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Saturday, December 31, 2011

the year in review

I really don't feel like writing a "Yay 2011!" blog post because it just wasn't that kind of year. I am fervently wishing for a better 2012 and happy to see this year slide into history in about 28 minutes, NZ time.

The year for me was dominated by the earthquakes.


February 22 was a horrible, dark day, one of the worst days of my life, and it threw everything into its shadow for a while. I couldn't even imagine feeling happy or carefree again for quite some time. I've always been a let's-fix-things-quickly kind of person, and it's been a hard adjustment to start thinking in terms of the years it will take before things come right in Christchurch. And then there's the fact that, whenever it feels like things are starting to be happier and more positive, another large-ish earthquake comes and knocks us over again and we're all Over It with a capital O and I.

So this year has been pretty sucky, to use the technical term.

And yet ....


1. I (finally) finished my thesis. Now that I've had a chance to sit back, breathe, consider it - I'm proud of what I produced. I was so dazed and confused by it all by the end of my part in the process - it shows in my face, in the photo above - that I'm amazed, looking back, that the thesis made sense at all.

I don't know if I mentioned this before but the process still continues. You may remember I wasn't particularly over the moon with my results... and it turned out in the end, after I inquired further into the rationale behind the grade, that I may have grounds to appeal it. The university's academic committee will be considering the issue in January, but it may mean another marker is appointed and my grade will be reconsidered. So I feel happier about the situation.

2. It took me some months to find a job after uni. It was difficult to see if everything was going to work out, but I'm glad I hung in there. I got to do some short-term work that was very interesting and very different, for me, and I even got to be published for my work on a book about a robot language as a result!! It was hard work making ends meet with no long-term solutions in sight, but it was truly an exercise in learning to trust God, trying my hand at new and random things, and learning to live simply and frugally.

3. I got my first "proper" job and am now a member of the public service, working in the recovery effort for Christchurch and its surrounds. I absolutely love my job and this has been the true highlight of 2011. I am so grateful for a job that allows me to use the skills I've been trained in, challenges me, and allows me to help in the recovery from the earthquakes - this is something I'm passionate about. I can't believe I've been so lucky.
With the career came the car, which I can finally afford to keep, and independence!

4. 2011 gave me a new niece who is now six months old, incredibly cute, and a blessing to our family.


5. 2011 also gave me new flatmates who became some of my best and closest friends, and consolidated my strong friendships with the flatmates I had lived with previously. Something about going through the earthquakes together brought us closer than ever before, and I am so grateful for the lifelong friendships I believe we have formed. It's so great living with people with whom you can laugh, cry, support, be supported, philosophize, play the clown, understand. Again, I've been very lucky.
Here we are, above, at my flatmate A.'s wedding, earlier this month, which was another highlight of 2011. R. and I have seen the whole story of A.'s romance with J. unfold, and it was so special to be at the wedding and celebrate with them, if also slightly bittersweet because it is the end of three jampacked years of flatting with A. who is a wonderful, crazy friend!


6. The final highlight of the year for me was escaping to Dunedin with the family for Christmas and to Mt Cook, above, for a few days afterwards. More on this later. Suffice it to say it was a healing and happy time!

And as I finish this blog post it is two minutes past midnight. Happy new year! Please, 2012, be good to us.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

suddenly I am an outdoors person

I write from a camping ground in Mt Cook National Park where, for the first time in my life, I have successfully put up a tent all by myself and am planning to spend two whole nights in a row sleeping outdoors, by myself.

The weather is surprisingly warm and I am looking forward to a few days of walking, kayaking, exploring, adventuring, relaxing...

I came from a jampacked family Christmas in Dunedin - four days, three of which were spent at the beach, all of which almost seemed clichéd in their perfection, spent with my entire family which now numbers 25 including my parent, my siblings and their spouses, my nieces and nephews, and me.

More on this later. I plan to fill you in on all the details of my summer holiday, along with copious photos.

The day I left Christchurch (December 23) there were more earthquakes - a 5.8 followed by a 5.3 and a 6.0. I was in a little old secondhand book shop when the first one hit, kneeling at the bottom of a tall bookcase. The whole store wobbled around me and I could feel the earth rocking and all around me books were falling down and narrowly missing me. It wasn't pleasant, and was probably the least safe I have ever felt during any of the earthquakes. I was supposed to be leaving the next day but I ended up going home, packing my things in about half an hour, and driving to Dunedin.

I think I'm a little shell-shocked by it because for the last few days I have constantly, inexplicably, felt like bursting into tears at odd moments, even though I've been having a great time. It's not rational at all and I don't understand it so I'm putting it down to shock, and to frustration that just as everything seemed to be improving the quakes have hit us again.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

lightning and rain


I was on a trip with my music group when I was 13. It was one of those surreally cinematic moments, and the first time I'd ever seen a REAL lightning storm like fireworks across the sky. It was also probably quite dangerous, but who cares? I'm here to tell the tale.

I am glad I did this because it's the sort of thing I would totally put on my "Things To Do Before I Die" list if I had not in fact already done it. It's going on my "Things To Do Again" list now.

Monday, December 5, 2011

farewell


Our December issue of Halfway Down the Stairs is now out!

As usual, I get all giggly and proud of it and keep sneaking online to look at it.

If you like writing or reading or both, you should also sneak online and look at it. And if you like writing in particular, you should submit your work to us - we love to receive submissions. Check out our submissions page for information.

Some of my personal favourites this time around:

Salt Stain, by Zoe F. Gilbert

Hades Landing, by Rebecca Burns

Dominion, by Cristina Vega

Her Story, by Marjorie S. Thomsen

and 1941, by Kyle Hemmings

But really we wouldn't publish anything if it didn't come with a "Recommended" stamped across it. I hope you enjoy "Farewell" too!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

western australia


Honestly, is there nowhere I can escape the constant horde of men pursuing me? ;)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

st stephens


My friend and I were taking an elevator down from the roof of the cathedral, crammed into this tiny little room with about ten other people. The elderly man in charge of the lift was holding his transistor radio close and as he turned it on started nodding his head to the beat: "I will survive... oooooooh, as long as I know how to love I know I'll be allright..."

