Busytown by Jolisa Gracewood

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Busytown: A Thought Went Up My Mind To-day

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  • BenWilson,

    Nice, Jolisa. I concur that your stream of consciousness ought to be captured more frequently. I particularly liked:

    . I remembered the trip to Mark Twain's house in Hartford, also a shrine to a dead child, after which our older child, then three, had wailed "I don't want to die and people put our things into a museum!"

    Museums are good, and important, but they can be macabre.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8305 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    I concur that your stream of consciousness ought to be captured more frequently.

    Dammed, maybe? Or at least channelled into something entertaining, like the Bucket Fountain. But thank you.

    Museums are good, and important, but they can be macabre.

    True, eh. Like massive tombs of the ancestors, anybody's ancestors, only with labels. The mummified cat at our local gives me the willies, to say nothing of the mummified mummy, which the 4 year old finds quite perturbing.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1408 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood,

    Well, this is certainly my sort of review. If I didn't know how busy you were, I'd cry 'More!' and similar such exhortations to spend all your spare time writing for us...

    What a shame that there is no NZ periodical that publishes reviews of a decent length. Perhaps you should start one. I could see a website with a monthly print-on-demand version that people could buy (or subscribe to). That way readers such as myself could go back to re-read -- and gloatingly fondle -- each issue. We even have the software at PA already.

    I remembered the trip to Mark Twain's house in Hartford, also a shrine to a dead child, after which our older child, then three, had wailed "I don't want to die and people put our things into a museum!"

    I read Twain's autobiography as a child, and felt much the same way. He certainly manages to convey how devastating his children's deaths were...

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 955 posts Report Reply

  • Danielle,

    We were greeted, cheerfully, by a cheerful worker sporting the company badge that listed the exceedingly cheerful Red Robin code:
    Honor
    Integrity
    Seeking Knowledge
    Having Fun!

    I am of course reminded of the scene in Office Space where Jennifer Aniston's character is berated for not wearing more than the regulation amount of 'flair'. I wonder if there's anything more soul-destroying than working for a company which has 'cheerful whimsy' as a condition of employment.

    I knew nothing about Emily Dickinson's personal life. I am now totally intrigued!

    Also, this:

    Neighbourhood children... stood under Emily’s window calling “Booty, booty!” [and] she would lower baskets of her home-made gingerbread.

    A Victorian booty call! (Groan.)

    ETA:

    children's deaths

    Lalalalalalala I CAN'T HEAR YOU. In fact, my brain blocked that part of Jolisa's review out immediately after reading it.

    Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3623 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    True, eh. Like massive tombs of the ancestors, anybody's ancestors, only with labels. The mummified cat at our local gives me the willies, to say nothing of the mummified mummy, which the 4 year old finds quite perturbing.

    Yes, it's a fine line between remembering the dead and fetishizing them. There are times when history feels like a mountain we are sitting on the top of. At other times, it feels like a mountain on top of us.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8305 posts Report Reply

  • Danielle,

    A warm, cosy mountain filled with awesome stories.

    Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3623 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I wonder if there's anything more soul-destroying than working for a company which has 'cheerful whimsy' as a condition of employment.

    Indeed. I worked briefly for McDonalds as a teen. My favorite job was compacting the garbage, because there was no-one telling you to smile and be happy about it all the time. I really enjoyed the curious juxtaposition of descending from the sterile faux happy of the front counter into the stinky dark pit below to operate a huge machine that turned the colossal piles of waste into smelly cubes. Standing over it with a stick in hand pushing any errant garbage that tried to pop out always reminded me of numerous medieval depictions of heaven and hell, when I thought about my singing co-workers above, about to burst into dance at the behest of management. The freezer was down there too, and other storage. I'd often ponder how the business of McDonalds was using humans to convert what was in the freezer and boxes here into what was in the stinky bags over there, and what was most likely flushing down the pipes over there.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8305 posts Report Reply

  • ChrisW,

    I've never read Emily Dickinson - I guess put off by the general downer however beautifully expressed of Simon (and Garfunkel)'s 'The Dangling Conversation' -
    And you read your Emily Dickinson
    And I my Robert Frost
    And we note our place with bookmarkers
    That measure what we've lost.
    (Never read Robert Frost either, so that proves it :-)) But so much of interest here, thanks Jolisa.

    On the shrine to the dead child - this seemed especially significant to me. Death of a child was so common in centuries past, but rarely is there a physical memorial like this and the written record of that child's personality and the impact of their death on the family, preserved through the chance of their circumstances.

    The youngest child of my great-great-grandparents died of that same typhoid fever at the same age a decade later in 1896, but apart from the bare sentences of death notices and cause of death, there is no record of the impact on his parents (and siblings), nothing but that premature death determining where their bare grave-site is positioned in the cemetery 2-3 km up-river from me here.

