Critical Archaeology

It’s been so heartening to see the swelling public imagination around Indigenous land rights this year, oxygenated from the beating heart at Ihumātao. Imagination has not yet led to the categorical return of land, but without SOUL’s imagination-stoking we’d be a lot further away from that outcome. I am currently writing an English thesis that critiques settler representations and explores possible anti-colonial modes of writing on and about education institutions that stand on colonised ground. I pay particular attention to the University of Auckland. Why this place? First off, this university provides an excellent case study in the sort of institutional legitimation that erases the  provenance of the first people that cared for the land. Its official histories make no reference to the lives lived on this site for hundreds of years prior to colonisation. Second is the matter of proximity and propinquity. I am a teacher and a postgraduate student. If I care about place pedagogy and working locally to understand colonialism through textured stories of place then I need to start right here, where I am. I have been completing papers and programmes at this institution since 2009, but before now I have never substantially interrogated the grounds – both literal and figurative – on which this university is built and operates. That’s ten years now that I’ve been associated with this campus and the adjacent Albert Park. For me this has been a place of leisure, learning, stress, connection, awe, kinship, frustration, and sometimes fear (if only of the personal, I’m-being-stalked variety). Rarely has it been a place of productive unease and site-based past-present learning.

I don’t know what I thought was here before the University of Auckland. So mature the trees, so gaudy the neo-gothic clocktower, so stacked the layers of concrete that it simply seemed an inevitability: of course this is the home of the University. Only in my postgraduate years did I come to interrupt my ignorance of the locus of European military control and the inscription of power on this site. Governor George Grey made refugees of those living at papakāinga (including Ihumātao) from the control centre of the current-day University of Auckland. The Albert Barracks used the original home of mana whenua as home base for the settler militia and their campaign of land seizure in the Waikato. I’ve been lucky to have tauiwi lecturers in English that take the task of questioning this site seriously. I’ve been even luckier to have access to the thinking of mana wāhine writers such as Linda Tuhiwai Smith and Jacqs Carter, both of whom connect this site to a constellation of concerns and connections and care in their own hapū and beyond. I’ve been plagued with ethical concerns: why should I, a European person that still benefits from the structures of colonialism, think that I have any place in doing this kind of interrogation work? One of my first answers to this unanswerable question has been, perhaps, a maddening one: none of us truly ‘wins’ when it comes colonialism, so none of us can do nothing. Of course the current system creates winners and losers. I am not denying my material privileges and my ease of passage through colonial institutions, but I am denying the ‘sense’ of colonialism.

It makes no sense for me, you, us, or the earth to keep living this way with our settlement logics of extraction, hierarchy, competition, atomisation, and denial of ways of life that make the most sense for these rich lifeworlds. Having to think that we are ‘right’ in order to avoid letting in systems of sense-making and governance that we have categorised as ‘inferior’ is no success at all. Such is the unexamined life of the settler that cannot bear to address the legacies of violence for fear of losing their grip on a poisoned cup. This is not an argument for a sycophantic ‘lean in’ to pre-colonial Indigeneity (yet another extractive and othering ploy). Indigeneity is not reified but is – through resistance and love – thrumming and thriving and now. Mine is an argument for settlers to learn to live with intervals of difference, learning to be okay with not knowing, learning to give up what we have been programmed to believe in for the ‘success’ of making over a land that is not our own, in our own image. There’s not long now until the thesis is due. But I’m trying to walk my unsettling talk and treat it as the learning exercise that it is: deeply uncomfortable, filled with grief and shame, sedimented with layers. At some point it has to be handed in but I will never, ever be finished with this work of questioning the grounds on which we stand, teach, learn, move, and write. An end in its own right, but also a means: through this imaginative interrogation we can get closer to decolonisation – the return of Indigenous land to Indigenous hands, for the health of all.

