Saturday, February 29, 2020

Progress continues

Last week, I posted the above photo to Facebook. In a sense, it marked the end of a long part of the adjustment period in this new house, and the start of the next phase. Progress continues.

The caption on the Instagram post gave the basic story:
What’s so special about this photo? The drapes behind me weren’t there yesterday. And the lamp beside me is turned on, after nearly three weeks sitting in the dark in the evening because there weren’t any window coverings until today. This will be the first “normal” night in my new house. And that’s a very good thing.
I met with the window coverings company on Friday, January 24, and was told everything would be ready in about four weeks, though the Auckland Anniversary holiday would put that off a few days, meaning they were due early this week.

The morning of Tuesday, February 18, while I was waiting for the courier to deliver my modem, I got a call telling me my window coverings were in, and the guy had some time that morning, if that suited. He got here around 10:30, and finished about an hour 20 later, just after the courier arrived. An installation photo is below.

This made up for the Internet drama: Inability to connect, delayed modem delivery, and so on: The window coverings were installed about three weeks after the order was actually submitted.

I used a specialist company for several reasons, not the least my low energy levels (due to prescriptions)—I wasn’t sure I was up to the work. The biggest reason—literally—was how big the windows are: Store-bought ones wouldn’t fit many of my windows.

I put wooden Venetian blinds (60mm blades) in the lounge and master bedroom windows so I can let light in while tilting them to preserve my privacy (the windows are all tinted, but that doesn’t prevent people seeing in under the right circumstances, especially at night). The other two bedrooms have roller blinds (like an old fashioned window shades, but adjusted with a chain, not a spring). They give privacy at night and block-out sunlight, and they’re also less expensive than other options. The stacker doors got drapes.

It looks nice, and suddenly the house looks like a real house.

After I moved in, I spent every night sitting in the dark because anyone passing the house at night could see in (I had sheets over my bedroom windows). Once the window coverings were installed, I finally got to live like a normal person (though I’m not normal…). Even so, I feel a little bit more normal now, and that’s a very good thing.

Having the window coverings were installed didn’t just mean I could have the lights on at night, it also meant I could comfortably watch the evening news since I could close the curtain on the stacker door behind my chair to keep the hot sun off of me. Before the installation, I’d tried sitting in my chair with a hat on, but it was too hot. The last couple days, I remembered I had a Shoji-style folding screen, and I put that behind my chair, which was better, making it more usable, if still a bit hot. The curtains fixed all that.

The window coverings make the house more liveable, and so, more comfortable. I was also waiting for the window coverings before I started hanging pictures because I needed to see them in the full context. That, too, helps the house feel more warm and welcoming.

I haven’t made much unpacking progress the past couple weeks, concentrating more on settling-in progress. Some of those projects have been technological—and successful ones, at that, and others have been about putting things away.

All of which is making this house start to be more like a real house. I’m not done yet, not with so many other things going on at the same time, but it’s progress, nonetheless. Progress really does continue.

This post is a revised and greatly extended version of what I posted on my personal Facebook when the window coverings were installed.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

2Political Podcast 127 is available

2Politiical Podcast is back with another episode—so soon!—and Episode 127 is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast, or leave comments on the episode. The five most recent episodes are also listed with links in the right sidebar of this blog.

A bright spot today

I posted this photo earlier today on Instagram, and so, Facebook. Turns out, there have been other photos I’ve done that with recently but forgot to share here. Apparently, I’m out of practice at this blogging thing. I hope to catch up in the next few days. Or not. It’ll be an adventure! Or not.

At ay rate, the boys were extra cute today.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

2Political Podcast 126 is available

2Politiical Podcast is also back, and Episode 126 is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast, or leave comments on the episode. The five most recent episodes are also listed with links in the right sidebar of this blog.

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 349 now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 349, “A Return” is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast.

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

Thursday, February 20, 2020

I don’t feel like dancin’

The one word that best describes how I’m feeling these days is, literally, nothing. In the five months since Nigel died, I haven’t felt any joy, happiness, or even fun, and I have no idea when I’ll feel any of that again. But that doesn’t mean I feel sad all the time, or any other emotion for that matter: I usually feel nothing at all.