    So Emily Dickinson's nephew Gib seems a fine surrogate for many other dead children, his memorial room has no doubt has been appreciated by many. And at the same time it's a useful a warning - how many years can a mountain exist?

    Gisborne • Since Apr 2009 • 777 posts Report Reply

  • Grace Dalley,

    Wonderful story, Jolisa, thank you! Among many other fascinating things, I'm particularly fascinated that Dickinson wrote her poems on whatever was to hand. What profligate talent, that pours out over every available surface!

    (I seem to remember Hone Tuwhare's last anthology was likewise compiled from poems he'd written on the backs of shopping lists, the inside of old cereal boxes, scraps of paper he'd used for bookmarks, etc. What a treasure hunt it must have been, searching his house for them.)

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2008 • 138 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    ChrisW, I'm not surprised that little remains of so many child deaths. The pain of them is so strong that people often shun the memories in self defense.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8305 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    See Emily play...

    There's a certain slant of light,
    On winter afternoons,
    That oppresses, like the weight
    Of cathedral tunes.

    Heavenly hurt it gives us;
    We can find no scar,
    But internal difference
    Where the meanings are.

    None may teach it anything,
    'Tis the seal, despair,-
    An imperial affliction
    Sent us of the air.

    When it comes, the landscape listens,
    Shadows hold their breath;
    When it goes, 't is like the distance
    On the look of death.

    is the world ready for a reinvention?
    - Miley Dickinson take the stage, please...

    and for the younger kids I see Norton Juster
    (author of The Phantom Tollbooth) lives in Amherst...

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 4555 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    Thanks Jolissa. That was wonderful.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 1434 posts Report Reply

  • Grace Dalley,

    There is a bit of dialogue in A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book that sticks in my mind: one child asks another how many brothers and sisters he has, and what their names are. The second child lists his siblings, and the first child says, "And the dead ones?", and they talk about the children in both families who have died.

    It's hard to imagine what life was like when infant mortality was so high. Nowadays the death of a child is a rare tragedy; what must it have been like for families to expect to lose a number of children?

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2008 • 138 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    I know my grandmother didn't use to count infant deaths amongst children had in the family. And when they happened to be mentioned she'd say "but they were little," to reinforce that point.

    Her neighbour couldn't remember if she had given birth to 14 or 15 children, of whom I think three reached adulthood.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7320 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    My Nanna and Grand-dad's families (both of them were born in the 1880s) were slightly unusual for their times - 7 kids in Nanna's family, 12 in Grand-dad's, and they all survived childhood...

    I've just got out my 3 books of Dickinson's poetry, Jolissa - many thanks indeed for this evocative essay-

    on mummified bits: when I was 12, I went to the Otago Museum for the first time: in one cabinet, was a mokamokai (this was in 1959.) I looked at it with some horror - what if it's a relation?! A kindly attendant said for me not to worry - "It's just a North Islander..."

    I did notice it had nits in the hair, and borer holes in the face.

    I am very glad that sensitivity has developed over the past 50 years.

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Grace Dalley,

    Leaser, not Lesser

    It's Jolisa, y'all :-)

    "It's just a North Islander..."

    Wow, what a classic reassurance! I hope museums have moved on since then.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2008 • 138 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    Thanks Grace for providing the correction to my spelling of Jolisa's name (which has now permanantly rewired my brain as to how it is probably said...I had thought 'lissa'-)

    museums here - and incresingly overseas - no longer have mokamokai on display. Overseas museums (not all, but a lot) are also returning Maori body parts - like the mummies stolen by that awful little shit Andreas Reisheck (cant check the name at the moment.)

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart,

    That was a fascinating review, Jolisa - you have made me feel like I should actually read some of Dickinson's poetry before I show up there, not least because it now seems interesting.

    museums here - and incresingly overseas - no longer have mokamokai on display. Overseas museums (not all, but a lot) are also returning Maori body parts - like the mummies stolen by that awful little shit Andreas Reisheck (cant check the name at o the moment.)

    I loved most of the British Museum, monument to kleptomaniac colonialism that it is, but the mummies in the Egyptian display were awful. It felt so voyeuristic and horrible just to see them. They have so many artifacts, and such great displays - I don't see why they need to leave people's bodies on display, just because they have them, or they can. Surely it's time to let them go.

    Amherst, MA • Since Nov 2006 • 2092 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    Yo Lucy Stewart- we can have 3d images - truly, that has to be enough-

    (Disclaimer: I love archaeology & archaeologists. A LOT of what real archaeologists do is, dig up dead humans (and other beings.) But, surely - and this is a trend in certain fields of archaeology - we can dig up/measure in every possible way/ and then, recover, with earth-)

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    Oh, I love you guys! No such thing as TL:DR around here, no ma'am. And that goes for the comments, too. I love that I can throw out any old obscure literary rumination and you will run with it. Thank you so much.

