Thursday, March 31, 2022

It’s not about them

There’s something about me that others think is odd—maybe even very odd. It’s probably a kind of social phobia or something, but it doesn’t cause me any distress, or bother me in any way, actually, nor does it stop me from doing anything I want to do, so, to me, it’s just part of who I am. If others have a problem with it, that’s on them.

The issue is that I’m always aware when it’s possible for people to watch me, like, for example, before I had curtains and blinds installed in my house back in February, 2020. I lived in the house for around three weeks before my window coverings were installed, and said at the time:
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).
Decades earlier, my last apartment in Chicago was what they euphemistically called a “garden apartment”, though it was really a sort of a basement—half underground. Being close to Halsted Street, the main road of the “Boystown” area of Lakeview, people walked past the building at all hours, and since the front windows faced the street, people could look in. I can’t remember if the place had Venetian blinds when we moved in or if we put them in, but either way they provided a way to block people from looking in.

Similarly, there was a tiny backyard behind the building, but I only remember sitting in it once. I noticed all the taller buildings facing the yard and, as the saying goes, looking down on it. I hated that exposed feeling, something I called “being on display”.

Fast forward back to nearly the present day, and I was watching an episode of the UK TV show “Location, Location, Location”. In that episode, co-host Phil Spencer was helping a lesbian couple find a home (the fact they’re lesbians isn’t relevant, but it gives me a chance to add that every time I see an LGBT couple on one of those shows, it makes me irrationally happy). The couple wanted a place that was safe for their furbabies, and that also had a garden (a “yard” in Americanese).

In one scene, Phil was showing them the garden of a city property that, like my last Chicago apartment, had other buildings looking down onto it. One of the women said to Phil that it wasn’t that she thought anyone was watching, it was that they could watch. “Exactly!”, I said to the TV, which, oddly, took no notice.

I don’t know why the possibility of being watched bothers me when it clearly doesn’t bother some people at all—and that included Nigel (if I had a dollar for every time someone said to me, “I don’t care if they look” I’d have enough money for a nice coffee somewhere). I do know that I’ve always been self-conscious about being identified as gay out of concern for my personal safety (I’m definitely a product of my times), but that’s actually more of an “and also…” kind of thing: Basically, I’m just a very private person and I want to keep it that way.

So, when the house next to me was finished, it added to an existing problem with a house further up the street. The house up the street is uphill-ish from my place, and it has a balcony facing the street for some reason (to me, it seems like an oddly exposed place for a balcony, with it on a house on a corner and facing an intersection). From my house, I’ve seen people from that house working in their yard, and, once, on that balcony.

The house next door is a bit different. It’s set back further from the street than mine is, so anyone walking out their front door toward their driveway is directly facing my stacker doors at the street-end of my lounge. That house, which is on land a good metre higher than mine, also has bedroom windows that face my house. I frequently see people coming and going, and sometimes lights on in the windows.

All of my windows face the neighbours, but I have window coverings for all my windows; it’s the stacker doors that were the issue.

Because the front of my lounge is where the TV is, and my back is to the stacker doors when I’m sitting in my chair, I seldom opened the curtains on those stacker doors. I simply felt “on display”. Then, I came up with a solution.

Earlier this month, I hung some net curtains (what Americans usually call “sheers”) along the entire three metre width of both sets of doors (before and after photos of the front-most doors are above). That way, I can open the curtains in the morning and no one can see into my house. In the afternoon, when the sun is shining on them, it’s nearly impossible to see inside my house; however, in summer, that same sunshine is extremely hot, and it heats up my house (the net curtains do help filter the sunlight, though), so I often close the curtains again at that point. In the winter, this same same afternoon reality will be a good thing.

I got the curtains from a fabric store and hung them myself (with minimal swearing). I have two hooks in the middle to keep the tension-wire from sagging. But, I can unhook the wire if I want to open the stacker doors (so the nets don’t billow out the doors).

This was the best solution for the problem, one, though, I may no longer need once I get bushes planted and they grow up above the height of the fence, which will take around three years. If I decide I like having nets, I can have better ones professionally installed later on, when it’s time to replace what I put in.

At first, I didn’t want to tell anyone I did this. I thought to myself, “this is the most nana-ish thing I’ve done to this house,” because net curtains are stereotypically associated with grandmothers. It was also because of people who think I “shouldn’t worry about it”. They’re not me, though, and I came up with the best solution available for me to do what I needed done.

I get that not everyone feels discomfort about the possibility that someone could be watching their daily life, but this isn’t about those people. The thing they also don’t get, though, is that it’s also not actually about anyone who might be looking in—chances are good that no one is. Instead, this is about me, about being able to feel at peace in my own home, to keep my home the cocoon of safety and comfort that everyone deserves their home to be.

I’m very happy with my decision, but I do need to keep reminding myself to open the curtains at the front end of the house (I’ve always opened the other ones): After leaving those front-end curtains closed most of the time for so long, I often forget to open them. That’ll change, though: My cocoon is properly set up now.

The photos above were taken roughly 20 minutes apart, so the before and after demonstrates pretty well how the nets diffuse the late afternoon sun (earlier in the afternoon it's more intense). I have no idea why Leo wasn't interested in being in the "after" photo. Probably bored with it by then. The hooks I mentioned are where the two uprights are visible (the two on the right are doors, and they slide to the left and are stacked in from of the window panel).

Monday, March 28, 2022

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 363 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 363, “Fifteen Years”, is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast. A list of relevant links is included in shownotes.

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

Fifteen years of the AmeriNZ Podcast

Fifteen years ago today, March 28, 2007, I posted the first episode of my AmeriNZ Podcast. Despite all the challenges over those years, it continues to this very day (literally—I’ll post an episode later today). I have no idea how much longer I’ll keep doing it, but when has that ever not been the case?

I began the podcast some six months after my blog, and both have chronicled my interests of the moment, things about New Zealand, and, especially, my life. All of that is completely different now than it was back then, and the changes to my life are so deep and profound that I can no longer promise more than one more podcast episode or one more blog post at a time.

