Reluctance

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In this newsletter:
*** Living in the Wairarapa
*** News & Current Projects
*** Book Review: Lavinia by Ursula K Le Guin

Living in the Wairarapa

I find myself reluctant to write this newsletter. For years it has been such an important tool for me to keep myself on track while I was sitting by myself in my house working on learning how to make pictures. A monthly account of work done and progress made. A way to keep in touch with friends and family, it was meant to be, but it became a personal diary for the whole internet to read. I'm not sure I want to do this any longer. Rephrase this: I'm pretty sure I don't.

The events of the last few years, the knowledge we have gained since Hillary Clinton's election defeat as to just how systematic and organized the trolling and deliberate misinformation on the internet are, the personal experience of being targeted by these people, all this is – I won't say frightening, but definitely off-putting. The happy early days of the internet, when you could build a global audience by punching code into a text editor, are well and truly over. It's long become too competitive, too exhausting, too much of pandering to Google and Facebook algorithms, too little substance. And that's not even going into how the internet is being used as a data mine to come up with strategies to influence not only buying behaviour, but elections.

For too long have I lived most of my social life online. My Facebook friends are not the ones who came to visit me in hospital when I had appendix surgery last month – even the ones who live local and could have made the trip. They're not the ones who have put me up at their house and fed me and looked after me during the weeks of a somewhat bumpy recovery. They're not the ones who turn up on my patch to help me stack my firewood, or fix my blocked gutter. They're not the ones who offer solid sensible advice as to how to deal with some of the crap I've been made to put up with. They're not the ones who speak up on my behalf. The sympathy and encouragement they have been offering starts to taste shallow when it is never followed up by any action.

It is a time factor, also. There was a time when sending out this newsletter would actually translate into sales from my online shop. These days, I write into the void. I have no idea if more than a small handful of close friends and family actually read this. It does not lead to anything. Not sales, not income, not opportunities to showcase my work, not job offers, not help with the issues I'm facing and writing about. It just keeps me up late at night on a regular basis and messes with my sleep rhythm, and that's an unhealthy habit I really need to quit.

I'm moving on. I'm focusing myself on the here and now rather than hanging on to a past I can't go back to – and probably wouldn't if I could. I don't need a global audience. I just need to make a living. I've met new people. I've undertaken new tasks. They are activities I won't write about publicly on the internet, people whom I won't use as fodder for my writing. These are healthy boundaries to have.

So what can I still write about? Newsworthy things: in February, our humble ANZAC hall was the chosen venue for a Chinese Opera performance. Who would have thought. I've seen Chinese Opera before, but that would have been in my music student days in Berlin at a big international festival, or while I was studying musicology in London, or when I visited Singapore.

Turns out that one of our town's new residents is a retired professor of Chinese language. One of his former students, Tang Yuen-ha, is a prominent performer of Chinese Opera and runs her own opera company in Hong Kong. Voila! There is a whole opera company coming to visit Featherston.

The turn-out was substantial, and the audience was receptive and appreciative. I've seen Chinese Opera before but I am by no means an expert. Still, it was clear that these were some top notch performers. There was a standing ovation in the end.

Maybe we should have a baroque opera performance next. Any takers?

Chinese Opera performance at ANZAC hall in Featherston Chinese Opera performance at ANZAC hall in Featherston Chinese Opera performance at ANZAC hall in Featherston Chinese Opera performance at ANZAC hall in Featherston Chinese Opera performance at ANZAC hall in Featherston Chinese Opera performance at ANZAC hall in Featherston Chinese Opera performance at ANZAC hall in Featherston Chinese Opera performance at ANZAC hall in Featherston

Chinese Opera performance at ANZAC hall in Featherston



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Astrid Nielsch at the Big Wai Art Sale, Carterton, Wairarapa Astrid Nielsch at the Big Wai Art Sale, Carterton, Wairarapa Astrid Nielsch at the Big Wai Art Sale, Carterton, Wairarapa Astrid Nielsch at the Big Wai Art Sale, Carterton, Wairarapa

New digital print: Tui by Astrid Nielsch

News and Current Projects

The new art season in the Wairarapa is kicking off with a vengeance. In my new position as editor of the Wai Art newsletter, I now know about everything that's going on.

My property didn't quite make the cut for the Wairarapa Art & Garden trail which has been put together by the indefatigable Anna Marie Kingsley, and is premiering this Easter weekend while I write this. But I put my hand up as a volunteer, and will be collecting entry fees and discouraging parents from bringing small children, on a property that features some alpacas.

