Sunday, September 24, 2023

Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 10

There was another one-week Number One this week in 1983, the sixth for the year. On September 24, 1983, "Tell Her About It" (above) by US artist Billy Joel became Number One for one week. The song was the first single from Joel’s ninth studio album, An Innocent Man. The album also produced two other top 10 hits in the USA, ”Uptown Girl” (Number 3) and ”An Innocent Man” (Number 10).

The music video for "Tell Her About It" was an imaginary appearance by “BJ and The Affordables” on The Ed Sullivan Show on “Sunday, July 31, 1963, 8:34pm”. The real July 31, 1963 was a Wednesday—which goes to show there’s no research too difficult to prevent me checking tiny details in these posts—probably? Possibly. In any case, the date wasn’t the point, obviously, it was a fantasy presentation using American character actor and stand-up comedian Will Jordan portraying Ed Sullivan (Jordan was known for doing that impression). Jordan died at 91 on September 6, 2018. The end of the video features a cameo by Rodney Dangerfield, who was a popular comedic star at the time.

Unlike a lot of pop songs, the lyrics of this song make it pretty clear what it’s about: A guy is supposed to tell the girl he loves how he feels while he has the chance—it’s not any more complicated than that. When the song first came out, I thought it was catchy, but I didn’t connect with it. I didn’t dislike the song, I just simply didn’t like it, something that’s often been the case for me. It’s actually pretty rare for me to actively dislike a song, which is—something, I guess? In any case, I probably liked the music video more than the song itself.

"Tell Her About It" reached Number 9 in Australia, 4 in Canada (Gold), 12 in New Zealand, 4 in the UK (Silver), as wells as Number One on the USA’s “Billboard Hot 100” and Number 3 on Cash Box and was certified Gold.

Back next week with the song that hit Number One on October 1, 1983. Also, the next post in this series will be in October! Where has this year gone?!!!

Previously in the “Weekend Diversion – 1983” series:

Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 1
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 2
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 3
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 4
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 5
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 6
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 7
Weekend Diversion: 1983 – And also
Weekend Diversion: 1983 – And also more
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 8
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 9

Unusually busy me

The past week or so has been unusually busy for me. These days, I mostly spend my days tinkering around the edges or projects, doing routine chores, blogging and podcasting, and occasionally having kitchen adventures or playing The Chase Game with Leo. Every once in awhile, though, things are very much busier, and last week was definitely one of those.

Last week was, as I’ve said, a reflective week, what with the Fourth Horrible Anniversary this past Wednesday, the Pride 48 weekend last weekend, and the 208 week mark the Friday before that. I can’t remember the last time I had that many triggers of reflection so close to each other. Still, it was fine, I was fine, and I got a lot done over that week.

I was so busy last week that I didn’t have a chance to record my weekly podcast episode—and I have to describe it that way because I’m kinda proud it’s finally weekly again—so I didn’t get that done until Friday. That evening, I went over to my cousin-in-law’s for dinner, and then took my mother-in-law back to her place on my way home. The weather was somewhat rainy that evening.

On Saturday, one of my sisters-in-law drove me and her mum (my mother-in-law) to Auckland where we were meeting up with family for dinner at the first Wahlburgers in New Zealand, which is located on Princes Wharf on Auckland’s waterfront. The wharf was officially opened on 12 May 1929 and was completely redeveloped in the late 1990s. I’m pretty sure that in 2013, Nigel bought our new iPhones (both 5c—mine was baby blue and his was light green…) from a guy who was living in an apartment on Princes Wharf.

The get-together was organised by a cousin-in-law. and it was great visiting with family we don’t see very often, especially some of the cousins from Nigel’s dad’s side of the family (including the one who organised the evening). For a few times, we met-up at a pizza place in Auckland, but in 2018 Nigel and I couldn’t go (I can’t remember why not), and between his death and Covid lockdowns and restrictions, we just didn’t get the chance again until now. A bit of trivia: The September Solstice arrived while we were there (at 6:59pm, to be precise). I can confirm that I didn’t notice anything at that time.

I’ve never eaten at Wahlburgers before, and it was nice. I’d say the prices were in the mid-high range: A bit more that mid-range prices, but somewhat below the high-price range. My burger was the “Chef Paul’s Choice” which was described as “beef patty, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, American cheese, Paul’s signature Wahl Sauce”, but the version of it I had was the “Aotea Burger” which added “beetroot, pineapple & egg”, any or all three of which are common on a NZ burger. The only thing I didn’t care for was their “loaded side” called “Truffle Parmesan”, which was fries “tossed in truffle oil & served with truffle aioli”. For my tastes, it had an odd chemical-like taste.

When we left, it was raining steadily, not exactly driving or heavy rain, but enough of both to make driving more challenging than gentler rain would’ve been. I was back home to a very happy Leo shortly after 10pm. Leo apparently didn’t hold a grudge for me leaving him alone two nights in a row.

Overnight, New Zealand’s clocks “sprang ahead” to New Zealand Daylight Time (NZDT). All my devices, including my watch, updated automatically, of course, but I also have four wall clocks to reset, something I talked about when we “autumned back” (because Kiwis don’t say “Fall” for that season…) this past April. Only one clock is done so far, but I tested my smoke alarms and they're good.

I realised today that back in April I said that I never change the oven and microwave clocks, but I didn’t say why not. The reason is simple: I don’t know how. I got out of the habit of changing the microwave at our last house because every time there was a bad storm, the power went out, and I got sick of resetting it all the time. I eventually forgot to do it, and Nigel was no more interested in figuring it out than I was.

There have also been several power failures since I moved into this house, and that’s meant that the oven and microwave clocks would need to be reset—but I moved the owner’s manual for the oven, and can’t remember where I put it (this was well before I created my “Somewhere Safe” listings). Also, both the microwave and the oven are under the kitchen benchtop, and that means I have really need to sit on the floor in order to be able to do it. That’s not the issue: Getting back up off the floor is the issue.

Even so, the reality is that I don’t need either clock for anything, so I don’t have any incentive to figure them out (or deal with getting back up off the floor…). Besides, in this case there are no consequences to my being lazy indifferent about those clocks, so I’m carpe-ing the heck out the diems by not wasting my time changing them twice a year.

Now, if only the law would change so I could stop having to change any clocks. At least I got to have a really nice weekend, despite the changing clocks. And rain. Seeing whānau more than made up for the weather—though I wouldn’t mind a quieter week this week.

Friday, September 22, 2023

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 399 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 399, “For years”, is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast episode, along with any other episode.

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

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

The fourth horrible anniversary

It's now four years since I lost my beloved Nigel. This year, that means it’s also 48 months, and, because of Leap Year, it’s been 1461 days, or 208 weeks + 5 days. That list may seem like I’m aware of how many hours it’s been, or how many minutes (some 35,000 hours and more than 2.1 million minutes, for the record). The reality is much simpler and much more complicated than that. Here at the four year mark, I’m trying to work out what this means now.

In some ways, today was the easiest Horrible Anniversary so far. When I posted the graphic up top to my personal Facebook this morning, I said in a comment:
This year I’ve been particularly reflective in the lead-up to the Horrible Anniversary—the nickname I gave the first one. I haven’t been sad or morose or anything—there’s been no wailing and gnashing of teeth, nor rending of garments—only calm. I’ll do a blog post about the day later, and I’ll post a link in the comments to this post when I do, but I decided yesterday that I’ll spend the day doing some routine chores around the house, things that relate to my current (and future) life—though I’ll be thinking of Nigel, of course. Anyone who knew him in life knows that he’d endorse this plan—though no doubt with a crack like, “it’s about time you finally did that chore”.
Yesterday, I got out the line-trimmer and did all the edges in the back, intending to do the front afterward. I didn’t. So I did the front this morning, followed by mowing out front and part of the back yard. I recharged the battery, then finished mowing the back. This work was was overdue (due to bad weather; this was what the “it’s about time you finally did that chore” line was referring to). It was also incredibly difficult work. There was one more thing I wanted to do today, but I used up all my energy reserves with the mowing and line-trimming.

