29.10.10

Giving up on Halloween.

Oh, Halloween. I used to be so excited about designing costumes and buying kilos of lollies (Kiwi for candy). I festooned fake cobwebs about the house, and made tombstones out of polystyrene.

Not this year.

Halloween used to be my favourite holiday. Over the years, I've stubbornly persisted in celebrating it. In ninth grade, I was the only one who wore a Halloween costume to school. When I moved to San Francisco, their Halloween was my mecca, and made my obsession with witches and haunted houses look tame (if not quite normal for an adult).

Halloween parade in San Francisco
But since moving to New Zealand, a country with no reason to celebrate Halloween, I've been going through the motions. I mean, despite my best efforts.

I had already given up Thanksgiving and July Fourth. But I tried to keep Halloween in my heart. I did my best. Halloween was like my Christmas. Or my Rocky Horror Picture Show. Because Halloween is the ultimate day for theatre geeks, creative types, and what polite people call eccentrics.

However (as you know), in New Zealand, Halloween happens in the spring. The days are getting longer. The idea of Halloween (the spirit of it, if you will) is completely counter to the season that it is actually in. There are no spooky bare trees or other metaphors for death. The earth is teeming with life. There are baby birds, baby lambs, and green grass.

And against this spring tableau, imagine two dozen children (tops) who are possibly wearing costumes hastily purchased an hour ago at the $2 Shop. They are wandering around in broad daylight, among wildly blooming geraniums, hoping to find the odd couple of families in the village who are participating in that “American holiday”.

Last year, I decided to turn Halloween on its head, and make our garden into a fairy grotto. I thought it would make more sense to have an Easter-ish approach to a Southern Hemisphere Halloween. Needless to say, this idea was a flop.

“What are you, a beer wench?” asked Adam.

Scary fairy in the grotto.

“I am a scary fairy,” I said, with my teeth clenched.

Celebrating Halloween feels slightly (or to be honest, completely) ridiculous. I always imagine Adam and I will have a big “fancy dress” party at Halloween. We will turn our house into a haunted castle, and make the kids carve pumpkins (which are not in season), and dip their hands into cold spaghetti. There will be a bonfire in the back garden. Our party will be like the Peanuts.
Adam is lukewarm about my Halloween ideas. “I think my sister is planning a lunch on Sunday, October 31st,” he said.

Who has a family “do” on Halloween? Yes, that’s right. People who don’t celebrate Halloween.

So, I give up. I’m not going to force Halloween on people any more. On Halloween, we will close our curtains. We will pretend we aren’t home. (Just like all the other Kiwis.)

22.10.10

My love-hate relationship with Ohio.

A friend in the village told me that she has been to Ohio.

“Ohio is so ugly."

I was a bit hurt. “Where did you go in Ohio?” I asked.

“Columbus."

Columbus, Ohio is my hometown. Those corny lines about goin' home always make me think of Columbus. I am nostalgic for its quaint neighbourhoods, and its funky bars, cafes, and galleries. But when I was growing up, I couldn’t wait to leave Columbus. Opportunities seemed so limited, and I heard the call of the big cities.

It has been nearly two decades since I lived in Columbus. Sometimes I am annoyed being from Ohio is STILL one of my defining characteristics. Provincial Ohio and its cornfed jock Midwestern values—I am too sophisticated to be from Ohio! (OK, not really.)

I have a love-hate relationship with Ohio. In my teens, Ohio seemed like a battleground in the culture wars. Ohio State (which was then the nation's largest university) helped make Columbus a progressive city. But at the same time academics and artists were criticized by deeply held pockets of the conservative right, and accused of undermining traditional “family values”.

Ohio is a state full of contradictions. With its industrial and rural regions, Ohio is part Northeast and part South, part booming suburbs and part struggling poverty. With a population of 11 million, it can be a Blue State, or a Red State.

--
Recently I was upset by a New York Times article about my fellow Ohioan, House Minority Leader John Boehner. In the article (“Boehner’s Path to Power Began in Small-Town Ohio”), Mr. Boehner is practically anointed by the New York Times as the next speaker of the House.

