Thursday, October 17, 2019

Good and bad

The reality for all of us is that we encounter good and bad things every day. How good and how bad may differ from day to day, and within each day, but they’re common for all of us. Ramp that up several levels and that’s what I experience at the moment.

It’s important to know that in order to understand the things I say about the journey I’m currently on. The only thing I know to do is to be honest and open about it all, and that will include both good and bad days, and parts of days.

Yesterday, I apparently concerned some people when I talked about how the nights are awful. But that’s just a simple a fact—they are awful because night is when I miss Nigel the most. Some nights are worse than other nights, and that, too, is a fact. None of that is going to change any time soon, and I’m not expecting it to—neither will my talking about it go away when I have something to say about it, like last night.

As I’ve said, part of my motivation is that I’m aware that something I say may help someone else who someday finds themselves in something like my situation. But my biggest motivation is simpler: I have absolutely no idea what the future will be like, and in such situations I’d talk with Nigel about it. Since he’s not here, I’m talking about it openly in order to work it out for myself. The fact that I’m doing this in real time means that the swings and roundabouts may be a bit more obvious than it would be if I held back and commented more as reflection after the fact. That was never going to be my way.

So, last night was a bad night. Tonight isn’t. Some are good, others aren’t. It’s just my reality.

Today was a similarly mixed bag.

The company that Nigel leased his car from was coming to pick it up today. I decided to give it a bit of a tidy up, because Nigel would have, and I accidentally made myself extra work in the process. That was very close to upsetting me a lot, but it didn’t because I breathed deeply and worked through it.

When they later came to collect the car, I was sad—it had been a part of our lives for the past few years, but—as Nigel would say—it’s just a bloody car, nothing important. And, sending it back means that it will be settled sooner and will be one less thing on my list of things to take care of, all of which is good.

But I also remembered something yesterday, knowing the collection of the car was imminent. Every morning, when Nigel drove off to work, I’d stand at the side of the window in our dining area, pull back the curtain just enough, and watch Nigel drive off to the road, and keep watching until he turned left heading away. I did that every day, and was even a little grumpy if something made me miss seeing that. I don’t know that Nigel ever knew I did that; it didn’t seem important to tell him, and he never mentioned it. But because that had been my daily routine for the entire 2 and a half years we’ve lived in this house, I dreaded seeing Nigel’s car being driven away. In the end, I didn’t see that, exactly, because I was down at ground level (so I could close the gate before I opened the front door). So, what could have been an awful experience for me turned out to be neutral, and I count that as a win.

In the afternoon, I discovered that our usual email server, which we’ve been using for years, suddenly stopped working. Their website wasn’t a lot better. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong, and I still haven’t. This again brought me close to losing it, but I figured out temporary workarounds until I can understand what happened so I can then fix it. That’s not a perfect resolution, but at least I didn’t get upset about it, which could easily have happened.

Today I also got the results of my latest blood tests, and everything appeared to be in the normal ranges. That’s an unequivocally good thing. After the things that went wrong today it was kind of hard to feel happy about that, but it’s still good news.

Then this evening I went to our next-door neighbours for dinner again. It was a really nice evening, and a nice distraction.
So, today I had a mixed bag of good and bad, as most of us do most days. All of mine are directly related to the one big thing I’ve been going through, which makes it a little different from what most people experience in a day.

For the foreseeable future, there will be good and bad days and/or nights. And I’ll talk about them both. Today was a kind of typical day for me at the moment, one that could have been bad, but had good moments mixed in with some not so good moments. I’m okay with that, and I hope other people will be, too.

The reality of this whole thing for people following me on this new journey is simple: You don’t need to worry about me (or someone else) talking about the bad stuff, but you might need to worry if we don’t.

Not much danger that I’ll stop talking about all this. You have been warned.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on October 3.

Monday, October 14, 2019

It’s just the little things

It’s the little things that get me—the little memories, the little annoyances/frustrations, the little chores. The big stuff is being tended to, sometimes even by me, but that little stuff? It never ends.

The day after the funeral I caught The Plague, a nasty gastric bug that swept through the family at the time. It knocked me down for several days, which meant I got very little done. Maybe that forced rest was a good thing, but the other parts of The Plague I truly could have done without.

In the couple weeks since then, I’ve mostly been focused on adjusting: To the silence, to not having Nigel nearby to talk to whenever I wanted to, to not having my rock and pillar of strength when I need him the most. Mostly, it’s been about simply adjusting to a life I never planned for and couldn’t have imagined. In fact, I still can’t imagine it.

This experience helped me see what should have been obvious to me, but wasn’t until I experienced it: Deep sorrow and mourning like what I’m going through is depression. My depression has a very specific cause, obviously, and, ordinarily, this sort of depression gets better on its own. In my case, it’s as I do more to settle things and move forward (taking action on what I can, when I can), that I get better overall. I know that if it doesn’t get better I can seek help, and I will, but part of what sets this apart from chronic depression is that I can see an end to it. I simply can’t imagine how people with chronic depression cope, but I hope this experience will make me more empathetic and supportive of others in the future.

I’ve talked a bit about what moving forward means for me, and there’s one particular aspect of that I feel I need to talk about specifically because most of what I’ve said about it has been in reply to comments: Why I’m moving to Hamilton, and why I’m making it a priority.

The first time I talked about moving to Hamilton, in a note about ten days ago, I said that much as we liked Auckland, it was “not where we planned to stay forever”. In fact, while our current house wasn’t ever going to be our “forever home”, it wasn’t even going to be a long-term one: A few months ago we started looking at other properties with an eye toward moving late this year or early next year. Plans got stalled, which turned out to be a good thing because this is not an area I can or would want to live all alone.

After two and a half years here, neither of us made any friends apart from our next-door neighbours. This area seems like a nice beach village, and on the weekend and summer holidays, it is. But during the week its true nature emerges: It’s actually mostly a “bedroom community” where people are gone most of the day for work elsewhere in Auckland. It’s peaceful and very quiet, yes, but also a spectacularly lonely place for anyone living on their own. It would have been even worse if we had moved to a more rural location.

So, there was never any question whatsoever about whether I would move from here, the only questions were, how soon and where? Nigel encouraged me and talked with me about this, and with him I decided I’d move to Hamilton where the greatest concentration of family is, as I said in that post about ten days ago. He and I agreed that I shouldn’t muck around, since there was no point in that. Nigel didn’t want me to be forced to be alone any more than I wanted that, and his love and support made the choice amazingly easy to make.

The point, really, is that the decision to move to Hamilton was well-considered and it felt right to both of us. We thought about it and talked about it a LOT over Nigel’s last couple weeks, so I know that he was relieved and happy that it was what I’d decided to do because he knew how important having family nearby would be for me. He wanted me to be okay, and in Hamilton I know I will be.

There’s no specific timeframe for all this to happen. I’ve been looking at houses online, but at this stage it’s mostly to get a feel for the sorts of properties that might be available when I’m ready, along with working out the things I like and don’t like, must haves and most not haves. First, my solicitor has to transfer title to my name alone so that I can then sell up. Then, I can go to market.

Meanwhile, I have a lot of stuff to do. For example, Nigel left all sorts of electronic bits and pieces behind, many of which I can’t even identify, much less have any idea about whether they have any value or not. I’ll have help with that sorting, but it’ll take some time. I’m also going to have a working bee so that friends and family can help me get the section (yard) looking its best. Our realtor will give me advice on what I need to do and what isn’t worth spending money on.

The previous owners put what became our house on the market around Christmastime, to catch the folks who came here on summer holiday, probably. We bought it not long after and then in February we moved in. I may follow a similar pattern when I sell, or I may go to market before then.

All of which means that the timing isn’t certain, but my direction is clear and decided.

It feels good to have such a big decision made already—and that it was made with Nigel’s help, advice, support—and his love. Taking action on that big thing, and so many small things, is what will ultimately help me the most in moving on.

None of which means this is easy in any way, and some days will be bad. This past weekend was especially bad, not because of anything specific—no triggers, reminders, or anything like that—it was just bad. The thing is, having already made so many big decisions means that I can deal with getting used to living without Nigel, working through my pain, without also working through figuring out how to deal with all the big and small things I need to.

