Sunday, 13 December 2015

MORE THAN A LITTLE DULL

Dear Rachel,

Your chattiness means that all of your pieces are too short and I usually read them over and over. I did like the way you wrote about wee Arlo heading off to school. The train cake looks tremendous and I'd like to see it from different angles. The marshmallow smoke is awesome!! He will surely love going to school and the adventure it is. A trip to the beach is wonderful, especially with wildlife encounters. I was up in Oman on Friday with a friend and some people I just met. We climbed a hill, ate a packed lunch, and swam in the rather cold mini waves. It really was a lovely way to spend a few hours. Beaches. I could believe in god purely based on beaches and the feelings of beauty they arouse and the wonder they evoke. 

So, 41. I'm not a big fan of ages. They tell us nothing about a person, really. How different people can be at each stage. An age is not an indicator of how we have lived or how much life we have left. It's simply a way to put people into groups on school sports day and things like that.

As an appreciater of maths, I liked your telling of the story about there being no last number. I like things which separate humans from other creatures. Things like mysteries and hypothetical situations and art and jokes. Do other creatures enjoy these things or just us? Infinity, or close to, is an amazing thought. Even unstoned ;)

I've been thinking about areas of sadness recently as I have a couple in my life. I'm happy. I'm very happy in fact but there are a few places in my mind which I take deep breaths before considering. I can not put into words how nervous I am about seeing Ben and Jonah next Monday. They have new lives now. New people. New friends. New new. New. I am part of their old life and I am terrified that the space they have for me in their heart is shrinking. I know it is certainly not growing. It may just be my imagination but, hand on heart, these thoughts have robbed me recently. I have been glum. I feel as if I've had a time of happiness but low esteem; an uncertain next few years and heartbreaking choices to make have shat on the waves I've been riding, hanging ten. Some Wellington air and ice cream may just clear the air.

Let's keep writing to each other. It's good to hear how you and those boys are. It's good to read of the joys of family life and the thoughts of 41 year olds. I need to slink into bed now. It's approaching midnight. 

Merry Christmas.


Michael









Wednesday, 25 November 2015

FOR ONCE IN MY LIFE.

Dear friend, I'm back.

Life kidnapped me for a while there and I have only just escaped its clutches. I've been sucked up and spat out but not in any way that offended me particularly.

I'm wondering how you are? We've been out of touch and I'm looking forward to reconnecting. Have you managed to get some of the time you needed for yourself? A bit more sleep? Knowing that the time left before you see your boys is getting shorter and shorter must help a lot. It's really not long before you're here.

We have had a big happening in our family. Our 'baby' has finished kindergarten and turned five and started school. We have had a week of all eyes on him and celebrations and a few tears shed quietly one morning in the shower by me. Watching my sons grow up brings me the greatest pleasure, but it's also bitter sweet. The feel of a small hand in my hand; the soft sweet smelling skin; the cuddles and crawling into laps and connectedness with a young child slowly disappear. It's hard knowing that I'm observing these milestones for the third and final time. Previously we've always known we'll get another turn at seeing one of our children arrive at this new stage.

That said, I am delighting in seeing him enjoy school. He told me there are some good bits and some not so good bits (that's a fair synopsis of school I'd say) but he's going happily and coming back happy and that seems like a good sign to me.

I made a train cake for Arlo for his birthday. That was what he had requested months ago, and his decision didn't change. Do you remember the old Women's Weekly cake book? The train cake is in there. My mother in law tells me that Ben had one when he was a boy too and she wondered if he had mentioned that. Ben doesn't tend to remember that sort of stuff. In fact lots of things he doesn't remember. In that way he's a good person to tell a secret to.

Today I took a trip to the rocky shore with the junior school that I hadn't been intending to take. But a parent helper pulled out and I subbed in and it was a lovely treat to get to go along with Arlo on his first school outing. We sat together and ate our lunch and talked about how nice it is to share a good sandwich. I found out that I'm not too scared to pick up a starfish or a sea anemone. I was pleased with that discovery.

but then this evening while we were reading Charlie and Lola I terrified Arlo by telling him that there was no end number. It wasn't entirely my fault as he's the one that brought it up, but he said that there must be an end number otherwise you'd just be counting all day and I said you could count all day every day for the rest of your life and never reach the end number and he shouted "NO! No Mummy! There is an end number!" and I said "Actually there probably is. Sorry about that". I've been stoned, lying on the grass looking up at the stars, and I've seen the whole universe stretching out further and further, deeper and deeper. It's a lot to take in, so I kind of know how he felt.

Tomorrow I will be 41 years old. That's good. That's quite old. I want to tell you what I've learnt in the last year and I can't think of anything except that I've acknowledged how much I hate to be cold and so I now encourage myself to wear a coat places where it might be windy. Why did it take me 40yrs to figure out just how much temperature affects me? Was I not paying attention?

Anyway, if I was having a birthday party tomorrow I would play this song and drag everyone up to dance with me to it. There is no hiding from the fact that I would be dancing like someone's Mum. There's no shame in that.

I'm going to go and read a book in bed now. That's what nearly 41 year olds do (this nearly 41 year old anyway!)
I'm wishing you happiness and peace of mind dear friend. And I'm hoping for a post from you soon.
With much love,
xxR



Tuesday, 10 November 2015

UNEXPECTED

Dear Rachel,

I've sat many times this past week to write and reply to you but the words didn't flow. The were choked. So I'm back to scratch and have unfortunately had to ditch some great jokes in order to clean off the screen and prepare this new message.

The irony inside that fact that I was going to discuss momentum with you has not escaped me. I tried and and tried to write and was clogged.

The truth is I am tired. I choose to sleep less hours than is required, for different reasons. I am tired of being talked about. I am tired of missing Jonah and Ben. I am tired of not running very well anymore due to a buggered knee. I am tired of coffee and beer and beds and cashews and grapes and being misunderstood and chicken and ironing. Everyday I force myself to be busy when really all I want is to sit on a sofa on top of a hill and watch the sun rise with a friend. I prefer sunrises to sets. They take more effort to get to and lack the melancholy of dusk.

