Friday, December 06, 2013

A short philosophy from a short person

My biggest first world problem right now is deciding what I want to be famous for.

I know.

So many possibilities: woman single-breastedly fights patriarchy, turning coffee into cash, live your best life- lessons from the loudest person at the party, communicating with class - it's English 'innit?, parenting for people who don't really like children, stylish gowns - dressing goes on.

We're repeatedly told you can 'have it all' but when it comes to being famous, you really can't. You have to get famous for one thing and only then is anyone interested in what else you have to say about anything else. Actors who pontificate about politics only get the platform through being, you know, a star.

It's not even fame I'm after, it's influence. Why? Because there are so many fucken idiots giving advice and encouraging others to behave like prats and it's ruining the planet I live on. Too many people I meet don't know what the hell to do, with their lives, their marriages, their jobs, their lack of fulfillment. I'm not critical of that - I don't know what the hell I want to be famous for - but I can help! So forthwith, my short philosophy of everything that matters:

WHO TO LOVE: Yourself. First of all, learn to love yourself. Everything else comes after that. Loving yourself is not the same as self-indulgent pampering princess bullshit to compensate for deep seated feelings of fear and inadequacy. It is a steady, resolute belief that you are worthy. Without makeup. Meant to be here. Here for a reason. Here to contribute. 

If you grew up with messages of being a useless, good for nothing piece of shit, you should know that the people saying those things were wrong. Wrong. Just like 1+1 does not equal 3, and Brad shouldn't have cheated on Jen, even emotionally. Wrong. You are not useless or unlovely.

It can be hard to love yourself when you are bombarded by messages and images that perpetuate idealised fictions. Turn off the TV and stop reading women's magazines. Recognise that every article showing celebrity bodies is an attack on our souls by cynical charlatans selling diets and the disease of unease that can only be cured by conspicuous consumption. You're smarter than that. Aren't you?

You can love others too. There's room. Love them first with actions, and then with words. People who talk a great game but fail to deliver are wankers. There are other technical terms, but I prefer wanker.

WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR LIFE: Something. Anything. Just not nothing. Clarity doesn't come from a meeting with a career counsellor. It comes through doing. Try a job, and if you don't like it, try another. If you hate your job but have to pay the mortgage, see the point above. Sometimes loving others with actions means doing a shitty job to pay the bills. Suck it up. And make what you do with all your other time beautiful and meaningful.

Sing. No, truly. Sing. Children under the age of 6 laugh more than 300 times a day, the average adult is lucky to crack a chuckle more than 20 times. Singing's the same. This is one area where North Korea really takes the lead. Mass singing and unicorns.

If you're really stuck with how to be fulfilled, you're very likely asking the wrong question and seeking the wrong outcome. Consider instead how you can give. What you have to offer. Time, physical labour, a listening ear. Our lives are not measured in the the end by what we got, but what we gave, and what we made.

Make something. A marriage, a family, a garden, a wonderful noise, a difference. Find something to do that helps others, find a way to charge for it, and you'll never have to work again. You'll just be doing life.

WHO TO VOTE FOR: First of all, vote. For all Russel Brand's charismatic, polysyllabic encouragement to ignore the current political process, you should vote. Vote for the party who gives the best attention to the things that matter most to you. So far I have voted for National, Labour, Green, Legalise Marijuana NZ and Act. It made sense at the time. Vote for people who treat others as you would like to be treated. But only ever vote for people who have facts at the foundation of their beliefs. Most of the mainstream parties in NZ agree on most facts. The dispute is what to do next. Colin Craig isn't sure about the moon landing. Others deny climate change. And evolution. Don't vote for them. They are dicks.

WHO TO PRAY TO: I don't care who you pray to, and what you believe. I don't believe in god, or God, or gods. But I value highly your right to believe whatever you choose and to practise those beliefs freely and without oppression. If your beliefs oppress others we're going to come unstuck. If your religion doesn't allow women into positions of authority I truly believe you should stop with that shit. Find a version of that religion, praying to the same god, that does. If you believe that men shouldn't have sex with other men, good for you. Don't be a man that has sex with another man. The instant you want your views to have some kind of standing in law, and restrict other people's freedoms, we're going to come unstuck. If your religion makes you less tolerant and loving towards the people with whom you share this planet, I think your religion is dumb.

WHAT TO EAT: Food. Mainly plants. Just go around the edges of the supermarket. It's where all the food is. Nearly everything in the middle is a blow-up doll masquerading as the real thing. Processed sugar is not your friend. In years to come our children's children will consider coca-cola the heroin of our time and wonder why we didn't do more to ban it. For integrity I record my medicinal use of coke. When I travel overseas I drink coke knowing that it will destroy everything I've eaten before it can kill me.

WHAT TO THINK: Happy thoughts are a great start.  I don't actually care what you wonder about, I just care that you wonder at all. Yesterday I compiled a 60 second list of all the things I'd been puzzled by over the previous 24 hours but knew nothing about: how we came to drive on the left, displacement of hot water into a luke-warm bath, how the internet works, counting in Chinese as an aid to better maths, the political tension in Thailand, the effect of tomato fertiliser on my lettuces, how much botox is too much for me, the origin of  the 'lo he abhors not the virgin's womb' lyric in Oh Come All Ye Faithful, and then time was up. I am a know-all who is constantly amazed by how little I know about anything. The world is full of mystery and enchantments and so many of us are too busy watching unreality TV to notice. Nothing good can come of Keeping up with the Kardashians. No great scientific advancements come from those who accept the status quo.

Challenge yourself and those around you to think. To wonder. To be in awe. To risk an opinion. To give voice to a contradiction, a niggling doubt. Pause and ponder. Remember to breathe.

WHAT NEXT: How to balance the paradox of surrender with the unassailable truth that what you focus on gets fixed?  I don't know.

But action is always better than acquiesence.

Do something different today.

Cuddle instead of criticise. Give instead of groaning. Alliterate an action plan.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Getting it all off my chest

1. If you have a company and refer to it, out loud, as something something limited, you're a dick. "I started a company called John Brown Limited." Dick. Have you ever heard a plumber call themselves John Smith Plumbing Sole Trader? Stop it.

2. If you have a company that has the same name as you, don't refer to yourself as the founder and CEO of it. "I'm Sarah Stuart, CEO and Founder of Sarah Stuart Limited." Dick.

3. If you have a company that earns no money unless you are working in it, you don't own a business, you have a job. Bless you. Respect you. Stop calling it a business.

4. If you have a business that you can't step out of for more than two weeks without it falling over, it's not a business, it's a job. Good for you for working hard and building something. But stop kidding yourself.

5. If you have a business, company, job where you provide products and services of value but  make no profit, it's not a business, it's a charity. And you're a martyr. Dick.

6. If you are reading this blog and it's firing you up because I sound judgemental and nasty, good. Change something. Get real, or stop reading. There are other blogs with rainbows and best of all, unicorns.

7. If you need help with your business, or your life, get help. I can help.

8. If you feel like the world is against you, hello. It's not against you, or for you, it just is. Lucky, unlucky. Play the best hand you can with the cards you have. Without making meaningless shit mean stuff.  Are any lottery winners deserving? Accident victims? Get up, off the floor and do something. And if, like me at my worst,  you think it's easier for people who have genuine struggles to be resilient and brave, and you wish something bad would happen to you to shake you out of your complacency, don't worry, it will. Only you won't always recognise it because it might just manifest as a vague disquiet that is so easily quashed by new shoes, an overwhelming urge to redecorate or just one more beer.

9.  If you don't know what to do about the challenges you face, wise up. You do know. You just don't like the answer. All your best advice goes to others. Dick.

10. If you don't know why lists are often number 1-10, nor do I. But I don't think it matters. What your do with your life, and your little one personal limited liability company with your name on the door, matters.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Looks can kill

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS NUDITY. MINE. Looking at it might send your heart racing for all the wrong reasons. You have been warned.

It always comes back to cancer. Despite my best efforts to ignore that teensy interruption to my life, there are constant reminders.

Last week I bumped into a workmate from Les Mills who's handsome, in great shape, and as is inevitable with those types, permanently hungry. 'Wow, you look so different with hair'.

Jack Sprat wasn't to know that my hair keeps me up at night. Partly that's because it's long enough now to get wrap itself around my face, block my nostrils and bring on that panicked can't breathe feeling you get when you can't breathe.

But mainly, it's because of Hillary Clinton. I've been thinking about growing my hair long. Ponytails are fun and so easy. They say, 'look, so effortlessly stylish'. Long hair is so versatile, so barbie and so feminine.

But have you seen Hillary lately? Let yourself go already Hils? She's grown her hair long and has taken to simply hoisting it back into a pontail at the nape of her neck. She looks drawn and tired and stressed and rushed and harried and careless. You would think she had better things to do than style her hair.

Turns out she's embracing the whole natural thing, only wearing lipstick and no other makeup, because at 60plus it just doesn't seem that important anymore. This concession from the woman who famously once said that Bill was a hard dog to keep on the porch. Which brings us to this:

There's a host of fitspirational images rushing around cyberspace at the moment. Typically faceless female bodies with chiselled abs dripping in sweat, they exhort us to work harder to get into the shape of our lives and stay that 'hot' til we die. The images stress the rewards of the hard work in the gym and reinforce the idea that those who attain the ultimate physique are more worthy and more deserving than the rest of us. And they are. They deserve their low body fat percentages and their washboards tummies. But no one I've asked can tell me what the abs are for? What purpose do they serve? I appear to have become a utilitarian. Which is why I'm so relaxed about this:

And this:

And here's the thing. As soon as you saw my semi-naked body, you forgot about my hair style problems.  You're probably uncomfortable, and if you're honest, this is why:

You prefer topless women you don't know, and with two boobs.

