}

Friday, December 31, 2021

This old year hasn’t passed fast enough

My final blog post in 2020 was titled, “Fast away the old year passes”. This year, I’m even more over it than I was then, and I wish the year would just GO already.

I said last year that “I hope we get a much better year in 2021,” but it kinda didn’t work out that way. For me, last year was the third crappy year in a row—some of it being so very bad that it needs a descriptor far worse than any that mere profanity can possibly provide—and that, too, is for the third year in a row.

So, this year, once again, I can’t wait to see the back of the fading year. I’d like to say I’m hopeful that 2022 will be better, but, after three bad years in a row, I’m too cautious to even think that. Instead, I’ll just say I hope to feel better, be better, and do better in 2022. That I can control, that I can affect. The rest of the world? No. For that, all I can do is hope for better times ahead.

2021 will be over in fifteen minutes, and I’m so very glad about that. I know plenty of other people are, too. But as 2021 recedes, there's one sincere and genuine wish I can make, and it's this: May none of us feel this way one year from tonight.

Ask Arthur 2021, Part 4: NZ seriousness, me, and fun

This is the final post in this year’s “Ask Arthur” series, and it’s quite varied. It starts out serious, then ends on a lighter note.

Today’s questions are all from Roger Green, and the first of the more serious ones is:

Knowing that New Zealand is far from perfect: What can the US learn in terms of dealing with Native people from how New Zealand has tried to do right by the Maori? Roger also asked a related question: How do we solve the race problems in the US and New Zealand?

I don’t know how much of New Zealand’s efforts/experiences are translatable to other countries and their specific issues, but I think the basic answer lies in the phrase Good Faith. What I mean by that is that both sides of the divide—because the existence of a divide is why racial problems persist—need to approach efforts to settle differences and problems in good faith: With honesty, integrity, and mutual respect. Humans being humans, sometimes there will be failures on any or all of those things. When that happens, it’s necessary to simply try again.

In practice, this includes some very fundamental things. For example, if a racial or ethnic minority describes their experience and vision of how things are, they must be heard and understood, not dismissed out of hand. The two sides (and for simplicity’s sake I’ll say two “sides”, but there can be many) may have mutually exclusive visions of reality because precisely their experiences are different. That doesn’t automatically make either side right or wrong, but it does mean that neither should dismiss the other side out of hand—even if what they say makes you want to throttle them. Listen first, learn where they’re coming from and why they feel as they do, and then the search for common ground can begin. I feel very strongly from what I’ve seen in both the USA and New Zealand that no real or permanent change is possible without good faith discussions, nor if both sides aren’t brought along: Leaving one side behind will ultimately cause the whole process to fail.

New Zealand’s attempt to reconcile with its past treatment of Māori has been fraught. It took a long time for the government to accept it needed to do anything, but in 1975 The Labour Government under Prime Minister Norman Kirk set up the Waitangi Tribunal to hear claims of actions and omissions by the NZ government since the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840. Historic claims were ended in 2008, but contemporary claims can still be filed. The Tribunal’s rulings are advisory, however, and the government of the day can—and have—ignored the rulings.

At the same time, there's also been periodic backlash to the Tribunal from Pākeha (people of European ancestry), and also in other areas, such as, objections to the use of Te Reo Māori in everyday life by government and the media—even though it’s one of New Zealand’s official languages (an interesting side note is that it’s often said that NZ has three official languages: Te Reo, NZ Sign Language, and English, however, English has never actually been declared an official language, and is thought of as “official” because of tradition and common usage).

New Zealand’s experience with trying to recognise and compensate for historic wrongs is important, but it’s no magic solution. The settlement process hasn’t erased poverty among Māori people, nor has it alone helped health outcomes, etc. Most importantly, it hasn’t ended racism, casual or systemic. Māori (and Pacific peoples, too) are often treated worse by the criminal justice system (from police through to courts and prisons) than are white people. On the other hand, and not to put too fine a point on it, but, NZ police aren’t routinely armed, so it’s rare for a brown offender to be killed or wounded by police (it’s more often the other way around).

Like the USA, NZ’s issue isn’t merely how (in NZ’s case) brown people are treated now, it’s also about generations of poor treatment or neglect by government and the effect that’s had on minority populations. Both countries don’t spend enough on health and education for minority children specifically in order to try and break the cycles that lead ultimately to poverty, poorer social and health outcomes, and, of course, crime. At the same time, the USA definitely doesn’t do enough to teach and train police on issues of race and culture, nor in de-escalation of incidents and use of other non-lethal methods. The USA also has highly militarised police forces, which New Zealand doesn’t have.

In my opinion, the main thing the USA can learn from New Zealand is to—to put it bluntly—chill the fuck out. Americans—white Americans in particular—need to stop being so angry at other races when they don’t see things the same way, they need to actually listen to what the other side is saying, and they have to try to find a way to move forward together. That, in a nutshell, it what New Zealand tries to do, though far from perfectly. Racism is a human problem, but it can’t be cured by ignoring it or actively pretending it doesn’t exist. Both NZ and the USA have people who actively ignore or deny racism, however, the USA has a far higher percentage of people who do so.

I also feel strongly that it’s up to white people to do what they’re able to do to practice inclusion as a part of daily life. That’s why I added a few phrases in Te Reo to my podcast, and why I always attempt to pronounce Māori words and placenames correctly—to the extent that if I hear a fellow Pākeha say it wrong, I’ll often immediately use the same word or placename in a sentence, but pronounced as correctly as I can. I also stand up to Pākeha who try to blame Māori for whatever it is they don’t like. Those sorts of individual actions don’t require government policies or actions, just a commitment to doing what’s right. But you can’t even start doing that without good faith.

Next up, Roger asked “What do you think about the efficacy of this legislation?”. The proposed legislation is intended to gradually outlaw smoking by raising the minimum age for buy tobacco and products. In practice is means that anyone who is 14 when the law takes effect will never be able to legally purchase tobacco. The idea’s certainly unique, but will it actually work? That’s where it gets more interesting.

Smoking rates in general have been falling for decades, although the rate among Māori people is roughly double that of other people. Young people generally seem to prefer vaping, which isn’t covered by the legislation. The obvious questions are, if youth are already moving away from tobacco, will this actually have much effect? Will making it harder to legally obtain tobacco actually stop enough people from smoking, or will it just add another illegal revenue stream for gangs? No one, regardless of what they think of the legislation, knows, and anything they say is merely speculation and opinion.

My own opinion is that I’m not convinced that it’ll work as well as claimed, but also that it won’t be as dire as some predict. In general, I favour drugs (including tobacco and alcohol, of course) being legal, and use being handled as a health issue, not a criminal one (distribution, especially outside of legal channels, and, far worse, to minors, is another issue entirely, and, in my opinion, should always remain criminal matters). Smoking and tobacco use serves no true societal function and carries enormous health risks (and so, costs), but so does alcohol use, and even caffeine, if abused. The health implications of all those things can add to our healthcare costs. Is the benefit of the legislation enough to outweigh the potential drawbacks? Obviously, I have no idea, but I’m a bit sceptical that it’ll be a magic solution.

Next up, a very different sort of question:

This is a tough AAA question, because you may not even know. But what are some of the words you've incorporated into your language since you've come to New Zealand? I imagine one is fiddly. I've never used it but I knew the definition immediately.

I recently used the word “fiddly” a few times to describe the recipes in the meal kit experiment, and it’s one I use fairly often. Most of the other words I’ve picked up are similar to that one: Often used in other Commonwealth countries, especially the UK. Others have come from NZ slang, such as, I used to say “heaps” to mean “a whole lot” (sometimes I still do). However, I no longer describe a good thing as being “choice” (unless I’m being silly), because it’s largely fallen out of fashion. Nowadays, a good thing might be called “mean”, which I don’t use. Beyond that, adding “as” to word adds emphasis, so something really good might be “mean as”, those meal kits were (supposedly…) “easy as”, and so on. I sometimes add “as”.

I also adopted “gidday” or “g’day” (from “good day”, meaning “hello”). To say hello, I also might say “Kia Ora” (Māori), or “Talofa” or “Talofa lava” (Samoan), all of which I learned in New Zealand. Beyond that, it’d probably be specific names for things, like “chilly bin” instead of “cooler” (USA) or “esky” (Australia). In other words, most of the words and phrases I’ve adopted are about everyday things and situations.

Interestingly (to me), some years back I noticed that some words or phrases I learned here started turning up in the USA, too. I’ve heard Americans use the phrase “at the end of the day”, which originated in New Zealand rugby commentary. I’ve also heard Americans use “no worries” in the way they once said “no problem”; “no worries” is fairly common in New Zealand and possibly still in Australia, too (we’ve been cut off from Australia because of Covid for so long that I really have no idea how they speak now).

