Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Walking in a winter wonderland

So, New Zealand has been hit with a so-called once in a lifetime "blizzard" this week. I had to gently point out, being a former Baltimorean after all, that that term has a specific and meteorological meaning and so probably does not mean what they think it means.

Still, it's cute. Everyone's freaked out and theatres have been closing early and the mail has, literally, not run for three days.

I'm not unsympathetic. I get that it's novel and exciting and more than a little bit scary. But still, in Wellington it was, at most, a dusting. A couple of inches in higher elevations.

That being said, it's not easy being snowed in in Wellington. I remember remarking during the (actual) blizzard in Atlanta in 1993 that the problem was that the town was unequipped to deal with it. You get a foot of snow in Buffalo, the plows come out and the people go about their business. In Atlanta, they don't have plows, they have sand trucks. And try as you might, you cannot sand away a foot of snow.

The same applies here, only they don't even have sand trucks. There is literally no procedure in place to deal with snow, except to close the roads, cancel essential services, and hope.

And all for a population that, on the whole, has no central heating.

So yeah, I get it. Storm of a lifetime, apparently. Or, at least, storm of a generation. Most people I meet in Wellington have never seen snow. The last time it snowed down to sea level here was over twenty years ago. Even my own boyfriend, ever the staunch Australian, has been gobsmacked by it all, since it's the first time it's ever snowed where he lived. It's quite adorable actually.

Everyone has been quite transfixed by it, stopping to take it all in. Which is good in my world, which tends to be high pressure, everything happening fast and loose. Even the strongest and most jaded MPs (namely the one I work for) have taken a moment to stop, enjoy it and marvel at it.

The first day it hit, we were overcome in Thorndon by giant, majestic and foreign snowflakes, falling fast. I was hanging out of my window to try and capture it on film (note: it is not easy to photograph snowflakes falling) and then spotted some tween boys that live on my block running down the street, wearing shorts. One of them didn't even have shoes on.

I couldn't help myself. Before I even thought about it, I called out the window, "hey, put some pants on! You'll catch your death!"

"There's no time! I don't want to miss it!"

That's the moment that I knew, number one, that I am old. I'm that woman now, apparently, that yells at you from her window. And number two, I realised that the abject joy brought about by an unexpected snowstorm has been taken from me and handed, rightly, to the next generation.

I like to think that the next time it snows in Wellington, some twenty or more years from now, one of those boys will be bundling up his own boy to go out into the thick of it. And he'll be having a laugh as he relays the story of that old lady who yelled at him the last time it snowed.

And then he'll say, "and she was right. That's why I only have nine toes. Now lets get another pair of socks on you."

Monday, August 08, 2011

But we're never gonna survive unless we get a little.... crazy

Okay, lookit. I am more than a little bit crazy. Way more than a little bit. At times in my life, this has been treated pharmaceutically. But most often not. These days, I choose to manage my own crazy behaviorally for a lot of reasons.

The primary reason is that managing my bad crazy with drugs ends up managing my good crazy along with it, which I am not cool with. It makes me flatlined. Lacking of personality. And the reality is that I am a woman of great personality, made up of extremes. This is central to my identity.

I am wildly funny and wildly passionate and wildly happy and, then, wildly sad and wildly irrational.

I've never found a drug that could only treat those last two bits, so I have chosen just to be a little bit crazy, and sometimes sad, in order to preserve my wicked sense of humour and striking bouts of glee. It's a trade off, yes, but one I'm happy with.

I don't judge anyone else's personal decision about medication because that's exactly what it is: personal. Just as I'd ask them not to judge mine.

And btw, I'm allowed to say crazy because I am crazy. Weirdly, it's like black people and the n-word. You're not allowed to call me crazy, but I am. And it's because I know from crazy. I live it every day.

Anyway, so being crazy, as is per the norm, I had a full scale meltdown this weekend about the new place. Who the hell knows why. Maybe it's stress. Maybe it's change. Maybe it's because my toenail polish is chipped and I'm projecting.

What I do know is that the full scale meltdown, once set in play, cannot be stopped. The problem with having been a litigator is that I can work myself into a lather and marshal, literally, every bad fact about a situation into a thrilling, breathless monologue that will leave you questioning your own very existence.

Oh, yes, I'm that good.

Normally, I just hole up in my cocoon when the bad crazy happens and ride it out. But I don't have that option these days because there's this boy there sniffing around me and wondering about my well being all the time.

And so, unable to hide, I had no option but to show my crazy in full force to this poor boy. And I found myself surprised, yet again, by his stoicism and resilience and acceptance.

I was trying to explain it to someone today as I relayed my weekend meltdown. And I started by saying he puts up with my crazy, or that he endures my crazy, but that's not it, precisely.

No, he accepts my crazy. Takes it as a given and just rolls with the punches until it passes.

Last night, I was struggling to justify myself to him, once the tide had gone back out to sea. I tried to say how this bad crazy is okay because it comes with all of those other traits.

And he was all, "I know that. I know you. And believe me, I know you're crazy. I've known that from day one. And I love all of your brands of crazy. Don't ever change."

