Friday, September 23, 2022

Untold stories

Our lives are stories, and whether they’re big, sweeping epics, or small set pieces, they’re ours. Sharing stories is kind of the whole point of having a personal journal blog, like this one, but most people leave out far more than we share. It’s not always on purpose.

There are a lot of small stories that I never talk about here on this blog, though I may mention them on my personal Facebook. But lately some of those small stories (or, sometimes, small details of stories) have been missing entirely. Like this week.

On Monday, I talked about my clothes dryer breaking down, why that was an issue, and about how it fit into the other things going on at the time, on the eve of the third anniversary of Nigel’s death. In that post, I said. “for what it’s worth, I was feeling more or less positive” before the dryer broke. What I didn’t mention were any specifics of why that was the case, and that, in turn, was because I haven’t talked about a story behind part of that.

When summer was raging last year, I wanted to start walking, but I was concerned about my stamina. Ideally, I’d need somewhere with benches to rest on in case I needed them, and ideally a pretty flat area. None of that is true about the area around my house (though it’s kinda flat-ish), so I’d have had to drive somewhere. But that was only part of the issue.

My blood pressure medication had been changed, and I was having some issues with it, enough that I was adamant I needed a place to sit down if I felt unwell. So, one day I decided to walk around my back yard, which is flat, so I could go inside and sit down if I needed to. Unfortunately, it was also one of the hottest days of the summer.

Instead, I went back inside the house and walked a circuit inside the house, from one corner at the back of the house, to the opposite corner at the other end of the house, and including a big loop around the open-plan living/kitchen/dining area. This made a lot of practical sense: The house is climate controlled (not too hot in summer or too cold in winter), and it’s flat with firm, even footing on carpeted floors. Doing that, I found out, I could cover roughly a kilometre in 15 minutes. Better than nothing.

In the time since then, I’ve done that a few times, stamina/energy levels permitting, and especially when the weather outside was bad—too hot or too cold and rainy. It was raining a lot this past Monday, and I walked a circuit of 2 kilometres that day—while the first load of washing was in the washing machine, and I was oblivious about the dryer.

This was a thing I did that day that I felt positive about, but I couldn’t mention it because I hadn’t talked about it before, and I didn’t want to take the time to give the context (that the walk was my way of sneaking in some exercise on days when the weather was bad). The reason I felt like doing it all was that at the point I was still feeling upbeat, something that would soon end.

The middle of the week before, I was similarly feeling upbeat—and then I got a migraine, something I also didn’t share, mostly because I felt so bad (it was, I’d say, the second-worst I’ve even had). I felt utterly wiped out the next day, and with everything else going on, it was probably somewhat miraculous that I didn’t feel truly awful earlier this week.

I suppose that all of that goes shows it’s possible for a blogger to under-share.

I know this isn’t going to change, and that there will still be a lot that I won’t talk about. There’ll be stuff I forget (probably the most likely reason of all), or maybe it’ll be because I want to talk about it in the context of a larger story (the reason I never mentioned my “indoor walking track”), or because of some other reason (like the migraine because I felt so bad, and because it also wasn’t part of a larger story).

In the future, then, I’ll continue to leave out far more than I share, but that won’t always be on purpose. The reality is that will always be some untold stories, regardless of why that is. But, they’re mine to with as I want, and that includes ignoring them. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Learning and doing and becoming

The sushi kit I bought.
Learning and doing are entirely different things, of course. The importance of one or the other, or their powers combined, are another thing altogether. I’m an example of that.

Yesterday, my sister-in-law and I went to get sushi for lunch, and I told her how I remembered that I used to see sushi making kits (with the mat and starter amounts of ingredients) at the supermarket, but I hadn't noticed any kits in ages. Turns out brands of both our supermarket companies, specifically, Countdown and New World, sell the kits (and also the supplies by themselves). Today I bought a starter kit.

