Monday, March 29, 2021

Writing Fragments

Writing used to be a joy for me, but it became so much harder for me since I had a stroke three years ago. In January, I did a workshop with Wanda Barker at the Raglan Summer School, and although it took me a week to rest and recover, I enjoyed it immensely. I haven't managed to keep up the writing habit though. Recently I realized that although I could write in the workshop, at home I expect myself to turn everything into 'a piece', and if I can't see a final context, I won't start. I do so enjoy the process of writing, trying to find the best words, the best order. I have never been interested in getting work published: I like to share with people who will offer constructive criticism of my writing, and I like to share with people who enjoy my words and experiences, but the rest of the world doesn't matter. So, I've been writing a couple of things that are not really poems, nor essays, nor short stories - just fragments of my life. And I've accepted that fragments are okay.

The Freedom of Selective Memory

I have discovered
the joy possible
in selective memory.
Remembering as if reading
an ancient, brief item
in a yellowed newspaper,
voices and faces faded out.
It tastes like freedom.

The Hills From My Window

From my favourite chair, I see the ridgeline followed by Maungatawhiri Road. I cannot see the road, nor my friends' homes, but I see hills, paddocks, trees, and a few houses and sheds of strangers. This morning the misty rain blurs the shapes and mutes the colours.

In the mornings, on the rare occasions I rise early enough, and weather permitting, I see the sun's rays switch the spotlights on to the highest fields, turning them a wonderful gold-green, and then the colour moves wider and lower, like a Mexican wave, across the landscape. Next the tops of the trees are highlighted, and eventually the sun become visible in the east and reaches the windows behind me.

At sunset, that same view, framed by my window, is always the same, always different. Those particular trees on that particular stretch of the ridge, are sometimes backed by glorious reds and oranges, bright pinks and grey, but my favourite evenings are the ones I suspect are painted by Salvidor Dali, when the pale but luminescent white gold or apricot outlines the hills and no matter how hard, or exciting, or busy the day has been, all is well with the world, and I breathe out.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Telling the Stories

 Changing the way I tell the story after decades of negativity is hard. My 'natural' (really, it was learned) inclination is to see the negative.

So one version anticipating and living this week has so involved involved:

  • my hand hurts;
  • it's grey and wet and dreary;
  • I'm feeling old and decrepit at the prospect of 3 more medical appointments this week;
  • I can't garden or craft because my hand hurts / rain;
  • blah blah blah....

But I am actually doing what I said I would - noticing and telling the other story:

  • my eyes are all good as far as glaucoma and diabetes go, and my vision has changed so little, I can choose whether or not to get my lenses changed;
  • I had time between appointments to have lunch with my friend, Amy;
  • I had a visit from another friend, Liz, and had a long lunch with her in Raglan;
  • Steven is coming tomorrow to visit;
  • my sore hand gives me an excuse to curl up with books for hours;
  • the rain flooded the bottom paddock beside the drive today and there were lots of ducklings paddling in the shallow 'pond'.
A negative outlook is a hard habit to break - I've tried before - especially having had decades of working on the principle of 'if I expect the worst, I can't be disappointed. But I'm trying.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Telling Stories to Make Magic

If the full and whole story of my life was told, and if it could told as quickly as I have lived it, it would take over 69 years. So when I tell the stories of my life, even to myself, they are, inevitably, just tiny parts of the whole. And they are often changed by how much I tell, and how much I leave out, and how important they are to my overall narrative, ....... and what the fuck is the meaning of life anyway? Well, that went downhill fast!

Recently couple of people got me considering the stories I tell myself.

Liz, of Book Art Studios, asked what my perfect day creating would look like. I found this incredibly difficult to do because so much of what I thought of isn't possible at the moment, or in some aspects, will never again be possible. Then I started considering what I really want now, and who I am now in the present as opposed to the past, or in some possible or impossible alternate future reality. 

