31.8.10

It's over.

It is Midnight. The last day of August. My month of blogging every day is over. In the beginning of the month, I told you that I wanted to do Nablopomo (National Blog Posting Month) as a writing exercise and a personal challenge. I also wanted a shiny Nablopomo badge for my sidebar. Well, it was a long haul, but I kept going until the end.

One of the things I learned is that you publish a lot of bad stuff when you publish a post every day. It’s miserable, and I whined about it. (I take solace in whining.) But I learned something else. There is an inescapable honesty in these bad posts. They are naked. They are what they are. I had to be a bit courageous to publish these bad posts. I had to just let it all hang out.

Unfortunately, I was not successful in my Nablopomo. Even though I published a post for every day in August, I was late publishing some of these posts. I missed my deadlines. So, I will not get my shiny Nablopomo badge.

But it's OK. I will keep going. Just not every day. Because publishing a post every day is really miserable.

The Tell-Tale Post, with apologies to Edgar Allen Poe.

I had been very nervous. Very, very nervous. Nablopomo (National Blog Posting Month) had sharpened my senses. I heard every little sound. But I was not crazy. No. Look at how calmly I tell you this story.

I can’t say how I first got the idea to do Nablopomo. But once I had the idea, it haunted me day and night. I liked posting on my blog. I didn’t mind that it didn’t bring me any money. Not having many page loads did not matter. But I think it was the tiny heads who were following me, with their tiny eyes. Whenever I saw them, I felt so anxious.

Now, you will think I am crazy. But I just wanted to lay my head on my pillow and go to sleep. I even felt a bit relieved. I didn’t really need to publish a post for Nablopomo. My computer was using its screen saver, so I could not see the tiny heads with the tiny eyes. I listened to the rain falling on the roof of my house while everyone else was sleeping. But then I heard a low sigh. I thought it was the wind, or a mouse. Maybe it was Adam or Five. But no. It was my blog, sighing as it heard Death approach. I knew that sound so well. It was like the sound of a clock, ticking away the minutes until the deadline to publish. I grew resentful of my blog, demanding that I publish a post every day. My anger increased, and I felt as if I might delete it.

But I stopped myself. I lay frozen in my bed, but the hellish ticking of the minutes continued. Tick, tick, tick. My blog’s terror must have been growing larger. Would I publish a post? Now, at this dead hour of the night? The house was silent, but the ticking grew louder and louder until I thought it must wake everyone and the neighbours too. Tick, tick, tick.

I shut down my computer. But for many minutes, the computer closed applications and began to install updates. Still, a tick, tick, tick, until the computer stopped. Finally, all was quiet. I rested my hand on the computer, and it was still. Maybe you think I’m crazy. But I hid the computer in a drawer. It had been a long day. I didn’t want to publish a post. I picked up my book and began to read. But then, there was an alert on my phone. I had a DM. I looked to see who was there, with an easy heart, because what did I have to fear? My blog with its tiny heads was shut down inside my computer.

It was @ThreeOfficers on Twitter. They were from Nablopomo. My father had alerted them when I did not publish a post on my blog, and suspicion had been aroused. They were obliged to look for a post. I lied and told them I was planning to publish a post, but I had been feeling ill. I said, I will turn on my computer and you can search for it. You will see that I have a post to publish. Then I gave them permission to remotely access my computer.

@ThreeOfficers was satisfied. They found some drafts for posts that had not been published. We chatted on Twitter about the Emmys. But before long, I really wished they would go away. I had a headache, but still they chatted. Why would they not leave me alone? I continued to chat on Twitter, but I heard a ticking sound. It was the tick, tick, tick sound of the clock. It grew louder and louder, but of course @ThreeOfficers could not hear it. I argued about Glenn Beck and Koch Industries, and I grew more flustered and annoyed. Oh, God! What would make it stop? Anything was better than this suffering, this pain. I felt that I would die if I continued to hear the ticking of the clock.

“OK!” I yelled in all caps. “I WILL PUBLISH THE BLOODY POST!”

29.8.10

Seven things I like.

Some time ago, I was tagged for a meme by the lovely Happy Frog and I. The rules are that you write a list of seven things about you, and then you go on and tag some other bloggers. Happy Frog wrote a list of 30 (!) things, but I am going to change the rules and keep my list to just seven things I like:
  1. I like to make lists. When I go to the supermarket, I make a list before I go. Oh, and I love bullet points. When I was younger, I used to make a lot more lists. Something about (ahem) control issues.

  2. Eating. I live to eat. I'm always thinking about my next meal.

  3. Reading. Reading is my great escape. Right now, I’m reading The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, and I can’t wait to get back to it.

  4. Running. I started running a year ago, and I’m hooked.

  5. Making people laugh. It's my little gift, and I do the best I can.

  6. The sea, the sea.

  7. Trains. I have always loved trains.

  8. Cuddling with Five. Is anything in life as sweet? He is growing up so fast.
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OK, now it’s your turn. I’m choosing seven of you. Feel free to play along, or not. I'd love to read your list of seven things. Or you can simply take this as me telling you that I enjoy your blogs.

AmeriNZ is an insightful blog by a bleeding heart liberal American expat living in NZ.

Girlvaughn.com is a funny blog by a list-loving reader of books. I don't know a lot about her, but I really enjoy her posts when they come up.

naked toes on algae-covered skipping stones has some funny portraits of working life, poems, and other nicely done posts. I could listen to him go on as long as he can spare.

Practically Perfect is a blog by an American expat now living in NZ. I like reading about her impressions of NZ.

TechnoBabe’s Adventures An uplifting range of topics from nostalgia to the past to humour.

That’s Why is a very funny blog by my new bloggy BFF.

UK to New Zealand – The Brunts Big Move is a blog by an Englishwoman now living in New Zealand. She has a criminally small following. Gorgeous, affecting writing.

28.8.10

My first vlog.



I did it all wrong. Oh, well!

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Edited to add. Sorry the video and audio are a bit out of sync. I should have used the flip instead of the web cam. But I was too lazy. And Adam told me to go ahead and post this.

