Saturday, December 16, 2017


Monday, 11 December, was a good day: a yoga class, coffee with the other yoga women, followed by an afternoon of hot, vigorous gardening - cleaning out my one ornamental garden. It was completely overgrown with weeds and out of control plants. I pulled out everything except some variegated flax, and a couple of others that will require the extractigator or possibly the tractor. Then I'll add a few wheelbarrows full of fresh topsoil and replant with something different.

However things changed after I finished at 5pm. In the morning I had had a couple of momentary incidents when my leg felt it might buckle, but it really was momentary. But 10 minutes after I came in from gardening the feeling returned but didn't go away. I rang my sister-in-law, Pat, and asked her to come and sit with me. Then I rang the NZ Health Line 0800 611 116, who said I needed to go to hospital, and rang for an ambulance. Apparently, my symptoms weren't bad enough to make me a priority: after 40 minutes the ambulance service rang to say they didn't have an ambulance free yet, and after another 50 minutes they rang with the same story just as Mac got home. So Mac told them he'd take me in. So much for all those decades of paying every year for St John membership!

At the hospital they talked of TIA:

 "A ministroke is also known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA). It occurs when part of the brain experiences a temporary lack of blood flow. This causes stroke-like symptoms that resolve within 24 hours. Unlike a stroke, a TIA doesn’t kill brain tissue or cause permanent disabilities. Since symptoms of a TIA and a stroke are nearly identical, you should seek immediate emergency attention if you experience any symptoms.

Knowing the signs of a TIA or ministroke can help you get the treatment you need as early as possible. Because 1 in 3 people who experience a TIA later experience a stroke, early treatment is essential."

However they were a little confused, and in a couple of cases, skeptical, because my only symptom was self-reported weakness in my right leg, and a little in my right arm. When they got me to push, pull and squeeze they couldn't feel any difference between my left and right sides. I kept saying that it was a sensation of giving way and lack of control, and I have since recognized it as the same sort of sensation as when a doctor tests your reflexes and you just can't stop than leg from jerking. But I could talk fine, and even walk fine, if somewhat slowly and nervously.

On Tuesday a CT scan showed nothing. An MIR scan on Wednesday morning was not as scary as I expected, but having to wait until Thursday lunchtime was nerve-wracking. And the result? Brain damage from a stroke. Akkk! The somewhat dismissive young male doctor looked very surprised. He  was also obviously pissed off at my questions about treatment. Mate, I question everything! Especially when you have already made an incorrect statement about T2 diabetes! Then it was home. With a shower stool, and a handrail for Mac to install in the shower and a stop to have a cuppa with Steve, who had flown up and is staying with Rob, just a couple of minutes walk from the hospital. Then more stops for a walking stick from Life Unlimited (yeah, right) and to fill prescriptions.

Friday, lots of rest, while still putting in a determined effort to do as much for myself as I could: I put on and hung out washing, did dishes, walked on treadmill twice for 5 mins and got up to 3kph and 3.5kph. I showered myself, fed the cat, made kefir, made yogurt, made breakfast. It's amazingly hard work when you have to concentrate and make every move consciously intentional. Who would have dreamed that such ordinary achievements would bring such satisfaction?

Saturday - as much rest as I could. The doctor said I could go see Paul McCartney as planned. I wonder if he actually knew who Paul McCartney was and that at the concert at Mt Smart Stadium I would be one wobbly old woman in a crowd of 30,000 people. But I went, with Mac helping me and supporting me every step of the way. Steven drove us right to the gates, and picked us up afterwards and we got home just before 3am. There were lots of steps. It was very hard work. It was worth it. Every single dollar, every single step. 53 years after my mother said I was too young at 13 to go see the Beatles (she was right) and that I could go next time they came (she was wrong), I got to see Paul, who back at age 13 was my favourite Beatle.