I’ve said before that Nigel was opposed to me mowing the lawns at our last house—and today I’ll admit I thought he may have been right. However, it was precisely because this is something I never did while Nigel was alive that made me pick it: It’s a bigger symbol of how much my life has changed than any other routine chore I do.

I’ve been avoiding spending any money I don’t have to, so I didn’t want to do anything like last year, when I bought a couple cushions for my sofa, and yet I wanted to continue what I started last year. As I said at the time:
Up until now, this anniversary has been about being sad about losing Nigel and our life together, and it will come around every year, no matter what, and I’ll experience it every year. I realised today that I can choose a more positive path forward. It’s true that my life is on this changed story arc because of what happened three years ago today, but I feel that taking this as a day to focus on the life I’m building is the best possible way to take what’s an unhappy day and make it into a positive one.

What I do doesn’t have to be anything big or expensive (those cushions definitely weren’t) or over-complicated, just something, anything, focusing on the life I’m now building. I have plenty of good days with great, happy memories to celebrate Nigel and the life we had together, but from now on, this one day can be about building my new life, rather than why I’m doing that. Maybe Nigel whispered this idea into my ear, too.
All of which is why I chose routine chores today, ones that are directly related to the life I have now. I knew that I do a lot of thinking while I do that yard work, and since I knew I’d be thinking about Nigel anyway, I may as well get something productive done, too. It worked well, and I even closed all three rings on my watch.

But that gets at something bigger that’s going on, and I don’t know how I feel about it. Starting last year, I wanted to start moving to acknowledging what happened on September 20, 2019, and why I call it The Horrible Anniversary, without making it only about that. I want to focus on all the good Nigel and I had, and how even now he continues to influence my life and me for the better, and not just focus on what happened to him on this date. This is why I haven’t treated this date like anniversaries I celebrate by including a list of links to previous years’ posts.

I also knew I wanted to to focus on Nigel himself on what’s a positive day—his birthday—and not use this date for that and the inevitable sadness that it’s wrapped up in. I feel Nigel deserves to be thought of for the good and wonderful, and NOT for how his life ended, and that it ended far too soon. I also think I deserve to not be kept in the dungeon of despair that focusing too much on the sadness of this date could mean: The memories are still guaranteed to make me cry, and even sob, if I think about them too long.

I learned a long time ago that while grief journeys are unique to each survivor, most people don’t “get over” this sort of grief. Instead, we learn to coexist with it, and that’s exactly what I’m trying to do.

I’ve spoken before how the time beginning around the time of the final Covid Lockdown in late 2021 and lasting until late last year/early this year was incredibly hard on me. It slowly got worse over time, and eventually there were times when I was astonished that it was possible to feel so thoroughly awful one day, only to feel even worse the next. Because of that time, I now understand what the word despair really means, and how emotional pain can be so deep and suffocating AND how it can leave the sufferer completely unaware of how bad it really is. In fact, it was only on my out of that hell that I thought to myself, “well, that was some pretty heavy shit…”

I can’t offer any sage wisdom on why it happened—although, the reason for that Lockdown and the fact it began shortly after Jake died certainly didn’t help matters. The reality, though, is that it was entirely unique to me. So, too, is what helped me get myself back out—even though at the time I wasn’t aware that that’s what it was doing. One of the main things that helped me was creating my personal organisation system: For the first time since Nigel died, I felt I got back some of the control over my own life that I lost when I lost him.

Another thing that moved me forward, though, was how I decided to handle The Horrible Anniversary last year, because of the shift in thinking it represented: Choosing to be positive—when it’s possible to do so—really can help, it turns out.

Last year, I also set out the rest of my truth about this date:
To be clear, I’ll always remember what happened on this date, and I know the anniversaries can still turn out to be emotional for me. But I’d rather remember my beloved Nigel and the wonderful life we had and the memories we made than focus on the day and moment it all ended. That’s my way. There’s one more thing: I know with absolute certainty that Nigel would be happy I’ve reached this point—and he’d then get that cheeky grin on his face and make some sort of joke at my expense. THAT’S where I want to be on this date. Today, I was.
The same was true for today, too. Today is an anniversary that I’ll always know about, obviously, but I know that I can choose how I respond to it. Being reflective, as I’ve been lately, is fine—in fact, it’s good to reflect on our lives. But I don’t want to feel sad and awful, and I know damn well that Nigel wouldn’t want that for me, either.

I was recently doing some yard work, and when I came in to rest, I heard a crash in the garage. I thought that that one of my garden implements had fallen over, but when I went and looked, they were all standing up in the laundry area where I'd left them. This week, I saw what the noise was:

That photo is of a hard plastic platter that Nigel and I bought some time after we moved back to Auckland in 2006. We also bought a matching square serving bowl, too, and both were for some sort of family party (maybe Christmas at our house in 2006). Nigel wrote his initials on the back of the platter and the bowl so we could get them back.

While I don't know why the tray picked that moment to fall on the floor and break, I discovered it in the midst of the Pride 48 weekend, and that was after my reflective Friday that marked 208 weeks. I saw it lying there, and instantly saw the symbolism: It was like the life we had together, now broken and irreparable. The difference, though, is that while I’ll throw out the broken platter, I’m taking the pieces of our shattered life and gluing all the good parts together to make something new. It’s a work in progress—and so am I.

This day now helps me to see how much progress I’ve made, and how much more work I have to do. Mostly, though, it reminds me of what a strong foundation I’m building on, thanks to Nigel and our life together, and how I don’t have to be sad. Nigel would be glad about that, too.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

The secret message in my kitchen

There are things that people do that, if we pay really close attention, or are just lucky, will show us a lot about what’s going on with someone. There are big and obvious things (like self-destructive behaviours, or massive home renovations, or whatever), but what I’m talking about are the far more subtle things, the stuff that may remain entirely unnoticed, and so, their messages are missed. Like kitchen adventures, for example.

I’ve shared a lot of photos and stories about my own kitchen adventures, including tales of new recipes I’ve tried, old ones I’ve resurrected, or maybe some new kitchen gadget or a product I’ve tried out. This evening, I realised how those kitchen adventures are evidence of a much bigger tale.

The photo up top is the dinner I made myself this evening. At first, it may seem that it’s nothing particularly remarkable, because it isn’t: Just some frozen crumbed fish fillets (New Zealand fish, of course…), some small “boiling potatoes” (that I steamed), and some frozen vegetables. However, it’s an example of what I’m talking about because it shows how much has changed for me since I moved into this house.

I bought the potatoes because they were on special (they also had similarly small “baking potatoes”), and when I saw that this meal was what popped into my head (I had the fillets in the freezer already), and that’s something that seldom happened in the before times. Moreover, I made extra potatoes so I could slice them up and fry them tomorrow to have with—well, that doesn’t matter right now, the point is, I made extra with a plan to make something else tomorrow. I don’t remember this happening before.