What truly troubles me more than the hypocrisy of people who marvel at how empowering 21st century porn is, while desperately hoping their daughters choose a different career, what troubles me even more than the destructive self-doubt and negative thoughts that are created by the fitspiration movement, what is really catching in my throat right now is the lack of thinkspiration.

Where are the posters of the leaders, the thinkers, the game changers, the servers, the contributors? Where are the motivational posters that encourage selflessness and the pursuit of something more meaningful and attainable than a body that will inevitably let you down? Imagine if those women, and it is mainly women, did something useful with their collective angst. How about solving problems that might count for something rather than spending hours debating the pros and cons of competiting diets. What if their undoubted strength both of body and mind was put to a purpose other then sculpting their bodies?

I get caught up in the fuss. I want to look pretty. I want nice hair. And I sincerely believe that if I was skinnier I'd be happier. But I challenge myself all the time to unpack the whys. And when the reasons are that strangers who don't know me and love me yet will think I'm cool, I have to face my own shallow stupidity. And when I question how someone as obviously awesome as me has got sucked into that advertising/media/social frenzy over the importance of looks I get really worried about all the girls I know. I worry for my daughter. For my niece. Their brains haven't even fully formed yet. Everything they are exposed to now is telling them what to believe about their place in the world. They don't stand a chance.

Looks can kill. Caring about them too much sets you up for a lifetime of stress. Stress can give you cancer. And then your looks will really suffer!

The photographer who took the photos above wanted me to look longingly down at my scar so he could photoshop a tear onto my cheek. Arty, he called it. I replied with something ultra-mature like 'suck my fat one'.

I thought of Hillary, her thinkspiration, her troubles with Bill. Her ponytail, her lipstick. I wondered if I could ever shed a tear for my missing breast, and my undiscoverable abs.

I don't have it in me. I'm saving my tears. Saving them for the girls who will battle with their bodies in a quest to look better before they can feel better. And who will waste so much potential doing so.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Baby steps

Get back on your bike! Pick up where you left off!

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

How do you start blogging after months of absence in which time your entire world monumentally changed and stayed the same?

One word at a time.

So for today...

hello. is there anybody out there?

Monday, July 04, 2011

Just when you thought it was safe...

Given that our little village has suffered another two large quakes that have caused yet more destruction, drama and danger I'm taking a bollocks approach to life these days and it's doing me the world of good. Some people pass this predilection off as Tourette's but that's dishonest, and I always tell the truth. Most of the time.

Friend in street: How are you doing Sach?
Me: Fuckity fuck fuck. Bollocks.

Telecom about the unpaid bill: Are you the person responsible for this Telecom account?
Me: Fuckity fuck fuck
Telecom machine: I'm sorry I didn't understand you.
Me: That's cos you don't speak fuckity fuck fuck bollocks.

Child living in my house who looks like my husband and came from my womb: When will we be allowed out of your sight?
Me: Bloody, bloody, bloody (a harmless adjective denoting the presence of blood) ..let me think about it...fuckity fuck fuck....never.

Don't mistake my approach to be born from frustration. I've got nothing to complain about. My house is rock solid, my businesses trucking along nicely for the most part and while the children's school has been overrun by hoardes from the nearest neighbourhood we're happy to share. Sharing is caring.

There are, however, just a few things that would make my life just a teensy bit easier and anyone who can fix these is guaranteed to not be o.t.c.c.l should we all still be alive this Xmas.

1) If you own New World supermarket please stop using the telly to ask for my feedback on how you can improve my New World supermarket. I DON'T HAVE A NW SUPERMARKET ANYMORE!! You demolished mine after the earthquake. I have since tried 6 other supermarkets and they are all, without exception, fuckity fuck fuck bollocks.

2) If you are the mayor, please rebuild my community centre, recently demolished, so I can help the local theatre group put on the end of year cabaret. It's what I do from July-Dec every year since I moved here 12 years ago. It's what I do. Not DID Mr Mayor, it's what I DO. I get up, play tennis, do yoga and spend every July-Dec preparing for the show.

3) If you play tennis with me, stop aiming the ball at the myriad of cracks, craters, moon bumps and broken bits that now cover our local courts. It's not very sporting. I know your end is damaged too but this blog isn't about you is it? It's about me. So stop it. And put a bit more in the honesty box. $150k to fix the courts isn't right at the top of most insurers must pay now lists.

4) If you are near me at yoga I'm sorry. I'm fatter now. There it is. I take up more room in the room. Suggestions for how to fix this must be painless, not impact on my preference for tasty food, and must not limit the medicinal tipple I take three of four times a day or when needed, whichever is more frequent.

5) Living in quakesville is an exercise in high wire walking. Some days life is peachy. The sun shines, the children bathe and widdle without needing a permanent sentry stationed just outside the unlocked door, and the traffic canters along in both directions. On other days the crawling cars wave in resignation at the stop/go man and the 400 shipping containers that now border our village are ominous portents of impending doom. The weekly mental flip flop from stay to go, fine to fucked, calm to chaos is exhausting.

For those living in the red zone it's more human canonball than high wire. Forcibly expelled from homes,schools and communities with little hope of returning within a generation. There are opportunities, no doubt, silver linings and fresh starts. There is grief. Raw, gut-wrenching anguish at saying goodbye to the life you knew, and none of it on your own terms. For most, there will be both.

It's entirely possible to be full of hope for the future, committed to rebuilding Christchurch and yet be overcome with emotion at the sight of so many of our landmark buildings and community venues destroyed.

The heart of the Sumner Community Centre is her people not her bricks and beams. But when the digger ripped it apart last week as I began the slow journey to work, I wept. Big ugly wet salty tears rolling uncontrollably down my face. I surrendered and let go of all the shock and pent up stress that comes from being on constant alert. And then, after a time, I rolled down the window, yelled fuckity fuck fuck bollocks at the world, wiped my nose and calmly drove away.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Rock and Roll

Can you imagine the pressure? It's been four months since I asked you how often you'd like to hear from me. You said weekly, and I said yeah okay but since then there's been nothing much to write about. Well, nothing that hasn't already been beamed around the world.

My home town has been devastated by a series of earthquakes that killed more than 180 people, and left the city with major infrastructure challenges; 10,000 homes need to be demolished, over 100,000 need major repairs, schools are closed, roads blocked and hundreds of families have been evacuated. The ground beneath still rocks and rolls with disconcerting irregularity. The unpredictability is what tips you up. I'd take a 4.5 everyday at 4.30pm rather than days of unsettling calm which precede a 5.3 on a Saturday evening. If the numbers mean nothing to you it's because you're not from around these parts. Christchurch folk are now geological experts and even the most linguistically challenged 5 year old can say evacuation, liquefaction, Richter, and tsunami.

We sent our kids to school in Auckland and stuck it out here making daily trips to a community tanker for water and romantic nightly trips to the pair of portaloos perched on opposite corners of our block. We went all French in our approach to showering and made a weekly visit avec our amies pour une douche.

While our circumstances now are very different, everything is essentially the same. I get up, go to the coffee shop, chat with friends, come home and change out of my dressing gown. I play squash, I lose. The drive to work takes a little longer but when I get there the banter is the same. We debated at length how soon was too soon for earthquake humour. The answer seemed to depend on how many people you knew were tragically killed and whether or not you had running water and somewhere to live.

On the day of the quake we fled to Hanmer. Two frightend children, one heroic dad who'd walked for miles (the metric is not so dramatic - try it - one heroic dad who'd walked for kilometres - not the same is it?)to reach us, and me. I didn't feel guilty that we were leaving, I know I need power to be of any use to anyone. As soon as we arrived I plugged in and powered up, and felt useful once more. But fleeing was only an option for the cash rich. We had enough money to buy petrol, food, accomodation, passes for the Hanmer pools, and room service. While others were sleeping in tents on school grounds and living a terrifying night of wave after wave of aftershocks, we were watching the horror unfold on television from the comfort of our hotel room. And it wasn't only us.

The pools were teeming with Christchurch folk, all slightly sheepish about being at a thermal resort but doing the very best they could for their children. I have no guilt about being there, we were back at the coal face shovelling silt soon enough, but I was angry that some of our poorest, least resourceful suburbs had been hit the hardest. For many families this winter will be long and cruel. Sumner received more than its fair share of portaloos in the weeks after the initial quake. Why? Because its residents are better connected, better communicators, better advocates of their own needs than those in suburbs whose needs were much greater than our own.

The National Party say 'pull yourself out by your bootstraps'. Labour say 'you don't even have boots, let's take some from these people who have a spare pair and give them to you' and every other political party offers a variation of the above except for the Greens who don't like boots only sustainable moccasins.

I meet John Key two weeks ago. Delivered him a cup of tea, milk, no sugar, no thank you to home baking. He had a formidable security presence but no one sipped his tea before he took his first swig. I don't want him to die. I'm a fan. He was relaxed, confident, fabulous one on one with five year olds and fourty-four year olds alike. But if you did fancy knocking him off, a cup of tea with milk and spoonful of Gay Oakes magic potion might just do the trick.

I've met lots of famous people, well at least people well known in New Zealand. It's because there's so few of us. Everyone knows someone who knows someone famous and they're all just people like us who have milk in their tea and rum with their coke.

Christchurch people are less rock and roll than ever before. We prepare for the next big quake in bizarre ways. Some no longer sleep naked, some never let their petrol tank get lower than half full. We're a bit less 'whatever' and bit more boy scout.

There's a new appreciation of the community ties that bind us together and commonality of human fraility when facing massive natural forces but we still hate the morons who drive slowly on our roads just because the sign says 30, and our tolerance for those who hold up the ever lenthening queues at the few supermarkets that are open so they can get rid of their coins...well, who cares about the end of that way too long sentence. You hear me.

