Thursday, August 12, 2010

Way overdue thoughts

Finished writing this on the plane ride home...3 months later it goes up....

I am American. I am tidbits of different people and places. I feel a million histories inside of me. I am everything. Nothing. I can’t define my past. I can’t define my future. My national characteristics are indescribably jumbled. The ways they twine and blend are incoherent. Stereotypes of the U.S. are wrong. They’re not pulled out of thin air, but they have to be vague to encompass such a large place, a place that has everything. They don’t penetrate the surface of what truly exists. Sometimes, I yearn for a stereotype to cling to—something predictable and familiar that reminds me of home. I can’t find one. Philadelphia and Baton Rouge could be different countries. How do you stereotype a place that has both New York City and El Paso? All we have in common is our lack of heritage, our blurry presence in the world. What are we supposed to be? And how do we explain that to others?

I absorb people. I am a sponge. I meet people and develop curiosities in their interests. Jan and anthropology and biology and the outdoors. Troels and folklore. The Kiwis and bonfires and music. The South Americans and parties and dancing and kissing. Do I contribute? Or do I just absorb? Isn’t that what we do as a country? Absorb other cultures and adopt them as our own? I embody America. I can’t describe my country in the same way that I can’t describe myself. But while I adopt other people’s interests, they do genuinely become mine. I can’t separate from myself the things I’ve learned from Jan anymore than I can separate the fact that I was born in Chicago. They are that much a part of who I am. As a country, we adopt other cultures, but at some point, they aren’t foreign. They are part of our identity. They are part of us.

I absorb stories. I collect memories, thoughts, observations, theories, worries, my own and others’. I listen quietly and intently. I eavesdrop. I absorb. One night I was sitting around the fire at sanctuary sounds and I hardly spoke. But I felt comfortable in my silence, welcome. My duty there wasn’t to contribute, it was to absorb. I really felt that way. Notice everything, the way the Sammy the African drummer pretended not to hear Mikey’s sister comment on the fact that they were all getting older. The moment when Thelma grew restless and started doing fire poi in the grass. What caused that restlessness? The answer to that sort of question leads to someone’s soul. Every detail is important. Lee confiding in Danielle and Holly that once, he kissed a man. I hear your secrets. They become mine. They become me. I am not a storyteller. I am a story.

I had two big fears when I left Philadelphia. One, that I would be desperately homesick and spend the next several months dying to come home. Two, that I would fall in love with New Zealand, and never ever want to leave. Of course, most of my experiences fall somewhere in between. But I never thought about the inbetweens. I only anticipated extremes. I come from a land of extremes.

The right, the left, a country constantly more divided. We have polygamist Mormons in Utah, and carefree hipsters in every city. People who don’t think about driving thirty seconds to the grocery store and people who insist on riding their bikes everywhere. We have the greatest number of processed foods, as well as the largest organic movement. Alongside the highest childhood obesity rates are some of the highest rates of teen anorexia. Moderation is not something we’re good at—and how could it come easily to people who don’t know how to define themselves to the rest of the world. With extremes and severity comes definition. The inbetweens don’t give us anything to cling to. Although, in reality, most people probably fall somewhere in between, including myself. There’s something more romantic about the extremes. Something definitive. Something that gives us definition. So we try to be extreme, and in so doing, constantly contradict ourselves.

Here is the truth about me:
I am selective in talking to people because I think I could love almost anyone. Everyone is worthy of love, of attention, of inspection. I can’t allow myself to love everyone. I crave closeness, deep closeness, and when I find that everyone else who I think is worthy of love falls into the periphery. With just as much severity, I crave solitude. I think I’m a good person. Who doesn’t? But I do bad things to people. I brush them off when people I’m more interested in come along. Sometimes when people are sharing special things with me, instead of paying complete attention I think, “wow, I am special if this person is sharing such secrets with me.” . I don’t care about money, (although I hope I’m never quite as broke as I was a couple months ago), but at the same time, I fantasize about being extremely rich so I can do eccentric things like breed ostriches or open my home to the public for laser light shows. I am at once warm-hearted and generous, and unspeakably selfish. I judge people only in one way—I assume they will judge me.

That’s what I love about catch 22. Everything is a contradiction. At the same time I think how happy I am in my solitude, I hope people will show up, and I know that once I am among people, I will think, why did you disturb me….I was so happy in my solitude..But I don’t, not really. I want to see everything, do everything. I want to see the entire world. When people complain about their lives and about petty things, I think, “Don’t you know that you will die? Don’t you know that once you do, the world will go on almost exactly as it did before?” Not that such thoughts completely stop me from worrying about petty things. In the same stroke that I’m bustling with ideas and thoughts and epiphanies, I just want to curl up in bed with a good book and a glass of wine (and sometimes a good person) and enjoy this moment, my night, my life. And with all of this I think I’m onto something—something terribly unique that millions people before me have realized, and millions after me will understand.
Everything that is extreme is also temporary.

When I’m at a party and someone asks me what I do for a living, I want to say “I’m an adventurer.” I want that to be the only way to explain what I do. (Unless I can say I’m a sage or medicine-woman). I don’t want a career. I want experiences, and the ability to change everything at a moment’s notice. I don’t want to think about the world systematically, in terms of what I can get out of it. I want to search for beauty everywhere. I want to create beauty.

When I was planning my trip to New Zealand, I thought it was going to be the adventure of a lifetime. I was wrong. Coming here made me realize that the adventure is just beginning.