I've wanted to try making sushi for ages and ages, but just never did, though there’s no real reason for that. The important thing is, now I can. As always, I'm looking forward to experimenting to make what I like the most. At the same time, I'll still go out for authentic Japanese meals, just like I still have authentic Thai and Indian meals, too. I just want to be able to make sushi when I feel like having it and not have to go out. After all, I can make burgers at home, but that doesn't mean I never go to a burger joint.

At any rate, this is part of where I'm at these days—trying new things and seeing how it goes. Last year, I wrote in a blog post that "What I’m going through is a bit like being an adolescent all over again: I’m finding my identity as an individual, I’m testing my limits, and I’m finding the things I’m good at and not so good at." That's what's behind all my many projects, including cooking experiments. I also said in that same post, "…it’s in the attempts—and maybe especially the failures—that I’ll find my way into the new life I don’t yet have. The reason is simple: I need to find out who I can be on order to become whoever that is."

There you have it: The real reason I'm trying so many things I've never done before (including making sushi). I'm doing a lot of this stuff simply because I have to, yes, but I also wish I'd done this experimenting years ago, because there's no one I'd want to share it all with more than Nigel. I guess I'll just have to enjoy the ride enough for the both of us.

Update – September 22: Tonight I had my first attempt at making sushi, and it was an incomplete success. I should’ve watched a video first, but I eventually worked it out. It was far messier than I expected, and really fiddly. Honestly, there was a point where I thought to myself that it was far more trouble than it was worth, especially because my kitchen was left a disaster zone. Still, I know more now, and next time will go better, though whether it’ll go well enough to be photographed is anyone’s guess (I’ll guess no… maybe the time after that). It tasted right, though, so, half a victory? A third of one, maybe?

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

The third horrible anniversary

Three years ago today, I lost my beloved Nigel. That’s three years or 36 months without him. But because of Leap Year, the weeks and days are off. So, it’s also been 1096 days, and 156 weeks + 4 days. There’s no reason why anyone else would be aware of all that, or even remember the date, but I can never forget. And because that date was so consequential, I’m aware of all sorts of minor and unimportant details, especially how long precisely I’ve had to live without Nigel. I Now understand that this is just the way this works.

It turned out that I was actually fine today—not happy and bouncy, obviously, but just plain old fine, like I might be on any other, ordinary day. I’ll take it. But I also had an epiphany today.

I knew today could be difficult for me because of New Zealand’s wall-to-wall news coverage of the death and funeral of the Queen, something that had the real potential to be triggering. I watched the funeral, though I wasn’t sure until the last minute that I would, or could. But, in the end, it didn’t affect me badly.

This morning, my sister-in-law rang me up to invite me out to lunch. I wasn’t sure how I was feeling at that point, except for tired (the TV coverage ran quite late). I told her I’d ring her back. As I finished getting Leo’s breakfast ready, I could “hear” Nigel’s voice in my head saying, “Don’t be a bloody idiot—go!”, and I knew he would’ve gone. So, I rang her back and we did have lunch.

On the way home, I stopped at a shop to check something out, and instead got a couple cushions for my sofa (I’ve been wanting to replace what I had for ages). I mention that because that gave me an epiphany.

Up until now, this anniversary has been about being sad about losing Nigel and our life together, and it will come around every year, no matter what, and I’ll experience it every year. I realised today that I can choose a more positive path forward. It’s true that my life is on this changed story arc because of what happened three years ago today, but I feel that taking this as a day to focus on the life I’m building is the best possible way to take what’s an unhappy day and make it into a positive one.

What I do doesn’t have to be anything big or expensive (those cushions definitely weren’t) or over-complicated, just something, anything, focusing on the life I’m now building. I have plenty of good days with great, happy memories to celebrate Nigel and the life we had together, but from now on, this one day can be about building my new life, rather than why I’m doing that. Maybe Nigel whispered this idea into my ear, too.