I'll be two years clear of cancer in July and despite the protestations of my mother about lack of warm clothing and vegetables, for me and my children, I'm feeling great.

All the important things remain. Glee on 3, Offspring on TV1. Theatre group, book club, tennis on Fridays against ladies who lunch, extended family, workmates, faithful friends and of course my very own tight five: The husband, the boys, and the girl.

That's about as rock and roll as I get these days. And it's enough.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

F words

Foxy indeed.

How many of the world's best words start with 'F'?

I know, I know. The English speaking world.

Fearless, ferocious, fierce, fun, frivolous, fabulous, fart, fantastic, fascinating, fuck, feedback, forgiveness, feijoa, family, fruit, friends, flan, fellatio, films, fish, facebook, fairytales, France, faithful, fanny, freedom, fantail, future, fruju and finished.

And what about the words that wished they started with f?

Photos, philosophy, philanthropy and phenomenal.

This will be my last post on Tips for Keeping Abreast and Ahead. My sister sent me an article about the increasing popularity of disease blogs. Three main reasons are given for their fascination. Firstly, they follow a simple narrative structure. As readers we get hooked and want to know how the story ends. Will she die? Secondly, they are used as fundraising vehicles to provide the last-gasp-chance-of-survival wonderdrug treatments not funded by health authorities. Who doesn't want to support the underdog battling for one final roll of the dice? The third reason is that these blogs offer an intensely personal look at the often titillating world of medicine and the intricacies of the human body. Not dissimilar to the public hangings still popular in some parts of the world there's a voyeuristic pleasure in observing from the sidelines. None of this is to suggest that the blogger is in anyway victim in this two way interaction. What we get is control.

Being poked and prodded, felt and fingered, rubbed and rotated every few weeks by people you might never meet again and to whom you are inevitably just a number can be a disempowering experience. By naming and claiming the treatment process we take back some control of what is happening. By showing you a photo of myself with just the one nipple showing through my togs it reduces the chance you might try to sneak a sideways peak next time you see me.

Fearless (having just jumped off a really, truly, very, very high bridge).
Free (of pain, treatment, and maybe, cross your fingers, cancer)
Fiction writer (the bridge wasn't so high)

I'm not going to die or move to New York (sorry anonymous - you spineless, nameless, ignorant loser) I don't need any money, and I'm not having any more treatment so there's no reason to continue the blog in its current format.

But undoubtedly the reflective process is good for my ongoing health and well being. So I will continue to write. And you, the dear 37 who know how to follow on blogger, and the others who pop in from time to time, get to decide what I write about.

You can't ask me to change who I am (well you can, but I won't) but you can tell me what you'd like to read:
1) monthly
2) weekly
3) personal
4) professional
5) other

So go on. Stay awhile. Or leave and don't you come back no more, no more, no more, no more.

Either way, thanks.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

What to make of it all

2 months exactly.

You never ring. You don't write. Are you still alive?

Does the person who wished I'd gone to New York and stayed there even care?

My cancer treatment has finished. My life goes on, without the check-ups, the poking and prodding. No more needles, or drugs. Less appointments, less fuss.

My family life has become increasingly complicated but those stories are not mine to tell. And so I say nothing. My legal battles have increased and the courts prevent the sharing of those stories, and so I say nothing. My workload has increased, the output expanded, the throughput improved, the capacity extended, and so I say nothing. I use up all my words by about 8pm most days and so my husband and I sit in companionable silence on our new couch in our new house and wonder what the fuck happened to us over the last 18months.

What's left to say?

At the Canterbury Primary School Athletic Champs earlier in the week I sat high in the stands and huddled into myself to escape the bite of the not-so-summery breeze. The kids ran hard and fast; some won, some didn't. It meant everything and nothing depending on who your parents were, and how much they needed your success to polish their own.

I saw a woman nursing a newborn. One of her other children had drowned in her swimming pool just a few summers ago. I'd have chemo everyday for the rest of my life if the deal spared my children.

T went surfing on his own. Without our permission. He didn't drown. I love the chutzpah, the confidence, the bravado. His ignorance is staggering, as if the universe is benignly serving up perfect sets of seven waves. The deception, the lies are harder for him to bear. Being disappointing is so much harder than being disappointed. How to tell the children that death is scary without scaring them to death?

I'm not going to rebuild my right breast, at least not anytime soon. The process is complex, taking a portion of my back muscle and keeping all the blood vessels intact relocating it to the front of my chest wall. It'll be scarred and won't match the other side and won't have feeling and won't feed anyone. It'll mean more rehab, more hospitals, more recovery, more time away from my real life. I've made another Faustian deal. No boob but more botox. The numbers are absolutely are my side. Adverse surgical outcomes are massive compared to the botox risks. I can have botox every 3 months for the next 5 years and still be ahead financially. I just won't be able to look excited about it. Mildly pleased is the closest to joy Nicole Kidman gets these days.

Seth Godin didn't want me to come to his course in New York. That's okay. New York is lousy this time of year. Lucky for me, two of my eight readers didn't even know who he is. The other six are on the course.


Despite being uncertain about almost everything, I know these things to be true:

1) When you sing, whatever is troubling you, whatever is bringing you down, gets better. But not if you sing 'Everybody Hurts' or any song by The Cure.
2) When you dance you open your heart to the possibility of feeling alive and free. People who point and laugh at you should focus less on you and more on whether the mustard really is in aisle 4.
3)When you sit comfortably in companionable silence whether on a new couch, or old, with husband or friend, you increase your capacity to love and be loved. No punch line. No joke. Just love.

Whatever you make of what has happened to you, and what will happen in the future, love's a great place to start if you're looking for a way home.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Hi Seth

There are no less than 77 remarkable things about me, 77 reasons that you should pick me to come to New York and spend 3 days with you and 11 other entrepreneurs who are women. Business with boobs I call it. Will you let me in with only one boob?

1) I live in New Zealand. Do the math. As a percentage of the global population we are remarkable. Only 0.03% of the people in the world are women from New Zealand. If we were truffles, you'd have to pay a lot of money to eat us.

2) In my city, Christchurch, there are more than 400,000 people and 4 Starbucks stores. Coffee Culture, a local coffee store started 15 years ago, has 12 stores. This is remarkable. I created a chunk of this brand. If we were truffles, we wouldn't be very hard to find.

3) People pay me to talk. This is remarkable. For most of my life everyone around me, including my parents and now my husband, would pay money to have me shut up. If I was a truffle, you would hear me long before you smelt me.

4) When I talk with people, they are sometimes moved to change their lives in powerful ways. This is remarkable. My message of being fearless, in the face of both opportunity and certain failure resonates deep within and inspires people to be set free from the good opinion of others. My advice is like a truffle. Hard to swallow all at once but so good in tasty bite-sized morsels.

5) Within my business, our key female staff outnumber males by more than 3-1. This is remarkable. We are creating opportunities for young women with no formal qualifications to develop business and leadership skills that enable them to bust out of dead-end expectations for their performance and pay. We create an environment that enables linchpins to flourish. If our staff were truffles no male pig would stand a chance of throwing his weight around.

6) I never give up. This is remarkable. In as much as people remark on it. "Don't you ever give up? Do you ever stop? Doesn't the public humiliation of your latest failure cause you excruciating embarrassment?" No, no and no. I never give up. Except when the truffle metaphor runs out of steam.

7) Now might be my only chance. This is remarkable. In the past 12 months I have had a mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and 12 months of intravenous targeted drug therapy in an attempt to rid my body of breast cancer. While I have every confidence that I will live to be 100, what if I don't? What if I don't make 40? My last years will be best spent doing what I know best:

*creating business opportunities that improve the planet
* sharing my journey in ways that inspire others to continue on their own path
*role modelling for my children that playing small does nothing for nobody

There are 70 other remarkable things about me. You'll get to see them when we meet.

Arohanui - the world needs more aroha


Sunday, September 05, 2010

All shook up

Reducing weeks of my life to a series of bullet points seems like a lazy way to spend a Sunday afternoon. But if sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, brevity is the highest form of truth. While some are prone to drama, hyperbole and lengthy explorations of the meaning of every nuance, I currently prefer the bald facts.

1. I have been to Fiji with my husband and without our children. It was very hot and very nice. I am very brown. My husband is very hot and very nice. He is not very brown.

2. My Dad has started his ride around the coast of New Zealand to raise awareness of Prostate Cancer. His blog is Dad is very funky, fun and forgetful. Most days when he leaves for work you can set your watch by the 10 minutes it takes before he returns to collect his office keys, phone, wallet, sunglasses, diary, or other miscellaneous item inadvertently left behind. Mum and I had a bet to see how long it would be during his one month mission before he set off in the morning without his bike. I won. She gave him a week, me just the first 48 hours. He left his cell phone in Cape Reinga on the second night and due to his exhausting schedule the courier company can't meet up with him until Palmerston North on Thursday.

3. My friend R was very impressed with Dad's ride until he found out it was on a Harley. "What?" he exclaimed. "I thought he was doing it on a push bike."

4. I have been to the Disputes Tribunal to explain my actions regarding the fence. I was in the waiting room. Patient. Nervous. In strolls neighbour with a support person. I felt supported, by the chair I was sitting in. Wee hobbit lady, just a bit taller than me pops out of the wee rooms and explains that every case is running late, there's no referees, she's terribly sorry, Gandalf's on his way, but alas, we won't possibly be able to slug it out today. "What do I do now?" asks neighbour as supporting man supports her. Wait til we get sent a new notice with a new date for a new hearing. I support myself by standing on my own legs and graciously allow neighbour to exit before me. Less graciously I am tempted to yell after her ' justice delayed is justice denied' but realise she feels this more sorely than me.