I cried a lot. (I seem to be very emotionally fragile since this stroke.) But I had a lot of time when I forgot my woes. I sang along, forgetting that I might be singing out of tune as a side effect of the stroke (though Mac said this morning that I was totally in tune.) This is not my normal preferred music any more - I prefer small intimate venues and jazz - but Paul's music has been part of my life since before I was in my teens. I realised once again that I must not live my life in fear. Every one of us could die or have some awful, disabling thing happen tomorrow: it's just that I am aware of what my awful thing is likely to be. I must continue to live my life to the fullest I can, must live in the present moment.

Quite a few people I know choose a word for the year, not something I have ever done. But this year - or for a while anyway - I think I will adopt the word


Friday, November 24, 2017

Mother Love

A while ago, when I was out at a gathering of mainly young people in their early - mid 20s, I overheard a young person say, "our mothers never love us the way we want them to".

Is that true of everyone? I know I feel that. To the extent that I don't really feel my mother loved me at all - or at least, did her best not to be too attached to me, for reasons I understand as an adult. Despite that understanding, my own sense of being unloved remains to this day. She wasn't unkind most of the time, and, in fact, did lots of kind, good things for me, supported me through some hard times. But all the same, it felt to me that her approval was very conditional, and what friends, family and neighbours thought was her main concern. I remember when I announced I was moving out to go flatting, her response was, "but what will people think if you move out?" My father, on the other hand, looked sad but asked, "what do you need? How can we help?" I would have liked her to have told me nice things about myself, not just ways I could improve. I would liked to have been hugged. I would have liked her to have said she loved me.

I know I have loved my sons unconditionally always, and I think they know that now, but I also know that I have failed to be as kind and supportive of them as I, and they, I'm sure, would have liked.

I keep wondering, in what ways do my sons feel they would have liked me to love them? Then I wonder, do I really want to know, when it is far too late for me to change anything? Perhaps not.

On Being a Real Woman

Recently on Facebook, I have been witnessing several discussions about transgender issues. The talk around gender dysphoria has had me thinking about my own perception of what it means to be a real woman. Not in the context of the transgender discussion, not like that.

But as I read, I wondered, how does it work, to say, 'I feel like a woman'. What does that mean to me?  Why have there been so many things about myself that have made me feel I wasn't a real / good / proper girl / woman? How can I have felt like that without ever considering what being a real woman meant to me? Why have I spent my life accepting, as real, negative judgments, not just from real, actual people, but from vague cultural suggestions, and then regurgitating them in self-flagellation? I realise that the first step in discovering what I think a real woman, a specific actual woman - me - is, is to look at past criticisms from others and from myself.
  • I've been too skinny, too fat, wrong proportions, wrong shape to be a real girl / woman
  • my hair is too brown, not black or red or blonde, too short, too straight, too fine, too long and tangled and now too grey
  • my nose is too big for a girl / woman
  • my breasts have been too small, too big, too lop-sided
  • I'm too emotional, too angry, too sad, too happy, too loud
  • too clumsy to dance
  • don't suit frills or lace or pink or...
  • teeth not even enough, not white enough
  • can't play netball
  • shouldn't want to play rugby
  • bad taste (a teacher, of my tartan skirt "a woman should know that green and blue don't go together")
  • don't get the jokes that other girls giggle about
  • real girls don't even want to do woodwork and metalwork, girls like cooking and sewing
  • a woman stays a virgin until she gets married / a woman should share sex liberally because, you know, 'make love, not war' (you can tell finished school in 1968, started university in 1969, when the hippy revolution was in full flow in NZ) 
  • only sailors and prostitutes have pierced ears and tattoos
  • a married woman should stay home / should make a success of a meaningful career
  • a woman should be a mother otherwise she is selfish; a mother should be an expert in everything from housework, to health care, to education, to gardening, to sewing, knitting, to .... but .......
  • a woman should always defer to experts - her parents, husband, doctor, dentist, school teachers, encyclopedia salesmen....
  • a woman's children should be perfect and never make mistakes or get dirty or have autism or break a leg or like eating apple slices spread with marmite
  • a woman shouldn't 'let herself go' but
  • a woman shouldn't spend money on herself as long as her man, her children, her parents - anyone else, really, has needs or wants
  • a woman should always be emotionally available to anyone who needs them but....
  • a woman shouldn't burden others with her shit
  • a woman should wear age-appropriate clothing - especially old woman who should dress in beige and cover up as much skin as possible (is there even such a thing as age-appropriate clothing for men?)
  • an older woman should always wear a bra even if she finds them uncomfortable, especially when she has saggy breasts because basically, a woman should have large, perky breasts all her life, but if she fails at that, she should cover them well, so other people don't suffer revulsion
  • a woman should have a nice singing voice
  • a woman shouldn't speak or laugh loudly
  • a woman should be elegant or sexy or both but not slutty (what the fuck is slutty anyway?)
  • a woman should have head hair, eyelashes, eyebrows, maybe public hair if neatly trimmed, but otherwise be baby-smooth
  • Post-menopausal women should be especially careful to get rid of all those bristles that appear in random places
  • white / greying hair is not distinguished or attractive on a woman, it is aging and shows declining womanhood - but dying it unreal colours is absurd
  • a woman should support other women as long as they aren't (insert anything here.) 
  • a woman shouldn't be uppity enough to put her writing / art / music / thoughts / self out in front of others unless it is as good as the best man's
  • a million other little and large shoulds and shouldn't - there's no order here, just a stream of things that poured out
  • a woman should feel guilty about everything she says or does or wants or is.....
And still, I identify as a woman. In spite of all my 'failures'.
I think my biggest failing is that I took on so many other people's stupid judgments and failed to do so so many things I wanted to, and to be out loud the woman I am.