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Edited again to add. My mother just told me she can't see my vlog on her iPhone. Here's the link to make it work.

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Edited again to add. My mother didn't even notice the video was out of sync. I love my mother!

Take this job and shove it.

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Flight attendant Steven Slater got so fed up with disgruntled passengers that he activated the plane’s emergency slide and became a folk hero. But how did he get hired in the first place?

Once upon a time, I interviewed with a couple major airlines for a job as a flight attendant.

The screening sessions were like an open casting call. The candidates had to take multiple choice tests, speak or read in front of a group, and prove we could reach the overhead bins.

Against the odds, I advanced to the second interview stage, where I had one-on-one interviews and video tests in a group environment.

I answered behavioural questions about handling disgruntled customers and not being supported by my employer. (In hindsight, I probably answered these questions too fully.)

When I got to the scenario questions, I really failed. I wasn't able to show an interest in the safety and comfort of every passenger. (Because I hate people.)

Instead of the proper Miss America answers, I admitted I just wanted travel benefits. I also said first class passengers need to follow the same rules as everyone else. (Which is obviously WRONG.)

So, the airlines refused to hire me. I wasn't smart enough I was too smart to become a flight attendant. I guess I was lucky to avoid it. Because it's no longer a nonstop party with glamorous perks, is it?

I should have followed my father's advice to become a pilot. The end.

26.8.10

Does sex make it impossible for men and women to be friends?


Harry: Would you like to have dinner?... Just friends.
Sally: I thought you didn't believe men and women could be friends.
Harry: When did I say that?
Sally: On the ride to New York.
Harry: No, no, no, no, I never said that... Yes, that's right, they can't be friends. Unless both of them are involved with other people, then they can... This is an amendment to the earlier rule. If the two people are in relationships, the pressure of possible involvement is lifted... That doesn't work either, because what happens then is, the person you're involved with can't understand why you need to be friends with the person you're just friends with. Like it means something is missing from the relationship and why do you have to go outside to get it? And when you say "No, no, no, no, it's not true, nothing is missing from the relationship," the person you're involved with then accuses you of being secretly attracted to the person you're just friends with, which you probably are. I mean, come on, who the hell are we kidding, let's face it. Which brings us back to the earlier rule before the amendment, which is men and women can't be friends.
When Harry Met Sally... is a 90 minute meditation on the impossibility of men and women being friends. Movies and TV suggest to us friendships between men and women must result in some kind of romance, but I want to think there is a wider range of possibility in these friendships than what Harry and Sally faced.

Before the 20th century, men and women lived and worked in separate spheres, and friendships between the genders were rare. Even today, friendships between the sexes have ambiguous boundaries. Voluntary gender separation is still common. (Think of those parties when men may go off to one corner, and women to the other.)

Friendships between men and women can be so intimate. Sometimes sexual interest and sexual appreciation flare up. However, this is different from having sex. It is about the possibility of what could have happened if circumstances were different. Or it can be reassurance that we are still attractive or sexy. These kinds of attachments can and should be a support system. But can these friendships really work? Or does the presence of desire doom friendships between men and women? And what about the awkwardness of its absence?

Men and women tend to be subtle and creative when building friendships. Men probably get more out of it. In a friendship with a woman, men are able to share their feelings or personal reflections, something that they might be less likely to do with other men. Maybe women benefit because friendships with men are light and fun. (I was going to add that women can find out how men think, but men actually are not that difficult to figure out. They are simple creatures.)

Platonic relationships between men and women seem unlikely in our culture. People outside these friendships often assume the couple is having sex. If they are not having sex, the number one thing men and women do in these friendships is talk. And a spouse may be just as jealous of talking as of sex.


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Remember health care reform?

Access to health care is a human right. A long-held dream of Democrats has been to have universal health care coverage in the U.S. Americans whose jobs come with health coverage will see little effect from the health reform legislation that was passed in March. But it will do a lot to help the less fortunate and control costs.

In New Zealand, the health sector is predominantly State-owned and operated. There is universal coverage for New Zealand’s residents. In the last three decades, health insurance elements also have been introduced, creating a mixed public-private system for delivering health care.

Nobody in New Zealand needs to worry about being able to afford health care. But reigning in health care costs is a concern. There aren’t enough resources in our small, remote country to meet our demands for treatment. (A lack of resources is not likely to be a problem in the U.S.) Of course, people want to get the best care that they can, and everyone should have equal entitlement to whatever services are provided. But we still need to figure out how to ration who gets treated according to need and ability to benefit.

For years, there has been an ad-hoc system of rationing care in New Zealand. We sometimes joke that we need to “be our own advocates” when seeking care, or we complain about "lists". But care should not go to whoever complains the loudest. This is a downside of our politicized public health system.

We also need to stop the escalating demand for health services by better addressing societal problems like alcoholism and obesity. I think public health money would be well spent insulating our houses.

Our health care professionals need more incentives to be cost-efficient and deliver treatments better in their regions. If the public sees health professionals leading the way for change, people may be more likely to get behind their initiatives.

25.8.10

Being 16 was exactly like that.

In high school, I wanted to be Molly Ringwald's character in The Breakfast Club.

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I would have settled for Pretty in Pink.

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John Hughes (1950-2009) was a filmmaker who scripted some of the most successful movies of the 1980s (The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller's Day Off). Hughes remembered the central dilemmas of adolescence and the feelings that it produced. His movies are classics, with a reach far beyond the generation for which they were intended.

23.8.10

How tolerant is America?

Everyone is weighing in on the topic of the community centre (that people keep calling a mosque) in what used to be a Burlington Coat Factory by the strip clubs in Lower Manhattan.

A friend wrote a comment in a thread on a Facebook page, and it is haunting me. It was along the lines of: America never has been a tolerant country. It only pretends to be.

One of our core beliefs as Americans is that we do not persecute. We are the good guys!

