Another Year Gone

Next week will mark two years in New Zealand.  Two years.  In some ways, that seems like such a long period of time, and it others, so little.  To mark the one year anniversary last year, I took stock of what I’d learned over the year, what I’d done, how I’d changed.  I tried to make sense of whether living on the opposite side of the planet made things different.  Made me different.  Two years in, it’s time to take stock again.  So.  Here’s what I’ve learned and what I’ve done in the last year.

I’ve made new friends.

I’ve lost others.

I’ve discovered a love for vegetarian sushi.  And yum cha brunch on Sundays at Great Eastern.

–And insanely-expensive-but-oh-so-gorgeous-delicious-and-exotic cocktails at the Hippopotamus restaurant bar with girlfriends.

–And lemon chicken at Cha before going to the movies at the Embassy.

–And raspberry pastries from the Simply Paris stall at the Sunday market.  Or maybe a Roti wrap from the Indo-Asia food truck at the same Sunday market.  Or the Cambodian noodles.

–And garlic Naan bread and dahl from Masala, with its dark red walls and Miles Davis CDs playing in the background.

I’ve discovered I have favourite places in Wellington, many of which are not on the tourist map.  Several of which are. Many of which are places to eat, drink, and read a few good books.

I now subscribe to two magazines that ascribe to a life lived consciously, sustainably, and with as few chemicals and processes as possible.  I have decided to make my own kitchen counter cleaner after successfully making my own shower cleanser.  (Vodka!  It’s all about cheap vodka!)

I have grown to like eating lamb—especially with chickpeas and homemade yogurt sauce with chili and mint.

I’ve been reminded that it really is true: Where you go, there you are.  I am the same Jenn with same Jenn issues and the same Jenn successes no matter where I live or what I do.

I’ve been impulsive and have been glad for it in the end.  (In fact, I leave today for a trip to India for a friend’s wedding.)

I vacillate between hyper-planning (my usual mode) and no planning (Jenn 2.0).  The fact that I even contemplate “no planning” is amazing.

Aside from a plane ticket and few required bits of planning, I have not planned my trip to India.  I am reliant on the maxim that everything will work out in the end.

I continue to jaywalk brazenly.  I also continue to follow the rules related to standing in queues and obeying Official Signs.

I have started referring to “lines” “queues” and I use the word “heaps”.  But I still refuse to call an elevator a “lift”.

I don’t think I can handle hot climates anymore.  But I’m still not a fan of biting cold.  Wellington winters make me long for Savannah summers.

I have succeeded in the art of layering.  Mostly.

I have cut my hair short after years of growing it out and keeping it long.  I’m still not sure who the woman is staring at me in the mirror.  I suppose that’s a metaphor for life.  Though living amongst the Wellington uber-hipster-intelligencia has taught me that this is a tired, tedious, and obvious metaphor.

I miss home every day.  But I’ve come to realise that at home, I’d miss Wellington every day.  Because Wellington is my home too.

I have always been a quirky set of contradictions.  I remain so.  Only with funny spelling added to the mix.

I’ll end this blog with three things that have come to amuse me about living in New Zealand:

  1.  My fondness for gossip magazines, which heavily feature the Royals.

My guilty secret

  1. Assigned seating in movie theatres (which people follow.  There have been “incidents” when people were sitting in the wrong seats).

Seat D-5, and don’t you forget it!

  1. Drying my clothes on a line instead of in a dryer.  It really is—in many respects—a nicer way to dry your clothes.

Now.  What will the next year bring?

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Country songs and overflowing sinks

This has been a challenging week.  Between our apartment flooding (and consequently flooding the apartment below us), stress related to some new work I’m doing, and a few other things, I’m ready to run away and hide.  For a little while.

Every time I hear the electrician working away below us, I wince.  I feel for the people who live there.   But I also wonder—were I the person in that apartment—if I would shake my fist at the ceiling and curse.

Hopefully not.  Hopefully, while I would be frustrated, I would simply shrug and say that sometimes, stuff just happens.  Despite your best intentions and preparations.  Accidents happen.  Life happens.  You know why?  Because we’re humans, not robots.