I really believe that I have the potential to do some wonderful things in my life. I hope I do things that are extraordinary, and interesting and good. I hope I never care about money or things. I hope I explore the world. I hope I am always someone with whom strangers feel at ease. I hope I always love. I hope I am always loved. I hope I always know the difference between what I need and what I want, what I like and what I love. I hope I always have the courage to change my life when I’m unhappy. I hope I never sacrifice the present for the future. I hope I lead myself and others to happiness and truth. I hope I never again work in a corn factory.
I hope. I hope. I hope.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


The last three weeks have been quite possibly my nicest two weeks in New Zealand. I left Hastings, feeling a bit sick of the backpacker scene. I came up north to work for accommodation on a farm near the Coranandel Peninsula, about an hour southeast of Auckland. After two days, I felt completely a part of this family. Mark and Kanani (He’s from England, she’s from Hawaii) are some of the nicest people I’ve encountered. She’s an artist and was getting ready for an exhibition on Wednesday and Mark is a principal at a Rudolph Steiner school. They have a four year old daughter, Kamea, and Mark has a twelve year old son, Charlie from a previous marriage. (He’s a kid twelve, not a teenage twelve).
Every morning, I woke up and fed the animals—chickens, pigs, and goats. I got into some scuffles with Lucy (the goat ringleader) a few times, (I guess you could say we really butted heads…hahahha), but in the end, I think we respected one another as worthy adversaries.
For my birthday, Kanani made a raspberry apple pie, and we all went out to dinner. It was a very simple, beautiful day, and I’m happy to say that my sunny birthday streak continued (24 birthdays of absolutely perfect weather). This birthday made my top 5 of all time list. Other birthdays include 20, (caveman dinner in Prague), 16 (made friends), 8 (Mom made cake shaped like a roller skate. What could be cooler?) And the other two haven’t happened yet.
During the day, Mark and I started making a new pen for the pigs, I spent a while in the garden, Mark, Charlie, Kamea and I went to the beach and filled a trailer up with shells for the driveway, then we spent about an hour throwing small rocks at bigger rocks, which, while it sounds dumb, is actually one of my favorite games, followed closely by “hit this board in the hopes that you will break it (and not your hand) mostly with your mindpower,” “chase/manhunt,” and “guess who I’m imagining having sex right now.” We all went out to dinner at the Bayview Restaurant, which feels like it was transplanted in New Zealand from 1950’s Minnesota. It was kind of awesome. Lots of doilies and pictures of ducks and maps and it kind of felt like we were eating in an old lady’s living room.
The next day, we went to the nearby hot pools and Kamea learned to swim without her floaties. We all played games in the water and took turns pretending to be the arms behind someone else. I felt like I had parents, and siblings, in the way I did when I was young. Actually, it’s kind of strange, but Mark is an exact combination of my dad and my mom’s husband. The fact that he’s English somehow seems appropriate, though I can’t quite figure out why.
The day after my birthday I had a life changing experience. Mark and Kanani really try to live off of their land as much as possible, and slaughter their chickens and piglets and (soon) goats from time to time. It’s kind of funny, because they were both vegetarians for like a decade, but then decided they wanted to really do this lifestyle all out. I admire this. I figured as long as I’m eating meat, I should be able to be a part of the entire process, it seems fair. So, Mark and I got the net, and as I fed the chickens, he grabbed a few of the roosters. But as we walked over there to do the deed, I knew it would be a problem for me. I felt like God with this net. These roosters didn’t suspect a thing. They went on pecking at grass and dirt and one another like they always did. They didn’t know the last time they sipped their water bowl that it would be their last. They didn’t know that the food I was scattering on the ground was their last meal. All I could think was they don’t need this. They don’t know that they will never need energy again. But I do. I didn’t like knowing this. Mark caught them and one by one took them over to the stump by the tool shed to chop off their heads. Oddly enough, he’s squeamish at the sight of blood, but just decided when they started farming to plow through.
We took the dead headless chickens to the grass by the house where Kanani was waiting with buckets of water and knives. We each grabbed a chicken and Mark and Kanani began ripping feathers out by the feet. I pawed at the carcass and in no time they were slicing theirs open and carving off the skin layer until they each had what resembled a bag of baby skin in their hands, which they then reached into and de-gutted. At this point, I’d ripped out a few feathers off of the warm bird, stroking its legs with each tear and whispering “I’m sorry.” I didn’t want to cry, I wanted to impress this family that had so quickly adopted me with my farm savvy ways. Instead, I just sat there with my knife, tearing up and imagining the chicken’s whole life. This rooster was once a chick. This rooster had a mother who loved him, and daily habits and routines, and it played with the others, and it fought desperately for its life which I could say was meaningless, but then, so is mine if I think about it that way. Meaningless or not, this rooster did not want to die, it wanted to survive. I didn’t like being part of the reason it couldn’t.
Mark and Kanani felt bad when they looked up and saw how disturbed I was. Mark took me for a walk to check on the goats and then I went and dug a grave for the chicken skins and feathers in the orchard. I sobbed while digging. In the end, it was actually a really good experience for me. I don’t think I’m capable of killing. Until this summer’s MN camping fiasco, I hadn’t been able to bring myself to kill a mosquito, and in the south with Jan, I had no choice but to kill sandflies. But the point is, I can’t kill something that’s warm and reminds me of a human in any way. It’s not like I was ever really worried about becoming a serial killer or anything, but it’s nice to know that (at present, at least) it’s completely impossible.
The week went by. I played with Kamea (we set up a university for potions and spells; it was pretty intricate and I kind of got really into it), met a couple getting ready to move to Pittsburgh (friends of Kanani and Mark), bonded and fought with the animals, (Lucy frustrated me so much that at some point I said to her, despite my chicken experience, “I’ll show you…we’re going to eat your baby,” built a pig pen, started building an earth wall out of mud and clay and rocks, and decided to stay with them a little bit longer so that I could see Kanani’s art exhibition.
That Friday, a Taiwanese girl, Milly, arrived. It was nice to have some company up in the shed where I was sleeping, and in the end was extremely fortuitous because she bought my car, which was money I was really hoping for, but not completely expecting. I half thought I would spend a few hundred dollars getting it ready to sell and then just leave it in the parking lot at the airport. I got along with Milly really well; it was nice to have someone just arriving to be excited for, and pass along contacts and ideas and warnings. For me, it was a nice way for my time here to come to an end, for me to think about what was important over the last several months, what I would have wanted to know, what I hadn’t expected.
That Saturday, we went into Auckland for a protest against mining for gold in the Coromandel. Kanani and Mark stayed in Auckland for the night to see part of the comedy festival going on now. We all hung out in their hotel afterwards and tried to go swimming but the pool was under renovation. Milly and the kids and I drove home, where we all fed the animals, made dinner, and watched Coraline. It was nice—I got along with the kids quite well. I think I liked these kids so much because I liked the parents so much. Mark and Kanani live the way I would ideally live. I think I’d probably be a similar kind of parent, so to some extent, I’d probably have kids who were similar. This experience sort of made me think I do want kids, because it made me realize that if I live the kind of life I want to live, and am the kind of person I want to be, I’d probably have kids that I’d get along with pretty well, and not super annoying ones who I’d just want to give away.
I wouldn’t trade my family for any other family in the world. But….if I had to choose a new one, it would definitely be this one. Mark and I even noticed at some point how much I seem to take after him. Mostly, because I injure myself (not usually too seriously) every day, and so does he. We’re coordinated, but clumsy because we try to rush through things. We had the same kind of start this task, finish later and start another task in the meantime approach to everything, which I think, had Kanani not been so busy working on her piece, would have driven her crazy.
There was one catastrophic day. Mark, Mily and I went into the closest town to pick something up from the shop, and to put the car into Milly’s name at the post shop. Afterwards, we went to the beach to shovel more shells into the trailer. We’d done this several times over the last few weeks. It was one of our favorite tasks. Sometimes, we would hand select an entire trailer full of rocks just because it was kind of meditative to be on the beach, toiling peacefully. At some point, Mark moved the trailer, and backed down a small drop off, beaching the trailer. After about forty minutes of struggling and nearly beaching the car, we found a strap with a metal piece (like a seatbelt), and tied it from the car hutch to the trailer. Mark drove while Milly and I tried to guide the trailer. (I should mention at this point that we were using all of our strength—I’d fallen down several times trying to use my body to push the trailer). Unfortunately, the tension was too much for the strap and it snapped back into my arm and chest. In hindsight, I was really lucky it didn’t hit my head because it absolutely would have knocked my teeth out, at best, but at the time, all I could think was “Fuck. Two weeks to go and I break a rib…”
Then a Maori woman came and yelled at us for taking shells, telling us that it was illegal and she was going to call the council. Then, when we got back I realized that my car keys were gone, and that they must have fallen out my pocket somewhere on the beach when I was hurling my body against the trailer and falling all over the place.
Milly and I took Mark’s car back to the beach (although at this point I could only drive with my left hand because my right side was killing me) and began our search. There was a school group picking up trash and we asked them, but nobody had seen them. I kept thinking about the money I’d have to spend getting someone to make 5 new keys to my car (my car uses 5 keys. It’s annoyingly quirky). I figured I wouldn’t be able to go to Budapest while in Romania, and was trying to think how to tell Lindsey. After a 15 minute search, I found them. I was so relieved that I actually thought to myself “I should do things like this more often.”
That night was Kanani’s show. It was a cool concept. She had burned lots of shelves, that had all been made from other materials, and written on them their histories. “I was a desk,” “I used to be a door,” and made coverings for all of them. You had to lift them to see what they used to be. She included a short story about how her father’s house had burned down and how the fire had transformed everything in his life into nothing. How we all wear different outfits over the course of our lives; she was once an artist, a surfer, a child, a teacher, she is now a farmer, a mother….
The opening was in a café, along with one of her friends who was also exhibiting. It was nice to go, the small community feel really reminded me of Pittsburgh. You go to galleries, and you see the same people, you bump into people you know, you talk to the artists, you talk to others around. All the kids from all the alternative parents played on the sidewalk outside. After a couple hours, Mark, Milly, Kamea and I went to an Indian restaurant down the street. Kanani met us later.
It was hard to say goodbye to this family. I caught a ride with Mark into Auckland on Friday, but we all got up super early and Kanani made pancakes, which I thought was sweet, and also reminded me of my mom because that’s often what she does on the last day I’m home.
Mark had made made me several cd’s of music he thought I’d like. We all took turns playing cd’s each night, and I always ended up choosing his cd’s, mostly new wave. We talked a lot about music, and he gave me some fantastic stuff I’d never heard of.
Leaving them was hard. But Mark said they’d take me out to dinner the night before I left somewhere in Auckland. And Mark and Kanani really want to rent a house in Havana for a week or two in 2012 and have all the wwoofers they really got along with to come. I’m planning on going. I will figure out a way to get into Cuba.
Mark dropped me off at the zoo where I met Amanda, Kurtis and Kasey (the family I stayed with when I first arrived in New Zealand). I spent the weekend with them. They moved into a new house, and I got to stay on the huge bus in the backyard. Kasey and Kurtis hadn’t forgotten me, and seemed excited to see me. After a few days, I met Holly and Danielle at the Auckland train station (My David Sedaris-y train station story below)and went with them to their friends outside of Auckland, the lesbian family, to wwoof for my last week. This is where I am now, and it’s nice to see Holly and Danielle again, and the family seems really great, but I clicked so well with Mark and Kanani that I think I had unrealistic expectations. I felt I really had a place in their family. Here is fine, but it feels more like a true exchange, a deal. You do work. We feed you and give you a room. I know that was the same deal as at Mark and Kanani’s, but it really never felt like that. It just felt like I was doing my part. It was very organic, whereas here, things are spelled out and said and never just understood and I don’t really feel like I connect too well with either of the women.
But I’m leaving on Monday, spending the night in Auckland and then….gone. Home. And then…