Things—and I—are moving forward, slowly. It’s just the little things that get me.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on October 8.

If it wasn't for the nights

The nights are awful. The house is so quiet, even if the TV's turned up loud, even if the rain is pouring and strong winds are rattling the roof. Even then, I can hear the silence.

It starts around 5pm or so, when Nigel used to get home from work, and gets more intense as the evenings wear on. Routines like making some dinner or feeding the dogs don't help. Nothing really does. Instead, everything just makes me notice the silence all the more.

I go to bed early these days (usually early-early, not Arthur early), mostly so I can shut out the silence by sleeping. I generally fall asleep reasonably quickly because I'm always so tired. But then I wake up during the night, and I reach over to Nigel's side of the bed, but he's not there, of course. One of the furbabies might be there, but, much as I love them, they're not what I'm reaching for, they're not who I'm missing.

Morning eventually nears, and I usually wake up while it's still dark. I lie there pretending that I might fall back to sleep, but I seldom do. I get up, earlier than I should, and start my day. The silence starts to recede as the sun rises. Then it returns again at the end of the day. And that cycle repeats.

The video above is ABBA performing their song "If It Wasn't For The Nights" from their 1979 album Voulez-Vous. I'm pretty sure I played the album a lot when it was new, so much so that my mother started to call it "that album with a beat". She eventually decided she liked it, though. A little more than a year after the album was released, my mother was dead. But that never made me think of that ABBA album. To be fair, I haven't thought about the album in years. But now the refrain of that song is stuck in my mind on an endless loop:

If it wasn't for the nights
(If it wasn't for the nights I think that I could make it)
If it wasn't for the nights
(If it wasn't for the nights I think that I could take it)

Usually, having a song stuck in my head is annoying, but this one at least helps drown out the silence. That's a good thing. In the day, I manage really well, and, an occasional cry notwithstanding, I feel almost normal (so called…) in the daylight. And then it gets dark again. "Somehow I'd be doing alright if it wasn't for the nights (If it wasn't for the nights I think that I could make it)."

Apparently, humans can't just hibernate, so I have to endure this daily ritual. I know this awful feeling will eventually get better. But until then, I'd be doing alright if it wasn't for the nights.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on October 2.

The end of the song

One week ago today, we said our final goodbye to Nigel. In this whole journey, in fact, in my entire life, that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. For me, the worst part was when I followed Nigel’s coffin out of the hall and to the hearse. It was the music that both hurt and helped.

That day had gone exactly as I planned it, except for one thing that almost didn’t: The music we’d play. I’d been quietly and secretly fretting about the music for ages because Nigel never got the chance to tell me what he wanted, though, not surprisingly, he had strong ideas about music. The songs I’d pick had to be what felt right to me because that would mean it would be right for him. I trusted myself because I knew Nigel would.

The morning of that day I was up early with a brilliant idea to check Nigel’s iTunes to see what songs he was listening to lately. Turned out, he didn’t use iTunes (and I still have no idea what he did use).

I was beginning to get a bit panicky when Nigel’s younger brother, Terry, arrived. I told him my dilemma. He suggested that I check Nigel’s phone.

When I opened his Apple Music, the most recent song was “If Heaven” by Andy Griggs (video above). I knew he loved that song, but I had no idea when he’d last listened to it. I realised it may have been quite some time before then, but it was at least as likely that he may have played it when he was in hospital his final week for courage or strength or whatever. I also knew that he may have left it there as a message to me. Both are possible, and both are equally unlikely. I’ll never know. But whatever the truth was, I knew instantly that was the song we’d play as Nigel was being carried out of the hall. It. Was. Perfect.

He was carried in to Keith Urban’s “Memories of Us”, a song with some lyrics that had taken on new and sudden relevance when Nigel died. Nigel often sang the song at family karaoke nights, and it, too, was one he loved.

In between, we played a couple others we new he loved, including another of his karaoke night standards (close family and friends knew that, though others wouldn’t have known). But those songs weren’t originally planned: They were needed because so many people were coming up to leave messages on Nigel’s coffin that we needed to buy some time.

But it was by far that final song that got to me.

“If Heaven” may seem as if it’s religious, particularly because of the title, but the lyrics are more spiritual than specifically religious, and, in any case, Nigel had a much more relaxed view of the possibility of an afterlife of some sort than I did. I made him promise me that if there really is an afterlife he’ll send me a clear and unmistakeable message—nothing that has to be interpreted. He laughed.

As we carried Nigel out, the song filled my ears, drowning out everything else. At the same time, my entire field of vision was reduced to an almost photographic soft-focus blur, except for one spot in crisply clear sharp focus: His nameplate on his coffin. I focused on that, and it pretty much guided me out of the hall. I could see where I was going, even with tears filling my eyes, because I could clearly see his name showing me the way forward.

Sometimes even the smallest details have hidden meaning (such as, why I picked the shirt I wore that day, as I mentioned Saturday). The song I picked for the end of his farewell was perfect, and he would have been pleased I picked it—assuming he didn’t pick it for me. As with so many other things that day, that song had special meaning most people wouldn’t have known.

I’ll never hear that song the same way again, but that’s okay. If there is a “heaven” of some sort, I know that Nigel’s part of what it’s made of. That’s just one last gift from the love of my life on the day I said my final goodbye.

The song ended, but the pain hasn’t, and won’t for a long time. Of course. But I know that while our song together has also ended, our music never can.

But now I need to find my own song. That will take some time. Stay tuned.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on September 30.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Blogging Interstitial

I’m still in this midst of re-publishing things I originally posted on my personal Facebook page, all two weeks after the original date of posting on Facebook, but at the same time of day as the original. Beginning this coming week, re-published posts will appear here around a week after the original published date, though still at the same time of day. Some time soon after that, they’ll appear on the same day, which will mean I’ll be returning to same-day blogging.

This is happening because rather than wait for a specific day to roll around, I decided to re-publish on this blog on consecutive days, even if I didn’t do that on Facebook. I began these posts on my personal Facebook three weeks ago, but it’s never been something I did every day because those Facebook posts weren’t every day, either. Those gaps give me the chance to slowly catch up as long as I post something here every day.

So, sometime in the next couple weeks I should be back to regular original blogging, and not just re-publishing what I originally posted on Facebook. When I do, I have absolutely no idea what it will look like.

Everything right now is a work in progress, and that includes this blog.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Promises to keep

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” By Robert Frost

Over the past week I’ve shared stories and photos in order to share more of Nigel’s story, specifically the parts with me, because I promised him I’d share his wider story. I also wanted people who I know only through the Internet to know something of the life Nigel and I had together. I hope it’s obvious that what I shared on Facebook, my blog, and my podcast was only a small sampling of how rich our life together really was.

I’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and love in the wonderful comments and FB reactions from people near and far. I read the comments to Nigel when he was in hospital, until he became too weak, and the outpouring really touched him. It also truly helped me through this horrible time, and I appreciate that support more than I can ever adequately express. Thank you.

I thought I’d take a moment to talk a bit about myself, because all of this has raised some questions. I’ve shared my truth and authentic self on my blog and podcast for all these years, so I’m not going to stop now.

How am I doing?

I’m doing surprisingly well—far better than I expected, actually. The main reason for that is my New Zealand family. I’ve had one or more of them staying with me every night since before Nigel died, right up until tonight. One or more of them also rings me or texts me every day. My sister in the USA also rings me through the miracles of the Internet.

So, I’ve been well looked after.

Today I decided it was time to spend the day here at home alone with the furbabies. This is our new reality, and we need to adjust. But, then, the days are easy: Nigel worked long hours, so the furbabies and I always spent much of the daytime alone.

Tonight is my first night alone since we took Nigel back to hospital for the last time. I have no idea how it will go. The worst that could happen is that I’ll cry myself to sleep, but as Nigel frequently said, “no one ever cried themselves to death”. So, I’m sure that I’ll be fine. And, if it’s rougher than think, I have ample support.