On the other hand, I found out that it’s useful to have them as I explore this new universe I now live in. An explorer needs a journal to record their discoveries, and my blog and podcast have become that for me—an explorer’s journal. Apparently some others occasionally find them useful, too.

I doubt either my blog or podcast will still be going 15 years from now, and not only because I’ll be 78 (assuming I’m even still around, of course), but also—probably mostly—because no one knows what the world will be like then (assuming Vlad doesn’t end up killing is all, of course). After all, YouTube began less than two years before I started my audio podcast, and Apple added podcast support to iTunes (RIP) only a couple months after YouTube launched. YouTube has grown enormously, and podcasts have, well, changed.

Maybe in 2037 content will be beamed directly into our brains, or we’ll be living in a corporation-controlled “metaverse”. Or maybe we’ll be back to painting pictures of our lunch or foraging hauls onto cave walls—who knows?

The one thing I now truly understand that I didn’t actually “get” in 2007 is that nothing, good or bad, lasts forever. Each day I tell myself, don’t worry about a future we cannot see, and instead make every day as good as it can be, be kind, try to make the world we live in right now a better place, and then maybe that future will be pretty much okay when it arrives.

And, maybe, find a way to keep an explorer’s journal of some sort. I also now understand how much that helps, too.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

It began two years ago today

Two years ago today was New Zealand’s first day under a Level 4 Covid-19 Lockdown. The image above is what I posted to my personal Facebook on that day. When I shared it, I said:
Two years ago today was the first day of the first Covid lockdown. Today is the first day of greatly loosened restrictions, which will become even looser on April 4. These past two years have definitely been a ride.
That last line was, of course, an understatement—and I was being sarcastic. It’s been a terrible two years for so many reasons, but I believe the worst of it for me personally was the seemingly never-ending Level 3 Lockdown here in the Waikato beginning in October of last year. In fact, I feel that I haven’t fully recovered from the emotional and psychological toll of that time. Yes, of course I’m aware that even at that time others had it far worse than I did—that’s obvious. But I didn’t live in their bodies; here in my own body, where I live, things were not good.

Still, things and time moved on, didn’t they? The new “traffic light” settings turned out to be a huge improvement on the old Alert Level system, and the recently announced revisions are making, and will continue to make, things better still.

I didn’t blog about that first day of Lockdown on the day, though I did a post the next day. However, as the Lockdown yo-yo kept moving, I eventually tagged all my relevant blog posts, “Life Under Lockdown”, so I kind of made up for the slow start.

Something that I very much like is that these days I have far less reason to blog about Covid-19 or anything related to it. That’s definitely a good thing. I do wish I could put energy into blogging about other things, but, well, not everything’s recovered yet. Eventually, I guess—hope?

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 362 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 362, “Changes aplenty”, is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast. An extended list of relevant links is included in shownotes.

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

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Changes again (again)

The thing about Covid that seems the most obvious is that change is constant. However, no government knows the exact right thing to do, so they (mostly) try their best to act in the best way for their people. So, when when a government changes its policies, there are always those who declare it’s dead wrong, those who say it’s way overdue, and those who kind of shrug their shoulders, whether they mostly agree or mostly disagree (and most of us are probably in the latter group most of the time). The New Zealand government has announced major changes to its policies on Covid. I agree with the changes.

The government has, it said, “simplified the COVID-19 Protection Framework to target restrictions at those activities that reduce transmission the most.” The chart above shows what the revised levels include (also, more details are available on the government’s Covid 19 website).

From 11:59pm on Friday, the limit on indoor gatherings will increase to 200 people, and limits on outdoor gatherings will be abolished entirely. Also, the requirement to scan the QR tracing code before entering a business will end, as will the requirement that business provide the means to scan in or sign in.

At 11:59pm on Monday, April 4, use of the “My Vaccine Pass” will no longer be required, and that will mean that people will no longer need to be vaccinated in order to enter places like bars, restaurants, and cafes, among other places, however, businesses can require them if they want to (I highly doubt that any will, though).

The bigger news is that on April 4 government vaccine mandates for many workers will end, “except for health and disability, aged care, corrections and border workforces.” In practice, this means that teachers, police and Defence Force personnel will no longer need to be vaccinated, since those people are employed by the government. Private businesses will be allowed to continue their vaccine mandates if they have a reason to, though many businesses are keeping their mandates for now.

All of this is happening because Omicron has changed the game, and because after two years of restrictions, people are weary of them and already beginning to ignore the rules. For example, over the past couple weeks, every time I’ve gone somewhere I’ve been the only one scanning the QR code. By relaxing some rules, the government is effectively making it easier—and more likely—that people will keep doing what unequivocally helps: Wearing masks indoors, maintaining physical distancing inside, and gathering outside, rather than inside, whenever possible.

All of this is possible because more than 95% of New Zealanders are fully vaccinated, in addition to the fact it’s estimated that NZ has had 1.7 million actual Covid 19 infections (not merely the 500,000 officially reported). This gives us a strong base of people with resistance to the virus. At the same time, it’s believed that New Zealand has passed the peak of the Omicron wave, and that alone means that the need for restrictions is receding.

However, Covid is far from “over” and new variants will emerge, some of which could be more dangerous. That’s the reason the government is keeping the “traffic light” system in place. The Prime Minister urged everyone, “Don’t remove the (Covid Tracer) app from your phone just yet,” because new variants may require it again.

And that’s where we are: Things are easing considerably over the next ten days or so, and may yet ease more: On April 4, the government will review our traffic light setting and may move the country to Orange, which would be welcome (I think that’s pretty likely to happen).

The thing about Covid that seems the most obvious is that change is constant. I think New Zealand’s impending changes are good ones.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

A mini-project that wasn’t (yet)

I’ve always had projects, going back decades, really. Some are big, most aren’t, some take a long time to finish, some don’t. But it’s kind of rare for one to go away because it became unnecessary. That’s what just happened.