David Sedaris-y Train Station Story…
Monday morning I packed up and left Amanda’s. For the first time in the last six months, I had to put everything neatly into two bags. In these months, I’ve managed to literally wear out some of my clothes, but what I’d lost in clothes space, I’d gained in shells (plus my whale bone!) I walked up the street to the train station, one hundred percent sure that both of my bags were over the flight weight limit, and working up quite a sweat in my five minute walk. I squeezed into a seat with all of my stuff and relaxed for the half hour ride. When I got into the station, I had four hours to kill before meeting up with Holly and Danielle. I assumed that the train station of the largest city in the country would have storage lockers. I was unfortunately wrong. So, faced with the prospect of spending four hours in the train station with nothing to do but guard my bags, I bought a newspaper. In hindsight, I dropped my bag on the floor a bit roughly when I went in to the newsstand to pay the cashier.
I grabbed a bench. I read the paper. I attempted the crossword puzzle. I called my Mom to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day. I edited the headlines to my tastes—“Ferry Hits Pier. Says Ferry, “Pier deserved it,”” and began a letter to the four year old on the front page who had gotten stuck in a toy machine at the airport, causing authorities to remove the machine. “Dear Melanie, Thanks for ruining it for everyone…” In this way, an hour drifted by.
The train station, which had before smelled of fast food and grime was beginning to reek of lavender. Strange, I thought. But pleasant. I reached for the zipper on my bag to put away my newspaper, and jerked my hand back when I touched a cold wet liquid on my bag. Fantastic, I put my bag in someone’s spit. The lavender wafted towards me. I picked up my bag and there was a huge puddle, the size of a doormat underneath. My soap. I didn’t know what to do. I felt like everyone in the entire station was watching me figure out how to deal with this mess. I began ripping up pieces of newspaper and trying to absorb the soap in my bag. I ignored to good on the floor for the moment. At first, I tried to act like it wasn’t my mess. I shook my head at the imaginary hoodlums who’d made such a mess of the station. I glanced at the woman across from me and smiled as if to say, “Really! I can’t believe I’m the one cleaning up this mess….” Later, my looks changed from innocent to accusatory. Scowling at the man nearby, my frown saying, “Did you do this? Are you responsible for this mess? You’re just lucky there are good samaritans like me around.” I had no idea how to go about getting the puddle on the floor—I’d used up all the newspaper on my backpack and it was still a mess. My hands and clothes were covered in goo. I did what any sensible asshole would do and pretended not only not to notice the puddle, but to not notice the floor at all. If someone tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I knew anything about the puddle on the floor, my response wouldn’t be “Ah, no didn’t see that puddle down there.,” but “Oh, wow. I didn’t even know there was a floor here.” So out of the loop I couldn’t possibly be responsible. I think I use this approach a lot. If you think I’m stupid, it probably just means I’ve used this tactic on you, and it’s worked which, frankly, makes me smarter than you.
Anyway, I knew I had to get out of there before I was made. I threw on my bags and waddled through the closest doors as fast as I could without looking suspicious. I braced myself for yells and shouts to come back, but I was too fast for everyone.
I needed to get to a trashcan, but didn’t want to stop too close to the station where people coming or going may be able to associate me with the spill. I made my way towards the library, stopping at the atm on the way (mostly so that I could have an alibi, but also because I needed some cash). I walked about 3 km to the library, my back killing me under all the weight. At stop lights people sniffed the air and looked around to find the source of the overpowering lavender. At one point, I crossed the street just to walk by a Lush so nobody would know it was me. Finally, I found a relatively secluded city park and began cleaning.
I should mention at this point that about a week ago my soap bottle broke, and I poured the contents of the plastic bottle into a glass jar. There’s a reason slippery substances that you use in the shower aren’t typically sold in glass. There are, I’m sure, proper ways to clean up messes like these, but sticking your hand into a compartment filled with slippery goo and broken glass isn’t one of them. I’d clasp a big piece, only to lose my grip and stab myself. Smaller shards would stick to me, and I had no way to get them off. My hands were now covered in blood, glass, and soap. I was feeling pretty hopeless and frustrated, and then I realized I hadn’t eaten in a very long time.
I’ve been spending a lot of time with four year olds lately. One thing I’ve noticed is that they often throw temper tantrums or become grumpy when they’re hungry. I decided this might be the case for me as well. I sat down, took a deep breath and counted to ten, like I’d been teaching Kamea to do. I decided that yes, I should eat something. I’d feel better on an empty stomach. I dug around in my smaller backpack and eventually fround two packets of peanuts from Southwest Airlines. That’ll do! I thought.
Halfway through my first packet, I realized they tasted….odd. They couldn’t be bad—I flew here in November, that’s not that long in terms of peanut shelf life. A couple chews later I had a two-part revelation. Part one: I did not fly Southwest Airlines to New Zealand. Part two: in March of2008, Southwest Airlines donated packets of peanuts that were close to expiration date to Silk Screen for our festival. I was eating peanuts that expired two years ago. As I contemplated this, pigeons gathered at my feet and began pecking at a couple that had dropped from my slippery hands. Each did the same thing. Peck at the peanut. Pick it up. Mull it over for a moment. Spit it out. Pigeons were literally spitting out my peanuts. They then went on to better things to eat like cigarette butts and other birds’ poop.
About an hour later I got a very bad stomach ache. I’m not sure of the cause—ingesting soap, glass, or ancient peanuts.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The end is near