But then I came across this excellent photo essay in Time:

A Brief History of Intolerance in America

America has a history of intolerance. Over the course of its history, America has persecuted Jews, Catholics, Chinese, Japanese, Native Americans, and African Americans.

We can't let this small, ugly side of America to represent us all. We need to stand up and speak out. A bad economy doesn't make it OK to project our fears on a scapegoat. The First Amendment isn't up for a vote.

America's "problem" with Muslims has been manufactured by the corporate oligarchy to keep us fighting among ourselves.

Meanwhile, they keep screwing us so the rich can get richer. I really don't know how we stand it.

I'm not writing a post tonight.

“I’m not going to write a blog post tonight,” I said to Adam. “If I miss a post in National Blog Posting Month, I think it will make my blog persona more sympathetic.”

“I’m sure people want you to complete it,” Adam replied. “People don’t want the All Blacks to lose.” (The All Blacks are the New Zealand rugby team.)

“If I post every day, it's annoying. And it’s kind of showing off,” I said.

“You should finish it. It was a personal challenge that you set for yourself. It’s not about other people,” said Adam. He clearly doesn’t know anything about blogging.

“It is about them because they are my audience. They read my posts,” I explained. “So, wouldn’t it be more entertaining and dramatic if I wasn’t able to finish the challenge? It could be a plot twist. I struggle but come up short.”

“No.”

“O.K. It was just an idea. I’ll write a post. Besides, I still might fail, without throwing the challenge on purpose.”

“That’s right.”

--
I have been in my pajamas all weekend. There was lots of sun, but I didn't go outside. I have been lying on the couch under a blanket, watching a Keeping Up With the Kardashians marathon and girl movies. I asked Adam to go to the shop for more cold remedies. I drank cups of tea.

It is Midnight. Nablopomo is keeping me up past my bedtime. I’m not writing the post I had planned to write. Instead of writing this post, I want to go to sleep. I should have written this post earlier. Maybe tomorrow I will write a better story.

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Edited to add. Since this is a "blog with integrity", I need to tell you the truth. I fell asleep before I clicked on "Publish Post". And I missed my deadline--by 10 minutes. So, I failed my personal challenge. No shiny Nablopomo badge for me. (But this is a clever plot twist. Now my blog persona is just like Sandra Bullock in "The Proposal", or Meryl Streep in "Doubt". No, I'm like J-Lo in "Maid in Manhattan". AMIRITE??)

21.8.10

The Artist's Way.

The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity

My neighbour mentioned that she is reading The Artist’s Way. "But I haven't found time to take myself on artist's dates. I always sacrifice the time that is supposed to be for me," she said.

I first read The Artist's Way about 10 years ago. I had become blocked, and I was struggling to get rid of some negative programming. The book's creative exercises (going on artist's dates with yourself and writing in a journal) helped me to reconnect with the creative side of myself. However, those come with a recovery belief system that you will need to ignore if you don’t view the world through that filter.

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Religion can be a convenient belief system (or framework) to help discuss some of life’s essential questions. How did we get here? What happens when we die? And it encourages people to obey their conscience. What is right and wrong? What is our responsibility to each other?

In the last decade, my belief systems have changed. I used to have a New Age outlook on spirituality. I thought there was a Higher Power, maybe a pagan or earth-centred female deity. Or that I could read my Tarot Cards and tap into the other realm. Then I was kind of a Buddhist who meditated and went with the flow.

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I was raised Protestant, but I didn't have a very religious upbringing. Adam is a lapsed Catholic. We still have not taken Five to a church. But once a week at Five’s public school, the kids study Religion (If parents do not want their kids to participate, they can opt out.)

Since Five is not being exposed to religion at home, I'm happy to have him learn about it at school. One less thing for me to do! Adam is not enthusiastic about the programme, but I have tried to persuade him that it’s not a big deal.

In Five’s class, Religion is mostly about doing crafts. Last week, Five brought home his artwork. On his paper, an adult had written, “Dear God, Thank you that you made me.”

A few other parents were irritated by this. It wasn’t God who made their kids! Adam also was annoyed because the sentence is grammatically incorrect.

"Don't be pedantic," I said. "You know what they mean."

The kids were asked to fill in the blank for “Today I ask you”. But Five seems to have confused God with Santa Claus. He asked for a yo-yo.

20.8.10

Friday night drinks.

I’m a hypochondriac. The Internet diagnosed me with whooping cough, so I asked Adam to pick up cough syrup for my "Friday night drinks" on his way home from work.

Adam tried to save money by getting the cheap cough syrup at the supermarket, but I wanted the expensive cough syrup from the pharmacy. The cough syrup you need to show your ID to get because it has drugs in it. (Not the placebo for two-year-olds.) I was disappointed. It was like getting oregano when you try to buy pot. Adam was all tough love. He said if I want drugs, I need to drive to the pharmacy and get them myself. Thanks, Adam.

I probably just have a man cold. All I want to do is lie on the couch and watch stupid TV. Like, tonight I watched The Bachelor. Adam ruined it because he was gagging, and I kind of lost it. By this, I mean I stomped off to the kitchen, and I started throwing dinner dishes in the sink. It was very satisfying until I broke my favourite bowl. Then I cried as I wrapped the broken pieces in newspaper and threw them in the rubbish bin. Outside by the bin, I fell on the ground, sobbing, and kicking my feet. I wanted the mind-numbing hit that only The Bachelor can provide. I wanted a new drug. (I would have embedded this video from YouTube, if I had been allowed. Boo!)

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Edited to add. I just found out I can watch The Bachelor on TVNZ's OnDemand, but I have lost interest. Now that I can get it on the Internet, the street value of The Bachelor has gone down.
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Edited again to add. The street value of The City and The Hills is still high.

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Edited again to add. If I ever get over this whooping cough, I'm going to buy a new bowl.
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Edited again to add. What exactly is in that cough syrup for two-year-olds?

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Edited again to add. I think I'll drink some more cough syrup and watch The Bachelor.

19.8.10

Endurance.

When I was in high school, I was on the swim team. My high school had one of the best swim teams in the region. But I was one of the worst swimmers on the team.