My friend and I looked at each other and almost collapsed with laughter.

It was one of those moments I'll always remember and will never quite be able to explain how funny it was, because the juxtaposition in that grim, sweeping cathedral was just so stark. You had to be there.

Monday, November 28, 2011

singapore


It's illegal there - gave me a little thrill!

I'm such a rebel.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Friday, November 25, 2011

the soundtrack of my year

My year started out with this song. This was a real feeling of congratulation that Christchurch had made it through a massive earthquake in 2010 and, though some buildings had fallen, the city remained intact. No one died. There was a tremendous sense of togetherness. I remember sitting in a pub at the Arts Centre with a cold Pimms and ginger ale on a summer evening looking around me and feeling so lucky to live here. I also remember playing this song to myself and thinking, I'm almost feeling this good, all I need to do now is finish my Masters and I can really feel it:



Then there was the earthquake on 22 February, and I remember wondering if I'd ever have a hope of listening to that song feeling good again, let alone not feeling sick.

For some time afterwards, I listened to this song over and over, and I'm not exactly sure why, but it captured how I felt without actually being at all about earthquakes:



A few weeks after the earthquake, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami happened, and in Christchurch there was this horrible realisation that we weren't as badly off as we could be, and what was happening to the world? And all I could listen to was this song and feel very dark and desperate:



Maybe it was the following songs that pulled me out of this a little bit... they're not particularly positive either but they helped:





I don't know when the turning point came, but during the remainder of the year I came to love Ella Fitzgerald:



... and Mumford and Sons:



Maybe I had calmed down a little? Probably it had something to do with finishing my Masters and learning to think clearly again.

And now it's this:



I'm sure I'll do a "summing up the year" blog post in a wee while so I don't want to steal all my own thunder... but it has definitely been a year of learning to rely on God. Did you know that we can't even rely on the ground beneath our feet? So I've learnt and I'm still learning to put them elsewhere, and I'm happy with the song my soundtrack finishes on.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

west virginia


On the monorail, to be precise. That is why I chose this photo.

It was actually quite scary and I burst into tears. (I was 12, separated from my mother, had no idea where I was, and no idea how to make the monorail take me where I wanted to go.)

Then I collected myself, found some coins in my pocket and figured it out.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

rat race

So it turns out that I really love my job! I've been there four weeks now, and not once have I felt at all unhappy with it.

I won't explain what it is again here, but will point you to this post, as I probably should be discreet and avoid easy google searches - not that there's any level of special, mysterious knowledge about my job, but it's in the public service and there's a lot of public interest in this organisation and I'm still a little unclear about where the boundaries are when it comes to blogging about it.

All the same, I can happily say that I love working there!

It totally suits me. I get to research and write letters in response to letters that come into the office. The original letters are often angry or complicated or sad, and I find the necessary information online or by talking to people throughout the organisation or in different organisations, and then draft a response. The best of it is when someone is in a really difficult situation, and you can provide information that will benefit them enormously.

The atmosphere is really exciting, because the pace of change is FAST. Since I've been there, there have been two major public announcements that have had a huge impact in the recovery effort. There are opportunities to stop your normal work and go help out at a community meeting, or take a bus trip through the central city, because there's a recognition you have to stay connected with what the organisation is doing on the ground, and with the people who are affected by the decisions coming out of this organisation.

My colleagues are wonderful. We get on very well, share a similar sense of humour, and there's a culture of helping each other out. We're a very small department and have a huge backlog of work but we're attacking it together and it's very satisfying to see the numbers on the "to-do" list falling.

Often, when I remember to think about this, I love the feeling that I am in the midst of a historical moment, a juncture in my city's history. I'm learning so much about what is going on here - it's a really valuable perspective. You can see things from many angles. I know that I will be looking back in the years to come and be able to say that I was involved. There's a strong feeling at work that, although we will probably make mistakes, everyone is there because we really care about our city and we really want to serve its people.

I also have to say that I love earning a regular income. The last few months have been really, really difficult money-wise. I had to stretch out any money that came in as long as I possibly could, as I usually had no idea when next I would be paid. It was a revolutionary feeling to get my first paycheck as a full-time worker and to know that another would be coming in a fortnight and so I could actually buy the things I need!

Oh. Two not-so-good things.

1. I don't like uncomfortable work shoes.

2. I'm not so keen on the fact that I am writing a blog post at 7:00am on a Saturday morning, because I am now incapable of sleeping in.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

krabi


... but at least I did it in an exotic, beautiful place, right?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

brighton


I think it wanted to eat my fish and chips.

Weirdest feeling ever.

Friday, November 11, 2011

manderley

Last weekend I went out to Little River for the Manderley Festival. Little River is some forty minutes from the outskirts of Christchurch, and Manderley is an old homestead with beautiful grounds, where every year they hold a market of artsy-craftsy-foody type stuff and open up the house, etc.

We stopped on the way out there at Birdlings Flat, which is a wild beach with millions of pebbles, which is exactly what my flatmate A. needs for the decorations for her wedding in December. So we were equipped with several buckets, but I have to admit I kept getting distracted from pebble-gathering and taking photos. Not many turned out very well but here are a couple.



Then to Manderley itself:

Here is the house:


The stalls:


Cool things for sale:



Swing dancers:


It's difficult to recreate for you, but it was such a beautiful day and there were so many interesting things to see and/or buy! I ended up buying a hippie bag and a beautiful little old hand-painted china vase, but also got to try out cheeses and salamis and chutneys and cupcakes and more, and I would heartily recommend the Manderley Festival to you - yes you - if you happen to be in Christchurch next November!

Monday, November 7, 2011

london


Well, I wouldn't blame him for being confused, really - not all that many people ask to have their photo taken with Karl Marx's grave.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

vienna

It's Austria's turn...


He sauntered into our hostel with a friend. He had a splendid moustache and a tan-coloured suit. I was waiting for my friend to finish using the internet.

While his friend argued with the proprietor, he approached me and asked me something in another language which it was convenient not to be able to understand precisely, although the meaning was pretty clear. I'm pretty sure it began with "How you doin'?" Then there were the gestures.