A few months ago, I realised that when I make my modified Red Lentil Dahl recipe, I could make extra that I make into a different kind of curry the next night (sometimes I add chicken, other times vegetables—whatever I’m in the mood for). A couple times I’ve made my pasta sauce with brown lentils, and then the next night I added fajita spices and kidney beans to make a meatless chili to serve on corn ships as a variation on the sort of nachos that Nigel and I used to have quite often.

Until I moved into this house, I never did that sort of planning and re-purposing—I made something new every time. The reason I didn’t do this back then is simple: It never occurred to me. I also know that it’s almost like I’m now living my mother’s teaching: When I was younger I used to say something about us having leftovers, and she’d say with mock indignation, “they’re not leftovers, they’re planned overs!” I was teasing then, which she knew, but many decades later, I’m now doing what she did.

My kitchen adventures began out of a bit of boredom, especially during the times of Covid lockdowns and near-lockdowns when I couldn’t get together with anyone. Then they expanded into a bit of a challenge, not merely modifying the recipes over time (something I’ve always done), but also seeing what else I can do to cook once and get two dinners out of it. To me, that was more interesting that merely having leftovers the next day.

All of this is an indication of my personal evolution over the past few years. While some of it was born of boredom, the majority of it came about because I started to think differently, even a bit creatively, about what had always been a very basic task for me: Making dinner.

I’ve sometimes wished that this “awakening”, for lack of a better word, had happened a long time ago so that Nigel could’ve benefitted from it, too. In his last few years, though, I felt miserable too often to feel very creative about much of anything. I wouldn’t say that I feel all that much better physically now, just different, but that’s given me enough space to start thinking in new directions.

There have been other areas where this happened, even one that’s a bit weird (to me): I often realise I’m designing furniture in my head—nothing elaborate, but made to be exactly what I want, without having to compromise by accepting what’s available (I could make it for less than retail, too…). None of that has come to anything yet because the garage is still a rubbish tip, and there’s no hope of setting up any sort of work space—yet. I suppose the bright side is that there ought to eventually be other creative things I can share besides my latest meal.

Tonight, though, it was making a meal that made me realise how much that particular area of my life has changed over the past few years, and how it’s related to thinking more creatively, and all of that is evidence of my personal evolution over that time.

I know that to some people, this may not seem like a very big deal, but it’s actually pretty huge. Sometimes it’s easy for someone in my position to feel that nothing is getting any better, that the best is already over, and then we suddenly see the evidence of progress that was hiding in plain sight all along. So, yeah, some frozen fish fillets, some steamed potatoes, and some frozen vegetables aren’t a very big deal at all—but they’re actually SO much more than that.

The photo up top has a weird bluish crescent-like patch along the lower left edge of the plate. That’s a reflection of the skylight I had installed in the kitchen, and it's there because it’s already staying lighter significantly later than only a few weeks ago. In fact, at 7pm tonight, when I let Leo outside, I noticed there was still noticeable light in the sky. Also, the daytime temperatures in Hamilton for the rest of this week should be in the low 20s (around 70F). Absolutely nothing stays the same forever, even me.

Communication from beyond?

Humans have created many different beliefs about what happens after death ever since they evolved into human beings—or maybe even earlier, for all we know. The question, “is there anything after death?” has been at the heart of all of the thousands of religions humans have created over thousands of millennia, and it’s probably one of the main reasons religions still exist. There’s no way to know for sure if there’s anything after humans die, and, if something does, what that might be. However, that doesn’t stop people believing they can communicate with the dead or vice versa. Whether one has a religion or not, the possibility that communication might be possible is enticing, if nothing else.

Last month, Pew Research Center released the results of a survey, reporting that “Many Americans report interacting with dead relatives in dreams or other ways” (see their chart up top). Pew noted:
While the survey asked whether people have had interactions with dead relatives, it did not ask for explanations. We don’t know whether people view these experiences as mysterious or supernatural, or whether they see them as having natural or scientific causes, or some of both.

Those are important caveats, because, for example, there are people who have no religion, but who are nevertheless sure they’ve had such interactions, and there are religious pe0ple who say they have not. The details of that are interesting:

Roughly two-thirds of Catholics (66%) and members of the historically Black Protestant tradition (67%) have ever experienced a visit from a deceased family member in some form. Evangelical Protestants are far less likely to say the same (42%).

Roughly half (48%) of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated – atheists, agnostics, and those who report their religion is “nothing in particular” – say they have ever been visited by a dead relative in a dream or other form. However, those who describe their religion as nothing in particular are much more likely to say they have ever been visited by a deceased loved one (58%) than are agnostics (34%) and atheists (26%).
We would expect atheists and agnostics to have a lower likelihood of saying they’ve ever had interactions with dead loved ones, but considering how much emphasis Christianity places on death and their version of an afterlife, it frankly surprised me that “evangelical protestants” weren’t all that much more likely to say they’d had such interactions than agnostics were.

Be that as it may, it’s also clear that for all segments of society, dreams were most likely to be the way the interaction happened. I think that’s thoroughly unsurprising: Everyone dreams (apparently), and many people would have dreams with dead loved ones in them—I have, too. The question is really whether they believe the dream was some sort of visitation by the loved one or not, because that, it seems to me, is what would—or, maybe I should say could—make it an interaction rather than merely a dream. My own dreams haven’t answered that question for me.

The first dream I wrote about here was ”The dream about my ‘only you’”, three years ago this month. While that dream felt relevant to what I was feeling at the time, it didn’t seem even remotely like some sort of visitation or whatever because, while it was related to Nigel, it wasn’t actually about him—and possibly didn’t even have him in it.

The next dream I remembered (and remembered to write down at the time, which isn’t necessarily the same thing) came in January 2022. That dream was, as I said at the time, “A different and unusual, usual sort of dream”. That particular dream had elements that were kinda, sorta visitation-like, but was it one? I didn’t think so.

In June of this year, I had another dream with Nigel in it, one that, like my dream in September 2020, the dream was about what I was feeling at that time, though this one was also a bit like the January 2022 dream in that it had kinda, sorta visitation-like elements to it.

In the final post of my Ask Arthur 2020 series, I answered a question about dreams that Roger Green asked. In that post, I talked about dreams (or snippets), two of which involved Nigel. I didn’t talk about them anywhere else, and neither of them seemed particularly kinda, sorta visitation-like.

And then, there’s that other time…

In July 2022, I published a post, “An unusual thing happened”. in which I talked about the closest I’ve ever come to a possible visitation:
It was about an hour or so before my target time to get up, I was lightly asleep, deep enough to not be aware of my surroundings or to have conscious awareness of dreams, and also not awake enough to have any sort of self-directed dream. In fact, at the time, it didn’t seem like I was dreaming at all.

So, I was in that thick fog that lies on either side of the border between sleep and wakefulness, and I heard Nigel’s voice saying clearly and distinctly, “Are you there?” There were no visuals of any kind, just the sound, and it startled me awake. I felt kind of frightened, to be honest, for no rational reason, except, maybe, that it sounded so real, and that’s physically impossible.
Part of what made that so confronting is that, as I also said in that post, “When I dream, the people in them don’t sound much like they do/did in real life—they sound kind of muffled, mumbling, often kind of vague…” That’s what made the “unusual thing” so very different from any of my dreams with Nigel in them.

When I wrote about the dream, it reminded me that I’d had another experience I couldn’t explain, one that felt very much like a visitation from my mother because “it definitely felt real, both physically and in that sort of ethereal way we feel when we’re physically close to someone with whom we have a strong connection,” something I felt a weaker version that I felt was Nigel’s presence.