I’m leaving Hawke’s Bay tomorrow. I realize that this place is where I’ve spent the bulk of my time, which I have mixed feelings about. I guess it’s hard, even when you’re traveling, not to put down roots in a place. Maybe it’s just part of our human need—to think of a specific place as a base, no matter how insignificant it is in actuality. We need one spot that means something more than other places; it’s a way to anchor ourselves to a huge world. Napier was my base. It wasn’t my favorite place, but it was a place I knew, and it was a base to the only people here who really mattered to me. I guess that’s more or less how you’d define home.
Jan left last Monday to go travel with his girlfriend for a couple weeks. After he left, I had no excuses to be living in Napier and driving to Hastings every day, so I moved into a backpacker’s closer to work. I have never felt better spending 100 dollars then when I got a room for a week. So much better than my car. But, I’m also really glad I lived in my car for as long as I did. I think every once in a while I’ll deprive myself of really basic enjoyments(I hesitate to call them necessities, because really, they’re not) to realize how much pleasure I actually get from a bed, or a hot shower, or a kitchen, or electricity, or being around other people.
The corn factory work is dwindling, and I needed a change, so I set up a kiwi picking job a couple hours away. That fell through, but I am going to woof on a farm near Coromandel (which many argue is the most beautiful area in NZ). Part of my job includes tending to the goats, pigs, and chickens! I’m not going to get paid, but I will get room and board, and this is one of those things I’ve always wanted to do and my birthday is next week, so I’ve decided not to worry about money and cross something else off of my life list.
I went to Napier on Friday to return my movies and library books, get an indicator light (which fell off on the way to Wellington when Jan and I went to the south) and say goodbye to the South Americans, and to Roy. Roy and I went to dinner and watched a movie, and it was like reminiscing with a really old friend who I wasn’t going to see for a while. “I remember when we met five months ago…” That’s nothing. Five months. Actually, I wasn’t even friends with Katie for a year before we both left Pittsburgh, and she’s one of my best friends. I guess five months isn’t nothing. Travel time is faster anyway. Then I went to my friend Javier’s house to a party to return some things and pick up some things from Cecilia. I feel bad, but there are still people’s names I don’t know. Because you always kiss hello, and say your name as you kiss, I don’t see their mouths when they introduce themselves and I’m focusing more on the kiss than what they’re saying, and as months drag on, you can’t ask them to repeat it, especially when every single person acts like you’re a great friend when you enter a room and yells “Hey! Rach!” and smothers you in hugs. I hate responding “Hey…!!” (Double exclamation point to make up for the lack of name).
I was sad driving back to Hastings afterwards. I didn’t really talk to anyone in the hostel for a few days, I think because I’m a bit sick of meeting people and befriending them, and then saying goodbye. Jan and Roy were the hardest to leave. But today I started actually talking to people and liking them, and then regretting the fact that I was leaving tomorrow. I could probably find more work apple picking if I tried, but deep down, I think it’s time to move on.
Tonight I went to Sanctuary Sounds (where Danielle and Holly live) for dinner and to say goodbye. Thelma and Mikey had the furnace going, the cats were napping, dinner was cooking….it was the warmest and coziest I’ve felt since I’ve been here. We watched stupid TV and ate delicious food. Lamb, potatoes, squash, zucchini, corn, and for the first time ever, I liked peas. Then vanilla ice cream with plums, topped off with a double whammy of Van Damm in Doube Impact. It was a nice evening. At least Danielle and Holly live in the U.S. so I’m pretty sure I’ll see them again at some point. But it also felt different saying goodbye to them. They have each other. Saying goodbye to Roy, or to Jan, (even though he was traveling with his girlfriend) was different because we are all alone. We came here alone, we will leave here alone. I don’t have anyone else who will remember Roy, or remember Jan. When I said goodbye to them, I was saying goodbye completely because I can’t reminisce about them with myself.
I’m excited for this road trip north and to have a new experience. I think this will give me more of a homey feeling, living on a farm with a kiwi couple, or family (I don’t know too much about them yet). Then, I will either go woof at Danielle and Holly’s friends place, or find a job fruitpicking for a couple weeks, or go back to Amanda and Glen’s, sell my car in Auckland home.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Corn, corn, corn