Sisters of Mercy

This place gave me:

– a best friend;

– countless get-out-of-PE passes to play the viola, signed off by a music teacher too keen to be our friend;

– an alto’s addiction to singing harmonies;

– a love for English words and Latin incantations;

– a single solitary term of te reo Māori taught by a Swedish teacher, lovely but ill-equipped to inspire that deep-time, re-worlding kind of love;

– a loyal group of friends that now either have children or talk about having children, which makes me feel both utterly warm and entirely alien;

– the shame of too-big second-hand blazers;

– the good girl’s quest to gather excellence credits like thousands of luminous spheres;

– the inability to name and ask for what I want;

– the third speaker’s way: rebut, rebut, rebut;

– a bemused appreciation for the dexterity of religious education teachers and their attempts to find tolerable loopholes for our intolerable parts of the Catechism;

– a drive for social justice and mercy;

– a denial of self-mercy;

– a disposition to be a dancing monkey for unimaginative ends;

– the training to speak like a public relations consultant instead of a messy, exuberant, whirligig thing;

– an abiding love for peach plaster and kitsch rituals;

– the loss that comes with being a ‘winner.’


Somewhere someone is sitting in a car outside a bar, the rug of their life pulled out beneath them just this morning. Somewhere someone is running out of battery. Somewhere someone is closing down a project with a winking promise to re-start it twenty five years from now. Somewhere someone is weeping into their bowl of barley soup, tears chalking their tastebuds. Somewhere someone is genuflecting at the trunk of a prolific ginkgo. Somewhere someone is selling clothes on a Saturday.  Somewhere someone is surfing with seals. Somewhere someone is removing an item from their carefully-calculated shopping basket. Somewhere someone is lying under the ground, roses still fragrant about them. Somewhere someone is climbing a mountain they shouldn’t be climbing. Somewhere someone is reckoning with unflattering feedback. Somewhere someone is finally stripping off that wood chip wallpaper. Somewhere someone is listening to a man’s ugly bellow, eyes glazing over in a contradiction of frozen flight. Somewhere someone is shivering on a concrete floor in unwashed clothes, skin raw with fungus and fear. Somewhere someone is browsing flights back home for Christmas on SkyScanner. Somewhere someone is attending a market research screening of a locally-produced film starring Daniel Radcliffe. Somewhere someone is sharing their coins. Somewhere someone is counting the number of different yellows in a winter valley. Somewhere someone is waking a child up from a nap and half-listening to their day’s retellings.


Since I left my teaching job I have simultaneously stretched my mind and cramped my instincts. These two things should not be possible together. In some respects I have become crunchier and curlier but in others I have become more slick and straight. The slickness is exhausting – not unlike an oil slick, iridescent shine belying feather-gunking suffocation.

Every interaction feels like a test or assessment at the moment. I race ahead to predict how each possible phrase might land and carefully select the best one for the occasion. I pause, clasp my hands, avoid fillers, but also avoid anything like an exchange. I am on eternal trial, my choices either the making or the breaking of me.

When I was a teenager I won a prize for gaining the top mark in the national classical studies exam. At the Beehive, after accepting the award from the Governor General, my school principal approached me and said, “well done on the award but just imagine what more you could have achieved if you hadn’t been head girl.” Just imagine.

A Reader’s Digest/Digress

An incomplete scratch of a list of media digested back in February. I meant to flesh out these notes into a post but never did. I’ll never quite know how I would have articulated the digressive threads of my media diet but perhaps the list is enough as is. I want to be less spelly-outy, anyway. A strange thing about becoming a teacher is that you have to learn to be clear and direct, which paradoxically dilutes the mystery required of a reverent (or irreverent) supplicant to language – a trait you so desperately want to affirm in your students. Any opportunities for students to join the dots must be planned out and deliberately delivered as ‘discovery learning.’ It is kinder and more democratic to take everyone on the same journey (an essential edu-cliché) rather than leave curly allusions uninvestigated or cryptic lines hanging like indulgent dust motes in the fractious air between students. But that clarity and directness sounds dull and didactic outside of the classroom. Which makes me wonder if it even has a place in the classroom after all. It will be my life’s work to abandon and unlearn the knowing tone of a trumped up teacher. Didacticism and auto-didactisism would have to be the thread this list:

Educated, Tara Westover (autodidactism, not knowing, thirst, binary family split of PhDs and zero formal education – all or nothing: eduction is addictive, worlding, re-worlding, un-worlding; climbing a perilous roof with abandon because you have the same two feet as you do on the ground),

