Sunday, May 28, 2017

Stars and Lichen

Yesterday evening,
while driving into the city
I thought how easy it would be
if I lived ten minutes walk
or drive from everything
and how, as a city dweller,
I could go to Nivara Lounge
every week or more
to listen to music,
and visit art galleries
and walk in parks
just down the road,
without the trek in
at the end of the day,
without the trek back
sober, because
'don't drink and drive'.

Last night,
after the party,
I drove home in the dark,
squinting through the fog,
singing along to old favourites
the Stones, Billy Joel and Cake,
trying to stay awake,
being the sober driver
and finally there we were,
beneath a black sky,
the Milky Way spilling
over our home
more stars than
city folk can dream of,
and this morning
sunshine and chickens,
lichen on the fence post.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Missing Coffee with Violet

I was wanting a coffee
the other day in the city.
I passed by Machina
in London Street
and carried on because
I miss you, Violet,
and we used to meet there.

Driving across town
to Hamilton East
I could have stopped
at the Grey Street Kitchen
but I knew that too
would feel empty
without you, Violet.

I miss your wit and vulnerability.
Those conversations cut short
by the needs of children
yours and mine.
I miss your courage.
I miss your poetry,
back in those MySpace days.

Today I saw the horrific news
and saw your daughter say
it happened just one
block from your home.
I am afraid for you,
immigrant in a violent land
and, I miss you, Violet

Friday, May 26, 2017

Missing Susan

I'm thinking of you today
as I slide the wire
of my sandhill crane earring
through my lobe,
and of the godwits
who travel back and forth
between Alaska and New Zealand
without fear of flying

I'm thinking of you today
as I pull on the tattered t-shirt
with handpainted, fireweed blooms
bought six years ago
at the midnight sun market
shortly after sitting on the sidewalk,
feet in  the gutter
eating elephant ears
so sweet and cinnamony

I'm thinking of you today
and wishing you'd
drop by for a cuppa,
as we used to around
the turn of the century.
with photos of your grandchild
and chat about your job
and the spring tulips
near your new home
in the lower 48

Monday, May 15, 2017

An April Adventure: venturing into and out of fear

Life just keeps on happening, and sometimes I just can't seem to keep up in my head, let alone writing about it. I always want to write about everything; I have trouble teasing out the different strands, but so much has happened over the last 6 weeks that I'm just going to have to try!

April saw me go on an adventure. Not what many, most even, people would call an adventure, but it challenged me in so many ways, it has been transformative.

In April 2016, Mac and I went away for two weeks, to Golden Bay where I went to a five day basket willow weaving workshop. It was a challenge to go into a situation with a lot of strangers, but I had Mac to go 'home' to at night. Despite a lot of anxiety over how to interact with strangers, and fear of being slow and not good enough, made worse than usual by my recent diabetes diagnosis and subsequent vision difficulties, I mostly enjoyed it. Not long afterwards I heard of the NZ Fibre Arts Week to be held in Whanganui in April 2017, and that my favourite book artists, Liz Constable, was one of the tutors, doing a week long version of her Dyed and Gone to heaven workshop. I had previously attended a 2 day workshop and enjoyed it despite the other 5 attendees all being good friends and spending the whole time talking to each other about friends and events that I knew nothing of.

This NZ Fibre Arts Week was a different kettle of fish though: over 80 other women and I knew only one - Liz. And it was to be a mainly live-in situation at Whanganui Girls' College - probably 90% were all living together for 6 nights. Issues: social; dietary (gluten-free, vegetarian, diabetic); boarding school hostel (with accompanying memories); and the usual anxiety about my work and my Self being judged. But my desire to do the workshop won, especially 10 months out from the event so I booked.