Yesterday, I ended a post with what I thought was my final foreshadowing of a topic I’d be explaining in greater detail "soon". In the closing paragraph to that post, I said:
“Right now, though, I need to haul myself out to the lounge to take on another part of a mini-project, and that, too, relates to recent blog posts. It’s the circle of blogging, or something.”
That project was about what I call the "Android Box”, which I said in my post about the storm yesterday, “receives and decodes the digital UHF TV signals” from the aerial. I said in that post, and also in my post last Thursday about the changes to our television channels, that the Android Box was its own topic.

Ever since the storm a few weeks ago, my TV reception hasn’t been good, although it was better after I replaced the aerial and internal splitter. I said yesterday that “it seems obvious to me, I need a signal amplifier”, but that was merely one possibility at the time. There was a also a possibility that the there was something wrong with the transmission itself, something I thought might be improved by the impending channel changes. But another possibility was that the Android Box itself had a fault.

The problem was, how could I tell what the problem was? There was one channel, Choice TV, that I couldn’t get at all: There was either nothing at all, or it was very badly pixelated, like when a storm interrupts the satellite signal for NZ's broadcast pay TV service, Sky TV. Pixelation was also an intermittent problem on TV One. This last one was something I was pretty sure an amplifier would fix.

To test the faulty Android Box theory, I hooked the aerial directly to my TV, but it couldn’t tune in more than a handful of the channels. That suggested an amplifier was needed. I next hooked the aerial up to our original Freeview receiver/DVR, but that was still tuned for use at the old house (different transmitters). I was able to get it to check for channels using buttons on the machine, but that was it: I didn’t have the remote and couldn’t do anything else, including trying to change a channel. I still have no idea where the remote is.

So: At the end of my initial tests, I still couldn’t rule anything in or out, but I decided to put off buying a new signal amplifier until after the channel realignment. That change began Monday night and finished sometime in the early hours of the morning. The storms yesterday delayed my tests with the new alignment (because I’d disconnected the aerial), and doing that after the weather cleared is what I hauled myself into the lounge to do.

After having the Android Box scan for TV and radio stations available, I went through the channels one at a time. While the EPG (“Electronic Programming Guide” was wrong a lot, all the channels worked—and I mean all of them. Choice TV’s successor channel, eden, was fine, but so was the channel at Choice’s old channel position. So, too, were all the god channels and Chinese channels I couldn’t get (though I didn’t care about any of them), and also returning were the formerly missing radio channels, Parliament TV, and, possibly importantly, the channel that carries Juice TV, NZ’s only remaining free-to-air video music channel. All were fine, all were present. This suggests that the transmission itself was the problem.

Which is not to say that everything is now perfect: TV One still sometimes pixelates, so it looks like I do still need a signal amplifier. There’s another problem with the Android Box: I can’t watch YouTube videos on it anymore, not since the App signed me out and I can’t sign back in. The Box’s remote has no keyboard, as most don’t, and if I encounter a field where I have to enter something (like a username and password), clicking on the field is supposed to bring up a way to click on the letters, etc., needed to fill in the field. It’s slow, tedious, and annoying, but it works—or, it used to work. Maybe a software revision will fix that? Maybe adding a different remote will work?

So, I’ve had to start using the YouTube App on my Apple TV to watch their videos on TV, and that involves switching devices, and that’s an annoying extra step, especially if I want to see what's on broadcast TV. Right now, there’s not much I can to about it.

What all of this means is that, for now, I don’t need to replace the Android Box, though I still want to find the remote for the other device, partly “just in case”. Also, I still need the signal amplifier, I think, but that’s not urgent. And because of all that, the mini-project I was talking about is, for now, cancelled. TV watching works, even if I sometimes have to take extra steps to get there.

Lucky for me, it’s not like I have a shortage of other projects to work on.

Monday, March 21, 2022

A blog version of a ‘haul’ video

I watch a lot of YouTube Channels across a lot of types, genres, fields, etc. While there’s no single unifying factor in my choices, the most common thing would be an engaging or entertaining host. Among them are “lifestyle vloggers”, for lack of a better description, which includes many gay and gay-friendly hosts who are so chipper that they provide a welcome antidote to much of the negativity I run across on news and political Channels (which I also watch).

This was on my mind because yesterday I was getting ready to put away the stuff I bought on my outing to Mitre 10 (etc.) last week. All the stuff was still together, and as I looked at it I realised that some of those vloggers would do a “haul” video of such a collection of newly purchased stuff, basically, a kind of “show and tell”.

I don’t make YouTube videos right now (and may never do so again), so it wasn’t that I was thinking that I could make such a video. Instead, I was just kind of amused by the thought that I could—until I realised that I could come up with a way to do a blog version of a “haul video”. This, then is that attempt.

This blog idea is actually nothing new for me: I’ve frequently posted photos of some tech thing I’ve bought, sometimes in some state of undress—sorry, unboxing. Back in September 2020, I talked about my compost bin and showed photos of the box and once it was opened, saying in the caption, “this is as close to an ‘unboxing’ post as I'm likely to get.” That was literally true—I’ve never done an “unboxing” post—but I’ve come pretty close, photographically, at least.

This time, I’m skipping such a reserved approach. So, as so many YouTubers like to say, that being said, let’s get into it (I wanted to add a layer of authenticity).

The photo above is everything I bought at Mitre 10 Mega that day, apart from hand sanitiser I keep in my car.

In the background is a new laundry basket, which was actually the one thing I intended to buy at Mitre 10 that day (mine had irreparably broken a couple days earlier). This particular one is a brand called Sistema, which was founded in Cambridge (about a half hour south of Hamilton) in 1987. In 2017, company founder Brendan Lindsay sold Sistema to American giant Newell Brands. As part of the sale, Newell Brands agreed to keep manufacturing the products in New Zealand for 20 years. I also remember reading that they also agreed to provide lifetime employment to Lindsay’s first employee.

So, for now, the BPA- and Phthalate-free plastic products are New Zealand made, though foreign owned; I always choose NZ-made when possible. In this case, the basket was about 50% more expensive than the cheapest one (made in Thailand), but cheaper than some others (I didn’t consider them, so I didn’t look at where they were made). The one I bought is also far more robust than the cheapest basket, or the one that broke (a roughly 20 year old one that was also made in New Zealand, by a different company).