I recently went abroad for work. We laboured long days through terrible lunches and non-complimentary beers. These trips are most rewarding and provide a lift yet I was very happy to get back here and catch up with a few good people. I need to go to Oman again and kayak until I hurt, then climb, then swim. This weekend is open and it's quite possible I go overnight. There I can hopefully bring some of the ends together again. Maybe even sleep. The trouble is I will go with my thoughts. For hours and more. 

There is often music I can play which rubs my knots but I can't find a single track or tune these days which nullifies how worn out I feel sometimes. 

I get asked occasionally (and reasonably) how I am doing without the boys. My reply is, more often than not, "imagine".

This is brief and all I have at the moment. My friendships mean more and more to me each month. They are still being whittled down which is also exhausting yet invigourating.  

I appreciate your words and having them on my screen whenever I need to read them and smile and take pleasure in them. 

Enjoy your week. Let's talk soon.


Michael



Tuesday, 20 October 2015

IN THE HOUSE

Hello dear MB,

I know I've been slow getting here this time. Writing has been very much on my mind and also very much relegated to a spot called later. Maybe it's that back to school bizzo - it's always busy isn't it? But more likely it's just the process of writing, which you and I both know can be a bit sporadic. I am noticing though that even if I'm not motivated to write for myself, I'm motivated to write for you, so I think we're on to a good thing.

This term is gearing up to be a full one for me and I confess to having spent some time last week worrying about that. Last term I had a couple of weeks where I tried to pack in more than I could easily achieve and even after I'd proven my doubting self wrong and nailed it all awesomely, I still felt significantly the worse for wear. I don't want to wear myself down like that again; it was hard to get back up from. That said, I'm still planning on doing everything that I want to do, everything that I need to do and all the things that other people expect and require of me, so it would be fair to predict some worn out-ness to come out of that. I'll keep you updated on how I go.

In contrast to the busyness, I keep thinking about the school holidays - gosh they were good. We stayed home and read books. We walked to the dairy and bought ice creams and then ate them leaning against the sunny wall of the school library. Friends came to visit. We went to visit friends.  I taught Jesse how to play last card. Joe went off on his bike, out and about doing things without parental supervision. It's a whole new world for him and what a great feeling it must be. Do you remember what it felt like? I remember. I remember coming back through the back door and calling out Mum's name and she was there and she hadn't needed me for anything but she was happy to see me. I think somewhere along the line I've lost that freedom again and I didn't notice it going. And I wish my mother and I shared memories in a kind way more frequently. That's just a passing thought really.

The seasons have been changing here. I haven't worn a jacket for a while and I've discarded my socks and stockings. I've even been needing to open the window in my little reading recovery room from time to time. I love the warmer weather coming, but my pasty whiteness and winter pudding rolls make me a bit nervous.

Your big school inspection will have been and gone by now. How did it go? You would have shone, that goes without saying, but I'll look forward to hearing the ins and outs of it. And soon you must be off to inspect elsewhere I think? I'm happy to hear whichever details you're in the mood for sharing.


On Sunday Ben and I took a day trip to Auckland. We'd never done that before and overall I thought it was well worth the effort. We were without our children, without luggage and in possession of a rental car, so really the world was our oyster. We went to Auckland to celebrate our much loved sister-in-law's 40th birthday. All the family were there and I was happy to see them all. I would have liked to say a few words about Jan at her party as she has been a wonderful friend for a long time now, but I hadn't known in advance that there was going to be an opportunity to give a speech, so when her husband stood up and asked if anyone might like to say a few words, I didn't have any. What I realised from that is that I'm not good at spontaneity. Now that I'm 40, each time I discover something that I'm not very good at I wonder if I should try to improve in that area or just accept that that's what I'm like. How do you approach things you're not very good at?

Our niece was at the party. Her name is Meghan and she is two and a half. Her Uncle Ben thinks she is the most beautiful thing EVER and I am wishing a long life of mutual admiration for them both. Meghan could do a lot worse than modelling the partner she chooses in life on her Uncle Ben. And Ben could only benefit from her friendship and love. I'm sorry he doesn't have a daughter - he would have been really good at it. So would you.

I said last time that I would write more about friendship and goodwill. But I find myself reluctant to talk too much about my relationship with Ben for fear of sounding like I think we have this being-in-a-relationship totally sussed. Does anyone have it totally sussed I wonder? We're a work in progress; some aspects of our relationship work beautifully, other aspects I can see other couples doing a lot better than us.
I mentioned friendship and goodwill when I talked about Nita-gate though because I had identified those as the two aspects of our relationship that we drew on in our choice to remain loyal to each other. Romance and sex and falling in love are available other places, but 15 years of loyal friendship and happy company and the shared memories and achievements that go with it, you can't just get that anywhere; and so it's precious. Our mutual goodwill comes out of that friendship I suspect. It's a holding of the other ones happiness as a high priority. When we act kindly and supportively that brings with it a reciprocal momentum. Good will makes more good will.

As an aside: I don't think people ponder maintaining momentum enough. It's massive for me in understanding how my life works: the more I do something the easier it becomes and the more I get out of it. Writing a blog is a case in point. Frequent kindnesses are another.

When I wrote "builds reciprocal momentum" I suddenly thought: building a house is a metaphor for relationships. (Bear with me). So you start off building a little house together and then over the years you (hopefully) keep building on it and developing it and making it just how you want it (bigger, stronger, more porches for enjoying the view). But life's busy so from time to time you neglect the house  and it gets shabby in places. And then I guess you either spruce it back up again or you just leave it like that. No house will be perfect, there'll always be a room that doesn't get the sun or a draughty door or some such thing, but as long as you love where you live, and fix the bits that you think need fixing, it will be good enough. It could happen that one of you decides to move out of the house, maybe they think they've found a better house, or they just don't like the one they're in. The house might even fall down leaving you both homeless. And while that will feel like a tragedy at the time it won't actually be the end of the world, because as much as one or both of you might think you never want to live in another house, you could actually build again with another person and you could love that new house just as much.