I’ve said main times, and in many ways, that my scepticism around the idea of some sort of existence after death, and also the possibility of communication with/from the dead. Is NOT the same as rejection of the possibility that one or both are real. I simply need evidence, something I also talked about in the “An unusual thing happened” post.

Having said all of that, and with all of my qualifications and explanations, if I’d been surveyed by Pew Research, the only honest I answer could have given was that, yes, I was visited in a dream. Whether that actually happened or not is the question I cannot answer. However, for me, the possibility it could’ve been communication from Nigel was comforting, and even if that comfort was all there was to it, it was enough for me. Maybe that’s true for the people surveyed, too?

Still, as Shakespeare’s Hamlet said, “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” So… maybe?

Monday, September 18, 2023

Streaming nostalgia

This weekend I listened to the final Pride 48 live-streaming event held from remote locations, something that I was involved with for several years. In fact, in the early days I was one of the folks nicknamed “The Suits” because we planned and worked on the event (and I was also even a host). But when the group started doing in-person events (first in Las Vegas, later in New Orleans), I moved into the background. Although Nigel and I both wanted to go to an in-person event, it just wasn’t feasible for many reasons, and then all sorts of things happened. That meant that I never participated in a remote event again.

This weekend was unusual for me: It’s been a long time since I spent time listening to live shows from the folks I was interacting with all the time back in the day, and since I participated with many of the same folks in the chat. It was as fun as it was back in the old days, and it also made me nostalgic about those days—and maybe a bit disappointed that I didn’t sign up to do a show.

I thought about doing a live show this year, but—as usual—I forgot all about it until it was too late. It turned out that several shows backed out, but I didn’t know that until the last minute, and—that was for the best. I don’t remember a lot of what we used to do, and, things have changed since then. As it was, I had to get set-up with Discord so I could chat (it was something I’d never done). That, at least, was easy.

Fortunately for me, I was invited to take part in the final show on Saturday night (US time, Sunday here). That meant using Zoom, something I haven’t used since the Covid Times. I had to figure that out all over again, and I did. The show was a lot of fun, and, of course, also nostalgic.

Back when I was helping to run the streaming marathons, I always felt sad at the end of the event. Most of that was because we’d put so much work and energy into it, and we’d also probably had at least a little sleep deprivation. What was unexpected for me this year was that I felt the same way when the event ended.

After it was over (early this afternoon my time), I did some stuff around the house, and tried to distract myself. The deep sadness I was feeling eased, as I expected, but I know that part of the reason this happened today was that the event reminded me of how much has changed, and with the fourth Horrible Anniversary in two days, I’m keenly aware of loss right now.

My past couple years in particular have been about building and rebuilding. I’ve been trying to build whatever my life will be, and also to rebuild myself and life from the great shattering. There have been many setbacks over the past few years, but I keep pushing myself forward because—well, it’s what I do. Sometimes it’s been damn hard work, but there’s also been a lot of what are, to me, encouraging signs of progress.

I’ve now resumed podcasting every week, and this year is already a more productive blogging year than last year, even if I stopped right now (I passed the 2022 total on September 8). I realised this weekend that the reason for the progress on both is that they matter to me: They were things that I always enjoyed and found fulfilling. So, of course I’ve started doing more podcasting and blogging.

At the same time, though, I’m also aware of the big roll Nigel played in encouraging me to blog, and then podcast, something I most recently mentioned in a post on Wednesday of last week. Nigel also participated in Pride 48, as well as supporting me while I did. All of which means that in this area, as with so many others, his influence is significant, both in the past and even now: I very probably wouldn’t be blogging and/or podcasting had it not been for him, and that makes it yet another reason my life is so much fuller now, even without Nigel in it, than it could've been without his support and encourangement during our life together, and his continuing influence even now.

While this weekend was nostalgic and sometimes reflective for me, and even though there was some sadness associated with it, too, I nevertheless enjoyed it a lot. The weekend gave me a chance to reconnect with old friends, it helped me realise how important blogging and podcasting are to me, and how much Nigel had to do with making all of that possible.

I intend to keep pushing things forward, to continue to focus on what I value and what’s important to me. I’ve come to believe that this is the best way for me to discover whatever my life will become. This is also the only way I know to repay Nigel for all he gave to me.

I never expected a nostalgic weekend to be so helpful.

Friday, September 15, 2023

208 weeks, but not a year

Today is kind of a weird thing—the horrible anniversary of Nigel’s death, yet not the anniversary. Maybe that’s just a curiosity, but it’s been on my mind all month.

Most people I’ve known who have lost someone important are keenly aware of this sort of split, mostly because more years than not, such anniversaries fall on different days of the week than when the loss actually happened. The first year or so, I needed to know how many weeks it had been, but now it’s only once a year I pay any attention to that—only In September.

I don’t think it’s possible for most people to forget the date they lost their person, though not all will know or even care about the number of weeks. The only thing that’s universally true about grief journeys is that they’re all unique. I’ve learned that fighting oneself over how and when memories and feelings happen is pointless because they’ll happen anyway, and trying to suppress or ignore them can make things worse: The thoughts and memories can become more intrusive and possibly far more intense.

To me, those feelings and memories are a bit like a cat demanding attention: Give them a little patting, maybe a treat, and they’ll eventually go do their own thing. Ignore them or—worse—try and tell them to be quiet, and they’ll continue to intrude into your awareness. Sometimes giving them that little attention will mean the memories will curl up in your lap, purring contentedly—and they’re less likely to bite and scratch you.

Even under the best scenario, other memories can intrude. Today, after I posted a version of this post on my personal Facebook, I saw a Facebook “Memory” for today, and it turns out that it was four years ago today—September 15, 2019—that Nigel and I broke the news that he had late-stage liver cancer. I know now that it was the second to last public thing we worked on together, the last being his funeral plans. Sometimes I think FB’s “Memories” thing isn’t such a great feature.

Everything about that Friday 208 weeks ago today is seared into my brain—including, even, that it was a Friday. I know that if I try to ignore all that, it’d be all I could think about all day, and I have things to do, and life to live, as always.

So, today—and next Wednesday—I’ll do what I always do on all days with powerful memories attached to them: I’ll honour my past, celebrate those who helped me become who I am today, learn from it all, and carry all of the good stuff and lessons into my future. Nigel was—and still is—the single most important person in my adult life. If my psyche wants me to acknowledge the number of weeks it’s been since I lost Nigel, that seems like a fair request given everything I gained from sharing life with him.

Next year, the fifth anniversary will be back on a Friday (because 2024 is another Leap Year). That might mean that this could well be the last year I’m aware of the number of weeks. However, memories and their triggers are unpredictable, so I can’t know that until next year.

Despite all that, today I brought the recycling bins back from the kerb, fed Leo, did numerous household chores, and took my mother-in-law to to my brother-in-law’s house for dinner—all very ordinary things. That’s because despite what happened 208 weeks ago today—or, one year ago this coming Wednesday—my life continues its very ordinary path.

The point, then, isn’t the horrible anniversary (by weeks or years or any other measure), but, instead, what came before it and what's come since. We’re all the sum of our experiences and memories, and we’re constantly adding to both until we aren’t. Today, I’m merely reminded of how odd the passage of time itself can be. Next week, the actual horrible anniversary, will be day to reflect on everything about it—what it means, how things have changed, and, of course, my memories.

Memories intrude themselves, like they did today. 208 weeks or one year? The result is the same, even if the days and dates are different, and my current life is one of those results. I always remember that, too.

