Saturday, May 25, 2013

a letter home

The other night, driving back along the hill from town, I caught sight of the top of a crane at the port, and for a split second, I thought it was the sky tower.

I can't say it didn't hurt. A few seconds later I felt my heart return to its usual spot, and I realised it had leapt. My stomach was in knots.

I wouldn't call what I feel as a longing for the city. I don't know what it is. It isn't in my every thought, and I don't try to be reminded of it, yet anytime it's on tv or a newspaper, I breathe it in desperately, smiling at the natural recognition.

When I cry for it, it's not from emptiness. Every day, almost, I realise how much of Auckland is in me. Sometimes I feel as if someone were to cut me open, my veins would resemble spaghetti junction, and each ridge in my spine would differ slightly like each volcanic cone.

Memories wash over me, and each is centred around its location. I see the exact corner of the pub where we were when the Scottish band came in playing bagpipes and drums, and my heart swelled, and my sister gave them every bit of cash she had. I zoom out, and I see the building from the outside, as if I'm floating over it. The street is wet, and the air is blue-grey. There's mist, which looks like life; like smoke from flames, except that the flames are human bodies.

It's the strangest feeling of love. It's so strong I think it must be visible, but politeness and a desire to belong here make me try to hide it. It's in the way I fix my hair, and the things I say. It's in everything I do when I leave my house; the speed at which I drive, the space I leave in queues, the smiles I give, or don't give.

It's like a bruise. I think of it when I see it, or when something bumps it. Sometimes I press on it to make sure it's still there. Maybe I even press hard, to make it stay, in case it disappears and I do too.

I like it here. I'm on my way to being happy. I can feel the warmth. I just need to know that happiness here doesn't mean I can't go back. To belong is not something I take lightly. It took too long to feel it.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

everyone's a winner

It's been five days since I was last here, and not because I haven't wanted to be, either. Dogtown business has taken the place of my old uni work that used to keep me from reading for pleasure, in spite of the fact I wasn't actually doing my uni readings anyway. I really would have made an excellent Catholic. Anyway, this is my attempt to catch up on some of the things that have been happening.

1. If you, like me, spend evenings yelling at the news and then ranting about biased media and ownership, you will devour this article from The New Yorker's website. Even if you spend your evenings more quietly, do read it, if only to increase your paranoia. There really isn't any public media anymore, bar parliament tv, and it makes me sad and mad and freaked out. What am I missing?!? (On a related note, I can't recommend Google feedly highly enough - it's awesome! I get up every day to excellent articles, pretty photos, and updates on my favourite blogs and designers I've never heard of, which I like to think increases my fashion cred on the Dogtown blog. Everyone's A Winner!)

2. If you're not watching Harry, get to it, man! Tonight is the third of the six part series, and after last week's notable lift in game, I think the series is going to be a winner. (Everyone's A Winner!) I don't need to tell you how poor is NZ's track record when it comes to diverse representation on tv (except in evil ads for evil finance companies, who are all over it with their greasy, non-ethical fingers). When I'm not fuming about it, I can't help laughing at the Samoan names they give Samoan characters on Shortland Street, which the actors themselves can barely pronounce, and the justification they give for dating outside ones ethnicity (high status job or super-babeness). In case you don't know, the title character in Harry is Samoan. His surname is Anglesea, and he speaks Samoan. He is a respected police detective, and he is not the only brown person in his office. He has one daughter, and a Samoan wife who committed suicide. His daughter has fruit with her breakfast. Harry is not a stereotype. He could actually be a person I know.

This is nothing short of amazing, which is nothing short of ridiculous.

3. Potentially excellent movies on the horizon! Only Lovers Left Alive from Jim Jarmusch, and Inside Llewyn Davis from Joel and Ethan Coen. I know. Everyone's A Winner! Hopefully. Justin Timberlake is in the latter (why?), but I trust that they know what they're doing; Vincent heard a review that described the film as Fargo good. I know! We didn't make it though The Limits Of Control, but everything else of Jim Jarmusch's that Vincent and I have watched has been brilliant.

4. Last night Vincent taught me about the Lapita Potters, from whom I'm descended. I know we're all originally from Africa, but it's nice knowing where my people stopped off, and who I have in common with my Pacific friends.

5. Vincent and I were listening to this last night, and I was struck by how good it is. I hate that he wasted his time and talent on misogynistic posturing bullshit when he was capable of stuff like this (admission: I used to be a big fan of one of those misogynistic posturing songs). I was reading an interview with Bobby Womack the other day in which he was talking about Sam Cooke (he was a friend of Sam's, played guitar in his band, and married his widow), and that Sam once said to him that he would see a black president; Sam himself wouldn't, but he believed Bobby would. Bobby, understandably, thought he was crazy. Obama is a disappointment in many ways, and merely the lesser of two evils to many people, but what he means is huge. I've thought before about how much a poor black person might relate to someone who probably has as much in common with them as someone who is white, but I missed the point. Obama is black. Seeing is believing; sometimes believing that you can do something, too.

