Author Archive

Joan Didion’s ‘On Keeping a Notebook’

April 29, 2009

Now that I’ve read this, I wish I’d written in notebooks during my life. I’ve kept some ill-fated diaries, books of bad writing, scrapbooks, teen boredoms and notebooks of mundane lists from time to time, but nothing resembling Joan’s slivers of everyday life that obviously honed her acute powers of watching and her sense for the weighty and the dramatic in minor events between people. The fact that reading this essay first made me feel awed and then ashamed for not being as cool as her pissed me off because what that says about me is that the first thing I do with a thoughtful, wonderful piece of writing is to wish that I had written it and despair that I never will. Which may just be a sign that I am a writer and therefore a solipsist. Or it may be a sign that I don’t yet have self respect, as characterised in ‘On Self Respect’. But since the latter remains a bit opaque to be, I can’t be sure. Explain it to me.

“Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted at birth with some presentiment of loss.” I can understand the urge to rearrange the truth by writing down a version of it that better suits yourself, but how does keeping a notebook indicate you are afflicted with a presentiment of loss? I suppose Joan’s referring to the creative impulse of those who are compelled to write or draw or carve wood or be creative in whichever way necessary – the urge to remake the world. What I like here is the slightly neurotic inference that notebook-keepers are a bit belligerent, that they are grumpy to find that everything is as bad as they had suspected and are intent on making a new truth as a sort of correction, an antidote to disappointment. Notebook keeping or storytelling as a rebellion, a refusal to accept things as they are.

I think this essay is about the act of writing as a way of remembering. “To remember what it was to be me.” Joan distinguishes between the boredom of writing a diary and the act of keeping a notebook by equating diarising with recording mundane events and large details, and note-keeping as observed details, the embroidery of experience, the moments caught then lost, the breaths of truth, the shit that we don’t remember. I think she was saying that not only did she keep notebooks to remember what it was to be her, but to remember what it was to be alive, what it is to be alive – to grasp onto the greasy pole of mortality by recording a moment even as it slips through our fingers. Like grains of sand through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.

Some random extracts from the notebook I currently keep in my handbag so as to always have somewhere to write things down:

– A story idea during my placement at the Taranaki Daily News: “Waitara river entrance improvements: feasibility of reinstating half tide wall at Waitara following submissions from users”
– Description of a bar I was reviewing: “Fabric of a Lisa Ho dress, granite, cross section of turd, ant farm, lava, chain mail curtains”
– “For a certain group of young NZers, Helen Clark is not just a political figure, she’s a cultural icon”
– pina colada necklace
– Leonie: “Relationships are all about bringing the other person down.”
– $73.78

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KNOWING… what?

April 13, 2009

I saw this movie last week.

The scenario is that this man finds this list of numbers that predicts all of the big disasters of the last fifty years and then sets about trying to prevent the last three predictions on the list. His whiney little son is somehow involved. There are also a couple of horrific and unnecessarily realistic and graphic scenes of mass death. At the end, the whole world gets fucked by a giant solar flare. Yes. Everyone dies.

Reasons why KNOWING is a pile of horseshit. (NB. KNOWING must always be written in capitals to denote its weighty sense of its own importance and deepitude).

1. Why is Hollywood so obsessed with disasters? Whether it’s natural disasters or otherwise, apparently we can’t get enough of random death on a large scale. Why is this? Granted, the knowledge of your own mortality is a terrible burden and it’s scary to think that your death will probably be random and pointless, blah blah. But is it really necessary to dwell on all the ways that we might die violently at the hands of nature/terrorists/a virus/monsters/freak accidents? Is this really entertainment?

2. Why is Hollywood so obsessed with numbers? We seem to be in the thrall of people who can make sense of numbers and mathematics and physics and shit and revere them as gods. Mathematicians. Numerologists. Austistic people. In a funny way, I think it’s the same as our fascination with disasters – both seem unknowable and incomprehensible. We are intrigued by an autistic person who knows thousands of prime numbers in the same way we are mesmerised by horrific tsunamis unfolding on the evening news. The random strikes again. Maybe if we break the code, we can stave off our own impending deaths.

