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Te Manawa


palmy2Tomorrow I am returning to the city I grew up in, Palmerston North. I am going to be artist-in-residence for a few days at Te Manawa, the museum of art, science and history. Although my parents left Palmy in 1994, I’ve been back every year to visit my grandparents and my friend Helen. I always feel conflicted returning. Growing up it seemed too small, too suffocating – I had my sights on New York City! Paris! Florence! Wellington! – but in retrospect, I see its size afforded me all sorts of opportunities. My parents took me to Saturday sports, dance classes, cello lessons, school orchestra, and to every show that came to the Palmerston North Opera House. I don’t do half that stuff with my kids in Auckland – it seems too hard and there’s too much driving and money involved. When I visit I usually think how silly I am living in Auckland. Things would be much easier if I just moved back south. I could have a quarter acre section and chickens. I would never have to bike uphill. My children would roam the streets in gangs, building  huts in the cutty grass, like I did when I was a kid. But then the wind picks up and the sky presses down and I remember why I left.palmy3I’m meant to be talking, reading and signing books. Palmerston makes it into all my work in some way or other. My short stories were littered with Palmy settings, Dead People’s Music had Palmy scenes disguised as Wellington ones. In The Fall of Light, Rudy visits Palmerston North late in the book. But I can’t read that bit – it’ll be giving too much away.palmy1I’m also meant to be demonstrating ink wash drawings. I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to draw – more comics? People who stray into the gallery? Pages for my Katherine Mansfield graphic novel? It’s her 125th birthday today. I’ve packed my suitcase with brushes and different types of paper. This year I reread Cat’s Eye, a Margaret Atwood novel that I loved as a young woman. It was all about an artist who returns to her home town, Toronto, for a retrospective. In returning, she remembers traumatic events from her childhood, in which she is bullied, and then becomes the perpetrator of bullying. Atwood says something interesting about time and memory: “You don’t look back along time but down through it, like water. Sometimes this comes to the surface, sometimes that, sometimes nothing. Nothing goes away.” I’ve always liked that way of looking at it. I wonder what will surface tomorrow.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Emma Jean permalink
    15/10/2013 9:11 am

    I had to read Cat’s Eye for a uni course when I was 17 and it really made a big impression, particularly this passage: ‘Most mothers worry when their daughters reach adolescence, but I was the opposite. I relaxed, I sighed with relief. Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To one another they are not cute. They are life-sized.’ p.118 Cat’s Eye

  2. 15/10/2013 10:31 am

    Ah, hometowns! I hope you have a good time in yours, but I generally think it’s a good idea to not live in them. I have some friends who have recently moved to Palmy from Wellington, and they say they go to so much more now. There’s less going on so easy to be involved in more. I LOVE Cat’s Eye. I think it might be the best Atwood.

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