I realized I was a disgusting person when, in the middle of the night, in the backseat of my car, I was licking nutella off of my sleeping bag. I had an inkling when at work, Danielle asked me why I was taking my food bag into the shower with me and I responded that it wasn’t just my food bag, but my toiletry bag, and dirty clothes bag. I take it in with me to wash my dirty socks and underwear while I shower. I’m efficient with one bag. A few days ago I was called into work late, and couldn’t get my overalls and jacket because the station was closed. I shrugged and since nobody was in the locker room, dug through the hamper to find used ones from a morning shift worker. Chances were about 95% that whoever’s I found would belong to a cleaner person than me. That’s when I thought, “maybe…” But when I licked nutella off of my sleeping bag, my sleeping bag that has been with me through showerless weeks on beaches and wet grass, my sleeping bag that has sand, and bread crumbs, and cigarette butts in the bottom, that I think about shaking out in the morning every night as I fall asleep, but never do, that’s when I knew for sure.

Objectively at the moment, my life sucks. I live in my car. I watch cobs of corn drift by me for eight hours a day. I go back to my car. I watch a movie. I wake up, go to the library, charge my computer, read, write, eat something. Holly, Danielle, and Jan are quitting. I will lose the parts of my day that I most looked forward to—fifteen minute breaks where I get to say hello to them, and talk about what a boring job we’re doing. And my drives with Jan, our midnight trips to the grocery store after work, our impromptu pizza binges. But it’s so temporary, and for that reason, I know I can do it. My life doesn’t suck. In some ways, I’m unhappy. And in others, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I’m lonely. Lonely isn’t always bad.

I made a friend at the library the other day. He is in his seventies, from Sarasota originally. I was watching a movie and charging my computer, and he asked me a question about my computer. Then he sat down on the couch next to me and just started telling me his life story. He is the kind of smart I most respect. Curious smart. Jan smart. He lived in Cuba in the forties, he speaks German and lived in England for a long time translating for the chief Churchill historian. He told me some travel stories, referring sometimes to his English lady friend and his german lady friend. He is the only person I’ve ever met who uses this term in all seriousness. He gave me advice about relationships and communication. How, in his experience, you don’t fully mature in dialogue until your fifties. He decided to start reading the Philadelphia Inquirer. He had questions about the United States—hostility towards police, healthcare, politics. He talked to me for about a hour and a half (in a much louder voice than is appropriate for the library, in all honesty) until I had to leave for work. We’ve decided to share the couch. I’d noticed him there for a few days, and then he saw me for a few days, but we both view it as our spot.

I developed a theory at work the other day. The soul as the unseen commodity:
Working on an assembly line undoubtedly deadens your soul. But it’s really not fair that workers have to lose all the soul to produce things that everyone consumes. I think every time you purchase something that was made in a factory, in addition to the price of the item, you also pay with your soul. Just a little bit—that bag of frozen vegetables will cost you two dollars and fifteen cents, and the line to a poem that struck you once. That shovel is five dollars and a revelation you had in the middle of the night. At some point in my life, as the worker, I will cash in. This job is a soul investment for the future. Because of this experience, I will discover beauty in the world, parts of others that are looking for a soul to call home.

Maybe that’s what happens when you die—your soul is distributed to others, still living. We absorb the dead and become dead and when we die pass on a million different pieces of other people we’ve collected over the years. We live through absorption. We lose and gain and trade pieces of soul constantly. We are pieces of so many people, some we know, and some we will never meet. We are chimeras of everyone that has ever existed.

I’ve made some vague plans. At this point, I am really focusing on Romania and trying not to be completely broke when I come home. So I’ll keep working and then right before my birthday, I’ll start traveling again. Go north, check out the Bay of Islands. Explore for ten days or so. Then, Holly and Danielle put me in touch with a family they woofed for a little bit North of Island, a lesbian couple with 2 kids. They’ve said I can woof for them, and I’ll be close enough to Auckland to try to sell my car. I’l l do that for a couple weeks and then I’m off. It’s weird—the end is in sight. I’m really glad I didn’t leave when I wanted to. I’m a different person than I was a few weeks ago.