I’ve done a lot of laundry today, just trying to bring back some normality (and clean clothes…). But one thing I’ve learned is that at the moment my most useful phrase is, “maybe tomorrow”. There’s really nothing urgent that I need to do, so I can just take everything at my own pace.

I made promises

I made promises to Nigel, and the biggest was, to put it crudely, that I will continue. The original context was that Nigel asked me to promise I’d look after our furbabies, which was an obvious thing for me to promise to do.

In Nigel’s last days, he also asked me, “What is it your really want to do with your life?” I told him that the only thing I’d ever wanted to do was write. “Then do that,” he said. To be honest, it was kind of an order, and he wasn’t one to be ignored when he ordered something (Rule 1). His real point was that he wanted me to live the life I wanted, and to fill it with that (since I couldn’t have him in it…).

I’ll keep all those promises, plus a few I made to myself that I’ll talk about over time. There’s much to be done.

The immediate future

Obviously, nothing about this new path is actually obvious, and there’s a lot I can’t possibly know. However, there is one thing I know for certain: I will not return to the USA—New Zealand is my home. I’ve lived here for 24 years, which, for comparison, is about two-thirds the number of years I lived in the USA (birth to 36). Or, if you take adulthood as beginning at 18, then I’ve lived more of my adult life in New Zealand than I did in the USA.

But it’s not really about numbers, it’s about “fit”. Nigel—who you may have noticed said a lot of insightful things in his final weeks—asked me if I’d go back the USA, and I said no. He then said, “To be honest, and I don’t mean this in a negative way, but I think you make a much better Kiwi than you do an American.” I think he’s right. I didn’t ask him why he thought that, but I have a pretty good idea what he meant, or part of the reason he said it, anyway.

However, the numbers are relevant in that the America I left no longer exists, and I’m not talking about politics (no, really!). Places have changed, friends have died or scattered around the country, so nothing there now is anything like what I left 24 years ago. That means that I have continuity here, not there.

At the moment, I expect to move to Hamilton, about an hour and a half south of Auckland. While I really like the awesome mess that Auckland is, it was the place Nigel and I spent most of our years together, and not where we planned to stay forever. He wanted to move to Hamilton one day, at least in part because a lot of his family is there, and more family is with an hour and half drive. So, I’m fulfilling one of our long-term plans, but it’s also what just makes sense for me: I don’t want to be alone, and moving to where the greatest number family members are based ensures that won’t happen.

One last thing. I dressed sombrely for Nigel’s two visitation days, but the day of the funeral I wore the same shirt I wore for our civil union (wedding) ceremony back in 2009, pictured. Nigel hated the picture (and made me stretch it a bit to make him look thinner), but in his final weeks he told me that was the second-happiest day of his life—the first was the day we were legally married in October, 2013. Funny that; they were my happiest days, too.

Thanks for sharing this journey with me—it’s meant a lot to me. I have no idea what my new story will be, but I’ll certainly share it. That’s what friends are for.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on September 28.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Nigel’s Story

The photo I used on the cover of
Nigel's funeral programme.
One week ago today, Nigel left us. Today I went to collect his ashes, which was surreal. I haven’t yet decided what I’ll do with them—Nigel left that up to me, but it’s nice to have them home. They’re not him, of course—instead, Nigel lives on in my heart and in my memory.

A couple days ago, I shared my final message to Nigel. I mentioned that he’d largely written his own story. I’ve now edited it so I can share it here, because while it was important to him that people know his whole story, some parts of it were private to the family. Still, many of my Facebook friends knew Nigel, even if only from our online adventures, including our old Internet radio shows. He wanted you, too, to really know him.

So, here’s Nigel’s story, which he mostly dictated and I finished for him. The first part is what was also read to everyone right before Nigel’s story:

Nigel specified that he didn’t want a traditional funeral service, nothing stuffy and formal, and not at a funeral home, crematorium, and certainly not a church. He wanted a hall, and it’s appropriate that we are here in a community hall so close to the place he loved living.

Nigel wanted you all to interact with each other—sad as the reason for us being here is, he wanted us all to focus on each other.

Nigel said several times that kids should take the balloons home with them. It was important to him.

At any time anyone can come up and write a message or draw a picture on Nigel’s coffin. Markers are provided for that. He wanted it to be a big, beautiful mess.

There will be time for anyone to share some words about Nigel, to tell a favourite anecdote, or to tell a joke—especially that. There will be tears, of course, but he wanted there to be lots of laughter, too.

Today is all about Nigel. He knew many people in his life didn’t know all the details of his life, so in his final days he worked with his husband, Arthur, to make sure that his story was told.

So: Since this is about Nigel and his story, let’s begin with that.

Nigel’s Story

Nigel was born on the 27th of August, 1964 in Matamata, New Zealand. His parents had met in the Navy. After leaving the Navy, they become sharemilkers in the Waikato.

Nigel was child Number Six, with four older sisters, and one older brother. And no, his parents weren’t Catholic—they just didn’t have television in those days.

After a few more years of sharemilking, his father got a job as a prison officer at Waikeria Prison, and moved the family to Waikeria.

In 1970, his father got his dream job and became the Fisheries Officer for the Coromandel Peninsula, and the family moved to Coromandel Town. Coromandel would become home for the family. As you can imagine, Coromandel was a great place to grow up—endless summers, where you could take off on your bike and only come back for meals.

Nigel’s career began after he left school, when did his Electronics Technician apprenticeship with Tisco. He hated it: All that dealing with dusty TVs in filthy homes, but he loved the people/customer service side of it. He decided to change careers and joined the telephone operations part of New Zealand Post, which would eventually become Telecom NZ, as a telephone operator.

Nigel would go on to hold a variety of positions in telephony and customer service, constantly advancing his career. He had increasingly important roles in Australia, then back in New Zealand. He joined the former Auckland City Council, moved on to the Hauraki District Council, back to Auckland City, then, more recently, Auckland Council, where he was General Manager, Customer Services.

In 1989, Nigel went to the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, where he met Gary, and once again decided to follow his heart and move to Australia and start a new life. From the very beginning, Nigel knew that Gary was HIV positive, and Nigel knew their time together would be limited. Gary died in 1993.

Nigel returned to New Zealand to be with family in 1994.

In early 1995, Nigel was with friends in a chatroom on Apple Computer’s online service, eWorld. There was an American in there who was looking for folks willing to give advice to a friend of his, Arthur, who was travelling to Australia and New Zealand later that year. Nigel agreed, and supplied his email address.

Arthur picks up the story. “I wanted locals to give me advice on what to see and, more importantly, what NOT to see. My friend gave me three email addresses. One was a bad address, and the second was an Australian guy who said he was ‘faaaaaaaar too busy’ to offer advice right then, but I should email him closer to the time. The third email address was Nigel’s.”

Nigel and Arthur realised there was a connection pretty much from the beginning, and Arthur joined eWorld so that they could chat—MUCH cheaper than international phone calls in those days. Over the weeks and months following that first email exchange, Nigel and Arthur began to realise they wanted to be together.

Arthur finally arrived for that trip Downunder in September, 1995, found a job, then went back to the USA to wait for the visa to come through and to tidy up his affairs there. They racked up a fairly large phone bill in that time.

On November 2, 1995, Arthur arrived back in New Zealand, and Nigel and Arthur began their life together.

They faced challenges along the way, including Arthur’s temporary immigration status, which threatened to separate them when the company Arthur worked for shut down, making everyone redundant.

But one of their biggest challenges came in late 1999, when they lost Nigel’s older brother, Trevor, followed by his father a few weeks later.

Many of you may not have known about Nigel’s struggle with mental illness for most of his adult life. He found different ways to deal with it, but it became worse in 2010, with the massive stress caused by the amalgamation of Auckland’s local government.

There were times Arthur had to accompany Nigel to meetings and then wait in the car, all so Nigel could be sure of being able to drive there and back home. He needed to know that Arthur was there for him. There were other times Arthur drove to meet Nigel in the city so that he could follow Nigel home in order to make sure Nigel could get across the Harbour Bridge.