At the beginning of this year, my son, Simon, moved to Dunedin, and another son, Steven, moved to Wellington. Mac, my husband, had been looking for an excuse to go for a long motorbike ride, so decided to go to Dunedin for a couple of nights, calling in to see Steven on the way. I am way past wanting to ride pillion that far for such a short time, and besides, finding house / animal sitters out here in the counrty is difficult. So I decided, well, I'm going to Whanganui for a week, why not go via Dunedin? And promptly booked ferry tickets, and accommodation for the first week. As soon as I had booked and paid for all that, I panicked! But I'm a bit stubborn and I'd paid.....

Since my diabetes diagnosis I have roughly followed Michael Moseley's programme, and that included learning meditation, particularly Mindfulness. Well, I tried, but had problems with that because of deeper problems, and so I have spent many months seeing the Mindfulness teacher in his capacity as a counselor, and my internal life has been dramatically changed. I have grown a lot, and my fears and anxieties are far smaller now, and the Mindfulness practice has become an almost automatic go-to when anxiety threatens my ability to function. It was certainly used a lot during my time away.

So many fears were faced, challenged, and overcome. I have often thought, 'if only I could just step outside of the structure and 'comfort' my life and and sort my head out, I could overcome a lot of problems.' The counselling sessions have been that for me to a certain extent, but this three week break was amazing.

  • Fear, arising from my diabetes and my awareness of aging, that I couldn't manage the long drives any more: dismissed. The day-long trip from home to Wellington, arriving in rush hour traffic, dispelled that fear. GPS guidance is a wondrous thing, and I stayed alert and capable, with a sensible number of short breaks to stretch my legs and drink coffee.
  • Fear that I would not be able to eat adequately because of my dietary limitations: dismissed. There were challenges, but most times I could find something that was good or 'okay'.
  • Fear that the long drives, the 'okay' meals, the stress, would cause an unhealthy rise in my blood sugar levels: dismissed. There was a rise, but well within acceptable levels.
  • Fear, since childhood of heights, dizziness which could indeed be very dangerous if it overwhelmed me and caused me to faint: managed. With Simon by my side, and Mindfulness awareness inside my head, I walked out to a lighthouse and looked over the edge to rocks below, without incident. I walked over a railway line via a pedestrian overpass, twice, on my own, with minimal dizziness. With a day up my sleeve before the workshop, I decided to go to Whanganui via the Manawatu, because I'd never been there. I failed to notice that this meant travelling the Rimatakas: I had to stop twice to breathe, focus, and talk to myself because the dizziness became bad enough to threaten loss of consciousness - fainting while driving, especially on roads with steep drop-offs is not conducive to life. Having survived that, the Manawatu Gorge was not the slightest problem, and a few days later I walked from the school into the Whanganui CBD via a long, high bridge over the river without hesitation, albeit slight trepidation. I think I might be ready to start a bit of training towards a goal of doing the Redwoods Tree Walk one day.
  • Fear of dealing with emergencies: dismissed. During the workshop week I developed a cold, and one night was quite sick, didn't have water handy, must have had a fever and sweated, and next morning fainted in the bathroom, faced planted on the floor and knocked myself out briefly. (Subsequently discovered to be caused by dehydration.) I discovered I didn't 'need' Mac - though it would have been nice to have him there. An ambulance was called, I was whisked off to hospital, and spent a morning in hospital having the best medical check up of my life, and having two bags of fluid poured straight into my veins. I was okay! I didn't fall apart. I managed. (Also, I have seen my heart beating, my aorta doing what it oughta, and my liver, livering. I am healthy - those parts anyway.)
  • Fear of strangers. I talked to people. In cafes, on the ferry, in camping grounds, wherever. At the workshop mealtimes, I approached tables and asked if the empty chairs were free, and if I could join them. I talked to fellow book artists, even those who were obviously better at it than me. On the last morning I was saying goodbye to one of the women I had spent evenings with, playing cards, and said how lovely it had been to come somewhere where everyone was so welcoming and inclusive to first timers - about 80% of the women had attended before and had developed friendships - and she replied that she was glad I felt like that because someone else had made a complaint about her experience being quite the reverse. I was gobsmacked and then realised that maybe the difference was in me, and how much I have grown in the past year. In the past, I always waited for others to speak to me first. In the past, I would have gone straight to any empty table at meal time. I know that there have been times when people have been cliquey and non-inclusive, but mostly I realise now, it has been my attitude that's been the problem. And that's the reason why my way of meeting people has been by entering or organising structured situations where I had something concrete to offer - secretary of the bee club, newsletter editor of the homeschool newsletter - something more important than, I thought, my Self.
  • Fear and awkwardness of being alone in cafes and restaurants: finally over that! I genuinely am no longer bothered by that!
  • Fear of being unable to function without Mac: I have realised that I can function well without him. I can have fun without him. I now know that although I prefer and choose to be with him, he is not absolutely necessary to my existence - which makes life a lot less fearful.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Of Boobs and Boots