And while I’m perfectly happy to extend that grace to others, I am almost completely unable to extend that grace to myself.

At what point do we decide that perfection is meaningless?  That a lack of perfection is not a fatal character flaw?

At what point do we get over whether we’re liked?  Whether our intentions are understood?

At what point do we grow up, get over it, and move on?

These are not rhetorical questions.  I ask them earnestly—not only of my friends and strangers on the bus, but of myself.  Perhaps, they are the foundation achieving grown-up-ness.  If they are, then I still have a long way to go.  I suppose it’s a matter of perspective.

There’s a New Zealand poet I quite like, by the name of Hone Tuwhare.  His poems were equally lusty, ribald, and political.  They are a joy to read, because sometimes they make you smile, but they always make you think.  They have depth.  Especially the later ones.   I’d like to think it’s because—by the end of his life—Hone Tuwhare had answered all of the questions I ask above.  So that even when metaphorically speaking of sausages, he spoke with the voice of someone who could appreciate what a rare gift it was to enjoy a midnight tryst with the one you love.  You don’t have that perspective at twenty.  Or, dare I say it, even at forty.  Perspective is the one thing we need as early as possible in our lives.  Isn’t it an irony, then, that we only gain it through experience and time?

There will be a point at which I can answer my questions, where I can extend grace to myself, and where I can get over it and move on (metaphorically speaking).  When that will be is anyone’s guess.  I suppose this is one situation in which the journey is the destination.  And let’s be real, a year from now (or even five months from now) I will not still carry the burden of this week–a self-inflicted burden for the most part, mind.  This I know. It’s just the actual getting through the week and keeping that self-infliction part to a minimum that I still struggle with.

Being a curious sort, when did you reach these points of enlightenment yourselves?  And if you’re like me—floundering and still trying to find socks that match—when do you hope to?

And if  you’d like to check out some Mr Tuwhare’s poems, there are several here and also here.

A Day in the Life

My Sunday, in pictures.

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The Reason for the Season: George the Goat

I love Christmas.  I do.  It is, in fact, the most wonderful time of the year.  At least, it’s the most wonderful time of the year when you’re sitting on your couch, listening to Christmas carols while gazing fondly at your Christmas tree.

The reality is, though, you have about ten minutes to do that.  Usually on Christmas night.  After the pandemonium.  And when you’re lying prostrate in a Christmas cake stupor.

Before that, though—if you’re like me—you’re freaking out.  You’re trying to find thoughtful gifts that are *just* right for the people who you want to give them to.  You may even be attempting arts and crafts projects that are made to look “Oh So Simple!” in the glossy magazine spread, but which in your clumsy, left-handed fingers, looks like art therapy on anger day.

Okay.  Maybe I’m talking about myself.  Okay, yes.  I am talking about myself.

I have experienced a greater-than-average amount of holiday anxiety this year, all of which can be put down to the goat.

Let me explain.

I would like to believe that I am a good gift-giver.  I don’t think I am, though.  That is not to say that my gifts are not thoughtful—they are.  They just don’t always … work.  I fear that I will be the aunt who gives her unfortunate nephew a fuzzy bunny suit one year.  You know, because he’s into bunnies, it’s cold, and it’s adorable.  This was never brought home to me more so than when having to find a gift for T’s oldest brother as part of the family Christmas draw.  What do you give a guy you don’t know and who lives far, far away?

Apparently, you give him a goat.

I really dig the Oxfam Christmas gift project.  Instead of just making donations to causes in your friends’ names and sending them a little note saying you’ve done so, you buy them goats.  Or water.  Or domestic violence prevention.  Or soap.  You make the donation to Oxfam, and they give you a cheeky little card to give the person in whose name you made the donation.  I admit it.  I was taken with the goat.  Wouldn’t you be?  Look at that face!  It’s the face of George, the goat.  George, the life-giving goat that goes to Papua New Guinea and gives a family nourishment, the chance of baby goats, and a way out of extreme poverty.

I wrote out a funny card that included a reference to goat poo.

I was very pleased with George.