Of course, I didn’t like being one of the worst. (I also was one of the worst on my baseball and soccer teams.) Being one of the worst wasn't easy from a psychological standpoint. I had been raised with middle class Midwestern values of the time like, "Work hard and you will get ahead", and "Play to win." I wanted to be a winner.

And individual sports like swimming can be psychologically challenging. My coach said that I needed to work on my physical endurance. But I also needed to learn how to keep my head in the game.

During practices, I didn’t know how to pace myself. So, I would try to keep on the toes of the swimmer in front of me. I would swim at their speed for a few laps, and then I would be winded. I would start cheating on my turns. Then, I would skip a fifty and rest at the wall. It was impossible to keep up the pace that was needed.

If only I had learned to swim at my own pace. And that the most important thing was to keep going, no matter what. It was no use worrying about how fast other people were. I had to accept that I might not have time to rest at the wall between sets. So what if I got lapped? When it got hard, I just needed to keep going. Unfortunately, these things never sunk in. I was in good physical shape, but I continued to psych myself out.

In my 20s, I discovered aerobics and yoga. I learned how to pay more attention to my body, and how to pace myself better. I challenged myself by trying to make the second half of my workout harder than the first half, just like we were told to in swim team practice. But I also learned how to keep going, even when it was tough. And I made sure to reward myself, by taking my time during cool down.

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Writing is a psychological sport, too. I don’t want to post on my blog every day for Nablopomo (National Blog Posting Month). But I’m going to try to keep it going. Even when it’s tough.

18.8.10

Sick and cold.

How does New Zealand's clean, green image measure up with its houses?

All of us have been sick with colds or flu. And if I wake up Adam with my coughing, he makes me take his vile cough medicine. (Have you tried this stuff? It's horrible and kind of scarily effective.)

A recent study has shown that New Zealand’s cold (and mouldy) houses increase people’s likelihood of becoming ill with colds, flu, asthma, respiratory illness, and other allergies. But part of our national identity insists that you just “harden up”, or “put on another wool-y jumper”.

Our houses often are so cold in winter that it is warmer outside. (I’m not kidding.) New Zealand is notorious for houses much colder than the 18 C recommended by the World Health Organization.

This is because many of our wooden houses have inadequate insulation (or are not insulated at all), and they also can have lots of single-pane windows. Since it is expensive to heat these houses, many Kiwis, especially those with lower incomes, will heat and live in just one room.

Obviously, houses that are not insulated are not energy efficient. Most houses do not have heat pumps. Many homes need dehumidifiers. And even if an “energy-efficient” household does not use much electricity, it still may use a LPG heater, or vast quantities of wood to heat the home with a log burner.

When I came to visit New Zealand, Adam’s mother said, “Bring all of your wool-y jumpers. Because you will want to wear all of them at once.”

I scoffed. I wanted to tell Adam’s mother that Wellington doesn’t get that cold in winter. I used to live in Chicago! Wellington is a subtropical climate. On the coldest days, the temperatures might drop only to 6 C (42 F).

But I didn’t realize the subtropical climate is a myth. In New Zealand, winter is inside. If you are an immigrant moving to New Zealand, bring your wool-y jumpers and be prepared for chattering teeth.

When it is time for bed, I bundle up by the warmth of the fire in the lounge. Fleece, thermals, socks, slippers, gloves, and a hat. It's like I'm going on an expedition to Antarctica.

I already have warmed up the bed with an electric blanket or a hot water bottle. To remove the chill in the bedrooms before going to sleep, we use oil column heaters. Then it is a matter of having enough layers above and beneath you to keep you warm through the night.

It's not hard to imagine myself living just like this 50 years ago.

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Edited to add. I've been getting hit with lots of spam, so I've had to turn on the CAPTCHA text in the comments. My apologies.

17.8.10

How am I going to blog now?

There was an accident, and all of the traffic was directed off the motorway. Adam travelled three hours to get to a place 20 minutes away. The traffic was all backed up, and there were no alternate routes. So, he had to give up and come home.

I was frustrated. How am I going to blog now? I thought grumpily to myself.

When I'm writing, I like to be in a dark cave, or I need the anonymity of a cafe. If Adam and Five are at home, I am aware of them. It’s difficult for me to focus if they are around, even if they are in different rooms than me. I am hyper vigilant.

After three hours in the car, Adam was starved for human companionship. “Stupid people,” he said. “Why can't they just not crash? It’s not hard to not crash.”

We drank coffees in the lounge. I wanted to write on my blog, but Adam was talking to me. I went on Twitter. I flirted with the idea of going to cafe, but nowhere around here has wifi. After a while, I retreated to the bedroom to “get some work done”. Adam stayed in the lounge. But in the bedroom, I didn’t work. I tweeted. I chatted on IM and Facebook. I read some blogs.

After I read a post on writing by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, I felt irritated. The gist of Ms Gilbert’s advice was that writers need to publish their work. This is the same advice my ex (the con-artist) used to give me. And I used to feel upset. I thought I was like Emily Dickinson, scribbling in my private journals. I am a writer, even though nobody reads what I write!

Eat, Pray, Love

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It is August 17. Nablopomo (National Blog Posting Month) is not over. But I don’t want to write on my blog every day. I feel selfish and stupid and unfunny. I'm not doing any writing that will earn me money. I can’t keep up with reading and commenting on your blogs. And posting too much is annoying.

By writing on my blog every day, I'm just thinking about myself. My voice is the most important voice. And it’s exhausting, having to write about myself every day. It’s like going to therapy. All of this gazing at my navel. Even posting photos feels revealing.

At the same time, I know I’m not revealing myself on my blog. Not really. I don’t know how to portray myself. Not the real me. There is no clear narrative. I’m full of contradictions. I’m funny, and I’m serious. I’m neurotic, and I’m confident. My blog is intimate, and it’s superficial. I pretend it's fiction, not a memoir.

To stretch a metaphor, writing on my blog every day for a month is like being stuck in traffic with my therapist. Maybe it's not that hard to not crash. But I'm hoping there is an alternate route. I kind of want to turn around and go back home.

