Gratitude

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In this newsletter:
*** Gratitude
*** News and Current Projects
*** Cool Things Friends Do: Sorcerer by Geoffrey James
*** On the DVD Player: Inception

Gratitude

There is nothing like a bit of a health scare, to make one appreciate that simply being alive, is in and of itself a good thing. Never mind love, wealth, or fame, none of which I have achieved. When I was in hospital last month waiting for my gallbladder surgery, I was happy to simply look out the window and see the blue sky. I thought of the afternoons I have spent at Castle Point, basking in the sun, watching the light glitter on the water, bare feet splashing in the water, watching the breakers being blown into fantastical sea horse manes by the wind. I promised myself that I'd make a trip out there as soon as I was well again.

I thank all of you who have sent their well-wishes, from the bottom of my heart. It was comforting to know that there are so many people, spread out across at least three continents thinking of me and wishing me well. I needed that, when I was watching the stream of friends and family who was constantly surrounding some of the other patients. I love every one of you who has placed an order from my shop in the last couple of months. The best mood lifter I could imagine!

It is easy to get despondent when things have been difficult for a very long time. To allow the arrogance and narrow-mindedness of others to grind me down. To drown in a sense of futility, when I experience time and again that all those wonderful talents people keep telling l me I have, all that experience which must be valuable to someone, are not good enough reasons to support me in any practical way by giving me paid work.

The constant expectation that I will contribute my time and expertise free of charge – then being taken for a liar, when I try to apply for the social assistance I ought to have a right to. The nice thing about being in hospital was that it was a matter of course that they would keep me there and care for me until I was well again. Quite a different experience than WINZ!

Recently, I was told in so many words that I am not brown enough to have any of these problems. The implied racism of such a statement appalls me. The wild imagination that leads people to believe that because I have a flashy website and an education, I must have stacks of money. The perpetual demands that I should pay for the privilege of making the contributions which gained me my residence permit in this country in the first place.

Illness brings out the helpfulness in people. The neighbours here in Featherston have been very supportive. Someone offered to drive me to Masterton for my surgery, and pick me up again afterwards. Thank you so much, you know who you are. Other friends took it upon themselves to call me up in hospital and check on me, and pass updates on to my family, whom I had no way to reach while I was there. The lady at the supermarket checkout unpacked my trolley for me when she realized that it was causing me pain, and then carried my purchases to the car.

The lovely man who delivered my firewood, not only gave me a great mix of quality wood, for a distinctly lower price than I had previously paid another supplier: when I told him I'd recently had surgery, he stacked it all up for me! AND he built me a wood shelter out of a sheet of metal I had lying about, and some palettes which he contributed. It's been so nice and relaxing being sick, I wasn't sure I was all that keen to get healthy again in a hurry! But then again, work is waiting, and so is the garden.

Waves off the Wairarapa coast, toward Cape Palliser Waves off the Wairarapa coast, toward Cape Palliser Waves off the Wairarapa coast, toward Cape Palliser

Waves off the Wairarapa coast, toward Cape Palliser



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Sunflowers 1 by Astrid Nielsch Tomatoes by Astrid Nielsch Sunflowers 2 by Astrid Nielsch by Astrid Nielsch Pumpkin blossom by Astrid Nielsch by Astrid Nielsch

Garden flowers and vegetables: Sunflowers, Tomatoes, Pumpkin blossom

News & Current Projects

It won't come as much of a surprise to those of you who follow this newsletter, that work has been a bit slow these past two months. April was mostly spent being sick and trying to figure out what ailed me, and the best part of May went into recovering from the surgery. I haven't been able to work on my illustrated children's book, but I have been mulling some ideas in my head, and am keen to get them down onto digital file come next month.

Still, the fact that I have found it difficult to spent much time sitting (behind the computer, or elsewhere) has inspired me to take my canvasses out into the garden and do some plein air painting – standing up. I think they'll be great for putting into the local cafés and galleries. Seeing that they only took me a couple of hours each to paint, I will be happy to offer them for sale at the kind of price which seems to be the going price for artwork here in the Wairarapa.