Actually “nothing” isn’t entirely true, because my outward-bound feelings, so to speak, are there: Love for family, friends, my furbabies and, of course, Nigel. I also still care about the things I did before, the issues and causes and such, it’s just that there’s no passion there.

As it happens, though, I often spend time thinking about other people and their feelings. For example, every time someone’s coming to the house for the first time, I wonder if they’ll find it “challenging” to see Nigel’s ashes on display in the new “Nigel Shrine”. I always decide, “tough, it’s my house and it’s up to them to adapt, not me.” That’s kind of a new feeling, and it’s the long-term result of the Total Honesty policy Nigel and I launched in what turned out to be his final few weeks.

There’s one area where I struggle: Small talk. When someone who knows me asks how I’m doing, I sometimes have no idea whether they really want to know or if they’re just being polite. That’s one area where the “nothing” I feel works to my advantage: “Okay,” I say, which is exactly what I mean: I don’t feel good, I don’t feel bad, I feel okay—and that’s okay. The other person can take that however they want to. People who know me really well often ask follow-up questions, which is fine—I clearly have no problem talking about any of this.

And then someone will ask me about the new house. How can I tell someone who hasn’t read any of these Notes that I don’t feel anything at all about the new house? While I like it okay, and living here is easy, I don’t love the house—or hate it, for that matter. It comfortable, meets my needs, and the dogs are very happy here. It’s a good home for us, and I’m well aware of that. But love it? No.

I usually tell people who ask that it’s a “work in progress”, because it is (and so am I, for that matter). I often make a weak joke about all the boxes in the garage, anything to avoid having to talk about how I feel about the house.

All of this is because of Nigel’s death, obviously; a huge part of me went with him, and I have nothing to replace that missing part of me, nor any idea what might help fill that void, however slightly. It doesn’t help to think, “I can do anything I want” when I don’t have anything I want to do, not yet.

I haven’t said anything about this publicly until now, but the part-time work I’ve been doing for the past 16 years ends in March. That could be an upsetting change to what little routine I have, but it isn’t upsetting because—as with everything else—I feel nothing about it. I suppose it could at least free up time to do whatever it is I want to do, once I have something I want to do.

Because of this numbness, this state of nothingness, I don’t do any of the things I once enjoyed. There are days when I wake up to a beautiful morning and think it’s pretty, but nothing more, and I wonder to myself how on earth I can make it, and in the next moment I think of Samuel Beckett’s words, “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” That’s the odd thing about this state of being (not being?): Feeling nothing also means I don’t feel despondent or any other such thing: I. Just. Feel. Nothing.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret: There are times, moments, really, when I do feel something other than sadness. I’ll sometimes see something on TV that makes me laugh—well, chuckle, maybe, but still.

And then last night I was sitting in my chair, TV on, thinking about going to bed, and just kind of looking around the space, lit with lamps now that I have window coverings taking me out of the fishbowl. I looked and thought to myself, “this place is kinda nice”. Given the way I don’t feel these days, that’s high praise.

Those brief times also give me hope that this nothingness will end one day, or, at least, ease. Maybe some day.

But I don't feel like dancin', no sir, no dancin' today.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

The little things that matter

For the past five months, one thing has remained constant: Little things matter a lot. They can be both positive and negative—moments, actions, memories, whatever—but they all matter. I don’t think I could have learned that until I went through this.

The negative things are probably the most obvious, but also the least significant. A photo, a random memory, reading some of my earlier Notes in this series, those things and more can make me cry. But I don’t actually need much help or encouragement to cry about losing Nigel because the searing pain of that continues, sometimes like a punch in the stomach, other times like a knife shoved through me, but the pain is always physical as well as emotional.

It’s the positive things that I tend to notice, partly because they’re so unexpected, but also because of how transformative they can be.