What do you think?  I'll stop there (although I could go on, because gosh I love a metaphor); but Billy Bragg says you have to be careful with metaphors as you never know where they might take you. Feel free to pick holes in it; I can be resilient about you not agreeing with me. 

You know one thing I would say about Ben's and my relationship? I can't actually think of a time that we've had to pull on resources that we didn't already have available to us. Ben and I, as a team, but also as individuals, are good at being good friends and we're good at kindness and supportiveness. We've got through 15 years, and while it hasn't always been easy, we've used the skills we have to get through. Maybe our current skills will cover us, but I think the chances of getting through the next however many without ever having to significantly up skill in a particular area seems unlikely. Would you agree? I hope that up-skilling goes ok when the time comes. I'd like to end up old with Ben. I think there'd be a lot of cups of tea and games of cards involved in it.

Here's a song for you by The Red Hot Chilli Peppers. It sprung to mind because there's a great line in it that goes: 'This is what I give to you because I get it free'. I've been pondering that line for 12 years now. Do you think a kindness counts as a kindness if you're only giving what you naturally have in abundance to give?




I think this might be the place to stop. How are your boys though MB? It is now less than two months until you see them. You've almost made it. On my home front one of my sons has taken to swearing (crap is his favourite word), one is living out one long pokemon impersonation, and one is well and happy again. I don't think there's anything more that I need to say about any of that. 

Sending you lots of love dear friend. You're often in my thoughts.
xxR


Thursday, 8 October 2015

TOUCH

Dear Rachel,

It's not enough that I apologise for delaying in writing back to you but at least let me start by saying that I am sorry. Your writing has been in my mind but my bum has not been in this seat for long enough to let you know that. Here we are.

Good news is one of life's pleasures. Babies are good news, ergo babies are pleasures. A lady whom I have worked closely with for the past couple of years announced her pregnancy recently and you can see already in her face the love and excitement bubbling. It's as if she has already had a cuddle, which I suppose she has as she envelopes and develops that wee creature. I wonder if she has any idea how new her life will be in just a matter of weeks.

I received a handmade father's day card in the post today from my dear Jonah. I've written before about him and the delay I had in bonding with him when he was so little. I adored him long before he was a twinkle but, to my enormous shame, I held back. It's godawful for a parent to write those words. 

Jonah is a hero. His is alive to the nth degree and brings happiness and hope to his company. He brings it to me every time I feel him in my thoughts and prayers. Ben is a one in a billion boy and we worried that Jonah would be in his shadow. Little did  we know that they be in each other's - keeping the other cool. Our family has its bumps but the love and affection between Ben and Jonah is as big as Wales itself and the root of all the pride I enjoy in my life.

Yes, I got my cookies and the conversation and smiles I really was after. There was also a bag of cookies hanging on my door handle one evening this week after I returned from a run.

With a good friend, I am off to Oman again tomorrow, . It's a beautiful place and you'll definitely get taken there when you visit. The water is clear and there is a warmth from both the sun and the people which makes me feel at home. I am going because I have been so busy at work (and the pub) recently. There will be not let up for the next month. This is a forced break and when my friend agreed to come I knew that choosing to be happy instead of busy  this weekend was a splendid move. With regards to ice cream, I like the ones that are berry flavoured. As an adult with discretionary income, I often splash for frozen yoghurt or sorbet. I was babysitting a wee boy yesterday and we went for a very simple vanilla on a stick, coated in a hard chocolate shell. It was a good choice because it became a little messy which gave us reason to laugh and wipe faces. You did well to identify the need for a treat and stepped up, as a kind person, to make it happen. Ice cream is a memory maker, amiright?

I do actually understand what you mean by parenting being a be a show and we're in the audience to some degree. Once I realised this was the case, I felt a relief in letting my boys be who they already are rather than trying to make them into who I wasn't, we were all free to enjoy the ride a little more. A trip to New Zealand a few summers ago to farewell a friend impressed this deeply in me and although I never thanked him for helping me understand this, I will be forever grateful.

Being secretary for the Sailing Club will be a hoot. If there is a uniform, like I hoped, it will be provided by myself and will consist of what most cool middle aged men wear - jeans, adidas sneakers and either a smart collared shirt or retro tee with a slogan reading 'independent trucks' or 'old school' across the pecks.

You asked me a question which I was asked again by another compatriot this week. You'll get the same answer. Little makes me happier than to see parents taking joy in their children and expressing that through the stories they tell. I worship my sons and talk about them as much as I bloody can. Please, don't for a second hold back sharing this part of your life with me. There is no sadness here when I read these stories as they all remind me of the love I have for my own whippets.

As I work long, officey hours these days, music has been barking away in the background relentlessly. Jack White and Dave Grohl have had my attention almost exclusively this week. Jack White is, as has been said by many, a genius. Dave Grohl is simply a good old fashioned rockstar with belting tunes. In the end, it was decided that we enjoyed listening to music we liked more than playing musical tease.

Rachel, it's been lovely to chat. I said more to you in my head as I reread your post and it's not all here but be assured you have kept me thinking as always. When you're ready, tell me about friendship and goodwill with your Ben.

Have a happy weekend. Drink wine (then tea) and laugh as much as you can. As you like. As you need to. As a child.


Michael





Wednesday, 30 September 2015

LIFE IS A THEATRE

Hello hello dear MB, 

This morning I found myself experiencing all at once the last few chapters of an excellent book and an email to say that your latest post was there waiting for me and another email with the announcement of a dear friend's first pregnancy. All those things together! And I realised that I was experiencing the very definition of excitement. And all with me still in my nightie. 
Excitement does happen in my nightie of course. But this was of a different variety.

Your email couldn't have come at a better time though: I'm prone to feeling a little bereft at the end of a great book, and so I saved reading your post until after I'd finished the book, to help me through. That worked thank you.

How did the biscuit hunt go? Did you find them and eat them and were they everything the photo suggested they would be? On Monday I made Belgian Biscuits and they have been devoured in an enthusiastic fashion and so tomorrow I will make caramel slice and see what takers I have for that. I wonder if a small person will help me.

