Saradha Koirala

Looking up

Did you see me at the platform

as your window approached, passed?

 

Or was my head down as you boarded

same train, different carriage.

 

I’ve taken a vow of silence in your direction

shifted bags so someone else can sit.

 

Conclusions are drawn

with sweeping gestures in the street

 

sparkly things catch my eye, I won’t stoop to collect

it’s enough just to know they’re there.

 

The optometrist prescribed looking up more

and I don’t blame her.

 

Look out the window through your own reflection

she could have said

 

focus your gaze beyond the tips of your fingers

as you stand, core engaged, legs strong

 

eyes on that chunk of universe

floating just ahead.

 

It always helps to know which station

is the one before yours

 

and which you’ll be at if you’ve gone too far.

A Brief History of Seven Killings

That summer I was reading A brief history of seven killings, a weighty hardback issued from the library. Too heavy to lug out to parks or café courtyards, it anchored me into my new home. I lounged on the daybed and when people asked aloud what I’d been doing, the book’s title drew out my kiwi accent almost as thick as the tome itself. A reminder of the recency of my migration.

An odd choice of book, perhaps, but held in place by it I felt the sun pass through the house and, when I needed a break from the intensity, I walked to the supermarket in my new neighbourhood; each day a little taller, feeling more present. Roses bent their heads over picket fences and I learnt to recognise those worth stopping to breathe with. I took in the street names, smiled at locals, became one.

See-saw

Here’s a little snippety-bit of a scene I wrote this morning, from a larger work-in-progress called Dear Billy… This scene is set in 1996.

 

Harriet’s dancing self-consciously in the kitchen, still with bottle in hand and white dress looking only slightly worse for wear. Mark catches me watching him watch her and smiles, but only with his mouth. He pushes himself up from his doorway lean and moves over to me.

‘How are you still so compos mentis while your friends are completely wasted?’

‘Who said I was compos mentis?’ I’m not entirely sure what it means, but it doesn’t sound like how I’m feeling right now. The room is spinning gently and I’ve been standing at the kitchen bench gorging on corn chips like an animal.

‘You look very together. You can hold your booze.’ I can’t tell if it’s admiration or accusation as he looks me up and down.

‘I haven’t had that much to drink,’ I lie.

Mark leans across the bench towards me, which forces me to lean in too, his warm whispery breath is on my cheek and I close my eyes. The room spins more predictably now. Like I’ve tuned into the rhythm of it and it kind of makes sense. His voice is soft and low.

‘Most of the people here are morons, Sam Knox. Killing off their brain cells and flailing around.’

I smile, but keep my eyes closed, keep still. His breath smells boozey and smokey. He uses words no one else does.

‘I’m not saying I’m any better than any of them, Sam, but you probably are. You look like someone with better things to do.’

I open my eyes and shake my head, ‘No, no I’m having fun. It’s a good party.’

Mark grins at my protest, ‘you don’t have to be polite. Parties can be stupid. Wanna go for a walk?’

Outside I think about the cuddly jersey lying on the floor of my room. At least I have stockings on, but my skirt is short and jacket open.

‘Love the Soundgarden t-shirt, by the way.’ Mark says this without looking at me but puts his arm out just in time for me to grab as my shoe fails beneath me.

‘Thank you.’

Ant gave me the t-shirt for our four month anniversary, but something stops me from adding that piece of information. I mean it would be the perfect opportunity to mention my boyfriend. I let go of his arm.

‘Maybe walking wasn’t the best idea.’ He looks at me now. There’s that slightly creepy edge again and I wonder if it’s actually just how he smiles. ‘Those are very high shoes.’

It’s true, but his noticing makes me feel silly and girly. Who am I tonight anyway?

At the end of the street is a small park. There’s something invigorating about the cold air and starless night. Mark holds the end of a see-saw down for me and I get on, hitching my skirt high without even thinking about it. He gets on the other end and slowly bends his knees to lift and lower me. My feet don’t quite touch the ground when I’m in the air and that moment of lost control makes my stomach flip a bit.

‘So what’s your life like, Sam Knox?’ Up.

‘My life?’ Down.

‘Yeah, your life. Is it good, bad, has life been kind so far?’