To be clear, I’ll always remember what happened on this date, and I know the anniversaries can still turn out to be emotional for me. But I’d rather remember my beloved Nigel and the wonderful life we had and the memories we made than focus on the day and moment it all ended. That’s my way. There’s one more thing: I know with absolute certainty that Nigel would be happy I’ve reached this point—and he’d then get that cheeky grin on his face and make some sort of joke at my expense. THAT’S where I want to be on this date. Today, I was.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Things break

Today wasn’t a good day. My clothes dryer presented a fault, and stopped working (probably something wrong with the circuitry; my previous dryer’s logic board developed faults twice, and none of the ones before that ever did—because they didn’t have complicated logic boards). I found this out after I’d already started a second load of washing. I’ll arrange to get it fixed, of course, but I just couldn’t cope with that today—I didn’t get angry or have a meltdown or anything, but I felt completely deflated.

I only started the washing because I thought it would be an ordinary, routine, non-challenging thing I could accomplish today, something that wouldn’t in any way frustrate me. I wanted a low-key day today because tomorrow is the third anniversary of Nigel’s death, and something feels different this year in ways I can’t yet put my finger on (though, for what it’s worth, I was feeling more or less positive this morning, before I found out about the dryer). It’s all very confusing, and I was already feeling that I have no idea how I’ll feel tomorrow because his birthday last month was unexpectedly hard on me. Will the dryer fault change anything about how I’ll feel tomorrow? I doubt it, but it certainly doesn’t help, either.

I’ll ring them about the dryer in a few days. Once this time, whatever it is, clears.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Guilt trap

A grief journey is bad enough in itself, but they can be made worse by whatever we were dealing with before our loss. Those unrelated side trips can make the grief journey feel worse and longer, compounding what’s already bad about it. I’ve recently realised how a side trip was affecting me.

Over the past three years, I’ve learned how common it is for people mourning the loss of a loved one to, at least sometimes, adopt a defensive posture because they feel guilty about something. That may be directly related to their loss, such as things they feel they should or shouldn’t have done in their loved one’s last days (though it could be about anything). It could also be guilt about something that happened after the loss, such as, doing something or not doing something that we feel “should” have been different. That’s what it’s turned out to be for me.

There’s one thing—and only one—that I feel intensely defensive about, but that’s in addition to feeling shame, embarrassment, tremendous guilt, and, maybe especially, self-disappointment. That one thing that all that emotion is tethered to is one word: Stuff.

In July of last year, I started a project to tidy my garage, and it was such a massive project that I dubbed it, “The biggest project of all”. That project had fits and starts, wrapped around lockdowns and such, and then abandoned when it simply got too hot to work in there.

Things have deteriorated since then, for a variety of reasons. For example, I added boxes from stuff I bought, but they went on top of piles that had fallen over (apparently, my normally stellar stacking abilities were somewhat lacking…). Things ended up being as bad as they were before I started the project—maybe even worse because stuff was no longer in boxes.

The biggest thing I added, pretty much literally, was back in March of last year: A kitset garden shed I somewhat impulsively (and probably foolishly) bought online. It arrived just before my brother-in-law and I went up to Auckland to retrieve the last of the stuff I had in a storage unit there. The shed’s shipping box fell apart when we moved it out of the garage to make room for the stuff we’d brought back with us, so I moved the bits and pieces into the garage, where they remained, unassembled.

Several of the parts (various panels) were quite large, and they seemed to be everywhere, blocking my access to the storage cupboard in the garage, and creating obstacles for me to step over or around when I need to get the lawn mower out, or even just to get to the recycling and rubbish wheelie bins at the side of the house. There reached a point where I’d finally had enough, and decided to sell the shed, something I talked about back in August. The auction closed Sunday, August 28, and it went for roughly half what I paid for it—which was actually a lot better than I thought I’d get (and even a bit more than I was “realistically” hoping for.

That Sunday afternoon, I moved the shed’s parts to the front of the garage, by the overhead door, to make it easier and quicker for me to get it out when the buyer arrived to collect it. As it happened, it all ended up sitting not far from where it was when it first arrived. The places in the garage where the big parts had been are now really open. The guy picked up the shed a couple weeks later, on September 10.

What this gives me is, first, a sense of accomplishment and completion. Every little success encourages more successes, something I’ve seen again and again in the two and a half years I’ve lived in this house. This was my main motivation.

