Warning: contains culture

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014

Libraries, art galleries and museums are probably my favourites kinds of container. Within their walls I can experience histories, cultures and creativity. And actually, I would have to include books here too; containers of knowledge, stories, dreams.

Te Papa is New Zealand’s national museum and gallery. While I tend to the view that in trying to attract large numbers of visitors Te Papa has a tendency to “dumb down” this country’s complex and multi-faceted history and culture, I still visit the gallery, and appreciate the curatorial and conservation work that goes on behind the scenes.

“Containers” is the theme of this week’s Daily Post photo challenge.

Why I write

Do I look like a writer?

Do I look like a writer?

Susan at Putting in a Good Word invited me to take part in this tagged blogging post and I must confess, it’s taken me longer than anticipated to complete. Not because I had trouble with the questions; more that I found myself writing way more than anyone except me is likely to be interested in.  And that’s probably the first clue to who I am as a writer: I don’t think before I write – I write as a way of processing the stuff that’s in my head.

This is particularly true here at ZimmerBitch, which is quite photography-oriented. That perhaps leads me into the first question:

Reality; edited. Is that a metaphor for my writing style? Photo: Su Leslie, 2013.

Reality; edited. Is that a metaphor for my writing style? Photo: Su Leslie, 2013.

1. How does my writing differ from others in my genre?

I’m not sure I quite fit into a single genre! Almost all of my posts contain photographs I’ve taken  and many are “about” those photos, but most also contain some sort of commentary so they are photo-essays, kind of. I also blog a lot about family – and in particular my partner and son, but I am definitely not in the business of offering parenting advice. I write about art — particularly sculpture — but again, ZimmerBitch is not an art-blog. I show a lot of photos of my family – and of artworks that I like – and while I said in my ‘About’ page that this is a blog about aging (and that’s definitely what I intended it to be), it has become a way of developing my photographic skill.

Perhaps that’s what I’m meant to be doing in my middle-age?

I participate in several photo challenges (more or less regularly) that allow me to share my photos within a context. And I think the context part is important. I like to use the photos to tell a story that matters to me. Each challenge or prompt becomes a way of visually communicating something that’s important to me at the time.

" an act or instance of placing close together or side by side, esp. for comparison or contrast.

My son’s 16th birthday prompted a series of posts that tried to make sense of motherhood as I was experiencing it. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014.

2. Why do I write?

I can’t help it.

I thought I could. After 20 or so years earning a living arranging and re-arranging words for money, I thought I’d lost my voice. I was so used to — and so good at — assuming the client’s voice that I couldn’t even bring myself to look at a blank screen or sheet of paper unless I’d already slipped “into character” as the corporate voice of whoever was paying me. But I’ve recovered — I think. I’ve had some time out and found my own voice again.

Motherhood has changed who I am and the voice with which I speak. Photo: Tony Gray, 1998.

Motherhood has changed who I am and the voice with which I speak. It’s not all about me anymore. Photo: Tony Gray, 1998.

I write a blog (two actually – Shaking the Tree is my family history blog) because I like the discipline of having to produce something regularly – and trying to make it good enough that people choose to read it, like it, comment on it and occasionally re-blog it. Blogging is probably my ideal form of writing. It’s completely open-ended — in that I can write about anything I like — but because it’s public, I not only have to try and write things that people respond to, but I actually get to experience their response.

And that is why I keep writing; because I now feel part of a blogging community — whanau*  — which contains lots of really cool, interesting, articulate people who interact with me. I really feel that I know some of you quite well, and I care what’s happening to you. If that’s not a reason to keep writing — what is?

Interestingly, I’m about to start seriously looking for copy-writing work again and I am a bit concerned that my voice will disappear as it did in the past. But I’m hopeful that the discipline of blogging will help save me.

* whanau is a Maori word. It loosely means “family” but in a much broader sense than we use the word in English. Whanau are connected by spiritual and intellectual bonds too. I think the term “kindred spirits” is the closest in English to my sense of what whanau is to me.

3. How does my writing process work?

I’m not good at making and sticking to rules — especially my own — so although I did set out to blog on particular days in response to particular prompts, the reality is that I’m a bit random. I do try to produce a Wordless Wednesday and a Six Word Saturday every week.

I originally thought Wordless Wednesday would be a doddle — just find a picture and chuck it in. But I quickly realised that (see above) the best part of blogging is the sense of community, and I didn’t want to dishonour that community by offering something slapdash or unconsidered. So even my largely wordless posts are created with care.

Over time, I’ve realised that the photographic prompts and challenges I enjoy most are those for which I find something to say, beyond just describing a photo. Sally, at Lens and Pens by Sally, hosts such a challenge. Perhaps because it’s focused on non-SLR devices and I don’t actually use my phone/iPad for photography much, I am compelled to take the images I do chose for the challenge and weave something around them that makes sense of (justifies?) their inclusion in a post. I find myself really enjoying this process.

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve discovered about my writing, is that it is basically visual. I am most comfortable when I can see how words are going to look to the reader. I’m increasingly interested in text-as-image, and have signed up for the 100 Days Project with a plan called ‘Pretty words: text as image as stories we make up as we go along’. My intention is to take a randomly-generated word each day and respond to it visually.

I love word clouds. The marriage of data and text in a visual format. I generated this from some web copy about Women's Refuge NZ. Image: Su Leslie 2014.

I love word clouds; the marriage of data and text in a visual format. I generated this from some web copy about Women’s Refuge NZ and added the background with Pixlr Express. Image: Su Leslie 2014.

4. What I’m working on.

Everything!!!! I’m a multi-tasker with a short attention span and a low threshold of boredom. So right now I’m:

a) planning my Six Word Saturday posts for ZimmerBitch and Shaking the Tree,

b) editing a post I started ages ago about names. This is me trying to work out (in public via the blogosphere) whether I should change my name(s) because being Su Leslie seems to cause people so much confusion,

c) editing another post about my middle-of-the-night anxiety attacks and subsequent sleep-deprivation,

d) scribbling down ideas for the website my new writing business is going to need.

e) mentally writing a children’s story that only makes sense in terms of a larger internal narrative that’s been bouncing around my head for a couple of years. Not sure if this one counts as working!

‘Nuff said.

I’m really pleased to be passing the baton in this tagged post on to Steve at The Gisbourne Gourmet. This is an elegant, funny blog about life and living well in a small town in New Zealand. The text is crisp, the images beautiful and, frankly, his work makes me want to chuck life in the city tomorrow, if not sooner. I’m looking forward to reading what lies behind The Gisbourne Gourmet!

And if you’re interested in how a few other members of the blogging whanau describe their writing, check these out:

Leanne at Is it Just Me?

Meghan AKA Firebonnet

Lisa at NorthWest Frame of Mind

Sally at Lens and Pens by Sally

Tish Farrell, Writer on the Edge