"Ah, I can't understand, very sorry!" I chattered politely.

"Gypsies!!!" hissed the proprietor as they left.

(By the way - I know that gypsies, or Roma, or wanderers, or whatever you like to call them, are quite a normal part of the community in parts of Europe, but to a 23 year old from New Zealand they sound like they come out a fairy tale. That is where this bumper sticker has its novelty for me.)

Monday, October 31, 2011

love and marriage

My next bumper sticker...


He was a recent immigrant. I was a fresh-faced but mature-looking twelve year old. He thought arranged marriages were the way to go, and were my parents interested?

Once he found out I was only twelve, he wondered if I had any sisters?

My parents politely said they thought they would let us choose for ourselves.

And then we got to the train station.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

windscreen emptiness

I'm going to pick up my new car today!

This got me thinking: for the first time in my life, I will be allowed to use bumper stickers in the purpose for which they are intended. But which bumper stickers to use?

Some people like to use the back windscreen of their car to boast about the interesting places they've been and the interesting things they've done.

And so I bring to you a series of my own bumper stickers, based on my exotic life of travel. And it's all true. Here's the first:


Feel free to print these out and make up your own bumper stickers if you too swallowed a fly in Western Australia. It's not difficult to do.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

graffiti


Graffiti in Christchurch - photo borrowed from a friend with permission:

"Christchurch - destined to rise"
"Ikarus"

Look, the thought's very nice, and his/her talent with a spray can is prodigious... but Icarus? Destined to rise? Really?!

Perhaps they started reading the story and got tired before the middle or the end.

Perhaps it's the name the artist uses on everything s/he does and my snark is pointless.

Either way, this made me giggle.

Friday, October 28, 2011

a week of firsts

1. I started my first proper grown-up job. Tried not to refer to it in that way at work and instead look professional and seasoned... well, perhaps not, but contrary to all expectations I did not get horribly nervous. I did not make horrible mistakes. I'm slipping into the work much quicker than I (and they) expected. I'm learning lots. I'm feeling quite privileged to get paid to do something that seems actually important and to work in something so closely associated with Canterbury earthquake recovery - pretty cool, really. Take that, all the people who said But what are you going to DO with a BA/MA? Future Arts grads, don't listen to them!

2. I bought my first car. !!! Rockin it in a Mazda Demio... okay, so it doesn't have that kind of a ring to it, but I'm pretty excited! I'm not actually picking it up until my birthday, as in NZ you pay less insurance after you're 25, so it made sense to wait a week.

3. It was my niece's first day at school on the same day I started work. She's five and very excited!

4. This week the buses started going through the city again, instead of around it, for the first time since the February earthquake. This may not seem that significant but the city has been like this big black hole in Christchurch where only people with hard hats and orange hi-visibility vests are allowed to go. The buses have been stopping on opposite sides of the CBD. This leads on...


5. The shopping district of Cashel Mall has all but disappeared. As you can see in the photo above, so much has been demolished while it's been cordoned off that it's barely recognisable. This goes for much of the city.
BUT! For the first time since February 22nd, they're opening up Cashel Mall to the public for shopping in shipping containers! See below.

Behold: the "pop-up mall".

It's not quite finished in the photo, but it's finished in reality, and tomorrow afternoon we'll be allowed into this part of the CBD once more to shop in this pop-up mall, eat and drink in pop-up cafés, et cetera.
I was a little sceptical until I saw the report on TV tonight about it, and it just looks so cool. It's very exciting to see the central city opening up for the first time, even if it's only a little bit, and in such a creative and fun way. Hurrah!
I will also be able to wander down in my lunch breaks on work days, as I work right on the edge of the CBD. Eating options have been limited, so this is also exciting.

It's SO GOOD to see Christchurch recovering little by little. There's a very long way to go. This has been something I've learnt even more this week as I've started my new job. It's easy to forget that things are crazy when you live in a fairly unaffected suburb and no longer visit the CBD. Now I'm there again, my work station reflects the buildings that are destined for demolition in its glass, and it seems ghostly. But life is returning slowly.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

hunting of a different kind

So it's been a while since I updated you. Last time, I almost had a job. This time, I definitely have it, and I'm starting next week! Can't deny I'm a little bit nervous, but I'm also looking forward to it. I will be working in a research and writing capacity for a government department concerned with the consequences of the earthquake in Christchurch and the rebuild. Doing what I love (research, writing) and feeling like it's actually practical - a winning combination for me! I just hope I don't make any really stupid mistakes in the early weeks.

In other news, we are spending this week flat-hunting - my last week of freedom plus my other flatmate is on holiday. We will be leaving our current flat when the lease ends in a month or so as it is quite big (5 bedrooms to fill) and some of us are keen for a smaller place in a different part of town.

We visited a potential flat yesterday that has so many flaws but I am addicted to the idea of it already! I will explain.

It's on the hills overlooking Christchurch.

After parking your car, you need to walk up a little path like this one, for about a minute. (So yeah, it is inconvenient when moving in, or at night, et cetera - but oh so romantic!)

The house is a 1920s villa a little like this one (but it is almost entirely white).

It is surrounded by trees and bush like this one. There is a little grassy area at the top of the section, with a clothesline and sweeping views of the city, and it feels like you're in an oasis from the modern world, even though you're actually surrounded by other houses.

There are bay windows throughout the house.

There is a sun room and a lounge, dining room and bedrooms with amazing views.

This would be the view during the night.

This would be a view during the day - except that it would be much more sweeping, and you could see all the way to the sea.

It might be cold in winter. The kitchen is quite dated. It's an old house and is likely to have mice. But on the other hand it's affordable, there's HEAPS of space, the landlord seems excellent and he seemed to like us, there will be a new kitchen, and despite the fact that the weather was horrid yesterday the house felt warm, even though its new owners have not yet installed any heating. (They will be doing so.)