Not Working, Josh Cohen (idleness is necessary; keep hobbies as hobbies, not hustles),

Perfectionism meditation podcast, Tara Brach (making me think of misplaced ‘vulnerability’ at work, where presenting one’s faults is less like a liberation and more like the biosecurity line at customs – I will declare this so that I can’t be punished for it),

Not Your Negro film (ugliness and lyricism forever twinned, squirming through the decades and pulsing through the screen in colonised New Zealand),

Free Solo film (climbing with privilege and oblivion; the universal void of fatherly disapproval yawns not far below),

Email Newsletters: Austin Kleon, Anne Peterson, Warren Ellis, Victoria Hannan (the treat of delivery; regularity like a metronome of hyperlinks to other worlds; freedom from the linkless land of Instgram, where the arrogant totality of the sealed square reigns supreme),

Deconstructions, Michael Frayn (discovered recently in the Red Cross op shop but recommended many years ago by Michael Hutching (not Hutchings) – a teacher, a friend, a chronic vacationer and sharer of holiday snaps in class (what else is school for?)),

Never Enough: The Neuroscience and Experience of AddictionJudith Grisel (frightening and familiar and another grimacing corkscrew through the decades);

Ariel, Sylvia Plath (thinking about the gifts of neurodiversity but also the life-truncating peril of pathology – what is real? Both?).



Waitangi Day 2019

I am scared of the Treaty. I am scared of Waitangi Day. Not because it threatens my place here in Aotearoa as a European settler. No, precisely the opposite. I am scared of Waitangi Day because it secures my place here in Aotearoa as a European settler.

The Treaty principles (1975) speak of partnership and imply biculturalism. In the past my problem with these terms is that they were under-realised, under-honoured, or even under attack by the dominant Pākehā culture. But this year my misgivings have migrated to the level of the concepts themselves. Many seem to take this as an ongoing fact: if iwi and the British crown first signed the Treaty then that makeup (European/Pākehā and Māori) is what counts today as far as biculturalism and ‘power-sharing’ is concerned. This is what I mean when I say I am scared of the Treaty. Not only does the Treaty seem to edify and entitle European settlers and their descendants to a greedy share of the power pie at all, but the Treaty also reifies one relationship and enshrines it. What about the whakapapa and manaakitanga that tangata whenua share across the mighty Pacific? What about the incredible non-Indigenous but non-European communities that have been in these islands of Aotearoa since the 19th Century? Or more recently, for that matter – what about newer migrants and refugees? The Treaty makes Euro descendants too comfortable here. Too comfortable with our assumed version of governance and culture, too comfortable with seizing a quasi-Indigenous status, too comfortable forgetting about our own wilful transplantation across the earth. There is nothing wrong with being a traveler, a relocator, or a migrant. Migration is often one of the highest acts of hope, courage, and grace. But it is graceless to arrive, transform a place to your image, and do your darnedest to erase the rich language and systems by which this land was already occupied and accounted for, not to mention the bodies and minds that did that accounting. This lack of grace is not an act of evil but a failure of imagination; an unchallenged, incurious obliviousness to worlds other than your own. Iwi, hapū, and whānau survivance is at once miraculous and obvious: of course they fought and keep fighting to secure the ways of being and knowing that best serve and make sense of this place. Not a blind fight for the sake of power, but a carefully-imagined line of knowledge. Since these ways of being and knowing have been actively suppressed, they have had to be actively imagined and reimagined. If evil is banal then imagination is the opposite. Imagination is grace.