There is, however, one word I have deliberately avoided using: Mate, because it just sounds flat out weird in what’s my still mostly American accent. I can’t imagine ever using that word without using an exaggerated fake Australian accent (I'm not actually joking about that last part).

Related to words and language, Roger next asks:

Have you ever learned a word, or a different definition of a word, in your adulthood in which: 1) you REALLY like the word AND 2) you know PRECISELY how you learned it? (mine include ersatz and penultimate).

Also, what words did you see in print and didn't realize how it was pronounced, but you had used the word in conversation and just didn't know THAT'S how it was spelled? (mine include facetious; I know there are others)
To the first part, sometimes 1 (and penultimate is actually one of those), but I can’t think of any for number 2, let alone both together. This is mostly because of poor memory.

For the second part, the only word I can think of that’s even close is the NZ colloquial word “pisstake”, which is actually a phrase “piss take” which comes from the phrase “taking the piss” which basically means joking around. Pisstake, then, is basically a joke, obvious or more subtle (and perhaps devious), or it might be used to claim someone is playing you for a fool: “That’s just a big pisstake.” The reason this is relevant is that I used to read one of New Zealand’s “general” magazines, and writers would use “pisstake”, however, up I’d never seen it in print, so I read it as a Japanese-sounding “piss-TAH-kay”. It was a real-life “doh!” moment—quite some time later—when I finally realised what “pisstake” in print actually was/meant. Now, to remember that for this answer, I used the word in a recent post, and it worked. Obviously. And that’s no pisstake, I can assure you.

And finally, Roger asks:

What board games or arcade games did you play as a kid? Which ones were you particularly good at and/or enjoy? Do you play games on your phone and/or your computer? Which ones?

This is probably my most pathetic/pitiable answer to a question in any AAA series, however, as a kid I was often alone, and so, I often “played” board games by myself: I remember “Mousetrap” and “Candyland” in particular. The first “Monopoly” set I bought was in German, so I was in high school by then. Before that, I played “Risk”. None of those were particularly engaging to me for very long, though I played ordinary “Monopoly” a bit in my 20s (mostly), and for a time I really liked backgammon—does that count? I wouldn’t say I was very “good” at any of them—although when I “played” the board games alone, I did always win…

When I think of “arcade games” I think of things like “Pac Man” or whatever, and I was in my 20s before I saw one—and I wasn’t all that interested. Maybe it was all the hype? However, in my early 30s I got a Nintendo system and played “Super Mario Brothers 3” (and went and bought 1 and 2 as well) a lot (and “Tetris”). Once in New Zealand, we bought a PlayStation (now called a PS One), and I played “Duke Nukem”, a FPS game that was also the first video game (as they used to be called) that I actually completed—and I won. I also played Crash Bandicoot (who recently left retirement and returned to the gaming world), Grand Tourismo, and others.

On my Mac, I had a few games, including some pinball games I really liked (I later bought the PC versions of two pinball games after I switched to PC for awhile). My favourite Mac game was called “Marathon” and involved aggressive alien taking over one’s spaceship and having to eliminate them. That game (and its sequel, “Durandal”) was later ported to the iPad (and available for free!), but I found it difficult to play without an actual keyboard or some sort of game controller, so I gave up. I also played "Castle Wolfenstein", which was the first game I ever actually finished, and successfully so. For awhile I was obsessed with SimCity, and even bought an add-on game, “Streets of SimCity”, that let me “drive” on the streets of the city I’d built. That was slow and kinda buggy sometimes, but to this day I still think it’s one of the coolest things ever. I never really got into the spin-off series, “The Sims”.

We later got a Nintendo portable thingee (not a Gameboy, but compact—I forget it was called and I don’t know where it is at the moment). I played Super Mario Brothers and Nigel played Donkey Kong—though I had to stop because using the little machine made me very anxious for some reason. Next, we bought a Nintendo Wii, and I played Mario Kart, among other games. I still have the PS and Wii, and I intend to hook them up again at some stage—because I can

The only game I play nowadays is on my iPad (and sometimes phone): “Words With Friends”, which is a social Scrabble-like game. I’ve been playing that since 2010 (with a few lapses). I used to play “Simpsons: Tapped Out” on my iPad, and I loved that they used some very subversive humour. I started playing that, I think, before Words, and I’d play both twice a day: In the morning and in the evening. I also sometimes played other games, like “Candy Crush” (til I got fed up with it), but none of them “stuck”. However, I stopped playing all my games when Nigel died, and didn’t resume Words for many months; I still haven’t gotten back into the Simpsons game. There are few others I play every once in a great while, but none of them are often enough to mention.

Thanks to Roger for all his questions, and to Enzo and Sherry for theirs. I wasn't sure I'd do an "Ask Arthur" series this year, but I'm glad I managed it. More or less. Same time next year?

All posts in this series are tagged “AAA-21”. All previous posts from every “Ask Arthur” series are tagged, appropriately enough, ”Ask Arthur”.

Previously:

Yes, ask again – The first post in this year’s series.
Ask Arthur 2021, Part 1: To blog, or not to blog
Ask Arthur 2021, Part 2: Grief, coping, and living
Ask Arthur 2021, Part 3: Biblical endings and me

My mother would be 105

Today (US time) is my mother’s birthday, and it’s her 105th. I have to admit that the chaos of the past 2 years, 3 months has made it hard for me to focus on much, including my parents’ birthdays, but I do try. Sometimes, trying is all I can manage. Like this year.

I don’t have much to add to what I’ve said in previous years (see the list of those posts below), not because I don’t have anything to say, nor because I don’t want to, but simply because I find it hard to focus on much of anything. Maybe next year will be better?

As happened last year, I remembered my mother’s birthday yesterday, but decided to continue what I started in 2019, when I said, “I realised it’s actually more appropriate to talk about her birthday on what was the date she experienced, not a day earlier as I’d done on this blog.” Since then, I’ve come to think I’m probably right about that. It’s fun to “celebrate” my birthday over all the times zones, and so, over two days, but she never visited this part of the world, so it’s not quite as relevant.

Just as I was last year, though, I’m still struggling with blogging, even routine annual posts. That meant it was impossible for me to say anything yesterday, even if I'd planned to. The thing is, one of the main reasons for these annual posts has been to I remember, because when she was alive her birthday often got lost amid all the holidays this time of year. These posts have always been one small, tiny, way that I can try to make that right.

There were years when my mother wasn’t that much into her birthday, just as I haven’t been into my past two birthdays (and don’t expect to be into mine next month, either). I think that on some level, my mother would get me on that. Maybe that’s one of her gifts to me.

Still, I remember her birthday every year, even the past few when I’ve been so useless at offering a decent commemoration. She deserves better—and I hope to do that for her. Actually, I hope we both get that “better” we deserve in the New Year.

Meanwhile, Happy Birthday, Mom, and thanks. Always.

Previous birthday posts:
Remembering my mother’s birthday in 2020 (2020)
Remembering my mother’s birthday in a new life (2019)
Still remembering my mother’s birthday (2018)
Remembering my mother’s birthday (2017)
My mom would be 100 (2016)
Mom at 99 (2015)
Remembering my mother (2014)
Mom’s birthday (2013)
Mom’s treasure (2012)
Remembering birthdays (2011)
That time of year (2009)
Memories and words (2008)

Related:
Tears of a clown
– A 2009 post that’s still one of my favourites about my mother.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Ask Arthur 2021, Part 3: Biblical endings and me

The days in the year are winding down, so I better rattle my dags and get this series done. Fortunately (for me) several questions are related, so that helps things. However, today’s aren’t in any way related: One is somewhat controversial, and the other absolutely isn’t.

The first question is from my longtime friend Sherry, who I’ve known for far too many years to politely mention. She asked:

Based on your religious upbringing… do you believe we are in the "end times." That it will get worse. That Jesus will return and we will all live a perfect life? What do you believe?

This is actually something I don’t think I’ve ever talked about on this blog—no particular reason, I just haven’t. However, whenever the subject’s come up (and, to be fair, it rarely has), I’ve been pretty consistent: I don’t believe in the “end times” and never have.

The first time I can remember being certain that “end times” was nonsense was when I was a teenager, 20 at most. My mother and I were talking about life and the issues of the day, as we often did, and she said how there were “wars and rumours of wars” and how that was an indicator of the approaching “end times”. I matter of factly said to her, “but when has there ever NOT been “wars and rumours of wars” in all of human history?” It was at that moment that I knew for sure that I thought the whole notion of “end times” was nonsense.

When I was in university, I took a class in comparative religions, and had a lot of really interesting discussions with my dad (who, new readers may not know, had been a Lutheran minister for most of my life to that point). As part of that course, and wider reading I did then and in the years and decades that followed, I never saw anything to convince me that the whole “end times” thing was real or legitimate. Instead, I came to believe it was merely churches’ way of trying to control people by scaring the hell (so to speak) out of them. That conviction has only strengthened over the years.