Now it is late. I am not writing the funny self-deprecating post that I had planned to write. Maybe I will write it tomorrow. But right now, it's too hard to write.

16.8.10

A run in the park.

A while ago, Dana wrote a post about her running route. I promised to bring my camera on a run, and write a similar post. And here it is. . .

I run 5km three times a week in the park next to our house. Running around here means lots of hills. (And some of the hills are intense.) But I am rewarded with stunning views in the park.

Living by the beach means running along the coast, and there is nothing better than running by the sea. Here is my route, starting in the park.

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The playlist for today's run:

Memories, David Guetta/Kid Cudi
Young Blood, Naked and the Famous
My House, Kids of 88
Just a Little Bit, Kids of 88
Don't Stop the Music, Rihanna
Just Dance (Trevor Simpson remix), Lady GaGa
Get Shaky, Ian Carey Project
That's Not My Name, The Ting Tangs
Paris is Burning, Ladyhawke
Dance Wiv Me, Calvin Harris/Chrome/Dizzee Rascal
Bonkers, Dizzee Rascal
15 Step, Radiohead

Now it's your turn, for anyone who walks, runs, or cycles. The next time you go, bring your camera. Post the highlights, along with your playlist. Go on. It's fun.

15.8.10

In which I feel clucky.

Scene: After nephew's baptism. (OK, OK. Great-nephew.)

PRIEST, HUSBAND, and CRAZY NON-BELIEVER are stuffing their faces with afternoon tea in kitchen.

Me: I feel clucky. I'm going to ask if I can have a turn holding the baby.

Husband: It's not safe to try to take the baby away from the grandmother.

Me: I guess we need to make another one.

Priest: (giggles nervously) Uh, nice meeting you. (runs away)

Husband: Did you just lie to a priest?

Me: By pretending we have sex? Oh, honey. Don't be silly. He knows we’re married.

14.8.10

Have you let yourself go?

Inner Critic: From the brink of middle age, at the crossroads of "Have You Let Yourself Go?" and "Maybe Botox Isn’t Such a Bad Idea", we bring you “When We Were Young: The Fashion Edition”. Our featured returning guest is a recovering attention-seeker who used to frolic in fashion. (sound bite of applause) Hello, Juli.

Me: Hello again, everyone.

IC: Would you tell our readers about your “fashion” story.

Me: I used to love costumes. Like many girls, I loved ballet, and I liked to wear my ballet costumes. Later, I became obsessed with square dancing dresses.

IC: What about ninth grade? I understand it was a pivotal year?

Me: In ninth grade, I was the only person in my class who wore a Halloween costume to school. (Halloween was my favourite holiday.) And I had this dress from the Limited Express. The boys in my English class said it looked Amish. And I wore my ballet slippers—as shoes! (sound bite of laughter)

IC: What happened when you went to college? I mean, really. What the fuck happened?

Me: When I got to college, I went through a long, long, LONG phase of wearing black. With the Madonna bracelets and the leather and the Doc Martens, but with flowers in my hair. (I was a bit confused.)

IC: After college, you tried to wear a nose ring to work. And dreadlocks. You worked for an investment bank. Had you lost your mind?

Me: No comment.

IC: You were seen wearing this on the beaches of San Francisco:


IC: What the hell were you wearing?

Me: It was a bridesmaid’s dress. For a long time I felt like I needed to express my individuality through fashion.

IC: Uh-huh. Well, what are you wearing now?

Me: It’s a typical Saturday night. I’m wearing track pants and a sweatshirt. No makeup. In fact, I’m not sure I own makeup.

IC: Your husband calls you "Pajama Girl".

Me: It's an endearment.

IC: So, can we ask—to help (or frighten) our younger readers—what happened?

Me: After I had a baby, I found I just didn’t have the time or interest I once did in shopping. Or in keeping up with all the beauty maintenance routines. And we really couldn't afford to splash out on those things anyway.

IC: But every day, we see other mothers who, you know, go beyond yoga casual for school pick up. Why exactly can’t you make more of an effort?

Me: I wish I had a stylist to put together "looks" for me. But basically, I don’t see the point. I mean, who am I trying to impress?

IC: Your husband? Your crushes in the village? Yourself?

Me: (yawn)

IC: This has been “When We Were Young: The Fashion Edition”. Join us next time when we discuss "Why Your Mother Looks Younger Than You”. (sound bite of applause)

13.8.10

Wild weather.

Heavy torrential rain has set in. The sea is boisterous, and the wind is roaring. We live in a rural village, and it’s not unusual for us to lose power during a storm. There could be a slip (Kiwi for landslide), or there could be flooding. I’m worried our power might go out before I can publish this post.

“Why didn’t you write the post when Five was at school,” Adam asks.

“Apparently, I need the pressure of the deadline,” I reply.

Wellington is in the roaring forties latitudes. It is exposed to strong winds through the Cook Strait. Gales and heavy rain are common. If you visit Wellington, you will notice how weathertight the houses appear. Houses have to be made to stand up to wind, rain, and of course, earthquakes.

It is almost midnight as I type this post. It is satisfying to be warm and dry inside during a storm. I will fall asleep listening to the wild weather.

12.8.10

Is talking on the phone too intimate?

People don’t talk on the phone anymore. This is OK with me. I don't like talking on the phone.

But you used to ring people to invite them out for coffee. Now it seems like talking on the phone is infused with special meaning. It's too intimate to ring someone on the phone. You may send an e-mail, but you probably post on Facebook or Twitter.

If you live in New Zealand, you send a text. Almost everyone I know sends texts. You don't talk to people on your mobile phone, unless you are on a “calling plan”, or you use your phone for work.

There must be quite a few of us plebs who don't want to be locked into a plan. The rates to talk on the phone are prohibitively high for us. The work-around is to pre-pay and send texts. But maybe ringing on the phone is too intimate anyway.

