superstitions, compulsions and unfinished business

While I was cleaning the bathroom the other day, I came across at least three spiders, and instead of just spraying them with water and letting them swirl away down the drain like any normal person, I left them and cleaned around them, all because of that superstition that says it’s bad luck to kill a spider inside your house. They’re meant to be like house guardians. I don’t even know the actual wording of the superstition!!! And yet, I still allowed it to control me.

Then two nights ago, I was about to go to bed, when I saw a thick spider on the wall. Normally the spiders I come across are just Daddy Long-legs, and I leave them to roam about the house as they wish, but this juicy, squat specimen had to go. What if it crawled in my ear during the night and laid eggs? What if pushed it’s way into my mouth and I swallowed it and added to this statistic? No, it had to go. I squashed it with a slipper. A painless death, but a death all the same. Will I now be haunted by seven years of bad luck? Will horrible things keep happening to me, until I can atone for the sin of killing a spider inside my own house?

The weird thing is, it was harder to kill that spider, than it was to decide to leave the other three Daddy Long-legs while I was cleaning. The compulsion to obey this vague superstition, this curse, was too strong, so when I killed the thick spider, it felt like I was breaking out of chains. I felt a vague and ridiculous thrill at not doing what I was told, which just added to the danger and the sense of validity surrounding the superstition itself. This is a pretty personal post I guess, because it’s not something I talk about usually, but there are so many things that have this compulsive hold over me, and while I do manage to keep it all under control most of the time, when I do slip up, it’s like the house decides to enslave me.

Do you ever have really weird and morbid thoughts? Maybe something makes you think of funerals and you imagine a friend or family member dying, and then imagine the funeral in unwanted detail and obviously the thought of that is horrible and maybe makes you really anxious, but you can’t stop? Or you’re walking along outside and you see a rusty nail on the pavement and you imagine stepping on it and having it carve it’s way through your entire foot? And you don’t want to be imagining these things, but there is nothing you can do to make your brain just chill out and stop producing anxiety when there really is no rational reason for it. Well, I have lots of morbid thoughts at really random times and I hate them. Now that I’m older, I can more easily decide to think about something else, but while I can consciously think other, more diverting thoughts, I am still aware of the morbid ones lurking just below the top layer of my mind. It feels like I am merely sitting on them and squashing them underneath a heavy wooden board, but then I feel them squirming beneath and know with terrible certainty that they will eventually be able to toss me aside and take over again.

Sometimes, the only thing that makes it better is touching a piece of wood (another superstition), or if I’m at home, and the morbid thoughts happen to involve someone breaking in perhaps, or something burning on the stove and setting the entire house on fire, then the only thing that helps get rid of the anxiety these stupid thoughts cause is giving in to the compulsion that wants me to regulate the parts of the house that are involved in them. So, it wants me to check and re-check and re-re-check that the front door is locked, and that all the burners on the stove are off, to turn the lights in a room on and off, on and off, so that I am sure that there is nothing that’s creating a fire hazard, or a choking hazard for our dog, even though I can see after the first check that there is nothing. Nooooottthiiiingggggg.

Now that I’m out of adolescence, I am able to disobey these compulsions much more easily, some of the time without any anxiety at all, but when I was younger, it wasn’t so easy. It still elicits a peculiar set of emotions though. It feels deeply ridiculous to be walking up and down the hallway while checking that the door is locked, because you know that it’s fucking locked, and it feels comforting to know that you are doing something to prevent catastrophe, and shameful that you’re giving in to this irrational demon on your shoulder, and also hopeful that the scribble of anxiety in your gut might lessen a bit, if you just stay obedient and do what your brain is telling you to do, while all the while knowing that you need to stop, and that you’re going to stop right now or you’ll never be able to keep on top of this. It makes you feel like you’re both in control, and very deeply out of control, all at the same time.