5. Christchurch has been shaken by an 7.1 earthquake. Go to for pictures of the devastation. The central city and some suburbs will take a long time to recover. It's hard to comprehend the scale when our sleepy seaside village is almost unscathed. The quake itself happened in slow motion. As if inside a washing machine on spin, the house shook and vibrated and rattled and hummed. The noise was powerful, going from fast asleep to wide awake in a heartbeat was a rush and the ride down the stairs to be with the children was treacherous. C bruised his ribs. He's not brown but he's tough. "I can't feel a thing."

6. The aftershocks are now strangely normal and it's hard to remember which of the many civily minded actions to take. There are exhortations to save water. I was composing a post about this while I showered. 10 minutes later I'd finished my blog update,in my head, but was still in the shower. When we heard that the water might be cut off for a period of time, we rushed to bath the kids, get the dishwashers on and do a load of washing.

7. School is closed for the next two days. P has already written a story about how her heart slept during the earthquake because she was scared. Another dear friend had a panic attack during the quake and couldn't breathe. Stranded on his bed like an upside-down starfish he thought he would die, not from the quake but from his seeming inability to get air into his lungs.

8. In Fiji I read 7 books including Margaret Attwood's Year of the Flood, winner of the Commonwealth Prize - The Slap, and my personal favourite Christopher Hitchens' memoir 'Hitch-22'. It contained the first literary reference I've come across to a 'one-titted woman'. Just for a minute, imagine my delight. It was found in a letter from Kingsley Amis to someone else famous and wordsy wordsy.

9. In Fiji I read that Christopher Hitchens has cancer, likely terminal. And that's a shame. My favourite Vanity Fair columnist writes so well about so many things, he's a million zillion times cleverer than me, almost as tall and so now I'll probably never mention cancer again. He is chanelling me and transforming my thoughts into his words. I understand the arrogance of such a comparison but his two most recent posts at suggest he has a direct line to me. I've been thinking for a while about the language of death and death notices. People apparently 'lose their battle' with cancer but not with heart disease, dementia, obesity, or diabetes. If cancer kills me it won't be because I lost the battle. CH will tell you all about it. He goes on to explain how he, one of the world's most vocal atheists, deals with the news that people are praying for him. I've been troubled for a while now by 24 hour prayer chains established to support women with breast cancer. I'm not sure we need more tired mums setting their alarms for 3am to pray for their friends. What kind of God would decide not to cure someone because their mate slept through the 5am shift?

10. And so to the significance of the quake? Guests of the planet, Mother Nature has forcefully reminded us of her potency. There will be weeks of literal and figurative muddiness as the city struggles back to life. Tomorrow I am due to further my own revolt against MN and her forces with a preliminary visit to the plastic surgeon to discuss rebuilding my twin towers. This is one area where my account will outstrip Hitch every day of the week.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Successfulness of Resiliency

It's not fast food when the guy in front can't get his eft-pos card to work and you wait and wait and wait and wait for the three people behind the counter all speaking differently accented versions of English to come up with a solution.

Me: "I'll just pay for it. How much does it come to?" I have the story all worked out you see. He's a part-time Dad, earnest, struggling to pay the bills, treating his kids to McDonalds on a Friday night. I'm a part-time Mum, slack as, treating my kids and now his kids to McDonalds on a Friday night.

It takes about 8 minutes to work through all this and in the end his card is accepted and so is mine. Upstairs in the play area I see him sitting with two clean-cut boys and an older woman. Nana. Where was she when the bill needed paying?

He:"Finish up boys and then we'll go downstairs and you can empty your bladders." What? one of his kids yelled back at him. "We'll go downstairs to empty your bladders." He actually said it, out loud, twice.

I mentally revoked my offer of kindness - this chap was clearly a Class A tool. What is it with language? At a training night earlier in the week I'd heard about the value of resiliency, and just yesterday read about measuring the successfulness of a project.

Where's the harm you ask? We all know what the speakers and writers mean.

Am I wrong to want to hold on to the rules? Is my inableness to look furtherer than the words being spoken creating interferenceness with my comprehendibility of the communicative message being conveyered at me?

Or am I a lone bastion, along with my good friend V, of proper bloody English?

Or am I simply getting old?

The thing with resilience as Seth Godin points out in his book The Dip is understanding the difference between the positive qualities of perseverance and resilience, and their negative aspects of inflexibility, dogmatism, and worst of all, failure to give up when giving up is the right thing to do. We don't berate a battered wife for giving up on her marriage, or frown on an investor who cuts their losses before the fatal haemorrhaging kicks in. How do we teach ourselves and our children to discern the difference between wisely digging deep and stupidly digging in?

Beating cancer is a juggle. Knowing that stress in some of its forms is unhelpful to my immune system I have to choose, and it is a choice, which of life's frustrations to allow in. My mother chooses to care about what she wears to the coffee shop, 'I can't go in this old thing'. C chooses to care about things being tidy. P doesn't care at all about being late for school but certainly doesn't have low ponytails anymore - 'only high ones now Mum'.

I don't care about many of the things that burden others. What people think of me counts for almost naught, I'm certainly not concerned with the fashion of my clothing, and I know that my car is not an outward expression of my inner worth. I don't care about your sexual preferences, your bank balance or what school you went to. But I do care about things, that in a bid to live, I'm learning to let go of: muddy thinking, awful spelling and incorrect use of my mother tongue.

I'm learning to be patient - that can't happen soon enough, and trying to find new ways every day to be less of a know-it-all. I'm hoping to show successfulness in this area and I'm sure the resiliency I have drawn on during my treatment will stead me in good stand for this.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

What to think

It's a crazy old world when little old me just doesn't know what to think anymore. Thinking, and being certain are two things I excel at - go on, ask me anything! But this past week has been discombobulating and disconcerting. I've become one of those mental folk who pace up and down the footpath outside their houses staring wildly and gesticulating at the children going past on their way to school. Nothing makes sense:

After weeks of trying on clothes at Christchurch's loveliest shops I ventured into the black hole of the $2 recycled clothing warehouse in Ferrymead. It stinks, the clothes are musty and third hand. They are also $2. I tried on 9 items, they fit me, I look hot, I got $2 change from my twenty bucks. I don't think you can even park in town for less than $20. Saba, Helen Cherry and DKNY were just three of the high fashion brands I rescued from that cold dark dungeon. Please don't go there. I like to think it's my secret.

I was trying to email J in the States using his facebook site, and accidentally stumbled upon a chap with a similar name whose bio said: "Know I'm not a stud but don't consider myself to be too bad looking." Que? His photo was up for all 400 million facebook users to see and form their own judgements. While I'm no fan of Sharia law I felt like draping myself in an old black sheet for my next profile photo - when will this obsession with how we all look end?

The Pope (and this is hardly surprising) has declared that the ordination of women is as offensive to God and the Catholic Church as paedophilia. You need me to explain what I'm certain I think about this?

T & P are studying Tikanga Maori at school and had trips to the museum to learn about the history of settlement in New Zealand and the old tribal way of life. P reported that she now knows that "Maori are people" and T's trip was summarised by the following piece of news:

Museum teacher: The Maori at this time were very clever. They kept coming up with new and ingenious ways of killing each other. They were clever at other things too, but the ways they killed each other were amazing.

I was a parent helper on that trip and rued the missed opportunities. The boys in the car on the way in had no understanding of the timeline of history in terms of what else was happening in the world at the time New Zealand was settled and knew almost nothing about the land wars and the historical injustices that give rise to the tensions of today. I know that I shouldn't expect too much from such a short visit but when I asked the boys on the way home if they enjoyed the trip, one of them noted it was exactly the same trip, talk and museum teacher they'd had the year before. Now that's preparing our children for a constantly changing world. We talk about wanting our kids to appreciate cultural differences and the museum teacher takes them straight to a stereotype about killing and cannabilism. I'd like to have been able to share with my children a similar European history about Vikings and torture and slavery to provide some balance to the savage stories they were being spun as though exclusive to Maori. But my own knowledge of history is embarrassingly brief and the best I could come up with was some vague reference to Henry the 8th cutting off his wife's head because he thought she'd had sex with her brother...and well, you'll appreciate that 9 and 10 year olds don't need that sort of history either.

P wants to marry T and I've explained that she can't and will have to marry some other boy or girl. "Girls can't marry girls." Not in New Zealand, I explained, but they can be civilly unioned and have property rights just like everyone else except nuns and priests. "No they can't, X told me that boys kissing boys is gross." And so it's begun. The beginning of the prejudice and bigotry. My own voice of reason is drowned out by the loudest voice in her class of 5 year olds.

Coca-Cola has been taken to court in the United States for the blatantly false claims about its Vitamin-Water which can also be bought here in Christchurch. It's promoted as being a healthy drink. It actually has 33 gm of sugar in it and has about 1 cents worth of synthetic vitamins added. Coca-Cola's lawyers have argued that they are not breaching fair trading laws because no reasonable person would be misled by the advertising claims. No reasonable person, they stress, would actually believe that a drink called VitaminWater and advertised as being healthy was good for you! Everyone knows, they say, that advertisers make outrageous claims that aren't ever expected to be true. No VitaminWater drinker, says Coke, believes they are drinking water with vitamins even though the label insists they are. Consumers know that they are actually drinking sugar and food colouring.

If I sound tired and overwhelmed by the absurdity of it all, it's because I am. I want to escape to a tropical paradise, read books all day, swim with little coloured fish, and sip mock-alcoholic beverages with umbrellas poking out the top. Fortunately, that's what I'm going to do after 10 more sleeps. Imagine the updates when I get back:

1. It all makes sense! Coburn reveals a unified theory of everything.
2. Sell the lot! Coburn reveals a fresh approach to your summer wardrobe dilemmas.
3. Culture for children! Coburn unveils a new curriculum for teaching children about their place in the world. It involves cupboards and on the 'release' days, costumes. See my previous post about sack cloth fashion.
4. Religion for girls! Coburn shares a new approach to women's roles inside the church. It involves being outside. With placards.
5. What next! Coburn shares her plans for the next, most exciting 12 months of her life.