Unusually, this post came before what I posted as a comment on my post on my personal Facebook: It was an edited and shortened version of this blog post. However, when I prepared this post for the blog, I added in other comments I made on Facebook, and added a bit more besides. As far as I can remember, this is the first time my content has intermingled so thoroughly.

Kitchen adventures

I continue to have kitchen adventures, even if I don’t talk about them as much as I used to. Some of them are meals I make, whether new to me, variations, or old favourites, but others are about products I’ve tried or even kitchen gadgets. I think it’s time for a little kitchen catch-up.

The photo up top is of four meals I’ve made for myself over the past month. While none of have especially earth-shattering, each has been quite nice, which is always the goal, of course.

The meal in the upper left corner waa last night’s dinner: A poached egg on smashed avocado on top of a piece of toasted homemade (breadmaker) bread. I’ve made it before, and always enjoyed it. The only difference this time was that when I made the egg, I stirred the water in the pit into vortex which, a TV chef assured, made the egg turn out like in a cafe. It worked—but I cooked it tiny bit too long because I got my timing wrong. Oops. I was still nice, though.

The top right photo is a variation of the chicken stir fry-ish meal I’ve made for years, but using noodles instead of rice. It’s adapted from the packet noodles came in—just not these particular noodles. The main difference between my old method and this is the sauce, for lack of a better word: A half cup of chicken stock mixed with some oyster sauce, grated ginger, and some cornstarch. I haven’t finished tinkering with the recipe yet, so I don’t yet have a full methodology, but I may eventually post about it as I have so many other dishes.

The lower left meal, from the end of August, was corned silverside cooked in the slow cooker. I made it the way Nigel taught me, but I haven’t made it in a very long time—maybe not since he died. It was going to be a blog post on its own so I could mention that corned silverside and corned beef are basically the same thing, but silverside is different cut than the brisket that’s more common in North America. Nigrl’d method is to put the meat in the slow cooker, fille it aroubd half way up the meat with water, add around a tablespoon of malt vinegar (a type of grain vinegar), around a tablespoon of brown sugar, and some peppercorns, and let it cook on low all day. We sometimes put in potatoes or onions, and this particular time I put in some cabbage.

Finally, the meal on the lower right is my macaroni and cheese, again using one of Nigel’s recipes. The whole reason I made it was because I had some Tasty Cheese, a type of cheddar in New Zealand and Australia. I don’t normally have that cheese, and it does make a difference, I think.

Not all my kitchen adventures are about meals themselves. For example, I recently bought a New Zealand-made dough scraper. I wanted one after I tried making gnocchi. Especially the most recent time, this past July. The person in the video I mentioned in that July post used a dough scraper, and I’ve seen them used on countless other cooking shows over the years. When one of the NZ online retailers I sometimes order form had it on special, and I saw it was made in NZ, the sale was made. It’s one of those things that I won’t need very often, but when I do, it’s definitely nice to have.

Those are a few of my recent kitchen adventures, and there are more to come, including testing various pre-made products. Right now, though, I have to get ready to leave for dinner. Someone else is cooking tonight.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 398 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 398, “17 and 28”, is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast episode, along with any other episode.

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

Anniversaries 17 and 28

17 years ago today, I began my AmeriNZ Blog, and I began my podcast six months later. I’m still doing both, so I guess that means I was a “content creator” way before the term was invented?

More importantly, yesterday was the 28th anniversary of when I arrived in New Zealand as a tourist, and Nigel and I met in person for the first time. That went well: I was back to live here permanently seven weeks later.

Those are the high points in what’s otherwise a terrible month for me—so much so that my theme song for the month is Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends”.

However, these two anniversaries are firmly linked because in 2004, Nigel first suggested I start a blog. Then, when I finally did in 2006, he suggested I start a podcast, and, after I did that, he kept buying me better and better equipment to do it. I may have started one or both without him in my life, and his encouragement, but it’s also possible I never would’ve.

So, the fact that my blog turns 17 today is directly connected to fact that Nigel entered my life 28 years ago. Despite all the sadness and pain that this month dredges up for me, and the fact that’s also connected with Nigel, what I think of most up until mid-September is how much being with him changed my life, and how grateful I am for that. Of course, that’s also precisely what makes the second half bad—specifically, that he’s not here. But the good stuff? OMFG, the stack is higher than any mountain. The blog is barely a foothill amid so much good, but it’s still one of the many good things Nigel helped bring into my life.

Despite everything, the good stuff is—by far—what I think about the most. Always.

Previous posts on my blogoversaries:

Anniversay Time (2007)
Blogoversary 2 (2008)
Anniversaries Three and Fourteen (2009)
Fourth blogoversary (2010)
Fifth blogoversary (2011)
Sixth blogoversary (2012)
Seventh Blogoversary (2013)
Ten years of the AmeriNZ Blog (2016)
The AmeriNZ Blog is eleven (2017)
The AmeriNZ Blog is twelve (2018)
The AmeriNZ Blog is thirteen (2019)
The AmeriNZ Blog is fourteen (2020)
The AmeriNZ Blog is fifteen (2021)
The AmeriNZ Blog is sixteen (2022)

Previous posts about my arrival anniversary (the first three are repeated from above):

Anniversary Time (2007)
Blogoversary 2 (2008)
Anniversaries Three and Fourteen (2009)
Where it began (2010)
Anniversary of the beginning (2011)
Another anniversary (2012)
18 years ago today (2013)
19 years ago today (2014)
Twenty years ago today (2015)
21 years ago today (2016)
22 years ago today (2017)
23 years ago today (2018)
24 years ago today (2019)
25 years ago today (2020)
26 years ago today (2021)
27 years ago today (2022)

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Circling games

This morning I saw something I’d never seen before. I’d glanced out my front windows because it suddenly got a bit darker due to a low rain cloud moving between my house and the sun (the sky is otherwise partly cloudy). While I was looking, I noticed a bird flying over some houses the next street over. It was some sort of hawk, I think. And then I saw something new.

The bird stopped flying in a straight line and started circling, and I wondered what it was doing. I then realised that part way along its circle, it stopped flapping its wings, and it just glided: It had found a thermal updraft and glided round and round on it—for fun? Eventually it disappeared into that low cloud.

That cloud floated over my house, dropped some rain, and kept moving, in what’s an otherwise sunny day. I don’t know where the bird went.

Since I moved into this house, I’ve seen a lot of things I wouldn’t have noticed before, some of which I probably never had the chance to see (like all those photos of the night sky—or daytime sky, for that matter—in my neighbourhood). I’d like to think I’m more inclined to notice things, but it’s probably mostly just luck. I’ll take it.

And I hope that bird had a good time.

The title of this post is a nod to Joni Mitchell’s 1970 song, ”The Circle Game”, something I first heard at university in 1982—and have loved ever since [LISTEN]. This post is a somewhat revised version of what I posted to my personal Facebook this morning.

When the arc appears

Every once in a while, we may be confronted with an awareness of how the arc of change in our lives shifted us in new directions. Yesterday, I faced exactly that when Facebook served up a “Memory” (image above. When I shared it on Facebook, I said:
This is so interesting to me: Back then, I brought an actual camera with me to take photos, though it was digital, of course (Nigel and I were early adopters and had been using them for MANY years by then). Nowadays, I exclusively use my phone—and have for at least six or seven years (with very rare exceptions, chiefly for digitising old photos). This is one of a handful of areas where I can actually map out my own shift in the use of technology.
In that Memory, I was talking about some trips I’d made around Auckland that month, and I took photos that I shared on this blog (a list of the posts I think I was talking about in 2009 is at the bottom of this post). In those days, I used a digital camera because I didn’t yet have a smart phone (the iPhone was released on 29 June 2007, a little more than two years earlier). We had several different cameras over the years, and as far as I can remember, the first time I ever took one somewhere to take a photo was around 2000 or 2001—though that probably wasn’t the first time I ever took a digital photo. So much time has passed, though, that I simply can’t remember for sure, and, anyway, most of us aren’t paying attention to the shifts in our own personal technology.

