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I read this as part of my self-declared New Zealand November in 2015, and with great interest because this volume includes the time period where Janet Frame spends large portions of time in several mental institutions. She later turned this into a novel, Faces in the Water, and this volume of her autobiography helped me understand how much of that book came from her actual experience. Writing an autobiography, usually thought of as a looking back, can just as well be a looking across or through, with the passing of time giving an X-ray quality to the eye. Also, time past is not time gone, it is time accumulated, with the host resembling the character in the fairytale who was joined along the route by more and more characters, none of whom could be separated from one another or from the host, with some stuck so fast that their presence caused physical pain.One element of this story that was horrific to me was that of female hygiene, something that continues from the previous volume. In her teenage years, she was forced to use cloth, which would leak and bulge and smell. In her college and early adult years, she would take walks and dispose of her sanitary napkins in cemeteries, along slummy roads, or in the woods. And so did other girls. Why their mothers and other older women in their lives didnt normalize this for them is a huge mystery to me - so much monthly shame in an experience half the population would have been having! She also lived in incredible poverty during college and early teaching years, almost as if she didnt know it wasnt acceptable. Another story that demonstrates this pre-feminism era is when the warden of the College sent for Janet to ask her to get her younger sister in line.Isabel, she said, was making a guy of herself both by her behavior and by the clothes she wore, in particular a skirt printed with a giraffe.It turns out that making a guy of oneself includes standing out, both in speech and dress. And adding that applique giraffe to her skirt had put Isabel past the boundary of appropriate feminine behavior. Ha. There is a lot in here about poets who were a heavy influence on her writing life, both in modeling writing but also in claiming a New Zealand identity in the writing, using the landscape, the unique experience, to create.But more than anything, all of her life is lived between periods in mental institutions.The six weeks I spent at Seacliff hospital in a world Id never known among people whose existences I never thought possible, became for me a concentrated course in the horrors of insanity and the dwelling-place of those judged insane, separating me for ever from the former acceptable realities and assurances of everyday life.At one point she explains that Faces in the Water is entirely based on her actual experiences, but that she downplayed some of it to make it seem more realistic. Phew. At one point she is diagnosed with schizophrenia, which is almost a comfort to her - she has a name for it, she is in a group with other people, often creative, although she has to declare it along with job applications and every time she receives health care. Only the acclaimed publication of a book of her stories (The Lagoon: A Collection of Short Stories) saves her from a scheduled leucotomy (aka lobotomy). Mental note, boys and girls: evidence of creative output can save you from having a piece of your brain destroyed!It was now my writing that at last came to my rescue. It is little wonder that I value writing as a way of life when it actually saved my life.When Janets sister dies, another sister to die while swimming because of a bad heart, she stays away from the funeral.I was in hiding. I was grieving. I didnt want anyone to see, for since I had been in hospital, I had found that people didnt only see, they searched carefully. In fact any time there was a setback, problem, death, Janet is sheltered and protected in deference to (or fear of) her mental illness.
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