesdays.
To avoid too much self-indulgence we decided to give ourselves just one minute right at the start to say something about our shared writing history and our friendship. I discovered if I don't breathe and I speak so fast no-one can understand what I'm saying I can say this in less than twice that but I didn't want to leave anything out. So to get it out of my system here it is. Paragraph breaks would spoil the effect.
I met Helen in 1993 at her Wellington flat. I was there with my flatmate the current vice president of the Massey Students' Association and the year before co-women's rights officer with Helen. I was being obnoxious and wearing vinyl trousers where most if the vinyl had flaked off. Helen didn't like me. Helen moved back to Palmerston North the following year and got over it. Timor was still occupied in those days and we discovered Massey Aviation School was training pilots for the Indonesian military government. People were still bothering to fight against fees. Trade Agreements were a new thing to worry about. All the interesting women were feminist. We went to activist camp together in the back hills of Wainuiamata and came back with a new technique called called peer mentoring. Helen asked me to be her mentor but admitted it was a ploy to befriend me. I fell for it. Peer mentoring involved lots of dedicated active listening and cups of tea. We talked turnabout for an hour without interruption, except probing questions when we ran out of things to say. We told each other stories. We started writing together and read out what we wrote. In a few short months we became old friends. I wrote her long morose self absorbed letters from Peterborough, England. If there was something else to do in Peterborough I never found it. We sent each other quotes and photocopied poems and, after a while, nothing really happened until I wrote about it to Helen. I lived with Helen and Fraser in London. We went to open mike sessions where there was always a different man reading a poem about how each male ejaculation has 900,000 spermatozoa. We went to open workshops where men writing bad prose about drug taking would nod profoundly at each other's work and gleefully tell us that they had scared off the last women poets. Comparatively we weren't that bad. We knew our voices were different. We knew we had stuff to say. We drank more tea and tried to figure out how to say it.
PS, In anticipation of the gigs, Helen has written a marvellous piece about us, and writing and not being girl geniuses in her blog post: Celebrating a long apprenticeship.
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