A young friend wrote on Facebook, addressing all those disappointed by missing out on tickets to Kiwiburn. Oliver spoke of how people may get tickets later, when the 'lucky' ones realize they can't go after all and sell their tickets. He spoke of other celebrations, festivals, and of the possibilities of setting up or contributing to other celebrations. He talked of years to come. Best of all, he said: "Burns are fundamentally about making magic happen, and you will never need a ticket to have permission to do that."

So I thought about the creative environment that I have longed for. I thought about Burning Man, which I heard about way back in the 1980s  and how I thought, 'one day I'll go there, when the kids are grown', and Kiwiburn, which I heard of in the 1990s and thought, 'one day I'll go there, when the kids are grown'. But I haven't gone, though one son has.

I thought about how I no longer tell myself that story of one day going to Burning Man or Kiwiburn, and of how I have let that story go, and am comfortable about leaving that story unlived, and yet I am unwilling to let go of my 'perfect creative day' story. Which actually, was never realistic anyway.

Now I'm thinking of what attracted me to Burning Man and Kiwi burn, and about the different aspects of my 'perfect creative day'. I'm thinking about all kinds of things in my life that I have been telling myself stories about, some true, some part true, and some just plain bullshit.

I'm thinking I need to tell new stories about my past. Not made up ones, just some of the stories I have put aside. Remembering positive stories as well as the negative stories that have eaten away at me.

I need to start imagining positive possibilities and futures. instead of the negative what-if scenarios that plague me in the dark of the night.

The habits of a lifetime are hard to change, but maybe if I start with the premise that I need neither a ticket nor permission, I might just be able to make some small magics.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Let Me Rest In Peace

 When I die, as we all will,

please don't hold a funeral.

Just let me rest in peace.


Don't gather and hug and kiss and cry.

Don't sing somber or joyous songs.

Don't get up and spray your words

over all those attending.

Just let me rest in peace.


Don’t visit my sons

With plates of food

that they won’t eat

but will have to wash and return.

Just leave them to grieve

(or not) in their own ways.


Don’t breathe and sneeze

your thoughts of how loved,

or not, I was, and how much

I will be missed, or not.

Just let me rest in peace.


If you have thoughts

About me, loving or not,

tell me now, or tell my sons

in a disinfected letter.

Just let me rest in peace:

don’t send me company.



Monday, August 31, 2020

The Other Overwhelming Sad

On top of and underlying the sadness I wrote about on Friday, was the other huge sadness that most New Zealanders were feeling. That I could not bring myself to write about last week. All week I was feeling love, horror, fear, grief, compassion, for the victims of the Christchurch mosque murderous slaughters as nearly 90 survivors and family members gave victim impact statements in court.

At the same time I felt stomach-churning horror at the thought of being the mother of that white son, who is the same age as my white son. The knowledge that none of my sons would do such a thing, does not ameliorate the nausea, when the knowledge that he-who-I-will-not-name is a son of our shared white culture of privilege and arrogance.

Even the sentence of actual life-until-you-die imprisonment (first time *ever* in NZ) has left me in a state of horror - yes, what other option could be considered? But he's 29 - he faces so many decades of non-life in jail. What a waste, what a dreadful way to be. And his mother and grandmother - how dreadful are their lives. And yet, what he did is just so awful, so so so awful. I can't stop thinking of how I could live with the knowledge that my son had done that. I think I would kill myself.

It was comforting to have the son who is the same age visit this weekend, and to hear his thoughts around this horrible slaughter, and have it confirmed that he a good, kind, moral man that would never commit such an atrocity. Plus, he makes me laugh.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Sad Like Never Before

 I’m feeling sad. Sad like never before.

I spent decades in and out of depression. A few times I’ve been suicidal. More often I would fantasize about dying in a way that no one would feel guilty – that a sudden rock fall would land on my car without warning, or that I’d be struck by lightning. I cried when a biopsy came back clear of cancer. I was sure everyone would be better off without me, but also knew that some wouldn’t see that truth and would be devastated if I killed myself. I didn’t think I was worth the money to waste someone’s time and effort to help me with counseling. Eventually, in my fifties and sixties I got intermittent help, and the last few years I finally felt life was worth living, and that it was okay to do things just because I enjoy them.

But now I’m feeling sad, like never before.

