Recently I started (again) to write my book.

It was not the book I had wanted to write last year – the one that would be fun, informative, practical, light and delicious. It has not been all that comfortable and effortless to write, as I had thought it should be.

Today, my eyes brimmed with tears as I typed. And still – the words flowed freer than they have in months. My words are light and dark. There are good moments and there are shadows. No one is an angel in my script, not even the first woman I revered as a child. Grief is allowed. So is joy.

I have allowed imperfections room to dance on paper, and by extension I have been able to allow wonderful things room to shine too. By allowing sadness a moment of its own to express what it wishes to say, I find myself happier at the end of the sentence.

This is unexpectedly easier than trying to write a 100% cheerful, picture-perfect essay. I feel lighter writing with the vulnerable, yet freeing feel of surrender powering my writing.

 

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No Ordinary Sheila

In times like these, it feels especially poignant reflecting on the merits of a ‘well-lived life’. This phrase may bring to mind the notion of achievements people find notable or remarkable. But while achievements count for something, they are not everything. There is something to be said for going on mini adventures, creating stuff, staying healthy, enjoying ordinary moments, finishing what one sets out to do, having close relationships … the things that make life not just enjoyable, but purposeful! There is so much to be said about people who truly LIVE, not just survive.

Adventurer, cyclist, sailor, writer, wife to Gilbert, friend (including to famed NZ writer Janet Frame), Sheila Natusch did not just dip her toes gingerly into the ever-changing waters of life. She brushed against life, dove into it, cycled through its meandering pathways, and truly savoured it.

As I watched the (well-made) film on her life, aptly entitled “No Ordinary Sheila”, I felt warmly invited to slow down and reconsider my notions of a good life. Aside from Sheila’s remarkable dedication to and skills in studying, documenting and illustrating natural history, many other activities she pursued are not out of reach for most people. Anyone can put some walking shoes on and hike up an unfamiliar trail, spend some moments admiring a beautiful bird, or start working on a personal project just for fun.

Anyone can appreciate the little moments which make for an imperfect, immersive, wonderful life.

An altogether warm, charming, true-to-life documentary which left me feeling a sense of loss at the end as I read that Sheila had passed away in August this year. A beautiful life worth celebrating.

No Ordinary Sheila was first launched in the New Zealand International Film Festival 2017, and screened between 3rd August and 24th September. It will be released in cinemas around New Zealand from Thursday, 19th October. For more details, click here.

Image via Hugh Macdonald Film

This post has also been published on Big Screen NZ.

Kátya Kabanová

NZ Opera’s Kátya Kabanová opens appealingly with mystery. The lovely Kátya (Dina Kuznetsova) appears in soft pink, pretty and delicate beneath a blanket of stars. An aura of childlike wonder surrounds the scene – I feel as if I am gazing at a moving scene in a picture book. A jolly science teacher praises the beauty of the river while a servant, unimpressed, disagrees. I lean back into my seat, enjoying the beautiful set and costumes, and being taken back in time.

The lyrical novel begins. Set in 1950s America, everyone is suited, booted and coiffed – the set similarly constructed to paint a picture of order and grace: religious symbols in the tidy house, a bleach-white picket fence, pruned trees, a high-flying American flag. It is Sunday, church day. At the conclusion of the service, the lawn is awash with bows and smiles.

Polite and perfect settings soon juxtapose strongly with emerging, unregulated emotions. It seems that a religious morning has done nothing to soothe the spirits of a conflicted husband, a domineering mother, a fiery adopted sister, a lonely woman, a cantankerous uncle, and a man trapped by his uncle’s demands and his hopeless love for a married woman. The river to me becomes a visual representation of the changing temperaments of the human soul – surging with secrets, calm one moment and stormy the next.

As always I loved the visual and musical feast that I have come to associate with NZ Opera’s commitment to excellence. Though set in 1950s America, there are many themes and threads which are relatable in any time – most of all the universal emotional experience that we, being human, undoubtably share. Terse, lyrical outbursts by the individualistic Leoš Janáček carry the character-driven plot forward as we follow Kátya’s footsteps through a journey of inner struggle and courage.

Though Kátya Kabanová is the New Zealand Opera’s final offering for 2017, it is by no means one that should be overlooked. The performances of the cast are bold, heartfelt and haunting. The 1950s in the USA certainly marked a time when men ruled both the workplace and the home but seldom their mothers. Kátya Kabanová is a moving example of how at times that formula could go so tragically wrong. Patrick Nolan, the director, and Genevieve Blanchett, the production designer, seem to have taken particular care to make sure that this notion was not lost on we, the audience.

Although a tragedy, which has been compared to Romeo and Juliet, Kátya Kabanová does provide enough by way of individual performances, breathtaking lighting and set designs to leave us with a satisfying smile at the end of it all. Over and above those, there are outstanding performances by Wyn Davies [conductor] and The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, as well as a spectacular audio-visual presentation which helped keep the suspended reality of Leoš Janáček’s vision and story completely alive and forbearing.