You know, I'm sure that this relationship is my karmic reward for the ghosts of relationships past, and all of the bad people who have peppered my past. And that I deserve him because of that.

But there are times where I still can't believe it's true.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

You've got to give a little, take a little...

I am currently living out a scene from When Harry Met Sally in my own life right now - the one where the couple moving in have a fight about the wagon wheel table.

Only I'm not living that fight at all because there would be no fight. That table was awesome and that lady was crazy. In fact, I have spent most of my adult life looking for a wagon wheel table for my own house. And a discarded, old-fashioned card catalogue to use as a coffee table. Kind of like a poor man's apothecary table. If you see either of these things in a thrift shop, TEXT ME.

Anyway, my fight is about leather couches. Boy-style leather couches. No wait - boy-style blue leather couches. (Which are super comfortable, btw. But that's beside the point.)

So, naturally I found myself last night at the dinner meant to celebrate the decision to move in together weeping silently about blue leather couches while I tried to explain why. Of course, it's not about the couches. It's never about the couches. It's about what the couches represent, obviously. Whatever the hell that means. I can't be held accountable for my actions. There were several hours of ruminating about couches that spiraled severely out of control until the couches represented every single decision that has ever been made in my life. Welcome to womanhood.

Not that it takes much to make me cry, either. I cry at everything. I cry when I'm sad. I cry when I'm happy. I cry when I'm stressed. I cry when I'm laughing. I cry when I hear Rocket Man, when I watch Baby Boom and when I even try to relay that scene in Dumbo where his mom is in jail and they touch trunks and one lonely tear runs down her trunk onto his.

OMG, I'm tearing up right now just thinking about that scene.

It never used to be this way. Used to be - when I was in the throes of anorexia - you could not make me cry. You could spit in my face, call my mother names and kick a kitten right in front of me and I would not cry. Wouldn't dare cry. Those days are long gone, as are the heart palpitations that came with them. I think the trade was worth it.

Anyway, so I'm sitting there. Weeping silently. Trying to hide it from the waitress and not being that successful and I look up and this idiot is looking at me with this dopey, lovestruck grin.

And I'm all, "what are you looking at?"

And he's all, "my beautiful girlfriend."

"I'm not beautiful. I'm red-faced and teary and behaving like a crazy person right here in the middle of this fancy Italian restaurant."

"You are beautiful. You're just as beautiful right now as you are when you're all made up and perfect. Personally, you're more beautiful now. Thank you for showing it to me."

Nope, it's not about the couches.

And even if it is, well, they just don't matter in the grand scheme of things.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

For your eyes only, only for you....

One of the reasons that I update this blog so infrequently is because my life is consumed by my job most days and I can't talk about my job. I actually cannot. I have clearance.

No, really. If I were going to tell you about my day, it would go something like this:

First thing this morning I got a briefing back from the Minister on [censored]. So I phoned the private secretary for the Minister for Courts to [censored]. This meant I had to run around to the Minister of Police and Corrections, and then to the Attorney-General to [censored]. But finally, it was done so I went to the Minister of Finance to [censored].

That being accomplished, I turned to the briefing on [censored]. Then I got a call from the Ministry about [censored] which meant I had to immediately go talk to [censored], [censored] and [censored].

In the end, the Minister was so pleased, he invited us to have an after work wine. Good day.

You see? Not very interesting.

Still, if I'm being honest, that is one of the kicks I get out of doing this job. I love having clearance. My only regret is that, due to my nationality, there are still some documents that come in 'NZ Eyes Only' which I'm not allowed to see. I want to see!

Funny and related story - I recently ran into this guy who has a wicked high clearance (far higher than mine), who happens to work for a NZ agency that shall not be named. So, we're having an after work chat in the Beehive bar and I mention that my father worked for the Air Force in South Dakota during the Vietnam War.

He then began to recount for me every project my Dad likely worked on. Information that, incidentally, I'm not even allowed to know and which was hidden from my brother and me our whole lives. When I mentioned this, he was all, "oops. Then, forget I said that."

Saturday, February 05, 2011

There's a woman, with hands trembling, haere mae

Today, I completed the first step in my application to become a New Zealand resident. Here in New Zealand, residence is a multi-step process that broadly resembles an interaction between two schoolyard children with a crush on each other.

First, you have to make an 'expression of interest' where you basically stare at the ground and toe the dirt and say, "uh yeah, so, I mean, I kind of want to live here? I mean if that's okay and all."

And then, New Zealand averts your eye and says, "oh yeah? Well, uh, that could be cool. Uh, you know. Why don't you show us your documents and stuff."

And then you're all, "Yeah? Well, sure. Here they are for you to look at. I mean, if you want to."

And then, all going well, New Zealand comes back with, "Um, sure. That looks alright, I guess. You can stay. You know, if that's what you want."

It's actually a lot like New Zealand dating, now that I think about it. Anyway, so now the process is in train, and that feels pretty good.

Funny word, though, 'resident'. Evokes all kinds of emotions and got me thinking about what it is to be 'home'. There are some that say, "home is where the heart is". And others that say, "home is where you hang your hat". And that's fine for most people, because those two places match, but what about those of us with a wandering soul?