We left the house so excited. But completely aware of its problems. Are now waiting for a quote from a moving company for our bigger items, as we have no hope whatever of moving them in ourselves. We think we'll have a cooling-down period and see other houses before we apply... but I can't imagine feeling quite as much in love with any other home!!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

positivity

I am having a great weekend so far, and it's only Saturday!

1. I almost have a job! Just waiting for them to speak to my referees but basically as long as my referees say nothing horrible about me I am going to receive a job offer soon. It happens to be a job that I really wanted and I am very excited about it - so very grateful, relieved and happy!

2. I got my thesis markers' comments back, and was surprised to read some really lovely, positive, genuine feedback from the external marker who happens to be an historian I really respect. Recovered some of my confidence in my own work as a result.

3. Googled myself this morning (oh, don't laugh, I bet you've done it too) and discovered my thesis is now online - I'm famous! Hmm. Yes. Of course.
You can read it here or here if you like. But don't worry. I have few illusions about how widely read this thesis will be.

4. Had an excellent night with some friends from church last night, sitting round eating dessert and sharing our stories of how we discovered faith in God. It was really fantastic and a little emotional at times and there were a lot of smiles and laughter.

Friday, September 30, 2011

this is one of my favourite things


When I was a very little girl, at some point before I can remember, I had my first boiled egg. My father would have drawn a funny face on it, like he did for all my siblings and me. If only we had a photographic record of all the faces, over the years, about to face doom through a sharp whack to the head.

I would have doused it in salt - because I'm sorry, but there is no point in eating a boiled egg without salt - and I would have eaten it with great pleasure. I love eggs, and I love boiled eggs especially. I think I particularly like that they are so personal - everyone has their own preferences when it comes to eggs. For myself, I boil an egg for five minutes precisely in quickly boiling water. Any longer, and it's too solid for me.

Anyway, I would finish the egg, already longing for more. At this point someone would have played a trick on me by turning the larger half of the egg shell over in the egg cup, to look as if it hadn't been eaten yet, and offered it to me.

Bloggers, I fell for it, even if I can't remember doing so, and from that point on, I have been constitutionally incapable of eating a boiled egg without offering SOMEONE the empty shell. I know that very rarely will anyone fall for it. I have successfully tricked someone once in my entire life, which I estimate would be a success rate of roughly 1/375. Nevertheless it is hilariously funny.

These are a few of my favourite things.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

writing

This is going to be one of those blog posts in which I divulge things I've been trying not to think about too much. The problem is, I am rapidly becoming so bored with unemployment that I need to fill my time with things... and so it's becoming even harder to ignore this particular issue.

I've always thought 'wouldn't it be great to have more spare time so I could write more stories?' Well, now I have it.

Unfortunately, I feel like I've lost the ability to write... creatively, that is.

I have not written a single story or even the smallest piece of creative writing since I started my MA thesis two and a half years ago.

I feel stunted, like I've lost a limb, because up until that moment I have always scribbled things down. Since I was about six years old I wanted to be an author, and, even if my writing was pretty dreadful then, at least I was doing it.

What's more, I'd always been writer-minded, but not so much now. I was reading Stacy's awesome blog post on inspiration the other day and I wondered where this has gone - my constant awareness of the things around me, my intention to mine them ruthlessly for stories, scenes or characters.

I just don't know where to start now.

I can't blame this entirely on the MA, but it has been affected by my concentration on historical research and historical writing over the last few years. It's such a different way of thinking. I thought it might even help my creative writing, because planning stories has never been my strong point and it's just not possible to write a thesis without planning everything. But now I feel that I've lost the ability to just sit down and WRITE, without thinking too much.

I also feel that I listened to my supervisors too much when they couldn't understand that the pieces of writing I'd submitted to them were just drafts. My draft writing was always quite good but not very good at first draft stage, and so I think they got the idea that I'd already worked on improving it but hadn't succeeded in correcting all the mistakes, etc. They would go through and pick out every flaw, even when I asked them not to, assuring them I would deal with the phrasing later on. So I became paranoid about writing every sentence perfectly, the first time. Unfortunately this only made my prose more awkward. I look at my thesis now, and wish I had ignored almost everything they said about my writing (except for a few valid points).*

I'm hoping that in this public splurge of self-information, I will be able to prod myself into action. Admitting the problem being the first step to solving the problem, et cetera. To a large extent writing is just about sitting down and getting on with it. I get it.



* My supervisors were for the most part amazing, brilliant, helpful, insightful, kind, inspiring and understanding. I simply wish I had had a little more confidence, to know when I should have listened and when I shouldn't have.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

music I like

Just because. My current favourites.





And, along with just about everybody else:

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

boys boys boys

A while ago, my flatmates and I sat down with pen and paper and hummed/hahed over a list of the attributes of the perfect man - or, more accurately, the sort of man we could see ourselves marrying. (Funnily enough, one of my flatmates got engaged the next week! This was not solely because of the list-making but we flatter ourselves it had something to do with it.)

After we'd laughed at ourselves a little, we took it quite seriously and each produced a list. I'll share mine with you now. I've actually blogged about this once before, on my old blog, but the list has changed a little (although in some ways it has stayed the same).

Each of us chose some qualities that were non-negotiable and some that were more negotiable. I suspect that some of our non-negotiables are actually less important than we think... but I will reproduce my list exactly as it was, for the sake of posterity.

Non-negotiables

(a) Christian, with a similar sense of mission, without making me feel too imperfect
As I said last time, this isn't always a black and white issue for everyone, but for me it is. I want someone who takes their faith seriously. However, I don't want to marry someone I look up to in awe of their faith in comparison to mine, as I would start feeling insecure.

(b) similar sense of humour
This is very important, I think.

(c) tallish; attraction; a sense of physical security
i.e. not too weedy

(d) someone I can respect, whose opinions I value
For a while, I could be with someone with whom I disagreed on any fundamental level or who seemed unwise. Eventually, I would inevitably end up looking down on him, and it would make for a very unhealthy relationship.

(e) someone I can trust and feel comfortable with
Fairly obvious.

(f) someone who really really likes me!
This is something that really stands out in my flatmate's relationship with her fiancé. He just adores her. It's lovely. Everyone knows they won't always FEEL "in love" with each other's most annoying qualities, etc., but you have to know that there is that foundation. At least, I do.

