Wednesday, 15 October 2008

N = Nanowrimo

I was introduced to this whole blogging deal after completing Nanowrimo. Two years ago I felt I had finally found myself again after a few years when I was struggling with that. I was enjoying my professional life, but unlike many had the luxury of time and was keen to try some writing. I heard an enthusiastic blogger speaking on Radio NZ National about this Nanowrimo thing. Most particularly, he said “you’ve always said you’d write a book one day. Well, now it’s one day.” I liked the idea of that, and thought that I should see if I could in fact do it.

I cheated a little, and wrote a story based on some of my own experiences. But I found it exhilarating, and when it ended, found a link to the x365 page. From then I was hooked. Last year I wanted to try it again, but was overseas for the first few days and didn’t really have the motivation to get stuck in once I got home.

In a few hours I’m going to Europe for three weeks. Maybe I’ll find inspiration there to start working on it. If not, there might be some good blogging material.

See you in November, though I’ll try and pop in with you all while I'm away, perhaps from the Cinque Terre.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

M = Mali

Mali means jasmine in Thai. I always thought that if I started an interior design business I would call it Jasmine Design. Or perhaps run the Jasmine Day Spa. (I could get free massages and facials. How good would that be?)

Teachers and friends at school in Bangkok gave me the name Mali. Now, only my husband calls me Mali, usually when he’s showing off that he can still speak a bit of Thai, or when he is trying to butter me up for something. So it feels strange to think that there are a group of people who only know me as Mali. I don’t think I’m any different as Mali as I am when I am [******]. If anything, I am probably more like me. There is something liberating in anonymity, although I'm not entirely anonymous. I few of my friends who know me (as opposed to my friends who have never met me) read this blog, though they don’t ever comment. (Hint!).

So Mali protects me. Besides, it is much more exotic than my name. A very 60s, middle New Zealand kind of name. I think I would like to be exotic.

"What's in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet"

But would it?

Monday, 6 October 2008

L = Letters

Lately I’ve been playing with a project, looking back on my experience living in Thailand as an exchange student. I’ve come to realise that I did some pretty unusual things, and that it might be interesting to write about it. (????) I’ve been surprised how strong my memories are 28 years on, but have also reverted to my diaries kept that year to clarify details.

I've realised I was a crap diary writer. Whilst I recorded some of my inner-most feelings, more usually and much like George Orwell, I often merely listed a few lines, usually consisting of what I had for lunch that day.

I suspect I was not inclined to record the details of my day because I was doing a lot of letter writing at the time, especially in the first few months of my time in Thailand, when I had not yet begun school, was still struggling to learn the language, and was quite lonely. I wrote detailed, descriptive letters, trying to help my family and friends at home see, feel, hear and smell what my exotic life in Thailand was like, to help them feel as if they were there too, sharing the experience.

So I was thrilled when my mother said to me years later that she had kept all my letters from Thailand. Some time after, she gave me three shoe-boxes full of letters. “You never know,” she said, “someday you might want to write about your year.” I stored the boxes away without a glance, happy that I had them safe.

Years passed. Then, a few weeks ago, I decided to dig out the boxes. I knew where they were, had never forgotten them, and opened the first box with excitement, a feeling of trepidation.

I pulled out the first envelope. But wait, that’s not what I want. I pulled out the next and next. With a growing sense of dread and horror, I rifled through the box, and the second box, and the third. I couldn’t believe it, and went through each box over and over again, as if through sheer persistence I would conjure up what I desperately wanted to be there. I went back to the cupboard where these boxes had been stored, and looked. No, these were the only boxes.

But they were not MY letters, the ones I’d written. They were letters written to me while I was in Thailand. The ones from my parents and sisters will be precious to keep. The rest – well frankly I couldn’t give a hoot. I felt sick. As if I’d lost a part of my history, through my own negligence. The worst thing was, I couldn’t phone my mother to ask her to check if she had the letters I had written, the ones which recorded my experiences, week by week. She was away for a month, helping my sister and bonding with her new grand-daughter.

After a day or two the sick feeling abated. D reminded me that my mother is a hoarder and wouldn’t have thrown them away. I knew that. But I couldn’t shake off the fear. What if she, like me, thought that those three boxes contained my year of letters? So finally, at the airport on Tuesday, as I met her from one flight and put her on the next, I told her. “Oh yes,” she said, very matter of fact. “I have YOUR letters at home!”



PS. I’ll believe it when I see them.

Friday, 3 October 2008

K = Knitting

Bridgett’s alpha entry on knitting brought back memories. When I grew up, every woman I knew knitted. When I think of my grandmother, I mainly picture her sitting at her dining table where she spent her days knitting, cigarette in mouth and ashtray precariously close to whatever cabled masterpiece she was making this time. Her gin in the evening didn’t seem to affect her accuracy either.

