book review

Clairevetica: Year in Review 2016

Lake Zurich

Although it’s against popular opinion, 2016 has been a good year for me. Maybe one of my best! It’s been a great year for this blog too. In fact, a lot of my joy in 2016 has been directly tied to Clairevetica so it seems appropriate to write this post.

This is the year that I randomly decided on 30 March to participate in a month-long poetry writing challenge: NaPoWriMo/GloPoWriMo. I feel like that spur-of-the-moment decision has changed my life! A month later, I’d written 30 poems in 30 days, I had a bunch of new followers and was following heaps more blogs myself. It helps that it coincided with a friend/local blogger starting a Switzerland blogger group so I simultaneously followed a bunch of local blogs as well as all the poetry stuff. Clairevetica has gone from having around 50 followers to having 200. Impressive. And I really thank you all for following, liking, commenting and supporting (both on the blog and elsewhere) – hell, even just bothering to read all the words I write! Fittingly, as I was writing this post, I just got a notification from WordPress that I’d achieved 1,000 likes on this blog altogether, w00t!

However, stats aside, perhaps the most important thing about the poetry month was it meant poetry went from being a thing I occasionally dabbled in to a Thing I Am. Alongside my various other jobs and titles, I’m now “Zurich-based poet, Claire Doble” and fuck that makes me happy.

My most popular poem was The Earth / His Purpleness about Prince and Earth Day. Which seems even more appropriate since this year is ending on a media storm of all the famous people who’ve died, as well as there being ongoing worries globally when it comes to ecology and politics.

Other current affairs poems I did included The Unicorn and the Lion about Brexit, Stars and Stripes about America, Over Heard and Cincinatti about Johnny Depp’s breakup and that Gorilla grabbing a child (remember?!) and Landfill – deploring all the waste.  Other poems I wanted to mention again included Alison, which I’m humbled was read aloud at the funeral, Morning Song, which really evoked something about my life here and Rollins Rules, trying to capture the give-no-fucks spirit of the man. While I’m thanking people and noting poems, I should give a shout-out to my ever supportive husband, Himself: Respect! (and love)! 

I also wrote a few book reviews In Deep that’s stayed with me and I am a Feminist as well as a couple of film reviews from Zurich Film Festival.

I had my spoken-word debut, and went on to do a few more spoken word recordings. Possibly my favourite so far is Vanish.

And, of course, I had a good dose of soul searching and attempts to find my way – Time Out of Mind and Writing for My Life/ Fighting for my Life (which is my second-most viewed post of the year) . It’s nice for me to take a look back at these and see how things have worked out (mostly well).

I also started and finished writing my first novel – which I should mention as it’s pretty huge. Although it doesn’t have a lot to do with the blog…

In the midst of all this, we had an amazing summer of international visitors to Zurich. It was so great to introduce our adopted home-city to friends and family from near and far and to spend time exploring more of this gorgeous country with them.

As I said in my previous post of New Year’s Resolutions. I’d like to do some more travel stuff in 2017 with our 26 Swiss Cantons in 52 Weeks challenge. I’ll do more poetry of course but hope to get stuff published above and beyond Clairevetica. And you can follow my spoken word stuff on Soundcloud.

Happy New Year everyone – I’m so delighted to be writing so much and to have all these Clairevetica followers old and new. I appreciate each and every one of you. Here’s to a rockin’ writing 2017!

In Deep

Museum Neuchâtel. Exposition "ABYSSES".

Museum Neuchâtel. Exposition “ABYSSES”.

I just finished reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara and I feel compelled to write about it for several reasons. One is that I’m reading novels all the time and it’s one of my single greatest pleasures in life, yet I rarely mention it here. Two is that the book rather moved me. And three is that I saw this exhibition that resonated with the book. I’m sure there’s other reasons but let’s get moving.

A Little Life is a devastating, epic chronicle of one man’s life and that of his friends (Plotspoiler warning). The main character is an orphan who suffers horrific abuse at the hands of various tormentors throughout his childhood, then spends the rest of his life wrestling with the demons — both mental and physical — that the abuse leaves behind. This is juxtaposed with the fact that, in his adulthood, he forms some of the most beautiful relationships with friends, parental figures, mentors, caregivers and romantically.

I think I’d be almost wholehartedly endorsing this book as one of the best I’d read recently, except for the fact that a person whose opinion I respect in these matters was not a big fan, calling it “teen angst for grown ups” and “pain porn”. And, you know what? He’s kind of right.

The main character in A Little Life is addicted to cutting himself and is a mass of injuries and scars — internal and external — due to his self-abuse and that inflicted upon him by others. It’s a visceral depiction of the way, as human beings, we’re all to some extent concealed and revealed by our scars and neuroses. And about how we’re all works-in-progress throughout our little, petty lives. I thought of my own addictions (however minor), my rituals, my patterns of thought and behaviour — some well worn, other forged anew. These behaviours trap us and yet anchor us to our lives, to the people that we are.

Coincidentally, I went to a fascinating exhibition called Abysses at the Natural History Museum in Neuchâtel. The exhibition showed rare photos and taxidermy models of the creatures of the Deep Sea: angler fish, dumbo octopus, lantern sharks, etc. Due to my inadvertent consumption of Octonauts cartoons, I actually knew of the existence of many of these beings (as did my delighted nearly-5yo son, who could identify most of them without referring to the guidebook). But it was incredible to see real photos and, particularly, the physical forms in taxidermy (is it called that when it’s fish?).

I was struck by how the creatures of the deep sea look unfinished. Scarred. Darkness is their final layer of skin. They are a mass of unpigmented flesh and they are not pretty. After all, what need have they of looks? Down there where it’s dark, it’s cold, it’s quiet and it’s hungry… (a quote from the exhibition). Seeing this while reading A Little Life, it seemed poignant as a reference to the way in which everyone hovers on the edge of their own madness, the edge of their own personal abyss; flirting with the danger, sometimes diving further down, other times swimming out into the light…

The book depicted friendship — the love, trust and deep knowledge you get with people you’ve known a long time — heartbreakingly well, while also showing the way we cover ourselves and lie to each other and self-deceive and self-harm and try and try as we might, how we never truly know one another. Unanswerable questions were asked about where the line lies in helping someone who does not want to be helped (or do they?): at what point do you become an enabler? A source of further harm?

I guess, in the end, we’re all just snatching at fragments of luminescence and scraps of food that float down from above. Most of it apparently already digested and shat out several times by those who dwell further up in the light. Of course the creatures of the Deep Sea are also beautiful in an otherworldly way – some are inky-clear to avoid being seen in the dark, others exist in shades of darkroom red, and there’s the flashes of bright to lure prey and/or repel predators as they float in the dark. In this respect, our strangeness is often our beauty. Our ugly parts what make us stong.

The final thing I will say about the book was the conspicuous absence of any mother character. In fact every female in the novel was peripheral. The book discussed parenting and indeed nurturing from a father’s perspective but this lack of The Mother was a bit perplexing. Maybe I’m taking it too personally. And maybe this absence was yet another abuse heaped upon the main character to show a person who truly had been fucked around by fate. It didn’t pass the Bechdel test (if that can be applied to novels) but, to me, the depictions of love and friendship rang true as universal. However, I still have to pull up and question that use of men as the ‘control’ – the neutral ground on which to lay all those other Big Topics.

Of course, in the dark of the Deep Sea, there’s not much nurturing either. Not for those alien-creatures the happy parenting of the whales or the dugongs, oh no. Starve, freeze and sink or swim.

Next week – something fun, I promise.  😛