Wednesday, March 4, 2009


The other day I was sitting here wondering if there was anything interesting at all I could say about headaches – my headaches, that is. Almost immediately I decided that no, there wasn’t, because the moment I think about it all that comes to mind is a litany of well-worn images, and the few that are less well-worn are still not interesting. It is the kind of thing that a creative writing teacher (who hadn’t bothered to prepare a decent lesson) might throw at you, though: your headache is a teapot – just what kind of a teapot is it and what is your relationship to it? Write for ten minutes and remember to go for particulars rather than abstraction.

My teapot is made of clay, it is dense and gray and has never been fired so it absorbs everything, and no-one would want the tea in any case because it would taste of clay. It is a completely useless teapot. It is huge and ugly (sorry, I can’t be more particular), it takes up a great deal of space and demands to have pride of place on the kitchen table so that everything else has to fit itself around the useless and ugly teapot. It will not be discarded or ignored. Try chucking it out and you will find it has mysteriously beamed itself back onto the table, it never breaks or turns into a prince/ss no matter how often you throw it at the wall.

Actually that was only about three minutes but I ran out of things to say, and anyway I had a headache. Happy to report that it has gone now and taken the teapot with it. It is a homeing teapot, so I am almost resigned to the fact that I will doubtless be seeing the wretched thing again.

I have been reading (yes) a novel by Janet Frame – “towards another summer”. It was published posthumously but was written in the 1960s, is autobiographical, as so much of her writing was, and I love it as I love almost everything she wrote. I think that for Janet Frame, writing was the only possible way she had of being alive, and she would have carried on doing it even without a single word of it being published. That kind of writing is worlds away from the writing which sets out to tell a story with a clear and particular point to it, and some kind of planned dramatic focus. The focus is always here and now, whether in the here and now of memory or present moment, each lived particular a revelation of self and of what it means to be alive here, now, then, in the world; everything a wonder, as well as a conundrum, problematic, especially other people; every part of them eloquent – the strange flecks in an eye as much as the words that might be spoken, her response, her attention so complete, nothing held back. No wonder she fell back on solitude and her small desk with its Olivetti typewriter and neatly-ordered pens and pencils which had been sharpened into fine points; when even the cracks in a paving stone spoke and everything, even the consistency of a biscuit in the mouth, has a language, and everything speaks to you. No wonder they locked her up, and would have lobotomised her if it hadn’t been for the slim volume of hers (The Lagoon) that had just won a literary prize. When she said that her writing saved her she meant it literally. She looked on everything with a wide and open eye. No wonder she required the confinement of a small room and asked only to be allowed to carry on conversing with herself in the way that such writers do.

And I can read the lady, my cognitively-impaired brain notwithstanding. Her words are food wherein I find nothing I cannot digest - I can take her whole and complete. Thank you, Janet.


Zhoen said...

I know that teapot. Mine is lumpy, bottom heavy, with a handle that digs in.

Janet sounds familiar to me.

trousers said...

...and thank you, signs, for such an amazing description of Janet Frame and her writing. It has drawn me in, and I must investigate.

nmj said...

Hey Signs, I def want to read Janet Frame after your review. She is one of those writers I feel I should have got round to by now and am slightly ashamed I haven't. Also, spooky that in replying to your comment over at velogubbed, I use the word lobotomised in a diff context, and then found it here in a much more frightening context, but that certainly links you & me psychically today, Signs. And I wasn't sure if it had a 'z' or not, but you have confirmed for me.

Reading the Signs said...

Ah Zhoen, I wonder if yours comes from the same manufacturer as mine.

The film "Angel at my Table" was based on JF's autobiographical trilogy.

Trousers, I'm glad it drew you in - I do recommend The Lagoon and Other Stories, her first work, one can feel the essence of her at work there, oh and she was so young when she wrote those. They are not everyone's cup of tea - I have a feeling you would like them.

NMJ, I have been over to yours to investigate our psychic connection - and yes, we are linked (and both right about the spelling, though transatlantic friends might not agree).

I think you would like her autobiographical trilogy - you don't have to commit to reading all of it, each book stands on its own. Also "Owls Do Cry", which is based on her years in a psychiatric institution.

Cusp said...

Ah Janet Frame.....fascinating woman and I loved reading her autobioraphy.

Reading the Signs said...

Cusp, I guess you are referring to the trilogy. I thought the film did rather well with this - but one has to read her for the language and to be in the company of her mind.

Kahless said...

Someone should fire that damn teapot.

Collin Kelley said...

LOVE Janet Frame. I had read "Faces in the Water" (brilliant!) before I saw "An Angel at My Table." An amazing writer.

Reading the Signs said...

Collin, yes it was actually that one that dealt with her years in the psychiatric institution. Glad to know you are also a fan.