I give it a moment’s thought as my legs dangle. How can I even be the judge of that?

‘I guess life’s been kind. I mean my dad’s a jerk, but he hasn’t come round in a while. My mum’s cool and my brother’s super smart.’

‘Ah family eh. What about you though? Who are you?’

‘Ha I’m Sam Knox!’ It comes out louder than I mean it to and I quickly cover my mouth with my hand, losing balance on my end for a moment.

‘Woah! Are you okay?’ Mark asks but simultaneously jolts the see-saw. I squeal and grab on tight. He jolts again and my heart starts to pound.

‘Wait stop!’ He doesn’t. ‘Stop! I said stop!’

‘Okay sorry, sorry.’ He straightens his legs so he’s at the top and I’m on the ground catching my breath. ‘You’re okay?’

I quickly clamber to my feet before he can move us again. My end of the see-saw rises and Mark ends up on the ground.

‘I’m okay.’ I look beyond him to the dark tree shapes, their leafy tops flailing gently.

‘Sam Knox.’ He says. ‘You’re Sam Knox.’ When I look at him he’s smiling, eyes and all. I almost smile back.

Bio

Mostly it’s easy, the days I mean

text book teaching senior biology

free periods in the staffroom. It’s a good life

I state as fact, not like saying, ‘she’s lovely…’

an epigraph to the gossip I write.

 

Suspicious of superlatives, endlessly

but hard-wired for romance

tell me I’m capable, resourceful, reliable

adore the way I follow through with things I say I’ll do

let my eyes be an after-thought.

 

And I’m probably on the brink again

because what else is there to do with this

flesh-covered universe we call body?

System of lungs and blood and gravity

tugging at us to love.

 

Anyway, turn to p80 that picture of the genome

looking to you like Dante’s hell

long-limbed chromosomes

tumbling headless towards a fiery cell

because you’re still sixteen

and haven’t understood any of this.

 

 

Vitamins

(hello) apparently there’s only so much

the body can absorb

excess passes through the system

pointless, flushed

 

I overdo it anyway, hedging my bets as always

conversation plates spinning across platforms

waiting for someone to fall

for me, me for them

 

now here I am living in the cadence

of your poetry

like a blush of tulips brought to my door

when I thought I just needed tissues

 

soft & gentle steeped in aloe vera, but still

just tissues I thought.

 

So I’ll learn to accept chocolate bunnies

perhaps even eat them – and the deeper meaning of emojis

(am I really so awkward, so unused to sweetness?)

 

Run through thunder to hear you read

make plans to catch trains irl platforms

irl smiles, trade a giggle for the view across your pillows.

 

Lonesome When You Go – on tour!

 

Lonesome When You Go is on tour this week around some of NZ’s top children’s book blogs!

The tour comes hot on the heels of Lonesome receiving a Storylines Notable Book Award – one of only two Young Adult novels this year! It was such a great ceremony to be part of and I personally had an amazing weekend in Auckland catching up with family and meeting some of the other wonderful writers, publishers and supporters of NZ literature.

Lonesome at StorylinesThe tour includes interviews with me and began yesterday with a review at Kids Books NZ. The schedule for the rest of the week is:

Lonesome When You Go is published by Makaro Press and can be found and purchased here!

The Lonely City – Olivia Laing

the-lonely-cityA couple of months ago I was looking up my book, Lonesome When You Go (as you do), and was directed to a Loneliness Quiz. It was the end of a tough year having moved to a new country and struggled to make meaningful connections or feel at home. I scored very highly on the quiz and my results suggested I should be concerned for my well-being. It made me feel even sadder, but prompted me to really examine the issue – what is it that makes me such a solitary creature? Am I okay with it? Will it pass? And why, in this huge city full of writers, musicians, artists and people with similar backgrounds to me have I continued to find connection and friendship so elusive and difficult?

During that tough year I found myself reading about all sorts of things, from Synchronicity to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; books on Mastery, depression, loss, love. Both fiction and non-fiction books seemed to be all about searching for meaning and understanding ourselves and our relationship to others.

Most pertinent of all of these was The Lonely City by Olivia Laing. With the subtitle ‘Adventures in the Art of Being Alone’ and a purple night sky cover (a similar image to my phone’s background: the sky I snapped on my 35th birthday, as it happens), this book was already a favourite.