(g) someone with a similar sense of empathy and social integrity
I'm not saying I overflow with charitable giving as much as I should, but I would like to be in a marriage in which we could challenge each other to think outward in this way. I don't want to marry someone who always wants a bigger house and more cars. I want to be self-conscious about what we need and what we think we need.

(h) not too moody

(i) likewise, mental and emotional toughness - calm under pressure

(j) someone who listens

Qualities that are preferable, but negotiable

(k) values children and family, and is liked by my family

(l) musical or likes music
I've always fantasised about going to awesome concerts, etc., of all kinds, with The Boy.

(m) not too sporty
This may seem a little silly, but I've noticed that sporty people seem to want their girlfriends to be just like them. Not going to happen.

(n) exotic or pleasant accent
Okay, so this is more than a little silly :)

(o) someone who is a good at being handy around the house, and will deal with gross things
This has become even more important after living in an all-girl flat, feeling foolish every time our landlord has to fix something that boys would have been able to fix by themselves in three seconds.

(p) social, hospitable and outward-looking
Yes, I'm an introvert at heart, but I like being with other people. I like strong friendships and I think it's important to keep these up after getting married. I also like the idea of having a welcoming and open home.

(q) someone who can appreciate personal space
OK, so as I just said, I like being with other people. But. There is a point when I just want some alone-time. I hope that if I get married my husband can appreciate that.

What are your negotiables and non-negotiables?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

discoveries

You will probably remember how much I loved this angel tombstone in a cemetery near my father's house:


And you will probably remember that I was sad to discover that she had sustained quite some damage in the Christchurch earthquakes.

Today I started browsing the Christchurch Art Gallery's online galleries, and particularly their large collection of William (Bill) A. Sutton's work, which can be found here. He was an artist from Christchurch, born 1917, died 2000, and I've always had a thing for his work.

I was SO EXCITED to find among his sketches that he too liked the angel tombstone!

Here she is. Taken from this page on the gallery website.

It's a little hard to see, so I sharpened the picture here:


I admit I do wish he had been able to do something more with the sketch, but the fact that one of my favourite artists wandered round my city too, and liked the same things I like - that's cool enough as it is.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

mastering the arts

This morning I found out that I officially have a Masters degree in Arts.

And yes - that means that from now on, it's Master Allie to you.

It was a bit of a rollercoaster of emotions.

For one thing, it was a good solid mark, so I was pleased. I will now be able to say that I have a Master of Arts with Distinction. But it was also not quite as high as I would have liked - let's face it, I'm never going to be over the moon with anything less than A+ - so I was a little teensy bit disappointed. But I went for a walk, processed everything, thought back over the last few years and came to the conclusion that:

(a) I was being a little bit silly. I've done very well!

(b) I have learned Huge Things about how to do research. Anything that was not A+ about my thesis is an opportunity to improve next time.

(c) I've made it through rather a crazy two years by the grace of God - this is like a certification of that - and for that I feel a little over-emotional and proud and grateful.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

job-hunting is so much fun

So, I think it's time for a little update on my employment prospects.

I have now been rejected for 81 jobs! Huzzah!

I think I'm doing pretty well so far at keeping my head held high amidst a constant stream of rejections... I regret to inform you ... we found other applicants matched the requirements of experience more closely than you did... et cetera, et cetera. (That's if they reply at all.)

I could become rather cynical and question how these applicants ever got experience - but I try to avoid thinking too much about it and just write Better and More Persuasive covering letters.

Fortunately, I have two part-time jobs which have covered my bills so far but I will need to find something else in the immediate future as one of them is winding down.

I've had two interviews for a "proper job" so far - I didn't get either but one of them gave me some excellent feedback, and it was good practice. I also got to the point of taking a personality test for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After which they too rejected me. I think being rejected on the basis of your personality is slightly worse than being rejected because you "only" have a strong postgraduate degree.

Oh, isn't it all so fun?! I have had a few weeks of sheer apathy, refusing to even look at job applications, as it all seems hopeless and then I give myself a virtual slap, and start applying again. The funny thing is that when I look at some of the job descriptions, I KNOW I would be fantastic at them. The only thing I need to do is convince the employer of that.

So I beat on, boat against the current, borne ceaselessly into ... who knows where?!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

one year on

Today, it's one year on from the first major earthquake in the Canterbury region. When it happened, it's safe to say I had no idea how much things would change in Christchurch over the coming year. As you will probably be able to tell from reading my first earthquake blog post.

As I have probably said before, I'm a bit sceptical about the whole idea of officially remembering things based on an arbitrarily-selected portion of time. Also, it was really the February quake that turned things upside down.

Still, everyone else is doing it, and there's something about experiencing the sudden onset of spring at the moment that makes it easy to remember how things were a year ago.

And there's no denying that it was the September quake that made earthquakes a part of our consciousness. By the time the February quake hit, we'd been through thousands of miniature ones, almost every day. We'd seen our city closed to us, and we'd seen it reopened, and I for one had gained an entirely new perspective on the preciousness of my city. I remember sitting in the courtyard of the Dux de Lux sometime in January or early February looking out over the Gothic Revival architecture of the Arts Centre, a cold Pimms in hand, thinking how lucky I was to live in such a pleasant city and how close we'd come to losing it.

I can't remember all that much about the September earthquake, except that I was shaken awake, and it was very dark because all the streetlights went off and I thought vaguely to myself, wow, this is quite a reasonably sized earthquake. I wasn't even sure if it was worth getting up and checking on my flatmates until I heard them stumbling around in the dark. One of them was beside herself and I felt slightly frustrated with her, especially as I was still half-asleep and couldn't really grasp what was going on. One of them slept through it, which is kind of unbelievable in hindsight, but true. After checking on her, we sat around in the dark with candles on (apparently that's a big no-no) for about twenty minutes, I decided it must have been the Alpine Fault and hoped the people in the West Coast would be okay - has no idea that it was actually far closer to us. "Oh well," I said. "Let's go to bed."

The power stayed off until about 10am, and only then, when we were able to turn on the TV, did I start to realise what was going on.