Until someone mentioned that giving someone a goat like this (who had not asked for one) is little bit like foisting your idea of charity on them.  It was an off-hand comment, not meant to be anything more than, well, an off-hand comment.

Did I absorb it as an off-hand comment? No.  Of course not.  Instead, I went into a silent anxiety spiral.

“Oh God.  OH GOD!” I thought to myself.  “I’ve given the poor man a goat!  A GOAT!  Who wants a goat?!?!”

How do you fix giving someone a goat?

You give him woolly slipper socks.  Apparently.  But solely for the purpose of then being able to say (to yourself, of course):

“OH GOD!  I’ve given him a goat AND socks!  A goat and SOCKS??? What was I thinking??”

I mentioned this to a few friends and these people—people who didn’t even know who I was talking about—immediately came up with at least five good present options. Five.  None of which involved goats or socks.

I shot each of them a scornful glance full of reproach.  Where were they when I was buying the goat??

I sorted it in the end (reluctantly relying on one of the five suggestions) (and yes, the goat is still part of the equation), but I had some serious feelings of gift-anxiety for a while.

Now, before people start hopping up and down that this is exactly what’s wrong with Christmas, I have gift-anxiety in every possible situation.  From the “should I?” to the “shouldn’t I?” to the “This?” or the “That?”  It’s not limited to Christmas. It’s birthdays, weddings, house warmings, going away luncheons, anniversaries–the list is endless.  And it’s not about expense, either.  Some of the best gifts I ever found were ridiculously cheap, but they seemed perfect.  For me, it’s about finding something that says, “Hey.  I know you.  I pay attention to you. You mean something to me.” Maybe that’s the real issue–the not knowing.  I suspect my narcissistic level of self-imposed anxiety has more to do with wishing I knew T’s brother better.  It really doesn’t have anything to do with the goat.

When I really think about it, people are usually just happy to be remembered.  They’re happy that you’ve made an effort, no matter what that effort is.  The simple act of giving shows them that you care. And perhaps, George the Goat really is the best gift of all.  Maybe he really is the reason for the season.

Live long, George.  Live long.

Looking mighty fine, George. Mighty fine, indeed. (courtesy of the oxfam website)

A Kiwi Thanksgiving

What do you do when you live in a country that doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, and doesn’t have turkeys, cranberries, and all other “Thankgsiving-ish” foods available in late November?  You improvise.

Yesterday, T and I had our second annual “Kiwi Thanksgiving”, which consists of Chinese takeaway and homemade desserts.  Why Chinese takeaway?  Because I was so over trying to make things from home in a place that doesn’t have things from home, that I just gave up.  Chinese it was, and it was delicious.  It all started with the dessert, you see.

Last year, I made gingerbread pumpkin trifle.  It’s a thirty minute recipe, assuming you have gingerbread mix, Cool-whip, Libby’s canned pumpkin, and Jello vanilla pudding mix.  When you have none of these things, it’s a five day recipe.  Between roasting pumpkin, whipping cream, researching how to make pudding mix (this could be the subject of a blog post all on its own!), and paying $10 for a bottle of molasses to make real gingerbread, this became the most expensive and time-consuming dessert in history.  To make matters worse, when I was finished, I was universally confronted with the following questions:

“Pumpkin for dessert?  Really?  Why would you ever do that to a pumpkin?”

These questions were usually followed by slight shivers and vaguely green cast to the skin of the questioner.

This year, though, I was prepared.  Not only did I make sure I had vanilla pudding mix from home, I used crushed gingersnaps instead of gingerbread.  And I made sure to make two other desserts–chocolate pecan pie and cranberry orange apple pie.  That, plus some creative papermaking ideas from this blog, and I was set.  We had sixteen guests this year, and plenty of orange beef and egg foo young to go around.  Here are some pictures from the event.

To all of my friends at home, happy, happiest of Thanksgivings to you.  Know that I thankful that all of you are in my life.

Our buffet table. (I spent an hour ironing that sheet. I'm not very good at ironing...)

My Thanksgiving "fast facts". Did you know that Thanksgiving used to last for 3 days

The thankfulness basket--anonymous and read aloud after dinner. This is always fun. Especially when you can tell who wrote what! We got a lot of thoughts of thankfulness for good friends and family, but a few thoughts for bare-chested, very fit men running in the summer.