Grace is missing in the way that those signing moments of the Treaty are overblown and allowed to disproportionately govern the way Pākehā then and now expect power – especially seeing as some iwi chose not to sign, and those that did sign never ceded sovereignty. Rather than Māori and Pākehā, biculturalism really means iwi and tauiwi: those with Indigenous ancestry here and those with ancestry from other lands. The language and the (as yet unfulfilled) practises of biculturalism and partnership might be insufficient but perhaps they are necessary – not as a positivist politics or desired end point, but as a way of being now. Waitangi Day is good for something: it forces me to be a creator rather than a consumer of meaning. To read, puzzle, question, and synthesise. And to write. I cannot passively soak up the narratives of the day. Waitangi Day is, therefore, a heuristic or learning device that pushes me off the tarmac of sealed surety. No bitumen here; no optimal way to encounter Waitangi Day. Colonisation is a structure and not just an event. This one event and this one anachronistic, poor faith, breached treaty (at least on the crown side of things) is insufficient as a way to grapple with the structure of settler-colonialism, but is necessary all the same. Waitangi Day is not the answer, but it at least gives me some hope that there may be an answer ahead: some way out of the inequities and topsy-turvy power arrangements that we Pākehā enact or, more to the point, reenact today.

My hope here and now on Waitangi Day 2019 is that I can keep that small heuristic hope as a motivator and not let the lack of an answer be a de-motivator. I want to remember that tension creates amplitude and space for possibility. So I hope for less surety, less reenactment of consumed narratives, and words that can start tiny revolutions of the imagination.

Here are my previous Waitangi Day thoughts – reading back on them I can see the tiny shifts and expansion in how and what I’ve been able to think and do:

Waitangi 2016

Waitangi 2017

Waitangi 2018

A Reader’s Digest/Digress

A reader’s digest, complete with digressions.

Everyone knows the link between reading and writing. As Nora Ephron says, “reading is grist, reading is bliss.” If you want to be a writer you have to be a reader; it’s reciprocally enriching – you are what you eat. But sometimes I have a case of the more I know, the more I know I don’t know. The more I read and listen and watch, the more the paralysis sets in. Everyone has said it; everything has been made so knowable, and in such an elegant or ironical or lyrical way. I can’t possibly contribute – all I feel is fog.

Something has to change. Because when it comes to reading I no longer believe that you are are what you eat. All eating has done is usher in moments of recognition followed fast by fogginess and bloating. Instead I now commit to this: you are what you digest. So here is my reader’s digest, complete with digressions. I am chronically distracted; I cannot adhere to a straight line or a straight review. But let’s see what lines emerge from my tumble of media consumption. I don’t place books above other forms of media. Books are beautiful but articles, lectures, interviews, films, tv, poems, and podcasts are fair game for digestion, too. Of course part of me knows that this insistence on the quality of media sources other than books is a self-soothing kind of permission slip. Academic or investigative articles may be brilliant but often come to me via Twitter accounts or email newsletters: excellent selections or plugs from people that I trust and admire, but such curation comes to me most often via distraction and addiction and the abandonment of the little life of my own work. Even when I’m not at a screen trying to get work done I don’t always let myself stretch my legs and get off the media train. Podcasts keep me company a little too often when I am cooking or walking. I need to get back to enjoying just hanging out with my own mind. It is my tentative hope that future instalments of this Digest/Digress may contain less internet-based media. Not because such media possess inferior quality, but because I yearn for a different, if not superior, quality of life.

It has been a big week in Aotearoa New Zealand for sexual assault stories. Perhaps even more traumatic than the trauma inflicted (impossible, utterly impossible, but almost) is the poor apportioning of consequences to the perpetrators. I am not for prison as a solution, but I am for responsibility and acknowledgement and apology and transformation. To witness remorse is a healing thing. To know that the harm will not transmit, transmute, mutate into the next iteration of pain is an even greater peace. But we’re not doing well on any of these fronts. This week I’ve read excellently reported stories of the Roastbusters and terribly reported stories of (hastily retired) Massey University Head of Journalism Grant Hannis. My skin roils with an infestation of dis-ease: the kind of disgust that telegraphs us back to our own moments of violation. I tell myself it’s good to be informed; that reading these stories is almost an act of solidarity with the survivors and victims: if they can’t opt out of their nightmare then why should I have that luxury? But that almost is important – it is not solidarity. Information is not action. Can words count as action? I know, for sure, that the absence of words can signal inaction, as in the terribly bleak case of Lyn Dawson. Missing, most likely murdered, but not spoken for. No one agitated for her. No one spoke aloud their misgivings. Maxine Beneba Clarke has just become the poet laureate for The Saturday Paper in Melbourne. Her brief is to write a poem in response to the world at her feet each week. Her first contribution makes me feel that words might matter. Melbourne has seen its own fresh hell of violent rapes and murders of femmes, and Clarke makes the point that so many of us suffer at home, in the dark, without spotlight or mourning. But Clarke’s words came on the same day that I learned of the public vigil for Xi Wang. Finally named; finally remembered. Naming is powerful. But there have been other times this week where, despite reading powerful testimony to the contrary, I lost my faith in the potency of calling things by their true names.