I remember feeling very uncomfortable taking photos in public back in those days, partly because some of the cameras had the sound of a shutter that couldn’t be turned off, as it can now with smartphones. A bigger issue for me in those early days was that the general public wasn’t as used to seeing people taking photos of anything and everything; I wasn’t, either. Facebook had only been available to the general public since May 2006, and Twitter began in March. MySpace had been around since 2003, but people shared other stuff, and was pretty much over by 2007. Instagram wouldn’t begin until 2010.

All of which means that in 2009, I was still getting used to taking random photos, and was barely even starting to share them, However, in addition to this blog, I also shared the photos I was referring to in the “Memory” on my Flickr account. The service launched in 2004, was bought by Yahoo in 2005, acquired by Verizon in 2017 when it bought Yahoo, then sold to SmugMug in 2018. The current owners announced restrictions related to space in early 2019, but by that time I was already using Instagram to share photos. Besides, I was quite busy in 2019, what with turning 60 and… everything.

In the early years of my photo taking, the quality of the photos taken with a smartphone wasn’t even nearly as good as could be taken with one of our digital cameras. Over time, I started using my phone more than camera, especially because I always had my phone with me, and I had to plan to bring a camera along. My deliberate exclusive use of my phone really took off in February 2016 when I did my ”Nature Photo A Day 2016” series of posts. It was the first time I tried to use my phone’s camera to for more serious photography, something I’ve been working on ever since—helped along by constantly improving camera technology in my phones.

When Nigel and I went to the USA in 1997 and 1999, we used a film camera. In the 1999 trip, we also used a video camera that recorded on mini-VHS cassettes. I still have those cameras. I also still have the camera I used for the photos I took in 2009, and another, better camera that Nigel bought maybe a few months later (maybe longer), he after researched to find the best possible camera we could afford. I also have an even older digital camera that we once used a lot, along with two different digital video cameras. Maybe some day I’ll do a sort of “show and tell” post about all that history.

The thing is 2009, I wasn’t even remotely aware of how I was in the midst of an evolution in how I shot photos and videos. In 1999, I was still shooting film photos and our video recorder used tape. By 2009, I’d completed the move from still film cameras to fully digital, and was also in the midst of moving there with video, too. Ten years after that, in 2019, I was not only fully digital for everything, I was also using my phone exclusively.

That Facebook “Memory” yesterday helped me be fully aware of the arc of change in my life, and how it shifted me in new technological directions. I love when that happens.


”Walking the street: Along Karangahape Road” – 12 September 2009
”On Broadway (Auckland)” – 9 September 2009
”Auckland View: Birkenhead Shops” – 5 September 2009 (photo taken 4 September)

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 9

Feels weird to be back with another post in this series only one week after the most recent one. But, 1983 had big hits, littler ones, and others, like this week’s: On September 10, 1983, "Maniac" (above) by US artist Michael Sembello became Number One for two weeks, the third of four songs to have a two-week run at Number one. The song was also the second Number One song from the movie Flashdance (I talked about Irene Cara’s “Flashdance... What a Feeling” in Part 6 of this series, and that song was Number One for six weeks from late May to early July).

The was apparently originally inspired by news reports of a serial killer, but was changed to suit the movie. The two tones at the beginning were inspired by the two-toned sirens used in the UK, as interpreted in the opening of the song by US rock band Bloodrock in their 1971 song, ”D.O.A.” (an audio version is on YouTube).

The music video for “Maniac” was, just like the video for “Flashdance... What a Feeling” just a commercial for the movie, also using scenes from the film edited to go with the music. Both of the music videos were made specifically with MTV in mind.

As I remember it, I liked “Maniac” the best of the two Flashdance songs. One thing that struck me at the time was because of the last lines of the first verse: “She has danced into the danger zone, when the dancer becomes the dance,” which—intentionally or not—references a line from William Butler Yeats's poem "Among School Children", which ends with “How can we know the dancer from the dance?" However, for me that line actually made me think of the 1978 novel Dancer from the Dance, the first novel by Andrew Holleran. I had a copy of the novel, but hesitated to read it because the focus on hedonism among gay men in 1970s New York didn’t sit well in the early 1980s—although it was also that same honesty that led to it being highly regarded among the gay male literature that rose after the Stonewall Rebellion. Maybe some day I should read it.

More importantly, perhaps, at the time the song became a hit, I was often going out to the bars and clubs with friends, and high energy music was more my thing that “Flashdance... What a Feeling” was. I associate the song with a now-defunct bar called The Loading Dock that was on North Halsted in Chicago, not far from where the city’s LGBT+ focused Center on Halsted is now—and its existence was pretty much unimaginable in 1983, whenever I walked to or from the bar, walking past the site where the Center would be nearly a quarter century later.

At any rate, “Maniac” reached Number 2 in Australia, Number One in Canada (Platinum), Number 7 in New Zealand, Number 43 in the UK (Gold), as wells as Number One on the USA’s “Billboard Hot 100” and Number 3 on Cash Box
And now this series takes another brief break: It’ll be back in two weeks, on September 24, with the new Number One hit from that week in 1983. I wonder what I thought about that song…

Previously in the “Weekend Diversion – 1983” series:

Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 1
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 2
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 3
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 4
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 5
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 6
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 7
Weekend Diversion: 1983 – And also
Weekend Diversion: 1983 – And also more
Weekend Diversion: 1983, Part 8

Friday, September 08, 2023

A good day, high and low

Today was a good day. It began with a balloon, veered into religion, or not, and then into physical labour. But it all started with clear blue skies.

This morning was absolutely brilliant, and the sunshine was streaming in the front windows as I sipped my first coffee. I looked outside, as I often do, and saw a hot air balloon hanging in the sky over the neighbourhood (photo above). When I shared in on Instagram/Facebook I said:
Not every day you see a hot air balloon over the neighbourhood in September. That’s usually in March.
I was (obliquely) referring to the annual “Balloons over Waikato” festival (next year’s will be held 19-24 March, 2024). At that time of year, it’s not even remotely unusual to see hot air balloons flying around—though it’s usually earlier in the morning. This time of year, it really is a little unusual.

I’d just posted the photo when I saw a nicely dressed middle-aged man and woman walking along the footpath and then toward my house. Leo thoughtfully alerted me, even though I’d seen them. It turned out they were Jehovah’s Witnesses, who proselytise in the neighbourhood a time or two each year.

I’m always pleasant to them (no surprise, that…), but I also hold my own (pleasantly) in such discussions. I absolutely don’t care what other people believe—as long as they don’t use their religion to control other people. I also get that proselytising is a part of some religions, but I still think it’s kind of pointless. I mean, I’m still a heathen despite many, many attempts at proselytising by various religionists. Even so, I’m always nice to them (though I sometimes have to be brief if I’m in the middle of something).

As a long-time student of communication and political marketing, I thought their method was really interesting: They began asking about the upcoming election, which was actually a springboard to them to talk about their belief in what they called a “heavenly government”, and how it was the only thing that could actually solve problems like poverty and climate change. One of them asked me if the government we elect next month will solve such problems. I said, “Will it? No. Could it? Absolutely.” And that right there is the heart of our irreconcilable differences.