Friday, May 17, 2013

suspend yourself

First, put this on:

If he hasn't been for one already, Vincent and I usually take Joe for a walk in the evening, before dinner and after Vincent has finished working for the day. It's my favourite time of the day to walk; day itself is ending but it isn't quite dusk - it's that in-between, suspended time. It looks magical but in a real way; the magic may not be good - it might be, but it might not be, too. A few weeks ago, now, one of those walks took us to Tunnel Beach, which is about ten minutes from central Dunedin but feels worlds and light years away. I kept comparing it to Narnia but I don't know if that's an accurate description; it felt like unusual things were possible, and like it had a past of struggle. We met people coming back from it and it's funny, but I felt a sense of connection with them which wasn't striking until we came back. Tunnel Beach feels like a turning point. or at least  a point of note. I don't know what's changed since we went there but I feel as if something must have; you can't visit a place like that and not be changed.

The tunnel was commissioned by Lord Cargill in the 1870s, so his daughters would have access to the beach below, separated from St Clair by beautiful and imposing cliffs, where they would swim. It was carved out of solid rock in which, at places, you might be able to see fossilised  sea urchins and even bones of an extinct whale, if you had a torch. The cliffs rise up around you, and the endless sea makes you feel as if you must have reached the end of the earth (which made me think of The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader). The sense of mortality you might feel, watching the waves crash through the hole in the rock becomes unimportant; without being conscious of it, it feels insignificant in the face of the magic. I'm convinced the place is the beginning of another world.

See for yourself.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


You probably heard about it all on the news yesterday, but you still might be interested in reading the short essay Angelina Jolie wrote for the NY Times, entitled My Medical Choice, about her decision to undergo a preventative double-mastectomy.

I have long loved Angelina. She was always an interesting, original, and beautiful figure; I loved her Morticia Addams look, and the tattoos, and I thought the vials of blood she and Billy Bob Thornton wore were nice and appropriate expressions of the intense love they felt for each other. She tried her best to live free, and I respected that. But I think the interest turned to real admiration sometime around 2001, to which time she dates her interest in humanitarian causes, after filming Tomb Raider in Cambodia. After contacting the UNHCR for information on conflict zones, she began making visits (paid for by herself) to refugee camps, writing about her experiences, and speaking out on behalf of refugees.  Soon after, she became a Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, and off she went. She remained an ambassador for ten years, and is now Special Envoy for Comissioner Antonio Guterres, regularly giving her time and profile to worthy causes, both in this role and independently; most recently speaking out for victims of sexual violence in military conflicts, whom she described as "the forgotten victims" at a summit in London (where she had to stand near and even speak to the despicable Nick Hague). She chose to adopt children from Cambodia, Ethiopia, and Vietnam, and in doing brought renewed attention to the need in those countries, and set up a foundation in Cambodia in Maddox's name. Since then, she and Brad Pitt have begun the Jolie-Pitt foundation, an international aid organisation. She directed a movie set during the Bosnian war with the sole aim of bringing attention to the conflict and its survivors. I could go on; just check out her wikipedia page, which itself doesn't even list everything she's been involved in. The woman is a humanitarian machine.

These things are incredibly important to me. But what I really, really love about Angelina is her openness and honesty. She doesn't employ an agent or publicist, which is probably why people are often so surprised by the things she says (as Penny Lane says, "isn't it funny how the truth just sounds different?"). When I was younger, I read about her history with drugs, and self-harming, and I felt like the ways I dealt with my own inner conflict that didn't seem "healthy" didn't make me a psycho, and didn't mean I wasn't going to turn out to be a capable and "healthy" adult, and it meant a lot to me to have someone speak so openly about those things, but without glamourising them. Once in a while, a picture of one of her ex-lovers would appear in a magazine, and they were all so different and interesting, and they made me excited to get older, and a little less afraid of not being right on the hetero end of the spectrum. I identify with her expression through tattoos (which, for me, is related to reasons for self-harming), and the way she expresses love (often with blood), and I appreciate that, while not exactly mainstream, these kind of expressions aren't so unusual anymore; people have a reference point, and that reference point is a person who gives much to the world. In spite of her other-worldly beauty, she is so human, and lets it show. She was openly distraught when her beloved mother Marcheline died, aged only 56, from ovarian cancer, and I couldn't help thinking that if her openness and sincerity helped me, a complete stranger, how much it must help her children, and how much they will get to know their mother, and how much she must really have known hers.