Nigel found help through the Phobic Trust (now called Anxiety New Zealand Trust) and psychotherapy, which delivered him from a very dark place. It allowed Arthur and Nigel to enjoy many good, happy years together, though clearly not even nearly as many as they’d planned.
Nigel’s life with Arthur was mostly quiet and peaceful—apart from family parties. It turns out that his four sisters could hold ten different conversations going on all at once, without ever losing their place in any of them. Others nearby may have lost their hearing, though.

Nigel and Arthur had three rules for a happy relationship: Rule 1. Nigel is right about everything; Rule 2. Everything is Arthur’s fault; And Rule 3. If in doubt, refer to Rules 1 and 2.

They had three other, more practical rules. First, never go to bed angry. Naturally, they never argued. Well, maybe once or twice. Second, they said “I love you” every single day, and third, they shared a goodnight kiss every night. That’s part of what made things work out for them for two and a half decades.

In what turned out to be his final years, Nigel was at peace with himself and his life. He loved his job at Auckland Council, especially the people he got to work with. He was extremely proud of the good work they did. He taught many people how to be good leaders.

Nigel had no real regrets, and he made sure in his final days that he and Arthur left nothing unsaid. The one thing he was worried about was that Arthur would be okay, something he told family members several times. His concerns weren’t about what was ahead during his health struggle, though, naturally, he had worries about pain and suffering. Instead, he was worried about others. That was just who Nigel was.

Nigel died early in the morning of Friday, September 20, 2019, aged 55. His family were there with him, and as he drew his final breath, Arthur was at his side, holding his hand, as Nigel’s siblings and mum drew close around him. He wasn’t in pain, and it was unlikely he was aware of anything that was happening. It was a largely peaceful end. Even though Nigel’s years were FAR too few, they were filled with love and laughter. And music. And tech stuff. And Star Trek—and each of you.

This concludes today’s telling of Nigel’s story. After Nigel leaves, Arthur and the family invite you to remain for a cuppa and a snack.

But now it’s time to send Nigel on his final journey. I ask you all to stand to acknowledge Nigel as he and his family exit the hall. You may follow them outside if you want to, or remain here.

• • •

Thank you for reading Nigel’s story. It was important to him that people knew his story, and that made it important to me, too.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on September 27.

In accordance with Nigel’s wishes, the family would appreciate donations to the Anxiety New Zealand Trust.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Saying Goodbye

The photo I used on the cover of
Nigel's funeral programme.
We said our final goodbye to Nigel on Monday [September 23]. The day went better than I could have hoped, because, hard as it was, I was able to give Nigel the send-off he wanted. In his final two weeks, he’d started telling me what he wanted, but ran out of energy to finish it, so I had to improvise a bit. But I think the event captured what he wanted.

It was a non-traditional thing, not in any way religious, and held in a community hall—all things he told me he wanted. The hall was overflowing with people, and I was told that all available parking on the roads in the area was taken. He would have liked that.

Nigel wanted the event to be about telling his story, and he started dictating that to me, though I had to finish that, too. It was to be read by a former colleague of his so that everyone there would know all of his story, not just the parts they knew because of where their lives overlapped.

I decided I wanted Sam to read a message from me, too; I knew there was no way I could read it myself, but I wanted to add more to Nigel’s story, while also having one last chance to publicly declare my love for him, and to help people understand how deep it was, and why it was so strong. He was a truly amazing man.

I thought I’d share my message here. I may share his story, too, but that will take some editing (it was never intended for publication). But, for now, anyway, here’s mine:

Arthur’s Message

Nothing in my life ever prepared me for today. I’ve lost loved ones before, of course, but how do you say goodbye to the love of your life, your true soulmate? The only thing I know is to tell stories about the man I’ve spent the past two and a half short decades with.

Nigel’s story talked a bit about how he and I met indirectly over the Internet before we ever became a couple. What he didn’t say was that I very nearly ruined it all.

In early 1995, I visited a friend in San Francisco, and, as I did in those days, I sent a group email instead of postcards (it was the mid-90s...). When he got his, Nigel thought he’d misread things, and he pulled back. I continued to email him, but got no replies. Finally, I sent an email titled, “Where oh where has Nigel gone?” And our budding romance was saved. Nigel may have brought up that incident once or twice over the years.

One of the first things I saw when I arrived back in New Zealand to stay happened the day I landed. Nigel had begun a new job just a few days before, so he couldn’t meet me at the airport. I got myself to the house, and when I opened the front door I found that Nigel had printed out a path leading into the house from the front door, one latter to a page. “Welcome Home”, it said. I knew I was. That was the beginning of our lives together.

One of the reasons we were such soulmates is that we shared a passion for social justice. Many, many years ago, Nigel told me about an idea he was working on to train people for customer service jobs in Auckland Council. Eventually, those early ideas evolved into Kia Puawai, a partnership between Auckland Council, the Solomon Group, and Work and Income New Zealand. It brings in long-term unemployed people, many of whom had been considered unemployable, and trains them for jobs—careers—in the contact centre industry. The programme transforms people’s lives, and so, their families, their communities, and the even the country. Nigel was very proud of that programme.

I was so proud of him for his work on it that I often insisted that friends and family members ask him about it, because I thought it was so awesome and because I knew Nigel was too modest to bring it up. He wanted to help bring the idea to local councils around the country, but never got the chance. I hope someone else promotes that work.

Nigel and I largely shared political viewpoints—especially our rather dim view of the current occupant of the US White House. When we first got the news that Nigel didn’t have long to live, he said to me, “I just hope I live long enough to see that bastard voted out of the White House!”

Throughout our time together, even into the final weeks, Nigel and I had many long, interesting discussions on all sorts of subjects. We also educated each other about stuff. Ours was a great home for thinking and talking. I‘ll miss those daily talks with him about all sorts of things, even those that we couldn’t affect or change.

Nigel was always a huge influence on my life. He was my constant confidante and advisor on all sorts of issues, from work to health and even hobbies. It was his idea that I start blogging and podcasting, and it was his encouragement that led me to change careers, and even to follow my passion for politics by becoming involved directly in it.

But there was so much more.

Nigel also saved my life. He insisted that I see the doctor in 2016 when I wasn’t feeling well, and especially when I’d felt so unwell at our celebration of Pam’s birthday. I went to the doctor and found myself in the back of an ambulance heading to hospital where I was given a cardiac stent. I had a 90% blockage, and that day we celebrated Pam’s birthday had very nearly been my last; if Nigel hadn’t insisted I go the to the doctor, sooner rather than later I would have had a heart attack.

The day of the stent, they ended up taking me early, and my greatest fear was that I’d die during the procedure and Nigel would never get the chance to see me beforehand or to say goodbye. I was terrified while the procedure was done, but the ONLY thing I thought about was how much I loved him, and how I needed to see him. The procedure was a complete success.

In Nigel’s last days, he said to me, “I’m sorry I was so hard on you at times, but I just wanted you to be a better man. It wasn’t that you were ‘bad’, it’s just that I could see what you could become.” I know that directly because of him, I’ve become kinder, more compassionate, more tolerant, and much more positive. If I strayed too far into the negative, he’d start singing the song from the crucifixion scene in the movie, “Monty Python’s The Life of Brian”. The song’s refrain is, “Always look on the bright side of life…” I hated when he did that, mostly because he was always right.

I can’t imagine how I could ever replace his wise counsel, his sound advice, his belief in me when I had none. I never imagined it was possible to love someone so much or to be so loved by someone. I will miss him forever.

Goodbye my love, and thank you for the wonderful life we had together.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on September 25.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

A friend helps

One of the things that helped me in this horrible time has been the support I’ve received from people far and wide. Whether it was a comment on something I posted on Facebook, or even just a “reaction” to it, they all helped.

One thing I forgot to share here was a post that my friend Roger Green published on his blog on September 22: “A post for Arthur@AmeriNZ”. He’d said on Facebook that he’d be happy to help in any way he could from so far away. When he published his post, I wrote in a comment, “You asked on Facebook what you could do, despite being so far away. This was it!”

Technically, to keep the timeline of these re-posts accurate, I should have published this here yesterday. The fact this being out of chronological sequence bugs me is something I bet Roger understands…

People usually don’t know what to do or say at a time like this, but in my experience it’s simply letting a grieving person know that we see them and we acknowledge what they're going through. I think that more often than not, it’s as simple as that.