There is a kind of ritualistic aspect to it too. You find yourself feeling like a ghost, repeating the same movements over and over again, touching the same objects over and over again, interacting with the same parts of your house over and over again. It’s no wonder that ghosts or hauntings in stories get fixated on certain rooms or certain areas of their house. Those ghosts that always walk down the same staircase, the ones that always open and close the same cupboard doors, the ones that only make their stomping footsteps heard in certain hallways, they’re all feeling the compulsion of unfinished business, and they’re giving into it. It’s actually deeply sad. They’re trying so hard to do this one thing, because they think something good will happen if they finally do it right, that they’ll finally be able to leave, without realising that they could just let go, disobey, and float away in freedom to whatever place of peace awaits them. :[


front lawns and offerings

Our front lawn was finally mowed yesterday after a couple of months of being too waterlogged for our electric mower. It’s amazing how much more ~respectable~ our house looks now from the outside, it felt like such a relief? And then immediately this weird relief turned into guilt for me. I started thinking about how weird the western culture of lawns really is, and then realised that something so basic should have crossed my mind before, but somehow it never has.

Lawns are such weird spaces. Who are they for exactly?? Unless you use your lawn to grow flowers or vegetables or something, it really has no private use, except as a kind of unfair (and incorrect) signal of what kind of house you keep. I’m reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma at the moment, and read this part in it last night, which talks about the nominal piece of grass outside the doors of a chicken factory shed, that has to be there in order for that chicken meat to be labeled as free-range. The fact that the chickens never use it doesn’t matter:

“I finally had to conclude that Rosie the free-range chicken doesn’t really grok the whole free-range conceit. The space that has been provided to her for that purpose is, I realized, not unlike the typical American front lawn it resembles – it’s a kind of ritual space, intended not so much for the use of the local residents as a symbolic offering to the larger community.”

We don’t use our front lawn for anything, except storing our recycling bins behind a big bush/s that acts like a picket fence, and my Dad also keeps his car trailer there, with the oar boat on it. Also, a part of our front lawn has been filled with concrete, for parking purposes. Oh and our mail box is there too. So actually quite a lot seems to happen, but these are just such passive uses of a relatively large space of land.

I’ve just been googling some stuff about front lawns and grass and came across this. Like… that’s actually despicable. The opposition put up to this woman was legit insane.

I really want to make better use of this front lawn space somehow, but don’t have a concrete idea yet of what I will do. And not just better use, but somehow a more individual use, tailored for our family, not just as a public “offering” to the neighbourhood or any passers-by.

Last year, when the retaining wall in our back garden was being fixed, nearly the entire yard was dug over. It was only then, while looking at the giant mound of earth that I realised for the first time that we live on clay soil. I took some pretty large chunks of that clay and they’re still waiting for me to process them. This will be a real DIY effort because I’ve never done anything like it, and it has an extremely large chance of failing, but anyway, I think I may use this clay to make something for the front lawn. An offering from its sibling, the back yard.

mahurangi bay villa

This past weekend my dad and I went on a mini road trip to a place north of Auckland called Mahurangi Bay with Marlo and it was really nice!
We drove around for a bit looking at like insane houses and this was one of them:

irl it looked even more amazing and magical because it is winter and it was an overcast day, so the sea and the sky were grey and all the ~landscape was a greyish green, so this house stood out like a giant white magical beacon. It is massive btw. Google maps doesn’t really convey the scale of it.

top 5 haunted houses in fiction (imo)

Apparently we have a ghost in the house. A few days ago I was watching TV really late at night and everyone else, including our dog Marlo, was asleep. Suddenly, I hear a scary low rumbling growl and look in the hallway where Marlo was sleeping. He’s standing up alert, with his fur puffed out and eyes glowing, growling at something up on the ceiling. So, I went over there to see wtf he was looking at and there was absolutely nothing there.

This is a photo of the corner he was looking at, from his perspective:

I sat with him for a bit, while he calmed down, but he still kept his eyes on the Something that had alarmed him up on the ceiling. I thought it may have been some kind of insect, but there was absolutely nothing there, like n o t h i n g, trust me. Not even a mosquito. Maybe he had a nightmare and woke up scared and confused aw. OR…

it is a ghost.

In honour of this event, I wanted to do a post of my top 5 favourite haunted houses.