The other things in the “haul” are pretty simple.

Leaning up against the right side of the basket is a trigger that can be put onto a can of spraypaint. I saw similar ones used on furniture makeover and some decoration Channels I watch, and had never seen them in NZ—until last week. Basically, they make it easier to paint with a can of spraypaint, making it work more like a paint gun. I have several things I need to paint, and I’m looking forward to seeing how well it works.

Leaning horizontally against the basket is a telescoping magnetic stick that makes it easier to pick up screws, etc., that have been dropped. This, too, is something I saw on furniture makeover Channels. Anything that can reduce how much I have to bend over is a very good thing these days (Nigel and I bought a magnetised metal tray that screws are put into so they won’t fall all over the place before they’re needed).

Moving forward from the telescoping magnetic stick is a tool with curved picks on each end. This particular tool is used to remove O rings (like from a motor), however, I’ll use it when I’m refinishing furniture to clean out grooves, particularly when I use paint stripper. Many years ago (seven? More?) Nigel and I saw a set of dental instrument-like picks at a home centre on Auckland’s North Shore. He joked about buying them so he could do the periodontal work I needed. I’ve never seen them in New Zealand since. This tool will be good enough for now.

To the right of that is a set of foam earplugs for when I’m using power tools. I already bought safety glasses, replacing a pair that was cheap and nasty (and probably thrown away) and one that wasn’t a lot better; the ones I bought are good quality, but not top of the line). I think the conventional earphone-like hearing protection would be too hot, so I thought I’d try these first.

Finally, at the bottom of the photo, is the ruler I bought (I’d already returned the one I hadn’t paid for). As with everything else in this “haul”, I haven’t used the ruler yet, but will soon.

And that’s it. Not exactly a big “haul”, but I’ve seen some YouTubers who could make a video about this stuff last 15-20 minutes. Mind you, I suppose a slow reader might have the same time commitment with this post?

This time, I’m not going to daringly (recklessly?) declare I won’t do a “haul” again, which would be similar to what I said about not doing an “unboxing” post. One just never knows, really, especially because when I talk about my projects, talking about anything special I needed to do or buy is kind of part of it. So, maybe a “haul-lite” part of future posts?

Mainly, this whole post was intended as a bit of fun. My teasing YouTubers in this post is done with affection (I love watching their videos, obviously), and respect (I don’t make any videos about anything, yet they do videos one to several times a week). If I ever did make a “haul video” it would, no doubt, poke just as much fun at myself.

Right now, though, I need to haul myself out to the lounge to take on another part of a mini-project, and that, too, relates to recent blog posts. It’s the circle of blogging, or something.

Cloud bumping morning

It was very stormy in northern parts of Aotearoa New Zealand this morning and into the afternoon. It brought very heavy rain, wind, thunder, and it was dark. In fact, it was so dark at one point that my solar panels were generating NO electricity—my house was 100% powered by the electricity company (by midday or so, I was generating all or most of my own power again).

This morning I heard some thunder and suddenly remembered when I was really little and my mother told me thunder was clouds bumping into each other. I believed her, and wondered why those clouds were so annoying—and I was a little bit less scared of thunder, so I guess her tale worked?

Nowadays, I’m a bit more cautious. I unplugged the aerial from my Android box (it receives and decodes the digital UHF TV signals; it's also still scheduled to be its own topic). A few weeks ago, I had my aerial and internal splitter replaced (one of many things I never got around to mentioning on the blog). I also had a signal amplifier that didn’t seem to work any more, so I disconnected it. Everything stopped working after a very brief thunder storm.

The other day, I plugged the signal amplifier back in (I live in an area of Kirikiriroa Hamilton where the TV signals are dodgy, and, it seems obvious to me, I need a signal amplifier). I noticed the “Surge” light was no longer on. The amplifier was only a year or two old, so it’s unlikely the LED light simply burned out, so, what if there was a surge down the antenna lead caused by that earlier storm? That’s why I unplugged the antenna lead today. Might’ve been totally unnecessary, but…

I decided I wasn’t going anywhere today. I don’t like thunderstorms under the best of circumstances, and I certainly wasn't going out in one. My mama didn’t raise no dumb babies, obviously: I eventually worked out that thunder wasn’t clouds bumping into each other. At least, I’m pretty sure they’re not.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Some things, I don’t forget

We all have dates that we always remember, even if maybe it’s just our own birthday. Most of us, though, remember plenty of dates that have special significance for us, and the loss of someone we love is pretty difficult to forget.

So, it should come as no surprise to anyone, and certainly not to anyone who’s followed my grief journey, that the twentieth of every month is a date I remember, and some more twentieths than others. Like today.

The truth is, there’s nothing particularly notable about the fact that today marks, as the graphic above from my personal Facebook puts it, “2½ years. 30 months. 130 weeks. 913 days.” since Nigel died. Sure, six months was notable, and so was 18 months, but 2½ years? Yeah, well, things are never all that clear-cut when it comes to profound grief.

The first factor is, of course, that I notice the 20th of every month. What makes this particular one notable to me is that two years ago today (by date) was also when the last house Nigel and I shared went to new owners (who sold it a few months later, actually). Selling that house was much harder on me than what I talked about at the time. In fact, it was for awhile afterward, too.

There were times after I sold that house and moved to Hamilton that I wished I’d stayed in the old house. When I moved, it was absolutely the right thing to do, but the unforeseen global pandemic changed everything and I ended living only slightly more socially than I would’ve at the old house. However, the real reason I thought like that was that in the old house, everything had a place. Yes, the garage needed a good clean out, too, but it was at least not in my way as things are here. That job is utterly overwhelming—except for the majority of the time when I simply don’t care about it.

I’ve always thought that planning one’s life around stuff is a stupid thing to do, and, in fact, I kept pushing Nigel for us to get rid of stuff rather than pay for a storage unit. I know all that. However, none of that means I’ll stay in this house or in Hamilton forever. On the other hand, it also doesn’t mean I won’t stay on one or both forever: I have absolutely no idea what will happen in the near future, let alone farther out, and I currently have no plans or goals.