I have also been working on a few new oil paintings of the fantastic/surreal variety. They are for a group exhibition at the Matchbox art gallery in Wellington, which I have been invited to participate in by my friend and fellow painter Brendan Grant, whose work I have featured here a few times. Needless to say, I am extremely pleased that he's asked me, and am greatly looking forward to it! The exhibition will run from 2 - 15 September. I'll keep you updated with the details!

On Amazing Stories, I have been looking at the overlap between science and spirituality in my first April blog post Cosmic Dance. The next two posts were given to the glamour and the grittiness, the hustle and the bustle of future cities: City Lights, City Grunge, and Traffic. The latest blog post delves into the depths of the ocean to find some Mermaids. Please feel free to leave your comments and feedback on the site!

ARTWORK OF THE MONTH: this month, I am offering a selection of life drawing studies on Ebay. The sketches are three medium short poses, pencil on paper. The first one is A3 size, the other two are A2. For easier shipping, the drawings are sold as is – that way, I can make them cheaper, and you can mount and frame them according to your own tastes! Find my Ebay listings here.

Also a reminder that my Martin Haycock Gothic harp is still up for sale. The harp is suitable for medieval and renaissance repertory, or anything else anyone may want to play on it, which requires a range of 3 1/2 octaves, G - c'''. It has a hole and pin to accommodate a d''' string, but is missing the peg, though this could be replaced by a friendly harp builder near you. The harp has bray pins throughout (except the two top strings), though they work well only on the lower strings. It is a medium-sized Gothic, which sits on your calves, or a stool, and it has a nice rounded soundboard, easy on the hands and wrists.

Asking price: € 1990 / US$ 2550 / NZ$ 3000, or best offer. Can be shipped from New Zealand by regular mail, shipping costs not included. Email me if you are interested – and make sure to pass this on to all your harp playing friends!

As always, various classy items are available in my online shop: have a browse! Harp music CDs can be bought here, or downloaded from CD Baby, iTunes, or Amazon. There is also my collection of harp sheet music books , and the New Zealand film locations map, which is proving quite popular!

There are a couple of projects I won't be doing. I will not participate in the upcoming Wairarapa Arts Festival: I had a meeting with one of the organizers a few months ago, following on from my exhibition in Carterton. I showed her my work, and she seemed quite impressed. We talked about the possibility to do an exhibition. I suggested a "making of" of the picture book I was confident would be ready by the time the festival will roll around in October. She suggested to combine it with the official launch of the book – a win-win situation, since it would have been a palpable benefit to me as a way to promote the new book, in lieu of being paid a fee by the festival, or being able to sell my exhibited work.

Last month I got an email from her, saying that the rest of the organizing committee had decided against it: they thought a book launch would be "too commercial". Funny that – most festivals would have declined my application on the grounds that I haven't got enough of a professional track record as an artist and illustrator. After all, I have never published a book previously. This festival, it seems, declined my application because it was too professional. So instead of a win-win, we now have a lose-lose.

I also will not proceed a radio show for the local Access Radio station, ArrowFM. Various people have suggested that I should get involved there, ever since I moved to Featherston and people caught wind of what I have done with my life up to this point. And I would have been glad to, until I found out that there is quite a hefty fee attached to getting air time on this station. The main reason I have done radio in the past, was to be paid for it, not the other way round! Besides, after ten years of not being paid for my work, I really don't have any cash to spare.

A couple of months ago, the people who run the station held a meeting at the local community centre, in order to recruit more people to do programmes. The talk at that time was, that they'd offer some airtime for free to people who volunteered to put a new programme on air once a month. They also asked the assembly for suggestions of types of shows people would want to hear more. Two of the things that came up were "music" and "travel". Seeing that these are both topics I know a thing or two about, I went home mulling it over, and came up with a suggestion that would combine the two.

The idea was enthusiastically received by the friendly lady who has been given the rather thankless job of recruiting more people for the station. She also handled the communications with the Powers That Be. What ensued, is certainly none of her fault.

She suggested that we should apply for public funding through the "Creative Communities" scheme. Given my previous experiences with Creative New Zealand, I wasn't quite so sanguine that the application would be successful. But the word was that they'd put it through in the name of ArrowFm, and I figured they'd probably know how to write a funding proposal that would get approved. Next thing I knew, no they didn't want to put the application through in the station's name, since it "would compromise their ability to get other funding". I was to put it in in my own name.