Beyond that, it clears space in many ways—not just the obvious physical space, but also emotional space. Clearing clutter makes people feel better, and that fact makes it easier to clear more. I’ve seen that again and again, too.

The thing is, I’m well aware that people can look at my situation and wonder what the problem is: Why has it taken me so long to get this house in order? Why don’t I just get on with it? I know that because if we were talking about someone else, I’d be wondering that, and I know that because I think it about myself.

I feel guilty about how long it’s taken, and I’m a bit shamed by it, but my main feeling is self-disappointment, and that’s mainly because I feel in a strong and completely bonkers way that I’m letting Nigel down because nearly three years after he died, I’m still not settled.

This is, I now realise, utterly absurd. First and foremost, I’ve had to adjust to living without the most important person in my life, and, ya know, that ain’t an easy thing to do. Also, most of the stuff I’m struggling to deal with was Nigel’s—the “toys” he desperately wanted to take care of for me, but he ran out of time. It’s also absurd because a journey out of major grief isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon, and it takes as long as it takes. The slogan I came up with at the very beginning of my journey—“What I can, when I can”—is quite possibly the most true and profound realisation I’ve ever had in my life.

So, why does it even matter to me? I mean, apart from making me risk tripping over stuff on my way to put the rubbish in the bins? This is where the uniqueness of a grief journey truly asserts itself: Since every grief journey is unique, no one ever feels entirely secure or self-assured on that journey, and some of us are particularly sensitive the judgement of others, regardless of whether it’s real or perceived. I’m no different. Hardly anyone’s actually voiced disapproval of how long this is taking, but it turns out that I can quite easily dispense boatloads of disapproving judgmentalism on myself.

Then, a particular realisation popped into my head: This thing I feel guilty about? It’s absolutely not new.

The simple truth is, Nigel and I were slow to get rid of stuff. We were both packrats by nature, but we were also busy with life, and a bit too lazy to deal with the stuff we accumulated. I couldn’t even guess how many times we ordered a skip bin (a “dumpster”) to send junk away, nor the number of times were drove a carload of junk to the tip (dump), but the fact that we did that so much that I have no idea how many times we did it points toward another obvious fact: We were acquiring more stuff all the time.

That underscores how having lots of stuff was always a problem for us—there was probably never a time it wasn’t. I’ve mentioned in the past how Nigel often asked me to organise his stuff for him because he didn’t feel he could do it. I’ve also talked about my frequent organising projects, like the shelving systems I installed in the wardrobes in our last two houses. I did what I could to deal with the issue, but organising stuff is much easier when there’s not much of it.

Throughout our life together, our garages were never exactly tidy: In fact, they were always dumping grounds. On the other hand, Nigel was always able to park in the garage until our last house (our house in Paeroa didn’t have a garage).

Here’s an example of how it went: Nigel and I lived in our last house roughly two and a half years before he died, and that house was never finished: The garage, my office, and also Nigel’s office, remained messy right up until I packed up to move out, just shy of what would’ve been our third anniversary in the house. In his last year, Nigel started tidying his office, and had me buy him some storage bins to help with that, and I made progress on my office, too. The garage, despite tiding efforts, was never completed, not the least because Nigel bought more parts for his projects. This meant that the mess was simply moved to the house I now live in, just as it had been moved to our last house from the house before it, which had been moved from our house before that, and so on.

What I managed to forget until recently is that the stuff left me feeling felt guilty and overwhelmed at each house, and it was when Nigel died that it became something else: It became a personal failing that led to a feeling I was letting Nigel down. Grief journeys are seldom logical or sensible, and they can distort and twist what had always been obvious into a completely different reality.

That recent realisation that this is nothing new has made me far more relaxed about my reality. I’m no less determined to deal with the stuff, and I don’t feel any less burdened or frustrated by it, but now that I can see the true context of the issue, the sense of guilt and personal failure is gone. The truth is, if Nigel was still alive, and regardless of whether we were still living at our last house or somewhere else, the one thing I know with absolute certainty is that I’d still be dealing with too much stuff. I’m not letting him down now by not finishing all the clearing of stuff, because, in a sense, we let each other down for 24 years.