On Saturday, in a perpendicular fold at the waist, I half-stood-half-lay at the bed as a familiar dull throb of something like depression sat in my throat. Ryan entered the room and sat near me on the floor, saying nothing. He waited long enough that my numb little thrum turned to pins and needles. Like a tentative blood supply returning to pressed nerves I started pricking and picking out threads from the knot of nothing. Not nothing, after all, but something. Isn’t depression a reasonable response to witnessing pain and suffering and creeping environmental oblivion and systemic racism, I asked? Isn’t it rational to become numb after feeling so much? After feeling and trying and failing and feeling and trying and failing and feeling and try-. I listened to Robin Diangelo’s lecture on the Wheeler Centre podcast last night in the bathroom as I combed oil through my hair. Everything she said sounded familiar, except the part where she (a white lady – a white, progressive lady) said out loud and with full, personal pronoun-filled, active voice: “I am racist.” Not because she feels superior or performs aggressions or cruelties or personal slurs, but because she benefits from systemic racism. I suppose that utterance is what must have pressed down onto my sensory nerves. Not a fragile, knee-reflexive denial but a whole-hearted, open-palmed YES – me too, that’s me. I am the nice, informed, empathetic, well-worded, service-minded, yet inexorably racist person, too.

The pressure of that hypocrisy – the knowledge and inchoate acceptance of it – must have started to press on my nerve endings (fragile, after all). I live in a borrowed house on a heavily white-populated island in a gulf that was peacefully and productively and meaningfully occupied for centuries before I came to be here. In conversation with Toni via Instagram’s DM backchannel I realised that each day I visit the little promontory near our house and look out at the bay in order to swap my personal wavelets of worry for those soft sea swells. How dare I critique settler-colonialism when my own heart and health rests upon the knowledge of the sea; when my own shelter and residence rests upon the title of the stolen land. I’ve felt like making myself small and dialling down my voice – my loud, privileged, racism-enabled voice – and started questioning the merits of language. In another Instagram DM backchannel Betty talked about words as acts: that using words to unsettle fellow settlers is a legitimate contribution, increasing understanding and awareness and rippling outwards. I was sceptical but when forced to think about my own ways in to colonial consciousness I had to admit that they had all come from reading the writing of settler-colonial theorists and poets.

My next concern, though, is why that consciousness matters – what can we do with it; how can we mobilise our understanding and shame and horror and curiosity toward liberation? Even though my privilege (my racism) allows me day-to-day freedom, I am not truly free until all are free. The is not what matters, anyhow. Any priority placed upon an I not only centres me and my privileged experience, but it centres human beings – all those beings that occupy an I as they traverse their tiny speck of time on earth. We (all of the I‘s) should not be the units which matter most. Decolonisation is nothing more and nothing less than a new-old (past, present, future) world order for the overthrow of anthropocentrism. Last year my thesis supervisors listened to some of these themes and commented that I seemed to have let myself get caught up in an ethical tangle. One of my weaknesses is that my first reaction to appraisal is often one of incense. But their words have stuck with me and my first reaction abides: isn’t is necessary to be in an ethical tangle? Is there any other way to be? I am scared of people who do not sit with tangles and tension – scared of those who attempt to extricate themselves from their necessary ensnarement in nets of ethical concerns. The trick, of course, is to avoid becoming so tangled as to become unable to move or act or think or give. But that disavowal of I, the simple demotion of people from the podium of importance might be the way. If am not important, then my shame and horror and guilt are not important. I can act and contribute because the I-on-a-pedastal has died. The heart-head knowledge of the sea and the safety-shelter of the land have to work for everyone. We can’t transcend a people-first mentality if we’re still not recognising the personhood of all people. We need to take up as little space as possible – and by that I mean in the sense of domination. Expression is different: there is space, enough, for expression and words and earnest (yet ever-tangled) acts. Infinite space. So perhaps we need words to chip away at domination over our fellow I’s and over this earth, in this small corner of space. Infinite space.