I still don't know what I can do to be a real woman - other than just be.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Indigo dyeing and Shibori

As my craftroom slowly transforms into my studio, which is probably going to end up as my messy play room (messy-play room / messy playroom), I am quieting my cravings to create and play by going elsewhere. On Sunday I went to the Tauranga Historic Village, to a workshop at The Artery. I met Liz at the NZ Fibre Arts week in April, and had seen some of her beautiful work, so when I saw the workshop I was keen to attend even though I could only go for one day of the two day workshop. (Having already bought tickets to Cirque du Solei for the second day.)

Indigo is such a beautiful dye, and, until comparatively recently, the only blue dye, although it has been made from different plants in different places. Shibori is the Japanese term for their ways of resist dying, but some of what we did took me back to happy days at homeschooling camps at Lake Okataina, where tie-dyeing was always one of the activities. Resist dyeing is done throughout the world's cultures in different ways.

Anyway, despite the cold, rain and wet of my drive across country, I had a delightful day. and can't wait to do more resist dyeing using both indigo and other dyes.

 Liz showing us the dye mixing process
  Liz showing us how she folded the fabric to make a particular pattern.
 my pieces, drying
 wrapping 'inclusions' - corks
 wrapping 'inclusions' - florist marbles
 wrapping 'inclusions' - screws
wrapping without 'inclusions' 
sewing but not tightening the threads sufficiently
on the reverse side of the silk velvet you can get a hint of what it should have looked lik 
sewing along lines marked using a template and properly tightened

Happiness is a choice? It's just not that simple!

A couple of months ago a friend I hadn't heard from for eight months (not blaming her for that - I haven't written either) sent me a link to a Ted Talk about Choices That Can Change Your Life - including reference to depression. She just sent the link without comment.  I have watched it about 10 times and although I am pretty sure she sent it with good intentions, I just felt uncomfortable and slightly angry every time I listened to this woman (the Ted speaker, not my friend) who is quite aggressive and dismissive of people who don't just 'chose' to fix their lives. I couldn't quite put it into words, but then this popped up on Facebook and it became clearer.

When it comes to mental illness, there are so many layers. In my own case, there were foods that I have discovered make me feel bad. I discovered decades ago that jasmine flowers pull me down. The shortage of daylight in winter can push me off the edge. There are so many layers that have to be carefully picked at, so many small choices to make, before one can actually reach the point of being able to make a choice to be happy. Habits of thinking that were established in childhood through my treatment by teachers, my mother, and my doctor meant I believed I didn't deserve, hadn't earned, the right to chose happiness.

Happiness is a choice? It's just not that simple!