I loved hearing about Oman. I felt nervous imagining being swept into a fever of rays though (did you know a group of rays is called a fever? I googled it. I appreciate Google deeply). Did you not feel nervous about that? I would have squealed and kicked and got myself into quite the metaphoric fever. But you laughed! It sounds like you were calm and cool about your predicament? 
And the ice-cream in Oman: is it better than Tiptop? What was your chosen flavour? In Italy I always chose cantaloupe or rum and raisin.

We had ice creams today too. It had been a hard hour and we were in need. Arlo had lain down on the floor of Farmers and tried to got to sleep after the shock of having a blood test. Short of a sweet cup of tea, ice-cream seemed like the best answer. We were in Farmers buying him a much desired Spiderman suit to congratulate him on his strength and bravery, but even that couldn't cut through his genetic inclination to need to faint around blood. 
Ben and I have passed on all sorts of interesting quirks to our children. The awkwardness around blood comes from him. The angry temper that all three have is definitely mine. Lets wait and see if their hair goes grey at 25.

There was a beautiful moment in the blood test saga that I must tell you about: Arlo's big brothers had been left in the waiting room while Arlo and I went in to have the sample taken. The big needle in his little arm caused Arlo to let out a long and loud wail of fear, hurt and indignation. When his brothers heard this they leaped out of their chairs and barged into the cubicle demanding to know what was happening to their brother. I felt so touched that they would race to rescue him. Those moments must be when it pays off having big brothers. There is a rent-a-crowd-ness to three growing boys and there is safety in numbers. What were your experiences of this growing up?


I embrace the fact that more and more, parenting them becomes a show I get to enjoy watching. If I use a stage show as a metaphor for their lives, I could say that there is a decrease in my script-writing duties (I don't mean I'm totally out of the script writing team though, not by a long shot) and at the same time an increase in my role as supportive and encouraging audience. The role of front row audience member is massive in parenting I think. Watching and supporting and encouraging and clapping, with a fair share of honest-as-I-can-make-it-without-crushing-them feedback. When my personal mood affects my parenting and I become nothing more than a nasty heckler, then it's time to slip out to the foyer for a breath of fresh air I find.

I think my theatre metaphor has been inspired by last week being production week at school and Joe having a starring role. He brought the house (and my heart) down with his rendition of Othello: 

"O beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on." 

His voice travelled right around the hall and settled on people's shoulders. Some small children giggled with the nerve of it, and when he finished there was a roar of applause.  
On the walk home he said to me "Someone I didn't even know came and said well done to me". And rightly so.

Now it's time for me to ask you something: I want to know if my ongoing talk about those three Brown boys sits okay with you? This time for you away from your boys is surely the very hardest time of all and I wither at the thought that my talk of my own three boys burns more than it warms. When you said that you longed for my sort of laziness I realised  that my talk of laziness-post-kids probably did little more than make you feel like your ribs had been poked. I'm sorry for that. This is the first time that I've let my need to check whether I've said the wrong thing creep into our blog, but I know it won't be the last; it's a can't-let-goer for me. I hope you feel you can answer me honestly.

We're nearing the end of the first week of the holidays here. Due to a change of plans around going to Auckland and Arlo being sick we've ended up with time on our hands knocking around the house. Arlo has taken to napping in the afternoons in some sunny spot. Joe and Jesse have taken to playing together in a friendly fashion (less fighting and more team work). I have rested my bones by sitting for long periods reading a book. It is fitting for a reading recovery teacher to recover herself through reading I think. Don't you? 

I do look forward to hearing how your role as secretary goes at the sailing club. I have filled that position on the kindergarten committee from time to time. It involves the challenges of listening more than talking and not going off in a daydream. I had to put a concerted effort into mastering the skills required. If you end up with a uniform, please post a picture. And I laughed thinking about your play-me-something-I'll-hate club. What fun and how agonising all rolled into one. I felt close to losing the good opinion of a dear friend recently when I confessed to listening to more than my share of Maroon 5. He was appalled. Not without reason.

Next week I am going to write about friendship and goodwill. I'm going to consider my thoughts until then. As with you not wanting to open the dam, I don't want to set to print an unconsidered opinion that then becomes the truth of the situation. Ben's and my friendship and goodwill is wrapped around a lot of human faults and differences in personal style. It's as simple and as complicated as knotted balls of wool.

Talk soon dear friend.
With love,
Rachel xx


Tuesday, 29 September 2015

MORE AND MORE

Dear Rachel,

Yes, there are so many types of writing and it's funny how they bring different degrees of pleasure. I write a heck of a lot for my work - reports, emails, agendas, minutes, lists and stuff but none of it really is a form of expression. A sozzled Belgian this evening asked if I would take on the role of secretary at the Sailing Club. I said I would if we could change the name to 'executive guy' rather than secretary and that I wanted a uniform. Our first meeting is in two and a half weeks. There had better be a beer or two in it. I've said it before, that your writing seems to listen rather than talk and I think you are very clever for being able to do that.

I like the looping song thing although I have started to play a game with a friend who comes over from time to time whereby we try to choose music which we think the other person would not enjoy listening to. So, frigsample, I might play some Alien Ant Farm while they search out James Blunt. It's childish but gives us something to laugh about and there is usually lots of moaning. Your story about the ex who only phoned drunk is a sad one. Sad for him that he couldn't bring himself to phone while clear and maybe sad for you, at the time, that you were hoping for more from him that he could give. As is almost always the case - it turned out for good, bless you.

That cake you  made looks fabulous. I do envy people who have skills which can be used for helping others and cake building has to be one of the noblest. Tomorrow I will walk from one side of our campus to the other simply to find an office housing cookies. Cookies which appeared in a photo I was sent on facebook tonight  by a colleague. Said colleague (and yourself) keep this planet spinning. Your laziness is different from my laziness. I long for yours.

Can you tell me more about friendship and goodwill? Why are they important? What do they look like in you? In Ben?