I have huge philosophical and theological problems with the very idea, and not just because most of the Book of Revelation reads like a memoir of a psychedelic acid trip. I also find its underlying philosophy to be anti-Christian: Christianity was based on Jesus’ words, not the apocalyptic ravings of some anonymous (possible) druggie. Lutheranism—my own background—and much of Christianity was based on “justification by faith alone”, which is actually summed up very well in Wikipedia:
In Christian theology, justification is God's righteous act of removing the condemnation, guilt, and penalty of sin, by grace, while, at the same time, declaring the unrighteous to be righteous, through faith in Christ's atoning sacrifice.

In my view, Revelation and its “end times” is wholly and completely inconsistent with core Christian teaching (not the least because the Gospels don’t talk about the “end times” acid trip). Fundamentalist/evangelical/conservative Christians stress “end times” because it meshes well with their stress on authority of the church and its right to control every aspect of people’s lives. That level of authoritarian control is antithetical to Mainline Protestants (like Lutherans) and even modern Catholics in Europe and North America.

Because of all that, then, I believe that humans are capable of destroying the earth OR creating a paradise for all, and no supernatural intervention or acid trip journals are required for either to happen. It’s absolutely possible that things will get very much worse, or, things could get better—there’s no way to know which it will be. There are plenty of reasons to be hopeful, and other reasons to be worried, but I absolutely don’t think that Iron Age mysticism is a reliable way to determine what will happen.

As for the reason many people want to believe in “end times”, that, “Jesus will return and we will all live a perfect life,” that’s a matter of philosophy or religious faith. I personally don’t have any religion, so, in a sense, it’s not my fight. If the question was, “could Jesus return?” Sure—I’ve never seen any proof that it would be impossible. If that happened, could that also mean that “we will all live a perfect life?” Sure—anything’s theoretically possible. I’m just not convinced either will happen.

My own belief, since you asked, is that none of that “end times” stuff will happen. The Gospels, flawed though they are, provide a far better roadmap to what’s likely to happen if Christianity is true than the Iron Age acid trip journal ever could.

Thanks to Sherry for the question! It reminds me that I really should talk about religious philosophy more often.

Next, I have a completely unrelated question from Roger Green, one I’m including to kind of lighten things up a bit. He asked:

Are there any famous people with the surname Schenck? How about famous (or hemisemidemifamous) people named Arthur Schenck? My Google notifications are forever telling me about golfers, musicians, pastors, police chiefs named Roger Green..

I realise that you mean anyone other than me, and it kind of depends on how “famous” you mean. There were—past tense—a couple of famous people, and a couple other Schenck surnames I’ve run across over the years, but that’s about it.

The first non-related Schenck I ever heard of was Joseph M. Schenck, who was a Russian-born US film executive, beginning in the early days. He partnered with Darryl F. Zanuck to create Twentieth Century Pictures, which in 1935 merged with Fox Film Corporation to form 20th Century Fox, which he was chairman of until 1957. The reason I heard of him is because I remember by dad telling me about how his classmates teased him by posting newspaper clippings of Joseph’s conviction for income tax evasion (for which he later received a president pardon). Reading the Wikipedia article linked to above, I can’t help wondering if he was actually gay.

The second Schenck I ever heard of was Charles T. Schenck, but that was only because I was studying political science and came across Schenck v. United States, a landmark 1919 Supreme Court case that upheld Charles’ conviction under the Espionage Act of 1917 for handing out flyers urging people to resist the military draft. That was the ruling in which Oliver Wendell Holmes famously wrote, “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic,” and used the phrase “clear and present danger” as a reason to suppress free speech.

The next one was Rocky Schenck, who directed the Visiting Kids video for “Trilobites”. I included that video in a 2017 blog post.

Finally, in checking to make sure I hadn’t missed any, I ran across a German-born French painter, August Friedrich Schenck, who I’d never heard of and know nothing about, other than what I read. On the other hand, that same quick check showed me there are apparently a lot of lawyers with the Schenck surname.

As for famous "Arthur Schencks", I must report that none of us appear to be particularly "famous"—I mean, other than me, obviously. I'm a bloody legend, as we all know.

Thanks for the question, Roger!

All posts in this series are tagged “AAA-21”. All previous posts from every “Ask Arthur” series are tagged, appropriately enough, ”Ask Arthur”.

Previously:

Yes, ask again – The first post in this year’s series.
Ask Arthur 2021, Part 1: To blog, or not to blog
Ask Arthur 2021, Part 2: Grief, coping, and living

The 2021 (reduced) mashups

In past years, I’ve done several posts of year-end mashups of pop music videos. This year, everything’s a but truncated, so this post has the only mashups I’m planning to share this year. Both are from remixers I shared last year.

First up, the video above is DJ Earworm’s 2021 year-end mashup, “United State of Pop 2021 (Strawberry Ice Cream)”, and I quite like it. However, watching it, I found myself thinking exactly the same thing I thought last year: “I was also reminded, for the millionth time, that I simply cannot understand (at all) why Billie Eilish is so popular. But, yeah, Arthur’s Law.” I was thinking that because the video clip of hers that’s included is one I actually loathe, and that’s not something I often say about music videos or songs.

Aside from that one song I’d rather forget, I knew most of the artists, even if I didn’t necessarily know the specific song. There were some songs in there that I really liked, even ones I “planned” to share here, but never did. Maybe that’s just as well?

Next up is “A Year-End Megamix (Mashup)” by Adamusic:



When I share his video last year, I noted that “the video included more of the K-Pop songs of 2020 than just the one megahit,” and that trend continued this year: There was a lot of BTS and Blackpink, not so much in DJ Earworm’s video. Adamusic’s video also included more of Lil Nas X, as well as, it appeared to me, Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, and The Kid Laroi (who I think is exceptionally interesting—which really ought to be the subject of a post), among others.

However, this year I preferred DJ Earworm’s mashup over Adamusic’s. Although I would’ve liked DJ Earworm’s better if it had had a greater breadth of songs/artists, I thought the mashup itself flowed better (and Adamusic’s inclusion of scenes from things like WandaVision struck me as a bit jarring). Which is definitely not meant to suggest that I disliked Adamusic’s mashup: I liked it, just not as much this year as last. That happens all the time.

That’s (apparently) it for this year’s end-of-year music mashups. Still, if I run across one I really like, it’ll end up here, too. Maybe. It’s always an adventure!

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Ask Arthur 2021, Part 2: Grief, coping, and living

I decided to take a break from the “Ask Arthur” series over the Christmas holidays. I think that most people (including me) don’t want to deal with too much thinking at that time of year. Still, with the year winding down, it’s time to get back into it.

The first question is from my friend Enzo, who I’ve known for many years, since back when Nigel and I were living on Auckland’s North Shore. He asked:

What’s your top five best tips for coping with grief?

This is a really good question, and my answer to it has been evolving for two years now, and I’m sure that’s not going to change any time soon. Nevertheless, there are certain themes that keep popping up, so they’re a good place to start.

1. Feel. What I mean by that is that a grieving person should be and feel free to experience whatever emotion they’re experiencing at the moment. We must be free to cry and/or laugh when we feel like it without judgement from others—or ourselves. Emotions are the way the body and psyche heal, in this context in particular, from the trauma of losing a loved one. I’ve noticed how often grieving people will self-censor and not say what they’re really feeling for fear of being judged, either literally judged by people they know, or more figuratively by what I call “The Unseen Other,” the (probably) imaginary person we picture frowning and sighing deeply at the way we deal with our grief (this same Unseen Other often keeps people from trying new things, by the way). One of the best bits of advice I can give anyone is to cry or laugh whenever they want to. In time it’ll become more of the latter, but that takes time and space to happen.

2. Triggers are inevitable. There will be times when something—anything— can suddenly trigger a bout of crying, or even heavy sobbing. That includes things like a photo, a birthday card, the way the light falls on a familiar tree in the neighbourhood, the birth of a new relative, a new movie, or even the song used in a TV commercial (this last one happened to me with a Christmas ad this year). Such things can seem to come out of nowhere, and the feeling of being blindsided by the emotions is part of what can make it truly awful. On the other hand, they also tend to disappear as suddenly as they arrived—IF we allow ourselves to experience whatever we’re feeling (see Number 1). If we try to suppress or ignore what we’re feeling, it can drag on and on. Triggers are inevitable, but the pain they can cause doesn’t have to hang around. And there’s one more important things about triggers: They can also give us happy feelings, like nostalgia, love, or warmth. This is something that becomes more common as time passes, but triggers of deep sadness can occur for many years. Just ride them out.