There’s always the possibility that this bigger-than-human logic is just another self-soothing free pass.

But I digress.


2018: Best-Ofs Pt. 2

“The past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later, & thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.”
—Virginia Woolf

I think the inverse could be true for books. Books are so immediate – I need to be reading them right then and there to feel it all. The precise emotions disappear too soon after reading, leaving a memory of a feeling so maddeningly indistinct and impressionistic that all articulation becomes trite and balkingly incomplete. I find most book reviews painful to read. Reviewers can be more concerned with their own flourishes than paying tribute to those of their subjects. Or sometimes their attempts to pay tribute are so sycophantic that they accidentally embark upon an embarrassing errand of imitation. This year I read a review of Hera Lindsay Bird’s chapbook written in a style so strivingly similar to the poet’s own – so much so that I felt physically sick. At the same time I live for reviews. I have to read about a work after I’ve experienced it. Even to read a plot summary is strangely soothing. Ah, yes, that’s how it unfolded, and someone else has witnessed it, too. So a poorly written review is a wretched thing, but even the bad ones help ease my prickly passage through a curly work. All that said, these are not reviews. Just a list of favourite reads from the past year. And not even an exhaustive list at that.

Teju Cole – Blind Spot. I was so bowled over by Cole’s live photography criticism at the Auckland Writers Festival last year but it took me a while to follow up. This work contains 150 of his photographs, each paired with a precise paragraph. Sometimes it’s obvious but other times the connection between image and text is like a Where’s Wally experience. Like your favourite not-instagrammy instagram account turned into pages and bound in delicious green. No blind spot here – Cole can see, really see.

Olivia Laing – Crudo. I know, I know, the biggest Trump-Brexit-shitshow-era novel we’ve all been waiting for. I first heard about this novel via a tweet from Max Harris, of ‘politics of love’ fame. I love his work and the fact that anything that this academic visionary touches can’t help but take on some of his earnest aura. But there was nothing earnest about this book. Apocalypse NOW. This book is filled with queasy, despairing observations borrowed from all of our selfish, squirming minds. Laing mocks the comfort of the blind spot and the long-expired legitimacy of ignorance:
“Ten years ago, maybe even five, it was possible to ignore atrocities, to believe that these things happened somewhere else, in a different order of reality from your own. Now, perhaps because of the internet, it was like the blind spot had got very small, and motional like a marble. You couldn’t rely on it. You could go on holiday but you knew corpses washed up there, if not now then then, or later.”

Elif Batuman – The Idiot. I read this one on the train from London to Glasgow. Something was unfurling and waking up in me after a numb, numb time. Perfect timing, this was yet another favourite from my 2018 stack that featured an anxious writer writing about writing (or not writing): “Even though I had a deep conviction that I was good at writing, and that in some way I already was a writer, this conviction was completely independent of my having ever written anything, or being able to imagine ever writing anything, that I thought anyone would like to read.” HA.

Sheila Heti – Motherhood. The best book I read this year. A novel that made me love novels again. Even great fiction-writers fall into cringey behaviour and pull too heavily on the privilege of suspended disbelief. But this novel didn’t feel like a novel. It felt like a personal essay. Three years, three coins, and one question. But it’s not really one question, is it. “What am I – not my behaviour or my roles, but this burning light inside me that is laughing all the time.” Heti tells us it’s about hope, purpose, futurity, and care. With or without children.

Sally Rooney – Normal People. It wouldn’t be a 2018 reading list without this title. Even Kim Hill weighed in and named it the best. Well CWF was better, sorry. But I read this one in a day when we returned from the UK and it helped distract me from my thesis woes. Had many tense talks with Grace over Marianne and Connell:
H: If they were so smart (as the narrator irritatingly insisted) then why couldn’t they communicate with each other?
G: That’s what it’s like to be young, Hannah. You’ve forgotten already.