Jan is no longer quitting, the vineyard work is dwindling. But he is moving north in a couple weeks for the kiwi harvest. Holly and Danielle left yesterday. But something exciting happened today. I got promoted! I’m extremely happy about it. It goes to show that showing up and doing what you’re supposed to do and not goofing off, actually does go a long way. I always feel like I’m observing others, and paying attention to details, and searching people for depth, and for their eccentricities. This is what I do best. I’m good at knowing people, even when they don’t know me. Sometimes, though, it’s really lonely. Sometimes, I really want someone to want to learn me the way I want to learn them. This makes me feel like finally, I’m the one being noticed. There are other people here who have been here longer than me. There’s something about me that got me this job. It’s not just people saying, “here’s a job we think you can do,” it’s “we’ve been watching you. And we noticed that there is something special about you, something that makes you different than everyone else here.” It’s a really good feeling to have not seen other people watching me, trying to learn things about me, observing me to see what I’m capable of. I am no longer an assembly line worker; I am now a data analyst. Today, I start collecting corn samples, and building spreadsheets about their components. I hope I learn more about what this means. As far as I can tell from what was explained to me last night, it involves science, math, and computers…my fortes! I haven’t even worn my glasses to work. I guess I look smart without them!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Here To Make A Difference

I’ve always wanted an important job. I want my work to have meaning. Really, I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do something that changed the world. Luckily, I found work in a frozen food facility where I spend my days ripping open small bags of frozen peas and corn, and dumping the contents into large bins of frozen peas and corn. I won’t say that people thank me every day for the work that I’m doing, but when I pass a little kids playing in the park, or a puppy rolling in the grass, I see that it’s not about the praise or about the money. It’s about making a difference.
I drive to work with Jan, who is back in my life on a daily basis again. I also gave his friend Andy a ride, but as we were driving to the factory on our second day of work, Andy, who’d been moaning about working since he got into the car, hopped out a red light saying “Tell them I’m sorry—I quit.” He then went back to the hostel and bought a ticket to Thailand. He left this morning.
Jan and I made some friends at the factory, a lesbian couple from New Orleans. They got married over here, where it’s legal. It’s funny though, maybe gay people have more rights over here, but I’ve been here for almost six months now and the only gay people I’ve met have been from the U.S. I think the country is more liberal politically, but the parts of the U.S. that I’m most familiar with seem much more tolerant and accepting. I’ve often heard people in NZ say that NZ is about thirty years behind the rest of the world, and I see that, more than in any other way, in the general homophobia here. It’s not a malevolent homophobia, it’s an ignorant homophobia. I think Danielle and Holly have a much different perspective though. They think NZ is really liberal, and I wonder if my coming from the North and their coming from the South can still really make that much of a difference. I think it does.
On Friday night, we finished work early. Actually, Jan wanted to stay so our supervisor found him something to do for a couple hours, and while I waited for him, I went to get drinks with Danielle and Holly. For the past several months, I’ve wanted three categories of new friends: 1. Native English speaker friends, or at least not a group of friends that all speaks the same language except for me. 2. Friends who are girls. Almost all of my friends here have been guys, mainly because of the work I’ve done. I know it doesn’t really matter, people are people, but no, I’ve really missed interactions and conversations with women. It’s different. It just is. 3. Gay friends. At times I’ve wondered if there were any other gay people in the entire country. That’s kind of a lonely thought. When I first got here, I was shocked at how many gay people there seemed to be—everyone says partner instead of boyfriend or girlfriend. I just thought everyone I met was gay. What a disappointment that turned out to be.
We went to a bar and were the only people for a while, until scores of men showed up and talked to us. In the past, I would’ve just thought they wanted to talk. But, after traveling for a month with a heterosexual male, I’ve learned the truth. Men approach women for conversations in the hopes that it will lead to sex. This is always the case. Even if they legitimately enjoy the conversations.
Anyway, I totally hit the jackpot with Danielle and Holly. Jan joined us at a different bar when he left work. I had left him my car keys and texted him directions, but mistakenly told him to turn left instead of right when he left the parking lot. He didn’t realize Holly and Danielle were a couple until a little bit into a conversation and then he became convinced that I gave him wrong directions on purpose so that I could secure them as my friends (he knew about my friend wishes). I’m pretty sure I didn’t do it on purpose.
Yesterday, Jan and I went to the place where they’ve been living. They have a tent in the yard of a couple who organize music festivals and workshops. Thelma is an herbalist by trade, and Mikey a musician. It was a very hippie day, complete with jamming and pot-cookies and campfire singing. Different friends and neighbors stopped by for beers and music. Holly, Jan and I went to check on some horses grazing. Different people had caravans or tents strewn about. It was that kind of place. Everyone welcome for a night or two or several months. Next week they have an African drummer giving a workshop and then a concert in a nearby café. Jan and I will probably go for the concert. The only problem is they live so far away—about 45 minutes drive.
In other news, I had a boyfriend for a little while. Every once in a while, I think, hmm…maybe I have a crush on a guy. Weird. And then I date him and it turns out that I didn’t have a crush on him. This has happened several times. My problem is that men are really easy to meet and women aren’t. It’s almost easier to date men than it is not to date them. Adrian is from Argentina and I’d met him a few weeks ago when they arrived and set off their Argentines in Distress signals (they must exist because every Argentine seems to meet upon arrival, every other Argentine), and he invited me to a party at his house a few weeks ago. I had recently become an independent person and thought that maybe I had a crush on him. We danced and flirted (I don’t really know how to flirt actually, but I guess we were doing that). I went to another party last weekend, still thinking I had a crush on him. I’m not going into details on something my parents or grandparents might read, but I was wrong. I had pretty much just resigned myself to having a boyfriend until I left the country, because I didn’t know how to get out of it, but luckily, he ended up moving to Tauranga for kiwi picking, so it is now a non-issue.
This morning, Monday, work got cancelled until Wednesday. I’m moving back into my car in the morning, because I’m a bit worried that this is consistently going to be the case. A day or two of work, and then nothing. So I am moving into the car and if work doesn’t pick up I’m free to leave. Also, the family I live with is really nice, but living with little kids is kind of cramping my style. Desiree must think Cecilia and I are alcoholics because when she went to change our sheets we had 2 months worth of beer bottles and wine bottles hidden around the room because we didn’t want to throw them out in the kitchen. Bottom line is if I wanted babies, I’d have them myself. And they cry a lot and give you pink eye and the flu, so I don’t want them. It also is kind of weird with my work schedule—I sleep until 11 am, go to work at 2 and get back around 10:30 at night, when everyone is asleep. I want to make dinner and watch a movie or something but don’t want to make too much noise. And there are showers at work, and I can use the library in the mornings for electronics. At work, we can drink free tea and coffee, which was the main reason I wanted to live in a house anyway.