Last week was rather weird and scary, but it did show me how much my mental health has improved.

Last November I talked to my doctor about wanting to be a bit more proactive about my health, now that I have my Type 2 diabetes under reasonable control. He recommended a few things, and as a result, a few weeks ago I had my first ever mammogram at the age of 65. Why had I never had one? In the past, I had rationalised my decision not to have mammograms because of various scientific and not-so-scientific reasons, but in reality I kind of liked the idea of being dead. Once I had children, I knew I could not commit suicide, because of the awful effects such a thing brings to children - I have known such people. But the thought of dying of a disease that would not cause anyone to blame me or themselves appealed.

However, over the last few years my mental health has improved to the point where I no longer wish to die unnecessarily early - I want to live! I wasn't really worried about breast cancer, as I have low risk factors for that particular cancer, but still, do as the doctor suggests, right?

On Monday last week I went out to Karapiro to catch up with my friend Raewyn, who was up with her daughter and the rest of the Nelson College team for the Maardi rowing regatta. Halfway through the afternoon I received a phone call from the breast clinic at the hospital, saying that something had showed up and I needed to make an appointment within the next two weeks for further mammograms and a possible biopsy. Raewyn and her nurse friend, Louise, reassured me that there was a very small chance that it was 'something', as had the nurse who called, but still......

I felt scared and angry. Scared because, as I said, these days I actually want to live, and I haven't had enough time of wanting to live yet. Angry because it seems like it should have happened before. Angry because I feel that I have worked so very hard over the last few years to restore my mental health, and then just over a year ago having to start working incredibly hard to bring diabetes under control. To have the possibility of breast cancer thrown at me now seemed so unfair, and I felt very angry.

But I hung on to the idea that it may be nothing nasty. I hung on to coping strategies I had learned in my search for mental health. Breathe..... focus on what is happening right now..... focus on exactly what I am feeling in my body...... be present in the present.....

I hadn't told anyone, other than Raewyn, who was right next to me when I got the call, but on Wednesday night I ended up telling Mac, when I realised I had to give an explanation for being increasingly irritable... well, okay, bitchy. He wanted to come with me, but I knew that, not only did he have things he needed to be doing at work, but also, that if I had a shoulder to lean on, I'd lean, and I'd end up losing it: I really wanted to hold myself together. On Thursday I talked with my counsellor, which was really grounding - he's great.

On Friday morning I arrived at the hospital and found a bunch of very caring, gentle people. The procedures are not gentle though. This second round of mammograms hurt as they tried to get clearer pictures. Then I waited. And waited. I was told I needed a needle  biopsy: years earlier I'd had a needle biopsy on a lump in my neck, so hadn't been worried about this part until they told me it would involve five needles! And that if they didn't get what they needed, they would try a second round! They gave me preemptive paracetamol, and said I wouldn't be able to lift anything for 48 hours.

So back I went for more picture taking - not quite as painful, but more difficult as they told me not to move at all, as these pictures would be used to guide the needle placement. The doctor came in and the talking went on forever. My leg started to cramp, but I couldn't move it, and lost concentration so couldn't follow what they were saying.