Since then:
  • we take less for granted, and we plan for everything that could go wrong.
  • our social lives have become much more home-based. There are just far fewer places open.
  • "quaking" is one of the largest labels on the right sidebar of this blog.
  • we have a whole new vocabulary: "liquefaction", "munted", etc.
  • we are never at a loss for small talk or for conversation starters.
  • we have shaken our way through more than 8,000 sizeable quakes. It's a part of life now. And who knows when it will stop?
  • we have had to put up with a new mythology growing, outside Christchurch, of "resilient Cantabrians" or "tough southerners" when in fact so many people feel fragile, under siege, and would like the rest of the country to understand this.
  • having said that - I've personally learned a lot and come to understand myself a lot more.
  • we've started noticing when bad things happen abroad.
  • we've lost some people, some places and some things we can never recover.

Friday, September 2, 2011

halfway down the stairs: we all fall down


The September issue of Halfway Down the Stairs is now published! The theme is "We All Fall Down" - which, I believe, has been one of the most interesting themes for us in terms of the submissions we have received.

Of course you should devour the entire issue! ...

... but, if you only read one piece, it should be The Red Dress, by M. B. Wallace. I really loved this story. One of my all-time favourites from the 'zine. (This is speaking from the point of view of a fiction editor, of course!) Go read it now. It's short, it's beautiful.

But there is plenty more: we were also very pleased to receive submissions like Leah Browning's Punch, and Jeff Wood's Ketchup. And there is quite a small but glittering section of poetry, and one really nice nonfiction selection.

This time, my contribution was a book review of a novel by one of our previous authors.

Monday, August 29, 2011

let them eat cake

It was my flatmate's engagement party on Saturday night, and we were all supposed to bring a dessert. So I decided to make an engagement ring cake!!! What a great way to procrastibake.

I started by making a buttercake from the Edmonds cake mix. I feel ashamed even admitting this because I don't usually like using packets for baking, but there's no denying it's a reliable and simple way to make a cake for decorating. (It's not half bad as far as taste goes, either.) If you are above packet mixes, try this recipe.


It's fairly easy to manipulate this kind of shape into an engagement ring, obviously:


The recipe I used for the icing was the Vienna Cream recipe:
125 g/4 oz butter at room temperature
1.5 cups icing sugar
2 T milk

Place butter in small bowl of an electric mixer and beat until it is as white as possible.
Gradually add about half the sifted icing sugar, beating constantly.
Add milk gradually.
Then gradually beat in the remaining icing sugar.
Mixture should be smooth and easy to spread with a spatula.

My flatmate's ring is white gold, with a sapphire in the middle and a diamond on each side of it. So it was easy enough colouring the icing for the stones - not so easy for the silver-coloured ring. I ended up choosing "gold" colouring for the ring, which turned out more yellow than gold. But never mind!


And then I made it more beautiful:


I felt pure happiness looking at my cake. I was also very proud when my cake was first choice for a number of children at the party.

Friday, August 19, 2011

survive history

Apparently, ASTONISHINGLY, the phrase "surviving history" did not originate with me. I've been playing on Google, originally because I'm so vain that I wanted to see where my blog appeared on the list of websites containing the phrase "surviving history"...

... except I don't think I ever found out. I got distracted by some of the intriguing entries that (deservedly) appeared well above me on the list.

Surviving History: Portraits from Vilna
This blog is about a project which is documenting the experiences of 10 Holocaust survivors in Lithuania. It talks about the exhibition currently touring outside Lithuania - read more about it here. It interviews survivors like Gita, and it talks about the problems they faced after the Holocaust and still face today. It talks about Lithuania's problems with anti-Semitism, Holocaust revision and the ultra-nationalists, and it discusses why this stuff still needs to be discussed. It links to info about other crimes against humanity around the world. Very impressive.

The Hebrew Bible Contains the Oldest Surviving History
Unfortunately you can't read the whole article unless you're a paid-up member, but the start of it is fascinating all the same. It challenges our perception of writing our own histories as an obvious thing to do across cultures. Interesting notion!

Surviving History: the TV show
Well, I don't know about you, but I didn't realise this show existed until now. History Channel crossed with Mythbusters, exploring the different ways humans have tortured or attacked or killed each other. Charming. Here is a clip about the history of hanging as a method of execution. I wish people didn't have to do this thing where they construct a safe, fake replica of something horrid from the past and claim to be finding out exactly "what it felt like". No. No, you don't. Hopefully you will never know what it feels like to be hanged or tortured or executed in any way.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

childish delight

You might remember I had a snow day last month. It was rather a lot of snow for Christchurch, and I thought that was it - turns out a rather large snowy cloud was heading this way from Antarctica and our whole country seems to be swearing they have seen snowflakes - no matter how far north or coastal they are.

It's not UNUSUAL for Christchurch to get snow in the winter but it is downright extraordinary for cities further north, like Wellington and Auckland.

Stephen Fry, who is currently in the country filming The Hobbit, put it like this on Twitter: "Wellington is beside itself with delight. Snow falling in the nation's capital for the first time for 35 years they tell me."
Then, later: "NZ has, bless it, gone officially mad. First snow in Auckland since the 30s. Children running along with open mouths to taste the flakes :)"

Basically the whole country is delighted. It may seem very strange to people from places with large annual snowfalls but it's really lovely to see the visible, childish joy that seems to be soaring around the country right now.

This lovely video was filmed in Wellington. Highly recommended.

we all fall down


Today is the last day for submissions for "We All Fall Down" - the theme for our September issue of Halfway Down the Stairs!

Submission instructions can be found here. I'd encourage you to submit, especially if you've got a poem or a nonfiction piece sitting unpublished. (We've accepted rather a lot of fantastic fiction so far, but would still love to be sent more, too!)

Friday, August 12, 2011

the Proust questionnaire

According to Vanity Fair (the magazine, not the novel):

The Proust Questionnaire has its origins in a parlor game popularized (though not devised) by Marcel Proust, the French essayist and novelist, who believed that, in answering these questions, an individual reveals his or her true nature.