Banners! (We, perhaps, went overboard)

Dessert!

What says Thanksgiving like Chinese takeaway!?

why not have some fun with the descriptions?

Yes, one more banner....

And finally…

The Thanksgiving Smurfs are courtesy of our good friends Anna and Paddy, who found them in a second-hand shop last year.

Happy Thanksgiving to all I know and love!  To my friends at home, eat some pumpkin pie, cornbread dressing, and cranberry sauce for me.  (And some turkey, too!)

The Golden Age

I am unimaginably homesick today.  I know this because I desperately want Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.  The kind that comes in the blue box, with the envelope of cheese-like powder, and the old-school elbow macaroni.   It looks something like this:

This is remarkable, because I haven’t eaten Kraft Macaroni & Cheese in probably a decade.  One day I looked at the neon orange cheese-like powder and said, “This can’t be right” and walked away from the KMC.    

Cheese-like powder. 0_o

KMC was a staple of my childhood.  It was cheap, effective, and about one of the only things I’d eat.  I still remember the salty tang of the sauce made from the cheese-like powder.  I have fond memories of that cheese-like powder.  (And yes, I find this as disturbing as you probably do). 

The thing is, I don’t really want the KMC.  I want the comfort of a nostalgic past, one that is swathed in a blanket of peanut butter sandwiches and macaroni and cheese and blissfully free of discord and struggle. 

KMC is my golden age. 

While—again—this is likely disturbing, I’d like to think that all of you know what I mean.  We have memories, objects, places that anchor us to what we think of as the best parts of ourselves, the best parts of our past. 

This leads me to talk about two things: stuff and movies.  These are two of my favourite topics.  I could jaw about stuff and movies all day long.  Be glad that I don’t. 

But on the topic of stuff, why do we have it?  Why do we keep it?  Why do we fight like hell to be the one who has Grandma’s old, broken-down faux-crocodile handbag? 

This may be too simplistic, but in my mind, we keep stuff—especially other people’s stuff—because the stuff is something we can wrap our hands around, something we can feel, something we can say, “Yes, this is you.” 

I am, of course, talking specifically about dead people’s stuff.  I am thinking specifically about my mom’s stuff. 

It hit me the other day that next week will be the 20th anniversary of my mother’s death.  It does not weigh heavily on me, per se, but it is remarkable how present it is in my mind.  Perhaps it’s because I’m quickly approaching the age that she was when she died.  Perhaps it’s because it happens to coincide with Thanksgiving this year, and I am very far from a home of four-day holidays, pumpkin pies, cranberry sauce, and Black Friday.  Perhaps it’s simply because I miss her and wish she were here to help me figure out where I’m going and whether I’m making the right choices.   It’s hard being a responsible grown-up sometimes.

Sometimes, you feel like you’re in uncharted territory and you’re trying to hold it together in such a way that everyone assumes you know what you’re doing. 

Actually, let me revise that. 

I think most of us go through each day feeling like we’re in uncharted territory.  I think we careen and bump along from one side to the next and just pray that we get through the day without seriously screwing up the relationships and the things we value most. 

When we feel like that–when we’re breathing a bit more quickly than normal, feeling uncomfortable, and far outside of what we know–I think most of us yearn for our own KMC golden ages.  Looking back at the known past is easy; facing the uncertain future is hard.

Woody Allen’s new film, Midnight in Paris, explores this very issue.  Of course, it is gorgeously shot, has a great soundtrack and relatable characters, and patented “Woody Allen patter”.  It’s so much more than that, though.  He explores this idea of “golden ages” and comes to the conclusion that the only true golden age is the present.  The right now.  This moment. 

I like that idea.  As uncertain as we feel some days, as much as we mourn the things (the people) lost, as fondly as we remember the past (including cheese-like powder and blue boxes of macaroni), the reality is we also create joy in *this* moment, in *this* now.  Our feet may be anchored in the collective experiences of our past, but if we’re lucky, our arms are spread wide and open, ready for the unknown adventure that is our future.

