This idea – of memories in objects – is explored beautifully in Anna Smaill’s book The Chimes. You should read it if you haven’t already. It’s so original and a page-turner to boot.
Anyway, I wanted to let you know that it’s Winter Zine Fest at Thistle Hall, Cuba Street, Wellington, this Saturday 4 June between 12 and 5. I’m going to be there, selling the first chapter of Mansfield and Me: a graphic memoir if you want to have a sneak preview. Maybe I will also staple up some of my Let Me Be Frank comics – it depends on my finances! Anyway, come and say hi if you’re in town – I’d love to meet you.
Apologies to the vegetarians! I used to be a vegetarian and I feel like I still should be, but I’ve succumbed to my children’s demands and the fact that they don’t seem to be as enthusiastic about chickpeas and tofu as I am.
But – I am fascinated by my local butcher’s shop. It’s like going back to the 70s, before my mother turned our family vegetarian and we’d pop in for our wiener schnitzels and casserole beef, and the butcher would always give me a saveloy. The butchers know the customers by name, chat away and do meat deliveries to the old people in the neighbourhood. I was listening to poet Vincent O’Sullivan on Kim Hill last year, and he talked of his own butcher romance:
“I used to be fascinated by how [butchers] could both chat up their customers at the same time as doing things with knives and half carcasses and sliced luncheon. The whole business of going to a butcher’s shop as a child and later was always a curious treat that was partly aesthetic and partly it was just a bit of theatre.”
Also, I was struck by this random encounter Gus had. The moment the other boy turned up in the shop, there was something very familiar about him. He was just as bouncing-off-the-walls, talking-too-loudly-in-public-places as Gus was. Recently, I read Steve Silberman’s Neurotribes, and he explained that the reason why there were so many families in Sillicon Valley with autistic kids was because their parents recognised latent autistic traits in each other. I think that Gus and this boy quickly recognised that their brains were both wired in an amped-up way.
I have always felt a bit restless – I’m a nail biter, a fiddler. I imagine my life will be better if I lived in New York, Mexico, Vietnam. I wouldn’t be so nagged by ennui. I used to feel jealous of cigarette smokers because they had something to do in awkward social situations. They could concentrate on rolling, lighting, inhaling, blowing smoke rings and – all that nervous energy channeled – they’d have the best conversations at tea break. Or perhaps they weren’t having the best conversations, but it seemed like that was where the party was going on. There would be disclosures. Upstairs we were talking about the weather.
Now I have my phone – I can look at it whenever I feel bored or uncomfortable. The party is there, somewhere – I see evidence of it on Facebook and Instagram, I eavesdrop in Twitter. I read amazing articles about interesting ideas by people I’d like to know. I read interviews with writers; I listen to podcasts with Zadie Smith. I read too many articles. I read ones that make me feel like a bad mother. I read about how I could become more productive, or how I should be less productive. I feel slightly nauseous with all the articles I’ve read, like Oliver Jeffers’ book-eating boy, who consumes so many stories that nothing makes sense anymore.
My whole family is addicted to the internet. Right now Violet and Gus are watching Netflix and Otto is gaming downstairs. At six o’clock we’ve taken to hiding the modem. It should be the only way to stop us from gobbling up data. But of course I have a mobile plan and I cheat.
When I am hanging out with other people I don’t check my phone or the internet so much. When I have a deadline I also suspend my obsessive browsing. But mostly I work alone, or else I am watching children climb trees or waiting for them to put their shoes on (do you know how long that can take?!) and the temptation is too great.
I don’t know what I’m going to do about this. I suspect this is a form of growing pains – what’s the difference between phone surfing and my old days of reading newspapers and magazines? Now at least the music news isn’t three weeks old, having been sent over from England and the US. I don’t think I notice less because I am always looking for things to photograph. But maybe I just don’t know what I’m missing anymore.
At this point of time I do my best to distract Violet while I run off to put the money under her pillow and magic away the tooth. But since I was drawing this comic while she was around, I drew this alternate ending:
People don’t seem to draw drunks in children’s stories anymore, but I always loved the bit in Tintin, when either Captain Haddock, Tintin or Snowy had been drinking whiskey.
Also, I was experimenting with a different drawing style. I spent the past few years doing outlines in India ink and then watercolouring, but I really like a lighter line as well. This blog title is a homage to one of my favourite children’s books illustrators, Robert McClusky, and his tooth-losing tale, One Morning In Maine. I was also thinking of Freya Blackwood, who does the most beautiful pencil and ink illustrations, with lovely limited colour palettes.
