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.

 

 

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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.

 

2017: Best-Ofs Pt. 1

I know I said on Instagram that I didn’t want to wring out the best of the year gone by. But I’ve changed my mind. Here is a non-exhaustive set of categories, each with a non-exhaustive set of items. Some might not be 2017-created, but each took hold of me in 2017. And that’s what I want to remember. I have poetry and podcast lists to come, but, since I’m learning to be less of a perfectionist and there are New Year’s Eve parties to get to, those can come later. I am starting with the categories for which I owe Ryan the most debt. He drags me to movies, he sends me song links, and he makes sure that I don’t monopolise my cultural consumption with the written word.

Films:

WaruAll the single takes, all the wahine toa, all the painful stories, all the rituals, all the strength. I loved seeing the directors discuss their work after the film festival screening, chaired by Mihi Forbes. Their synchronicity on stage helped explain the radical coherence of what could have been a fragmented film. I want to see this one taught in schools.

Coco – In a cinema filled with kids, Ryan and I sobbed so hard that we started laughing at each other. I need to do more homework to see if the representation of Día de Muertos checks out. I used to hate animated films. But, by God, this one knocked me over: family, community, remembrance, music. The one thing that felt a little off to me was the punitive customs process at the border to the Land of the Living. It seems that immigration is a battle even in the afterlife…

Pom Poko – The Ghibli Festival at the Academy Cinema really delivered. I had never seen this one from the canon before. Environmentalist racoons that parachute in on stretchy scrotums? Sure. A little over-indulgent and could have used tighter editing. But poignant and, sadly, still timely.

Bad Genius – A preposterous, campy high school heist movie with serious things to say about class and education. I laughed a bit too loudly from my balcony perch at the Hollywood Cinema.

School Life – Continuing with the education theme, a slightly disturbing documentary about two ‘inspiring’ teachers in a decidedly English boarding school in Ireland. After working as a teacher for four years I am now hyper-critical of self-styled Dead Poets Society charlatans. But this one had it’s sweet moments, for sure. After my initially bristly reaction I warmed to the rule-breaking tenderness of the teachers. I mainly loved it because Ruby, Leonie and I (three ex-English teachers) watched it together at the tiny Waiheke Cinema.

Songs

Party, Aldous Harding – I cry when I listen to this song so have to save it for special, sad occasions. I love how much John Campbell loves her. Or maybe it’s condescending. In the crowd at her Civic concert I was a little disappointed to hear the audience laugh at her mannerisms. It’s not a comedy act, folks. It’s all Aldous.

Monsoon, Amber Mark – I feel EUPHORIC when I listen to this song. You kinda need to listen to it with the preceding track, Journey into the Unknown, so that you experience the full rain effect.

Love Galore, SZA – look, I’m sorry, I could’ve picked any from Ctrl but I’m a sucker for singles

ZIPPER, Brockhampton – Could’ve written these lyrics myself, “pretty sure I’m maniacal, but what do I know?” Also, I’m a sucker for a Hannah Montana Reference.

Truth, Kamasi Washington – I feel EUPHORIC when I listen to this, thanks for the rec, Ryan.

Richard, Nadia Reid – “Richard liked the sound of his own voice” is the best lyric roast for an ex. Also just a great song.

Runnin’ Outta Luck, Alex Cameron – I listen to this one as I clean my teeth in the morning if I’m feeling down. I start jumping around. His lyrics are often utterly pessimistic. I love pessimism. This song properly equips me to face the day.

The Night Me and Your Mama Met, Childish Gambino – with its echoes of Al Green’s How Can You Mend a Broken Heart, it’s a classic, nostaligc soul romance.

LOVE. FEAT. ZACARI, Kendrick Lamar – just a surprisingly tender little song. We like the video.

Wild Thoughts, DJ Khaled, Rihanna, Bryson Tiller – look this song is just funny. The little romantic acoustic guitar opening, sidestepped by the electric guitar riff, and lyrics that appear to rhyme but merely repeat themselves, “you wanna see me naked, naked.” Funny things happen when this song plays, too. It makes me dance stupidly and drive 720 degrees around and around roundabouts. This is the song that John played twice in his DJ set; everyone noticed and no one cared. This is the song that I’m hoping for when I ditch my beloved RNZ and surf between Flava, Mai, and The Edge.

DiasporaChristian Scott aTunde Adjuah feat. Elena Pinderhughes – diasporas were following me around this year. This one leads with a looping drum and piano riff which serves as the bedrock for Pinderhughes’ flautist magic and Adjuah’s muted trumpet. Reminds me of those few nights on Frenchmen Street with Rose, Claire, Ellyn, and Tess.

Higgs Boson BluesNick Cave and the Bad Seeds – we went to see Nick Cave in January and it was just glorious. Everyone in the crowd knew the news, everyone had watched One More Time with Feeling, everyone had a small sense of the huge pain surrounding the making of Skeleton Tree. But, predictably, Higgs Boson Blues took the cake. I mean, I am a sucker for a Hannah Montana Reference.

 

 

 

Splendour

I’m starting this blog with some of my favourite images from a trip to Skye, taken on my Eos 3 with some Kodak film.

I haven’t used that camera in a long time. Something was amiss when I got these scans back. The flattened landscapes, with their formal splendour, held none of the jumbled tension I felt at the time.

It was a beautiful Scottish summer. But all was not well. I was harbouring a sense of helplessness after leaving behind my school survival routine and taking to the road. The grace of new discoveries was eluding me. In the car, driving through Glencoe, I exploded. It was most ungraceful.

But hey, how’s the serenity. HL1801815004074-32HL1801815004074-35HL1801815004076-09HL1801815004076-15