They were also really good at listening to pushback and gently turning it back around to what they were selling—sorry, sharing—without getting lost in the weeds. They clearly were well-trained and, I have no doubt, sincerely believed what they were saying. Unfortunately for them, there was no way I was buying what they were selling—sorry, sharing.

After they left—after maybe 15 minutes?—I carried on with my chores. I had three loads of washing to get through today in order to take advantage of the sunshine. I also had one more project to begin: The re-boot of my efforts to civilise the bank along the side of my property.

Yesterday, I picked up some some stuff for Leo, and the pet store is near a small, independently-owned garden centre I’ve been to a few times, though I’ve never bought anything there. I ended up buying some native plants to put along the fence-line, something I originally tried to start a couple years ago. The plan was to plant them today.

While I’ll talk about the project in more detail later on (with photos), the important part for today is that I didn’t realise how hard it would be to remove the clumps of grass that have grown on the bank near the patio, the first place I wanted to plant the new arrivals. I didn't even start to clear that area last year, so it's even worse now. I soon realised that I started too late in the day to finish the task, so my revised plan is to plant them all tomorrow—something I’m mentioning now in the hope it’ll motivate me to actually do it.

Still, we had beautiful blue skies today, with 19 degree (66F) temperatures, I got my laundry done, and I saw a big balloon flying about. Sure, god-botherers (as we call them) can be annoying, but today’s visit was a very friendly and civil encounter. All things considered, a very good day, indeed. At all levels.

It became more than a plan

My personal organisation system started out simply as a quest to find solutions, and then it became more involved. I took stock of myself, saw what others did, and that eventually led to my system. All of that is at the core of why my system’s worked for me, and in the final of this mini-series, I’ll talk in more detail about how this system came to be, and what I’ve learned along the way, especially the fact that sometimes, taking the time to think things through makes all the difference.

As I’ve said a few times, my system began because I had a lot of trouble focusing, and that meant that I often forgot about things, including important stuff. That left me feeling bad about myself, and that my life wasn’t under control. How could I move into whatever my new life is going to be if I was languishing in the chaos and disorder between what was and what will be? I needed to find ways to change all that.

The first thing I did was to start regularly using the Reminders and Calendar apps on my Mac and devices, something that predates my organisation system by a couple years (I first talked about it in February, 2021). Their strength is that they can send alarms to me on every device I use (including my watch) so that I can remember to do important things (like take my prescriptions on time). But it wasn’t enough.

For much of my adult life, I’ve had trouble with time management, and also with focus. Time problems caused me never-ending trouble, but problems with focus led to memory problems, something I at first blamed on my medication (including in several posts on this blog). Since doctors never seemed to take that complaint seriously, I decided I needed to find workarounds for those challenges.

My next step was to try and find out what organisation systems people with similar challenges used, and that led to me to to YouTube videos. A lot of them were irrelevant: Maybe they were selling something, or maybe they were pushing the motivational mumbo jumbo popular among some ambitious folks. I wasn’t climbing a corporate ladder or trying to build an entrepreneurial empire: I just wanted to make sure I paid my damn bills on time, and that remembered to take care of routine stuff around the house and in my life.

Still, this process gave me ideas for fine-tuning the system I was designing. First, I stepped up use of the Reminders app in particular, using it for literally any task I wanted to be sure I did. The “What’s Up?” section of my ring-binder was meant for logging tasks that I’d like to get done on a particular day—but no pressure: If I do, I do, but if I don’t, I just move the task to another day.

Among the most transformative sections was the “Somewhere Safe” section because it meant I no longer tried—and repeatedly failed—to remember where I put stuff. This dramatically reduced mental clutter, but it also meant that I no longer beat myself up for forgetting where I put things, with the predictable, “Why didn’t I write down where I put that?!” After I created my ring-binder, I did write that stuff down, and in a place where I could find it again (that ring-binder). So far, I haven’t “re-lost” anything. Sadly, the new system hasn’t made previously re-lost stuff magically reappear, however, I’ve noticed that I often visualise where somethingnot in the book may be (only sometimes correctly).

Taken together, my system helps me remember things I need to remember, and that means I don’t forget to pay a bill or to do a certain task on time. This has reduced my stress, worry, and self-berating, which is in many ways the most important thing about it.

However, it’s not perfect—at least, not yet. For example, I’ve come to realise that I need a way to keep track of things I need to know, but keep forgetting. My line trimmer is an example: The first few times I put new line in, I needed to look up the instructions, which I first had to find. I don’t need to do that particular thing any more (because I do it often enough that I remember), however, there are plenty other things that I rarely do and forget. I need to write down directions for doing stuff—but where am I going to keep them so, ya know, I can find them again? I’m in the final stages of designing that (more to come).

I’ve also begun realise I need an attitude shift. For many, many years, I’ve always put creative endeavours to the side, as a “nice to have”, something to be treated as a mere hobby. This led me to undervalue what is, to me, probably the most important work I do.

I used to push blogging and podcasting (along with every other creative pursuit) to the side, to be worked on if I had time. Part of that was because I had very real responsibilities to Nigel, our little family, and our household. That always came first. However, I still tried to steal some time here and there to do creative stuff, and then my poor time management and time-blindness created too my time crunches affecting my completion of routine chores—which caused me stress and distress.

I always felt I needed to schedule things—including creative stuff—so my obligations and my inner spark could all be satisfied. I never did, and that’s (technically) a regret, because if I’d done that, I would’ve been much happier and I would have been able to do more for Nigel, to help him be happier, too.

On May 24 of this year, I suddenly returned to weekly podcasting, though I didn’t know that at the time. I hadn’t planned it, and that particular day I certainly wasn’t thinking about future episodes—it just happened, and for sixteen weeks in a row so far. What changed was that I made it easy for myself: I scheduled it every week in the “What’s Up?” section of my ring-binder.

That hasn’t worked for everything.

I’ve continued to have trouble finding time to blog, something I talked about a bit in a post a week ago today. I put blogging on my daily planner, just like I schedule podcasting on Wednesdays, with little progress. What’s going on, I think, is simple: I haven’t started treating blogging—or any writing—as a regular task to do. Writing is usually far more time-consuming than podcasting (which also helps explain the difference in productivity, I think), but I always felt I should treat it like a job, with attention and commitment similar to what paid work gets. I have ideas for dealing with this, too.

In the meantime, though, the important thing about all of this is that I took stock of how I operate, including how my brain works, and also the obstacles I needed to overcome in order to achieve what I need and want to do. My system works for me because I first looked at myself, then at ways other people dealt with similar challenges, mashed it all together, and kept an open mind for changes and improvements. Sometimes, taking the time to think things through really does make all the difference.


"My new projected system" – My first blog post in which talked about the system.
"As if to prove the point" – My system hit a snag only days into it.
"Project failure" – The first post in this mini-series 6 months into using the system.
"Safe indeed" – The second post in this series, about a success.
"Six months knowing what’s going on" – The third post in this mini-series, about another success.

Thursday, September 07, 2023

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 397 is now available

AmeriNZ Podcast episode 397, “Copacetic days”, is now available from the podcast website. There, you can listen, download or subscribe to the podcast episode, along with any other episode.

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

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

Six months knowing what’s going on

Six months ago today, On March 6, 2023, I used my sorta, kinda “to do” list for the first time. It was the first part of my personal organisation system that I used, and it’s been my most-used. This has surprised me more than any other thing about my new system. After all, this wasn’t my first attempt at such a thing.

