Learning to love Blue and Lonesome When You Go are both available right now – try your favourite online store, request them at your local library and bookstore, or send a message to Saradha here. Thanks for watching!
On a good day I’ll remember my mask
after I’ve shut the door
go back inside for it and realise
the sun pushes lace and leaf
shadows around my daughter’s room
toys spread carefully
on a good day
I’ve spent an hour or two forgetting
I’ll need a mask if we go out there.
After having four books published through small independent publishing houses in New Zealand I have just released my first self-published title. My experiences have all been positive, but have ranged widely from the quintessential bookstore book launch, to crowd funding, to author collaboration and carrying boxes of books home to sell myself.
I decided to self-publish Learning to love Blue as it’s the sequel to my debut YA novel Lonesome When You Go and was proving tricky to find a home for. I was also curious about the self-publishing process.
Thanks to some very supportive Facebook groups and an inheritance from my grandparents, I was able to figure out an approach that seemed, well, approachable. I chose to use Ingramspark’s print on demand service, and set up the imprint Record Press
I was interviewed by my self(publisher) over on Medium – have a read!
Taylor brings me a drink and then takes a guitar off someone mid-strum. He starts playing out a familiar riff – The Strokes’ ‘Someday’ and soon we’re all singing it together, tapping out accompanying beats. I wonder if it’s like this here every night.
Why didn’t I just go back to sleep and catch the tram to work in the morning like a civilised normal person? I’ve slept on couches before. I could have handled it.
I start humming ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ to myself, walking along my own road, taking comfort in the ‘it’s all right’ part. It’s also the best song about moving on ever written.
I’m humming, and it takes a few minutes to recognise the tune as one off Blue. The one about a flight, set to a frenetic beat that I tap out anxiously on the armrest. I watch the animation of the plane creeping to the edge of the Tasman Sea, closer towards Wellington. The familiar shape of New Zealand on the screen gives me a strange surge of patriotic comfort.
As I park my bike and lock it to the railing, I hear a busker outside the shopping centre. He’s playing The Smiths, ‘There Is a Light That Never Goes Out’– one of the darkest and yet most optimistic songs ever. I walk closer and realise that not only are the lyrics familiar, but the voice is too. It’s Taylor.
‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ is blaring out of Lou’s room. She’s been playing Simon and Garfunkel all day and I have reached my absolute limit.
I storm through her door.
She’s sitting cross-legged on her bed with her eyes closed and the most blissed-out expression on her face. Is she meditating? With this racket going on? She seems to sense my presence and holds up a hand to silence my not-yet-uttered protest. Then, as if conducting me, she moves her hand in a welcoming gesture, drawing me into the room and pointing to the seat next to her. There’s half a beat’s pause in the song and then the next verse starts, the crescendo rising again. There’s no use trying to speak, so I sit and close my eyes with Lou, let the song fill me. God, I hate Simon and Garfunkel.
Lou flips through some CDs and puts one in her chunky old Sony stereo.
‘I love that you have a CD collection,’ I tell her, my voice calming.
‘I love CDs. They’re so old school. Listen to this.’ She hits play and something familiar, yet strange and synthy starts playing.
‘What is this? Is that an accordion?’ Drums burst out like controlled explosions.
‘This is “The Boy In the Bubble”, from Paul Simon’s Graceland. This is his best solo album.’
His choir boy voice has changed into something stronger, and there’s a sense of urgency and an optimism in the rising major shifts.
‘After he split with Art Garfunkel, his career was dwindling and he got very depressed, but then he had a stroke of genius in the mid-80s and wrote this album in South Africa. It’s my number one top favourite album of all time,’ Lou says.
I raise my eyebrows at her. ‘Really?’
I pull out Blue. ‘Now this is one I’m still learning to love,’ I say as I slide the vinyl out of the sleeve and place it gently on the turntable. ‘Last year when my mum came to visit, she gave me this album. It’s her favourite. Dad must have said something about me liking records, but I was surprised she liked something so folky. She says it’s poetry.’
I set the needle down and ‘All I Want’ jangles out with the determined, sweet, melancholic first chords.
‘Too cheesy?’ I ask.
‘Just cheesy enough. Where is he? He should be throwing himself into your arms after that.’
I bend down to retrieve my scarf. ‘I don’t know.’
‘Ah,’ Caz’s tone changes.