I made it to Oman and had a glorious time.  I dragged my blow up boat 11km around a couple of bays. I also tried swimming. I probably swam about 1km all up but I was distracted by my own laughing as I kept being washed ashore to join the squads of supper plate sized rays with tails as long as 40cm rulers. It was amusing to me that I was so bad at something I thought I'd be okay at. Still, sunburn was avoided and that evening I ate lamb around a BBQ with people I hadn't seen for a long time. A Moroccan guy greeted me with kisses on the cheek, through his beard. It was a hoot and the ice creams I brought for the children were deliciously good.

I've been so busy at work this past week as you know but very happy. As well meeting and typing and grumping around the place, I have seen bridges mended and heavy sacks lightened. This weekend there is  a short kayaking trip being run, so I'll join.  There will be beer and steaks to follow.
To be honest I have had a lot on my mind recently but I am struggling to articulate it here, now. I feel guarded and as if starting to write about some of my thoughts would open a dam, a door. In the course of a five hour lunch, coffee and milkshake event with a friend last weekend, we talked about spending time alone. I said that I do all that I can to keep busy, connected and active. There is no appeal to this guy to meditate or sit or be still. I never do it. I move, I think, I connect. My friend said they could comfortably spend three days alone with snacks and a sunhat. How?

Rachel, thanks for listening. Your life sounds such fun and I appreciate the way you share a slice of it here.

Michael




Tuesday, 22 September 2015

IT'S IN THE TITLE

Hello dear MB,

That was another lovely post from you; thank you. This process of writing and reading and writing is bringing me a lot of pleasure and reminding me of all the things I used to love about blog writing before I gave it away to write essays instead. I'm enjoying the process of thinking about what you've written, the gathering and jotting down of those thoughts, and then the work that goes into putting the thoughts into sentences that in some way sound like my voice. It's important that it's my voice so that you can easily know who it's from.
It has also reminded me how much I love a good letter. I love the news, and the conversation, and the talk about food and weather and children and music. You write a good letter.

Now: who are these people that are too cool for Coldplay?!? Not cool enough more like it. 
We hung out a couple of times in London with a South African guy who was in a band working the pub circuit. He and his band had been sharing gigs with another band. Both were quite talented and both had hoped they might be able to get a recording contract.  When we met him, the other band had just got their big break and got that much desired record deal. That band was Coldplay.

I have the same habit as you of overdoing music. Sometimes it's albums I overdo, but more often it's just a single song. This is the one I went to town on last week. I couldn't leave it alone. It's old but it's good and it has a line in it that I love. We talked about Pearl Jam being good at a love song didn't we? I feel it's fair to say that David Gray is quite good at a love song too. 

Why do you only call me when you're high? is a great name for song. Arctic Monkeys must have been pleased with that when they thought it up. The Housemartins greatest hits album is called  Now that's what I call quite good. What do you think of that for a title? It's always made me smile and I like the way I can use it in my day-in-day-out talking and see if anyone murmurs "Housemartins" when I say it. There aren't enough of those moments.

What about great book titles? I've always liked If you liked school you'll love work (Irvine Welsh). I haven't even read it (have you?) but I love the title. 

Anyway, that Arctic Monkeys title brings to mind an ex boyfriend I had almost a million years ago who only called me when he was drunk. I really wanted him to phone me sober and tell me he wanted me back. It never happened and it seemed such a shame at the time but looking back now it was a blessing of the very clearest kind.

This week I am TIRED. Deep tiredness that makes me turn off the alarm and go instantly back to sleep. Tiredness that prevents me seeing straight beyond 10pm and makes me feel on the verge of tears, but only in a vague sort of way. A feeling that I'm too tired to put my finger on. It's a difficult place to find myself in because I count on my good energy and positivity to get me through… well, through everything. Still, it's the last week of term. It will pass and next week I'll rest my bones a bit.

Last week was a big week for me. Mum came back from the UK and it was my brother's 50th birthday dinner (we were hosting) and my dear and beloved friend Mary was getting married and I was on wedding cake making duties. I wrote myself a to-do list for the week and it had 50 items on it. An A4 page full of tiny neat writing, detailing what was required to make it through the week, effectively executing each of the events planned. Some things were marked with stars, indicating their importance; and each thing has been neatly crossed off now. That's satisfying I must say.

I had never made a wedding cake before. In the deepest throes of it I swore I would never make one again. But even as I said it I was mentally composing a list of things I would need to remember for next time. (Next time! Always the optimist.)
Here is my list. I think it would make a good poster. When I was at primary school we used to have to make posters about things. I could get back into poster making.
My poster would say:
YOU CAN DO IT! (because I worried incessantly that I couldn't)
REMEMBER: MUD CAKES ARE GREAT KEEPERS! (I knew this, but I kept worrying that they were going to go stale between when I'd baked them and the wedding. I actually lost sleep over it).
RULE OF THUMB: TWO LAYERS OF ICING THE NIGHT BEFORE; ONE ON THE DAY. That was a thing that I learnt. I want to remember that for next time.
YOU'RE ON TO A WINNER: CAKES ALWAYS LOOK GREAT IN PHOTOS! And as that's the only way anyone can remember them anyway, I was in luck really.
Here is a photo:
Before you ask: no I didn't make those robots.
And it's just not in me to take credit for something I didn't do.
You see - it looks great! And all the hard work was worth it you know, people said nice things about the cake, and it tasted delicious, and it was for Mary, for whom I would pretty much do anything. Mary is the friend of mine that is actually too cool and too smart for me, but who likes me anyway. If she wants cake I will make her cake.

The day after the cake was a Sunday and I decided to have a lazy day involving not very much. When I say not very much though, I did prepare all meals, do three loads of washing, organize birthday presents and drop off and pick up at birthday parties. In between all of that I spent a bit of time with my children. Possibly the only lazy thing I did was not checking Joe's trouser pockets for tissues before I put them in the machine, and that didn't really pay off for me. Lazy pre-kids days and lazy post-kids days are two quite different things.