5. The Lisbon house in The Virgin Suicides

The Virgin Suicides is obviously not a tale of a haunted house, but I think the Lisbon sisters’ house still falls into this category. This is probably the saddest house in this list, instead of being the scariest. I have not actually read the book, just seen Sofia Copolla’s movie, so the following might not have any relevance to the novel.

I love all the shots of the girls’ knickknacks in their room and the way they seem to use this slow creeping of their things to cement some sort of control over their fate and their environment. Their stickers and perfume bottles and clothes thrown everywhere are as different from the rest of the house, which is controlled by their parents, as their existence is different from the other girls in their school, after the suicide of their youngest sister. Teenage girls’ rooms are amazing places. I think some haunted houses revolve around the emotional connection the ghost/ghosts have to the objects that used to be theirs and I also think that a haunted house doesn’t need the ghost of a dead person to fall into that category.

I keep thinking about Miss Havisham from Great Expectations and how she is kind of like the Lisbon Sisters, only while their collection of things seems to always be changing and moving and being added to, Miss Havisham’s is obviously static and collects dust. But, they both use the things around them as an anchor to normalcy – Miss Havisham madly tries to hold on to what she thought would be her perfect day, the culmination of her upbringing and the point to her life, while the Lisbon sisters exercise as much freedom as they can in their rooms, by collecting and arranging different little things, and cling to the hope of a normal teenage life. All their belongings and objects are kind of little throwaway things, without much value except to them personally (and I guess to us as viewers or readers of the Virgin Suicides and Great Expectations). And indeed Miss Havisham’s wedding feast definitely has no value as food to anyone any more. Here is a really relevant quote from the Virgin Suicides film:

“So much has been said about the girls over the years. But we have never found an answer. It didn’t matter in the end how old they had been, or that they were girls… but only that we had loved them… and that they hadn’t heard us calling… still do not hear us calling them from out of those rooms… where they went to be alone for all time… and where we will never find the pieces to put them back together.”

4. The Paranormal Activity house

First of all, holy shit this movie completely blew me away. I had gotten so used to shock horror and gore horror and dumb horror that it was so refreshing, and truly terrifying, to finally watch a movie like this, where you don’t see the villanous terror and get immune to it, where the atmosphere of dread and stress builds so smoothly and where the movie never devolves into cliches or stereotypes (apart from the burning Ouija board, but even that was cool). Technically this isn’t really a haunted house since the demonic horror that plagues the characters is specifically attached to Katie and follows her throughout her life, rather than being attached to the house itself. But I still love this house as a haunted house. I love that horrible feeling of invasion; of something unseen and unknowable invading the most private space in a person’s life and making a home a completely unsafe place to be. The director used his own house to shoot the movie and you can definitely tell that it’s not just a decorated film set. All the furniture and decoration is much less visually interesting than a deliberately staged set would be, but that also contributes to the movie’s feeling of reality and how something as innocuous as a bland house in the suburbs (albeit a giant rich house) can take on a whole new life as a suddenly horrifying place to be.

3. House of Leaves

This is the first book I read that made me think about books as objects. I know lots of people are put off by it, but I really enjoyed the way the layouts of the pages followed the plot line. This is probably the most poetically haunted house in this list. I just love that beginning image of someone discovering that the dimensions of their house are somehow a little larger on the inside, than on the outside. Some of the things that happen in the book, particularly when various characters descend into the darkness of the heart of the house, are g e n u i n e l y blood chilling. Although I thought that what began as a really interesting and spooky novel about a haunted house, kind of evolved into something completely different by the end of the book. It kind of became a love story instead? I was a little disappointed with this when I first read the book, because after a while all the beautiful horror stuff was put to the side a little bit, but now I’m starting to really like this shift. I don’t know… That’s what haunted houses are about anyway, I think. Love and lost love and the connections that still remain.