‘It’s like a Pixies song,’ she says, nodding towards something behind me.
I turn and there he is. Caz pats my shoulder and slips away.
He’s gorgeous, a dimply smile twinkling like the fairy lights. ‘Paige …’ he starts.
I’m on the brink of pulling out of the Alanis tribute show when I turn up to work and Jagged Little Pill is playing.
‘Who put this on?’ I ask, before I even greet anyone.
‘It’s on random,’ Caz winks at me.
‘No it’s not. And this would never be on a Vinyl playlist anyway. It’s nowhere near Triple-J enough for us.’ It cheered me up a bit though. Caz starts singing along to the chorus of ‘You Learn’ rather melodramatically. I laugh and join in.
I’m listening to Blue and tapping on my phone when Spike appears in my bedroom doorway.
‘Is this Joni Mitchell?’ He puts down his guitar case and lies next to me on my bed.
‘Yeah, ‘My Old Man’. One of my favourites.’
We’re pretty messy and I don’t blame the passers-by for passing on by, but it’s so much fun. We run through our living room repertoire: Dylan, Nirvana, our Alanis song. I try the opening chords of Joni’s ‘All I Want’, but give up. That one’s going to need more practice. We sing our way through Ryan Adams’ ‘To Be Young’ – Spike loses it trying to do falsetto in the bridge and I get the lyrics all mixed up.
Before we took our masks off
we took them on and off
off when out and on when in…
before we took them off when out
we wore them all the time.
Who knows how fresh the air was
as we walked around the block
in case we encountered
another half concealed self.
But before we wore them all the time
our masks weren’t even real
we carried them with us as
a cliched metaphor, lazy
description of the nuances
of human interactions
O, the masks we wear, they’d say
and you’d be too bored
to even roll your eyes.
Before it was a cliche though
it was probably quite a good metaphor.
Not brilliant, but apt enough
to be used into a cliche we could hide
more subtle, smising thoughts behind.
Everything comes together in November. The sun comes out and the house stays warm through the night. Cases in Victoria descend to zero and remain there for days and then weeks. Trump loses. There are no euphemisms for this and no hyperbole too great. It feels like the embarrassed silence after months of heated shouting, like waking up from a terrible night’s sleep, grateful it’s morning. We become giddy with these glimmers of okayness. I feel like crying when we meet up with friends at the beach after hundreds of days of isolation and when we first go to a cafe for lunch, we make friends with every wide-eyed person there. We book a holiday out of town – a rebooking of a twice cancelled trip from July. Everything went pear-shaped around July.
In the beginning, I felt a strange camaraderie with the world. We made jokes about running out of toilet paper and people across continents would laugh. The mention of isolation boredom and work pyjamas had wide reaching ripples of knowing nods. Suddenly everyone in the world had something in common. Then jokes gave way to fear and anger and things got worse, of course, before they got any better. Or they briefly appeared to be better before they got much worse.
Relief that 2020 is coming to an end is understandable, the need to draw a line under it – through it even – as we collectively agree it was nothing like we’d planned, but I feel a pang every time someone says what a terrible year it has been, even though I know it has been devastating for so many. In our family alone we lost a dear parent and attended the funeral by zoom, we had illness, we had disappointment and we mourned the absence of friends and family as we tried to show our new baby the joys of the world we brought her into. But 2020 is special to me. When I mention this to a friend in the park, gesturing grandly towards my baby, she says “No mud, no Lotus, right?” and I google the phrase later at home.
This was the year that started with Lotus’ birth, my mum here for ten days prior and ten days after and my brother making a hasty appearance just in time to meet her minutes after she emerged. It’s the year my dad delayed his flight to Nepal so he could meet his new grandchild and the year so many other beautiful babies – Lotus’ friends – were born into villageless isolation.