You wrote in your last post  'I have had your paragraphs on work crushes on my mind this week'. I keep misreading that and thinking you've written 'I have a crush on your paragraphs'. There's something very flattering about that, even if you didn't say it. 
And you're right you know, I think a lot of us are only an argument and a few beers away from a mistake. Ben said to me about Nitagate that while it was fun and flattering, he knew it would be a risky idea to go out to any work drinks that she might be at. Alcohol makes safe things dangerous, and dangerous things seem safe. 
When I look at Ben I chant these three things: Friendship and goodwill. In sickness and in health. The crunchy with the smooth. 
Ben is a man that I can count on. 

You're off to Oman this weekend. Do you make a lot of Oman/No man jokes when you visit? I wouldn't be able to resist. Me, I'm off to the vege markets and a first birthday party. There will be cake, and while Lizard says that love is not a word for food, I would say that I love cake. And I do believe I could love a pet pig and pork at the same time.

Lots of love to you.
Rachel xx

Saturday, 19 September 2015

JUST RIGHT

Dear Rachel,

It's good to know there are others who really do like Coldplay. Some people are too cool for them and that bothers me a little. I have a habit of putting music on a loop until I have driven myself nuts. Presently Why do you only call me when you're high by the Arctic Monkeys is getting some good ear time, along with a few of the best from the White Stripes. That sexy couple know how to write tunes. 

I've been running quite a lot recently which puzzles some people (we currently have night time lows in the late twenties) yet refreshes me. In this heat and humidity and over the distances I am knocking out, I must admit to getting rather sweaty despite wearing cooling shirts and special shorts.  I finish my distance and cross the road to my apartment building feeling uncomfortable and as I ride the lift up to the top floor where my (sweet as) flat is, I argue with myself about what needs doing first. I need a drink, a pee, to check my messages, disrobe and wash (big time). What usually happens is that I do all at once and I end up with the shower running and me sitting on the John, Wee Willie Winkie style (one sock off and one sock on), with a glass of milk in my left hand  and my phone in t'other.  You know, and stuff.

I do have a  superpower, in fact.  Such being the capacity to be grumpy and rude to people all the time and yet still get invited to join social situations. It's the best of both worlds. Did I tell you about my friend's super power? He always has time for people. Always. Always. He is remarkably busy at work but you would never know. He always has time for people. He is funny, quirky, talented and as he informed me on Thursday (when he stopped me on the street to give me a lift to the mall) wears custom made business shirts due to the extraordinary length of his arms. What's more, his name is Michael and he is from Canada. To be so open and giving to others, I've decided, is a superpower (super empowering).

I have had your paragraphs on work crushes on my mind this week. I've seen them, I've had them, I've received them. It made me happy to know that Ben and yourself could talk about them. That shows great maturity. I have long said that many of us (not specifically including yous in this) are just an argument and a couple of beers away from doing something we never thought we would. Our relationships are all we really have as humans. The story of Carl Benz's wife is one of the most gorgeous there is. I'll dig it out when I'm not at Costa on my Vaio. Our connections (what I call relationships sometimes) can also cause a depth of worry you'd never read about in a Hallmark card. I've felt squashed the past couple of weeks but thanks to a string of messages, a promise of coffee and a catch up, my heart is chirping again. It was a messy period. We all got stung. I had to read a text from a friend who said they thought I never wanted to speak to them again when, truth be known, I (wish I) could talk with them all day. All night (less talking, mind...), all morning, all lunchtime.  I had just brought this person a new book, online, to show I still cared - then received the knuckle sandwich on my phone. We're meeting up soon and we will look at each other and smile again. I will make sure of it.

Kayaking yesterday left me happy as there was a group of us slowly drifting up the inlet to what is known as the haunted house. We all laughed and got sunkissed together before landing back at the sailing club for beer and steaks. It's how I like to spend my life. Eating, drinking, being kissed, hearing jokes, in my swimming's togs and without any need to know the time. The happiness overshadowed the fact I learnt my phone is not splashproof.  I BBQed my steaks perfectly and drunk just the right amount of beer. I sat for hours with Irish storytellers who plastered a smile on me which remains to this very day.

You should know that the manager in this cafe I'm in is called Rachel and she looks after me, plying me with cake vouchers and wifi.

I hope you have had a lovely weekend, enjoying the company of others and a bottle or two.

Let's keep this conversation going.

Michael




Tuesday, 15 September 2015

GOOD WILL AND FRIENDSHIP

Hello dear MB,

I know you said that you were planning on being less nice to people, but the letter you wrote me was one of the nicest letters I've ever received and if that's what you mean by 'growing your kindness' then I think you're nailing it dear friend. It was the kind of letter that made me keep going back to reread it and I found myself nodding a lot in agreement and having imaginary conversations with you in my head about all your different points.

One of the things that people in therapy do is that they get to a point where they can pretty much predict what their therapist would say about any given situation. Their therapist becomes the voice in their head. With my little reading people I try to do the same thing. I want them to hear me saying "Make your reading sound like talking" or "Does that make sense? Can you say that?" and then I want them to act on those things they've heard me say without me ever having to utter a word. I want them to hear me every time they pick a book up, until my voice is their voice, and then eventually they don't need to hear those directions any more.

So when I read your words about your fractured friendships I could hear my therapist's voice telling me how things are never black and white. How happenings are to do with what we think they're to do with, and also to do with a whole lot of other things as well. I'm sorry to hear that those two friendships have gone west, but I bet my bottom dollar that those friends (at first I typed fiends. I should have left it there for dramatic effect) are as much to blame as you. Might a little bit of time put you all in a place where things can either be discussed or left to rest? Might stubbornness and apathy turn out to be a much needed cooling off period? At any rate, please don't blame yourself for your half without taking stock of the whole picture. My therapist always tells me that I'm just not powerful enough for everything to be my fault.