So, here I go. Opening myself up like a book to you.

1.
 What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A wild location, sitting in front of a big window in a comfy armchair, a really gripping novel, a block of chocolate, really good coffee, a warm fire.

2.  What is your greatest fear?

Disappointing people.

3.  What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

Over-analysing things.

4.  What is the trait you most deplore in others?

A lack of loyalty.

5.  Which living person do you most admire?

My dad.

6.  What is your greatest extravagance?

Books.

7.  What is your current state of mind?

A little bit frustrated with myself for being lazy this week.

8.  What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Extroversion.

9.  On what occasion do you lie?

When I'm uncomfortable! I tend to overcompensate.

10.  What do you most dislike about your appearance?

To be honest? I'd like to lose some weight!

11.  Which living person do you most despise?

... It took me a really long time to think of someone. I'm not sure I feel comfortable saying that about anyone. I do feel disgusted by Clayton Weatherston. A man from New Zealand who stabbed his ex-girlfriend 216 times and then tried to use the defence of provocation in court.

12.  What is the quality you most like in a man?

Physical: His voice and the way he speaks.
More abstract: Being understanding, having compassion.

13.  What is the quality you most like in a woman?

Good conversation, and not judgmental.

14.  Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

"Ummm.... yeah." My flatmate pointed out that I do this all the time, when I'm trying to remember what I was going to say and don't succeed. Now I can't stop noticing that I do it!

15.  What or who is the greatest love of your life?

God.

16.  When and where were you happiest?

All the Christmas Days of my childhood - having all my siblings around (which was not normal), food, receiving presents, giving presents, long summery days, laxity about bedtimes, etc...

17.  Which talent would you most like to have?

Dancing. I have the misfortune of complete uncoordinatable feet. (Yes, I know that is not a word.)

18.  If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I would like to be more confident.

19.  What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Hmm. Finishing my MA, I suppose.

20.  If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?

A bird of some kind.

21.  Where would you most like to live?

In the mountains by a lake.

22.  What is your most treasured possession?

The freedom to think and believe what I think and believe. The independence of my mind from manipulation or control. (Not that I believe I am entirely free of this, but I love that I don't have to think what the magazines tell me, or what the ads tell me, or what anyone tells me.) My equality with everyone around me, so that I can never grovel below someone or lord it over someone.

23.  What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Hopelessness.

24.  What is your favorite occupation?

Organising events, because this involves creativity/finding original ideas/brainstorming but also pleasant mindless work.

25.  What is your most marked characteristic?

... A tendency to want to discover things for myself rather than be told about them.

26.  What do you most value in your friends?

Time and effort.

27.  Who are your favorite writers?

Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Roald Dahl, Arthur Conan Doyle

28.  Who is your hero of fiction?

Jane Eyre

29.  Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Sophie Scholl

30.  Who are your heroes in real life?

My siblings

31.  What are your favorite names?

Kezia

32.  What is it that you most dislike?

Cruelty, hypocrisy and selfishness

33.  What is your greatest regret?

Taking Calculus in my last year of high school.

34.  How would you like to die?

Not too old. Heroically! :)

35.  What is your motto?

I don't particularly like mottos, unless they're funny. They tend to over-simplify things. But at this particular moment in time I do like this:

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. - Colossians 3:12-14

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

picking sides

I wrote this blog post a while ago, and since then have been sitting on it for a while. I wasn't sure if it was a good idea to publish it because it's very ranty, and not exactly in the normal style of this blog. So be warned - it deals with controversial stuff, and I am clearly quite upset about some things. The boat may be rocked.

Let's make a deal. Just in case you read this and disagree, and just in case any comments get heated. I promise not to deal any differently with you than I normally would. I respect the people who read this blog, I respect that we have differences of opinion, and I will continue to read YOUR blogs with pleasure. I would love if you could continue to read mine without judging my normal blog posts by what you may disagree with in this one.

--

I am going through a phase of feeling completely cynical about politics. (I know it's not exactly abnormal.)

I've always seen myself as a left-winger. I generally like left-wing people who argue about things better than right-wing people who argue about things. I love the idea of a society that recognises the contribution of the working class to wealth. I really, really love that I live in a country with a public health system that tends to work and is available to everyone. I like that if I am ever in deep financial trouble I probably won't have to go and live on the street. I like unions.

I'm not a fan of the Right. It is so fixated on the economic rights of the individual that it tends to ignore the masses and their need to, you know, eat. Its theory is that, by allowing individuals to accrue unlimited wealth, society will be more generally wealthy as an inevitable result. It seems to assume that people with lots of money will automatically be charitably-minded, responsible people who are brimming over with integrity. Ha!

I still feel this way about these things.

However, I'm growing less and less convinced that either Left or Right or anyone in between or on the extremes has a clue how to cope with difficult problems. The centrist/right-wing party in charge at the moment hasn't exactly fixed anything in the last few years they've been in power (to be fair, they aren't responsible for the financial problems of the global economy). On the other hand, the Left is almost cartoonish, bleating the same old song - "Tax the rich!" And what? All our problems will be solved? Recently, the Labour Party leader claimed that he would raise the minimum wage and this in itself would create more jobs... really?! I'm not a right-winger but, even so, this does not exactly compute.

It also bugs me how the Left has a penchant for saying that if you're one of us you need to feel the same way about every single issue. A few left-wing blogs I've been following lately have told me that because I believe that abortion is a violation of human rights I am therefore a man, socially conservative, a supporter of the war in Iraq, and a member of the right wing. If it helps you to ignore my objections by persuading yourself of that... well, please enjoy your bubble.

I'm beginning to think that the Left, over the last century or so, has a major problem. We TALK in terms of the masses. Social justice for all. Human rights. But actually we're all about picking sides, demanding justice for our half and delivering oppression on the other.

Lenin and Stalin and the international Communist movement were very open about this. It was the working class versus the capitalist oppressors, and it was a class war. And so only the rights of the workers have any weight whatsoever, and everyone else can rot in the gulag or be liquidated in purges. Stalinist or Maoist or Leninist crimes have been well known for a long time now, and the non-Communist Left rightly dissociates itself from them. Heck, even the Communists do so.