More importantly, the art show at Pukaha Mt. Bruce is now in its fifth year and has already become a fixed point on the local art calendar. This year you can vote for your most favourite piece and there's a price to be won! (hint, hint...)

It's a much bigger show this year with lots of entries, and it's nice to see that there is more experimental work: from pop surrealism to collages, lino cuts to at least one completely abstract piece, it's a much more varied show than in previous years, when the focus was much on naturalistic birds and beasts and flowers.

Mind you, I like naturalistic birds and flowers. I do naturalistic birds and flowers once in a while, sort of. My latest digital piece Tui got finished just in time for the show – having appendix surgery in late February was not exactly part of my plan. But, I managed, and am pleased with how it has turned out. It's the third piece in what I intend to become a series of New Zealand native birds. I've exhibited (and sold) the other two, Piwakawaka and Kotuku, at Pukaha in the previous two years. Fingers crossed, then.

I've also completed the second in a pair of landscape pieces. Another thing that has series potential. The two prints were supposed to go in the Pukaha show, but apparently the string I'd glued onto the back for hanging, came off, so that was a no go. I'll be working on my framing, hanging, and general presentation skills in the next few months. About time, now that I am getting into the swing of exhibiting quite regularly.

Next up on the calendar is our very own Wairarapa Art Sale in Featherston. I'm not on the committee this year – I wasn't sure if I should offer, given the other responsibilities I have taken on, and then my appendix made that decision for me. But I will have work in the show – unless the organizers got so cross with me that they won't have me, that is.

New digital print: Wairarapa Backroads I New digital print: Wairarapa Backroads II Artist in front of new work, Paintings at Pukaha

New digital prints: Wairarapa Backroads I * Wairarapa Backroads II * Artist in front of new work @ Paintings at Pukaha

ConArt in Masterton is ticking over and I have been finding modest amounts of money in my bank account these last couple of months, for posters and cards that have sold in their retail space.

Once a year, I find a hundred dollars from CD Baby. Some person in Cardiff has wanted to order a big stack of my harp sheet music books, for a retail store specializing in harp music.

This is how I found out that one of my music books – Baroque Delights – is now on the syllabus for the non pedal harp grade exams from Trinity College of Music. There you go: harp immortality achieved, and all before I even turned 51. On to bigger and better things!

If I can manage to survive until I am entitled to New Zealand Super, I might yet have a reasonably comfy old age. To help me achieve this goal, I would really quite like to sell my Martin Haycock Gothic harp. It's a 25 string late medieval/renaissance style harp built by one of the pioneers of the early harp revival, back in 1985 or thereabouts. The harp has bray pins except on the two top strings, and has a fine sound, though it is a bit more solid in build than some of the more recent copies of this style of harp.

You can hear the harp on a few tracks on my CDs: "Lament for Gandalf", on the Travels in Middle-earth CD  – Suite from "musicalische Rüstkammer" and "Amoroso", on the 700 Years of Pop CD – and the Faenza codex piece "Rosetta che non cançi mai colore", on the Rent a Nightingale CD.

Asking price is NZ$ 2000 or equivalent, or best offer, plus shipping. Please email me for more details – and please pass this on.

Street scenes in Featherston Street scenes in Featherston Street scenes in Featherston Street scenes in Featherston Street scenes in Featherston Street scenes in Featherston Street scenes in Featherston

Street scenes in Featherston



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Book Review: Lavinia by Ursula K Le Guin

Lavinia is the last novel Ursula Le Guin wrote. There is a fullstop behind this sentence now. The author died on 22 January after a period of ill health, at the age of 88 years. She used to say she wanted to live to 85. She has overshot her mark by three years, then.

The news did not come as a shock. No reason for a sense of tragedy, when someone dies a natural death at this age. I am sure she would have been the first to agree. I have not felt compelled to pour out my grief on the internet.

There was a time when it would have hit me harder, but have moved on to other things. I would no longer devote myself for considerable periods of time to paint images from someone else's imagination. I now paint images from my own mind, thank you very much. Lately I have taken to painting things that are in front of my eyes, which is also a valid exercise, of a different kind.

I have slowly distanced myself from fannishness and the world of fantasy and speculative fiction. "Escapism" is an accusation that gets leveled at it often, and the last few years have taught me why this is indeed a problem. My friends and acquaintances in the local art and fandom scene have not been the ones who have stood by my side when things got rough. That has been left to people whom some of my artsy-lefty friends would eye with suspicion.