I was forced to look at Ben through new glasses last week (this is Nitagate I'm discussing now). I happened to notice on his Facebook page a post from a woman asking him how work was going and posting a holiday pic of some beautiful place. I'm always asking him who fancies him at work; he's very handsome and he works with a lot of boring bankers so it stands to reason that there must be someone (or someones) who think he's a dish. He always says 'No one' and I always say 'Whaaaaat, you're so spunky, there has to be someone!'
After seeing this post I suggested to him that without a doubt the postee fancied him and he said yes, she did, but she was gone from the bank now. He reminded me who she was: the woman who had been having a fling with the older married man at work. The pretty one I'd met at the park that time when I was huffing and puffing after running 7kms and she hadn't broken a sweat after running 20. 
Ben hadn't done anything wrong. Neither had Nita. She'd just fancied him and he'd known it and not really minded. I wasn't finding out about an affair. There were no strained conversations or tears of hurt between us. He told me shamelessly because he had nothing to be ashamed of.  It was just that I looked at him and realized that nothing is completely safe. You could lose somebody you don't want to lose just because someone else decides they want them. This woman was so pretty and so much younger than me and  I was forced to confront the fact that I'm relying on the attractiveness of an intelligent mind, on 15 years of love and great depths of goodwill to get us through. Is that enough? (It's hard to tell as while Ben is the most loyal man in the world he is also simply terrible at saying anything reassuring or comforting.) I am left to presume that for now it's enough. It will have to be enough Michael - it's all I've got in my arsenal.


You're right about Arlo - he has a soft spot as big as a wedding pavlova and he kisses me and hugs me and loves me fiercely a lot of the time. I love him right back. And I'm with you about Skype: kissing and hugging and fierce love are so much harder to achieve through that medium. Anyone who tells you differently needs a time out. Skype is better the no Skype but holding hands is better than video calls. 

If you could have a superpower what would it be? Ben would like to be able to read people's minds - not to find out their secrets but rather to be able to figure out exactly what they're saying to him and why. My chosen superpower would be to be able to make other people's sadnesses go away. I would make you and your boys be in the same place. I would magic away the brutalness of missing.

Last time I wrote I forgot to mention the John Butler Trio song that you posted the link to. I had never heard it before, and the best treat was that it was instant love. I only had to listen to it once to immediately download it and listen to it 20 times.  It took me to a place that shimmers right on the edges of my memory. A place where when I try to catch sight of it, it disappears. Do you know what I mean? I feel like maybe it's somewhere I was when I was about 17 but that might be because that's where you sit in my memory.

This last week I've been listening to some old Guns'n'Roses, and some Coldplay and a little bit of David Gray. Here is a favorite of mine; I couldn't chose a total favorite by Coldplay - there are too many and they're too good, but there's some beauty in this one.


At our local supermarket there are TVs with music videos playing on them. That is one of my favorite parts of  the supermarket shop - seeing what's coming next on those screens. I didn't go to the supermarket today so I'm out of the loop regarding what played on those screens, but I did go out without a coat on today and I didn't pay the price, so I'm in the loop as far as warmth and sunshine are concerned. My feelings reflected the weather. And Grandma came home from her exciting adventure around the world and delighted Arlo beyond compare with her presence and presents. He said 'Thank you Grandma" many times. It wasn't enough to stop a tantrum at teatime but he was open to negotiations and you can't ask for more than that.

At the weekend you'll probably write back to this. I'll be looking forward to it. And then on Tuesday I'll write back to you. It seems like that's how this thing is gonna roll.

Sending you much love,
Rachel xx

Saturday, 12 September 2015

DEEP BREATHS

Dear Rachel,

It is typical that you would start your letters kindly. Thank you. I decided this week that from now on I will be less nice to people because it causes too many problems, but if I can find ways to grow my kindnesses then I'd be more on track.

The sensation of missing someone is, I reckon, brutal. I miss people right now. I miss my sons. People say that 'Skype is great' and I politely nod. It's not as great as being body-slammed at short notice by a seven year old genetically similar rockstar. Or the peace that comes from cuddling cheek to cheek with a nine year old so sweet and remarkable that the world is his and he doesn't even know it yet. Skype is ok at best.

I have never met your father so it is nice to hear you speak about him. He is at that inevitable time in his life which we give little thought until it rolls around and then we think of little else. My mind is on you all. Your retelling of seeing the Dunedin snow was heartwarming. Snow is just gorgeous. It comes with its issues but it is truly wonderful and those countries who don't have the pleasure, don't have the pleasure. 

It sounds like Arlo is a strong boy with so much to give. I bet he has a side so soft as well. It's a tremendous blessing to have children who need a little extra understanding because their box is too small or the wrong shape. I have two of these. It's a gift from the universe to be one of the few people who can read them - who can talk to them with just our eyes, or a handful of fingers through their hair. The moments of misunderstanding are there too but when the connections are made (like a foot in a sock) (like when you have a moment simply watching them ride a slide) I believe that might be love. 

The fractions in my friendships are still pummeling me. Not so much because I have lost two friends, but because I thought I was better at being a friend than I obviously am. It's not that they let me down (although they did) but that I didn't rise up, take the high road, fight for them, refuse to let go. I composed a text to one of them requesting we go for a coffee over the weekend but I didn't have the balls to send it. This is someone whom I have shared many hot drinks, jokes, secrets over the past year. We would smile when we saw each other. We are now a pile of crumbs at Pigeon Park. Truth is, I am saddened. Disheartened that I didn't even try to work it out. Dejected that they didn't call, either. It's a heavy coat, this stubbornness and apathy.

I really enjoyed the exchanges I had with a girl I met while drinking grapefruit and somekindofberry juice today. We've been to a few of the same countries and she is more than thirty years old. I made a dangerously weird joke which she laughed at even more than I did in my head as I prepared it. She kept her (possibly soft, certainly smooth) dark hair in a pony and saved her smile for my best jokes. She waved when she left and I couldn't help but notice her shorts. We'll need another meeting if we are to discuss milk although it's unlikely she's now blogging about the boy she sat by for a babble.

Transformers were wonderful toys. They sort of made the impossible possible. We may well have had one or two. My time was taken up skateboarding and even transformers would have played second fiddle. They are rather captivating and a fine example of a creative mind used for good. 

Nitagate sounds like something I'd like to hear about. I'll make no effort to work out what it is. I'd like to come in fresh with this one. 