3. It’s a journey, not a race. This is one thing that many people—those who are grieving and those who care about them—forget. There’s no such thing as a set timeline, and certainly no linear path. The grief will last as long as it lasts. I’ve seen plenty of grieving people worried about, and even feeling shame about, how long their grief journey is taking. Whether it’s people telling them they need to “get over it” (sadly, that really happens), or just a grieving person feeling that they “ought” to be feeling “better”, the result is still awful. I’m deeply sceptical of anyone—even mental health professionals—who try to put a fence around someone’s grief, something I’ve referred to as “six and done”, that we’re “allowed” to grieve for six months, but then we have to be “over it”, or starting to “move on”. It never works that way in real life. Some people absolutely do adjust more quickly than others, but that fact doesn’t mean that there’s something “wrong” with the people who need more time. It’s arrogant to decide for someone else how long they’ll be “allowed” to grieve, and stupid to tell them to “move on” (we move forward, not “on”, by the way). Each person is a unique individual, and their journey through grief is unique, too. Each person’s grief journey will take as long as it takes.

4. There’s no “right” way to grieve. This relates to all three of the previous points: Not everyone feels their emotions, some people won’t experience any real triggers, some people seem to have moved past their grief quickly, and some people will be the opposite on all those things. Most grieving people are probably somewhere between those extremes on one or more of the things they face in their journey, but whatever one’s reality may be, it’s perfectly normal for them. Just because person A seems to no longer be grieving after a few weeks doesn’t mean that person B is wrong for grieving a lost loved one years later. Instead, it merely means they’re different from each other. Only the grieving person will know what’s right for them personally. Give them time and space and they’ll get through it.

5. Breathe. All of the things I’ve talked about relate to the tendency we have to judge ourselves or to worry about the judgement of others. Because of all that, a grieving person may get a bit panicky about where their journey is at, or maybe that sometimes they need to sob heavily. In the early stages of grief in particular, it’s important to take one day at a time (as we all should), but sometimes we need to take one hour at a time, or one moment, or even just one breath. There will be times on a grief journey when the whole thing is absolutely overwhelming, and it may feel like it will never end—maybe that it can’t. When things get too overwhelming, the best thing to do is to just breathe. Some people find it helpful to concentrate on inhaling slowly, pausing, and exhaling slowly, but the larger point is that sometimes the best thing we can do is to forget about time, and everything filling it, and simply breathe. One breath at a time leads to one moment at a time, one hour, one day, and the more that happens the easier everything becomes. And then we grieving people can truly move forward.

As I said above, my advice on all these points has been evolving over the past couple years. I’ve talked about many of these things as they relate to my own journey in various blog posts, labelled ”A Survivor’s Notes” (posts about my grief journey), and also ”Building My New Normal” (which talk about my “journey out of grief”). All of which means that if I was to do this again next year—or in a few months, even—my answers might be very different. But the advice to just breathe is one thing I doubt will ever change, because, really, that sums up everything else.

Thanks to Enzo for the question!

Next, I have a somewhat related question from Roger Green:

Other than Nigel, whose death did you most mourn? Also what death of a public figure most affected you?.

The short answer would be that I’m not sure. That’s because that Nigel’s death ripped apart the fabric of my life to such an extent that everything, including my perceptions of my own past, is in a state of flux. I’ve also become more fatalistic about life and death, which has kind of retrospectively diminished the impact of anyone else’s death.

Still, my parents’ death affected me greatly at the time, but I was quickly overwhelmed by the need to survive as I set out on my new adult life. Before that, it was the death of the woman I called “my adopted grandmother” (she started out helping my mother do the housework, and eventually became a treasured member of the family—one I often think about to this day). I don’t remember my actual grandparents, since I seldom saw them and they died when I was still quite young.

I’m glad you asked about how the death of a public figure affected me, because I don’t think I’ve ever actually mourned a public figure—certainly not the same way I’ve mourned someone I knew in real life. The first time I remember the death of a public figure affecting me was John Lennon in 1980, when I was 21. While I remember the deaths of President Kennedy and Dr. King, I was a very young child—not even in preschool yet—when JFK was assassinated, and still in the third year of primary school when Dr. King was assassinated, so I didn’t understand what was going on.

I was also affected by the deaths of Princess Diana, Nelson Mandela, and, only recently, Desmond Tutu, among others. Some public figures’ deaths affected me more than others, of course, and I’m sure there are more I’ve forgotten about. These are just some I remember.

Additionally, two deaths affected me well afterward: Harvey Milk’s assassination in 1978 and Matthew Shepard’s murder twenty years later. In 1978, I was in high school and deeply closeted, and so, not willing to feel anything, however, I think that I felt the White Night riots were justified, though I certainly never told anyone that back then. In 1998, I’d been gone from LGBT political activism for several years, and Matthew’s death hit me because he symbolised all the victims of the very hatred and prejudice I’d fought against when I was an activist. He wasn’t a “public figure” until he was killed, and then he became a one: A symbol of all the young gay people we couldn’t save from anti-LGBT hatred, and also all those we’d lose in the future. And we’ll continue to lose, even now. It’s fair to say that the deaths of Harvey and Matthew affected me more than that of any other public figures.

Thanks for the question, Roger!

All posts in this series are tagged “AAA-21”. All previous posts from every “Ask Arthur” series are tagged, appropriately enough, ”Ask Arthur”.

Previously:

Yes, ask again – The first post in this year’s series.
Ask Arthur 2021, Part 1: To blog, or not to blog

Sunday, December 26, 2021

The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2021

The video above is the Queen’s annual Christmas Broadcast to the UK and The Commonwealth, and this year was a personal repeat of last year: I saw it when it was broadcast on New Zealand’s TV One, and not on YouTube. Just like last year, I was at home, with my Christmas Day festivities finished, and had the TV on in time to watch the broadcast. That seldom happened before to last year.

I thought she did a very good job this year, but when she talked about the loss of her “beloved Philip”, to me she seemed the most human. She mentioned how she only now really understood how holidays can be difficult for people mourning the loss of a loved one. I knew exactly what she meant because until I lost my own beloved husband, I didn't truly understand, either.

There was even a bit of her characteristic dry humour when she said, “as long as the tune is well-known”, which seemed to me like she was making a good-natured joke about people unable to carry a tune. Or, not. It doesn't actually matter. Personally, though, I thought that was a bit funnier when the carol played at the end had an arrangement of the song I’d never heard before.

In any case, that’s another Christmas tradition, the Queen’s Broadcast, completed.

Previously:

The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2020
The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2019
The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2018
The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2017 (and 1957, too…)
The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2016
The Queen’s Christmas Broadcast 2015

Previous years’ broadcasts are no longer available.

Christmas 2021

Christmas was never as big a deal for Nigel and me as it was for other people. That turned out to be a good thing for me, making Christmas less difficult than it often is for others mourning a loved one. I’m truly glad about that.

There were many years I published a post on Christmas Day and beginning in 2016 those posts included a modified photo of the Auckland Harbour Bridge, something I continued up until 2019, my last Christmas as an Auckland resident (links to those posts below). The 2016-19 posts weren’t merely virtual Christmas cards, but were also intended to create the impression we were at home, because, caution, and all that. But I didn’t continue that tradition in 2020 because I wasn’t living in Auckland anymore and I didn’t have an appropriate Hamilton photo to use in a new image for the blog (and I still don’t).

Tradition! Christmas is one holiday that’s so laden with traditions—family, individual, cultural, whatever—that it’s sometimes hard to focus on the parts that really matter to US. I talked about how that relates to me when I posted my final Christmas selfie (in the montage above; caption at the bottom of this post) to Instagram:
Holidays like Christmas are often difficult for those of us who’ve lost our spouse, but I’m lucky that Nigel and I didn’t have any specific Christmas traditions, except for one thing: Spending our Christmas with family. I still do that, and now for both of us. Our family are some of the most amazing people on the planet, and I love our get togethers. I lost the love of my life, and, yes, I think about Nigel all the time, especially at family gatherings. But nowadays it’s not with sadness, it’s about reminiscing, smiles, and even laughter. Nigel would’ve loved today; I loved it enough for both of us.
To be clear, I absolutely felt sadness when thinking about Nigel yesterday (I’m pretty sure the last time I was at that relative’s house was with Nigel, though I didn’t tell them). The important thing is that sadness wasn’t the dominant thing. Instead, the important thing was that I was still able to keep the only real Christmas tradition Nigel and I had: Being with family.

I read somewhere or other that grieving people should approach the Christmas holiday (in particular) with a determination to create new traditions. When I read that, I probably rolled my eyes, and maybe even snorted in the equivalent of saying “Bah!”. It turns out, though, that I seem to have done exactly that: Beginning in 2019, and continuing both Christmases since, I’ve made my “Nuclear Fudge” (I talked about that particular “food” in April last year). I still think “tradition” is a bit too strong a word for it, but, well, how many times does one repeat something for a particular holiday before it qualifies as a tradition? I have no idea, but, at the very least, this making Nuclear Fudge for Christmas is getting close to being one.