Friday, September 8, 2017

The True and Authentic Self

I spent most of my childhood confused, and increasingly unhappy. From my teens I suffered confusion, depression and anxiety. At the age of fifty I started seeking help for the first time since my only other (failed) attempt way back when I first had suicidal thoughts at age 16. The next fifteen years were spent trying to understand and recover from the thought patterns established in childhood.

Everywhere I looked I found people talking about the importance of finding your true self, being your authentic self, being your real self – and almost always in terms of rediscovering the person you have always been at your very core. There seemed to be a lot of spiritual thinking happening, which always made me uncomfortable, having been an atheist  since I was sixteen. But part of my mental illness was self-doubt – my belief that my mother, and subsequently almost everyone, knew better than me, had me holding on to the idea that it was my illness that prevented me from discovering my original true self.

During the last year and a half, since the life changing diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes, I finally found a counsellor who made sense to me, and thus I have found my own way of being that makes sense to me.

Am I the only one whose self is blurred? 'Authentic' and ‘true self’  and ‘real self’ are concepts that shift beneath me constantly, like the sand that swirls around my feet on Ngurunui Beach in a winter wind. Some aspects of myself / thoughts / feelings I hide from some people / everyone for the sake of other aspects of myself - for example, my mother-self protects my children from knowledge of my deepest fears and worries about them, and from my deepest personal despair. Does that make me unauthentic? Does that make me less than courageous for not exposing those aspects of me, or does it make me more courageous for swallowing those rats, and more authentic as mother-self? We are such complex beings, made of so many years of experiences, changed by them, learning from them - I don't think there is an original Self to be discovered and displayed. I am not a stone sculpture to be chiselled away at until my 'true authentic self’ is discovered. I was a blank canvas of a (different from everyone else) particular size, shape, fabric, quality, and the layers of mixed media have been building up, some scraped off leaving traces, some covered by a fresh layer, never finished until I'm dead and decayed away, and even then, living on, possibly for a while, in memories and apocryphal tales.

Later the same day that a discussion on Facebook started me thinking again about these things, I came across the following poem, which says it all much more eloquently than I have.

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Missing Brass

The music, the voice,
the words, friends:
a pleasant evening
at The Old School.

Then the bassist
puts down her guitar
picks up her tenor horn
and takes me back.

Back to the kitchen
way back when,
preparing dinner,
chop off the bottom
chop off the top
what there is left
you put in the pot,
and down the hall
the muted trumpet,
or the saxophone
playing scales
up and down
over and over....

Now, in the semi-dark,
tears seep through
despite eyes
squeezed tightly shut.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Taking Life Seriously

I came home from Raglan's Word Cafe really hyped up. The opening night with four poets got me keen to get back to writing poetry regularly, and Jackie McRae's writing workshop emphasized the need to take writing seriously.

This resonated strongly with something else that's been on my mind lately: many people have been congratulating me on my weight loss, and on reducing my blood sugar levels to the point where my HbA1c test result stated, "If used as a screening test, diabetes is virtually excluded". Almost always, people say of my extremely low sugar (a small amount of fruit only), virtually grain-free diet (added to already being vegetarian) with, 'I couldn't do that!' When the other option was deteriorating health, increased chances of heart disease, strokes, blindness, gangrene / amputations of extremities, and earlier than necessary death, I chose living over boring diet. I decided to take my health seriously.

I realised that I need to examine myself and decide what is important to me: easy.

I realised that I need to take life seriously, and all of the things I value. Not so easy.

Last night I decided that I would get up an hour early and do a few stretches, 10 minutes meditation, and half an hour of writing.

Having made this important decision, I took myself off to bed an hour earlier than usual, and slept the sleep of the innocent, I slept through the alarm, I slept through Mac getting up, showing, getting dressed. I vaguely remember him saying goodbye as he left for work, but promptly went back to sleep.

I was only five minutes late for my yoga class at 10.