This ties in to the next bit of my revised philosophy, which I'll carry on another time. I meant to make this heroes thing regular after I wrote about Dorothy Parker, Nietzsche, and Joe Strummer, but then I forgot until I saw Angelina on the news last night and got that feeling you get when you are so invested in something that its/their triumphs and sorrows become yours. I actually felt proud of her, which may seem insane, but I guess that's how it is with heroes. Angelina Jolie. Hero.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

new day

Music never sounds better to me than it does on a Sunday morning. If it's the right kind of Sunday, I can carry the feeling through until the afternoon. There's something so clean about it; like the old week has ended and the new one begun, unblemished.

Sunday morning is for soul music, and for country, which I realise is very like soul in its essence and feeling. Sunday is for Billie Holiday, and Dylan covers. They make me feel like I'm at church; in listening, I acknowledge my weaknesses and needs, and then I feel connection to everyone else in those basic human states. They make me think about cleaning, and cooking, and sitting quietly, and being outside, and eating apples, and taking my shoes off. They make me feel like I'm here, in my body, and on the earth, in ways both significant and insignificant.

I think I'm beginning to understand my own religion. I have rituals, and symbols. I feel close to the world, and separate from it, aware of my mortality, and at peace with that awareness. I can show what I want from life with a simple action, and I don't have to rationalise. I can just feel.

The world is at it's best on a Sunday.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

revised philosophy: part i - life as art

I've been thinking. A lot. Mostly out on walks with Joe along the water, listening to music. Something about the combination of sound and vision puts me in the present, and I feel alive, and totally aware of myself, and of life.

Last week, wonderful Blazy Beams wrote this post. Do read it. It made me laugh so much, and it sparked this contemplation of what it is that makes me love life. Since then I've been rethinking where I am with philosophy; what I think about life, whether or not it means anything, and what it's for. It might sound fruity to say so, but thinking about it has given me so much pleasure; it's made me think cringe-worthy things like "the world is my classroom", which just adds to my fun because it's all about treating the non-serious simply as non-serious, and getting your kicks where you can. It's also made me rethink my position that everybody should study philosophy. Not everybody needs to. I did, because I needed permission to think the things I did, discover that I'm not alone, and to have a reference point, if only to help me explain in succinct language what I learn through feelings and barely coherent thoughts.

Nietzsche said to live your life as a work of art. I thought that meant being serious about what you do, and being aware of your legacy; making it something beautiful for other people to look at, which I respected but didn't entirely connect with - it seems like something you could do some of the time, but not always, unless you worked for Red Cross in Gaza. It didn't seem to fit me. I love ephemera. I love empty time. I love things that connect us all, but not just the big things like sorrow and joy. I love the fact that we all have to take our undies off to pee, and that most of us have bad breath in the mornings. I love things like teacups and trees; things that can be beautiful both superficially and in a utilitarian way. When I was out walking today, I realised that the translation "live your life..." as opposed to "make your life..." (which it is, in some texts) is where the crucial difference lies, for me. Walking with my dog on a South Island peninsula listening to The Clash is living my life as art. It means something. The walking makes it so normal; something people do everywhere, all the time. It connects me, as does listening to The Clash. But then, it's me doing it. And my life, done by me, on purpose. I feel like simply by recognising that, I'm not wasting time. I'm living, and I'm aware of the fact that I'm living.

This is tumbling out and not making sense the way I want it to. I'm pretty sure I've posted it before, but maybe not in this context: this is one of my most favourite songs, and it says a lot of what I'm trying to say. Life is full of mundane moments that seem devoid of meaning except that they keep us functioning, but to me they're much more than that. They're part of the art we create, and they have so much entertainment value; there's so much humour in the world, particularly in what seems to be unglamourous and incovenient/downright painful. Life can be so much more meaningful and experienced more fully if we're aware of it; aware of the fact that every part of it is "life"/"art". And with that awareness comes the enjoyment of seeing it as a show; as art that, while tragic, has so much comedic value, or is simply diverting. "Two lovers kissing amongst the scream of midnight... two lovers missing the tranquility of solitude".

That's entertainment.

Friday, May 3, 2013


It's early on a Friday afternoon, and we're listening to Aretha. It's cold. I'm on one couch, tucked up with a blanket, hot water bottle, and a bowl of soup. Joe is on the other with his little crocheted afghan, and a hot water bottle his dad made for him. He's napping, but any time my spoon hits the edge of the bowl, his eyes open, just in case it means I've had enough. Vincent is at his desk, working. All you can hear, besides the music, is the whirring of the heat pump, and the sound of laptop keys.

Sometimes, life feels perfect. It's most striking when it feels like that in the same week as a catastrophe (major or minor), and when there's uncertainty on the horizon.

To life, and its unpredictability.