I plan to both kayak and run tomorrow as the weather is marginally cooler and I should be able to get away from work by four. The kayaking is murder. It hurts and I am disastrously slow. If it weren't for the egrets and the low, pink sun there would be little to redeem it to me. 

Keep in touch and enjoy those dear people you live with.

Michael












Tuesday, 8 September 2015

HEAD LIKE AN IN-TRAY

Hello dear MB, 

Thank you for your last post which was such a treat to receive and read. Each one from you is. It's not news when I tell you that I have always been a fan of your writing, but how that plays out now is that when these posts from you arrive online and start with 'Dear Rachel' I feel a sense of disbelief right alongside the excitement of reading them. 

My favourite line from your last post was about you and your boys missing each other like wartime sweethearts. I went away from my boys for three nights and three days last week and I too was missed while I was away, but not needed particularly I don't think. The greeting at the airport was full of big squeezing hugs though and many voices at once and I was glad to be back with them. 

I laughed thinking about your brother asking if you had a weather app on your phone. I can see that checking a weather app might seem like precious time poorly spent for you at the moment. I, on the other hand, have two weather apps. One is the Met Service app which I almost never check despite it being highly informative and often quite accurate. I find my needs are better met by checking the Ben Brown weather app. How it goes is that when I'm getting my clothes organised for the next morning I ask him what the weather forecast is and he looks at me and says "Do you want me to check it?" (in a tone of voice that clearly indicates that he KNOWS I have the Met Service app on my phone and therefore why don't I check it myself?) to which I reply "Yes thanks, that would be great". And so he checks it and tells me what to expect weather wise and I choose my clothes accordingly and he goes back to his book and doesn't stay mad at me. I have more to say on the importance of friendship and goodwill but I will do that another time.

As you know, my three days and nights away were to go down to Dunedin to visit my Dad. It was a confusing time for me because he seemed better than the last time I had seen him (I was expecting him to be worse) and while he confirmed he was better his wife insisted he was worse. I came away confused and I will need to think on the whole thing more before I try to put it into words.

Before I started blog writing I imagined that blogs would be just the place to iron out thoughts on any problems. But no. More often I have discovered that not everything is mine to discuss, and that the bigger the problem the less me trying to tidy it up by writing about it in a semi-public forum seems to help. Or more accurately, it is beyond my capabilities to do so: I can't sum up when I'm in the middle of it all.

Anyway, on Sunday in Dunedin it snowed. Only little snow flakes, nothing that settled, but it was pretty and I stopped for some time and watched those little flakes drift past the window. I like the view out the window of the room I stay in. It's the sort of room where you can leave the curtains open and not have to worry about your modesty or anyone else's sensibilities. 
I took this photo but I couldn't capture the snowflakes. 
I just thought you'd like to hear about that snow. I thought of you at the time.

I'm sorry to hear about your week of cracked friendships. I've found the safety in old friends is that when they misbehave in all their usual tried and true ways you can shrug it off and say "that's so typically them". Sometimes you can even nip it in the bud if you know some tricks for what makes them tick. With newer friends, or ones that you don't know inside out, when they behave in ways you weren't expecting it causes the lay of the land (and everything you know about them) to shift and then it all has to resettle. It's not my favourite feeling.

I have had a week that has been full to the brim with things that have filled my head. I usually have quite an efficient system for dealing with problems. It goes something along the lines of... 
Problem in ---> Consider problem ---> Identify possible solutions ---> Action solutions ---> Problem solved ---> Move on. 
This weeks load hasn't been so easy and my mind has been like an overflowing in-tray. 

Let me tell you about Arlo: he is one of the things that has been on my mind this week. 
Five facts about Arlo: 
1) He is a sausage. 
2) He is missing Grandma and it shows. 
3) The rules don't apply to Arlo. For example sometimes after he's flushed the toilet he marches out of the bathroom calling "I'm not washing my hands Mummy!" as if he's issuing a challenge to me to try and make him.
4) He cusses (today I heard him say shut up. I suspect he was talking to me. And when people annoy him he tells them they're a baby in the butt. I don't know what that means but I just found out Ben had always thought he was saying "You've got a baby up your butt." No wonder he was offended). 
5) Arlo only wants to do what Arlo wants to do. 

With Grandma away in the UK Arlo has been having to go to his caregiver twice a week rather than the once he had previously been going. He has kept telling me that he doesn't want to go. I have kept sending him. Now I've found out that he has been showing her he doesn't want to be there by misbehaving and not listening to her and wetting his pants and all those other things small people do to try and express themselves. And so she's made the call that it's not working and pulled the pin. Oh dear. I spoke with her about it yesterday afternoon and it was an awkward (but okay) conversation loaded with things left unsaid. She agreed to have him for two days this week while I make other arrangements. As I cuddled him last night I said "You'll be a good boy at Carrie's this week won't you Arlo?" and he replied "I don't know yet." He met me half way by still being bossy but not wetting his pants.

I did have a nice lunch with him today after I picked him up. Hot chips by the water. He threw a chip to a seagull and 14 others miraculously materialised out of nowhere. That surprised us both. Here's a shot for posterity that I took...
The chips were gone by then but the sea gulls were still there.

That reminds me that I heard my tui friends again on my short walk home from work today. They were calling to each other from one camellia tree to the next and while one of them could only be heard and not seen, the other was sitting on a low branch, tootling, and he was gloriously fat like a pudding. It must have been a good winter for him.

Were you into Transformers when you were knee-high, or maybe even a bit bigger. I didn't know that Arlo was into them, but I think he's watched them on TV with his big brothers. At any rate a bright yellow car drove past us today and he said "Look. It's Bumblebee." Pre three sons I would have presumed he meant the buzzing variety.

Next time I write I need to tell you about what I am calling 'Nita-gate'. It's the term I've given to a discovery I made recently and a conversation I had with Ben which turned out to be one of those shifting of the sand moments that make you re-examine the things you take for granted. 
Rereading that paragraph, I may have talked it up too much. But I'll leave it how I've said it and talk with you about it next time.

I'm wishing you a week worth photographing. A week of fun and good things and beer drinking.

With love,
Rachel xx