Some months ago, a relative was staying with me at the old house, and I was sitting in the lounge in a chair I didn’t normally sit in, absorbed by whatever I was doing (probably looking at my iPad). Off in the guest room, my sleeping relative was snoring, and in my distracted state I thought it was Nigel and for a few blissful seconds, my nightmare evaporated, and the pain and profound sadness was lifted, and things were as they were, as they should still have been.

That moment ended after only a few seconds, but it was the first time anything had completely transported me out of my grief and sadness, and, great, though brief, that it was, it also showed me for the first time that it was even possible to be lifted and transported out of my grief. It wasn’t the last time.

A few weeks ago, a dear long-time friend who lives in another part of the country sent me a couple plants to help me get my new garden started (the property has no landscaping, a subject in itself). It was a lovely and kind thing to do, but their arrival was very important to me for another reason, as I explained my friend in an email:
The plants arrived this morning in perfect condition. Better still, it gave a me a few minutes off: I spent a few minutes thinking about where I might plant them, looking out the windows for where they'd look best from inside as well as outside. It was the first time since I shifted in that I had a "normal" new house moment, and for those few minutes I was able to forget about WHY I'm in a new house. Thanks for that in particular—it was an even better gift, to be honest!
It was the second time I’d been transported out of my new reality, and while neither of these lasted more than a brief time, they both showed me it’s possible to exist outside of grief. It’s easy for me to forget that, which is why such small things matter so much.

Today I had more of the more negative sort, which is, of course, the most common by far. That doesn’t bother me because, as Nigel so often said, “no one ever died from crying.” Even so, there was something new even in that: For the first time, I felt better after crying. At the time, I felt like I’d been like a volcano releasing the magma that had been under pressure. It was tears, not lava, that was flowing, but the result was the same: Some pressure was released. While I don’t mind crying, today’s was, well, special, for lack of a better word.

Taken together, all those little things have been the first that have in any way helped me transcend my new reality, whether by allowing me to temporarily exist in a reality where the nightmare never happened, or where I could briefly be a typical owner of a new home, or where I could cry and actually feel better.

I don’t know when or why such little things happen, but I’m hoping that there are more of them, whether moments, actions, memories, whatever. They all matter, and I don’t think I could have learned that until I went through this. That little thing helps, too.

Thursday, February 06, 2020

My furbabies adapted

There’s an aspect to this new period in life I haven’t talked about in great detail: How the furbabies are adjusting. This is kind of odd, really, because one of the few things Nigel made me promise him was about that. “Promise me you’ll look after my babies,” he said. “Of course!”, I answered, maybe a little firmly. He then added, “I know you will; they’re your babies, too.”

And they are. I was worried how they’d adjust after Nigel died, so I went to great lengths to make sure they’d be okay. Among other things, when we brought Nigel home, I lifted up the dogs so they could sniff him and know he was gone. Studies have shown that dogs can recognise human faces, and remember them for years. Because of that, I knew they’d know it was him, and by sniffing him they’d know their time with him was over. It was the only thing I could think of to do because I was afraid that otherwise they’d be at the windows around 5:30 every afternoon, waiting for Nigel to come home and not understanding why he never did. It turned out they didn’t wait for him, so maybe my plan worked?

After everything was over, and everyone had left, the dogs saw me crying, and had mixed reactions. Jake looked concerned, while nothing much concerns Sunny. Leo had a sort of “WTF?” look on his face the first time I sobbed in front of him. They all got used to it.

Over time, and with more experience seeing my cry, they became nurturing. They snuggle up close to me if I’m in bed, or Leo will nuzzle me if I’m in my chair (he often sleeps in my lap). In general, all three dogs have chosen to be close to me wherever I am in the house, following me from room to room, almost as if they have to keep me in sight.

They coped well with my bringing them to Hamilton and back to Auckland so often, apart from Leo who tends to get car sick. But their reaction to their new home? That surprised even me.

Maybe it was because I didn’t bring them here until the movers had left, and the house was filled with “their” stuff. They sniffed, ran around, but otherwise settled extremely quickly. Since then, it’s as if they’ve always lived here, totally relaxed and peaceful. Whenever anyone in the family comes round, they all notice how at home the dogs are.