I'm certain I'll be thinking more clearly when I get back.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

The needle and the damage done

I'm so pleased to have a nasty bruise to show for my afternoon's work. On Wednesday I rocked up to the hospital for my three-weekly dose of Herceptin. Usually a quick in and out, the fates intervened to teach me a lesson. Access to my port was denied despite the lovely nurse J trying three times to get the mosquito needle into the right place. Veins in my arm are like clothes that fit - hard to come by, and after two or three attempts and one collapsed vein later we opted for the best, most uncomfortable option. Sticking a needle into the big old M1 of my wrist was the only way Herceptin was going to get in, and get in it did. Jeepers, it stung. And throbbed. And stung. And throbbed. When the 45 minutes were up and the needle pulled out, there was a tiny little bruise. Stinkbum.

I had been hoping for a spectular patchwork quilt of colour that screamed 'Poor me. Behold my affliction.'

Earlier that day I'd been to have my hair dyed. "Let me know if it hurts," said the kind wee thing that was bleaching me with nuclear strength ammonia. "It can sting." That's the wonder of perspective. It did sting but I didn't feel any pain. The endorphin rush of knowing that within 60 minutes I'd no longer look like a mongrel dog masked any physical burning sensation. And yet, just a few hours later, despite now looking like a cross between Billy Idol and Ellen deGeneres, the tiniest sting was really, really, really, hurting.

Thankfully, the bruise got bigger and more purple and yellow and black and dark green as the week wore on. It now looks really painful. Which it isn't. Irony. Paradox. Go figure.

Being blonde is awesome. I am already having more awesome fun. Not being mistaken for my husband's twin sister is awesome as well.

The kids were initially surprised.

T: Mum, um, what did you do to your hair?

P: Mum, you are C-R-A-Z-Y.

When I first showed T my little bruise on Wednesday he was appropriately disinterested. This morning, as I waved the new 3D sci-fi horror version of it in front of his face, he responded as only 9 year olds can. 'Mum, that is awesome."

Monday, July 26, 2010

Book me

Everyone has a book in them right? And while I personally believe that life's too short to bother with Jodi Picault and Robert Ludlam, most people disagree with me. So help me out. Which one of the following 15 books I have in me should I write first? If I die soon, which I won't, but if I did, which one would you most like to have read? Which one would you buy? Which one would you buy for your friends? I'm sure you know that you must never give gifts that suggest the need for self-improvement so some of the titles might have to be just for you:

1. What Would Sacha Do? (an exhaustive list of how to behave in any new and potentially scary situation. Most examples premised around the simple idea of take over, talk lots, leave early, send an invoice.)
2. Cucumber. You too can be cool like me. One word titles are pretty BIG right now.
3. Dogs Bite. Not really a book, more of a complete and well reasoned theory for why you shouldn't ever keep one at home with your children.
4. Cats Wee. As above at number 4.
5. The Paradox of Success. How to be enormously popular, confident, wealthy and skinny but still have nothing to wear, nowhere to go and no money for milk every day-before-pay-day.
6. Lads I've Loved. Not a very long book, but sort of a documentary coffee table book. The boy from the dairy next door, aged 5, Paul Drew, blond and so cute, aged get the idea.
7. Lads Who've Loved Me. A companion to number 6 but with a few less entries.
8. Places I Could've Been to If I'd Tried a Bit Harder. I'm thinking a pictorial book with all the classic places like Gisborne, Cape Reinga, Feilding, Masterton, Otorohanga and Wanganui.
9. Natural Beauty. A lay woman's guide to looking your best everyday. Simple step by step photoshop tools to take your headshot and transpose it onto photos of Helen Mirren, Angelina Jolie and for the intellectually able Angela Merkel. Slightly more complex tools for printing out 15 A4 sheets and sellotaping them all around you so that only an experienced eye will notice the joins.
10. Wig-a-rama. A personal favourite. My face with lots of different hair styles. It would be an interactive book. I'm thinking of giving away free crayons to colour in bows and ribbons and including scissors to scratch my eyes out.
11. Neat Freak. Capitalising on the fad for home cleaning and organising and tidying and buying storage stuff that doesn't quite fit on your existing shelves. It will obviously be a fiction title as I have no actual real life, true life, experience of the actual, real, true topic.
12. Awaken the Little Person Within. I am often likened to Tony Robbins except that he is quite a bit taller and manlier and successfuller than I am. I do have whiter teeth than him and in the motivational speaker world this counts for almost as much as having good content and being motivational. He has probably never been to Masterton either.
13. Awaken the Dog Within. This would really just be a personal note for P who has just come home from school singing "who let the dogs out? who? who?"
14. Lost in Time. This would really just be a personal note for whoever taught P such an old song. Like, it is soooo three years ago. Whatever. Not even. Shame.
15. Bargain. Again capitalizing on the one word title and keeping in mind that bookstore owners have to buy the books before the readers do. Think how much they'll save on promotional signs.

Wait, now I've got it. The best title yet:

16. Bargain, $.99c.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Surrounded by idiots...

and feeling quite at home.

I have been living through a bureaucratic nightmare. I tried to book a mammogram. The 12 -month-after-you-were-first-told-you-had-cancer-check-up. The one-year-to-see-if-we-got-it-all-the-first-time-we-cut-your-breast-off-check-up. The don't-let-the-ones-you-love-miss-an-appointment-check-up.

I'm still too traumatised to recount the conversation with the receptionist but I'm happy to share its low point that occured about half-way into a 10 minute attempt to get an appointment time this side of Christmas 2014.

She: What's your date of birth?

Me: 24/6/1973

She:, are you sure you've been here before?

Me: Great question. Thanks for checking. I'm not sure. No, not sure at all. Perhaps the 5 times I've been to your offices in the last 12 months for the following reasons - to be prodded and pricked to test for cancer, to sit with my husband and be told I have cancer, to be given a little cottonwool filled mini-pillow to stuff my bra with after the operation to remove the whole of my right breast, to check that the disgusting scar that replaces the aforementioned boob was healing, and then to hear about what other poisons and burning would be recommended to prevent cancer returning - perhaps, just perhaps I made all that up.

Patience, lovingkindness and empathy for my fellow travellers seem to have disappeared from within me and been replaced by intolerance, frustration, pride (unjustified feelings of superiority), and worst of all snip-snappiness.

What do you think? Is it too much to ask of the people around me that they at least learn to argue properly, do their jobs with just a smidgeon of common sense, grow a brain cell in their left hemisphere to complement the lonely figure in their right????

1) A contractor is sending me letters quoting a piece of legislation that is expressly inapplicable to our situation. Not arugably inapplicable. Not a grey area worth discussing. Expressly inapplicable. Is it my job to do his job and help him find the appropriate section of the particular Act that he can use to sue me?

2) I have a new pain on the right hand side of my chest - most likely a muscle pulled while I writhed on the floor in disbelief at the latest idiot piece of mail that arrived last week - but who'd want to take chances? The hospital won't let me see any of the seven oncologists I already know and love. They want me to go back to my GP, get a referral, book a test at Canterbury breastcare, see para 1 above, and then just before I die, see one of the seven so they can wish me luck on the other side.

3) A lawyer helping me with another matter (ever since I blogged about not needing food stamps I have become a magnet for the disaffected clamouring for cash) left a message for me at 4.50pm on Friday. I returned her call at 4.52pm - she'd left 'for the day'. I rang the following Monday to be told she'd gone for that week. Agreeing to leave a message with her PA I received a message informing me that the PA was away until Wednesday. I called the main reception desk again - is anybody from your firm intending to work ever again? They're called the School Holidays, not the Everyone Sacha Might Need this Week Holidays.

Do I think I'm going to die? Not at all. Do I wish for a few hours of respite from consciousness? Heck yes.

Me feeling at home amongst the idiots comes from the unnerving reflection that I am as stupid as them. In fact, I'm worse. I know enough about human falibility to know that not everyone is on top of their game all of the time. Mistakes get made, the wrong options presented, inappropriate decisions taken. Let's imagine what my 'idiots' might be going through? Divorce, threat of redundancy, sick children, financial pressure, lack of self-actualisation, nothing to wear, uncertainty about what on earth to cook for tea, falling out with co-workers, bit of 'flu, winter blues, stiffling bullshit bureaucratic rules, chillblains, parking tickets, missed the last episode of Glee regret, and/or general malaise.

J.K Rowling makes a compelling case for imagination as a vital life skill in the Commencement address she made at Harvard one year. If you haven't watched it yet, you should, and let me know that you hadn't so that I can refill my glass of unjustified superiority. Google 'J K Rowling Harvard speech'. Perhaps my lovingkindness is returning - those instructions were for my mother's friends who pop into visit this 'blogsite' - it's a BLOG - from time to time.

Her thrust is that imagination is not only a rich source of Muggles, and Quidditch, and morality tales, but is indeed the foundation of all empathy. The ability to imagine the world from another's perspective is the door into understanding what it might be to live in their shoes. Or in their barefeet.

The temptation when I feel set upon by the morons of this world is to wallow in despair and rail against the hopelessness of it all. But if I force myself to spend 10 minutes with J K Rowling and Elizabeth Gilbert (as you know her TED talk on creativity is an all time favourite of mine) and Seth Godin and Awul Gawande and (not for the faint-hearted) the Hyberbole and a Half blog of Allie, I find my mental game lifted and persepctive returning.