Despite all that, this odd semi-notable, mostly not notable anniversary wasn’t actually a particularly reflective day for me, not like the actual anniversaries are. Things are still so unfixed, uncertain, and, well, not notable, and they probably will be for some time to come. I don’t need any particular day to reflect on any of that, and when I do, it’s kind of short and episodic, not like the early days of this journey.

So, today was the twentieth of the month, and I was aware it was coming days before it arrived, as I always am. I’ll be aware of it next month, too, and the five after that until I get to the third awful anniversary, which probably will be a reflective day for me, as most of my anniversaries are.

Naturally, I will still reflect on my experiences in this grief journey—how can I not?!—even as I move forward. The bandaged heart emoji in that graphic above, next to the broken heart one, is meant to convey that forward motion, from utterly broken heart to a bandaged sort of stasis to last until until healing can happen, whenever that may be.

Well, then: 2½ years. 30 months. 130 weeks. 913 days. And I’m still here to note that—and talk about it. Right now, that’s honestly enough. I’ve got too much to do, including clearing out that garage. It turns out that I care about a great many things, just not that last one very much.

Weekend Diversion: Darren Hayes

From the mid-1990s to the turn of the century, the band Savage Garden was all over the pop charts, bringing success, hit songs, concert tours—and unhappiness for the bandmates. It came to an end in 2001 when the band split. Frontman Darren Hayes continued recording and performing for another decade, before suddenly stopping—unannounced—in 2012. Now, he’s back: Happy, proud, and eager to get going.

The breakup of the band was poorly handled, in part because Hayes’ Savage Garden bandmate, Daniel Jones, said before the release of the band’s final album, Affirmation that he wanted to leave. It’s been widely reported that he didn’t like the pressures of fame, including the endless promotion. Hayes took over promotion on his own until the break-up was publicly announced.

Affirmation was influenced by the end of Hayes marriage, and him coming to terms with his sexuality. Hayes says that record labels were determined to “heterosexualise” him for his solo career, going so far as to re-shoot the video for his first solo single, “Insatiable”, because the label thought he looked “too gay”. Hayes told Attitude Magazine: “Not only did they scrap the video, but they also shot secret footage of a female storyline, and it was a woman in a trench coat, who was naked, and this woman in the trenchcoat was searching for me in this video and – unbeknownst to me – they were going to splice it into this cut." [Watch the official video on YouTube].

Hayes, of course, wasn’t the only gay artist to be treated so badly by the music industry. He told Attitude:
I am just starting to realise that there’s probably a movement coming within the music industry in the same way there was a reckoning for women in the film industry. I think there’s definitely a reckoning coming in terms of homophobia. Because there’s so much I just accepted that I look back on and realise “I can’t believe I let that happen to me”.
Indeed. It’s true that it’s somewhat easier for an out and proud queer artist now than it was ten years ago (Lil Nas X, anyone?), but the industry still has a lot of work to do.

Hayes’ treatment by the music industry is part of what made it difficult for him to accept himself. The turning point, he told the magazine, was seeing the film, “Call Me By Your Name”, which reignited his passion for music and creativity—and restored some of what he’d lost along the way.

To me, this was most evident when he headlined Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras—almost exactly 25 years after the release of Savage Garden’s self-titled album that rocketed them to international stardom. Out, proud, confident of himself, Hayes spoke to the crowd [WATCH] before performing the song “Affirmation”. He told them: “I want to thank you for loving me, even when I didn’t love myself.” Wow.

So, now he’s back, and planning a new tour next year. He’s released two singles so far, the most recent of which, "Do You Remember?" is up top. He said on his Facebook Page:
This is the sound of 2022 me looking back at 1997 me remembering the first time I kissed a man on a dance floor. Keen listeners will notice I’m referencing the same moment I sang about in ‘Chained To You’ – only this time it’s from a different perspective. Me, as a fully, out gay proud man, at home and confidently in command in the studio, completely in charge of the sound and presenting myself exactly as I want to be perceived today. There’s something so fun about taking the old school sounds of the records I grew up listening to, the drum machines and analog synths, and meshing them with the resurgence of nu-disco today, that feels appropriately nostalgic. Like I’ve got a chance to re-remember some of the times in my life that felt like a struggle but now I’m able to celebrate. Now I’m able to appreciate that I have loved every second of the journey from then to now, and yes, I do remember it all, with great love. I hope you do too.
There is no chart performance available for the song at the moment.

His first new single in a decade, however, was “Let's Try Being in Love”, released at the end of January:

There’s also no chart information as such for this song, however, the song reached 9 on the “Australian Independent Label” chart, and 96 on the “UK Download” and 98 on “UK Sales” charts.

Hayes wrote on Facebook the end of January, while he was in rehearsals for his Mardi Gras show:
I bought [the dancers] matching Adidas Pride jackets like the one I own because working with them made me feel like I belonged to a family for the first time in a long time. I never got to experience a true gay adolescence – I didn't take the modern dance class I wanted in high school or have my fun carefree club days in my early 20s like some queer kids did. When I did come out, my experience was shrouded in shame and fear and never felt like I could celebrate. It was more a forbidden, shameful release of pressure than the natural bloom of happiness I got to experience in the music video for 'Let's Try Being In Love'. But I cried tears of joy the last day of rehearsals with these men. They made me feel like I was part of a tribe. Just dancing with men, doing 'gay' things that used to be forbidden, either by law or by a record company, felt like freedom to me after so long. Look how happy I am.
How could anyone begrudge his obvious happiness? I’ve followed Hayes on Facebook (and Twitter before that) for many years, and I’ve seen his growth in real-time. It makes me think, if he can find happiness and self-acceptance at 49, then there’s truly hope for anyone, at any age.

I like the songs, and I think it’s interesting to see how his music is embracing all that he is—including the parts that took him awhile to love. I’ll be interested to see where he takes his work in the future, and what the eventual “first album in a decade” will be like. Until then, I’m just glad he’s happy.

He’s also been working hard to promote his return and, in essence, to reintroduce himself. One of the best interviews I’ve seen is in the video below, from Australia’s “Studio 10”. It’s interesting in itself, I think. And interview he did for Australia’s “The Project” was also good [WATCH].