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Lonesome Moon: The night sky on Saradha’s 35th birthday

Laing ruminates poetically on some of my own queries and, in particular, the nature of loneliness through her own experience of living heartbroken in New York in her mid-thirties. She ponders the way society views loneliness and questions the belief that “our whole purpose is as coupled creatures, or that happiness can or should be a permanent possession.” I often hear it said that humans are social creatures, our purpose is to connect with others and thus be fully realised ourselves. The fact that this isn’t always possible can be troubling, but I found comfort in Laing’s acceptance of this state and discussion on how it can serve a purpose of its own. She asks “What does it mean to be lonely? How do we live, if we’re not intimately engaged with another human being?”

Quoting Virginia Woolf, Laing writes, “Woolf described an inner loneliness that she thought might be illuminating to analyse, adding: ‘If I could catch the feeling, I would: the feeling of the singing of the real world, as one is driven by loneliness and silence from the habitable world.’” Suggesting that there’s more to this feeling than a lack of something. It can perhaps be used to enhance our experience of reality.

Through her solo exploration of New York City, Laing focuses on the artists who have walked and documented the same streets. Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, Henry Darger and David Wojnarowicz all feature heavily and are connected through their shared experience of difficult childhoods, being outsiders and making art that examines loneliness felt amid a crowded city. The link between art and loneliness is strong and Laing’s fascination turns it into an art form itself.

Sometimes a book comes along that makes you feel better about being the you you are. Just as Susan Cain’s Quiet cemented my understanding of my own introversion some years ago, The Lonely City made me feel remarkably less alone; less worried about a state that, whether or not it’s fundamental to my very personality, will come and go and always lead to something creative or examinable. I’ve definitely been working on it, but see it now as less a failure to experience and more an experience all of its own.

(I just did the quiz again and have gone down from extreme loneliness, to moderate loneliness. I’ll be okay.)

 

Paterson.

red-wheelbarrow

Did we depend on you too much, old red? / The rain water soaked through / And the chickens / Where are they now?

Things you probably already know about me:

  1. I like poetry – not just the words, but the poetry of circumstance, scenery, synchronicity, people
  2. I like to make reference to William Carlos Williams poems, especially in my Instagram feed
  3. I value gentleness and am on a quiet crusade to revolutionise the world thusly.

this-is-just-to-saySo you’ll not be surprised to learn that Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson is my new favourite movie.

It’s a poem in itself structured with stanzas like days of the week, repetition that imbues deeper meaning with each encounter, a homage to the poetry of lives being lived without judgement or drama. There’s ambiguity, subtlety and I’m sure it would reward re-watching, just as there’s always more to be gleaned from re-visiting a good poem.

Paterson drives the bus in Paterson, New Jersey – the home of WCW and Allen Ginsberg. Lines of poetry pace through his head as he walks to work and he writes them in his notebook sitting at the wheel in the morning.  It’s a quietly persistent art form that exists in his every day – the conversations he overhears, the familiar scenes of his home town – contrasted perhaps by his quirky and lovely Laura who expresses her artistry by staying home painting the curtains, the walls, decorating cupcakes and buying a “Harlequin” guitar to match her aesthetic. The bold black and white is hard to miss, but she’s just as gentle and poetic as Paterson and the sweetness of their relationship is one of the most heartening aspects of this film.

I totally believe poetry is the antidote to a high-conflict society, where everything makes us mad and nothing is ever good enough. The calm world of Paterson reminds us, but doesn’t indulge that we have been conditioned to expect drama and conflict in movies and in life; secrets being kept, relationships falling apart, tempers flaring (spoiler: the bus doesn’t burst into flames). Life doesn’t have to be like that. Instead we can simply do our jobs, be kind to each other, walk the dog and look at the world through a poet’s eyes. How lucky is that?