3. Nicolas Cage. What happened? You were so good in Moonstruck and Adaptation. We know you can do better. So why do you make movies like National Treasure 2 and KNOWING? I truly don’t believe that when you die, you will feel like you made your contribution to society. You will feel like made a shitload of money. And foisted this nasty, stupid mish-mash of a disaster-death-fest on us. Dick. By the way, you don’t make a very plausible physicist.

4. So, at the end, this little boy and girl get taken away by some creepy guys with silvery skin and bleached hair like Spike from Buffy. The dudes then shed their skin and turn into glowing beings re: The X-Files. They take the kids onto this big spaceship thingy that looks like a crystal or maybe some sort of mystical cactus. They then drop the kids off on a new planet, and the children run away over a paddock towards a tree. I assume this is The Tree of Knowledge or some shit. I almost expected the little girl to like, EAT AN APPLE or something else really SYMBOLIC.

It was so heavy-handed, I felt like I was being hit across the face with the Bible. But not in a religious way – in a stupid way. The writer of this movie seems to think that God was an alien. Or that angels are aliens. Or something.

At the very least, he seems to be having some deep thoughts, like: we think we know stuff, but actually, do we REALLY know stuff?? Are aliens real? Is there A God? Are they THE SAME THING? Also: We’re all gonna die someday.

Like, whoa.

I wouldn’t say no to Edward Cullen.

December 10, 2008

I’ve been trying to resist for ages but last weekend I finally gave in and read Twilight. It’s a shit book – badly written, unimaginative, long-winded, irritating and boring. BUT I couldn’t stop myself from reading to the end.

It’s a compelling story because it’s fucking romantic.

Twilight is simple teenage girl wish fulfilment: lonely, bookish, clumsy new girl at school is the object of desire for several eligible guys on campus, but she spurns their advances because, like, she just wants to be friends. She also has her eye on the mysterious stranger in the corner of the lunchroom who happens to be a stone cold babe. Girl turns out to be object of primal, uncontrollable desire for babe. Babe also happens to be undead. Big deal! Babe and girl fall passionately in love and are the envy of all their peers. He saves her from peril, she takes care of him and rescues him from himself. They go to prom. They do not have sex. Ever!

Edward and Bella’s relationship is exactly what every girl wants in high school – a gorgeous supernatural being to save us from the boredom and awkwardness of adolescence, convince us that we’re special, kiss us coolly and have absolutely no desire to get in our panties.

Unlike The Guardian, I don’t think Stephanie Meyer’s series is pernicious, anti-feminist or dangerous (it’s a bit much to label two-dimensional vampo-babe Edward a proto-rapist). Even though there are definite pro-abstinence messages in the book, frankly, I don’t think that’s such a bad thing for young women and girls who are becoming acquainted with sex and sexual behaviour at an increasingly early age. Sure, Bella is pathetic and annoying, but at least she’s independent, interested in reading, doesn’t wear g-strings or Playboy t-shirts and is a nice person, unlike any of the characters in Gossip Girl.

I’m trying really really hard NOT to start reading the second book in the Twilight series, New Moon. But I’m losing the battle. I dig a fucking good romance! I don’t care what you say.

Oh yeah and this article in The Atlantic has an interesting take on it.

And has anyone noticed the ridiculously obvious origins of the name Edward Cullen???

PS. Robert Pattinson is a babe.

I wannit!!!

November 24, 2008

I didn't like Juno much but this phone rules.

I didn’t like that film Juno very much. Why are supposedly ‘alternative’ girls in movies always into music? Plenty of girls like music. It doesn’t make you weird. In American movies about teenagers it’s like, if you’re not a cheerleader, then you’re somehow outside of the status quo. Some kind of pathetic freak. When actually you’re just normal. It pisses me off.
However, this phone rules.

funny kitty

November 24, 2008

Today this man came to my class and lectured me about ‘truth’ and I did not appreciate it.

October 13, 2008

The election pamphlet Rodney distributed also claimed that Roger Douglas is ‘New Zealand’s greatest-ever (sic) Minister of Finance’. What was that about truth again Rodney?