This hasn’t been a typical Weekend Diversion post, but it seems kind of appropriate for this particular weekend: Tomorrow the free-to-air video music channels that lead to so many of these posts will be gone. This post, I think, is just the first of many more about pop music, ones that happen because I found something through other means than video music channels. Maybe?

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Virtue is its own reward

Virtue is its own reward, right? And if anyone talks about something “virtuous” they’ve done, especially on social media, why, it’s nothing but "virtue signalling", just attention-seeking self-aggrandisement—well, that’s what the commentator class, those self-important, self-appointed adjudicators of all things proper, constantly declare, anyway. I see things differently: What’s a person’s motivation for sharing a story about something “virtuous”, and what’s the lesson?

That’s all a necessary disclaimer before I tell this story, one I wouldn’t have mentioned at all, except—well, that’s getting ahead of the story.

On Tuesday, I talked about how I went to a home centre called Mitre 10 Mega to, among other things, look at stuff for my various projects. One thing I bought was a 30cm metal ruler that I need when I’m using a craft knife. All I had was a plastic one, and the edge had little gouges in it from much use. I need a good edge when I’m cutting things, like right now as I work on an ongoing (and boring) project.

Tuesday evening, I went through the things I bought and noticed that the ruler had two hang tags, one flopped over, which seemed peculiar. I looked closer: There were two rulers stuck together, their vinyl sleeves aligned so perfectly that it looked like one ruler—until one hang tag flopped over. I didn’t notice it in the shop, and I know that the checkout operator didn’t notice, either: I was only charged for one.

I considered keeping the extra ruler. After all, it was “less than six dollars”, and that “big box retailer” probably wouldn’t even miss it, but: I didn’t pay for it, and the dollar amount really didn’t matter. I decided to take it back to the shop—an easy decision, since I had to go back to the shopping centre the next day, anyway.

Why didn’t I just keep it? Many people would, and that could’ve been me, too. However, I’d just seen the evening news and the brutality and war crimes being committed by the Russians in their war against Ukraine. The lunacy of the Covid “protesters”, both here and in the USA, was also fresh in my mind. There’s SO much negativity, aggressiveness, and ugliness in the world today, and I didn’t want any part of perpetuating that. Returning a $6 ruler I didn’t pay for wouldn’t and couldn’t make a bit of difference to any of that, obviously, but it’d make a difference to me, and that’s all I have power over.

So, yesterday I went and finally exchanged that stuff I meant to take Tuesday (putting it in front of the door worked!). Afterward, I took the ruler back. The lady behind the customer service counter seemed genuinely surprised, but I could tell she was smiling under her mask.

I carried on with my errands, and the next shop I drove to was the New World supermarket nearest to my house. Once I got home Tuesday, I found out I still needed a couple more things from the supermarket, and New World was near my final stop yesterday. It was a normal shopping experience yesterday, and as I was putting the last of my stuff in bags in my car boot, a gentleman roughly my age came and took my shopping trolley to return it for me (along with his own). I don’t think that’s happened to me more than a couple times in my entire life—if it ever has. I thanked him, of course.

The first thought I had was that it was a kind of karma-like thing: I did the right thing, and then something good happened to me. I don’t actually see things that way, and I feel it’d be pretty arrogant and self-centred to think the universe, were it a sentient being, would reward me for doing something so insignificant—especially because it was merely doing the right thing, not anything meaningful.

But… what if that really is how the universe works? What if making a conscious choice to do the right thing does get rewarded in a way that’s proportionate to the thing we did? Maybe the only way I can find out is to do more good/right things.

The lesson I took from this story is simply that doing the right thing is always the right thing to do—and that virtue really is its own reward. But it’s also made me think that maybe rejecting the world’s prevailing negativity might help spread the opposite energy instead. Even if it doesn’t, so what? Doing good things certainly can’t hurt. And that lesson—that reminder—is the most important one of all.

I took the photo above because I thought that me returning the ruler would catch the staff off-guard (and it did), and that they might not grasp how it could’ve happened. So, I took the photo to show them, to make it easier for me to explain. It turned out that I didn't need it. At least I probably gave the lady at the customer service desk a funny story to tell others—and I got a photo to use here when this story took on a new direction for me.

My prediction came true

New Zealand’s television line-up is about to get a bit of a shakeup, with more to come. From next week, channel positions will change, and much later on, the government plans on forming a new public broadcaster out of two Crown-owned media entities. Some of this is quite meta, and much of it only of interest to New Zealanders, but it will also mean changes for this blog—because my prediction came true.

Back in September of last year, I wrote about Discovery Networks NZ (aka Discovery, Inc) buying the TV channels of Mediaworks, and I noted that their two free-to-air music video channels were likely doomed: “It seems highly improbable that the new owners will keep the music video channels.” In that same post I noted that Discovery had a lot of programming that it owned, and so, it had plenty of content to fill those two channels. I said:
The company’s international division… owns a lot of channels around the world, so they have some options for what to use when replacing the two music video channels. It seems unlikely to me that they wouldn’t do that: They already own the programming, don’t need to license the content, and it would be much cheaper than making programming for New Zealand.
I got it exactly right.

The company is ending The Edge TV and The Breeze TV on Monday, March 21, and that means the only free-to-air music video TV channel (one I’d describe as currently broadcasting music “most of most days”) will be Juice TV. I talked about that channel back in May of 2020, and I’ve noticed that it’s now more likely to broadcast mainstream music videos than the original version did, but its content is still largely not mainstream. The two former video channels will be available to stream from their respective radio channels’ websites, but, who actually does that? I never did before, and it seems unlikely I will now (I’d have to launch a web browser on one of my devices to watch it on TV, which is possible, but cumbersome.