It’s the year Lotus learnt to crawl. First her own invention, a kind of dry-land butterfly stroke – flopping and dragging her body around the house we moved into in August, then figuring out the more energy efficient version on hands and knees, squeals of delight as she became mobile. It’s the year she learnt to clap her hands, eliciting praise and excitement from her parents, looking at us in turn as she does it, knowing we’ll be delighted. The year she learnt to sleep the entire night, settle herself back again on waking or stand in her cot to call out she’s ready to get up. 2020 will always be the year Lotus started pointing at things she liked, things she wanted, things she recognised and things we asked her to. Every day she shows us the patterns of light on the walls from windows covered with trees or lace curtains. Her full cheeks rise into the biggest smile when she finds even the faintest impression of shadow and bright. There are rainbows in our living room in the afternoon and she will find them before anyone else can. In the mornings, she pulls books off her shelf and hands them to me one by one to read to her as she turns the pages, points at the illustrations and sometimes says “baby!” if there’s a baby on the page. It’s the year she made friends with babies. This year is the year Lotus first called me “Mumum” and her dad “Papa”, the year she started singing along as I play guitar and nodding her head to her favourite songs.
2020 was terrible, but I won’t cross it off. It’s the year we realised how lucky we are, never again taking simple things like going out for breakfast or having visitors for granted. We hunkered down through winter, solving sleep issues with only as many tears as it took to scramble from our bed to hers. We never had to figure out the logistics of how to get baby, pram, nappy bag to this thing or that thing. There were no things to try and get to.
Soon, and I’m sure of this, we will be able to see our families again. My mum will come from New Zealand the moment she’s allowed, my dad will have to find his way back from Nepal and our newish little family will have planes to catch to see Lotus’ uncles, aunts, cousins and grandmas. We have lost people and there will be time again to grieve and process this. Somewhere in the midst of this chaotic year I turned 40, quietly and with a carefully planned glass of champagne. Everything falls slowly into place in November and this blurry and intense, forgettable year is the most memorable of my life.
Sometimes I’m that puzzle you bought from an op-shop
five dollars. You looked so pleased holding it under your arm
a rubber band snapped tight around the cardboard box
seasonally appropriate image of red and yellow
leaves above a thick black river.
When we spread it on the kitchen table and sifted
pieces through fingers, fingers through pieces
we couldn’t find a single edge to get us started
– not a single edge or corner – five bucks, sure
but it was hard not to feel let down.
There are times on the train when young men sit near
and speak softly to each other in the familiar cadence
of my father’s language. I want to tell them I know
I’m related to them, just look at my name
but it’s a language I only recognise by sound.
Or when I hand over my keep cup and the vowels
of the barista are clipped like mine, hanging pounamu
and I want to say bro, we’re bonded, secret handshake
but there are hundreds of us here
with nothing remarkable about our easy migration.
Anyway, it turns out you can still put a puzzle together
when the edges are missing, but it’s harder to trust the process
harder to immerse yourself in the task
when you don’t really know if the bit you’re looking for
is lost in someone else’s living room miles from here.
The trick is to start from the middle.
Work your way from the bright centre of autumnal leaves
towards forested outskirts, like an ever-expanding universe
trying not to think what will happen
there will be no spare pieces left.
I keep my judgements to myself, mostly
a cat claw stuck in the baby’s sleeve
causes more tears
than her top teeth pushing through gums
those stubborn numbers
finally in sharp descent.
Clusters form from a reckless traveller
while we focus on enjoying bath time
and every playground we can walk to.
I turn the pram around so she faces
the world head on.
I must be feeling optimistic.
Not knowing about thresholds
the step into the sunroom becomes
a literal tipping point
each morning, firm pats on a patient cat
until the patience of the cat snaps too.
Every morning I check the numbers:
Covid cases and hours of sleep.
Try to focus on the rolling average forest
not the trees, though they blossom and bud.
It’s been a year of seasons.
I mean, of course it has, but so much so this time.
We spent money on woollen things to wrap around us
and from this end of it all I’m glad
to have hunkered down through the worst of it.
Hair growing unruly and the same two outfits.
I buy sparkly skirts in preparation
for whatever good things are surely about to happen
and on the morning after Lotus first sleeps
straight through twelve of the night’s twelve hours
I walk to the corner store for bread and eggs
feeling extraordinarily ordinary
back to some baseline normality
and the forest is not fogged,
but a dappling canopied, mossy floored space
letting wind and light breathe through.
Each night in the new house I farewell former lives
through broken sleep dreams.
Spot a high school crush, now mid-forties
soft about the jaw, the soft hue of his roots.
Old partners with mail they’d neglected to redirect
challenge me to a game in the penny arcade.
Night after night the past appears
asking if I’m sure, and I’m sure
I wake to my baby again and again
fall asleep to reply
I choose the life I wake to
I wake to this life and I choose it
again and again and again.