P.S. This picture also has nothing to do with this post, but reminds me of Cold Mountain, and I spent a good chunk of my day looking for good American writers. I settled on Joan Didion, but I've still got the mountains on my mind...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The ideal place for me is the one in which it is most natural to live as a foreigner --Italo Calvino

I’ve been having kind of a tough time since I got back from the South. Part of it probably has to do with losing Jan’s companionship. He’s still in Napier, but I don’t see him much, and I really miss him. Part of it has to do, I’m sure, with having lived in my car for a while. It’s lonely. Especially before I found work. Filling the day became a challenge. I’d wake up early and go to bed early because of the light. Wake up. Walk around until the library opens. Spend some hours reading and watching movies and writing. Take a walk and eat some lunch. More of the same. Maybe go visit friends at Toad Hall to charge my phone or laptop. In a way, I enjoyed it, but I think I went days without talking to people I knew. And part of it, most of it, the aforementioned reasons contributing, is the fact that I suddenly feel achingly far from everyone I love.

I moved into a house with Cecila. We rent a room in a family's house, which gives me a different kind of experience. Less of a party atmosphere, as I now live with little kids. Desiree cooks us dinner each night, which is saving me a lot of money. They're Mormon, and for a little while I thought they rented rooms to people cheaply as a means to convert them. Here is what I pride myself on most: I don’t judge people. I broke that. I feel really shitty about it. This family let me move into their home, shares their food, invites me into their lives, and the whole time, basically because they’re religious, I think there are ulterior motives. I find out they’re Mormon and I think, “Oh, I’ve seen Big Love, I know all about this…” Sometimes I look for things to be wrong because I think they’ll make better stories in the end. What is this end I think of? I’m going to spend my whole life trying to make problems for myself because when I repeat the episode, I may get a chuckle, despite knowing the actual truth—that I wanted it to be that way all along, that I made it be that way to begin with.

Last Saturday it was beautiful outside, and I worked in the morning. When I got home, I really wanted an ice cream cone. I went to this place called Munchies (it’s kind of the middle of the night drunken take-away place in town) and ordered a chocolate ice cream. The man behind the counter was Japanese and ended up talking to me while I ate the entire cone. I couldn’t get away. Not that I wanted to exactly. I won’t go so far as to say that we had a conversation, because he talked for more than 90% of it. He told me his entire life story, how he ended up in NZ, while his brothers are in Denmark with kebab places, and how the Danes aren’t accommodating. He offered me a job at Munchie’s which I respectfully declined because I really do like working on the orchard. I also think he would spend the entire day talking, because as he says, business is bad and nobody comes. I’m not sure if he thought I was just a good listener, or if he is really lonely and talks to everyone. Maybe a bit of both. But I think I attract people’s stories. Strangers confide in me all the time. It’s strange—I often think of Nick in The Great Gatsby. People talk to me. I like it. Especially when I don’t have anyone in particular to listen to.

March 6
Last week we finished apple picking. The season in Napier was bad because of the rain. Usually, this is when people make their money, but this season is the worst in years. Our boss, Tony, felt bad and on our last day he and his wife (also a picker) Jenny, and Leon, Dodge, Adam (the guys I drive from Toad Hall) and I decided to meet for drinks. We ended up just having some beers on the roof of Toad Hall. Drinking is a sport here. Casually grabbing a few beers isn’t really something you do—it’s more of a “let’s get really drunk and forget what’s wrong.” I’ve never been more depressed than when I was sitting on the roof last Thursday. Tony and Jenny have had a really rough time. They live from paycheck to paycheck and have done that forever,and claim to love that kind of life, but do they really when they can't buy food at the end of the week? Her 20 year old son died a year ago, his partner of 14 years died a year ago, then he had a heart attack and his sister got lung cancer. Then they met. I could feel their sadness. They joked about their love for one another, “you’ll do.” But in a way, I think they felt that—a desperation for human contact, for something, anything good. I had to get out of there. I said Desiree was making dinner and left. Tony was going to try to find us all work for the following week, but I later found out that soon after I left Leon (who is ordinarily very sweet, funny, and shy doesn’t normally drink because he becomes a different violently angry person) got in a fight with Tony and nearly threw him off the roof. Pretty sure he no longer wants to help us.

I spent the next week really sick, so was okay not working. For a few days, I was really sad and just wanted to come home. I even tried to change my plane ticket to come home before April started, but it was expensive and I couldn’t do it. I felt like I was seeing the world the way it really was. I’ve been thankful for my life, without realizing what I’ve actually had. People are so lonely. I just felt like I was imposing this loneliness upon myself for no reason. There are so many people who keep me tethered to this world. I became obsessed with mythology and folklore. Stories that explained our beginnings in the world. Why things are the way they are. Stories that promised there is more to our existence than meaninglessly drifting around the universe. Stories that made sense out of humanity. I started reading a lot of Italo Calvino, whom I never had before, but I really like. (Actually, I loved If on a Winter’s Night a Travler, which isn’t mythology at all). The book I’m reading now is actually kind of the story of creation in space. It’s beautiful and makes me feel a little bit better about the world. And I read a book of Tobias Wolff’s short stories and was inspired to start some of my own. It’s new for me, but I really like this form.

I felt like I had to change something. I didn't once regret coming here, it was undoubtedly the best decision of my life. But I felt like I'd accomplished everything I set out to do, and it was just time to leave.

