Poetry Shelf celebrates: Michelle Langstone’s Times Like These

Times like These, Michelle Langstone, Allen & Unwin, 2021

I wonder how long it will take for us all to snap back into old ways of being, like rubber bands set free. I hope I will remember the way these days slowed down to show me things, to allow time to sit with the spaces inside me. I want to keep the quiet of these days close, and look for myself imprinted on the landscape where I walk.

from ‘Where I Walk’

Poet and bookseller, Jane Arthur, enthused about Michelle’s memoir to me in Good Books, so I came home to Tāmaki Makaurau with a copy. I now picture you standing next to me in my kitchen as I write this, as I too share my enthusiasms, my unadulterated love of this memoir, with its personal avenues and wisdom boulevards, its aches and its solace. I want to find readers who will love it as much as I do.

The sentences, ah, so sweetly crafted: jewels on the page, neither laboured nor akward. Michelle writes with the ink of a poet. Similes enrich. The rhythms flow like music. I stop and admire single sentences, phrases, word choices, but equally important is the content. The way grief, hope and love infuse the wider story and the smaller detail. Each scene gleams with life and at times death; Michelle’s father is dying, and the details are precious. I am in the scene, an interloper, feeling my own life and my own death with such intensity, such verve, such love, I know this is a rare reading experience.

An essay takes me back to lockdown, to the five weeks when everything changed, when we were out walking and breathing in the quiet, baking and making different plans, out walking walking walking. Michelle returns me to the way some of us had anxiety overload, not just for self and family, but also for the world, especially for the global loss of loved ones, for stories that resonate and matter behind every statistic.

Yes this memoir takes you into hard terrain. The death of a father is not just feeling it is also physicality, a changing body, the shared life recalled in piercing flashes. It is the rollercoaster experience of trying to conceive a baby, fertility treatment, maternal yearnings. But it also takes you to the everyday life that carries on, as partner, sibling, daughter, friend, actor, writer. The need to nourish and be nourished sits alongside the restorative power of the natural world: walking up the local maunga, the sky, the stars, trees, weather, falling leaves. It is the series of family boats where bags get packed and the harbour calls, mother ashore, father at the helm, the swimming, the near-drownings. It is life in all its kaleidoscopic range: the plainness, the sharpness, the joy.

I love this book because it draws me close to how experience, both good and bad and everything in between, can help view things in new lights, whether people or places or values. Whether ideas, the past, the present. For Michelle, her mother is re-seen:

I have seen my mother almost every day of my life, but it took my dad’s death to bring her into a focus that is hers alone. After his death we have more time. What she wants to do is see things grow, and with her I revert back to childhood, looking at plants with her, inspecting the old wooden troughs that she has given to me, making sure they’re in one piece and ready for new plants. I grow a salad and herb garden in the troughs she’s had for several decades, and when the new growth comes through I am euphoric, because it grows in my history and in the history of my mother’s hands. She comes to dinner and I make salads from from what I gather in the garden and I watch her eat and feel just like her.

from ‘Mother/Earth’

Thank you Michelle Langstone, thank you for this glorious gift of a book. I do hope one of the readers looking over my shoulder in my kitchen feels compelled to get a copy and start reading.

Michelle Langstone is a well-known actor in both New Zealand and Australia, and has featured in multiple film and television roles, including recurring roles in One Lane Bridge, 800 Words and McLeod’s Daughters. Michelle won the award for Best First Person Essay at the Voyager Media Awards in 2019 and the award for Best Interview or Profile at the Voyager Media Awards in 2020. She is a regular contributor to North & South, The New Zealand Herald and The Spinoff website.

Allen & Unwin page

Michelle Langstone in conversation with Jesse Mulligan Radio NZ National

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