During this time of upheaval, emotional distress, and depression for me, the reaction of the furbabies is literally the ONE thing that makes me happy, because they’re so clearly happy and relaxed. It’s hard not to feel that way whenever I look at them.

And yet I’m neither happy nor relaxed, and not even watching them can change that. It’s kind of cute and touching when one or more of them tries to comfort me when I’m crying, but the truth is, it also makes me stop precisely because they’re so adorable. Maybe that’s their intent.

But the biggest reason this makes me happy is that it means I’m keeping my promise to Nigel: I’m looking after our babies, and they’re happy in their new home. I can no longer do anything for Nigel, but keeping this promise, while easy, is one thing I CAN still do, and that makes it matter to me quite a lot.

Our babies are happy. Promise kept.

Up top is a photo of Leo in his bed in our new home that I shared to Instagram early this evening. The photo at the bottom of the post is of Sunny and Jake all snuggled up together, which is a little unusual for them. I took it a week ago tonight, but being taken at night means it’s not as good quality as the photo of Leo. Nevertheless, equal time, and all that.

Monday, February 03, 2020

Under new skies

So, here I am in Hamilton. It’s way too early to call this the start of anything except, maybe, the start of the start. Despite all the work I’ve completed and gone through over the weeks, there’s so much yet to do, and all that is before I can truly start whatever it is this new life will become. So far, though, it’s been exactly what I expected, both good and bad.

Anyone could have predicted the parts I think are good. I’ve had impromptu visitors for the first time in years, I’ve been able to get together with family members several times since I moved in, and I even welcomed my first overnight guests. I can go see family whenever I want or need to, and none of them in Hamilton are more than 15 minutes away.

At the same time, whenever I need to go to a store—the supermarket, the home centre, whatever—it’s only a few minutes away, not 25 minutes like at the old place. That’s handy, but it also saves me a lot of time, especially when I’m in the middle of a project, and there are a lot of projects in a new house.

So, there are a lot of really good things about this move, things I really wanted to happen. I’m really glad about them.

And yet…

Hanging over all of this is the reason I moved here. While Nigel and I talked about moving to Hamilton “someday”, I doubt we’d be here together right now. I’m only in Hamilton because he’s not, and that reality rushes through me every day and sucks all the air from my life. The clouds block out the sun and make it hard to see the pretty day all around me.

In most respects, I’m pretty much just going through the motions, acting like I’m living rather than actually living. There’s nothing that anyone else can do about that—it’s something that I have to find my own way through, and I need time to do that.

After my first weekend in the new house, I hit a really bad patch, and I realised that there were two reasons for that. First, after all those months and all that work, I was finally able to to breathe. And second, that for the first time, I truly had time to properly grieve. And, did I ever—several crying fits later, and I reached another sort of stasis.

That everyday ordinariness is based on profound grief. That’s my reality, and it’s virtually all there is of me right now. In a real sense, I’m not Arthur, I’m his temporary robot replacement. The evidence of that is everywhere.

Over the past few months, I’ve shared a few photos of me, and whenever I’m “smiling”, it’s empty. “Fake” is too strong a word, but those smiles are barely more than painted on. My eyes show that. It’s something I realised only recently when I was looking at some current photos of me posted on Facebook.

This hollowness is one of those times when I’m faced with something I don’t like, but it’s also something I can’t do much about, and something I’m worried about. Will this end? How soon? Will it drive people away?

And yet…

The reason I’m aware of all this at all is because moving to Hamilton gave me the space—literally and figuratively—to figure it out. Understanding what’s happening to me is an important step toward whatever my new reality will be. All of which means that even the bad aspects are still made better by my move to Hamilton.

Here I am in Hamilton. I’m under new skies, but there are still clouds overhead, sometimes blocking out the sun. But I still believe that better days lie ahead, because moving to Hamilton has been exactly what I expected, and it’s the start of a start.

The photo above is of the sky above my house early this evening.