The world feels unsafe. Not just because of covid19, but because of people. The denial of science that is inconvenient, around climate change, covid19, around vaccination, around 1080, around a whole raft of things that have proven not to be 100% perfect. Around science itself, which many see as failed if scientists update or refine their information and recommendations after doing more research aka science.

It seems to me that there are a lot of fears around, which contribute to the denial of the majority of scientific opinion, and to the promulgation of conspiracy theories ranging from the possible but unlikely (Jacinda Ardern is conspiring with other world leaders to destroy capitalism) to the absurd (alien reptiles have taken over the world’s leaders.) (Oh, and by the way, ladies, your endometriosis was caused by demon sperm from when you screwed an incubus in your dreams – facts from the same doctor who tells us that hydroxychloroquine cures covid19.)  Fear of an uncertain future: it was always uncertain, we just didn’t recognize it. Fear of lack of control: we have never had control over many things, we just pretend in order to make us comfortable. Why do we hate, and often fear, cockroaches and bedbugs and green veggie bugs? Because we can’t control them. Why are earthquakes and tornados and tsunami so scary? Because we can’t control them. So when we can’t control things, we either pretend they don’t exist – think of Aucklanders living in a city of volcanoes, Christchurch people still living where their existence was so threatened. So people deny science because it is less scary to believe that ‘someone’ is in control, even if that ‘someone’ is out of our control, that there is the possibility that some other someone will outwit the ‘someone’. Whether that ‘someone’ is Bill Gates, or Jacinda and friends, or Big Pharma, or God in punishing mode, or the devil and his demon sperm, or the Waikato District Council, or Miss Trunchbull, or the alien lizards  - it’s still more comfortable to believe than, ‘well, random shit happens’, and also more comfortable to believe than, ‘we just have to suck it up and get on with living with it as best we can’. I know conspiracy theories sometimes true (eg the suppression of harm or tobacco, sugar v fat harm to hearts), but seriously?

I am old (69 in a couple of weeks) and have underlying conditions which means if I get covid19 I am likely to die (of which I am not afraid) a very painful, lonely death (which I do admit to being afraid of). My focus in the meantime is on how I can learn to live sensibly in this beautiful world, in ways that work right here and now.

But now I’m feeling sad, like never before.

Because the real problem of this covid19 disease is the huge ongoing health problems - some 'recovered' people have health problems months on. Post-'recovery' people still have cellular organ damage to lungs, brains, liver, kidneys, chronic fatigue, recurring symptoms....and no one knows how long it will take for them to recover, or even if people will ever recover What is this going to do to our economy? What is this going to do to my beloved sons, grandchildren, and friends?

I’m feeling sad, like never before.

We need to adjust our (humans everywhere but particularly in our 'civilized' first world) lifestyles in the light of climate change and environmental degradation, if our existence as a species is to continue. But many prefer to stay comfortable pretending it’s another conspiracy. Personally, I think we need to take covid19 as a quarter final in the lead up to the main event. I tend towards the idea (non-scientific opinion at this point in time) that this and other weird stuff, is happening because we humans have upset the balance of nature with our greedy exploitation and expansion. My fear doesn’t drive me to denial: it drives me to sadness. Like never before.

People are showing more and more that they are not kind. Blatant racism. The bitter opposition to so many things, and to so many other people, seems to be increasing exponentially. And I find myself becoming more intolerant of others. When, during this current re-emergence of covid19 in New Zealand, I am in the supermarket, signs about social distancing everywhere, and as an announcement over the speakers reminding people of the requirements is literally just ending, a man pushes right up against me, arms and bodies touching, as I reach for a jar of gherkins because he can’t wait an extra second for me to move on…. I suddenly become filled with over-whelming bitter rage. And this woman in a Facebook discussion:

I can't take my kids swimming because some old people with co-morbidities died. couldn't watch his cross-country because old people with co-morbidities died. Who's being selfish now? I If you're scared stay at home. If you sick stay at home. Wash your hands like you would anyway. Let the rest of us get on with our lives!!

I’m feeling sad, like never before.