So, read Roger’s post. The family appreciated it as much as I did.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Bringing Nigel home

This is a casual photo of Nigel and me taken in 2006 when my lifelong friend Jason was visiting us. We were in the Rotorua area, and he was wandering around taking photos, including this secret photo of us just being us.

I’ll be honest, if Nigel was still alive, he’d be grumpy with me for sharing this because it was before he’d lost weight. But this photo is so good at capturing us acting as we so often did that I just had to share it, anyway.

We brought Nigel home yesterday, and put him in our rumpus room, which is on the ground floor. It was a private time for family and close friends so we had a chance to spend a few last hours with him here at home. I lifted the dogs up one at a time so they could see him, sniff him, and understand he was gone and not coming back. I didn’t want them spending weeks lying in front of the window at 5pm waiting for Nigel to come home, not understanding why he didn’t.

As I thought, Jake seemed most affected. He was very clingy to me for several hours afterward. Sunny understood, but nothing much bothers her. Leo didn’t seem to have a clue what was happening. The dogs, Nigel and I all spent the night together last night. Leo and Jake and I were on the spare bed in the room, Sunny on the floor (as she likes it). To be honest, it was the best night’s sleep I’ve had in more than a week: My Nigel got to come home one last time, and we were all together one last time.

I told Nigel I’d do all this (in his last couple weeks, we talked about absolutely everything to do with his death, and that was important to him). He left the decision about whether to bring him home up to me, but I think he was pleased when I told him I wanted to. I know he would be pleased I made sure the dogs got to say goodbye.

I know that Nigel is gone, that what’s left behind is just the vessel that contained everything that made him *him*. But seeing him and being with him is a way to begin to let go of him, and we need to. Today we send Nigel on his final journey. It will be the hardest day of my life.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on September 23.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Preparing to say goodbye

This photo is of Nigel and me at my 60th birthday party back in January. It was such a good night. Although Nigel wasn't a fan of public speaking, that night he publicly said so many wonderful things about me and about us that it knocked the stuffing out me. I had a whole speech planned, covering some of the same stuff he did, but after he was done I was so emotional that all I could remember was the joke I'd been working on for weeks and weeks (fortunately, everyone laughed at it…).

I was at the visitation yesterday, and it was the first time I'd seen him since he died. He really did look very peaceful and natural—so much so, I was actually surprised. I was also happy about that because I know that many people get freaked out by dead bodies, and to see him looking like Nigel made me feel a little better. Well, a tiny bit better is probably more accurate.

I miss him so damn much.

Originally published on my personal Facebook Page on September 22.

Friday, October 04, 2019

This story has ended

The story I’ve told on my blog and in my podcast ended on September 20, 2019, when the love of my life, my beloved husband Nigel, died after a short battle with very aggressive liver cancer. He was the entire reason I started my blog and, later, my podcast. What now?

I had never even remotely imagined this happening, not so soon. We were supposed to grow old together, and that was the only thing we’d ever planned for over all these years. We had no Plan B.

At the same time, though, we’d also been realistic that something bad could happen that would change everything. We talked about literally everything, right up to the end.

Nigel had been unwell, though we didn’t know how unwell until eleven days before he died. At the beginning of August, he went to the doctor with a sinus infection, followed by what we thought was a reaction to the antibiotic. We began to suspect it was serious, and it turned out we were right.

We started talking about what we would do, what he wanted when he was gone, and pretty much everything else. We left nothing unsaid. He told everyone that the only thing he worried about was that I’d be okay, and that was very important to him. It was also just like him, worrying more about me than what he was facing. Everything went much faster than we thought, hoped, and faster than what I begged for.

I was at his side holding his hand when he took his last breath, though he was in a coma at the time and almost certainly unaware of anything. But, I was there. I promised him I would be, though he never asked me to be. It was something I needed to do for him, and for me. I was there at the start of our story, and I needed to be there at the end, too.

My blog and podcast have always been about me and my life in New Zealand, and the entire reason that story exists at all is because of Nigel. He was the entire reason—the only reason—I came to this country. While our story has now ended, clearly my own story hasn’t. I have no idea what that new story will be, but I intend to document it here and in my podcast—eventually.

In the time since Nigel died two weeks ago today, I’ve been sharing what I’m thinking and feeling on my personal Facebook page, which is private. Over the coming days I’ll share those posts here on this blog, perhaps slightly edited, and with the original publication date at the end of each one. Sometime after that, I’ll start original blogging again. But not today, and not soon. Everything is still too raw.

So, the story I told has now ended. I’ll have new stories to tell, different stories, ones that I can’t yet even begin to imagine. But I’ll tell them, too.

The photo up top is of Nigel and me at the Celine Dion concert in Auckland in August, 2018. It was a good night.

Friday, September 13, 2019

AmeriNZ Blog is thirteen

Today is the thirteenth anniversary of the AmeriNZ Blog—it’s a teenager! I published my first post, “I live in a land downunder. No, the other one…” on September 13, 2006 at 10:53pm NZST. This blog and I are are both still here to tell the tales.

For me, this blog has been a lot of things over the years—fun, exasperating, interesting, educational, even exasperating. It’s also been challenging, at least when it comes to meeting my goals. Last year I said:
Last year [2017], I looked at where I was in my annual blogging goal of an average of one post per day, and at this point last year, it wasn’t great. I had a shortfall of 64 posts from where I should have been if I was on track. That meant needed an average of 1.59 posts per day to meet my goal. That never happened, because I was right: It WAS a tall order.

This year [2018] is better. Including this post, the shortfall is 55, and the daily average required is 1.5 posts per day. That’s a somewhat shorter order than last year.
Here in 2019, the shortfall (as of today, and including this post) is 45, meaning a daily average of about 1.41 posts per day, which is better than last year, but—fair warning—I know that I almost certainly won’t achieve my blogging goal this year, for reasons I’ll explain another time. Right now, though, I’ll say this: I don’t care about that. Part of the reason for that is, as I’ve said before, the goal itself doesn’t really matter. I now truly understand that.

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)

This 2015 AmeriNZ Video explains the origins of the name “AmeriNZ”:

Thursday, September 12, 2019

24 years ago

Twenty-four years ago yesterday, I arrived in New Zealand as a tourist, the beginning of my current story arc. I left New Zealand later that month, and returned five weeks later to stay. I’m still here, and that’s what matters.

I used to remember this anniversary for the first few years, and then everything changed six years later, something I’ve explained before: September 12 here is September 11 in the USA. As I said last year.

Despite that, and even in the years I’d “forgotten” about it, September 12 is an important anniversary because of the past 24 years of my life. I’ve called it “a sort of foundation date”, and it was. And that’s why I remember it each year, even if there are sometimes it seems better not to say so.

I’m still here. That’s what matters.

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)

Wednesday, September 11, 2019


Last week, I talked about an album Waiata/Anthems in which New Zealand artists took their hit songs an re-recorded them in Te Reo Māori for Te Wiki o te Reo Māori (Māori Language Week). The album has now been released, and artists are starting to share their work. Here are two of those.

Among the songs on the album are two I’ve previously shared, and because some people may want to hear the two side-by-side, here they are, with the new audio-only version first, followed by the original video.

First, and the oldest of the two, “Don’t Forget Your Roots” by Six60. Originally released in July 2011, it was their second single and hit Number One in New Zealand:

Now, the original version:

I first shared the original version in a post for NZ Music Month back in 2014, and I shared a different video in a post last year about the NZ Music Awards.

Next up Drax Project, and their first big hit, “Woke Up Late”, a song released twice already:

And, the original version

This particular song has now had a triple life: The first, original version (which I also shared in that NZ Music Awards post last year) was released in November, 2017, and hit Number 15 in NZ. That was followed by another version with, with Hailee Steinfeld an American Singer/songwriter and actress. That song also got a new video (WATCH) shot in Los Angeles. The original video was shot in New Zealand. The 2019 version only hit Number 35—maybe it didn’t seem new to Kiwis? I have no idea whether the new version for Waiata/Anthems will chart or not, but it is a very different version.