Seriously? I don't think I'm cut out for taking life seriously, but I will try again tomorrow. Seriously.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Winter Solstice: 4.24pm 21 June 2017

the yellows, orange and reds
are almost all gone
fallen, curling, drying,
decaying on the ground
the bare bones
grey and brown
starkly naked
but for an occasional
determined leaf
and left-over nest

look more closely
there are hints
of yellow and red
and furry tips
promising new
and continuing life
and violets
in the long grass

Monday, June 12, 2017

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Ruru / morepork / owl

Towards the end of the Mindfulness half-day workshop, we were asked to go for a walk in the retreat's gardens: to allow our attention to be drawn to whatever it naturally was drawn to, for just so long as it held our attention; to observe it, and to notice how we felt, and to alternate those noticings between external and internal.

Are the gardens at the retreat particularly special, or is it mostly in the noticing? I was overwhelmed by the beauty of it, but I looking back I think the beauty was, indeed, largely in the noticing.

The trees. The evergreens, robustly alive, some with new tips of lighter green or even yellow. The deciduous trees, some with the last of the autumn yellow and reds, some hanging on to their dry brown leaves, some stripped to bare bones, showing off the beauty of their bark, and the exquisite, abandoned nests.

The seedpods and berries. Orange and red berries.  Karo pods burst open, black berries shining. Seedpods of all shapes and sizes, standing upright om stems, dangling loose in the breeze.

Leaves. So much variation. Serrated edges, smooth edges. Wildly varied vein patterns. So many shades of green that I feel a severe lack of vocabulary.

Lichen on bench seats, moss on the path under the trees and where the bush path met the lawn, a row of bricks mark the line between wild and manicured, and the moss declares its intention to reclaim its space by filling the six neat, round holes in each brick.

The birds. Fantails and sparrows, twittering and wittering. A tui streaking past, some urgent business to attend to. A pair of blackbirds having a domestic dispute. The row of mynahs sitting on top of the old round barn two paddocks away.

And the ruru who got up early to fly down through the trees to sit on a low branch just a couple of metres away from me and tried to stare me down. For ten minutes we stood, eyeballing each other. Each time another bird came near, the ruru's head swiveled around to assess the situation, then back to me. As the moments went by I felt the awe and joy welling up through my chest, my throat, my blood, until I knew with absolute certainty that I am much, much bigger on the inside.

When another human crunched along the gravel path, the ruru gave me one more suspicious glance and flew off  back into the darker place in the garden.

I will hold this memory of bird and joy in my heart. I will strive to live as it does: completely present in the moment, yet alert and aware of endless possibilities.

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.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Going Places Alone

Recently someone in a group I belong to, asked the question: Do you go many places by yourself? How about concerts?

It hit me like a slap in the face.

Because I go hardly anywhere by myself. I haven't stayed away overnight without someone I know since 1994, when I went to Thames on a five day 'Writing in Primary Schools' workshop. A few weeks ago I went to a movie, Hidden Figures. I went to it by myself, while Mac was away up north visiting his sister. I went by myself. To see a movie. By myself. For the First. Time. Ever.

I miss many musical gigs because I won't - can't? - go by myself, and Mac often doesn't want to go, or is too tired; he works so hard. What would people think of me if I went alone? But what if they didn't notice me at all?

I don't dance because I won't - can't? - dance in front of anyone not even Mac. It's even a rare occasion that I dance home alone. I did do a little bit of ballroom dancing a few years ago, and ceroc, when Jeffrey was learning, and loved it, but although I did persuade Mac to go for a few lessons, he didn't enjoy it, so no more. When I was little, my mother told me I was too clumsy to warrant dancing lessons: her lesson was one I learned well. So no dancing. What would people think of me if I danced alone? But what if they didn't notice me at all?

I sometimes have lunch alone in a café in Hamilton when I'm there for the day. I used to buy something at a bakery and eat in my car, but since becoming both gluten-free and diabetic as well as vegetarian, that doesn't work for me. I hate eating alone. I alternate between feeling like everyone is noticing me and thinking what a pathetic old woman I am, unable to find a friend to lunch with, and feeling like I'm completely invisible to the degree that someone might even come at sit at the table because they can't see me.