Likewise, at dancing lessons every week, the mothers (except mine who saw knitting as a chore) would sit there knitting at phenomenal speed, and at family gatherings, my aunts would sit together knitting and chatting, completing fiendishly difficult patterns without even looking at what they were doing. Or so it seemed.

Before artificial fibres arrived and the New Zealand import markets freed up in the 1980s, the most cost effective warm winter clothing were layers of home-knitted jerseys (sweaters in US lingo). In a nation of sheep farmers, it made sense to use the plentiful, high quality wool. As I said, my mother was not a keen knitter, so she bought a knitting machine. My father liked gadgets, and knitted quite a few of our winter jerseys on the machine in the lounge on wintry days when the weather was too bad to be out in the elements.

Girls tended to learn to knit (whether we wanted to or not) at primary school, and we knitted scarves and mittens and jerseys for ourselves. My mother still wears a jersey (with a lovely lacy yoke done on a circular needle) I knitted at university in the 80s. And it still looks good. The most fashionable girl I knew at university, a model and honours student, knitted a beautiful blue, slash neck jersey which she wore with jeans tucked into cute ankle boots. I thought she was the height of fashion, and as soon as it was seemly knitted a similar shaped jersey of my own. I knitted a delicate lace white outfit for Sharon’s first child, and posted it to Delaware. I remember sitting in my apartment in Bangkok, air-conditioning on full, knitting a fairisle jersey to wear on our mid-tour leave in Europe, as I had neglected to bring any cold climate clothes with me to Bangkok. I have a favourite photo of me wearing it on the Isle de la Cite in Paris.

Bridgett spoke of the debate between left-handed and right-handed knitters, the advantages and disadvantages of both, the labels these styles are given. This debate is all new to me. I didn't know knitters were so conformist! I think of those women at my dancing lessons and my aunt and grandmother, who were so very fast, fingers almost blurring with speed as they flicked the yarn around the needles and clicked them in and out to create beautiful patterns. In my recollection they all had very different styles, needles under different arms, hands holding the needles underneath or from above, winding the yarn with different flicks of their fingers, etc. I can’t quite figure out how Bridgett knits, but that’s because I can’t see her. I wish I could.

There's something comforting about knitting though, getting into a quick easy rhythm and seeing a garment grow. I haven't knitted for a long time. Fashions changed, imports became cheaper, and suddenly knitting became a more expensive option, especially as work pressures grew. The convenience of throwing something in the washing machine and then drier smashed that old protestant work ethic of making our own clothes. Plus I remember knitting my last jersey, when Cleo and Gershwin were just kittens and thought that the ball of wool on the floor was there for their entertainment. It irritated me enormously. Cleo is now 15 and still loves to chase things. I don’t knit anymore.

But I do smile, thinking of Bridgett knitting for herself and her family. I’m glad that the tradition still lives.

J = Jack of all trades ...

… that’s me. Good at many things, exceptional at none. Sometimes I wonder, do I have attention deficit disorder? Or am I just indecisive? Or is it laziness, this inability or unwillingness to focus on one subject.

Even as I am brushing up my French for a trip to Geneva in a few weeks, I am thinking about refreshing my rudimentary Italian for the weekend we’re spending at the Cinque Terre. I’d dearly love to be fluent in one language, but even now I cringe as I contemplate a lifelong commitment to one language, and all the others that would be left unspoken.

I was like that at school too. Good at pretty much everything I tried, sports, music and academically. Maths and music were my best, but they each seemed too narrowly focused. Just think of all the other fun things I could learn that I would miss out on! So of course at university I double-majored in history and political science, before deciding on Political Science for my Masters. The widest of subjects, it seemed to meet my need for looking broadly at life and society. And I didn’t feel as if I was missing out on anything fun.

My career has seen me pretty much always in a generalist role. That’s what a diplomat is, after all. One day dealing with aid programmes and the issues of irrigation in the arid regions of Esarn, the next looking at human rights issues as Cambodia came back into international society, the next promoting trade relationships or analysing political parties, and on the weekend, visiting the New Zealander arrested for drugs at the police cells down by the river. I know about fireblight (an apple disease) and trade subsidies, pine forest management and harvesting, and plastic bucket manufacture. A marketer and company director too must be generalists. I now know more about dam safety, road maintenance management or curriculum development than I ever would have considered necessary or desirable! More latterly, I know more about women’s reproductive systems and pregnancy than most women who have had children. Each subject is fascinating to me … but never exclusively.

Of course, this isn’t unique to me. My former colleagues in the foreign ministry are adept at getting to grips with a myriad of subjects, as are journalists, editors, teachers to name a few. But perhaps that’s what I’m expert at? I don’t have a narrow and deep focus, which I think at times would be immensely rewarding. But I see things more broadly, picking up information on a wide variety of subjects and putting them in context.

Maybe this isn’t a skill. Maybe I am just fickle. But it’s more fun than being an accountant.