So, dealing with stuff has been an ongoing job for me, and that’s why the particular guilt I felt about all the stuff in this house is so silly. Unrelated side trips in a grief journey can make the journey feel worse and longer, compounding everything that’s already bad about it, but when it’s all based on something that’s not even true, it makes it even worse. I know that now, and the guilt is over.

I still have way too much stuff, though—and that really means our stuff, and that it was our fault.

Because this is the first chance I’ve had to publish a post since last Tuesday, the Seventeenth Year of the AmeriNZ Blog got a late start. Still, here we are: The first post of the new season!

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

The AmeriNZ Blog is sixteen

This blog is now sixteen years old. That’s a much a surprise to me as it is to anyone else, but here we are.

I published my first post, “I live in a land downunder. No, the other one…” on September 13, 2006 at 10:53pm NZST, and what followed was, at its core, a log of my experiences and interests—my journey—over the years that followed. It was what I expected it would continue to be, but, of course, that all changed when Nigel died. As I said about this journey of mine in last year’s blogaversary post, “I’m nowhere near adjusted to my new reality,” and that’s absolutely still the case. So, too, is that fact that I continue document my journey.

Just like yesterday’s anniversary of my first arrival in New Zealand, this one is another that has more specific meaning for me than for most people (since it’s about my blog), but I intend to keep acknowledging it until I stop blogging. That’s a certainty, by the way—that one day this blog will end—but not the timing or circumstances. It’s entirely possible that it’ll end because I have, because I too well understand how unpredictable life is. However, I’ve always said (as I have about my podcast, too), I’ll never end this blog without saying something, though now I understand that I should add, “if possible”.

There’s another thing, too, though: This anniversary, like yesterday’s, falls in a month I hate because of the horrible anniversary a week from today. That means that positive anniversaries, or anything positive, really, are especially welcome this month. So, of course I’ll mark this one, and yesterday’s.

As I have for a few years now, I wrote this post in advance of its publication and set it to auto-publish at the exact moment I published my original post sixteen years ago, because I can. It’s something else that probably only has significance for me, but, as I said last year, “It’s one of the few traditions I have left.” It’s a silly tradition, maybe, and unimportant, sure, but it’s mine, and I’m continuing it—just like this blog.

As always, thanks for joining me on the journey so far.

Previous posts on my blogoversaries:

Anniversay Time (2007)
Blogoversary 2 (2008)
Anniversaries Three and Fourteen (2009)
Fourth blogoversary (2010)
Fifth blogoversary (2011)
Sixth blogoversary (2012)
Seventh Blogoversary (2013)
Ten years of the AmeriNZ Blog (2016)
The AmeriNZ Blog is eleven (2017)
The AmeriNZ Blog is twelve (2018)
The AmeriNZ Blog is thirteen (2019)
The AmeriNZ Blog is fourteen (2020)
The AmeriNZ Blog is fifteen (2021)

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 369 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 369, “Change and Consistency”, is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast episode, along with any other episode.

The five most recent episodes of the podcast are listed on the sidebar on the right side of this blog.

Monday, September 12, 2022

27 years ago today

26 years ago today, September 12, 1995, I arrived in New Zealand as a tourist and met Nigel in person for the first time. That day began the story I lived until 2019, when Nigel died, however we at least got to have this last anniversary together. After he died, this particular anniversary took on a different, new significance because of what began on this day in 1995: The start of my New Zealand story arc.

Every year, this date also marked the my tongue-firmly-in-cheek “Season of Anniversaries, and while I no longer have that, I still remember and not the dates that were part of it. There’s a very simply reason for that: All those other dates are also markers of my journey along this story arc, and so, no less significant. They’re also bittersweet, though.

As I said last year, I stand behind everything I’ve said in previous years. While it’s true that my story has changed dramatically, it hasn’t yet ended, and neither has my noting of significant dates in that story, even if what I say about them changes in the years ahead, something I can’t possibly know righ now.