    Am torn between doing a formal David H style reply to each and all, or just chipping in conversationally. I like that there seems to be a correlation between length of post and length of comments.

    But quickly for now, Danielle wins the roflnui prize for "Victorian booty call". And Ian, that animation is just plain SPOOKY! I love it, and all the others. How interesting that the animator used the disputed older-Emily picture.

    Here's young Emily with another poem:

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1408 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    Also, ta Grace for the name policing! I should hire you as my reputational minder.

    Tis a small thing but also a big one. Sometimes when asked, I say I don't quite know what my parents were thinking -- but I do, because they told me: they didn't want me to be one of five Joannes or Lisas in my class. And lo, there were, and I wasn't.

    M & D were also down on hyphens and mid-name capital letters, which, cool, but those might have been useful guidelines for the perplexed.

    So I have spent a lifetime either correcting people's spelling or their pronunciation. And it was a moment of enduring trauma when my name went up on a certain honours board at school, and they couldn't remember how to spell it, only that I was fussy about it, so under a half century worth of fully spelt-out names there I was: J. WOOD. (as I was then).

    I made them scrape it off and repaint it, though :-) Fussy as.

    I actually get less trouble over here, because the name falls squarely within the ambit of creative urban African-American girl names - La/Ja/Do/Jo/Ka + middle syllable + final syllable ending in "a". [On which, there is a funny but borderline racist twitter trend at the moment]. Every now and then, usually in a supermarket, someone will call my name, and I will turn around to see a small black girl minding her mother.

    I do sometimes wonder if I should just go with "Jojo", which is what anyone who is anyone calls me. But then there's that whole "dignified grown-ups should have dignified names" thing... hmm.

    Getting up off the couch now - has it really been an hour?? Ta for the group therapy. Back later for more replies on mountains, mummies, and children...

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1408 posts Report Reply

  • ChrisW,

    Here's young Emily with another poem:

    "I cannot live with you" - good poem sevrely damaged by the visual distraction of the animated video for me.

    As evidence of this, I noted the apparent success of her living apart strategy on her longevity, her years 1830-1996 according to hyperboleland.

    Gisborne • Since Apr 2009 • 777 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    her longevity, her years 1830-1996 according to hyperboleland.

    Ha! That's even spookier. Maybe the preservative effect of the gingerbread?

    I agree the animation is weird, but if you sort of look at it with your eyes unfocused it's trippy. Plus, not the poet's actual voice; we'll never know what that sounded like.

    Mind you, not every poet's special poetry-reading voice adds to the experience. And sometimes just the dissonance between expectation and reality is jarring... I was shocked the first time I heard Sylvia Plath declaiming in her flinty New England contralto, having imagined something more girly (I don't know why).

    And of course even photos tell lies - I stumbled on this rather unkind (but funny) piece about Jonathan Franzen the other day...

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1408 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark,

    I've never been into Dickinson's poetry - but I loved that story, Jolisa. As always, you paint a word picture, and it's a beautiful one. As for museums, they bore me nowadays unless they're a bit quirky. I am minded of the years I spent in London, stepping foot in all the big museums, and art galleries, and being completely overwhelmed. I could handle the Tate, but only just. I walked into the National Art Gallery, and almost swooned of sensory overload, and had to walk out again. I never went back. The Courtauld Institute is more my speed. Small and intimate. And you can, or used to be able to, stand near enough to the art to be able to feel the paint. (On a side note, I'm a bit dangerous in art galleries. If I see a piece I love, I always have to stand really close, and close my eyes. I may or may not have once almost touched a Rembrandt, and was with in a whisker's breadth of being hauled out by security).
    The Tawhiti museum in Hawera is one of my favourite museums. This chap has made all these models of the history of South Taranaki, in particular, and it's just stunning. And Badger's Cafe makes the best chicken/brie/cranberry panini ever. Or maybe that's just because I was driving from Wellington, and I needed sustenance. Whatever. When you come back to us, Jolisa, I would suggest that it's the sort of place your boys would absolutely love. Especially the 8 year old. He may be old enough now that life scale models of people in various stances will be freaky yet interesting.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3121 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    Ooh, Jackie, that sounds perfect. Teeny tiny freaky museums. Always more fun than the large kind, and no less educational in their own right.

    I like the Tenement Museum in NYC, and the Asakura Choso Museum in Tokyo, which not only wraps around a spring-fed koi pond, but is full of bronzes of cats. (Can I get a Bookiemonster up in this thread?)

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1408 posts Report Reply

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