I am thankful that I am surrounded, not by idiots, but surrounded by people, just people doing their best with what they have on any given day; and that for the most part, I feel quite at home.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Signs & Wonders

Headline in the Christchurch Press just last week: Sacha lifts her game. I knew it! Sacha Jones, the teenage tennis sensation was back to her best and I was basking in the associated glory. Reading the article shattered those hopes. Some old nag, purchased for a mere $10,000 was coming good at last for her owners and won the group D half a mile around the back strait and over the gallops at the Wayawayfromanywhere racetrack on dole day Tuesday. I just can't get excited about horseracing but I wondered if the headline was a sign. Time to lift my game?Require a bit more of myself? Hmmm.

The other item that caught my attention introduced me to the idea of transition societies. Whether you follow the Mayan calendar or believe 99% of the world's scientists doesn't really matter - our planet is on its way to being poked. Transition societies teach all the old crafts like stone masonry, black smithing, milling flour and other medieval type activities we would need to draw on if the global production economy collapsed. Everyone has a role to play in ye olde village and as I read through the list of jobs there were only two that I could even begin to fulfill. Useless at cooking, cleaning, sewing, handicrafts, and not busty enough to work at ye olde public bar I settled on being the town crier (big mouth) or the village idiot (I am often the dumbest person I know).

Our surnames used to tell all about our role in the village. The Taylors, the Millers, the Arrowsmiths and Cooks. I put it to my dear friend that his was a heritage of entertainment but Mr Morris was having none of that. My surname indicates that my forebears lit the fires that burnt the witches at the stake - I'm not sure who invented the torture that gave rise to those who spell their Coburns with an extra c.k. And as for my new friend Mr Hygate I can only suppose that it's simply a matter of perspective.

My dad is planning to ride a motorbike around the perimeter of New Zealand during September to promote awareness of prostate cancer. He has Harley Davidson luggage, badges and belts and won't hear of any suggestion that he's an aging cliche. He's jacking up sponsorship and will be in a town near you with a bunch of other bikies with blue buckets. I mention this momentus challenge (both the biking and the buckets) not so much as evidence of a sign, but more because it's a wonder.

I wonder a bit these days. I wonder what colour to dye my hair, and how the war in Afghanistan will go without McChrystal's influence on local decision makers. One of the journalists I follow on twitter provided live updates from the Apsen Institute Security Forum and while I most wanted to know if she was going to have botox while she was there, SachaZ (not a racehorse or a tennis player) instead totally got me thinking about the challenges facing the planet. Forget the massive advances in medicine, technology, the industrial revolution, Madonna, and donuts - the primary difference between our society now and ye olde village is the vast array of information we have at our disposal to process and evaluate. What is most important? Saving the planet? World peace? Self-actualisation? Checking your balls for evidence of what you might have otherwise happily died of? Making sure your jeans are the right cut for this season?

I envy the villagers of times past. Unless they travelled they didn't know that no-one in the next village was still wearing brown sacks for dresses. Rabbit was always fashionable in a stew and there was no awful judgement about whether or not you'd had an epidural.

For the record, in deference to Rome I had two c-sections. Too posh to push. Send your condemnation to

I checked the newspaper again this morning for a sign and perhaps not surprisingly given a readership in excess of 100,000 there didn't seem to be any messages specifically for me.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Secrets of Success

Despite my willingness to embrace the creative side of life, I remain in my heart of hearts deeply conservative. I'm attracted to the four hour working week, and a passive investment portfolio of high yield slum flats but I can't quite get past the feeling that it's cheating.
I've been slack at updating this blog lately because I've been so busy working. I love working. I love working hard. Late nights, bright lights, big ideas, long sentences, churning through the list of things to do, power up, power on, power to the people.

So much has been written about working smarter, work life balance, and the importance of following your bliss. Finding ways to really engage with life and connect with your life's purpose are undoubtedly important but at the risk of sounding like my grandmother I can't believe how many people have forgotten or never learned to work hard.

When people ask me for advice on how they can improve their jobs, their relationships, and their financial situation (I know. Asking me for advice about money. What are ya? Stupid?) I always start at the same place. Work harder. Give more to your boss, your spouse and your savings account. Come back in a month and if things haven't improved we'll dig a bit deeper. You'd be amazed at how many problems dissolve with the application of effort.

Look at anybody who has enjoyed long term success in any area of their lives. Sure, they probably had some talent, a bit of opportunity and maybe even a lucky break. But I bet my left boobie they also invested heavily in some old fashioned hard work.

Stop wasting time reading this, and start scrubbing.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Sex in the Sydney

You would have thought that the blondinis strutting their way through lunchtime on Wednesday had never seen a fabulous creature like moi. I've not been stared at like that for a long time. At first I thought it was my really short hair. The suitcase I was wheeling behind me perhaps? Nope. It was the grey. Apparently au naturel is not de rigeur downunder. And whereas the plebs pounding the pavements of Christchurch don't bother to look twice at the grey and white haired short woman with no boobs striding out with a silly grin, the fashionistas of central Sydney were horrified.

I braved the Myers sale and squeezed my way in and out of no less than 22 pairs of jeans in search of the holy grail of denim, a pair that fits, but eventually gave up in a huff. I've lost 4.5 kilos since Christmas but the size 'short and stubby with a narrowish waist' doesn't exist and so I'll need to lose another 4.5kg to get near my pre-cancer weight and Mr. Strauss.

Which if it were not challenge enough leads to a different problem all together. Reconciling the obvious need to inject botulism into my forehead if I'm ever going to be hot again with the fundamental belief I have that women, or men, for that matter shouldn't inject poison into their bodies in order to look like a startled small animal 24/7.

I've tried botox before of course. Hello, I'm not all cyber geek you know. I've been to Rome and when in Rome.....well actually, I haven't ever been to Rome. I planned a massive three month O.E when I was 19 to traipse through Europe but I was in love with a manchild in Dunedin and the Mona Lisa didn't seem so special when I gazed upon her whilst upon my own. So after spending three weeks in Paris and London mostly writing airmail letters back to said mc, I flew home.

My first night in London revealed one unique skill that I've savoured ever since - the ability to get into ridiculous situations, laugh about them and make up totally believable absolute lies about the terrible thing that just happened as though I was the victim of some awful calamity, rather than the author of my misfortune. I'd met two lads from New York by a fountain bathed in rare capital sun and we thought it was a grand idea to go underground to a wee bar in Soho and buy 15 pound alcoholic smoothies that were served in massive blenders with straws. The three of us raced each other to the bottom of these vessels and thus within about 2 and a half minutes I was toast. Always one to keep my wits about me, I wrote on the back of a piece of paper "If I am lost, please return me to Shepherd's Bush" and popped it into my top pocket. They were gentler times, those early 90's. Anyway, after what seemed like hours of fun, I ventured back up the staircase to ground level and stepped out into glaringly broad daylight. Like the Narnia wardrobe, there was some strange portal vibe going down - I had evidently been gone only a few minutes. Too long to be able to prevent myself from chundering on the tube on the way back to SB. I tried so hard to contain it, and eventually found a way to fill the hand I had cupped over my mouth and guide it down the sleeve of my chambray shirt. I was rather indignant by this stage. Strawberry daiquiri spew running down my arm wasn't what I'd planned. I got off the train, hailed a black cab, unbuttoned my shirt and sold the driver the same story I shopped to my friend who was surprised to open her door at 6.30pm to find me, semi-clad and covered in sick. "Can you imagine? My very first night in London and some cheap drunk girl in a bar vomits all over me? Some girls shouldn't be allowed out. They don't know how to handle their booze. I imagined that London was more sophisticated than this!"

The point, hidden I'll grant you, is that I'm not all suburban and homely all the time. Which is why I had botox when C and I honeymooned in Aspen. It just seemed like what you do apres ski and who was I to argue with the prevailing wisdom? It did make a big difference to the crease that runs down the centre of my forehead. I did look younger. Was I sexier? Is that possible?

Is botox so different from moisturiser or lipstick? Yes, I hear you scream, it's poisonous. Well so is bloody chemo and I've had a bunch of that, can't I have a teensy bit of pleasure poison? The doses are tiny. But the principle is huge. Try explaining to your daughter that when she is older, in order to look good and feel good she will need to inject small doses of disease into her face so that men will find her attractive and her girlfriends will continue to be jealous of her effortless youth and good fortune with wrinkles and want to stay her friend. Mention that the men in her life, at best, might go to the gym and will sometimes wear sunblock. She will be too young to appreciate that no female leads of Clint Eastwood's age are considered sexy. Those who throw up (n.p.i) Meryl Streep as an example are deluded. There's 20 years between Clint and Meryl and if Meryl's husband was as comparatively young as Eastwood's wife he'd be 25 years old to her 60. That'd be something to share with your daughter.

Some of my friends have had botox but no-one talks about it. Only when I asked them directly, did they admit it. Who are we kidding here girls? What is it all about?

As I sat on the ferry to Manly (more on my money saving tips later) I repeated my mantra, "it's what's inside me that's important, beauty is temporary, brains are for life." Please don't post a comment about how radiant I am, and how short hair suits me - my self-esteem is concrete. My rejection of botox is not so solid. The temptation fascinates me and I don't fully understand my attraction to the dark side. I am certain that being unsexy in Sydney may have acted as a trigger. What has happened to you lately that has lead you down a path you know is not right for you, but is oh so alluring? And please, tell me how you resisted.

P.S If, on the other hand, you've found an intelligent feminist defending or advocating the use of botox I'd be ABSOLUTELY DELIGHTED to hear about it.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Constancy, consistency and the wisdom of youth

The neighbour has not moved out, or moved on. I've been summonsed to the Disputes Tribunal and seeing as it's only a quasi-judicial arena I can bone on about it without fear of such matters being sub-judice and off limits for public consumption. Except that it bores me. Prone to exaggeration and not one to ever let the truth interfere with a dramatic retelling of a perfectly mundane event, I shouldn't complain. But when the neighbour writes that for a year she has 'consistently and constantly' asked me to replace her plants I get a little bit cross. How many times would she have to have spoken to me to qualify for the c&c tag? More than once I'm picking.