So, it’s now 27 years after I arrived in New Zealand as a tourist, and I’m still completely anchored in this place, even if my anchorage is gone. This place is where whatever my life will become will emerge, and this date was the real start of it.

There had to be one good thing about September.

Previous posts about this anniversary (the first three only mention it):

Anniversay Time (2007)
Blogoversary 2 (2008)
Anniversaries Three and Fourteen (2009)
Where it began (2010)
Anniversary of the beginning (2011)
Another anniversary (2012)
18 years ago today (2013)
19 years ago today (2014)
Twenty years ago today (2015)
21 years ago today (2016)
22 years ago today (2017)
23 years ago today (2018)
24 years ago today (2019)
25 years ago today (2020)
26 years ago today (2021)

Other big changes in New Zealand

This afternoon, the NZ Government’s “Unite Against Covid 19” Facebook Page published the following:
From 11:59pm on 12 September 2022, the COVID-19 Protection Framework (traffic lights) will be removed.

With cases reducing, a highly-vaccinated population, and comprehensive access to anti-viral medicines, New Zealand can safely move forward.

This will mean a few changes for tomorrow:

• You will only need to wear a mask when visiting healthcare facilities like hospitals, GPs, and aged care residential facilities. Some places like workplaces or marae may ask people to wear a mask. You can find more information on masks here.

• You only need to self-isolate if you test positive for COVID-19. Leave support payments for COVID-19 cases will continue. You can find out what to do if you test positive here.

• Household Contacts are recommended to take a RAT every day for five days. So long as you test negative, you will be able to go about daily life as normal. You’re encouraged to wear a mask whenever you leave home, particularly if visiting vulnerable people, like elderly or immunocompromised people, using public transport, or when in a crowded indoor space.

• You will no longer need to be vaccinated to enter New Zealand. People arriving in New Zealand from overseas will continue to receive free RATs at the airport and will be encouraged to test on day 0/1 and 5/6. You can find more information for preparing to travel to New Zealand here. https://covid19.govt.nz/.../preparing-to-travel-to-new.../

• All remaining vaccine mandates will end. The last workforce with a Government vaccine mandate is health and disability workers. This will end on 11:59pm, 26 September 2022. Some employers may still require workers to be vaccinated due to their responsibilities under health and safety legislation.

• Anti-viral medicines will be available for free to any New Zealander 65+ who tests positive for COVID-19. For Māori and Pacific peoples, these medicines will be available for free to anyone aged 50+ who tests positive. In addition, anyone with three high-risk conditions is eligible for free anti-viral medicines. You can find more information here.

You can find more information on the next phase of our COVID-19 response here.
More information can be found on the Unite Against Covid19 website.

National transitions

The normal progress of transition from one monarch to another is underway. Saturday night (NZ time), I watched the official proclamation of King Charles III at the Palace of St. James in London, an event that, of course, last happened when Queen Elizabeth II was proclaimed 70 years ago, but this was the first time it’s ever been televised (the full 1:10:35 long video of the “Accession Council and Proclamation Council”, which includes the actual proclamation at the end, is available on ”The Royal Family” YouTube Channel; to skip directly to the official proclamation, click here). The events have never been televised before, so few people alive today would ever have seen it before.

Yesterday, the New Zealand government officially proclaimed Charles III as the King of New Zealand (video above) in a ceremony that’s been established for ages, and that clearly borrows phrasing from the UK’s proclamation. As with the UK’s ceremony and proclamation, this is the first time New Zealand’s was televised, too, though television didn’t officially begin in New Zealand until 1960). Canada has also proclaimed Charles III as their new king (WATCH), and so has Australia (WATCH). I think it’s fascinating that only Australia dropped “Defender of the Faith” title from the proclamation, even though neither New Zealand, Canada, nor Australia have an established church, and so, there’s no “faith” to be defended as there is (officially, anyway…) in the United Kingdom.

As an ol’ political science major, I find all this fascinating, and it’s especially interesting to be able to witness history that so few people alive have ever seen. And there’s more still to come..