December 11, 2023 - A trip to town


I'm still stuck on these flower photos I took a week or so agoI'm still stuck on these flower photos I took a week or so ago

Last night I lay in bed imagining alternative intros for Trash Planet; things like:

This is not a love story, although it does include several reunions. This is not a coming of age story, though you could say I found myself. But it’s nothing quite so neat. This, instead, is a story about detritus; floating bits and pieces that have separated from the whole, perhaps still carrying memories of when they were whole. It’s about separations, and of forming new shapes.

A story about trash.

I feel like if I can just nail down that sense of voice and tone I’ll be able to launch back headfirst into this. I have many, many words already written, and though the content is right,” the vibe, the voice, is not yet there.

Twyla Tharp, in her amazing book The Creative Habit, talks about needing a spine for your projects. I struggled a little to understand what she meant by that. She says:

The spine is the statement you make to yourself outlining your intentions for the work. You intend to tell this story. You intend to explore this theme. You intend to employ this structure. The audience may infer it or not. But if you stick to your spine, the piece will work.

Later, she says,

I believe that every work of art needs a spine—an underlying theme, a motive for coming into existence. It doesn’t have to be apparent to the audience. But you need it at the start of the creative process to guide you and keep you going.

And even later:

I rarely have a story to tell—although I recall playwright John Guare saying that every tale tells one of two stories: Romeo and Juliet, or David and Goliath—but I always have a spine.

I think that is what this story struggle has been tied up with. Finding the spine. I have things that can happen, oh, so many things. But they all feel like they need a certain something to bring them together properly.

Cat Rambo calls it the emotional core” of your story, and she says if you are trying to decide whether to include something in the story, you only need to ask if it supports the emotional core of your piece. If not, don’t include it.

Anyway, that’s what I’m working on.

I made a trip into Wellington this morning to meet another Jess—a friend of a friend—and to take a look at the very lovely Wellington Writer’s Studio, which I think I’ll have a go with, and see if I can make a more dedicated writing practice part of my life next year.

It is a sunny day, and after looking around the studio with Jess and Adele, who co-manages the space, the three of us went for a coffee at Floriditas. So good. I haven’t been there in so long. And also for so long I would shrink away from these new people” situations. Like, awkward! But no, not any more. I don’t know if it’s because of Covid, or that I work from home and don’t get the chance to meet new people very often, but I am loving it right now.

I also loved the drive. Windows down, wind whipping through the car, through my hair, loud music going. For quite a few years after the earthquake and all of the aftershocks and repercussions, I went into a weird paranoid mode about living in Wellington, a city of hills and landslips, and quakes, and I never really felt particularly safe when I would go out. Going over the Rimutakas I could only evern picture cars tumbling down into the ravine, and I would have to distract myself with specific albums, and even the first time we went over to see my family in the Wairarapa I had to close my eyes and pretend to be sleeping when Steve drove us over.

Weird eh. Anyway, Highway 2 has always been a little bit like that” for me as well with big hills leading down to the sea and a narrow ribbon of motorway leading from the Hutt to Wellington. So fragile.

I don’t know if managing to live in an earthquake zone is about talking yourself out of it, or pretending everything is fine. A sort of self-delusion to let yourself get by from day-to-day. Being prepared is most important; having a bag and a spare pair of sneakers in the car, with some meusli bars and an old bottle of water; noting where the hills are, if you need to get to high ground in case of a tsunami. (Maybe like a secret agent never stops sitting with his back to the wall.)

I want to challenge myself a bit. Go into the city more, even if it means potentially being stuck in town if an earthquake closes off the routes back home. Go and be around other people. Stick my neck out. Tell people about what I’m writing, what I’m working on, not feeling apologetic about any of it.

Not a new year’s resolution, but an intention, as my friend Gina would say.