Dr John Gottman became famous for his ability to spend 10 minutes listening to a couple talk and predict with amazing success (somewhere near 90%) whether they would still be married in a few years time. One of the death knells? Universality of judgemental criticism. 'You ALWAYS interrupt me. EVERY time I try to tell you how I feel you walk away. You NEVER hold me.' If any of these statements were true, the couples should get divorced. But of course, that's not how it works. In emotional situations we overstate, exaggerate, and sometimes tell lies that feel true but aren't. I frequently sign cards 'all my love' which isn't true. Nor is 'you are always in my thoughts'. Let's start a Truthful Communication in Card -Writing Club. "I thought of you today, for the first time in ages, and while you are not even in my top ten list of best friends, there was a time when we were close and I would like to stay at your bach next time I'm in Raglan so hopefully this card will do the trick."

T has missed something reasonably important from his science unit at school this week. The point. I have missed the point of parenting too in the subsequent fall out but I'm not sure I could behave any better the next time around:

T: We're doing a Science Fair at school Mum and X is my partner and we've decided what our project is. A wooden toaster.


You see, I wisely said nothing. Just waited.

T: We're going to get four bits of wood and make a toaster. The question we are asking is 'what would happen if there was no electricity?' And our answer is, 'we'd just have to eat raw food.'


You see. Can't speak. On kitchen floor exploding with laughter, tears rolling down face.

Somewhere the point of experimentation and figuring things out has been lost. Instead my boy, of whom I am enormously proud, has solved the problem by showing all the qualities that have been drummed into him from birth. Resilience, make the best of every situation, deal with what's in front of you without complaint. Eat your raw onions and be thankful. Plenty of people have NEVER had a raw onion for dinner and you don't hear them moaning about it do you?

Once he'd got over the meanness of me laughing at his idea he explained that their project was going to consist of the aforementioned wooden toaster with a wire running from the wood to the wall. This would illustrate to everyone what would happen if there was no electricity. Nothing. Nothing would happen. The bread would stay bread and there'd be no peanut butter on toast for breakfast. Just peanut butter on bread. Maybe he's on to something. Maybe not every problem needs a new fix. Maybe it's not even a problem.

P, on the other hand is preparing for school. She was very slowly doing an alphabet matching game today, finding the lower case and upper case letters and pairing them up. Jeepers, thought my mum who was on nana duty, what's taking her so long? "I'm doing it backwards Nana. Starting at Z." Go on, try it. Say the alphabet backwards. Can't do it can you? You have to go forwards before you can go backwards. Why is that? And what's the metaphorical takeout?

At her last kindy visit our family, except J who's in the States, will be there to celebrate her last day. My mum and dad, C and T, and Lesley who's been our Nanny for 8 years. I've asked P what happens and she's explained in great detail who sits where and the whole rigmarole. The best part she says happens near the end. "Then I get sunged to." How cool is that? When was the last time you were sunged to?

My wish for my family today is that they will be consistently and constantly loved all their lives, and for this to be true, not greeting card true, but truly true. And I wish that whenever they are without power both physically and metaphorically they have people who will sing with them while they peel their onions.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Dying....but of what?

I've been thinking about dying a lot this week, but nothing to do with cancer. C has been away on a course in Australia. Four courses actually. One each day, 18 holes each. Say no more.

P has slept with me in his absence and three nights ago I woke up to find that she was lying sideways right across the bed with her head on my tummy. I looked down at her straggly hair, bubblegum cheeks and Jolie lips and thought I might just die, right then, of happiness. I'm not prone to emotional waves of such strength, other than righteous anger when some bastard steals my car park space, so I just lay there and tried happiness on for size. I am an extra large. An extra largely happy.

Earlier in the week I'd been worried that I might die of embarrassment. I, rightly or wrongly, threw my name into the hat for the Board of Trustees at the kids' school. I know I'm supposed to be taking on less, and focusing on breathing and sprouts but I thought I could let the universal consciousness decide my fate. If it's meant to be, I'll be elected. If I don't make it, that's a message. Always looking for a sign, me. Or so I thought. Once the election papers were distributed to voters with each candidate's statement attached I realised the enormity of my mistake. Thirteen very capable people are vying for seven spots. Holy shitcakes batman, not only might I not be elected, I might come last. And then I knew that cancer wouldn't kill me; shame, humiliation and embarrassment would get me first.
I've never been prone to embarrassment. Witness my potted history of talent quest entries:

1) Singing "oh I do like to be beside the seaside" and doing a wee dance at the same time at the Raglan camping ground. I suspect I won on the strength of my costume. My brother J had cut up the Sampler Biscuit box we'd got for Christmas, turned it inside out, coloured the dull grey cardboard oceanic blue with his Christmas crayons and made me a top hat.

2) While I'm loathe to mention beauty competitions in the same breath as talent quests, I entered the Junior Miss Raglan the same year. 32 girls paraded around in their bikinis and 10 were recalled for the final. Me and the other 21 who missed the cut couldn't believe that the chubby girl with ringlets won.

3) The following year I entered only the talent section and won hands-down with a barefoot ballet dance and a self-choreographed jazz number to the pop song of the year 'Fame'.
4) I've already told you about the disaster that was my high school talent quest entry. Long skirt, skivvy under a jumper singing (a flattering description of the sound) Tracy Chapman 'Baby can I hold you tonight?'
5) Another year my friend R and I made up a cute rap/dance/singing combo about Jesus. We both now have/had breast cancer. Go figure.
So you'd think that I'd be more than up for some embarrassment.
At law school we studied the issue of consent in sexual offending. A male radiographer had been telling women that he needed to examine their ovaries externally and internally so all the patients merrily said yes. Turns out he was a crazy perv. and the internal exam was something he'd just made up on a lonely Tuesday night and had nothing to do with their condition. Split decision in the appeal court - the sicko got off. "The women consented," the old wig-heads announced from on high. "I bet those law lords would have decided differently if he'd stuck his bloody prodder up their arses" some vulgar feminist in the class yelled out. And then people started staring at me. Turns out, I'd said it. So you'd think that looking pretty foolish in front of my peers wouldn't be a new sensation for me.
Why then the dismay and sense of dread? Am I getting proud in my old age? That can't be true. I still have to talk very sternly to myself to avoid repeats of going to the supermarket in my jammies and slippers.
I like to think it's just evidence of my recovery. It's normal to feel anxious about an election. I've just not felt normal for a while. I haven't trifled with smaller emotions because I've been busy with more pressing life and death issues. Perhaps it's a sign that my perspective is returning. Since I'm no longer concerned about dying, I can concern myself with less important matters like school elections.
Monday is results day. If I'm elected I might kick off the first meeting with a wee song and dance and a sparkly costume and if I come last how about I video the same routine and share it with you all. Proof that when they cut out the cancer they didn't take away my precious capacity to laugh at myself at the same time.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The elegance of ideas

Every few months I sit down with the Medical Director of the Cancer Society of New Zealand who happens to be one of my oncologists and we chew the fat on what might or might not prevent my cancer from returning. It's a very special time for me as I test my latest theories and internet rumours against a backdrop of sound medical double blind studies. Dr C patiently listens and we explore the contradictions in the research and find a way to agree on the best way forward for me. We agree on the role of exercise in prevention, agree to disagree about sugar, and are both hopeful about experimental theories that might yet prove valid like testing individual tumours for their responses to varying forms of chemo before the treatment regime begins. "Nothing to date shows this has an impact of survival rates", he notes (improved survival rates are the gold standard for any new intervention) "but it's a very elegant idea."

His softly spoken calm expression of this simple phrase has stayed with me for weeks now. The elegance of an idea.The idea that an idea has a physical presence; might dance, or float or command attention as it enters the room.

I've always been seduced by ideas. The notion that the world doesn't have to be how it is now, that change is possible, that girls can do anything, and that we should make love not war. Sometimes the most simple ideas are the most powerful. And also the most dangerous.

Not eating seems to be a great solution for weight loss. But it's not an elegant idea is it? The most compelling ideas are those that are easy enough to understand but have a profound depth that challenges us to think differently, or act with more purpose.

I remember the first time I read Steven Covey explaining that between stimulus and response there is a gap and that each of us can choose how we respond to any given situation. We can choose to find the good in a person or hold on to the bitterness caused by hurt and rejection. The idea changed me and changed my life.

The idea that two people could hold equally valid, rational and totally opposing views on a topic was revolutionary for me. To reach an understanding that my opinion is not always right has been a long and painful journey. Particularly for anyone not so blessed to work with me.

Parents appreciate the idea that having more children multiplies your love rather than divides it, and that your children can be the very best and the most challenging people you'll ever meet.

Clifford the Big Red Dog has big ideas. Share. Be kind. Play fair.

My big idea for today is 'it doesn't matter'. Whatever is troubling you the most right now probably won't matter in the long run. Not much does. Eat well. Exercise. Shower the people you love with love. Do your best with what you've got. Nothing much else matters. The deadlines, the clock, your child's low test score, the weeds, the mess, the unsent thank you cards.

Find the elegance in your own big idea for today. Allow it to dance into the empty chambers of your mind and sweep you up in its potential power.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Legislating morality


My sleepy little village has been in the news lately (google Sumner and donkey) and while I've been doing my best to lay low, a number of people have called and asked me to comment on the recent events. It seems that my forthright views on the right for parliament to legislate morality have been remembered from the dark and distant past. I have declined the opportunity to share those views in the wider media (who wants to be known as the animal sex lady?) but for those who care about the rights of every oppressed individual or group of people here are the risks as I see them of continuing to have a law that prohibits sexual acts between animals and people.