The entire album is available for streaming on Spotify, though the embed may work for some people, too (it is ad supported for those without Spotify Premium):

As with pretty much every various artists compilations, we may like some songs more than others—I certainly do. I'm not exactly a "fan" of any of the artists, though I like songs by many of them. But that's not the entire point with this album. Instead, it's about helping people perceive Te Reo Māori in new ways, in this case by exposing people to it through pop songs they already know, recorded by the same artists who made the songs a hit in the first place. That's an interesting and fresh approach to spreading awareness of, and appreciation for, the language. It may bother some folks that the lyrics are often interpreted rather than literally translated, but it shouldn't: Literal translation is seldom used in any translation we encounter. In fact, for the sake of understanding and, in this case, artistry, it should be interpreted rather than literally translated.

Probably most of us who hear the songs don't speak Māori, or, at least, not fluently; many of us never will, either. But many of the artists who re-recorded their songs also don't speak the language. If they can do their songs in a language they don't even speak, maybe there's hope for the rest of us, too.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Dumber than a box of markers

One of the many "Sharpie-Gate" photo memes.
There’s a harsh, cold reality that the current occupant of the White House just doesn’t seem to understand: When you dig yourself into a hole, stop digging! Everyone else understands the truth of that statement, though smart people can be dumb about this and fail to pay attention to the wisdom. But the current occupant has staff—are there no grown-ups left to tell him he’s being an idiot over the latest hurricane?

Another reality is that if he’d merely mistakenly Tweeted out an already old forecast that Alabama was at 5-20% risk of tropical storm conditions in the wake of Hurricane Dorian, he could have easily moved on by saying that in the earliest stages experts thought it may have been true, but that they later felt otherwise. Most of us would have ignored that—after all, he says and does truly dumb and laughable things in the course of an average day, and this didn’t need to be that.

In this case, his bizarre overreaction to criticism of his erroneous Tweet says a LOT about him.

First, he pulled out an obviously doctored map to “prove” his erroneous claims about the possible path of Hurricane Dorian were “true”. Then he claimed he had no idea who doctored the map, but then reports emerged that he was the one who doctored the map, with an unnamed White House official commenting to The Washington Post, “No one else writes like that on a map with a black Sharpie.” Indeed, he always uses one when publicly signing a document, both real and fake.

As if that wasn’t dumb and laughable enough, then he Tweeted out a doctored CNN video to try and back up his false claims. So, when he Tweets out a doctored video, isn’t that the definition of “fake news”?

All of this comes from a man who claimed, "I'm not sure that I've ever even heard of a Category 5. I knew it existed." Trouble is, he said the exact same thing back in 2017 after Hurricane Irma hit. In fact, there have been four Category 5 hurricanes since that man took up residence in the White House, three of them since Irma. But, despite all that, he didn’t remember having heard of Category 5 hurricanes before, even though, well, he did—at least three times before Dorian.

Things then took yet another bizarre—and very ominous—turn when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is supposed to be a scientific agency, politicised the weather by taking the side of the current occupant of the White House. They claimed that their National Weather Service office in Birmingham, Alabama, was wrong when they Tweeted on Sunday that the Alabama was not at risk. NOAA said the Birmingham office’s Tweet was “in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.” Oh, really?! In fact, there was one prediction that southeastern Alabama might face a 5 to 10 percent chance of experiencing 40 mile per hour winds. In the end, winds there were actually no more than 9mph—proving the original assessment was correct.

So, why did they rush to defend the current occupant from—well, what exactly? Alarming people for no good reason? Or maybe it was because he was merely caught out misunderstanding something he heard somewhere (maybe on Fox “News”?). Whether it was their intent or not, they ended up running political interference designed to help the current occupant, but, worse, their politicisation also means people can no longer trust the NOAA to provide accurate forecasts—unless, it’s purely by accident, and in accordance with what seems to be their new mission of making the current occupant of the White House look good.

As for the latest utterly bizarre behaviour from the current occupant, there are several plausible conclusions. First, and simplest, it’s merely another example of his malignant narcissism, where he cannot be criticised, he cannot be shown to be wrong, and he has to lash out—lying whenever necessary—to “prove” his lies were true, and that he was “unfairly” criticised. However, it’s also entirely possible that this is the result of advancing dementia, or perhaps underlying insanity. Whatever the case is, this latest bizarre behaviour is clearly not normal, and there’s something seriously wrong with him—as in, 25th Amendment seriously wrong. That option won’t be used, obviously, so we must expect to see a lot more utterly bizarre and inappropriate behaviour from the current occupant.

We also now know that there are no grown-ups in the regime, no one who can tell him to stop digging himself in deeper. At least when he does dumb things like this it gives us yet another reason to laugh at him. Right now, that’s all we get. Hopefully in November 2020 the joke will finally end.

Friday, September 06, 2019

Unions make us strong

Monday of this week was Labor Day in the USA (New Zealand’s Labour Day is the end of October), and also the 125th anniversary of the first one. For years now, a common narrative has been about the decline of unions, and the Right has constantly added rhetoric about how awful they think unions are. In fact, things are better than they have been in some time, and they’re likely to get better.

The graphic above is by Gallup who recently reported, “As Labor Day Turns 125, Union Approval Near 50-Year High”. Gallup explains it this way:
Union approval averaged 68% between Gallup's initial measurement in 1936 and 1967, and consistently exceeded 60% during that time. Since 1967, approval has been 10 points lower on average, and has only occasionally surpassed 60%. The current 64% reading is one of the highest union approval ratings Gallup has recorded over the past 50 years, topped only in March 1999 (66%), August 1999 (65%) and August 2003 (65%) surveys.
That sounds like good news, but tGallup also reported:
Higher public support for unions in the past few years likely reflects the relatively good economic conditions in place, particularly low unemployment. By contrast, the lowest union approval ratings in Gallup history came from 2009 through 2012, years of high unemployment that followed the Great Recession. Gallup also observed relatively low union approval during the poor economic times in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Put another way, the one thing that will stand up for workers—unions—are shunned when the economy turns bad. That could plausibly mean that workers blame unions for higher unemployment, rather than the corporations cutting costs to maintain profit levels.

We see some evidence for that assumption in the data about union membership. Again according to Gallup, around 10% of the USA’s full and part-time workers belong to a union, which continues record low levels.

The largest share of unionised workers are in so-called “white collar” jobs, especially workers in all levels of government. While there’s little statistical difference in party identification (union members are slightly more Democratic than Republican), the biggest differences are in geographic region (workers in the South are least likely to be unionised), and income (workers earning over $100,000 per year are more likely to be union members).

In recent years, unions have been working to unionise low-paid workers, such as fast food workers, whose employment conditions and schedules leave them vulnerable to being disadvantaged or even exploited by their employers. That means that generally low-paid workers in industries like fast food, retail, and service jobs (including “gig economy” jobs like ride-share drivers) could be a real growth area for union membership, just as it was for similarly vulnerable workers in factories a century ago.

This post was inspired, in part, by a US Labor Day post by Roger Green, “Labor Day: unions; corporate greed”. Roger discussed the current state of work in the USA, and referred to a piece titled, “The Answer to Burn Out at Work Isn’t “Self-Care” — It’s Unionizing”, which included my current favourite observation about work in the Corporatist Era: “Eating a salad isn’t going to fix the systemic problems at your workplace.” Indeed. But unionising would help.

Labour unions have fallen on hard times, relative to their past, but the same economic forces that have made things so dire for ordinary working people in the USA may also help unions rise again. Sick of being exploited and constantly losing out, they tried voting for a political party actively working against them, and many of them put their trust in a presidential candidate they knew to be a con-man and fraud, all in a desperate hope that things might get better for them. They haven’t, and they won’t. To really change things will require doing things differently, and joining a union could be an important step in that direction.

Also, voting for the Democratic Party wouldn’t be a bad idea, either. Nothing they’ve tried so far has changed things. It’s time to try something different.


Robert Reich talks about “The 5 Biggest Corporate Lies About Unions”:

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Forgiveness is a gift

I posted the above to the AmeriNZ Facebook Page yesterday. The questions raised by the linked article are simple: Can we forgive those who have caused us grievous harm? Also, should we?