Perpetuating the Patriarchy by Keeping the Peace

Women,

We feel strong and independent, in control because we earn our own money, make decisions for ourselves, take charge, have friendships, maintain good relationships with our families, make time for the things that nourish us, but until we stop indulging and forgiving the following behaviour from men I don’t see how the patriarchy will ever be smashed:

  • The ex who takes liberties with your child’s custody arrangements
  • The younger brother who decides not to pay you rent because you earn more than he does
  • The friend who calls himself a feminist, insists on mutual respect, but also flirts with other women behind his partner’s back, sometimes sleeps with them
  • The friend who doesn’t believe in feminism
  • The man who broke your heart, but you stay friends with because that’s what he wanted
  • The guy who messages you daily, trying to form a connection even though he’s in a relationship with someone else
  • The guy you keep responding to out of politeness
  • The father who never visits, but expects you to want to visit him
  • The partner you tip-toe around because his reaction to your feelings will be worse than your feelings.

I haven’t always done the right thing in some of these situations and I can see how damaging that is for all women and it sends completely the wrong message to the men involved. So smash with me!

  • Hire a lawyer and lay down the law on that ex
  • Insist on a fair contribution, since the younger brother enjoys many other benefits from a society geared towards men
  • Call the friend out on his behaviour
  • Never accept misogyny
  • Cut contact if your heart is still hurting or set your own terms for a friendship
  • Tell him to stop, he has no right and it’s not fair on the other woman
  • Stop. You don’t owe anyone “politeness”
  • Ask him to make the effort this time
  • Make it clear to him that your feelings are valid and if he can’t hear and hold them, he can’t be with you.

It’s easy to listen to the excuses and apologies and slip back into our well-trained ways of putting up with things we’re not comfortable with to keep the peace, but women keeping the peace while men do whatever they want is exactly what needs to change.

“To be alive and to be a ‘writer’ is enough.” (Katherine Mansfield)

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Saradha as Virginia Woolf

It’s been a difficult couple of months. Individually, universally. Hell, it’s been a tough few years if you really want to start scraping back through it all and trying to remember the last time you sat still, looked around at your personal, professional and creative life and thought, Yeah, things are okay. I wish I’d made better note of those moments of contentment, but perhaps that would have shifted them out of the present and it’s being present in those moments that makes one content.

I’ve been counting words – proud of a year spent launching a novel and working on two more. Gathering poems into a third collection and reading everything I can find. But in there somewhere I lost count. Lost track of how to hold onto what was mine, lost count of the number of job applications, inquiries and rejection letters, the social interactions cancelled or rain-checked beyond redemption. I can’t bear to try and count the heartbreaks and moments of self-doubt of the last few years.

I have, however, counted the flights. 21 international flights in the last two years, 10 since moving to Melbourne. There have been adventures and family celebrations and always something good waiting at each end – but counting and losing count has made me exhausted.

My last flight back to Wellington landed 24 hours before the 7.8 quake last month and as lovely as it was to see my family and friends and know they wanted me there so they could check in, hug me and try to settle me after what felt like a complete life-fail, I got the strong sense Wellington was trying to shake me free. Again.

But slowly the after-shocks stopped and things seemed to shuffle into a shape I could make sense of. The feeling that home wasn’t quite home anymore, the outrage or compassion my friends expressed on my behalf at the situation I’d found myself in, the daily routine and purpose my brother provided and the obstacle-ridden journey my mum endured to come and see me, care for me and give me a copy of Sarah Laing’s Mansfield and Me all helped me feel like me again.

There’s something pretty special about Sarah’s book. Reading about her journey juxtaposed with that of our shared literary hero, Katherine Mansfield, reminded me of what I need: To stop counting, stop flying, sit still again and write. To be somewhere that could become home, somewhere bright, open, flat and stable beneath the feet. Somewhere I can keep putting my words down, one after the other and build something, anything, that looks like a life. And sure I need love and connections; to be honest with the people around me, to ask for help and show others I can help them too, but right now I just need to stay alive and to write.

Back in Melbourne and every day I feel slightly different. Last week, when the moment felt right, I cycled round to look at a spare room in a cottage on Mansfield Street. Stained-glass bay window, picket fence. In Thornbury, but it would not be out of place in Thorndon. I thought of Sarah moving to New York and Katherine moving to London and me, now, with all this hope and determination despite what feels like months of disappointment.

So I’ve moved to Mansfield Street, into a room of my own. The wifi’s dodgy and we don’t have a kettle, but my optimism is boundless. It surprises me sometimes.