Let me tell you about being a girl. I grew up in a red weatherboard house built into a hill. Through the workshop was a door that opened into a clayish cavern. Perhaps there was a sort of nook where a few bottles of wine were stored. I am almost certain there were lengths of timber. It was cool and undulating.
The workshop itself had two mounted vices. One of them blue. I think I can remember the exact patches where it had worn through to a mottled grey. But more than the physical things, the weighty presence of those vices, I can remember learning the other meaning of the word vice. The delight it afforded me. A word that gripped two meanings so I could never again enter the workshop without thinking of gambling or gluttony. Still I never hear of a a sinful vice without entering that workshop which no longer exists. Without noting the exact way sunlight is absorbed by the sawdust on the floor.
The packet of the word. Like the 'choice' of my last post, then later the 'wicked'. My 11 year old friends and I realising with astonishment that we'd never noticed that wind as in up a road and wind as in a breeze were the same word. For if anything was my thing as a child it was words. Not that I reflected on it at the time. Quite frankly I was too busy reading.
Upstairs in our house was a balcony. An open air room with a view out to the city and the Southern Alps. All summer my best friend Anna and I would lie on the balcony bed in the sun and read. There was a deep pale wooden bookshelf on the balcony that had in its lower shelves a complete set of school journals from the early 1960s to the late 1970s. Anna and I would read books side by side silently to ourselves and, when we got bored with that, we would find a play in one of the journals and act out the plays taking half the characters each. Carefully trying to balance it so we did not end up in lengthy dialogue with ourselves.
We would clamber over the balcony ledge to lie on the tin roof of the front porch. It was so hot we needed towels and we would take pillows. It was strictly forbidden and extremely comfortable.
En masse, outside of an institution, School Journals became something new. They were a thing, and our thing. They were funny. They were irreverent like lots of 1960s and 1970s kid's writing often was. They took the business of being a child seriously but they also sent it up. The writing usually respected us and put us in charge. It wasn't earnest. Anna and I would have left the journals on the shelf if they were. They were full of places I knew and people of a type I recognised. When my mother talked about (or I read) about New Zealand kids having no literature that reflected them it felt quaint. I loved a lot of English books, complete with their wintery Christmas and odd turns of phrase, but it was exotic. It wasn't my world.
I was brimming with New Zealand poems and plays, stories and pictures, and an understanding of place that I took entirely for granted. The journals were often beautiful to look at. Colourful, and original. One of my favourite presents recently was a set of cards of School Journal covers. This was an aesthetic that shaped me. They couldn't have been produced anywhere else, they were engaged unselfconciously with the cultures of New Zealand.
I think now the playfulness of the School Journal made language accessible. Not just in the sense of understanding what the words meant, but in showcasing all the different things language could be and do. That it was a friendly thing that one could read but also write. That it belonged to us as children, and we belonged to language. That reading and writing, and invented story were as much a part of us as the sun on the tin roof, or sneakily acquired sugar sandwiches, or the school swimming pool. The gleeful Saturday afternoon noise of it, the wet concrete, the slats and shade in the changing shed.
*This post is for Esme. May she always have good things to read and a patch of sun to read them in.
On rare occasions as a child I would go into the spacies bar in Cathedral Square. It was beside an alleyway. It was nestled in the shadow of the enormous Christchurch Press Building where my father worked. His office was full of maps. He would take notes in his wide slanted handwriting on coverless pads of A5 newsprint made from what was left over of the basement print run. His writing was like hieroglyphics. Mysterious and unreadable. Bullet points with punctuation - full stops and question marks - so intent they broke through several sheets. We got given these pads too. The good ones creaked when you bent them and had their own fresh yellow smell. We wrote and drew and made flimsy paper aeroplanes with them.
My brother and I might go in to the spacies arcade to buy hot chips or to play an illicit game of something on a screen that twitched and beeped. The whole place was dangerous. Dark and full of intermittent lightning. I remember with delight first hearing there choice turned into an adjective. Or at least if I didn't, before choice was ubiquitous, I always knew it was the spacies boys who'd be smoking cigarettes and saying it. I loved getting it. That "choice" was the best choice, that they'd taken that rather pompous English twist of language, like a choice cut of meat - in fact back then was that the only time it was used like that? - and making it theirs. Choice, eh? Cho-o-o-ice. We paradied it but they'd beaten us to it. It was already self-deprecating and cool in ways we longed to but couldn't get close to.