The change to music video channels means that it’s improbable that I’ll find much new music, since I don’t listen to radio anymore, and so, the main driver of my old “Weekend Diversion” posts will be gone. That doesn’t mean they’re dead, though: I’ll talk about older music (as I’ve always done), and I’ll still occasionally run across new music by accident (usually when it’s a music bed in a video, or used in a commercial or something). We’ll see. At any rate, the loss of the free-to-air music video channels again will definitely affect what music I write about, and how often. Again

One of the music channels is being replaced by a new channel, called “Rush”. That channel appears to be a New Zealand—perhaps, “New Zealandised”—version of the company’s Australian channel, “9Rush”, which is a joint venture with Australian broadcaster, 9 Network. Its programming is supposed to be “adventure” stuff targeting males 25 to 54, the same demographic that TVNZ’s “Duke” channel originally targeted, though it no longer does.

Discovery’s other new channel is actually rebranding/replacing a channel they already owned, Choice TV. The rebranded it “eden” (all lowercase) is promising "A Better Everyday". The channel will apparently carry many of the same programmes Choice TV had, but also some drama, among other things, that Choice didn't broadcast. There will also apparently be at least one “local show”, though at the moment I’m not clear if that announced show is NZ-made or Australian-made. A eden+1 channel, which will carry eden programming on an hour delay, will also be added, replacing the other music video channel.

All of these are part of a larger re-jig of the channels on free-to-air Freeview and also on pay-TV Sky. Many of the changes are of a “housekeeping” nature, such as, putting all the +1 channels together and adding a one before their channel position (so, TV One+1 will become 11, Two+1 will be 21, Three+1 will become 13; the new eden channel will by 8, and its +1 will be on 18). This change makes a lot of sense for people with remotes that allow channel changing by number, which my current Android box doesn’t (that box is a topic for another day), so for me this change doesn’t give me or folks like me anything at the moment, but I think it might eventually matter for me.

A complicating factor in all this is that Discovery and Warner Media are merging into a new company (to be called Warner Bros. Discovery), which will, among other things, allow them to combine their online streaming services (the Discovery+ streaming service isn't very old and, as far as I know, neither it nor Warner Media's HBO Max service are available in New Zealand). I have no idea whether this merger will be good or bad for consumers, however, reducing the number of streaming services would be welcomed by a lot of people, including me: To access all programming available through streaming services, every month someone would probably have to spend at least five times what they’d pay for ordinary pay TV—though, if they had ordinary pay TV, they wouldn’t be able to access all the content available. Also, not all streaming services are available in New Zealand.

Meanwhile, other changes are in the planning stages. Last week, the NZ Government announced plans to merge TVNZ and RNZ into a new public broadcasting entity. The new entity will be funded by a combination of advertising, as TVNZ is now, and also government support, because the intent is to end the requirement that the entity has to return a dividend to the Crown, as TVNZ currently must (RNZ is commercial free). While details and specifics of the merger are awhile off yet, the new entity is intended to ensure public broadcasting will continue, and to provide New Zealanders “with high quality, independent, timely and relevant media content,” as Broadcasting and Media Minister Kris Faafoi put it.

The merger means that regardless of what the for-profit companies do, New Zealand content (especially Māori content) will continue to be made and broadcasted. It’s way too early to tell if Discovery will make much local content for any of the channels it bought, but they may not be interested in producing New Zealand-specific and Māori content when they have so much foreign content they can simply re-purpose. However, a strong public broadcaster making local content could provide strong competition for viewers, and so, advertising revenue—and that might provide an economic incentive for Discovery to make local content. Hopefully.

Things are definitely changing for television in New Zealand, and I’ll be interested to see what Discovery's new channels broadcast, even if it’s all foreign. I watch TV to be entertained and informed, and sometimes foreign content is—for me—better at one or the other than a local programme might be. Not always, but, the competition for eyes can make locally-made NZ content better, too. Hopefully.

Television hasn't been a unifying force ever since pay-TV took off and splintered audiences: With zillions of things to watch at any given moment, the odds there'd be a mass audience for one single broadcast became extremely rare—and that only become more true when streaming services appeared. Because of that, the changes made by Discovery may not really matter much. New Zealanders will still have NZ-made programming to reflect us and tell our stories, no matter what Discovery (and, evenetually, Warner Bros. Discovery) does. This is why my own reaction to all this change is mostly a shrug of the shoulders.

There's one thing, though, that I want to note for my personal history: Those video music channels kept me company during the original Covid lockdown, a period when I was also in my first year without Nigel. They were, at the time, very valuable to me. However, I gradually watched them less and less over time, and the channels I watched the most were TVNZ's TV One or a couple of Discovery's NZ channels, including Choice TV.

All of which means that whatever happens in the shakeups and rearrangements, we'll all adapt just fine, like we always have. We already have plenty of viewing options, after all, and we can always find something to watch.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

A (partial) day in my life

If I remember correctly, today was a mixed bag. I left the house to go exchange something I’d bought, which meant going to a shop I don’t much like going to because it’s in a part of The Base shopping centre where both traffic and parking challenge my otherwise legendary patience. When I got there, though, I was very—and pleasantly—surprised at how great the traffic was and how abundant car parks were.

It was just after I pulled into my spot and had put the car into park when I realised something important: I’d left what I was exchanging sitting next to the front door (inside the house…) where I’d put them so I wouldn’t forget them. Yeah, just a day in the life, I’m afraid.

I decided not to go back home to get them (roughly 10-15 mins each way), and there was nowhere I wanted to go at The Base, so I decided to carry on to my next stop. Instead, I swung by Mitre 10 (since I was near it) to check out stuff for future projects, and that requires a quick digression.

Nigel and I dreamed of setting up a home workshop where we could do woodworking of various sorts. He’d built (and constantly refined) a CNC router and bought some tools, like a pretty decent drill press. I wanted to get back into refinishing furniture, something I did a lot of up until I turned 30 or so. We were actively planning this as our retirement “thing” when Nigel died. I still have that dream, maybe even enough for both of us. [I talked about our plan a little bit back in September of 2020.]

So, I wandered around Mitre 10 looking for wood stain, paint strippers, and the like. A fairly young lad (late 20s, I’d guess) asked if I needed help, and he showed me their selection of stains (frankly, not even remotely impressive) and paint strippers (ditto). I now know what they have (or don’t…), but he was cute and really nice, so that was a plus, as it always is.