The story is about a man who promoted the myth that gay people can be “cured” though so-called “conversion therapy”, which is also known by the colourful phrase, “pray the gay away” and the more pointed, “ex-gay torture”. His work harmed countless vulnerable LGBT+ people over the 20 years he promoted that nonsense. Can they forgive him? Should they?

By promoting the ex-gay myth, he also harmed the friends and families of LGBT+ people, not merely through giving them “false hope”, but especially by putting them through it all for nothing. Moreover, it also gave people without LGBT+ friends or family members reason to hold onto their anti-gay animus: They could continue to believe that “change” was possible, that gay people who lived their lives with honesty, integrity, and authenticity were being wilfully sinful and disobedient, instead of the reality, namely, that they were being themselves. Can they forgive him? Should they?

People like this guy harmed specific LGBT+ people and their family and friends, and he hurt us all by providing a sort of moral cover for his kindred religionists to cause us great harm. That can’t possibly be undone merely because he’s repudiated his past and come out as gay.

The now openly gay former “ex-gay” torturer was part of a whole system that leads to hatred and violence against LGBT+ people. He cannot escape his role in that. So: Can we forgive him? Should we?

I think that the answer is entirely personal: We each must decide for themselves. But we also have to realise that there are no easy answers, that each instance is unique and requires thought and reflection.

Personally, I think the “ex-gay” torture guy could merit forgiveness if he sincerely and appropriately atones for his wrongdoing—and merely turning away from it or saying it was wrong isn’t enough. Similarly, the fact he’s now out doesn’t absolve him of his duty to atone. Because he did such enormous damage to individuals and to an entire community, he has a moral obligation to try and make up for that. Then we might be able to talk about forgiveness.

People often say, “forgive and forget”, as if they’re the same thing, or at least connected. They’re neither. We can forget about grievous wrong done to us without ever forgiving the person who did it. Basically, we move on with our lives. Or, maybe based on our personal belief structure we forgive such a person, despite the fact we can’t forget what they did. Others can’t do either.

It is a rare person, I think, who can do both. Forgiveness really is a gift of sorts, as I said in the Facebook post. It’s something that many of us can never quite achieve when it comes to the big wrongs done to us individually or as part of a larger community. I think that’s okay.

I stand by what I said the other day, that when people do or say bad or stupid things, they need a path to redemption. I’ve laid out one path the “ex-gay” torture guy could take, but, obviously, that path won’t please everyone. Ultimately, he needs to choose his own path to redemption, and leave us to decide for ourselves whether he’s earned forgiveness. Or not.

Forgiveness is a gift. The people who have caused us harm are the best ones to give us that gift. The choice on forgiveness, ultimately, is theirs well before it’s ours.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Video: ‘All Blacks to the Nation’

The video above, titled “All Blacks to the Nation”, is an ad, obviously, but there are a couple reasons I’m sharing it. First, it’s pretty quintessentially New Zealand, and second, because of the music in the background.

The 2019 Rugby World Cup will soon get underway in Japan (which is what this ad relates to; Air New Zealand is a sponsor of the NZ national rugby team, the All Blacks). Although the importance of rugby has been slowly declining in recent years, it’s still important to this country, especially when the World Cup rolls around (and this year New Zealand will attempt to win it for the third time in a row). The ad captures some of the passion of fans, kids in particular.

The music in the background is the new Te Reo Māori version of Six60’s big hit, “Don’t Forget Your Roots”, the original version of which I shared back in 2014. The new version is part of a project headed up by Hinewehi Mohi to re-record hit New Zealand songs in Māori (all were originally done in English). Another recent hit included in the project is Drax Project’s “Woke Up Late” (I shared the original video last year). The various clips of the project I’ve heard sound awesome [See also the video about the project below].

The thing is, 20 years ago Hinewehi Mohi sang the NZ National Anthem at a quarter final of the 1999 Rugby World Cup, but she sang it in Māori only. She instantly became probably the most hated person in New Zealand—on talkback radio, anyway. At the time, the NZ National Anthem was sung in English only at All Blacks rugby matches. However, also at the same time, it was sung in Māori, then English, at international netball matches, which I thought was great, and I thought should be done at rugby test matches, too.

Nowadays, the Māori-then-English method is used at all international events where the national anthem is sung, including All Blacks test matches (only the first verse is sung in each language; most countries only sing their anthem's first verse). A lot has changed in 20 years.

To be sure, a simple change in singing the national anthem didn’t end racism or prejudice, nor will re-recording English-language pop songs. But it does put more cracks in it—and it helps advance the Māori language. So, while New Zealand isn’t perfect, obviously—since NO country is, this shows that if this country can get over racist attitudes around our national anthem, it shows that progress can be made even on something that people feel passionately about, and that should inspire hope for all countries.

And all of that is embodied in one simple ad. No wonder I shared it.

This is a revised and extend version of something I posted to my personal Facebook earlier today.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Iconic images and reality

Tonight, TVNZ’s Sunday progamme featured one of the Loading Docs series of short documentaries (video above), this one about Levi Hawken, who is best known to New Zealanders as “the Nek Minnit guy” because of a 2011 viral video he was in. Many of us made assumptions about him based on that video, and it turns out many of us were also wrong about him. He’s so much more than that one iconic image would suggest.

Back in 2011, Hawken made a comedic video with friends, something Wikipedia describes well:
Levi Hawken is a professional skateboarder (for Sector 9) from Dunedin, New Zealand who suffers from ectodermal dysplasia. The condition caused his hair and teeth to grow abnormally, which resulted in him being bullied as a child. In the "nek minnit" video, Hawken appears shirtless with a shaven head; his missing teeth have also been noted by many viewers. The video takes place in a Fairfield, Otago skatepark; Hawken announces, "Left my scooter outside the dairy; nek minnit ...", the camera then tilts to show Hawken's broken scooter. The nine-second-long clip was recorded for South in Your Mouth, an independent skate film by Colin Evans, Hawken's friend; however, the "nek minute" video was uploaded separately. The video was popularised in mid-2011, and was viewed on YouTube 600,000 times by late September 2011; at December 2011, the video had received over 1.5 million views. By August 2018, it had reached 4.4 million. The phrase "nek minute" was the sixth most searched term in New Zealand on internet search engine Google in 2011, and was voted the runner-up in the 2011 "Word of the Year" poll by website Public Address.
The only thing most New Zealanders knew about him was “nek minnit”. Some assumed he was, as he says in the documentary, a “dumb homeless guy”. He’s anything but.

Hawken is an artist, who’d once been a graffiti artist. At some point he decided to stop making “public art” to concentrate on painting and making sculptures from cement, some of which is available for purchase on his website. This is now his passion.

Watching the documentary, I was struck by how poetic he was in talking about his art, and also the video that made him public property for a time. Earlier this year, he told Newshub that he used to say “nek minnit” before the famous video, but he never does any more. Who can blame him for that?

There was one more thing that struck me while watching the documentary. Through his impromptu video, Hawken managed to bring Kiwis together through a shared cultural experience, and that’s not something that happens all that often. However, he was also a victim of that same iconic moment, not the least because people assumed a lot about his intelligence and in so doing helped to perpetuate the bullying he experienced as a child because of his unusual appearance.

Hawken seems to have found a way forward, a path to his own peace and to his own creativity. That’s an awesome thing for anyone, but I hope many people see the documentary, and those who judged him based on that viral video will realise how wrong they were about the real guy, and, better still, take the lesson to never judge someone just by appearance—or viral videos—alone.

A path to redemption

We need to talk about redemption, and of scale. This is about more than just politics, it’s also about the way we treat other people, especially prominent people, who are accused of misdeeds of one kind or other. We need to accept that not all of these transgressions are equal, and also that we need to find a way to allow people to redeem themselves. Our common humanity requires us to gain some perspective. Which is why we need to talk about it.