I'm thinking about the word choice and how it's used now, particularly in some of the online feminist discussions I'm part of or observing. While I do of course think choice is choice I'm sensing a sea change. A cult of choice. A worshipping of choice above all other choice things. I keep returning to something I heard Dr Claire Slatter say a few years ago. I rephrase her here from memory, with little of her eloquence. She said the dialogue about human rights had been overtaken with dialogue about consumer rights. In trying to understand my unease about the way choice is being bandied about, this seems relevant. It seems the same bogeyman that has co-opted the notion of rights may have co-opted the notion of choice. That he's taken some of the verve and brilliance of collective resistance and swung it round to serve individualism.
I'm nervous about questioning choice. I'm pro-choice in all my most private and public moments. But I'm more nervous about something else. I'm nervous we're all going to end up spending a lot of time defending the human right to - a wide range of shoes at competitive prices. That our vision of true liberation will be when no one is stigmatised for the shoes they wear. That our most joyous moments of resistance will come in collective action to support a individual's right to choose their shoes.
And all of a sudden, I've moved back to Paekākāriki. With one of the twin anarchists (see All of a sudden, part 1) who is my partner of 13 years and is the father of our children. He's in the weird cyclical space of coming back to his home town, his brother living in the big brown house that was once their grandmother's, his mother still here, and now him, now our children, one at the school he went to, the other soon to be.
In a week we'd gone from starting two weeks of bathroom renovations to discovering there was no floor in that part of the house, to having our house on the market and our offer on a Paekākāriki house accepted. It took another six weeks to all fall into place, the same six weeks Joe was having to write and present 20 lectures on an area that's not his specialty. And the same six weeks that my first book was launched. And six weeks before the launch of a project at work the success of which the security of our jobs depends on. And six weeks of meals and school and playdates.
Two nights before we moved one girl started vomitting. The next night they both were vomitting. I was cleaning the house and running from one to the other with bowls and emptying the bowls in the toilet and washing the bowls. The day of the move M. was still sick. She curled in her bed until the movers, a rude bloke and his quiet friend took the beds. Then she was on the sofa until they took that. Then she was on the floor in the corner under towels because the blankets had gone. Miserable with sickness. Miserable with moving from her friends and the only house she's ever known. Joe had to leave to give the final lab of the semester and would catch a train out later. So M. watched as the movers moved boxes and furniture and bags and my parents and I ran around wiping surfaces and when the movers were gone shifting remaining things into smaller and smaller sections of the house. Even when it was one room I couldn't imagine the mess of the day which had been plagued with delays, and problems and wrangling over the release of money and keys, and the mess of the house would ever be over.
Just as we left, as I finally bundled the children into the car, and my mother and father had done the last things and we had shoved the vacuum cleaner and the bucket and the old broom and several bags of children's books into their car because mine had no more room; when we had walked backwards sweeping ourselves out of the house, my real estate agent appeared with two builders contracted by the new owner. Unexpected but I passed the key over to her and muttered gracelessly to them. I locked the children in the car, and I grabbed an empty plant pot and ran to the top of the section and to the tree that I planted on top of one daughter's placenta, and snapped a leafy twig off it and took some earth from under. Then to the other girl's tree. I was glad beyond all things that I remembered that.
One girl came to the house when she was a few hours old. The other was born in one of the rooms. It was a small cottage. We could hear each other no matter where we were without much having to raise our voices. Every possible path in the house was walked so many times it was a wonder we did not bump into our own selves coming the other way. It was a bright house. To the brim.
I took the pot and the soil with me in the front seat and said to the girls. 'It's been a horrible day. It's been our home. You were babies in that house. You grew into girls. I'm going to cry now but you don't need to worry. Being sad is part of it. If we weren't sad, if we weren't going to miss it, then it would mean we hadn't been happy. I will be sad for a while so I can be happy in the new house'. I made a strange day stranger. Somewhere behind us the children in Room 16 of Brooklyn School were packing their bags. They were sitting on the mat now. The car so packed we could see nothing through the back window. Laden. I was a woman driving her daughters through the Terrace tunnel. I was a woman driving her daughters on the motorway.
(C) Copyright 2012, Mrs Loolupants, All Rights Reserved.