I don't swim alone because I it isn't safe. That's what I say. But really, I am so self conscious, it is a struggle to walk down the beach with my husband or a son. Once I was unhealthily skinny, and made very aware of the fact. Then I had four children and grew fat, and was also made aware of that. What would people think of me, alone on the beach? What if they didn't notice me at all?

I don't like looking at books in the library in case I am judged for my choices. Or, they might not see me at all. Clothes shopping is hell: alone I cannot see myself. With someone else, well, someone else is looking at me and judging.

And that is how I have lived my life. In fear of being seen by all, and in fear of not being seen at all: alone either way.

This last year has been a year of change. I'm realizing that I'm the only one who really cares. I'm the only one who's interested. Well, maybe Mac. Everyone else is pretty much involved in their own lives. I've been learning a lot about who I am this past year, and realizing I need to live who I am and forget about what other people may think, or not think.

So, 'Do you go many places by yourself?' In four and a half weeks, I'm heading off for 19 days alone. I'll spend a few nights with family and friends, and visit others, but mostly I'll be alone. I have absolutely no idea how I'll cope. I may come home the same or deeply changed. It's scary, but I'm finally ready to try.

Thursday, March 9, 2017


swathes of wild sunchokes
rioting beside rivers
joyfully dancing

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

One Year Later

A year ago, I discovered, after waking up one morning to find my vision had suddenly and severely deteriorated, that I had developed Type 2 diabetes.

I've been through many life changing experiences in my 65 years, but this one has been bigger than most. Being a pig-headed and contrary woman, I was determined to fight it. I left the doctor's office without much idea of what to do, with a booklet that told me little that was helpful in the way of dietary advice useful for a gluten-free vegetarian. I have, of necessity, found my own way to deal with eating: the first step was cutting out sugar of all kinds. The next was searching the internet, reading on the computer, and then on Kindle because my vision was too bad to read a book: on screens, words can be made bigger.

I settled on following, broadly, Michael Mosley's book, The 8 Week Blood Sugar Diet. First the food and exercise components.

My diet is now not quite as strict as at the beginning, in that I often eat 2 portions of fruit a day now instead of just one, and I have slightly bigger helpings than when I was trying to limit myself to 800 calories a day. I eat vegetables, though never potatoes, and never more than one small serving of other root vegetables per day. I eat eggs and cheese. I have a protein shake made with milk kefir and / or yogurt each morning, and a little homemade buckwheat cereal with a small portion of fruit. I eat nuts and seeds, and a little grain-free bread - a loaf lasts me two weeks. I eat legumes, despite their carbs, because they are also protein.

I also started walking: 2 - 3 times a day to start with, but now usually only once a day, sometimes not at all as in, no deliberate fast walking.

The strict regime I started with enabled me to lose another 20kg on top of the 5 kg I lost prior to diagnosis. I have gone from the top end of the 'overweight' category (though I never quite hit the obese category) down to the lower middle end of the 'normal' category.

My blood sugar fluctuated quite a bit to start with, and I had to be very careful to eat  very little and to exercise every day. We went on holiday for two weeks and sitting in the car proved very detrimental to those blood sugar levels. Now the levels are much more stable: I don't get down as far, nor as high, as in those early days. It will be interesting to see how driving affects them when I go away a year later, this April. As well as testing my levels two or three times a day, I also have a blood test every three months, which measures my average blood glucose over the previous 4 - 6 weeks At diagnosis, mine was 98 which is 'extremely high'. At my latest test it was 31, one point down from three month's ago: the normal for non-diabetics is under 40. If I had not had the previous tests, I would not now be diagnosed as diabetic.

The following are some of the benefits of finding out I have diabetes, and of removing sugar from my diet, and considerably reducing my consumption of other carbohydrates.