2. Hill House

Hands down, the single greatest haunted house story in the world, and in my opinion the single greatest horror novel also. There’s a shameful Catherine Zeta Jones movie adaptation of this, but it does not bear much resemblance to this amazing book. I can never get over the opening paragraph:

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill house, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

I also really like this anthropomorphising paragraph. I like how the house itself is a living, thinking entity in this story. Or is it…

“No human eye can isolate the unhappy coincidence of line and place which suggests evil in the face of a house, and yet somehow a maniac juxtaposition, a badly turned angle, some chance meeting of roof and sky, turned Hill House into a place of despair, more frightening because the face of Hill House seemed awake, with a watchfulness from the blank windows and a touch of glee in the eyebrow of a cornice. Almost any house, caught unexpectedly or at an odd angle, can turn a deeply humorous look on a watching person; even a mischievous little chimney, or a dormer like a dimple, can catch up a beholder with a sense of fellowship; but a house arrogant and hating, never off guard, can only be evil. This house, which seemed somehow to have formed itself, flying together into its own powerful pattern under the hands of its builders, fitting itself into its own construction of lines and angles, reared its great head back against the sky without concession to humanity. It was a house without kindness, never meant to be lived in, not a fit place for people or for love or for hope. Exorcism cannot alter the countenance of a house; Hill House would stay as it was until it was destroyed.”

1. Blair Witch house

This is one of my favourite movies. Like in Paranormal Activity, I love that feeling of never quite being able to see what is causing such mayhem. I love how it’s always just outside your field of vision and how the characters use their camera as a kind of shield. I love all the little bits and pieces of different stories and legends that are woven together to create this myth of the Blair Witch. Everything is only suggestive, and there is never a coherent ending to these little stories, but every detail in the movie seems to suggest the evil presence of the Witch. The house at the end of the movie is the scariest house and the scariest ending I have ever seen. Corners are somehow horrible, just on their own, since they are often empty, but still seem to contain something. But this particular corner….

If someone starts saying how this movie is overrated and it wasn’t scary and nothing happens, then I always think they need to go out and buy themselves a new imagination.

P.S. All pix were found through google image search, except the very top one, which was obviously taken in our home.

suburbia and adventure

One of the things that had a big impact on me when my family moved to New Zealand was the existence of suburbia. Before moving here, my brother and I had spent our childhoods in our 1 bedroom apartment with our parents. We had a balcony with what I remember as a really amazing view of the city and grassy areas beside, and in front of, the building block where we lived. I remember playing outside in these places a lot with the other kids who lived in our building and the other neighbouring buildings. We knew a lot of our neighbours by name. While I was trying to find photos of our building, I came across this great photo of a street in Belgrade, by martincgs. It looks pretty much exactly like the building we lived in, and I think it’s actually the block of buildings right across the street from ours! However, below is a photo I took in 2007 of our actual apartment block. The railing that is somewhat visible in the background leads to the entrance.

Coming to New Zealand, we first had to live in a motel until my parents managed to find a house to rent. It was the strangest experience trying to make such a transitory place comfortable until we could move on. I had my one and only ~psychic~ experience in this motel ahaha when I correctly guessed one day that my Dad was about to return from his errands. My entire memory of this motel, and this week or two in our lives, is one of cold, being uncomfortable and feeling like something was about to happen. On one of our first days in this country, my Mum, brother and I went on a walk around the neighbourhood near the motel and took like a million photos of the houses there, because we had literally never seen anything like them. It was a really alien time in my life.

This is one of the photos taken by us during the above walk in August 1996.

This is another, taken on the same day.

Then finally we found a house to rent and moved in (and shortly after that moved into a different one). Everything was so new to us. To live in a house and have a backyard etc etc. I was really excited by the idea! I had spent a lot of time watching American movies and TV shows and had this golden fizzy vision of suburbs as places for innocent summer-time entertainment and adventure. I longed for my own room. I was enamoured by second floors in houses and staircases inside! Enamoured with trees to climb in the backyard and all the ‘secret’ places a house has, that an apartment never could.

One of the things which was the most amazing to me was wall-to-wall carpeting, which is pretty standard here, but not where we are from. It just seemed so tidy and quiet, yet was also suggestive of the history-less nature of suburbs. It was not only a cover-up to hide whatever lay beneath, it was somehow also an erasure of any kind of history. When we moved out of two houses, I remember looking around at the end of all the packing and seeing the empty shell of the house. And the carpeting, with it’s tidy, enveloping nature, seemed to somehow complete this picture and put a full-stop on our lives up to that point. This post, by Social Surrealism, is a really nice little ode to suburbia and the secrets and decay a perfect exterior can hide underneath.