--
Since I joined Facebook, I have re-connected with lots of people. But most people don’t list their phone numbers on their profiles. They must think Facebook will give their phone numbers to telemarketers, or the paparazzi. Or someone will "stalk" them. Because they are celebrities, and they have privacy concerns.

Only one person from Facebook has rung me on the phone. And I was so stunned. All I could say was, “What the fuck are you doing ringing me?” And I wonder why people don't ring me.

--
Facebook is a strange place. You could be on Facebook all day, and nobody would try to chat with you. Is everyone waiting for someone else to initiate a conversation? Do we hope the one person with whom we want to chat will appear online? Or, are we afraid the people we don’t want to talk to will find us? And we will be stuck chatting with them in a Facebook version of hell?

--
I hoped it would be different with my bloggy friends. Surely, they aren't as paranoid as my Facebook friends. But it seems like almost everyone has been scarred by--I don’t even know what. Match.com? Missed encounters on Craigslist? The internet in general?

I guess most people want their internet life to be in a different sphere from their Real Life. They want to be anonymous on the internet. The Internet is pretend, and a phone call is real. So, I only have talked to one blogger. It was on Skype. And it was without video.

--
I probably should examine the role of gender in all this. Is it OK for married men and women to ring each other on the phone or Skype, or to chat over IM? Is this a slippery slope? Can men and women really be friends, or does sex always get in the way? Discuss amongst yourselves.

11.8.10

How I became a vegetarian.

My last post about being green upset some people. Let’s see who I can offend now. . .

The summer after my sophomore year, I lived with a hippie who worked at a co-op grocery and strung bead jewellery. Kate also was a vegetarian or a vegan. She inspired me to become a vegetarian, but the change to my lifestyle was gradual.

During college, I worked for a hamburger chain. After I graduated, I wasn’t sure what to do with myself in the “real world”. I had an almost useless degree in the liberal arts. The logical answer, of course, would have been to go to grad school. At the time, I thought that I had "had enough of school”. So, I kept working for the hamburger chain, but as a manager. This was more self-destructive during a recession than being a waitress.

I found out that my cholesterol level was high, a result of a poor work-life balance. I sought to change what and how I ate. My first steps towards vegetarianism were for health reasons. I stopped eating red meat. But I worked for a hamburger chain, and I felt like a hypocrite.

Working for a hamburger chain also had made me think about meat and where it comes from. I started thinking about the sorts of conditions in which the animals that we eat are raised. And I thought about how humans also are animals. I stopped eating pork, chicken, and fish. I never felt like I was denying myself. I just lost interest in eating certain foods.

Then I moved to Chicago. And it was difficult for me to live in Chicago and not think of the slaughterhouses in The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.

The Jungle

For the first sad six months, I lived in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Since I was childless and in my early 20s, I hated the suburbs. I became friends with another vegetarian, Joe, who was a nice, funny guy. Joe took me into the city, to the flea markets, landmark buildings, and hipster restaurants. He taught me a lot about being a vegetarian. He probably introduced me to some influential vegetarian cookbooks—the Moosewood Cookbook and some others.

The Moosewood Cookbook: Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant, Ithaca, New York

I quit working for the hamburger chain. However, this was largely because my new boss was an asshole. I moved into the city, and a few years later, I shifted to San Francisco, a vegetarian epicentre. Along the way, I came across Diet for a New America by John Robbins. (Robbins had an interview in Super Size Me.) Diet for a New America was published in 1987, so by that time, it had been around for a decade. But it still was influential. (Diet for a New America is the precursor to Fast Food Nation and to Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore's Dilemma.)

Diet for a New America: How Your Food Choices Affect Your Health, Happiness and the Future of Life on Earth

I like being able to name the ingredients in what we eat. We eat very few processed foods. Instead, we make our own food out of whole ingredients. In part, this is because Five is allergic to everything, including dairy and eggs. (It does take a bit longer to make our own food.)

Food culture is different in New Zealand. Organic fruits and vegetables are much more mainstream. And we don’t allow genetically modified (GM) foods. Cows and sheep are not factory farmed. Our cows and sheep are in pasture outside all year.

For over a decade, I was a vegetarian. Now that I live in New Zealand, I eat meat again. I don't eat a lot of meat, mind you. And one day I may stop eating meat again. But for now, as part of the privilege of living in a remote country with a small population, I can eat meat without too much guilt and enjoy it.

10.8.10

Am I neurotic?

Whenever I feel anxious, I jokingly say I’m neurotic.

I will be first to admit I have some neurotic traits. Like, I'm mildly OCD about putting things where they go. I can be a perfectionist. I'm kind of highly strung.

Of course, many people believe they're neurotic. Some of you take pills to help you with anxiety. And if I took pills, I'm sure I would be less neurotic. But what does it mean to be neurotic?

*I am easily disturbed.
Yes. Loud noises disturb me. Like, if my neighbour is using a weed whacker, a skill saw, or a chainsaw. Or if Adam is playing a stupid game on the Xbox when I’m trying to “do important research” on the Internet.

*I change my mood a lot.
Nah. I’m not that mercurial. I'm sensitive to the moods of other people though. Because I'm psychic.

*I get irritated easily.
Yeah. Fuck yeah. Also, I’m a lousy actress. I’m not able to hide my feelings.

*I get stressed out easily.
Yes. I'm better at letting things go than I used to be. But if people are observing me doing a task, I get nervous.

*I get upset easily.
Sobbing.

*I have frequent mood swings.
Not really. I range from manic to depressed, but those are extremes. Let's just say I’m consistently grumpy.

*I often feel blue.
Not usually. Sometimes I feel sad. But this is normal, right?

*I worry about things.
God, yes.

*I am seldom relaxed.
Nah. But I do have a regular need to be alone.

*Carl Jung said neurotic people have issues with the meaning of their life.
Carl Jung and I would not get along.

So, I am slightly neurotic.

Take this test to find out if you are neurotic:
Are You Neurotic?

9.8.10

My blog persona.

The "Juli Ryan" on my blog is a persona.

She is like a character in a novel.