2018: Best-Ofs Pt. 1

There are but six hours left in this year and it is the first time I’ve been back to this blog since I set it up on a whim this time last year (could this unintentional, habit-less hiatus be more of a cliché?). Perhaps this will be a mere annual receptacle for end-of-year lists and reflections. We’ll see. I’m used to typing in Word documents for postgrad study and Google Docs for work, but for any kind of free-wheeling, purposeless observation I am usually tapping on a phone keyboard. And it is usually in the setting of an Instagram caption or story. But I am keen to get out of those squares more often. We need to create the internet we wish to participate in. And I do not want to be a scrolling, dribbling, red-bubble-attention-gobbling automaton. I love blogs. I keep a tight selection on Feedly and eagerly await each update. So why not create as well as consume. An over-sharing, over-critical, weird mix of sincerity and irony could be coming with more regularity to a blog reader near you. But again, we’ll see.

For now we have some lists to consider. 2018 was the year that I ‘remembered’ the pleasure of music. Ryan and Grace each composed a delicious playlist during our time in Chianti and from that point on I wanted to be that person that could dial up a playlist for a party. I didn’t ever want to be in that position of bluetooth-ing yesteryear’s tired old tracks. Age is not the factor, of course not, it’s a matter of taste. I wanted to be the person that reminded everyone of a heyday song that had been unforgivably forgotten. That is so often the way for me: my gateway motivation is shamefully narcissistic. Or, to put it another way, I am motivated by a crystalline image of the person I want to be. But, by some stroke of grace, I am delivered from my stupid self and am allowed to dissolve into the identity of the creation. No party ego. Just joy. This music list is pretty redundant because I technically don’t have to rely on memory or discretion any longer. I could just passively repost the list that Spotify generated for me. But – I promise – this is a list from my heart, not my data.

This year I loved listening to:

Badbadnotgood – after their show at the King’s Arms and then their Laneway appearance I was transfixed. I played all of their tracks an embarrassing number of times. I would annoy Ryan by singing saxophone solos – the most maddening kind of earworm to replicate with the humble human voice. Not cool.

Sufjan Stevens – on the back of my Dad’s motorbike I listened to the Call Me By Your Name soundtrack and the Carrie and Lowell Live album all around the South Island, Te Wai Pounamou. Something about being in transit, being at the mercy of my Dad’s driving (not being flippant here – my life felt in his hands in a big, healing kind of way) made me well up with tears as these humble little string picks washed over me.

serpentwithfeet – in the kitchen at Turakina Street I played this song as I cooked meal after meal and drank supermarket chardonnay from my ceramic beaker. I wasn’t intentionally concealing my alcohol consumption. Or maybe I was. Less drinking occurred in the second half of the year.

Marlon Williams – if 2017 was all about Aldous, this year was all about Marlon. This album was another heavy feature on my motorbike playlist. Especially in the South. Listening to this as we rolled down the West Coast via my silly little red Beats buds layered underneath my silly motorbike balaclava underneath my silly sporty Schuberth helmet was one of the biggest joys of my whole year. Tears are always a metric of success when evaluating a work of art, right?

Moses Sumney – another Laneway introduction. Wow, so much for being a taste-maker. Luckily that ego dissolution kicks in pretty quick and I give into the art form of the festival curator. 2018 is where the word curation officially went to die an ironic death in a fire of non-ironic fervour. This death makes me really feel for those that practise curation earnestly. So I will practise precision and use the word where it is deserved. Thank you, festival curators! Sumney was a god on stage – robbed of a later slot but holding his own in the afternoon stupour. We love this song because of the personal telegraphing to the political and back again. Like every relationship.

BROCKHAMPTON – Okay so I’m officially giving up on my dream to become a taste-maker by this point in the list. Beautiful little teens have known this for a long time, but this boy band extravaganza just gets me every time. Love this track in particular for its emo truth, but equally love the twitchy bangers. Ryan went to see their all-ages show this year at the shitty Logan Campbell Centre and for all the reported sound woes and typical underage behaviour it remains the biggest regret of my year that I did not also hustle for a ticket. What an old lady.