And then..... no, the doctor didn't want to biopsy the area found by the first mammogram which was , apparently, obviously fine. Instead, she was looking at another area that had showed up on the second. However, the third round of mammograms showed the area just too small to biopsy, too small to even pick up on a standard mammogram. Probably just more of the calcification caused by normal aging, that I already have quite a bit of. I was dismissed to be recalled for another look in 6 - 12 months. Until then, I'm not thinking about it. I'm 99.99999% sure I'm okay.

I'm really amazed at how well I managed during that week, although I did stay up late every night until I was too tired to stay awake. It's confirmed for me that I am indeed healing from decades of depression and anxiety. I've learned I'm much tougher than I thought.

And then I spent Friday afternoon with Raewyn again. Watching her amazing daughter row. Drinking coffee. Buying boots........... Life is good.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

WOMAD Without Simon

In this moment
white vapour trails
make fine brush-strokes
across an airmail paper sky

In this moment
a bright skirt made of silk ties
a green silk Trade Aid scarf
patched with butterflies

In this moment
a Brazilian songstress
Austrian electro-swing
ska, reggae, rap, blues

In this moment
dancers on the grass
outrageously coloured hair
wildly crazy garments twirling

In this moment
a small breeze stirs
shaking sunlight through leaves
lighting up orange karaka fruit

In this moment
the smells of Hungarian fried bread
cider in womad glasses
wine, beer, and marijuana

In this moment
an artist marvels at the southern stars
so different from his familiar sky
and then the glorious moon

In this moment
I pretend you are here too
dancing in front of another stage
getting up to some impulsive silliness
that as usual you will soon appear
at my side, with a hug
and a glimpse of your sweet smile

In this moment
I try to exist
in this moment

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Mokau: A Place Between Worlds

On Thursday night, on the way to WOMAD, we spent a night at the small seaside village of Mokau.

  It is one of my most beloved places, but I have only just realised why.
When I first went to high school it was to my local country school, but it was small and only catered for students in Forms 3 to 5 (Years 9 - 11), so I had to spend my final two years at boarding school.
Recently I have read several mentions of people who have had a 'gap year' between school and university - what a wonderful example of white privilege, but that's another issue. I have always felt uncomfortable about the idea of taking a year 'out' to have fun between school / childhood and 'settling down'. However, I realised the other day that, for me, my two years at boarding school were, in a way, gap years for me.
I was away from home and family for two years, albeit with long bus trips home for holidays and mid-term breaks. I went from a small country school of 150 co-ed students to a huge (for those times) school of 1100 girls, and a boarding hostel as big as my whole previous school. It was a huge transition time. As well as the challenges inherent in that situation, I was also challenged to read and think far more widely - by circumstances, teachers, and other students. I went through the trauma of losing faith in the religion I had grown up not really questioning more than than details, and became suicidally depressed for the first time. I learned that I wasn't the only person my age to think about philosophical issues, and miracle of miracles, there were even males who thought - well, one at least.
I met my first Jewish friend. I learned of the existence of homosexuality. I learned about living with and adapting to strangers. I learned that there was a wider world than the one I had grown up in.
Every school holiday and mid-term break I traveled home from boarding school and back again. Each journey was broken at Mokau. The buses from both Girls' High and Boys' High would stop for 15 minutes. A gap, a transition, a time to make the adjustments needed to live in the other world.
Those two years, though hard in some ways, were a transition time for me - from childhood on the farm and the small country village nearby, to adulthood.
Decades later we started the annual journey to WOMAD, and every journey includes a break at Mokau. The last three times we have stayed there over night. Once again Mokau has become a transition time: a transition from 'real' life to festival life. WOMAD has become only place other than home that, over the years, I have learned to feel at home - and Mokau is the place where I get that overwhelming sense of heading home - whichever direction I'm traveling.

One day I hope to reach a point where I simply feel at home wherever I am.