This is a photo taken by my brother when he was little in the second house we lived in here in NZ. That was the exact carpet (and stair case) that had such an impact on me.

Some movies I loved as a child are The Sandlot, Stand by Me, Now and Then, and Hocus Pocus, as well as the TV shows Full House, Clarissa Explains it All, and Blossom. All of these cemented the following idea in my mind: that suburbs are safe, gold-tinted places, with all sorts of amenities, that, however, still retain some mystery and allow your group of oddball friends and you to go on happy-ending adventures. For a long time, I was (and am still in some ways) in love with the USA because of these ideas. It was like a child’s version of The American Dream. Quickly though, after living in the New Zealand suburbs for a little while, I realised that all this safety and well-to-do-ness and adventure WAS just a dream brought on by the genius of Hollywood and that actual, real-life suburbs would never deliver to us what had been promised. There was no mystery there anymore, just beige carpeting and a disappointing realisation that all the secret places in a house hid nothing at all.

I did go through a teenage “this-is-unbearably-lame-eyeroll” stage, but that has since been supplanted by an opinion more coloured by reality – that the suburbs here in Auckland are a good place to raise a child, but that is only because they are the default mode of living. Because Auckland is such a different type of city to the one we left long ago (much more spread out), living in the CBD here, in apartment buildings, will never be something that would make sense for a family. Now I have to catch myself when I start to romanticise my past and all those afternoons spent playing with the neighbourhood kids outside our buildings. Although I’ve since realised that the things we did were our own version of The Sandlot and Now and Then and Clarissa, I have to keep reminding myself that even this childhood memory is only burnished by the sunset-coloured glow of the bricks of the past, and that, as an adult, I have to keep in mind that I am just romanticising childhood adventure I never really felt this way about at the actual time it was happening.

In 2007 I returned alone for 3 weeks to Belgrade, to see the rest of our family and my school-friends. I visited our old apartment building and was shocked to discover how much smaller everything was than my child’s memories had it. The entry doors, once so tall and heavy, were now boring, standard-size metal and glass things. The massive hill in-between my building and the next, once so large and perfect for sledding down in the snow, was now nothing more than a slightly-inclined, scraggy urban patch of grass, with a newly-built dinky little playground in it. Somehow the most jarring of all was walking up to the covered entrance area of the building, and realising that our meeting place was now really dirty and disheveled, and that the red brick colour of the walls I still have in my mind, was now mottled with at least a decade’s worth of city dust. I guess it couldn’t have been as clean as it is in my memories of it, but a lot can happen in 11 years. This is a photo of it:

slackerism, idleness and the consumption of domesticity

I do not want to be a slacker. It feels me with so much fear. I am an ~artist~ – I make my own work and am also involved in the running of an artist run space here. I have a job to pay the bills. I do a lot of housework. I am looking for a new job because I hate customer service and each time the door to the shop opens, my heart shrivels up a tiny fraction more. But still I feel like this is somehow not enough and that I should be busy with more things and that things should have been different by now. The only problem is that I don’t know what form this difference is supposed to take. Obviously I am going through some insufferable quarter-life crisis and I know I’m not alone. But the reason I’ve decided to start this blog is to add something more to “do” into my life. I want to write again to clarify ideas and start thinking more critically about the things I consume mentally. I do not want to be a slacker. And hopefully this blog will make me feel less like one, since writing is work in my opinion. I’ve heard people refer to a ‘Protestant work ethic’. Although until 5min ago I actually had no idea what this means, I feel like I must have a stunted case of it.

(P.S. I’m not actually a Protestant).

For a while now, I’ve perhaps been a little bit compulsive in the way I do housework. We’ve just had a really stressful couple of months. Many, many money problems and the lack of any results in my job search have conspired to grow this beast of anxiety that just keeps gnawing at my troubled young heart every hour of the day. The only time I feel better is when I’m doing housework and putting things in their proper place! There is nothing like the satisfying thk thk thk sound the vacuum cleaner makes while sucking up crumbs. My Mum has told me on a couple of occasions that perhaps the way I’ve started to approach housework is not the healthiest in the world. We joke about me being a potty housewife………… and obviously this needs to stop before it stops being a joke. It’s all started to become quite compulsive and I’ve realised that it’s the only thing that makes me feel like I have some control over my life. Our lives might be in a horrible flux, but if I can make things spic and span… well that’s something at least.