Everything changes. I’m glad I couldn’t change my ticket. I think on some level I knew that deep down, I was hitting a breaking point—I could leave and stay as connected to home and the past and my life the way it was, or I could stay and become detached from it all. Part of me didn’t want to lose…myself. But I did. I completely let go. I actually feel like a different person, now. Free. I went to a party last weekend and met new people, was completely part of the moment instead of looking back at it as if it already happened and I was telling it. That’s how I’ve been feeling lately—part of the moment. It sounds silly, but it’s new for me. I’ve never experienced life this way. I like it. I don’t know if I’ll ever want to go back to the way I was, you know, six days ago, when my whole world was different.

Next week I start work in a factory. Lots of people I know are starting work there, too. It will be a steady job where the season won’t affect our income, so I can count on (as much as anything can be counted on) six weeks of good money. Maybe I won’t come home broke afterall! And I’m officially going to Romania for Ana’s wedding, so would like to have a little money for that. I was planning on packing one suitcase of snacks to avoid buying food while I was there, but I’d probably have to declare it or something, so that wouldn’t be ideal.

I know this blog was very vague. Next one will be better and I’ll talk about actual things I’ve been doing.

P.S. this picture has nothing to do with this blog. It's from New Years. I just think it's funny.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Back in Napier

I suppose that your location in the world dictates the necessity for certain garments rendered useless by the rest of the world. In England, I’m sure you’re more or less required to have things like monocles and top-hats stashed away in your attic. The Irish must have closets filled with tweed jackets and tobacco pipes. In Pittsburgh, black and gold, shirts, hats, shoes, pants, doesn’t matter, rules all. You probably have a mask or two and some beads if you’re native to New Orleans. If you live in Napier, you have a wardrobe from 1930’s, just in case. This weekend was Art Deco Weekend (Napier is the Art Deco capital of NZ, after the town was rebuilt after a 1931? earthquake). The town was absolutely packed this weekend with people dressed from the 30s, in their antique cars, while big bands serenaded the passerby. Today, folks leisurely picnicked for hours in their pearls and gowns, suspenders and caps, breaking only for croquet and cigarettes (in holders, of course). The sweet summer air perfumed with champagne and the laughter of the upper-crust made me feel like I was in The Great Gatsby. Or, on the film set of The Great Gatsby, behind the scenes, but with everyone refusing to step out of character, even when the cameras are off.

I started working on an apple orchard a couple days after I got back. Which is good, because I was almost out of money. When Jan and I returned, I decided to live in my car until I got a job, as incentive to find work. But, now, I’m kind of just used to it and know I will save a lot of money if I stay there for a little longer. I don’t want to move back into Toad Hall—I wasn’t saving any money by paying so much rent. I may move in with my friend Cecilia tomorrow, or Vicki (Ana’s twin). They both have a spare room in their flats and rent is only 70 or 80 NZ dollars a week (approx. 50-60 U.S.). In a way, I kind of like being homeless, though. I think it would get old after a few weeks, but for a little while, it’s refreshing. Everything you own is with you all of the time. Your food, your bed, your books, it’s all ritght there. And despite the glass windows, there’s a lot of privacy. I was craving some privacy after the past month. And I’m in a campervan park, so I sometimes meet neighbors (mostly backpackers, and retired couples travelling the country). There’s a public shower on the boardwalk I use occasionally. Mostly, I’m just really dirty these days. But before I started working, I’d spend my day in the library, I had all day to read and watch films and write, and literally no distractions. If I ever got lonely, or needed to charge my laptop so I could watch more movies, I’d head to Toad Hall and catch up with my friends over there. Before travelling with Jan, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable sleeping in the car. Now, I think I can sleep anywhere. I like curling up in the backseat at night, looking up at the stars while I watch a film. I think if I ever have a car at home, periodically, I’ll have these urges to move into it.

Yesterday I went to the grocery store to get some wine for a party and on the way there and back, passed eight people I knew. Even though I know nobody in town sees me roaming the streets and thinks, “there’s that lonely homeless girl,” I still have the feeling that they’re there. And I really hoped they saw me bump into all these friends. I like how the South Americans kiss upon greeting. It’s a nice tradition. Even when you don’t know someone that well, you feel like you’re important to them and that they are an integral part of your life. Which I suppose, in a way right now, they are. I think New Zealand would be tangibly lonelier if it weren’t for this casual physical contact with acquaintances.

A little bit on work—apple picking. It’s hard. Carrying the basket of apples into the tree is cumbersome and heavy and awkward. It’s hot out. At least this time, I’m working for a company and getting paid fairly. I should be able to save some money. My plan is to work here for the next 2 months and then head to the North before settling down in Auckland for a couple weeks to sell my car.

And then…home. My trip is just over halfway over, and I know the rest will fly by. But I’ve been a little homesick the past few days. Undoubtedly, it has to do with living in my car, and spending so much time alone, and having my trip to the south end, but I also just suddenly feel the passage of time. It’s not just me, on the other side of the world; I feel the lives of everyone I love going on without me. I’m scared of coming home and finding everything different. Not scared, just knowingly unprepared. You can’t prepare for daily change. I guess enough time has passed that I’m thinking more of coming home—it’s closer in time than when I first got here. So, I’m sad already to be leaving this place behind, even though I’m here, it’s happening right now. I already feel like I’m leaving. I think I said it before, I seem to look back at the present, sometimes even the future, with a sense of assumed nostalgia. Sometimes I think I can see my whole life and I miss, I ache for the things that haven’t happened yet, that may never happen.

These aren’t bad feelings, they’re just…strange. I don’t know how to deal with them yet. I’ll probably never figure it out, which I suppose is okay. In the meantime, I’m still having a wonderful time—we had a goodbye party at Toad Hall last night for Juan, who’s been here for a year and is going back to Chile to play basketball. I met a lot of the new people at Toad Hall, too. That’s part of these strange feelings, too. Seeing all the new people at Toad Hall, which felt like home to me for so long. 2 months. It felt like so long, but really it’s nothing. It’s…reassuringly unsettling (I don’t know how else to explain it) to see how quickly people come and go, drift from place to place, in and out of people’s lives.