I was back home when the evening news broadcast was only about halfway through, so it was nice and bright and sunny outside—and hot: It was a very hot Christmas this year, at least the high 20s up to around 30 (mid 80s F). That didn’t dampen what was a great time, though.

Food is always a highlight of Christmas, as is the company, but this year there was one more special addition: I got to see my sister-in-law and her daughter (my niece) who live in Auckland. I think the last time I saw them was in June, and they couldn’t leave Auckland (and none of us could go see them) while the city was under a Covid lockdown for four months from August to December. Seeing them again made my day.

So, Christmas this year was a good one, and I think each one is getting a bit better. I can say that because I started from a good place: That Nigel and I didn’t have any Christmas traditions apart from being with family, and I’ve been able to continue that tradition for us both. This was my third Christmas without Nigel, and even though I miss him every single day, and still would do literally anything to get our life together back, I’m nevertheless adapting to the (still new) reality more and more all the time. This holiday was just another example of that.

Merry Christmas to everyone, especially Nigel.

In the photo montage above: Top left is what I posted to my personal Facebook on Christmas morning. In retrospect, I could have shared it here, too. Top right: What I dubbed my “First selfie, Christmas 2021” when I posted it to social media. Lower left: My “That’s a wrap for Christmas 2021” photo that I linked to (and quoted from) up above. Lower right: My photo from this morning, of which I said, “Perfect (for me…) Boxing Day breakfast: Scrambled eggs with a pinch of dried herbs, fried leftover Christmas ham, multigrain toast, and a cuppa joe—and Leo laying on the floor near me hoping (in vain) that something yummy might be dropped. Now I’m all fortified for the Boxing Day sales that I’m *NOT* going to today.”

The posts where I used the Auckland harbour Bridge photo:

Merry Christmas (2016)
Merry Christmas 2017
Merry Christmas 2018
Merry Christmas 2019

Friday, December 24, 2021

NZ Christmas ads for 2021



It’s Christmas Eve already (in our time zone…), so why not post something Christmasy? This post is a little bit different than usual, compared to previous posts, and previous posts about Christmas. Could this be a new tradition?

In past years I’ve shared Christmas TV ads from around the world, and especially New Zealand. However, as I said in the “Ask Arthur” post yesterday, “I was recently going through old posts to research new ones, and I noticed that the videos that were most likely to be gone were TV commercials.” Because of that, I decided to skip sharing Christmas ads this year.

I then suddenly realised something that should’ve been obvious: I could create a YouTube Playlist of various ads and share that here instead of individual ads (the video above). Odds are good that at least one of them will stick around, and I won’t get the dreaded gray box where the video used to be. Maybe. I decided it’s worth a try, anyway, and if all the ads are removed, well, I guess one post with a big gray box is better than several?

I decided to limit the experiment to New Zealand-only ads because that’s what I post about normally, anyway. However, I also realised that big international brands usually have generic ads used everywhere, or they make subtle modifications for various countries. Even Australian retailers operating in New Zealand often use the same ad with a different voiceover.

There was another problem with sharing NZ Christmas ads: There aren’t many available. Plenty of retailers just haven’t created any Christmas TV ads this year, and many others simply haven’t posted their ads on YouTube, and so, I couldn’t include them in the playlist. Maybe it’s just as well: In previous years, the retailers deleted their ads, causing this whole muddle.

Now, on to the videos in the playlist (all ads are the long versions, but the longest is only 1:15):

1. “Make Their Christmas” – Michael Hill Jeweller. This is probably only technically a New Zealand ad, since the company was founded in New Zealand in 1979, but is now international. Headquartered in Brisbane, Australia, it operates in that country, New Zealand, and Canada. This ad is probably one of those “international” ads I talked about, but I’m including it anyway, not just because the company was founded here, nor because it was the first Christmas TV ad I saw this year (in mid-October!). The reason I’m sharing it because of the background song.

I first started seeing it when Hamilton was under a Covid Alert Level 3 Lockdown, which was emotionally trying all on its own. Then this ad comes on TV, with that song: "Only You" by Yazoo, which I blogged about last year. And hearing the song in the commercial did make me teary, though because of the song, not the ad, which is okay as such ads go.

2. “Give More Christmas at The Warehouse” – The Warehouse. This ad is from discount retailer The Warehouse, whose parent company is the largest retailer in New Zealand. I thought this was an unusual ad—nice that the dad was taking charge to help the mother, but the fact that he did literally everything in a blokey sort of way wore a but thin for me. I mean, it’s okay for what it is, and all, it just doesn’t light up my Christmas tree or anything. [Full disclosure: I shop at The Warehouse from time to time]

3. “Santa’s Workshop” – Mitre 10. This ad is from Mitre 10, a New Zealand chain of home improvement stores. Unlike it’s largest competitor, which is Australian owned, Mitre 10 is a co-operative. The commercial features Stan Scott, an actual builder, who fronts many of Mitre 10’s ads, as well as their “Easy As” series of “how to” DIY videos (I shared another ad fronted by him last year). I’m not a huge fan of this ad, to be honest, and the version I’ve seen the most (same one in the playlist) is the long version, which probably doesn’t help. Still, for a specialised retailer, it does the job. Easy as. [Full disclosure: I often shop at Mitre 10, as well as Austrian-owned Bunnings Warehouse—in fact, I shopped at both this week]

4. “A Magical Delivery” – Air New Zealand. This ad is pretty much “on brand” for the airline: Humorous, lighthearted, and filled with Kiwi jokes and slang (the actor playing Santa is a familiar New Zealand actor and comedian, whose name escapes me at the moment, and many other parts are usually played by actual Air New Zealand staff, so they probably are this time, too). This ad is my favourite of this year’s bunch.

5. “TheMarket Christmas with How To Dad” – TheMarket. This ad is for TheMarket (which has no space between the words of its name), a New Zealand e-commerce operation run similarly to Amazon. It’s owned by The Warehouse Group, which includes The Warehouse. The ad stars Jordon Watson, who’s probably best known for his “How To Dad” YouTube Channel, a comedic look at raising children. He’s begun to branch out a bit, including into commercials. There are two ads, and this was the first and, I think, better of the ads. They can all be seen—for now?—on TheMarket’s YouTube Channel).

6. “Something’s cooking at New World” – New World. New World is a New Zealand supermarket chain, with each store individually owned. The parent company, Foodstuffs New Zealand, is another cooperative—in this case, it’s actually two cooperatives: One for the North Island and one for the South Island. This ad is in line with their current series of ads, which had centred on the theme “whether you make it or fake it…”, promoting their ready-made food as well as the ingredients to make meals. This ad is pretty Kiwi—sorry, Kiwi as—and I like when retailers make ads include “New Zealandness” instead of just products. [Full disclosure: I often shop at New World, as well as Australian-owned Countdown, whose own Christmas ads aren't online this year].

7. “The Christmas Bowl Project New Zealand” – PETstock. I don’t know whether this is actually a TV ad or not—if it is, I haven’t seen it. I’m including this ad because it’s a good example of what I was talking about earlier: This is the Australian ad dubbed with a New Zealand voiceover. PETstock is a pet store chain that’s “a 100% Australian, family owned and operated business” that also operates in New Zealand. The Australian version of the ad is also on YouTube, though obviously the New Zealand narrator is better (that’s just a pisstake, by the way).

And that’s it for this year’s New Zealand (New Zealand-ISH?) Christmas ads. If this experiment works, I may do it again next year, and, who knows? I might even expand it to include international ads.

Speaking of international ads, though, here’s one final ad, the English version (and long version) of “When Harry met Santa”, an ad from Posten Norway (Norway’s post office). In addition to being a sweet ad, it’s unique for featuring two older gay men (most ads with gay characters use young men or women), and also because of its purpose, revealed in the final two title cards: “In 2022, Norway marks 50 years of being able to love whoever we want,” followed by “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, From: All of us, To: All of us”. For all those reasons, this is a great ad and deserves to be shared:



Merry Christmas!!

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Ask Arthur 2021, Part 1: To blog, or not to blog

It’s time to begin answering this year’s “Ask Arthur” series, and I decided to start with a question from sort of the middle of the ones I’ve received so far because it’ll give me a chance to talk about some of the issues in the background to all of this year’s posts—and where I may be headed with this blog.

The question is from my pal Roger Green:

How do you see blogging these days? A lot of your recent pieces have been about health (yours, including your mental state; NZ COVID). Conversely, no run of holiday ads so far, and spotty music sharing...

There are two ways to answer that question: About blogging in general, and what I think about it for me personally. Or, in other words, the answer’s complicated.