What a thrilling thing.

Rocks and Islands and Life’s Eternal Question

Since moving to New Zealand, I have accepted rides from strangers.  I have been kicked out of a bar (by association).  I have habitually jaywalked.

I have faced the prospect of being alone in a place so very far away from home.

I have been more straight-forward with people on difficult subjects.  I have dressed up like a zombie.  On purpose.  In public.

I have asked a total stranger for his phone number (for a friend).  I have met the total stranger with my friend at a bar (not the one I was asked to leave).

I have successfully driven on “the wrong side of the road” for over a year.

I have had fun.  I have been scared.  I have been sad.  I have been angry.

I have learned that I like Indian food, that I like eating more vegetables than meat, that I can tell the difference between a good laksa and a not-so-good laksa.  I have learned that pumpkin and kumara humus is delicious.

I have learned that some things in life are sacred.  They are, in no particular order: love, loyalty, curiosity, friends, laughter, and cornbread.  But only cornbread like my Papa used to make.  I have accepted that I will never be able to make it the same way.

I have learned that the core of me is the same, no matter where I live or what I do, but that I can change.  That I have changed.  That I am changing.  That I will continue to change.

I now wear patterns (occasionally) and layers and boots and scarves and don’t worry about standing out.

I think about all of these things as I get ready to leave for a trip home next week.

I wonder if my friends will think I’ve changed?  Will I think they’ve changed?  Will I miss Wellington?  Will I want to leave Savannah?  Will I ask for coriander and courgette instead of cilantro and zucchini?

Will I unthinkingly say, “Cheers, mate,” instead of “Thank you.”?  Actually, that’s a very unlikely scenario.

I have no idea how I will respond to any of these potential questions.  And (maybe this is the Kiwi creeping in me), aside from mentioning all of these things here, I don’t really care.

I can’t wait to see Wright Square, to have lunch at the Pink House, to eat real pulled pork with mustard sauce, coleslaw, and maybe a rib or two.

But in saying that, I know I’ll miss hearing the Tui birds sing every morning and that cheeky cat who saunters along the waterfront.  I’m going to miss Rahzoo and walking the waterfront on Sunday mornings.

In short, I’ll miss home when I’m home.

It’s a very odd feeling to have one foot in Savannah and the other in Wellington.  The halves of you are stretched between two planes of existence, and you never wholly fit into either.

Though in saying that, the constant stretch and pull of finding my center when I’m not sure where center is has provided unparalleled opportunities for growth and experience.  And I love Wellington, and New Zealand, and on most days, feel like this *is* home.

At its worst—on days when I feel isolated and sad and unsure of where I am and what I’m doing—having two homes is a displacing, discomfiting existence.

We need an anchor in life.  I disagree with Simon and Garfunkel—we are not rocks, we are not islands.  But even if you were an island, sometimes, the best of yourself fails you, and you need the warm, comforting blanket of familiarity and history.  You need the terra firma of a back garden in Brunswick,Georgia or a front porch in Savannah,Georgia.  That is your rock.  That is your island.  That is what gets you through the times when you’re experiencing a sort of emotional vertigo.

I saw a German film at the NZ International Film Festival called, At Ellen’s Age.  It was a weird, disjointed film about a middle-aged woman whose entire life turns upside down and—in an effort to discover who she is without the definitions of her job and her partner, she careens from one bizarre experience to another.  I didn’t particularly like the film, but I knew exactly where Ellen was coming from and why she did some of the things she did.  I understood the choices she made in the end.

We are all pursuing our authentic selves.  Part of human experience is stripping away the layers and definitions and wondering, “Who am I”?

I had a voice teacher who told me once that she would study voice until the day she stopped singing.  When I asked her why she would do that, why she would continue to learn about something she had obviously mastered, she replied:

“When you stop learning, you stop living.”

Well, indeed.

Here’s to a few more rides with strangers, trips to unknown, faraway places, and the knowledge—that when I need it—my rock is still there.  Waiting for me to find home.  Wherever “home” may eventually be.

Where is your home?  How have you dealt with feeling displaced, whether by geography or something else?

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