During the height of the “MeToo” frenzy, there was a simple equation: Accusation meant guilt meant certain punishment. There was seldom any chance to evaluate the allegations, nor any opportunity for the accused to receive a fair hearing, much less do anything to redeem themselves. I talked about this in an answer to an “Ask Arthur” question back in 2017:
The problem is, first, not all allegations are equal, no matter what the Left says. There’s a HUGE difference between someone accused of rape (actual or attempted), child molesting (actual or attempted), and someone accused of making sexually-suggestive remarks/propositions. Yet at the height of the frenzy, they were all treated as if they all carried exactly the same seriousness and had to be punished equally seriously.
That attitude set the stage for several high-profile cases. I talked about that in that 2017 post:
The allegations against Conyers were very serious, and his resignation seems like a good outcome. But unless there were more allegations against Franken that we weren’t told about—which is absolutely possible—forcing him to resign seemed excessive (I certainly raised my eyebrows at what seemed like an over-the-top response from Kirsten Gillibrand). Still, maybe there’s more that we don’t know about, but, if so, forcing him to resign seems like a good way to prevent those allegations from being reported. Which is why I have my doubts that forcing him to resign was the right move. But, I can certainly be persuaded.
We’ll probably never know if there were more allegations against Franken that justified the harsh reaction to the ones we knew about, but, at the time, the response seemed all out of proportion to the alleged transgressions. However, we do know that we’re still dealing with the consequences of that saga, with Gillibrand’s role in it being part of the reason her presidential campaign never got anywhere and she had to drop out.

The issue that became obvious is that there was no permitted way for Franken (or anyone else) to adequately apologise or to find a path to redemption. The equation created in those fevered days, that allegation = guilt = need for severe punishment, is with us still, and it’s a huge problem.

The first problem with the harsh punishment that results from allegations alone is that it could make victims of behaviour that, while objectionable, was neither violent nor criminal, and that fact could easily make them refuse to come forward because doing so could destroy someone who made a mistake. That, again, is because the perpetrator could have no way to apologise or atone. So, this determination to punish at any cost can actually discourage victims from coming forward.

There’s a bigger problem, though, and it’s this: If we’re forever trapped by the wrong things we’ve said or done, we’ll never have any incentive to do better or become better.

I doubt very much that there are or ever have been any humans who haven’t said or done something they later regretted. Many people have even done or said things that they’re later ashamed of. Were they prominent, their transgressions may become public, and their chance to atone could be taken from them.

But suppose, for example, a perfectly ordinary, non-famous person made inappropriate sexual remarks. Later, they realise how wrong they were, and they try to educate other people about how bad that sort of behaviour is. Maybe they also donate to charities that deal with victims of sexual assault. As a perfectly ordinary, non-famous person, that would probably be the end of it. They would have come to the realisation that they’d behaved inappropriately, they’d learned from that, and they tried to atone for it.

In recent years, when has any famous person ever given the chance to do anything similar?

And that gets to the third problem: It’s bad politics. That sounds crass, absolutely, crude, sure, and it’s even more than a little cynical. But, it’s also true: That vast majority of voters who are not “woke” don’t care that someone made inappropriate sexual remarks, and they’re not interested in seeing such a person harshly punished for their past, especially if the person had come to the realisation that they’d behaved inappropriately, they’d learned from that, and they tried to atone for it. “Move on,” ordinary voters would say.

One of the things driving ordinary voters away from the Left are those demanding harsh punishment for even the smallest transgression (that's not the only factor, obviously). That happens, first, because they perceive the reaction as an overreaction and as grossly unfair. Part of that reaction is because they’re well aware that there are not now, nor have there ever been any humans that haven’t said or done something they later regretted, and that many people have even done or said things that they’re later ashamed of. Perhaps they have, too. By demanding harsh punishment for even minor transgressions, plenty of ordinary people will see themselves in the crosshairs, and that makes progress on the larger issues unlikely or impossible: They've not only stopped listening, they've tuned out completely.

None of which is to say that we shouldn’t punish crimes like sexual assault and rape—of course such charges should he heard in court and, upon conviction, the person should be punished. But that relies on due process, a fundamental concept underlying everything democracy is built on.

A person is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and that’s the same for any alleged crime. Their guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt before they’re punished, and that’s what’s been missing from all this.

On the other side of the equation, we’ve been told we must believe the women, always, and without question—a standard we’d never accept for any other alleged crime. We must listen to the women, and also take their allegations seriously—but we’re under no obligation to assume that allegation = guilt, regardless of whether the accused is famous or not. This isn’t because of the myth of “false rape accusations”, which are so statistically insignificant as to be pretty much irrelevant. Instead, this is about due process, the fundamental concept to which everyone, accuser and accused alike, is entitled.

If we’re forever trapped by the wrong things we’ve said or done, we’ll never have any incentive to do better or become better. We must always strive to be better people, and for most of us, that will mean attempting to atone for the things we’ve done or said that we’re now embarrassed by or ashamed of. How can that ever happen if there is no path to redemption?

We need to talk about this a lot more.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Cuomo fact-checks Trump's claims of genius

In the video above, CNN's Chris Cuomo takes on the current occupant of the White House’s claims of genius and him saying that he knows more than anyone on numerous subjects. And yet, the current occupant is a genius on one thing, the same thing that makes him so awful: His ability “to bring out the devil in us all”.

With the current regime doing so many terrible and even illegal things so fast, it’s impossible for anyone to keep up with them all. Every day I see at least a dozen different political things I want to comment on, stuff the regime has done, or that the current occupant has said, but there’s just not enough time to do that, especially when I’m doing this for free, as a hobby.

So, I’ve decided to share more videos like this one (not necessarily with much comment from me) in an effort to help keep issues in our minds, and also to ensure the regime doesn’t get away with sending it’s misdeeds down the memory hole. Some videos will be challenging, some may be very hard-nosed, or they may put things more stridently than I might, but I’ll nevertheless share the things I do for one reason: Before we can erase this stain of this regime from our minds, we’ll need to clean up all of the mess they’ve created. To do that, we’ll first need to remember everything the regime has done so that we can be sure to repair and heal the USA. This is just one way to help us all to remember how bad it really is right now.

The old ‘away’ returned

Soft plastic recycling restarted in Auckland back in May, which is a good thing for Aucklanders: It provides a way to get rid of soft plastics that would otherwise have to be thrown away in the general rubbish. But its resumption happened shortly before New Zealand’s ban on single-use plastic bags took effect. That created some issues, but for us it meant better solutions.

After the end of the original soft package recycling programme, I routinely threw our soft plastics away in the ordinary rubbish, as everyone else did, too. But by then I was also trying to reduce the amount of soft plastics we had to get rid of.

My first move was to buy some mesh bags to put fresh fruits and vegetables into rather than the plastic ones that were still in the grocery store (because I use them exclusively, I actually don’t know what grocery stores have now, but they kept using them for a very long time). I also stopped buying fruits and vegetables—apples, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, that sort of thing—in prepackaged plastic bags (this had the additional benefit of reducing waste: I now buy only what we need, so nothing has a chance to rot). But meats are still packed using plastic wrap, even if the trays are usually recyclable, as I talked about way back in 2016.

So, the soft package recycling scheme restarted, but we had less soft plastics to be recycled. What we did have, however, no longer included plastic shopping bags that stores used to give out, and that meant I needed a new solution for packing up the plastics.

The photo above is my solution: Bread bags. Some time ago, I realised the bread bags would be useful for bagging “icky” things. It was a natural choice for bagging the soft plastics.

It turned out to be the ideal choice because the bags are small, and even if overstuffed, they fit into the collection barrels without any problem because their diameter is smaller that the diameter of the barrel opening. Since then, I’ve also used a plastic bag that some sort of electronic thing was put into before being boxed. The bag had holes punched in it (probably so the ting could "breathe"), so it wasn’t useful for anything that might leak; this was a good and useful way to get rid of that bag.

Now that the scheme has been running for several months, I know for sure that we have far less soft plastics to get rid of than we did when the original scheme was running. That’s good in itself.

This is just a part of our efforts to tread more lightly on the planet by, in this case, reducing waste. Because the reality is that there’s no such thing as an “away” to throw things to. Still, at least we now have less to send to the mythical “away”.

Small steps.