  • weight loss
  • improved fitness - I can wield a chainsaw again for the first time in 3 years.
  • the disappearance of the 'heat' rash I'd had on and off for a few years - and it disappeared as soon as I stopped eating sugar, before I lost most of the weight
  • the headaches I'd had increasingly, disappeared. I noticed in December when I cracked my head on the watertank stand - the resulting headache made me realise I hadn't had one for months.
  • the mental fuzziness that had worried me for a several years, and which had cleared somewhat when I had stopped eating gluten, disappeared. Alzheimer's might not happen for a while longer.
  • the athletes foot that always troubled me in winter disappeared.
  • For the first time in decades, I have been able to find swimming togs that fit me - the bigger sizes assume that you have broad shoulders, so for years I spent my time in the water constantly hitching up my togs, and sometimes, embarrassingly, not quite soon enough. And for the first time in decades I have lain on the beach sunbathing.
  • the hot flushes which have plagued me for since the onset of menopause, and which remained long after I was post menopausal, reduced in both frequency and intensity as soon as I cut out sugar.
  • I'm enjoying clothes: I've bought a few, altered a lot, thrown away huge bags full, and have bought a proper dressmaker's dummy to replace the customized paper tape one Mac made for me. Not only was it totally the wrong shape, but now I felt I deserved the real thing.
  • I have found out which friends are worth keeping, and which ones proved not to be worth keeping. The former were people who asked how I was at least occasionally, who listened, who still cared, who still spent time with me. The latter included those who distanced themselves, avoided me, judged me for my so-called self-inflicted condition and found me wanting, and those who continually try to get me to eat and drink: 'just one or two won't hurt you.' Apparently some people can't cope with conversing with me unless I am poisoning myself at the same time. 
  • I have a greater appreciation of life.

In Michael Mosely's book there is a third strand, beyond the diet and exercise stands: the mind. He recommends meditation, mindfulness in particular. I have tried meditation off and on since 1969, and always felt uncomfortable. Actually, it scared me shitless: I would find myself falling into oblivion, losing my Self. However, I was committed to following this man's suggestion, so I enrolled in a night class. I didn't enjoy it. The same old problem arose, and this time my body took over and saved me by constantly, and pretty much instantly falling asleep every time. However, I really liked the guy who taught it and at the end, it emerged that he was also a counselor, and so I started going to him on a weekly basis. He has helped me immensely - previous attempts to get help for my mental health issues have had very limited benefit, but this time, with someone that really gets me, I have finally reached a point where I feel I am becoming the person I am meant to be. I'm putting depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, and childhood issue behind me. And I'm finding I'm now able to meditate sometimes.

Thanks to diabetes, I've finally got to grips with life. I'm ready for new adventures. They might not be what most people would think of as adventures, but that's what they will be for me.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Sculptures at Gibbs Farm

What a lovely day! A few months ago, after two years of trying, I finally got four tickets to visit this awesome place. It is free to visit but you have to book a place.

We had to get up a bit earlier than I'm accustomed to , needing to leave at 7.15am, but the morning was a very beautiful one.
 It was a lovely day, with just enough cloud to be interesting, and to keep us from being too hot. We were joined by friends from down the road, Paulina and Neil.
lan Gibb's 'Farm' is an amazing setting for oversize sculptures. 
 The 'farm' is mowed by pretty serious mowers, rather than grazed.

 Although there are a few animals, they are not, in the main, farm animals as we think of them.  Buffalo, emu, deer, alpaca, oxen, coloured sheep and goats.....

This giraffe is a sculpture though.

This, one of my two favourites, Horizons by Neil Dawson, is amazing. I thought that when I saw it,  it would look real, but no. In real life, even up close, it still looks like someone drew in on the landscape. Totally fucked with my head, and I kept blinking, trying to clear my vision. Wonderful.

 My other favourite was Anish Kapoor's Dismemberment

And here with Len Lye's Wind Wand in the background.

Paulina and I missed this one because, so Mac says, we were too busy talking. Meh - just makes for a good excuse to go back another time.
Some of the others, and some views of the land: photos really can't give much idea of the scale of these art works.

Richard Serra's Te Tuhirangi Contour is pretty impressive. It's about tracing the contour of the land, and 'collects the volume of the land', but to me it was a wall, but even though it's ends were free, it still seemed to have been effective, because we saw no Mexicans. Which was, perhaps, a shame.

 All in all, great art, great company, great day. I'll be back.