My next stop was K-Mart, and honestly, I don’t know why I bothered. Every time I’ve gone in there I’ve walked out with nothing (in fact, last time I bought anything there was when I was with Nigel, and that would’ve been maybe ten years ago). The problem is that they’re under-stocked, though today the usually vast empty shelves weren’t as bad because they were filled with Easter candy. Still, if I want something they sell, I’m faaaaaar better off ordering it online and having it delivered, like I did with the coatrack for my front entry (I talked about that project in July of last year). Hopefully this time I’ll actually remember this lessen—although clearly relying on myself to remember things isn’t a good strategy.

Next stop was Countdown, and it was the second of two places I’d previously said I wouldn’t go to until Omicron was done (because they have a pharmacy, and sick people go to pharmacies). The other place was off my exclusion list when we went to the movies—though two days later that place became a “location of interest”. Anyway, the Countdown stop was successful (the checkout operator was a guy roughly my age—something I can’t remember ever seeing before; maybe that should be my next career ambition? Hm…)

Tomorrow I’ll head back out to exchange the stuff, which is now in front of the door: I literally can’t open the door without picking it up. I hope. I’m also going to Bunnings to check what their wood stains are like, as well as stuff for much more immediate projects outside the house (I wrote a list of stuff to check…). The weather’s going to get cooler soon, and I’ll feel like working outside, so time to get ready.

So, there it is. I wasn’t able to accomplish my main goal because I forgot to bring the main reason I’d headed out. Then, at Mitre 10 I remembered to get something I needed, but then forgot to check for something I was going to look for at K-Mart, and then remembered to look for other things. Then, I forgot how much I loathe going into K-Mart, but I remembered what I wanted from countdown, but also forgot to check for stuff I couldn’t get at K-Mart. 🤷🏻‍♂️

How was your day?

This is a revised and expanded version of something I posted on my personal Facebook today.

Not normal are we

The photo at left is one of Leo and me taken on March 11, 2019, and shared to Instagram as well as here on the blog, where I explained in more detail what was going on. I began the Instagram caption, “So, Leo is clearly not an ordinary dog”. Leo is still not an ordinary dog, but he no longer sits on the back of my chair. Now, he sits on the back of the sofa, looks out the front window, and barks at anyone who dares go past his house. I don’t speak dog, but I thing he’s shouting, “You shall not pass!” Also, he now eats like a normal dog.

The thing that always strikes me about that post three years ago is that only six months later, everything would change. Ten months after this post, the dogs and I would be living in Hamilton without our Nigel. Not quite two years after this post, Sunny would be gone, too. Some seven months after that, Jake would go.

When I originally posted this, it was only about a month after Bella died, and while that was sad, I had no idea I was about to endure one loss after another, leaving me unable to ever heal from the biggest loss of all. And then there’s the global pandemic thrown into the boiling cauldron of emotional turmoil, to give it the proper miasma of pain and despair.

All of which is why I couldn’t possibly care less about my gardens being overgrown with weeds, or the garage that’s now a set for “Hoarders” because nearly everything I stacked up has fallen over since I stopped working in there when it got hot. Or why I haven’t cleared out the last of the stuff I need to deal with in the house. None of that is important, none of it actually matters.

My life began to fall apart only a few months after this photo. It began quickly, with Nigel leaving us in only a few blinks of an eye after we found out he was even sick. Dealing with constant negative change is exhausting. I’ve worked so very hard trying to stay afloat, but too often it’s like trying to swim against a rip, though, fortunately, I have the good sense to try to swim out of the rip, not against it, and to simply float when I need to rest, all while trying to stay calm and hoping I’m doing it right, doing enough.

Life has absolutely no certainties whatsoever, good or bad, and we all know that. We generally ignore that reality because if we really thought about the implications, it could overwhelm us. I’ve learned the importance of treasuring every single good moment—even a not normal dog laying on your shoulder—because it will pass. Similarly, bad things and bad times will also pass, a reality that’s always obvious afterward and usually impossible to accept within those times of awfulness.

There’s the saying, “don’t sweat the small stuff, p.s. it’s all small stuff”, and as simplistic and banal as that is, there’s an element of truth in it. I wish I understood that when my not ordinary dog was laying on my shoulder three years ago. The life I’d known and loved was about to be ripped apart, obliterated, and that left me with my one, and only, regret: I wish I knew all this back then so I could’ve been more in the moment.

Speaking of which, right after I wrote this, I gave Leo a pat. Later that day, he’d want us to play “the chase game” (where we take turns chasing each other around inside the house), because he wants that most days. I always stop what I’m doing, if need be, when he wants to play that game because I know he loves it, and it’s a simple thing to do that makes him happy. Maybe I really have learned something?

This is a revised and expanded version of something I posted on my personal Facebook on March 11, the third anniversary of the post I’m talking about.

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 361 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 361, “The ever-changing times”, is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast. An extended list of relevant links is included in shownotes.

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

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Not talking says little

Many of us have times when we just don’t feel like talking. There may or may not be a reason for that, but it doesn’t really matter: No one should feel compelled to talk if they don’t want to. Not even a blogger.

In recent weeks, I’ve had more and more trouble getting around to blogging. There’s no particular reason for that, or maybe it’s that there are many reasons, but either way, I simply didn’t have the energy to post anything, not even adapting what I wrote on my personal Facebook, something I often do. Those things were already written, and yet I still couldn’t find the energy to adapt them into a post—or even to post them here unedited/altered. That’s pretty major-league malaise, right there.

Still, I’ve posted a lot on my personal Facebook since my most recent blog post, and there are also plenty of things I haven’t (yet) shared anywhere. My intention is to now start sharing those things here, not necessarily in any kind of chronological order, and probably edited more than usual. That will probably mean some days I’ll publish lots of posts, but other days there won’t be any. Maybe there’ll even be several days in a row without posts; that major-league malaise is still around here somewhere, I think.

Well, then, a resolve is set, and mentioning it means I’ll need to follow through—otherwise, what’s the point of saying anything? It’s to keep myself honest. Let’s see what happens.