There are plenty of people who see blogging as dead, just a relic from the Early Internet, those days of dial-up connections and no YouTube or Social Media. By the time I started this blog in 2006, all those things were going (and broadband Internet was common), as were podcasts. That means that the ways that people could express themselves had expanded enormously. While people tend to not to refer to, link to, or comment on blogs as they once did, the medium endures.

It seems to me that most blogs these days are trying to monetise the content one way or another, such as advertising (which seldom actually pays very much), sponsorships, subscriptions, or even just cross promotion of other content one either has to pay to access or that generates income in other ways. My guess is that this trend will continue, and folks who don’t try to monetise will be the orphans of the blogosphere, a tiny minority, like the people who still use a rotary landline telephones (though such a phone would actually have to produce tones, so not quite as antique-y as non-monetised blogs will become).

When I began podcasting (something else I’ve done very little of this year), I said that I saw it as an extension of this blog, though it turned out its audience was much bigger (“much”, in this case, being a term expressing relativity, not actual size; both audiences have always been small). Similarly, my YouTube Channel (not touched for five years) was something that I originally intended to be a visual component of this blog and my podcast. For example, I sometimes posted the script for my videos on this blog, but I always posted the videos themselves (and I posted the videos on my podcast site, too).

In other words, I was “maximising the reach of my content” before that was a thing. Well, it already was a thing, just not all-pervasive—or as monetised as now. I still think it’s useful to have different ways to share the stuff one creates, regardless of whether there’s any attempt to monetise it or not.

Having said all that, it could seem odd that I still believe in the usefulness of blog posts and the value of integration of content when I’m doing very little of any of that. There are, of course, reasons for that.

2021 turned out to be yet another crap year for me, and I’ve just not had the necessary “oomph” to do much. That’s true in general, actually, not just about blogging or whatever, as I’ve spoken about in a couple of posts recently [HERE and also HERE]. It’s hard to blog without the will to do it.

Even so, there are specific reasons for where things are at with this blog. Roger mentioned health as an example of something I did talk about this year. My own health is an ongoing topic, of course, one I’ve always promised to be honest about. Covid has, without any doubt whatsoever, dominated New Zealand’s news and civic affairs this year, so those topics would always loom large, too.

There’s an unusual reason why I haven’t posted any Christmas commercials this year: I was recently going through old posts to research new ones, and I noticed that the videos that were most likely to be gone were TV commercials. It annoys me whenever videos are removed (to me, it’s like dumping documents from an archive), and the result’s aesthetically ugly for this blog. As it happens, I came up with a solution, and I’ll talk about that tomorrow. So, the lack of Christmas ads actually has nothing to do with me, or the state of me, but, rather, forces entirely outside my control. Phew!

None of that’s true for music posts, since a long time ago I started only embedding “official” videos which almost never go away. Instead, the reason there have been so few of those has mostly been for the reason I mentioned before: Lack of "oomph".

There have been many times in the past when I seriously considered just giving up on blogging, podcasting, everything. Other times, I’ve plotted ways to do more of everything. I never claimed to be consistent! The truth is, I couldn’t monetise my stuff even if I wanted to: Any income would be taxed by two countries, and the tiny amount I’d have left over just wouldn’t be worth all the hassles and stress that would come from complying with tax laws in two countries. That means that the only reason I do any of this stuff is for no other reason than that I enjoy it. This year there just wasn’t enough joy “en” it.

Which leads inevitably to the question, will this be any better for me next year? Dunno. I don’t have enough information or whatever to base a prediction on, primarily because I can’t even begin to guess what state of mind/body I’ll be in next year, and that matters a lot. But it’s not the only thing.

It’s discouraging when I’m already tired and worn out, anyway, to see that most of my blog posts have had maybe a couple dozen views in the first few days after I publish a new post (it does rise over time). Much as it’s nice to be able to provide a diversion for a couple dozen folks, it does feel like a lot of work without much payoff. Among the posts that used to get the most readers were the ones in which I talked about US politics (several of which are in my “all-time highest ranking” posts). The drop off in page views accelerated when I stopped talking about that. But I still don't feel like wading into US politics. It’s just too toxic and negative, and I don’t want that in my life.

I definitely do still like blogging (whether anyone reads it or not), and recording podcasts (whether anyone listens or not), and I also still think I’d like to resume making YouTube videos (whether anyone watches or not). My goal is merely to create, but on my terms and timeline. I feel like those are all moving in the right direction, and I guess I’ll know soon enough if I’m right or not.

Thanks for the question, Roger!

It’s not too late to ask a question: Simply leave a comment on this post (anonymous comments are allowed). Or, you can email me your question (and you can even tell me to keep your name secret, although, why not pick a nom de question?). You can also ask questions on the AmeriNZ Facebook page, though keep in mind that all Facebook Pages are public, just like this blog. You can also send me a private message through the AmeriNZ Facebook Page.

All posts in this series are tagged “AAA-21”. All previous posts from every “Ask Arthur” series are tagged, appropriately enough, ”Ask Arthur”.

Previously:

Yes, ask again – The first post in this year’s series.

Chestnuts roasting

Yesterday, I shared a status on Facebook, just a little incident that amused me. I realised, though, that the story behind that status, while not exactly the most important one ever, showed a bit of what my life with Nigel was like.

What was behind that story is that when we drove from Paeroa to Hamilton (or back), we passed a chestnut orchard in the Gordonton area. One time as we passed the chestnut trees, Nigel started singing in a deliberately affected, lounge-lizzardy kind of voice, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire/Jack frost nipping at your nose.” As he got to the second line, he’d reach over from the driver’s seat and go at my nose like someone does to a small child to “steal” their nose, and he did it in perfect timing with his rendition.

I have to admit, I thought it was kind of funny, especially the seated choreography. That is, I thought it was kind of funny for the first few times, but he kept doing it, mainly because he knew it annoyed me.

When I say I was “annoyed”, I mean that in the mildest possible sense: It’s not like I was ever angry or anything. The humour in it may have worn off for me, especially after having to defend my nose a few dozen times, but any family members riding with us always laughed, even if they’d already experienced many performances. Maybe they thought it was funny that he kept doing it, or maybe they enjoyed seeing him try to needle me. Maybe it was all that.

In any case, that’s all the encouragement Nigel needed to perform any time and any place we happened to be driving and he was reminded of chestnuts (he seldom ever sang it outside the car). It became something of a collective family memory.

His chestnut performance was just one of the ways he’d tease me, but the method was often the same: Keep doing some harmless fun merely because it annoyed me. Obviously we annoyed each other from time to time in ways that had absolutely nothing to do with joking—we were only human, after all. But we also loved to laugh and had a very similar sense of humour, which is the real reason I was never actually annoyed with him—at least, not about that sort of thing. He also liked to joke around about things that had nothing to do with trying to annoy me. Even so, I’m pretty sure that he enjoyed doing funny things that annoyed me more than anything.

So when I pushed my car’s start button yesterday and heard the violins swelling, I could tell what was coming even before Nat opened his mouth. And I laughed to myself, but I wasn’t annoyed. I really did say, out loud, “thanks, Nigel—thanks a lot.” In fact, I think that quite often, and I bet I always will. As the song says, Merry Christmas to you. Nose nipping is optional, though.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Mown down

After the very first day whacking weeds.
It’s time for a mown—sorry, moan. I’ve had a really terrible time taking care of the lawns and such, and have for weeks. The main reason, though is unusual: There’s been way too much rain, too often. Because of that, The lawns became just another massive project I could never get finished: That project is now done.

The problem started in September/October, a period in which we had a lot of rainy days in Hamilton. While it didn’t necessarily rain all day when it rained, at one point it rained at least part of every day for more than two weeks—and then every few days afterward. This made it nearly impossible for me to mow the lawns. Take many days of rain and no chopping off the top of the plants, and the result was obvious: Long grass and (mostly) weeds.

In early November, I decided I simply had to mow the front lawn, even though I knew it was too moist, because It looked absolutely shocking—almost as if it was an abandoned house (not entirely exaggerating). I swear that within a mere two hours the front lawn had gone from, “gee, they really ought to mow their lawn,” to “OMFG, why haven’t they mowed that for the last four months?!!” Okay, it wasn’t really two hours. More like a day. At any rate, I was strongly motivated by the desire to avoid neighbourhood shame.

The lawn was so long that I had to tilt the mower up to get across the lawn, then put it pack on all four wheels, with the cutting deck set to its highest level. Worse, because the lawn was so damp, the grass and weeds kept clumping underneath. I had to stop to clear it out four times, just on the main/largest part of the lawn.

Then, I went to mow the smaller part of the lawn, on the other side of the driveway (that side’s maybe a third of the total lawn area). I didn’t get far before the mower died: I’d used up the battery. Then, heavy rains rolled in before the battery was recharged, so I stopped for the day.