Please don't confuse the Juli Ryan on the blog with the Juli Ryan in real life.

I’m not a bookish introvert who almost always procrastinates.

OK, this is a lie. Yes, I am.

8.8.10

My big night out.

It was a rainy Saturday night. The playcentre was having a fundraiser at the hall in the village. I had a slight cold, but I still felt like I should go. And maybe it would give me something to write about on my blog.

"I thought you were sick," said Adam.

It was too late to get a sitter. When I left the house, Adam was lying on the couch by the fire, sensibly nursing his cold, and watching a movie. Did I really want to go out? I asked myself.

I drove carefully through the rain and parked my car near the hall. At the door, I said hello to A., who was standing outside with a group of people.

I looked inside the hall. Tables were arranged in intimate groups in front of the stage. Everyone was dressed up. I felt like I had stumbled into a private dinner party in my gum boots. Showing up alone on a Saturday night seemed like a faux pas. I should be here with someone, I thought. H. said hello, and I saw V. and T. get up from their tables.

I had a panic attack. This village is too small and insular. I wish I could be anonymous.

I fled to my car. I got in and sat stupidly in the dark, listening to the rain falling on the roof of the car. I took a few deep breaths and tried to calm down. I should go back, I thought. I’m already here.

Through the passenger window, I watched the people standing outside the hall in the yellow glow of a street light. The eave of the hall sheltered them from the rain.

I imagined asking Twitter for help. No, I couldn’t tweet about this. Hiding in my car was too pathetic. I checked the time on my phone. It was 10pm. I didn't want to miss the Nablopomo deadline. I had two hours to publish a post on my blog.

I drove back home.

"That was quick," said Adam.

“Have you ever been afraid to go to a pub or a party?” I asked.

“No, I just work through it,” Adam replied.

"Hmph," I said.

7.8.10

An interview with me about writing.

How long did it take you to write your first book?
I wrote my first novel 10 years ago. It took me about two years to write. I may revise and publish it someday.

Did you ever consider not becoming a writer?
I never have felt confident about earning money with writing. However, I have always been writing. I write something almost every day. Writing is just something that I do.

What, in your opinion, makes a piece of fiction work?
You need to hook your readers and reel them in. I don’t think there is any one way to do this.

What are you working on now?
I’m working on my fifth novel. It’s my first book that is not based on a personal story.

Who are your favorite writers over forty?
Off the top of my head--Joyce Carol Oates, Cormac McCarthy, Philip Roth, Margaret Atwood.

6.8.10

They think we live in grass huts.

Recently, I posted some photos of Wellington.

"I didn't expect Wellington to look so modern," someone commented.

“They all think we live in grass huts,” said Adam. “But the building in that photo is Art Deco.”

In New Zealand, Wellington is known for its architecture. It has a variety of architectural styles from the last 150 years. In addition to Art Deco, Wellington has post-modern architecture in the CBD. In other areas, there are nineteenth-century wooden cottages.

Buildings have been lost, but some of Wellington looks like it did 80 years ago. The National Library of New Zealand has posted some photos from its collection in The Commons on Flickr.

Intersection of Lambton Quay, Hunter Street, and Featherston Street, Wellington, with the Mutual Life & Citizens Assurance Company Building, ca 1935

Willis Street, Wellington, ca 1930s

Ship Canberra, Kings Wharf, Wellington, ca 1930s

People on the beach, Oriental Bay, Wellington, ca 1930s

--
When I first came to New Zealand, I spent most of my time in Wellington. I still enjoy going to "town". But after a few years, I was drawn to a New Zealand that I found in rural villages, in the bush, and at the beach. I no longer hear the siren call of the cities.

5.8.10

Is BlogHer like a sorority?

Even though I'm not going to the BlogHer conference in New York City, I still like to read posts about pre-conference anxiety, what to wear, what to bring, who to hang out with. Then the posts AT the conference, and especially, the posts AFTER the conference. I wonder if going to BlogHer is like sorority rush. . .

It is the end of September, but the first day of sorority rush is hot and humid. I join hundreds of girls who are talking loudly to each other in a ball room in the student union. It is chaotic. The clamour of their voices makes my head ache.

I don't know if I want to join a sorority, but it seems like it might be a good way to meet people. I look at the computer printout of the rush schedule. It lists all of the sororities that we are going to visit. I have never heard of some of them.

My rho chi (rush counselor) leads our group of 30 girls out of the union and across the street. We won't find out to which sorority our rho chi belongs until rush ends.

As we walk up Greek Row, our rho chi points to some steps that lead to a gate in front of a brown two-storey building. We will meet by these steps before and after the next rounds of rush parties. We will go to the student union to get our bids.

For the first round of rush, we go to all the sorority houses as a group with our rho chi. The first house is across the street. We wait on the path in front of the house, and at the scheduled time, all of the girls in the sorority come running out of their house, singing and clapping like cheerleaders. They are wearing tee shirts and sweatshirts with Greek letters. Our group forms a line. As we walk up the path, we each pair off with one of the sorority girls and go inside the house.

My sorority girl leads me to a corner in a sitting room. She talks to me for a few minutes. Then she introduces me to another girl and another. We are all wearing name tags. I can’t hear what anyone is saying. After 15 minutes, the sorority girls form a line again in the foyer, and they sing another song as we leave their house.

Every sorority house that we visit is the same. In some houses, we stay downstairs in the living rooms and parlours. In other houses, they give us a tour of the entire house while they talk to us. Girls that I knew in high school belong to a few sororities. Two of the "best" sororities have houses that are tiny and cramped. In other houses, all of the girls who live there sleep in big dormers. I don’t want to live in those houses. I think one grey house that is made of slate or stone bricks and shaded by a big old birch tree is beautiful.

The sororities are not allowed to give us anything. Even a plastic cup could be a bribe. I tell two of the sororities that I am a legacy. The girls at those sororities introduce me to lots of girls. I talk a lot about myself. I tell another sorority full of mean girls that I am a legacy, but I can tell I should not have said this. I don't like them, but I'm disappointed when they don't ask me back for the next round.