This anxiety has also meant that I’ve been pretty slack about making my own art work – instead I just seem to clean. I know that I just need to get up and do things, because I don’t really believe in the concept of inspiration. I think working at something everyday, is what makes a difference in the end. To add to this, there is also the fact that so much of my work revolves around the very general idea of Home anyway, so I keep thinking about the differences between art and house work and how to navigate this line haha. Last year I made a giant chunk of soap from scratch. It was an object in a show here, but now I want to cut off a small piece of it and clean something and document this action. Basically, I need to take back control over my life.

This has made me think about domesticity and what I can only describe as the cult of domesticity amongst young people today (especially young people like me who have a double life on the Internet). A person much cleverer than I, referred to it as the “consumption of domesticity” and that phrase rings so true. Pinterest and Tumblr and other social areas of the Internet are full of interior design porn, full of crafty DIY projects, full of household tips and tricks, full of hipster knitting patterns etc etc. And while, yes older people are also a big part of these areas of the internet, especially Pinterest, I don’t know what it is about this generation that has made young people flock to domesticity like this. And it’s more than just domesticity. It’s like some kind of yearning for a simpler, more fulfilling life, where you don’t have to worry about shitty customers, and whether you’ll be able to afford your rent payments, all you need to worry about is which colour to paint your walls and what vintage seller on Etsy to buy some wooden bowls from. Which I guess is the answer to the previous question, but it also betrays a certain rose-tinted innocence. It’s escapism let us be honest. The world has always sucked. Going back to some ideal of floral domestic life will not change anything. I am certainly guilty of this too. When I was a teenager (not that long ago), it wasn’t cool to be interested in homey things like this. It was a mark of dowdiness. And, in what seems like a really short space of time, this has completely changed. The only thing I can compare it to is opp-shopping/thrift shopping and how it used to be really embarrassing, even as recently as 10 years ago, and then a switch flipped and for ages now it has been a mark of style and coolness to go second-hand shopping and find “is-this-fun-or-is-it-ugly” items to mix into your ~capsule wardrobe~.

a screenshot of the pinterest home page taken like 2 min ago

I love 19th century novels and there is a particular word in a lot of them that fills me with an inexplicable shame. IDLENESS. What would these 19th century people think of us???? And then obviously… Why the fuck would I care what this backwards society would think of us? Obviously poor people and people who depended on their work to survive worked so hard and for so long, much like today, but even rich and middle class people needed ‘useful employments’. When your clothes are hand-made, you can’t really justify spending 3 hours on the Internet on a Saturday devouring interior design tumblrs and idealising some vague homey life where you would make your own vintage pattern clothes from silk made by your own backyard silk worms. You have to sew. You have to work. You can’t be a slacker, because you would not survive the next winter. Unless you were really rich, in which case I don’t really care about ur struggles anywaaaaay.

Today, for people here in the developed world, you are not a slacker if you don’t sew your own clothes. A woman is not a useless creature if she doesn’t do housework or cook. Today there is no need for such oppressive and necessary domesticity and yet it is what my generation seems to, in some ways, want. Why do I get such pleasure out of cleaning and vacuuming and playing some sort of domestic role? Why does it make me feel in control and like I am doing something worthy? Why are cooking shows so popular?

The idea of hearth and home is important to human beings. It’s what our lives revolve around. And it will always be important, but do I really want it to control me in this way? Why do I feel like my housework is more worthwhile than the job that pays my bills?

A house can be an exacting entity. It can be an oppressive place. This blog will be about houses, homes and the way people live and arrange their lives. I’ve been obsessed with these ideas for so long now that it will be good to get them out into the world, even if no one ends up reading them. I have about 17 posts already planned ahaha and new ideas just keep coming, so I finally feel a little bit optimistic. Maybe this blog will be a cure for my Protestant work ethic.