These kind of conversations come up quite a lot these days – begging used to be rare in Wellington and Auckland and now it’s quite common. Does the government heaving people off the benefit and cutting social services have anything to do with it? Undoubtedly. As the local elections get closer, the right wing hopefuls are proposing a Rudy Giuliani-style sweep the homeless off the streets, with people like Nicola Young at the helm.
I showed Jonathan this comic and he said “that beggar looks like your dad”. So I added this little bit to the comic, the other thing that really bothers me:
Sometimes I think it’s easier not to overthink things. But if you don’t overthink things then your subconscious brain takes over and makes a whole lot of crap decisions and judgements.
It’s challenging to keep on making art in a world that views worth in terms of dollars. I make hardly any money as an illustrator and a writer – perhaps, if I were more ambitious, I would – but I feel like I am ambitious, just in all the wrong ways. I want what I do to have value but am constantly plagued with the thought that it doesn’t. Still, I keep on writing things and drawing things, hoping that they might bring someone pleasure, they might record something that others have missed, they might prompt somebody to think differently about the world. Or maybe art-making for me is some useless Pavlovian response. I see pen – I pick it up and draw. We will all soon be dead.
On Friday, it was reported that CNZ would have a cut in funding thanks to there being less Lotto money to go around this year. That made me feel depressed. Why is support for the arts dependent on gambling? Statistically more poor people gamble, and rich people in New Zealand are enjoying tax cuts. Large companies avoid paying tax, as so beautifully illustrated by Toby Morris. Couldn’t rich people pay a bit more tax and companies do a little less tax evasion so that arts, health, education, welfare and the environment could be properly supported in New Zealand?
Still, there’s that nagging feeling: if nobody wants to pay for my work, why should I expect the government to support it? I’m wondering if it’s some kind of Stockholm syndrome, the result of living for too long in a free market economy. I look at what my children want: YouTube clips, Netflix movies. They want stories but they want them to move and talk and sing. My son wants to become a YouTube celebrity. My daughter tells me that she never, ever wants to become a writer. What I make is too static, too quiet. Its value is too ephemeral and unmeasurable.
I would write more, but I have another load of washing to hang out.
I have gone off cafés. I don’t ever seem to be able to find any where I can buy myself or my kids stuff that feels healthy and a reasonable size.
It’s not that there isn’t plenty to eat – there is – but it all seems to be variations on high-sugar, high-carb or high-fat stuff that would put me, the diabetic, into sugar-induced lethargy and my children into a sugar-crazed cranky hyperactivity. There’s a retro love-affair with the Edmonds cookbook going on, mashed up with a McDonalds supersize mentality.
Is it too much to ask for, to able to choose small savoury or sweet treats where we can go through the ritual of sitting at a café, imagining that we are European, sipping coffee, nibbling on a little something and having conversations about the latest philosophers and YouTube clips and pop stars?
There’s also the children’s drinks question – the two choices seem to be either a sickly sweet hot chocolate with marshmallows or some oversized fizzy drink that has been branded the new evil and the cause of obesity.
When it comes down to it, K bars are relatively harmless about about 10 grams of sugar versus the 40 grams of sugar in a bottle of ginger beer.
I used to like getting scones or muffins to go with my flat white, but these have grown over the years – or maybe I’m less likely to split one with a friend, more likely to drink coffee alone – and I daren’t order them because they are carb bombs, softball-sized, meaning I have to inject myself with large amounts of insulin twice: the first time for the initial carb hit, the second time for all the carb that took its time to absorb thanks to the high levels of butter.
I really don’t hold with cookies the size of people’s heads. Maybe some people think they are getting their value for money, but I’m much more likely to be seduced by a little biscuit or pastry that costs half as much and I can imagine I might walk off on my way up the hill. And why are there so few savoury little somethings? There’s this perception that you have to have something sweet with coffee, but people drink coffee with their bacon-and-egg brunches, so obviously that impulse is misplaced. When my grandmother used to invite us for afternoon teas, the savouries always had to match the sweets.
So I was thinking about all the things I would like to see in New Zealand cafés, in the hope that other people might feel the same way and there would be a ground swell to end the tyranny of boulder muffins and paving stone slices. It did occur to me that what I really wanted was to go and live in Spain where it was okay to drink sherry and eat octopus at 10am in the morning.
What do you guys think? Am I alone in my café frustrations?