To set the scene, imagine this. It is the Civil Liberties class of 1997 and we are grappling with the issue of balancing the rights of the individual against the rights of the state and of community interest. Young, sharp minds, excited to be away from home, take up arms against the perceived interference of the state and almost without exception everyone agrees that the state should have very little to say about how people spend their spare time in the privacy of their own homes. Provided there is no physical harm to others, this room full of tomorrow's leaders would loosen restrictions on pornography, allow unfettered access to recreational drugs and remove the hate speech restrictions on freedom of expression. The prevailing view was that parliament shouldn't legislate morality. Healthcare and roading = good. Dictating what you could and couldn't do on a Friday night = bad.

And so I presented a compelling case for the decriminalisation of having sex with animals. There are no valid reasons for these acts to be illegal. Lack of consent? Often the animals do consent and we certainly don't ask their permission before we kill them and eat them. They might prefer to be sex slaves than tomorrow night's dinner. Cruelty? The existing laws are sufficient to deal with anyone who hurts an animal. Indecency laws cover those who like to be seen out and about. What about the fact that it's really gross? That's the best point my classmates could come up with. 'We think it's sick and should therefore be illegal'. The class were adamant that bestiality should remain a criminal offence because it was such perverted behaviour. I felt very clever. I had tricked them into exposing the fallacy of their liberal views. My classmates could not see that many freedoms we now take for granted had in their time been thought perverse. Women vote? Maori play rugby in South Africa? Gay kindy teachers? The class were certain that parliament shouldn't legislate morality - but only when it suited their moral compass. I had won the argument hands-down. I firmly believed back in 1997 that parliament should legislate morality. Banning sex with animals was a great idea. If parliament also banned sex for the first three months after childbirth that would be okay with me too. In fact, after 10pm, anytime my mother is visiting, whenever I'm reading a good book.....politicians ought to be servants of the prevailing wisdom of the times.

But now I realise I was wrong. After years of listening to Winston Peters and George W. Bush you realise the awful truth about democracy. The system is inherently flawed because everyone gets a vote. Even morons. I'm not the first to notice this. But knowing that bigoted, red-neck, women-hating, homophobes can provide a mandate to a government to turn back the clock on the hard fought concessions that have essentially disseminated power away from white, middle-class men - well, that's a much scarier thought than the idea that someone, somewhere is expressing their animal instincts differently to the way you and I might choose to express ours. In New Zealand we have no written constitution that guarantees equality under the law, our Bill of Rights can be legislated into oblivion by the government of the day, and so if there is a trend to leave matters of morality up to an individual, I'm all for it.

In the Netherlands, that bizarre mix of totally conservative regions with the capital for the 'free world' smack in the middle, sex with animals that causes no harm has been legal for years. In February this year this freedom has been overturned. While that sits fine with my personal views on the matter I'm nervous about other inroads they may seek to make. Islamic rule shows only too clearly how the insidious creep of state intervention in private affairs can destroy societies.

I know there are no easy answers, and most of us wouldn't want our children to become zoophiles but consider the much greater harm caused by legal activities - smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol (there's no law against getting absolutely smashed), gambling, overeating, free credit card offers, and ask yourself whether we might not be criminalising the wrong things.

What does this have to do with cancer? Nothing, but the fact that I've got the energy to explore this topic once more, and the presence of pimples on my face, means that mentally and physically, I'm on my way back. Look out.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Unfinished business

Right next to the purveyor of the finest raw energy salad in all of Sumner is a hospice shop. A hospice shop with two convenient carparks, strictly for the use of bargain hunters only, right outside. The last three times I have needed a raw energy salad I have parked in one of the handy spots and begun a ridiculous charade. First, I pretend to browse in the hospice shop for that little something that might just be perfect for that little somewhere I might sometime get invited. I feel bad the whole time. And transparent. As if everyone in the shop knows I'm incorrectly parked and just pretending to be interested in the second hand clothes. So to prove my interest I select a garment and try it on before regretfully handing it to the tireless volunteers ('it's not quite what I'm after') and slinking out the front door. I have even pretended to walk towards my car and almost as if in the grip of an afterthought, have turned on my heels back to the cafe of my original intention. What's that all about?

I'm sure I'm not the only one who likes to be seen to do the right thing. Here's the paradox for the first time cancer patient working hard on preventing the return of the cells which won't die: worry too much about the details of life, the petty rules of social engagement and arbritrary measures of success and you'll get stressed - this is bad. Care not enough about the same things and life loses all meaning - this is bad.

I am a brilliant starter. If you want to get a project off the ground, energize the troops, share the vision, move mountains - I'm your girl. But if you're after someone who will grind out the details and drive hard towards completion...well......we can't be brilliant at everything can we?

I have a long list of unfinished business and I'm in two minds about how to approach it. Bin it and get on with life without the burden of living up to expectations I put on myself. Or, show some mettle and finish, which might just lift the burden and release cancer killing endorphins better than any drugs.

Consider the top 5 on my list and tell me what you think:

1. Thank you notes for our wedding gifts. Most are written, some are addressed, all are heartfelt. We have been married two years. Is it too late?
2. My masters degree. I read that universities are sheltered workshops for the abled. Nearly everything I have studied is useless in applicability to life. The research too narrow and guarded to have any general value and too laden in academic bullshit to be of any specific value. But I do rather like the cut and thrust of socratic debate. I'm about half way through.
3. Grade 8 piano. My fabulous piano teacher graciously allows me to attend each week in the Arts Centre - it's like Dead Poet's Society - without practising. No doubt it's therapy for me of the most beneficial kind but the need for an exam pass? In the interests of honest blogging you should know I currently play at about Grade 2 level.
4. Tidying my room. This is a carry over from when I was 13. Not likely to nail anytime soon.
5. My next bestseller. My first solo stage show. My broadway debut. My radio chat show. My run at the Mayoralty. Mrs New Zealand. The last one is a sure thing.

I am brave enough to attempt another letter to the editor and I'm going back to adult ballet classes now that the Arts Centre has been reinforced for earthquakes and other structure-stressing events like my spring-points and pas-de-chats.

Do you have unfinished business that needs pruning from the list or shall we go together to buy harden up pills? I hope they have parking right outside the door.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

True stories

Writing good fiction is all about noticing. Separating the tiniest detail from the broad brush stroke approach we take to life. While people engaged in real life are living, fiction writers sit back and notice. The cock of the wrist, the flash of anger, the species of plant and the blue of the sky. I could never write fiction. The imagination required is way beyond my bird brain. But take a look at the true stories from my last two weeks and marvel at the absurdity of the truth.

1. I received an email from Brazil describing an exciting project. "The path we have chosen is a dead end." I found the original document in Portuguese and translated it back it English. "The road is a road of no return." Easy enough mistake to make.

2. P has told me that she's really pleased I don't have to have any more of the medicine that makes me sick. "Do you remember the name of mummy's disease," I asked. "It starts with can..." Her eyes lit up. 'Canterbury' she replied.

3. The neighbour has sent another typed couriered letter in response to my latest handwritten hand-delivered note. "I do not believe you have grasped the seriousness of the matter." She is, on this count alone, right. When you are doing all you can to boost your odds of not dying a slow debilitating death (I've been researching what happens, it's not pretty) in the next 24 months, it's hard to get worked up about the $15 she claims I owe her for a packet of grass seed. The best thing is I am getting a wee lesson in the New Zealand quasi-judicial system. "There is a vehicle that provides a solution. It is called the Small Claims Court. It is set up to solve disputes such as this." I am now drafting another handwritten note to hand-deliver later. It's like an RSVP to a party. "Dear B, Look forward to seeing you there. Love from S.x" I'll likely lose in the Small Claims Court. Its decisions are usually based on a coin toss, or fall in favour of she who cries the loudest and longest. Walk away? Not fighting for the principles at stake will more likely be more stressful than fronting up.

4. I have discovered where I've gone wrong. 'The Secret" advises that for full health to be restored one must 'not acknowledge or speak of your disease or illness with anyone'. Kind of makes doctor's visits tricky.

5. I am living in the middle of a Sopranos episode. Someone (I.h.m.s) is doing burnouts outside our house to intimidate us. Through the grapevine I've heard that Black Power has been asked to intervene. I am practising my scared face. I understand that having no fear is dangerous, but c'mon. Burnouts? Black Power?I wish they'd just follow the example of my next door neighbour and courier a letter outlining their concerns and describing the legal process to me. In fact I wish all this drama had happened while I was at law school. All the plain English explanations of the system might have come in handy.

6. I have cyber-stalked an old friend from Varsity and she is reported to have been at a cocktail party to celebrate her Rhodes scholarship and someone asked her 'do you think it's Mountbatten's fault that India was partitioned so poorly?' I love this. The most commonly asked question of me at any function, after I mention that I work with Les Mills International is: 'are you an instructor?'

And the very last true story from a bizarre two weeks. My best friend in the whole wide suburb has recently separated from her partner and had a bet with herself about how long it would take for his best friend in the whole wide world to text her and offer a consoling shoulder, and a quiet drink. The subtext is sex, as it inevitably is for men of a certain age whose lives are less than they had hoped for. Incidentally, as Tiger Woods, JFK, Shane Warne, and Bill Clinton have proven, the subtext is sex for men of almost any age whose lives are everything they ever dreamed they could be and more. Anyway, when's it okay to make your move? Two weeks? Two months? Turns out, poor fellow waited exactly 7 weeks before penning the offending text.

I suggested she courier a response in Portuguese about his chances and let him guess at which of the possibilities was most probable:
a) over my dead body (and that's a bit kinky),
b) only when you are the last man alive and even then only after 7 years of psyching myself up,
c) never ; or the least likely
d) when Sacha wins in the Small Claims Court.