Once again I feel unwanted, worthless - worse than worthless, a burden.

Mental illness kept me from living a full life for decades. Then diabetes and a stroke have made my life even smaller. Now covid19 is reducing it, with restrictions necessary to control it. For younger people there is still hope for the future, but although my ‘isolation facility’ is a beautiful place to live, there are places I’d like to go, things I’d like to do, before I die.  

But even if a vaccine is produced, no vaccine ever gives 100% protection, and the older you get, the less likely they are to be effective – thus the need for widespread uptake, to protect the elderly and the immune-compromised. With more and more people like that woman, that rabid anti-vaxer who has previously harassed a nurse friend of  mine, this science denier, wide-spread uptake isn’t going to happen.

The weekend after next, there’s a women’s retreat that I’ve been looking forward to for a year. I’m not going. In December I’m booked to go to Book Camp again. I may not go. Maybe I would do these things if I was on my own, but it would not just be my life I’d be choosing to risk. Life is getting very small.

I’m sad. Like never before.

Tonight the neighbour's cows got out of their paddock and into our place, trampling the trees we planted just a couple of weeks ago. Mac had hurt his knee earlier in the day and was hobbling around in the dark trying to get the cows back down the driveway, while I drove to get the neighbour to come help. I met his worker at the end of the drive and stayed to block the cows from the other end of the road. I sat in the darkness of the car and cried. Just so sad and lonely, sad all the way through.

But then the neighbour arrived. He's much younger than me, and has always been really fit and healthy.  He had a stroke three years ago, six months before me. He peered into the car and saw my tears. He understands. He asked, "Do you need a hug? Because I sure need one." And I got out, and in the dark we hugged and cried until the cows came home.

And now I'm a little less lonely, and a little less sad. 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

And the times, they are a changing

Events are sending me deeper and deeper into introspection; contemplating my life, my attitudes, my beliefs, and hopefully, my behaviour. It's something I've been doing more and more over the years, especially since my children grew up and I have more time and space in my head, then as health issues (diabetes, stroke) forced me to recognize my mortality, and now with covid 19, Black Lives Matter, Maori rights issues, minority rights issues, etc etc. History isn't what it used to be - there are so many things that have been repressed or over-exaggerated, denied - I am realizing that often what I thought was true was just an interpretation through the lenses of the 'winners'.

As we enter the world, we are helpless babies. We grow. We learn. When we try to walk, our parents don't yell at us for falling; they praise us for trying - so we keep trying. When we first say 'mumumumum' our parents don't yell at us for not saying it right; they are ecstatic that we just said our first word. But somewhere along the way many of us lose our desire to learn and grow. We learn to fear being wrong. We learn to deny that we did something, or thought something, or said something that  was proved wrong, or not useful. We cling to ideas and ways which may have been useful strategies once, but which are now impeding our progress: a toddler may learn to walk by holding on to something to steady themself, but that strategy is not a useful one once they are walking well enough to move away from the table and out into the world. However, as the toddler moves out, it isn't an instant change of travel mode: the toddler tries no hands for a few steps, then grabs the table or wall or hand for a few steps, then tries again and again.

Under stress, as we all are at the moment, I have seen some people grabbing the opportunities for change with eagerness, others fearfully grabbing the 'table' with both hands, and most of us doing the wobbly walk, grabbing for support sometimes, falling sometimes, running for a few steps - and repeat. One thing I have found, is that holding on tight to the table of old ideas may be comforting for a while, but then I feel like I'm being left behind by the world.  Not all the old ideas are bad, so take those with you on your life journey, and modify or abandon those that are shown to no longer be useful or reasonable. But don't drag the whole table with you - better to drive to the shops than cling to the old ways and walk or go in a cart behind a donkey, as our predecessors did. 

When I hear people saying things that go against what I believe, I try not to get defensive and close my ears. I try to listen, and although sometimes I reject the new ideas, often I change my own, either partially or fully. Usually I find the ideas aren't really new, just new to me, either because I haven't come across them before, or because I wasn't listening before.

I hope I can keep listening, learning, and adapting to this constantly changing world until I die.