“Can't we just have the election first?” I grumbled to myself while I skimmed the article.

But in spite of the article’s glowing descriptions of Mr Boehner and his humble origins, it did point out a couple of uncomplimentary things about him—like his perpetual orange tan, and his penchants for exclusive country clubs, designer clothes, and fine wines.

Mr Boehner is closely allied to corporate industries like mining, and to a tightly knit group of lobbyists. He claims to be able to cross the aisle to get things done in Washington, but so far he has been a rabble-rouser in "The Party of No".

Although the New York Times article portrays Mr Boehner as a “small-town boy from rural Ohio”, he actually is from Reading, a suburb with a population of over 11,000 in metropolitan Cincinnati. Mr Boehner’s upbringing, as described in the article, is working class, not rural.

Lately the mainstream media has been focused on the re-emergence of the culture wars. I wonder if depicting a suburb as a small town is an attempt to fold “rural” and “small town” with the working class, especially since the culture wars increasingly are being waged between rural and urban districts.

Looks like she will keep her seat.
I already cast my vote.
(in California, by absentee ballot)

11.10.10

When I lost my Internet connection.

I was chatting with a friend on IM when I lost my Internet connection.

“Not again!” I said to myself. I was irritated. My ISP should be more reliable. I shut down my computer and turned off the modem. I waited impatiently for a few minutes, and then I turned everything back on. This usually fixes the problem. But this time it didn't. There was still no Internet connection.

I rang my ISP on the phone. “I want to report a fault,” I finally said to a tech who called himself Patrick.

“We need to check some things on the 'back-end'. If your connection is not restored in five hours, you will be contacted by a second level of support,” said Patrick.

“OK,” I said. I KNEW it was a problem on their end. They were doing upgrades, and there had been a big storm. But I still was annoyed.

But five hours wasn’t that bad. Surely I could live for five hours without the Internet. I mean, let's talk about first world problems.

Besides, I really should be unplugged from the Internet while writing my novel. I opened a new Word document, and I wrote for an hour. Then I read a book to Five, and I gave him a bath. We played a game. I made dinner.

Anxiously, I checked the time. It had been five hours. I was hopeful as I tried to connect to the Internet. But I still couldn’t go online.

I was frustrated. I rang my ISP again. A tech named Chaneera and I tried power cycles and pings. Nothing worked. After a while, Chaneera gave up. He insisted that there were no faults on their end. I had an individual problem. And it would be six days before they could send a service tech to my house to fix it.

“SIX DAYS?” I said incredulously. “It’s definitely a problem on my end? Do I need to get a new modem?”

“Well, maybe,” said Chaneera doubtfully.

SIX DAYS without the Internet?

I had work. I had bills to pay. I needed to do "important research" for my new book. I needed to publish a post on my blog. We talk to Five’s grandparents every day on Skype. And it was the school holidays. I would go mad without a home Internet connection.

I was upset. Maybe there was an area problem that had not been reported. My ISP never wants to admit when there is an outage. Even though it was late (9pm), I rang friends in the village who have the same ISP.

“Is your Internet working?” I asked.

“Yes,” said my friends.

I was let down. It was an individual problem. I sulked on the couch while Adam watched Top Gear on TV. Boring! I decided to read a book in the bedroom.

The next morning Five and I talked to his grandparents on the phone. I watched the morning news on TV. We went to the shops, and I bought a newspaper. We went to the library. We went to the bank.

I felt a sense of relief. There was no pressure to keep up with the constant hum of the Internet. I didn’t need to read blogs or check Facebook and Twitter. I could drink my coffee and daydream. I could give my full attention to Five. I planned to weed the garden and finish my novel.

My life seemed less urgent. I felt calm and purposeful. I was motivated. After our errands, Five and I went home. We ate lunch. Then I sat at my desk, and I flipped through the notes for my novel. I opened a new Word document on my computer, and I began to type.

Then I noticed that the computer was connected to the Internet. Somehow, magically, I could go online.

If this story had a moral, I would tell you that I was disappointed. But I wasn’t. New opportunities for procrastination lured me to the meadows of the Internet. And I hurried to heed their siren call.