Kátya Kabanová has three more performances in Auckland this month before the production moves to Wellington’s St James Theatre for four dates from 7 October. For more details, see NZ Opera website.

Saturday, 16 September, 2017 – ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

Written with Jarred Tito

This post has also been published on Libel.

Image © NZ Opera via Facebook.

Thoughts while washing dishes (or why I cook)

There is a certain quiet in the kitchen when everyone has eaten and left.

Sleep starts to tease your eyelids as your hands work methodically to soap and rinse the sprawl of pots, plates, utensils … getting slower as you start yearning for bed, then quicker as you look at the time and remember that your alarm clock will ring in 6 hours.

It is work, you work harder than you have all day at your day job. You hop off the train, kiss your husband, run to the store, come home, march into the kitchen, don an apron, get moving. When guests expecting dinner are due in 45 minutes, there is no pointless dawdling or twiddling of thumbs, no pointless scrolling, no staring at the clock willing 5pm to come sooner. It’s work shift #2 after a full shift #1, but it’s rewarding work – chopping, measuring, sniffing, stirring … eating … talking … checking that guests’ glasses are full and bellies filling. You whip cream and make tea. You co-host. You listen, talk, laugh, catch up. And then, just as quickly as it began, it’s over. They go home. Time to wash up and then to go to bed.

But THIS moment, washing dishes, marvelling at how cooking smells and laughter give way to crumbs on the table and oil splashes on the stovetop. THIS silence is golden. You understand that time is your own to do what you want with it. You understand why people are the most important thing in the world. You understand that all the work that goes into cooking and feeding makes sense and is worthwhile, even though food takes effort to cook and less effort to eat and once done it is a cycle to be repeated in the days to come.

Finally – when people have left and the plates are clean again, you can feel the difference it has made. You have given, but received so much more in return. You are satisfied with food and the fullness that comes from eating together with others. And you are filled with gratitude.

That’s why I do it. To feel good, to have fun – but equally, to enjoy the satisfaction of working hard with my hands and feeling rested, well and grateful.

Book Beginning: A Paris Year by Janice MacLeod

So begins A Paris Year: My Day-to-Day Adventures in the Most Romantic City in the World. The Kindle version of this book has been my recent companion on my daily train commute to and from work. (Seriously – it is so beautiful and may well be the second eBook for which I end up purchasing the print version of as well)!

I bought this eBook one evening when I was feeling whimsical, in the mood for a read that would be both light and intelligent, charming and inspirational.

A few pages in, I found myself smiling – and continued to do as I travelled to the city of light on the back of a beautiful, humorous, talented spirit. This is a book created by someone whom I haven’t met but am sure I would adore in person! – author and illustrator Janice Macleod.

If I visit Paris again, I’ll be sure to take this precious book with me.

This is my first post joining in the fun with Book Beginnings!

A lovely article / interview I came across that features A Paris Year / Janice Macleod is here.

Bacon, tomato & mandarino spirals

On my birthday last month, I drove purposefully to Sabato. One has to be strong (as I learned) to shop there with self-control! On this particular day, full from brunch with friends, I thought I might manage …

When I got there I was greeted with a smiling face, pleasantly-stocked shelves, a table with various oils and vinegars to taste. I took my time, dipping cubes of bread into oils and vinegars, gazing at cheese and chocolate. It was difficult to maintain my resolve to pick up just dinner ingredients and a treat or two. In the end, I left a little guiltily with a brown paper bag filled to the brim with goodies.

After all of that, I didn’t enjoy our dinner that night that much, though J complimented me very kindly on it.

But this dish, made a few nights later with one citrusy Sabato purchase, won both of us over.