4.8.10

Clean, green New Zealand. Yeah, right.

I am posting every day for the month of August for Nablopomo (National Blog Posting...). There is a theme for the month, which I mostly will be ignoring. The theme is (drum roll) GREEN.

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New Zealand being clean and green is accidental, not deliberate. New Zealand's clean, green image is a result of its remote location and late settlement by humans.

Because of its isolation and small population, New Zealand is at a disadvantage compared to some other countries. It has marketed itself as clean and green to command premium prices for exports, and also to encourage tourists to travel long, expensive distances to visit its forests, lakes and rivers, coastline, and wildlife. New Zealand's exports make up 90% of its GDP. It also is dependent on its landscape-driven tourism industry.

While New Zealand is a beautiful place to visit, it is an ecological disaster. Since the Europeans arrived in New Zealand, over two-thirds of the native forest has been cleared. Its soil and waterways have been polluted by intensive farming and pesticides. The Manawatu river is the one of the world's dirtiest rivers. Deep-water oil drilling without a failsafe is occurring off the shores of New Zealand. Governments have ignored environmental initiatives related to air pollution and industrial emissions.

Although New Zealand made some admirable stands, such as banning nuclear warheads from its shores, its high CO2 emissions are among the worst in the OECD. Overseas, New Zealand is perceived as a country with clean air, but the air quality in cities like Christchurch in the winter is shocking. Coal is mined and burned (along with natural gas) for about 30 percent of our household electricity needs. (There are some other commerical and industrial uses.) New Zealand also has one of the world’s highest rates of car ownership. Greenhouse gas emissions are high, as New Zealand has more cows than people. New Zealand’s household waste and energy consumption also are high compared to other developed countries.

New Zealand’s oceans are being emptied, and there are no sustainable fisheries. Many native species of birds and other fauna are on the verge of extinction. None of the animals or crops and few of the trees harvested are native to New Zealand. Pests like possums and rabbits pose a threat to New Zealand’s economic welfare. Corporations are pressuring farmers to move away from free-range, grass-fed cows to indoor factory farming. And corporations are trying to bully New Zealand into accepting genetically modified (GM) crops, which are a threat to the country's biosecurity.

The marketing strategies of "clean, green" and “100% Pure New Zealand” are politically and commercially driven. 100 percent is a bold statement, which eco-tourists and consumers interpret differently than they did 10 years ago. Unfortunately, New Zealand’s “clean green” image is just not the reality.

3.8.10

Almost famous.

I am almost famous. I look good and feel great.

Suzy, Queen of Quid Pro Quo, has kindly posted my photo in the sidebar of her popular blog for the month of August.

Well, OK. I had to pay Suzy $20. But I did get a tee shirt.

For the uninformed, Suzy is a stand-up comic and actor who lives in Hollywood. She has ghosts in her apartment, and most people are afraid of her. She sometimes falls on her face.

Suzy’s blog is deliciously funny and better than sex. Go experience it. Enjoy it. Buy a tee shirt. But be sure to leave a comment about how good I look. Or else.

Flixster - Share Movies

2.8.10

Back To The Future.

Living in New Zealand is like doing a time warp. The life style is pretty laid back. It is slower paced and not as intense as America. There is less crime, since handguns are illegal. The NZ Police often are unarmed.

“It’s reminds us of California 30 years ago,” American tourists rave.



--
It was a quiet and rainy August 1. I began to write my first post for Nablopomo (National Blog Posting Month). I felt confident.

"I can do this," I said to myself. "I can write a post every day for the month of August." I waited for my clever thoughts to fly from my fingertips onto the page. And I waited.

Still waiting, I went to the Nablopomo site to find “support for endurance blogging”. (And to pick up a badge for my sidebar.) I found the July blogroll, but nothing for August.

Then I remembered. New Zealand is in The Future. At the Nablopomo headquarters in America, it still was July 31.

I was alone. It was like I was in a dystopian story where the month has ended, and nobody in America knows about it yet. I was having my Sunday morning while America was having its Saturday afternoon.

Because we are across the International Date Line, New Zealand always is in The Future. In New Zealand, we blast into The Future in hovercars powered by fusion of rubbish. Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and my birthday are all in The Future.

America lags behind. Unfortunately, what America does has an impact on The Future. America is asleep when I am on Facebook. And on Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday in November), it is my Friday, and everyone in New Zealand is at work.

--
To keep it simple, I will post for Nablopomo according to my own time zone. My posts will be stamped with my own local date and time.

How will being from The Future affect me? Will I still post every day in the month of August?
In summary, I will finish Nablopomo in The Future. Let’s do the time warp again!

1.8.10

I will be posting every day in August.

I promised I would not be a prolific blogger. But I lied.

I will be posting every day for the month of August. Let me warn you now that most of these posts will be badly written. I will have no time to polish or edit.

Why will I post every day for a month? Have I lost my mind?

If I were telling the truth, I would say I am going to post every day as a writing exercise and a personal challenge. And I want to clutter up my template with one of those “I Did Nablopomo Last Month” (National Blog Posting...) badges.

However, these inspirational reasons are boring. They will not bring me more traffic, subscribers, or little heads following me in my sidebar. Also, these reasons are not the edgy punk rock of my “brand”.

So, I will share this story —

I e-mailed a friend, complaining (as I frequently do) that the publishing industry is dying.

"Writers will not make any money," I wrote.

My friend replied, and I paraphrase, “You need to be fucking crazy to be a writer.”

My friend is right. No sane person would choose to be a writer (if being a writer is something you can choose). Writing is a horrible profession.

When writing is going well, there is an incredible high. But the lows are painful. It is dark and personal. You are always digging up old wounds. You need to be courageous, and you cannot be afraid to express something within you. And you also have a primal need to get it out, onto the page. You want other people to understand where you have been. Writing is miserable and very hard work.

And that miserable component has a lot to do with why we read. Read to witness the trainwreck, or for delicious schadenfreude. A post every day for the month of August!


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