Which is not to say that my heart's not in New Zealand, because it is. I wouldn't be spending the money and jumping through the hoops for the right to live here if it wasn't.

But the thing about being an expat, multiple times over now, is that you leave a little bit of your heart everywhere you go.

So, my heart is in New Zealand, zooming through the Wairarapa with the top down, hoping the spf 30 holds up against the sun. But my heart is also still sitting in my mom's house in Texas playing Skip-Bo. Or gathered with my girls having Dim Sum in Baltimore. Or bellied up to the Drop Off bar in Palau talking about the day's dive. Hell, there's even a little portion of it standing on a football field in Atlanta holding a six foot steel pole.

My hat, though, is definitely in New Zealand, so it's time to get one of those shiny permits that means I can stay.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

There is no song lyric to express what I am feeling.

So, I've been trying to wrap my head around the Christchurch earthquake for over a week now. It's amazing. I've never been anywhere near earthquakes, so I've never seen anything like it. The ground is literally ripped open. Rivers and railroad tracks completely re-routed. Brick buildings have utterly collapsed. The others are leaning. Liquefaction (best word ever, btw) has caused the streets to run muddy with a mixture of silt and sewage. Homes and businesses destroyed, tens of thousands displaced from their homes.

What I'm most struck by, though, is the extent to which, and the speed at which, Christchurch is recovering. And I have been seriously thinking about the role that socialism has had to play in that.

Now, New Zealand is not purely socialist any more than the United States is purely capitalist. However, I think we'd all agree that New Zealand is on the socialist end of the continuum.

Case in point, the government-run Accident Compensation Corporation means that every individual physically located in New Zealand (and every New Zealand resident traveling overseas) is completely covered for "accidental" physical injury. This means, basically, unforeseen. Whether or not it is that person's fault. Fall on the ice? Covered. Injury while skiing? Covered. Fall down drunk and break your own nose? Covered. It is awesome. I'm actually thinking about taking a dive one day to get that nose job I've always wanted.

It also means there is virtually no personal injury litigation in this country and that, by extension, the courts are able to process other civil disputes much more quickly. That is also awesome.

But I digress. With respect to the earthquake, it means that every individual with personal home and contents insurance on their home (owned or rental) is covered by government-sponsored earthquake insurance. It's automatic. It means that a record number of claims have been submitted in the last week and are already starting to be paid. It means insurance companies aren't in there trying to make a profit by splitting hairs. It means one entity is responsible for the payouts that will rebuild Christchurch. And that rebuilding is already underway.

So that is the concrete part of it. And that's just one part. It goes so much deeper. The more stringent building codes in this socialist-leaning government meant that the damage was not as bad as it could have been. The public run facilities meant that power was back on in hours or days and water is now safe to drink throughout Canterbury. Given the aforementioned liquefaction where the streets ran with poo, that alone is amazing.

But there is also something intangible. A socialist-leaning government understands the obligation of the government to look after its people. Within one day, the government had designated a Minister Responsible for Earthquake Recovery. Not a minor player, either. The third ranking member of the government, the Leader of the House. The Prime Minister said, "you have a bigger job to do; we'll take care of the House for you. Look after Christchurch."

This very evening, the House is sitting in something called "extraordinary urgency" to pass legislation to enable Christchurch to rebuild outside the normal red tape that would usually be required. Including tonight, extraordinary urgency has only been used a handful of times in recent memory.

All members of Parliament elected from the region have been given extended leave to tend to their constituencies. To be on the ground to give advice and form a bridge between the citizen and the government, so that they can help people get what they need both to get back on track, but also to move on.

Specialist counselors have been deployed from all over the country to handle psychological trauma; doctors and nurses have been deployed to patch up the injured; caregivers have been deployed to care for the young and the elderly.

And I am absolutely struck by the difference between this and Katrina. Both cities of comparable size. One left to rot by its government, who deemed the problem too hard; the other extended a sturdy, helping hand by the government.

That is the thing about socialism, really. It's not about higher taxes and greater public services. It's about a different attitude: a government that says, "you, citizen, are my responsibility. I take, but I also give."

It is extraordinary.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Where were you when the world stopped turning

Nine years ago today, my starkest memory is of being huddled in my downtown DC apartment waiting for the unaccounted plane to crash into the big, white house four blocks away from me. And trying to get a phone line to call my mother.

Later, I went to the Front Page to gather with the other DC loners who didn't have family and were, like me, trapped inside the city center. We silently watched the news and patted the shoulders of complete strangers and wondered what it all meant.

I do not, and cannot, know what it was like for those in New York who went through much worse that day.

But I can say this: for me, it was hell. It was terrifying and it was life-changing.

And I did not then, and do not now, hold hate in my heart for the people who happen to follow the same religion as those who committed these acts.

None of us did that day. None of us were hating anyone. We were patching together the shreds of hope and compassion our frazzled nerves still had left, and we didn't have the time to hate anyone.

I, for one, still don't.