Steely Dan – Still going hard on dad rock. Really hope this isn’t Freudian.

Nina Simone – Got a lot a livin’ to do before I die, she says in the intro. This song is so potent that it makes me wish, masochistically, that I could live through a heartbreak again. The current trajectory of my life doesn’t make that likely but, hey, perhaps such an overly-confident comment will serve as the ultimate hubris and precipitate an undignified fall. Upon which this song will become personally relevant rather than just observationally perfect.


BRB for more lists.









2017: Best-Ofs PT. 2

So 2018 is a few days old, now, but I’m still not through with the year that was. I’ve been thinking about my favourite moments from 2017, and a great many of them involved podcasts. I am an emotional yo-yo type, requiring intense interpersonal connection followed by intense solitude. The podcast offers a kind of in-between, though: perfect for those times when I’m alone, but not by choice. Those times require some podcast company. It’s like listening to a super smart friend without the attendant energy drain of reply-formulation. (Wow, that makes me sound like a grouchy misanthrope – but better to be a periodic misanthrope alone than with real life humans, I say).

I often listen to podcasts when I am cleaning or cooking. In fact, those are the only times that I listen to podcasts. For the cleaning, a podcast acts an an appropriate aneasthetic, helping me to escape the tedium of the chore. But for the cooking, a podcast has the power to amplify the pleasure of the activity.

These podcasts powered me through those alone times where I didn’t really want to be alone:

Strangers – hosted by Lea Thau (who famously lost her job at The Moth because the producers didn’t like her raspy Danish voice), this podcast is compelling, humanising, surprising, and sometimes gets things wrong. Lea is not afraid to address feedback and reflect on her mistakes – like her faux pas over gendered pronouns. I love someone so much more when they own their mistakes, especially in public. She uses her platform to feature new podcasters, too, which is how I found out about the great personal podcast documentary Not By Accident. The best episode of the year, for me, was The Code Switcher. 

On Being – sometimes Krista Tippett’s deliberately deliberative tone gets my goat, but overall this podcast offers Big Bang buck. From physicists to poets to physicians, this podcast sits down with big thinkers and tries to get at the hows and the whys of our very existence. This is one podcast choice where I have to be in a serious or even melancholic mood to make it work – there’s nothing flippant or funny about this one.

How To Be Amazing – Michael Ian Black’s show is where I come for flippant and funny. I don’t listen religiously, but when a name pops up that piques my interest then I give the interview-based hour a go.

First Draft: A Dialogue on Writing – A kind of homemade-sounding public radio show where dry host Mitzi Rapkin (great name) sits down with writers to discuss their drafting process. Obviously loved the George Saunders episode.

Revisionist History – I am loathe to include this one (Malcolm Gladwell is just so smug and I absolutely detest the podcast technique of an overly-manipulated twist), but this series really did hit the mark. I’d skip the indulgent McDonald’s Broke My Heart and go for the socio-legal race histories in State v Johnson and Mr. Hollowell Didn’t Like That. 

RNZ: Saturday Morning – Kim Hill, duh. Perfect for New Zealand ex-pats, or just those who don’t listen to car or kitchen radios live anymore. Catch up on Kim’s latest politician heckling or poet chats. Going through the archive is great for days where you’ve already listened to your other favourite podcasts’ weekly releases.

Fresh Air – Terry Gross is to the U.S.A. as Kim Hill is to New Zealand.

The Longest Shortest Time – I am not a parent but it’s no wonder that I love this show that bills itself as the ‘parenting show for everyone’. Hillary Frank is a novelist whose writing chops make themselves apparent in her hosting.

Dear Sugars – Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond make a compelling pair as they dish out not-quite-advice in their advice column-style show. Cheryl draws on her own life as she responds to the desperate letters (proving true the maxim that all advice is autobiographical). But Steve – oh, Steve! He draws on literature! Each week he marries the concern of the day with a carefully chosen passage. The show is now super big and attracts guests like Hilary and Oprah. But Steve’s literary medicine is what keeps me coming back.

In 2018 I want to listen to more local podcasts. Or perhaps just fewer American podcasts. Any recommendations? Eternally grateful.