Not to mention that I am decidedly put off by the greed and xenophobic hostility that has grown out of this seed, in the country that once styled itself as "The Shire". I have absolutely no use for the misogyny and disdain for "social justice warriors" and "political correctness" that has taken hold, or for the cult of celebrity and financial success that goes with it. Quite the opposite of what Ursula le Guin herself has stood for so staunchly all her life.

But grief is there, as there always is when a good thing comes to an end. Tears came when I visited the author's old familiar website for the first time after her death – a site which has staunchly resisted the last couple of revisions of web design standards. The long list of heartfelt tributes, many of them from small and oddball publications and organizations and private individuals on their blogs, though the big newspapers in the US and elsewhere have not ignored her. I wonder who it is who always goes and changes the relevant Wikipedia article from present to past tense as soon as someone dies.

Summer holiday impressions from the East Coast, Hawkes Bay Summer holiday impressions from the East Coast, Hawkes Bay Summer holiday impressions from the East Coast, Hawkes Bay Summer holiday impressions from the East Coast, Hawkes Bay Summer holiday impressions from the East Coast, Hawkes Bay Summer holiday impressions from the East Coast, Hawkes Bay

Summer holiday impressions from the East Coast, Hawkes Bay

But back to my book review. Published in 2008, Lavinia is a literary exercise which does not comfortably fit any accepted genre, including that of "high literature", whatever that is. This is a feature the book shares with several other of Le Guin's works. The author herself has described it as a prose translation of the second half of Virgil's Aeneid. It is a riff on love and marriage, family and friendship, peace and war. On history, classical literature archeology, anthropology, archaic religious rites, postmodern intertextuality, and good housekeeping.

Always marriage, family, friendship, and housekeeping. These are themes Le Guin has made the central concern of a number of her books ever since Tehanu – finding ways to fit these non-linear, non-narrative, non-climactic life experiences into the format of something that we can classify as "a novel". Whatever exactly that is.

Lavinia is a virtuous woman, of the kind that most of our literary tradition has assigned a supporting role for the more interesting emotional struggles of a male hero torn between her, and a "femme fatale". Unlike the Carthagean Queen Dido, whose passionate affair with Aeneas and eventual suicide hog a large portion of Vergil's narrative. Dido's fate has fired imaginations for centuries to come. Lavinia is the founder mother of Rome, but not a memorable character in her own right.

Ursula Le Guin sets out to fix this. She paints a young woman who is self composed, pious, sensible, and dedicated to her duties to her gods, her family, her household, and her country. Her husband Aeneas is the love of her life but unlike literature's femme fatales, Lavinia is not passionate in a way that would make her push the rules of acceptable behaviour. It has been predicted to her that the marriage will last only three years, but rather than rallying against this, she is bent on making the most of the time she does have with her husband. When his death comes, she grieves deeply, but unlike Dido, she accepts his departure as inevitable.

After her husband's death, Lavinia dedicates herself to presiding over her household, raising her son Silvius, and being a political power behind the scenes in order to protect the interests of those dear to her, and to make sure that the law and the gods are honoured.

These are circumscribed, traditionally female roles, but Lavinia does not chafe under them. She accepts them, and while men make decisions over her life, she is not powerless. When she really needs to get her way, she invokes an oracle from the gods telling her to take a certain course of action.

Her breakaway from her duties and responsibilities are her regular visits to the oracle in Albunea, a forest wilderness with a thermal spring. Here, she communicates with the shadow of the poet Vergil – the writer who created her, and who lived and died centuries after her time. He is the other man in her life.

Ursula Le Guin creates a gritty, earthy picture of pre-Roman culture at a time when there was little that distinguished the people who would found one of the most influential civilizations in history, from other bronze age tribes. As always, her writing is deeply influenced by her family background in anthropology, her studies of classical antiquity, and by her feminism.

Ursula Le Guin's stance is that the problem with gender inequality is not so much that women aren't supposed to do certain male identified types of work, but with the fact that female identified work is not valued. She has always insisted that her own job description should read "I write and do house work". Running a household of many people, making sure that all the different types of work get done the right way and at the right times, is a complex and demanding task, like running a country on a smaller scale. But in our culture it is assigned the status of "not work", and the women who engage in it are supposedly not empowered.

This is an attitude that needs changing. Writing her last novel about a woman who is a housewife, wife and mother, and making the case that her life is interesting enough to keep the reader captured for close on 300 pages, is a perfectly fitting legacy for this great feminist and writer.

Wishing you a happy Easter holiday,

Arohanui, from Asni



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Easter Day at Onoke Spit, Wairarapa Easter Day at Onoke Spit, Wairarapa Easter Day at Onoke Spit, Wairarapa

Easter Day at Onoke Spit, Wairarapa