By that time, I was quite ill and barely well enough to spend a lot of time sitting behind the computer, but I still managed to draw up a proposal, in order to meet the deadline for the upcoming funding round. I got it back substantially changed, and somehow a $50 financial contribution out of my own pocket had snuck its way back onto the proposed budget. I replied that my own contribution was my time and expertise, to the tune of some $5000, if it were paid at an appropriate professional rate. I was then told that this was "against the Access Radio philosophy" and would "misrepresent my relationship with Arrow FM". Instead, it was suggested that we value my time and expertise at $0, but put in a "training fee" of $150 as contribution from the station. At which point I lost my patience and told them in so many words to "up your's".

If they were concerned about their "philosophy" – which seems to include a provision against people who actually have relevant professional qualifications and experience – then I was concerned about my track record with this funding body, and I certainly wasn't going to put in an application that presented me as an untrained applicant in what is my core creative discipline, and one in which I have something of a, albeit modest, international standing. Then again, what do you expect from an institution which, in all seriousness, classifies "women" as a "minority".

The ultimate upshot of the philosophy that says that competence is a reason to not hire people, which is so prevalent in this country, recently caused a bit of a media stir in New Zealand. One wonders how, whoever the bozo was who is responsible for this, ever got advanced into a position that would enable him or her to screw up on that level. Probably because everyone who actually showed competence and conscientiousness, got filtered out on the grounds of being too tall a poppy. I mean, just saying.

Getting cozy for the winter Getting cozy for the winter Getting cozy for the winter Getting cozy for the winter Getting cozy for the winter

Getting cozy for the winter

Meanwhile, the garden has grown a little overgrown, and is in need of a good winter cleanup. After much hunting, online and off, I found the perfect almond tree at the garden centre in Masterton, took it home and put it in the ground as soon as I was able to handle a shovel again.

I have also bought copious amounts of spring bulbs, which I am in the process of distributing across the garden. I've built a wind shelter for the young orange tree I planted for Christmas, and frost cloth for those plants which will need the extra protection. In a fit of gardening ambition, I bought a small bougainvillea – I'll keep it in the house over winter, and will endeavour to find it a nice sunny and sheltered spot come spring, where it can thrive in these latitudes!

My attempts at getting some brassicae going to tide me over the winter, have been curtailed by my stray in hospital, but all is not lost – I might just get them ready to go into the garden really early in spring, instead.

For the time being, I am quite content to munch my homegrown carrots and apples for my vitamin supply. All these health issues have forced me to pay more attention to my eating – but on the upside, one really does feel better when one does that. And there is nothing quite as tasty as the stuff that comes straight out of the earth, and onto the plate!

Gardening projects, food, and late blossoms Gardening projects, food, and late blossoms Gardening projects, food, and late blossoms Gardening projects, food, and late blossoms Gardening projects, food, and late blossoms Gardening projects, food, and late blossoms Gardening projects, food, and late blossoms Gardening projects, food, and late blossoms Gardening projects, food, and late blossoms Gardening projects, food, and late blossoms Gardening projects, food, and late blossoms Gardening projects, food, and late blossoms Gardening projects, food, and late blossoms Gardening projects, food, and late blossoms Gardening projects, food, and late blossoms Gardening projects, food, and late blossoms Gardening projects, food, and late blossoms Gardening projects, food, and late blossoms Gardening projects, food, and late blossoms Gardening projects, food, and late blossoms

Gardening projects, food, and late blossoms



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Cool Things Friends Do: Sorcerer by Geoffrey James

One of the perks of being part of the blogging team at Amazing Stories, is that most of my fellow bloggers do rather interesting things. A little while ago, I obtained a free copy of fellow blogger Geoffrey James' new novel, Sorcerer – a fictionalized biography of Queen Elisabeth I's alchemist, John Dee.

Not that John Dee's biography requires much fictionalization, to turn it into a gripping tale – and it is precisely the historically documented facts, which make it read like fantasy. The novel focuses on John Dee's later years: his relationship with his assistant Edward Kelley, their conversations with angelic beings, and their mad trip through Eastern Europe, in search of patronage for their experiments. And their wife swopping. Yes, that bit is historically documented, too.