The next morning, which was a Saturday, I went out to mow what was left, mainly because a neighbour’s house was for sale and the first open home was that morning (I’d want my neighbours to make sure their sections were tidy if my house was on the market). However, with all the rain the day before, the grass was extra gluggy. I had to stop to clean out the underside four times. The battery, on the other hand, was still about a third full when I finished.

I mowed the front lawn every week after that until I was finally able to lower the cutting deck, and that allowed me to wait nearly two weeks before mowing it again. On Monday, around two weeks later, I mowed it again.

The worst part, however, was none of that: It was the back garden (yard). Because of all the rain and no mowing, the back lawn took off. Before long it was mid-calf in height, then knee high, then, in the case of some weeds, nearly mid thigh. What to do?

I contemplated hiring someone to come in with a brush cutter (basically a high-powered weed cutter, something that’s kind of like a lawn mower on a stick. I wasn’t keen on that idea because those are always petrol-powered, and I’m trying to keep it clean and green. I also couldn’t have a lawn mowing service come it because that’d mean a ride on mower, and the builder made the gates too narrow for one to get through (side note: I’m going to hire a builder to re-do the gate, making it wide enough for a ride-on mower to get through).

So, wanting to keep things fossil fuel free, and because I’m stubborn and more than a little cheap sometimes, I decided to do it myself.

First step was to attack the weeds with my line trimmer—after I figured out how to re-spool it, a story I’ll skip over (you’re welcome). Then I went out and attacked the weeds, whacking them down lower and lower in three passes. I used up all three 18v batteries for that machine (two of which are really only suitable for drills and the like), and I still only got part way toward the back (see the photo; the taller “grass” in the background is where I stopped when the last battery died).

Next, I took the lawnmower and went over it with it tilted as high as I could and still push it without falling over. Then back on that same row a little lower, then a little lower, then flat at the highest setting. That means that each row took four passes. Interestingly, I didn’t completely drain the battery doing that—just nearly.

The next day it poured again. It also rained part of several days after that until about a week ago when it started raining at least part of every single day. As of Monday, the stuff I’d mown had grown back to the point it was long again. The weeds I hadn’t yet whacked down also grew taller than in the photo.

During the deluge days, I decided to get more of the “good” batteries for the line trimmer (they’ll provide longer runtime), along with a new 36v battery for the mower (also longer runtime). Both will be usable with any other tools I buy (definitely planned), but the main thing is that when all of the three “good” batteries are fully charged, I thought I’d be able to finish the part I didn’t whack down the first day.

I went and bought the batteries on Monday, And I went out back to attack the weeds, though I only had time to charge one of the new 18v batteries. I got much farther, but still wasn’t finished. I mowed the part of the lawn that was cleared. That evening, when it was cooler, I went out and mowed the front lawn.

Tuesday, with all three 18v batteries fully charged, my plan was, first, to finish the first pass clearing the weeds, and, hopefully, use the two batteries for the mower to get the whole lawn back to a respectable level. However, rain was predicted for Wednesday (again…), and I thought that if I don’t finish Tuesday, I didn’t know when I’ll be able to.

So, I went out back and spent a couple hours chopping down the weeds, even making the ones I’d attacked on Monday a bit lower. Then I got the mower and mowed until I used up the first battery. I put in the new one, but my back got so sore from having to bend over to raise up the front of the mower that I stopped to rest, which was probably a good idea because of the heat alone.

I closed all three activity rings on
my watch yesterday—the "Move"
and "Exercise" twice. I also closed
all three rings on Monday.
I went back out in the evening, when it was cooler, determined to finish the damn thing (because of that predicted rain), and I actually did! I even used the line trimmer to get some of the weeds at the fenceline. I went inside and collapsed.

Through this process, I’ve continually thought about hiring someone to mow the lawns for me. I haven’t done that for the usual reasons (they use petrol-powered machines, I’m stubborn, and I’m cheap), but the fact I’ve spent nearly as much on additional batteries as I did on the mower means that I’m committed to doing the lawns myself—or, maybe that ought to say that I should be committed, because it's probably at least a little bit nuts that I haven’t just given up. But, then, sooner or later, when I get older, I’ll have to stop, and I just don’t want to be like that right now.

So, this has been a lot of hard physical work, with a lot of frustration slathered over it from the clouds. But in the end, I achieved my goal. I now have to work on actually making the yard look nice, and there is a lot of work to be done, but the very hard work of cutting down the weeds is now done.

As with so many other projects, this one has been hanging over my head for many weeks. Every time I let Leo outside, or just looked out the window, I could see the huge job I had to do. But, it’s now finally done.

Oh, and that rain that was supposed to happen today? It didn’t. It was clear and sunny (and a bit hot), so I could have finished it today after all.

The rest of this week will be inside chores and projects so my house is all presentable before the holidays. I’m not expecting any visitors, but I want the place tidy just in case. Besides, it’ll make me happy to see it that way.

Transformative paper work

Thursday of last week, I began a days-long effort to finalise a long-delayed project: The destruction of documents from years ago—even decades ago. It’s a project that I began several years ago, really, then the job became much bigger after Nigel died, and now it’s done. A weight that’s been holding me down and back for years is now gone. This is a good feeling.

I began with the ordeal of sorting papers that had to be stored back in 2018. I packed away dicuments by year, making it easier for me to toss out stuff every January 1. However, I knew that the project wasn’t really finished because I also knew that many of the documents got shoved into boxes when we were packing to move to our last house. That meant that back in 2018, I knew there’d be mountains of the stuff to sort.

When Nigel died, I was also faced with all the papers he left behind, mostly drafts of things for work, some statements/receipts, and even things from before we met. All of those had to be dealt with, but I also knew that doing it would free up space in my head as well as house.

As I said in a post at the end of last month:
The “destroy” papers aren’t necessarily super-secret, but are ones I’d still rather not have flying around a paper recycling centre or above a landfill when a rubbish bag splits open after it’s dumped. There have been a few things that are a bit more sensitive, for whatever reason, and I started shredding those things, but there’s just so much and the process is so slow that I decided to order a secure destruction bin to put it all into, everything from the highly sensitive to the merely rather-not-have-flying-around things. And that, in turn, has made me hurry up and sort though the remaining boxes of papers so I can order the bin and get rid of all that kind of “stuff”.
After I published that post, I actually did go through boxes of papers, up until I ordered a bin online last Wednesday. It was delivered the next day, and I told them to pick it up on the following Monday, which they were a bit surprised by since most people want it for maybe a month. I told them I’d already mostly sorted through what I wanted to send away, and I could just use the weekend to do a sort of final check around the house.

Reality was a bit different.

It was was easy to put the papers I'd ready put in an overflowing box into the bin, but then it got a bit more complicated. The box I’d sorted way back in the first lockdown and stored in the garage wasn’t quite as ready to go as I’d thought. After that box, it was about looking for papers that might still be packed away and going through them. There turned out to be quite a lot of them.

I kept very little of what I went through, and most of what I kept was actually just so I could record some dates that things happened (because I can’t even remotely rely on my memory…), which means that stuff, too, will go eventually.

Funny thing, though: The one thing I forgot to put in the bin should have been the easiest: The stuff I have stored that was due to be destroyed on January 1 (it seems unlikely it would’ve been needed in the last couple weeks of 2021). Oh well, at least it’s not much to shred. Related, though, that stuff that I packed in a hurry when we moved to our last house? It was nearly all old enough to be destroyed.

In the end, I only filled a little more than half of the 240 litre wheelie bin, which didn’t surprise me, really. Most of the stuff was nothing important, though personalised, and I just threw it in the bin because I knew I could. There was, however, some of Nigel’s work files, some of which really were confidential. The truth is, though, that the majority of truly confidential papers were mine, from my days in NZ politics.

I chose a wholly New Zealand owned company, TIMG (The Information Management Group), which specialises in secure storage and/or destruction of confidential information (including even things like hard drives). I also chose them because of their methods: Some companies merely shred documents, while, according to TIMG, 95% of the paper destroyed by them is recycled to pulp. This is brilliant for the environment, but is also makes it impossible for the documents to be retrieved and reassembled (something that’s more important to businesses, but I liked that they’re so thorough). One final note: Everyone I dealt with at the Hamilton branch was friendly and helpful, so much so that it was probably the most outstanding customer service I’ve received in a very long time. Really good customer service is so rare these days that I think it should be celebrated whenever we experience it. Nigel would've appreciated all that, too.