All the same, the non-Communist Left falls into the same trap when it starts arguing that, because it feels intense sympathy for one particular group of individuals, it's okay to ignore the rights of other individuals.

To fall pregnant, when you don't want to be pregnant... I feel sad thinking about this. It would be horrible. I'm not sure how to emphasise this without coming across a little trite, but please believe that women in this position have my full sympathy.

However, this in itself is not a wildcard to ignore the humanity of an unborn child. Demanding an end to this sad situation through abortion is another symptom of this mentality of picking-sides. As long as justice is done on ONE side, then it's okay that a human life is taken on the other.

Would anyone seriously question the humanity of a foetus if it were not for the fact that they want to have the freedom to abort it if it appears at an inconvenient time? Or if it were not for the fact that the state would prefer not to spend money on a child with a birth defect, who needs extra care, education, and support?

To call that child a parasite is just as unjust as calling the children of the Russian Tsar parasites who deserved to be murdered. It's just as unfair as exiling to forced labour and probable death the children of a peasant who happened to own a cow and was therefore a "rich" kulak.

And to tell ME that it's none of my business if an individual or a society decides to take someone else's life from them is a statement that has been made by a string of evil tyrants. It should never be received unquestioningly.

It's easier to get away with arguing that a foetus is not a human, because you can't see this unborn child. You can argue that, because it's not "normal" or it looks different to us, it doesn't have human rights in the same way we do. It's also easy to persuade yourself that it's okay because none of the people taking part in the debate will ever be threatened with this kind of "termination" (a word that bears a frightening resemblance to "liquidation", in my opinion). We have all made it out of the uterus, and therefore we are safe from this particular threat.

What happens, though, when WE become inconvenient? When we are in a car crash and lose control of our bodies? When we become elderly, frail, senile? By explaining away the rights of the individual in one case, will we have weakened our support of human rights in all cases?

And are we really comfortable, in the modern world, with saying that the worth placed on an individual by society defines their right to live or die? Are we comfortable with saying that an individual who has Down's Syndrome should not have made it out of the womb? And why - because they're not normal? They don't fit in with the majority of people? They don't "contribute" to society? It's offensive, isn't it. And yet it's the constant implication.

Our system has made us believe that we have to choose one or the other. The rights of the woman or the rights of the baby. By picking one or the other, we are buying into a system that degrades both. We need to change the system. Make it value pregnant women, support them, provide them with financial and emotional help. Make it value the vulnerable of all ages. Zero tolerance for discrimination in the workplace or society at large for women who are pregnant. Et cetera.

The inevitable response to my objections is usually that, if I really cared about the foetus, I would care about the foetus post-birth. That OBVIOUSLY the majority of abortions in New Zealand and elsewhere are undergone for selfless reasons - because the pregnant woman knows she wouldn't be able to provide the right kind of life for her child.

Firstly, here we have again the assumption that I am a rabid right-winger and don't want to vote for governments that will provide support for single mothers or families who live in difficult situations. I am not that person. Actually, I will almost always vote Labour or even lefter.

Secondly, the obvious retort is that we would not use the same logic about other humans in society. We don't kill criminals who have not been reformed because they will probably cause suffering when they leave prison and have an unhappy life. We are horrified and angry when the lives of infants and small children are taken away from them, no matter what sort of economic circumstances or family situation they were affected by.

We believe these things because we've seen these people, we've talked to them, they've had a chance to talk to us. We want to live in a society that gives everyone a chance to make what they can of what they've been given.

We believe that life is a Good Thing, an opportunity, and no one should be able to take it away on behalf of someone else because they think someone else will be better off that way - what narrow-minded arrogance!

We just seem to forget this, when it happens to be an unborn human. Maybe it's because it would be too inconvenient. Maybe it's because we can't see them, and they look different to us. Whatever the reason, I've had enough of this convenient blindness.

Friday, August 5, 2011

joy in music

Cadbury's New Zealand branch recently brought out a new feel-good advertising campaign called "Share the Joy". The idea is, people sent in clips of noises of New Zealanders experiencing joy, and Cadbury and a famous guy used the clips to create a song. It's quite a cute idea, I suppose, and you can view it here if you want.

But though the video's sweet I find it doesn't quite succeed in making ME experience joy.

So I've been thinking recently about music that communicates joy in and of itself. I don't mean music with funny lyrics, or music about feel-good topics, but MUSIC that brings a smile to your face just through the way it manipulates rhythm or melody or harmonics.

And so here are some of my favourites. They will make you happier, or you can have your money back.

Ella Fitzgerald. And so here she is, with Mel Tormé, bringing a smile to the face of any one who's human, surely:



And if that wasn't enough for you, here she is, outright hilarious:



Now, who's heard of the Portsmouth Sinfonia? The only rule of admission was that you must not actually be a musician, or you must play an instrument unfamiliar to you. This awesome parody orchestra brought out several records and even toured! Here they are with Strauss' majestic "Also Sprach Zarathustra":



If you want more, I would highly, er, recommend their performance of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

This may be kind of weird, but the haka brings me joy. It's not really supposed to - the form they perform at the rugby is a war haka. It send chills running up and down my spine, but it also makes up for actually having to watch sports afterwards. And this particular haka, before an All Blacks vs Samoa game of rugby, is particularly awesome because both sides have a form of the haka, and they face each other off. Personally, I think the Maori haka is much scarier than the Samoan one. But I am slightly biased:



Stand By Me. It's a happy song. But it's even happier when played around the world by artists playing for change:



And because I'm obsessed with the tin whistle, I add this video. Feet tapping, heart smiling.



Then there's Shura Cherkassky, the pianist. I have never heard ANYONE match his rendition of the polka from Shostakovich's The Golden Age. They're too serious. He was very, very funny. He listened to the piece, instead of just performing it or showing off.

I couldn't find a full recording online but you can listen to it partially here. Otherwise, get hold of volume 3 of the collection of his encores.

Finally, there's Louis Armstrong, with "What a Wonderful World". There is a man who sings in the way the song wants him to.