    Bacon, tomato & mandarino spirals 
    Ingredients:
    Olive oil
    Pasta spirals
    Fresh heirloom tomatoes – halved
    Garlic cloves, minced (we used 3 for 2 of us)
    Shoulder bacon, roughly diced (we used 100g)
    Sundried tomatoes, chopped
    Handful mushrooms, sliced
    Chilli flakes
    Ormond Rich Cream or white wine (optional)
    Mandarino* oil by Marina Colonna
    Salt
    Pepper
    Method:
    Bring a saucepan of water to a rolling boil. Salt it generously, then add in pasta spirals**. Ensure that the pasta is well covered with water. Cook till al dente, stirring every so often to prevent the pasta from sticking.
    While the pasta is cooking, place a skillet over moderately high heat and add in a tablespoon or two of olive oil. When the oil is warm, fry the tomato halves until they smell sweet and begin to collapse, then remove and set aside.
    Add in a little more oil if the skillet is too dry. Throw in the chilli flakes, minced garlic and sun-dried tomatoes – sauté. Once you can smell the garlic, deglaze with a splash of Ormond Rich Cream (you can also use any white wine or water) and cook for a minute or two till it evaporates. If you add in too much liquid at this point, just take some of it out with a spoon and set aside.
    Add in the bacon, fry till they turn a rich pink and brown in bits. Add in the mushrooms. Add in excess liquid from above if any – or add another splash of cooking wine / water, as well as a tablespoon of water from the pasta pot. Stir and lower the heat. Add the cooked tomatoes back in.
    When the pasta is ready, drain it, shake off excess water and stir it into the ‘sauce’.
    Now for the finishing touch*. Drizzle on the Mandarino, and serve immediately. Add freshly ground salt and pepper as you wish.
    * In lieu of using Mandarino, perhaps you could leave it out / experiment with another infused oil, or perhaps with adding a pinch of sugar, some chopped preserved lemon or a squeeze of fresh orange juice?
    ** Depending on the cooking time of the pasta, you may wish to adjust the order of cooking so the pasta and bacon ‘sauce’ are ready at the same time.
    Measurements are not exact as I cooked this rather spontaneously (i.e. without measuring things) – this post is intended to serve as a guide / inspiration rather than a definite ‘how-to’. :-)

A man, a podcast and meeting Ciaran McMeeken

I have always had a passion for story-telling, creative people and those wonderful books / movies / plays etc that transport you to a whole new magical world. I enjoy good films and music just like most people I know, but until I met my husband, I would never have swum deeper into the world of the creative arts, music, movies – i.e. I would enjoy them when I was there, but I wouldn’t feel a need to read up more about them or listen to commentary around them.

At my first date with Jarred, though, I learned towards the end of our leisurely coffee date that my date (too many dates in this sentence and none are the Medjool sort) was involved with a podcast on entertainment. I was intrigued and secretly glad that I had not known this before we met up, as I would have thought – with great error – that such a man must be superficial and love celebrities and be scarily extroverted and have nothing in common with me. (Okay – I was the shallow judge!)

He asked if I might like to join him at his podcast that afternoon. I looked at his kind face for a few seconds, considering. I got into his car.

Image from Bossfight

As it turns out, it was more than safe – it was great! That day I met his co-host Wal, and a couple of filmmakers who shared their experience and passion in a way that made me reflect on and appreciate films, filmmakers and the creative process more. It was like being backstage, getting to watch a performance from a closer and different vantage point, but better. I was also rather floored by the confidence they all had in front of the camera and mic!

Good surprises come sometimes when you least expect it. I had a lovely evening out with my husband last night, pretending we were in sunny Thailand at happy eatery Kiss Kiss and following up with a cozy coffee-and-slice and Circus Circus, before we headed in to the studio for a podcast session.

I found out that this evening’s guest was singer-songwriter Ciaran McMeeken. Born in Arrowtown and bred in the wild and beautiful South Island of NZ, he was due to launch his self-titled album and debut tour in NZ (both happening today). I was a little sleepy as the night was cold and it was ticking slowly towards my bedtime – but when he arrived and the conversation began, the magic happened. I was a transfixed fly on the wall.

Through lighthearted banter, spontaneous questions and honest answers between them all, I learned a little about Ciaran’s journey, feeling a simultaneous sense of respect and delight. When he sang his beautiful song “Spanish Steps” towards the end, it was like we were at our own private concert. I found myself paddling in memories of home, travels, sunshine, yearnings and writing poetry. (Did you know that one of the best ways you can encourage your own creativity to emerge is to be in the presence of someone who daringly creates and shares his own art?)

For someone who’s sung in front of thousands whilst opening for Ronan Keating, Ciaran was also humble enough to acknowledge the people he’s met who have helped propel him forward. He mentioned a farmer, John, who he once worked alongside. John cut his apprehension down to size (by $18K) with simple, grounded advice and helped him to see that his dream was not as out of reach as he thought. Ciaran left the farm a few days later and as the popular saying goes … the rest is history! (Thanks, John!)

Meeting people, the desire to create and sing, serendipity, home, travel, struggle, goals … the conversation was only around 20 minutes long but touched on many aspects of the creative and human journey (see below). In the end, I was reminded that while luck, budget, kind people, opportunities and things like that play a role in fostering success, it is the decision to step out and say YES that finally makes it all possible.

Personal courage and action have been hugely crucial in bringing Ciaran to this point in his journey and I am positive that for as long as he continues to say YES and express his shining heart, he will enjoy many future successes.

“Like anything, you need a team … you can’t do it by yourself. Like climbing a mountain – you need some sherpas”, said Ciaran. Wise words.

Humble words.

We won’t be surprised when he wins his Grammy.

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P.S. Of course I had to take a ‘we-fie’!

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