I know that in his final days Nigel was upset that he hadn’t been able to deal with all his “toys”, and so, I’d have to. He’d also have been upset about me having to go through mountains of his papers to dispose of them, including ones from before we even met. In fact, some of it was really hard on me because of all the emotional triggers, even including bank statements where I could see when we went to a restaurant, or a receipt for an appliance we bought that I still have and use. Basically, any document I checked could have a small thing in it that could make me feel sad for a bit (or, sometimes, a bit longer). The only truly bad part was going through some of the oldest papers, not because of their content but because he kept them in one of those briefcase-like things used for storing files: That thing was from way before Nigel and I met, and it smelled musty and even a bit mildewy. Other than that? Difficult mostly just because of the sheer volume of papers.

The main thing I felt while I was sorting the papers was relief: I was finally getting rid of a huge weight (literally and figuratively) that had been difficult to deal with. Now, I no longer have that. Sure, I have LOTS of “stuff” (including Nigel’s toys) to deal with, and my garage is, in some ways, now worse than when I started working on it back in July (and it’s way too hot to work in there now). But those papers could easily have taken me a couple years to shred (even just limiting it to the things that were truly confidential). I’d guestimate that the papers I sent away for secure destruction would fill up to six ordinary moving boxes (partly because I'd already shredded some documents and put that in the bin, too). The volume of stuff that’s gone from my housem then, is not insignificant, either.

Mainly, though, it’s a project that I’ve been working on for at least three years, off and on, and that’s weighed very heavily on me over the past two years in particular. And now it’s completed.

Never in my life have I been so happy to see a rubbish bin leave. It’s not just that getting rid of that weight was liberating, it’s also transformative. I have more space in my house and my life because it’s done, and that makes this very particular project also among the most satisfying yet.

On to the next ones!

The photos up top are the before and after shots, the latter of which was really hard to do because it was in the bright sun, so I couldn't see the screen of my phone. The important thing, though, is that it was there to be photographed at all.

Projectile blogging

I’ve blogged a lot about my various projects, mostly because they’re the only remotely interesting thing I’m doing these days (interesting to me, anyway), The biggest reason I blog about my projects, though, is that most of them are related to my true project, Building My New Normal, which, at the moment, is literally my (current) life’s work. Sometimes it’s about getting me ready for whatever my life becomes, and sometimes it’s trying out new possibilities, but they’re all about helping me move forward into whatever my future is to be.

The past week has been a particularly busy time for me, especially from Thursday onward as I worked on projects that had deadlines. I’ve completed those projects, and, though they may seem minor at first glance, they were actually huge in helping me accomplish my larger project. However, working on those projects left me with no time to blog, which is bad because they each deserve attention precisely because of the ways in which they’re helping me move forward—or, more accurately, to make that possible.

So, beginning later this afternoon, I’ll publish several posts about those projects. I’ve also finished the first draft of the first of my posts answering questions in this year’s Ask Arthur series, but that, too, got put on hold so I could finish projects. Maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow—who knows? Certainly not me.

In the meantime, a bit of a teaser: The photo above is of a box that arrived yesterday. It has parts for yet another project, one I may not get to until tomorrow or so, but I will. My life these days really is mostly projects, and that makes sense: They’re helping to make it possible for me move forward into whatever my future is to be.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

I liked me better back then

Everyone knows, often from personal experience, how music can trigger powerful emotions. Sometimes songs can also make us feel our perspectives change. That recently happened to me, and reflecting on that triggered, not emotion, but a breakthrough, a sudden self-awareness and understanding.

The video above is a song by American singer, songwriter, and record producer Lauv (real name Ari Staprans Leff). It’s his 2017 song, “I Like Me Better”, which is apparently more less autobiographical. The song was successful in New Zealand [see Footnote One, below], but I can’t remember if I ever heard it at the time, but if I did I never mentioned it on this blog.

The song, then, was basically new to me when I heard it sometime in the past three years. It may have been before the music video channel ended a few months before Nigel died, but I know for sure I’ve seen the video since the NZ music video channels resumed in the first part of 2020—before the first anniversary of Nigel’s death. When I heard the song, it made me think of my lost love, but mostly I just liked the song and the video.

Fast forward to this year, and we went through different lockdown levels, including the one between October and November that I found especially difficult. With little else to do, I spent a lot of time thinking, while also keenly aware of how unhappy I was. When the song played, it was the chorus that struck me: “I like me better when I’m with you,” and I connected with it in an entirely different way because, I realised, I liked me better when I was with Nigel.

Nothing much changed in the weeks afterward. The song often popped into my head at random, and I still liked me better when I was with Nigel. And that was when things suddenly shifted.

This past weekend, I reflected on where my life is at, and how it’s basically stalled. I thought back to some of what was on my mind during those Lockdown contemplations, and I remembered two things. First, I’d rejected the idea of even considering the possibility of finding love again. Second, I often thought of how much “I need a friend to make me happy” (part of a lyric from “Wonderful Life”, the 1986/87 hit single by British singer Black—which deserves to be talked about in detail at some point…). I was right and wrong.

I was keenly aware that I’m in absolutely no position to be emotionally available to anyone for quite some time—if I even had any idea how to meet a potential partner, and I don’t. This is, I think, an entirely sensible self-awareness, however, I realised that the only reason I’d ever even contemplated finding a new partner was to have someone “save” me from the malaise I live within. That would be one of the worst possible reasons to start a new relationship.

I had a very similar realisation about seeking friends: I just wanted someone to “save” me. The reality is that I haven’t been good at making new friends for many, many, many years. I’ve read that many adults find it increasingly difficult to make new friends, and as someone who’s basically shy and introverted, anyway, it’s even more so. All of that was at the core of my realisation: I unconciously wanted someone to “save” me.

This isn’t actually true about friends and family: Much as I might prefer them to come up with a social thing, that’s got to do with other life-long issues, such as, not wanting to intrude on someone else’s space, not wanting to make demands, etc. I don’t need or want any of them to “save” me, except, maybe, from boredom from time to time. Like a lot of people, probably, I often prefer to be entertained than to be the entertainer (not always, obviously, as this blog has well documented).

However, one way my malaise has definitely affected friends and family is that if they ask me a question, I give an honest answer—even when it’s the completely wrong thing to do: Too often, I create the wrong impression, I think. For example, my answers, or even just the flow of conversation, may lead someone to think that I hate my house (I don’t), or the area I live in (I don’t—well, “somewhat dislike” is probably fair, though that’ll be changing over the next 12 months mainly due to new roads, something I’ll be talking about as it happens). The fact is, there are things I don’t like about where I live, and some of those things I can change, but I find the processes exhausting, daunting, frustrating, or other negative emotions. Negativity is what comes shining through.

In our early years, and occasionally in the years after, Nigel would try to get me out of a negative headspace by singing the refrain from the crucifixion scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian: “Always look on the bright side of life…” I hated when he did that, as I’ve said in the past, because he was right. Because of him, and a couple other very positive people I know, I was able to conquer what I thought was my natural inclination toward negativity to become positive (more or less). I just can’t manage that these days.

So, what we have is a situation in which I have an almost all-encompassing malaise that can even make me fail to unbox a new computer printer for a couple weeks as I was talking about yesterday, and that, in turn, has led to a nearly all-pervasive negativity. The first I’ve found some workarounds to help me cope, and the second—well, so far, nothing. I’ve tried to just stop for a moment or two before saying anything, but that’s not a solution: I don’t want to have to second-guess everything I say, nor to self-censor to avoid being negative. What I actually want is a solution to both—and I think I may be on to something that will help both situations.

The first is to use the workarounds I’ve mentioned to help get me moving forward, because that, I know, will reduce the malaise itself because I’ll be moving as well as clearing the literal and figurative junk that’s holding me back. That, in turn, will help me to feel more positive almost by default (I know that because I’ve been there before).

I think that things will improve dramatically for me over the coming months. If I’m right, then I’ll have “saved” myself, and I may yet get back to being the sort of person I used to be. I liked me better when I was with Nigel, and I want to be that guy again—or even an improved version. I think there are others who’d like him better, too—maybe even some I haven't met yet.

Footnote One: Whenever I’ve done music-related posts, I’ve always talked about the song’s chart potions. While that seems a little odd in this context, well, traditions! "I Like Me Better" hit 8 in Australia (4x Platinum), 62 on the Billboard Canadian Hot 100 (2x Platinum), 13 in New Zealand (Platinum), 58 on UK Singles (Platinum), and 27 on the Billboard Hot 100 (4x Platinum).

Footnote Two: At the end of yesterday’s post, I alluded to this breakthrough in my thinking, adding, “But that’s a tale of its own; I just don’t know if I’ll get to that or unboxing the printer first.” I was pretty sure this post would be first: I’d already done a rough draft. The printer being unboxed first never had a chance—but what about it being done before whatever I post tomorrow? Hm…

Footnote Three: I set-up the new printer on Sunday, December 19, 2021. It works well, and I'm really happy with the choice. That means it was set up before my next post, which wasn't, in fact, the next day due to all the projects I was working on at the time.