While John Dee's and Edward Kelley's actions in the novel are to quite some extend based on historical facts, their respective wives' lives are rather more fictionalized – including their names! In particular, Alice Kelley of the novel does not seem to have anything in common with what we know of Edward Kelley's real wife, who was called Jane.

The four main characters take turns in telling the story: This way, we get to empathize, at least to some degree, with each of them, despite their sometimes more than questionable actions. The characters are convincingly drawn, with all their quirks and flaws. The feminist in me might have wished that Jennet Dee's social ambition – and her ability to take charge of social situations – would not have been represented as quite so unsympathetic, and Alice Kelley's naivety and submissiveness as not quite so positive.

The historian in me would have preferred a rather less one-dimensional villain – the demented assassin priest Malaspina is also based, at least in theory, on a historical character, but he seems to owe more to the world of Marvel comics, than to history. Which is, presumably, precisely what the author intended. Bringing those historical characters to life in a way that relates them to modern experience, and contemporary popular culture, is, for the most part, one of the greatest strengths of the book.

The niggler in me would have wished that the author, who self-publishes his books, would have forked out for a professional proofreader. I'm not one to moan over the occasional typo or grammatical oversight, but in this book they abound to the point of becoming a distraction. One of the main character's hair colour changes from blonde to flaming red and back in a rather disconcerting manner. These are technicalities which could very easily be fixed, and I hope they will be in a future edition.

I found it to be a fascinating read, despite those reservations. The author manages a vivid, and evidently well-researched evocation of the Elizabethan Age: an age full of intellectual curiosity, spiritual fanatism, social license, and stomach-churning violence. The latter is depicted in rather more detail than I would care for: I tried to read the book while in hospital, but had to eventually put it away because it was actually making me queasy. All in all, a gripping and informative novel, but not for the faint-hearted – or those weak of stomach!

Moon over Cape Palliser Moon over Cape Palliser Moon over Cape Palliser

Moon over Cape Palliser



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On the DVD Player: Inception

The need to rest and take it easy for a few weeks after my surgery, has been the perfect excuse to catch up with all those films I have not managed to see, in the last couple of years. I got myself a big bag of DVDs from the Featherston video store, made myself comfortable on my bedsofa in front of the fireplace, and binged.

Believe it or not, up to that point I had not seen Inception. I am glad I remedied that omission: I wouldn't exactly put it on my list of all time favorite movies, but I thoroughly enjoyed its mind-bending play with our perception of reality, and its sheer visual stylishness, with its frequent nods to Blade Runner. And I like me a movie that resonates with ancient literature or myth. The character's journey into ever deeper levels of their unconscious is just the latest incarnation of the old tale of the journey to the Underworld: Dante's walk through the nine levels of Hell, and beyond. Orpheus's attempt to find and reclaim his dead wife. It is nicely done: it isn't laid on thick, and one can easily enjoy the movie, its play with our perception of reality, without those associations, but they do add another level of meaning.

The most explicit nod to classical myth is the character of Ariadne, the brilliantly talented grad student who builds the dream mazes through which the other characters move – and who helps the hero, Cobb, unravel the labyrinth of emotions he has been caught in since his wife committed suicide.

What I really liked about Ariadne's character, is what she is *not*. She is a young and relatively unexperienced girl, joining an all-male team of older, hardened professionals in a rather specialized field of skill. Yet, they all accept her, for her commonsense, and her talent at what she does. There is no need for anyone to act as her protector. No screaming fits, or sprained ankles.

There is no need to set up a romantic relationship with any of the other characters, either. The main emotional involvement in this movie comes from the stronger-than-death relationship between Cobb and his deceased wife. Ariadne empathizes with Cobb and wishes to help him, but she acts like a younger professional toward someone far more experienced, whom she admires and from whom she can learn – not like a girl who has a crush.

There is no need for her to walk around scantily clad and flaunt her sexuality, but neither is she an unattractive wallflower. She's just a young woman doing her job. In fact, I don't think it would have made a great deal of difference to the plot if her character had been male. Isn't it great to have a female main character who can simply have professional relationships with all of the male characters, with not even a hint of romantic tension, or sexual objectification? We see that far too rarely in the movies.

Arohanui, from Asni



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Evening at Castle Point Evening at Castle Point Evening at Castle Point Evening at Castle Point Evening at Castle Point Evening at Castle Point

Evening at Castle Point