Saradha Koirala

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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.

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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.)

 

Slideshows

Signing and glass-of-wining…

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Reading and gesturing…

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How does it feel??

Paige and Lily from Lonesome When You Go react to The Dylan News:

 

“Lily! You heard the Bob Dylan news?” I’ve run up behind her and grabbed her by the arm. I must be looking a little panicked. She whitens.

“Oh my god, Paige don’t tell me. Not Dylan. I’m still grieving for Bowie. I can’t…” her bottom lip quivers.

“No! God no! He’s still alive and he just won the damn Nobel Prize for Literature.”

“Oh thank god!” she breathes, “My Dylan life just flashed before my eyes – the first time we listened to Blood on the Tracks all the way through, every time I’ve been feeling low and then heard a Dylan song in a shop or café or from a busker… that road trip… he’s really been there for me.”

“I know.” I give her a hug, before remembering my excitement. “He won the Nobel! Holy shit! A song-writer – a musician!”

“You’re right, this is huge! Wow. I’m going to briefly ignore the fact that it’s yet another white American male being held aloft and also the fact that most of his songs in the last thirty years have been terrible and focus on the musician as celebrated poet part.”

“Yeah, me too.”

“It’s really cool.” she grins.

It’s Friday morning and we’ve just entered the school grounds. I have Like a Rolling Stone running through my head – “how does it feel?” – and whistle the next line of organ melody aloud. Lily stops walking and thrusts an arm out at me.

“Shut up! I was just up to that part in my head too!” Her eyes widen and we stare at each other for a moment before bursting into laughter.

“I guess it’s pretty appropriate,” I say and we start singing it together, loudly and horribly, straining our voices on the lengthened vowels and ignoring the bemused looks from passing juniors. They probably only know Dylan songs from Miley Cyrus covers and references in young adult novels.

Musician as celebrated poet. I walk into class feeling like anything is possible today.

dylanesque-nod-to-the-poets

Saradha’s Dylanesque nod to the poets and poetic nod to the man himself.

The Persistence of Fiction

I’ve been insisting on the non-autobiographical nature of my novel for ages, but now I think I might actually be turning into my character. It’s okay though, she’s pretty cool. Yesterday I bought a second-hand Epiphone Les Paul Standard in sparkly blue and cream and although Paige in Lonesome When You Go is actually a bass player, there are substantial rumours circulating that there’s a sequel in the works in which she makes the switch to lead.

I’ve even found myself being ever-so-slightly more assertive, refusing to put up with histrionics in the staff room and flicking the hair from my eyes pointedly to signal the end of a conversation.

And of course I’ve been a long time plagiariser of Blood on the Tracks lyrics.

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Photo by Richard Wise

Perhaps this is proof that my fiction writing is just one step ahead of my real life desires, or perhaps life really is imitating art. It does happen. People look to literature – as readers and writers – for a better understanding of the world and themselves. I’ve always learnt something about myself through my own writing and, in lieu of safe, trustworthy and compassionate adults to talk to, people – especially young people – often look for emotional support by reading fiction.

I don’t think this means authors bear the burden of providing therapy or a safe and perfect world in their novels to which people can escape. Nor need they ensure their characters are ideal and consistently positive role models, but we do have a responsibility to keep in mind if we truly believe in what we do as writers. Otherwise what’s the point?

When I’m not writing or buying sweet axes, I’m a teacher. I have been for years. It’s given me a broad view of the world and an understanding that not everyone has the benefit of feeling safe all the time.

Sometimes I get to teach analysis of great literature, introduce students to writers and concepts that will hopefully stay with them as they take on the adult world. Often I get the pleasure of encouraging a young person to write something they never knew they were able to write. Other times I just read them books that help put feelings into words, their own emotional vocabularies so limited.

Always I stress the importance of language to our sense of self and well-being, and one day, maybe, I’ll even tell them about my secret life as a teenage rock star; how life is just an imitation of art imitating life.