I haven’t used conventional “to do” lists in decades, however, I could see how useful it was to have a way of tracking things I needed to do. This became more important in the past couple years as I found that because I had an ongoing inability to focus, I was forgetting things, sometimes important or even critical things—though forgetting things was actually a much older problem than that. I needed a way to keep track of what I needed to get done.

Over the years, I’d tried electronic “to do” lists because I wanted something I could use on my desktop Mac and all my devices. None of them ever worked for me. In 2015, I designed a half-sheet “to do” list with 15 lines for things I needed to do in that week. It was based on something I designed in the early 1990s at the last place I worked in Chicago, but by 2015, it just wasn’t useful because my needs—and I—had changed a lot since I left Chicago.

Then, in 2016, I ran across something called The Ivy Lee Method, and I was intrigued. The system is named for Ivy Lee (July 16, 1877 – November 9, 1934), who is considered the father of modern public relations. He taught his method to Charles M. Schwab and his senior managers at Bethlehem Steel, so impressing Schwab that he paid Lee the 2016 equivalent of $400,000 for the advice.

The system couldn’t be simpler: Each night, a person is supposed to list six (and no more than six) important tasks for the following day. The next day, one focuses on getting those six things done, in order, before adding any more. Any tasks remaining undone at the end of the day are put on the list for the following day. The underlying idea is that no one has unlimited energy or attention, and so, prioritising tasks is vital. In the century since Lee taught his method, many cognitive scientists have suggested that “multitasking” is impossible for humans, that we are only capable of focusing on one task at a time. I don’t know about the rest of humanity, but that’s absolutely true for me.

I next designed some forms for myself, one sheet with listings for each week day one one for the weekend (the rationale for combing the weekend—apart from meaning I only needed six blocks instead of seven—was that weekends were always more loosely run, so setting tasks for specific days didn’t make sense.

I tried using it for a week—and gave up. I tried again later (maybe a year), and failed again. Same with only a year or so ago. The method just wasn’t connecting with me or me with it. I only turned back to it when putting my organisation system together. The photo up top is a detail from this week’s page after I put the first item on it.

By the time I got back to the system this year, I realised what had been wrong for me: I didn’t need to prioritise tasks. This had been a problem for me because of duplication: I’d have to write down six tasks for the next day, then, probably, write them down again in order of priority. I was aware that I could just use the boxes to number the tasks, however, I wanted the large boxes to check them off. More importantly, I never had any intention whatsoever of using the list for tasks with priorities.

I’ve been using the Calendar and Reminders apps on my Mac and devices for years, and by the time I moved to this house, that’s all I needed for anything with a set deadline or some urgency—and they were very few. The Ivy Lee-style sheets were for things I'd LIKE to do on a particular day, including routine tasks like running the dishwasher, mowing the lawns, laundry, blogging/podcasting—basically anything that wasn’t time-sensitive or urgent.

The result has been better than I imagined. I haven’t missed a day in six months, and I’ve found that writing down routine tasks helps me remember when later on when I did a thing (like mowing the lawns or changing my sheets, for example). Among other things, this helps me make sure I’m not leaving routine tasks undone for too long. Also, as I found when I looked at my 1992 system, I kind of like looking back at what I did on particular days. It also turns out, I’m actually much busier than I realised, and, to be brutally honest, that’s been awesome for my sense of self-worth.

These lists were the second part of the “What’s Up?” section of my ring-binder, the first being a simple list of things I need to do “at some point”, a sheet I dubbed “The Waiting Room”. I’ve never used it. Instead, when I think of something I need or want to do “at some point”, I write it down on a list for a particular day in my week, and that works well.

Like many people, I sometimes write things on the list after I’ve completed them, and for numerous reasons. Most commonly, I’ll realise I need or want to do something right then, and stopping to write it down first would get in the way and be a bad use of my time. However, checking off something on the list is, as any regular “to do” list user knows, a dopamine hit, and that includes writing something on a list and immediately checking it off. I make absolutely no apology for using something so simple to stimulate the reward centre of my brain—no one should apologise for doing that. I’ve often repeated the phrase “success breeds success”, and when it comes to completing tasks, that dopamine hit is one of the main reasons for it: Completing a task leads us to want to complete another, that gives us another dopamine hit and we then want to complete another task, and so on.

In other words, my sorta, kinda “to do” list is working with my brain’s chemistry/wiring, and not against it. And that’s the precise reason my entire system, the “What’s Up?” section in particular, has worked better than I imagined it would—actually, better than I ever thought it could.

In the final post in this mini-series, I’ll talk in a little more detail about how I came up with things to specifically target the personal needs and obstacles I identified. I’ll also talk about the next steps—because there are always next steps. Right now, though, this is the important thing to know: This whole journey has been life-changing in some important ways.


"My new projected system" – My first blog post in which talked about the system.
"As if to prove the point" – My system hit a snag only days into it.
"Project failure" – The first post in this mini-series 6 months into using the system.
"Safe indeed" – The second post in this series, about a success.

My modern mornings

Every morning, I sit down with my first cup of coffee and pick up my iPad to catch up on the news and Facebook. Then, I stop when it’s time for breakfast and morning ablutions.

Before I get up from my chair, I get ready to charge up my iPad, something I do in the morning so I can use free solar power. I charge everything except my watch using solar power; in the old days, I charged my devices overnight, something “experts” now frown on. I also update the installed Apps while it charges.

So, I next open up the App Store, and there’s usually a little red number telling me how many installed Apps have updates. It usually says 1 to 5, sometimes a bit more, and sometimes it’s zero. I refresh it, and sometimes it stays the same, and other times it doesn’t, like today: It said I had zero Apps to update, but when I refreshed, it turned out there were actually 30 (an unusually large number). I think it’s funny when there are a lot more updates than the little red number said at first—and that can often mean a major update to the iPadOS is coming.

A short time later, my Apps were up to date (for that moment…), the iPad was fully charged, and I’d also wiped the screen with a microfibre cloth—and that’s a daily task that does annoy me (see photo up top, taken in March of last year for a post I never did; the Leo hairs are a bonus).

My Apple devices can update automatically, but I like to keep a teeny, tiny bit of control over them, which is why I still do the updates manually. However, it actually started when I had an iPhone 5C that ran out of storage space every other day (not an exaggeration). I never turned on auto updates when I got new devices with adequate storage, and I realised that manual updating gives me a chance to review the Apps needing an update, and that means I notice Apps I never use. I can then either delete them or remember Apps I liked but forgot about. Sort of an unintended benefit, I guess.

It’s similar with my phone, but I often forget to to update the apps on it because I don’t update my phone every day (usually every third day, when the charge drops to around 40%). In addition to my morning ritual, I also use my iPad while I watch TV in the evening, so it generally needs daily updating. I also need to clean my phone screen less often because I don’t use it as much or as long.

All of this has been true for many, many years. In fact, the only thing that’s really changed is that I now charge my devices in the daytime using solar power. Wait, there’s one other thing that’s very different: I bought my phone and iPad for myself. In my old life, Nigel always used to buy me a new phone when I needed one (or, when he thought I did, which was often before I did), and he gave me his iPad when he moved on to something else, or decided he didn’t use it enough (that happened three times). He looked after my tech needs back then, and now I have to do it myself. I guess nothing about this is actually the same, apart from me being lazy about deleting Apps I don’t use, and also having to clean the iPad’s screen a lot.

On the other hand, my modern mornings are so familiar and routine now that I’m not even aware of how different they actually are unless I stop and think about it all, as I just did. And that, I think, is a very good thing.