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'Taking My Mother to the Opera' launch speech

Friday 13 November 2015 1:38pm

Diane Brown's poetic memoir Taking My Mother to the Opera was launched at Dunedin's University Book Shop on Wednesday 11 November (you can see more pictures here). Many thanks to Vanda Symon for launching the book, and for allowing us to publish her launch speech below.

Vanda Symon TMMTO launchOne of the things we love about Diane is that she is not one for standing with convention, so it is no surprise that Taking my Mother to the Opera is not a conventional memoir. That Diane has brought this homage to her life and her parents’ lives in the form of poetry is perfect, for in it we have the treat of hearing her voice in its element, weaving with words, painting vivid images of moments past and present, situations we can all relate to, some that surprise us, some that shock. She has truly mastered the art of the vignette.

On the back cover of Diane’s previous memoir, Here Comes Another Vital Moment, it asks the question When does the ordinary become vital? And that is the beauty of what Diane has gifted us here. She has presented the seemingly ordinary moments of life, those moments we all encounter and may consider to be everyday and familiar, and shows us how they all add up to celebrate our individuality, how they illustrate the intricate dance that underpins the relationships we have with our friends, with our families, our parents, and, if we are honest, with ourselves. It is vital. For someone who finds it hard to be frank, I celebrate Diane’s honesty in this book, that her heart is exposed, that she explores how life feels and therefore, allows us to explore our own feelings. How would I? How do I? Have I? She makes us realise that even apparently ordinary people have a past, a richness of experience both good and bad, hidden behind the everyday, that they are extraordinary people.

You may think that a memoir that pays homage to parents and the complexities of our relationships with them, from childhood boundary pushing and stroppiness, to the impetuousness of young adulthood, to documenting with love, the gradual decline into age and the cruelty of dementia, could be a sad affair, but it is not. This is a celebration. Diane celebrates the spark, the fire, the indomitable human spirit that persists, even to the end.

This is the beauty of Diane using poetry to tell this story. Its power is in its apparent simplicity, the use of a few well chosen words that capture the essence of these precious and sometimes tough moments, words that gently pull you along with a smile, and then whap you between the eyeballs with something that catches in your throat, makes you gasp, makes you think.

So thank you, Diane, for sharing with us your story, for allowing us a glimpse into the wonderful people that are your parents, and for gifting us that deeper insight into the Diane we know and love. Congratulations, on a truly wonderful book.