Monday, November 23, 2009

Yuck yuck spew spew

It is a truth universally acknowledged that certain shades of limelight can wreck a girl's complexion. I'll send $20 cold hard cash (NZD) to the first of you who can name the authors and titles of the books from whence the opening sentence first appeared. The literazzi among you will immediately know that two phrases have been stitched together. Hurry now. If you resort to google, I will have no way of knowing, and will honour my part of the bargain. But you will have to live with your cheating self for the rest of your life.

Finding new ways of saying the same old thing is challenging, and there aren't that many new things to say. Every self-help book has familiar themes, all crime thrillers employ the same devices to ratchet up the tension and despite an exhaustive research project I have been unable to find a description of the effects of chemotherapy that significantly differs from this one:

yuck, yuck, spew, spew, chunder, chunder, queasy, queasy, pukey taste, pukey taste, hot flush, hot flush, lie down, nausea, nausea, nausea, nausea, wouldn't a great big vomit feel good?

Lloyd Morrison, Infratil's founder is back from 9 months in Seattle getting blasted with chemo and describes it as 'a struggle to get to the end of the day, let alone think.' He's bound to be getting a nastier dose of poison than me, on a more relentless roster, but he's telling fibs about the thinking. It turns out that he's about to revolutionize the health and education sector, shake up the economy and spend his last years making a material contribution.

Me, I've been thinking about mental preparedness. Does knowing something potentially nasty is on the horizon make it easier or worse to deal with? Does it make the moments leading into the event better or worse? Would you rather know or not know what's in store?

I like knowing. Always have. But I'm beginning to appreciate the joys of willful ignorance. The subtle change of pace that comes from having each day unfold. The blissful state of having not a clue who will win the $20.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Easy rider

It's a long way to Tiparere. But it's takes even longer to drive from Auckland to Kaitaia. Especially when you've only just got your license and haven't spent any time at 100km/h on the open road. Double the danger by lying to Mum about going to school (I might have even dressed in my uniform before she left the house), and triple her likely disappointment when she finds out it was all Dad's idea.

As a parent it fascinates me to watch my kids in action and wonder which of their little quirks and characteristics we will look back on, and with the glorious 20/20 vision of hindsight say 'oh, yes, he's always been..... (insert words of choice)....good with his hands, useless with money, one to skive off, quick to spy a chance, nosy, helpful, ambitious, laid back, fascinated with fire, in love with knives, nasty to animals, certain to be incarcerated.

My Dad has always been a trader with a nose for a bargain. Stories from his childhood are laced with deals, schemes, rip-offs and rorts. His older teenage years were punctuated with adventures straight out of that famous Boy's Own Annual 'How stupid can you be and get away with it?'

One awful day when other mad surfers would have just committed suicide after a week of flat seas at Mt Maunganui, Dad signed up at the Port of Tauranga to crew on a Korean freighter. Up to communist North Korea they went and miraculously a few weeks later, back they came. It's not exactly exploring the world when the commies won't let you past the gate of the dock.

Incidentally, this particular trip gave Dad the best line he's ever used in raising me, notwithstanding the important daily proclamations of unconditional love. I, aged 11, had written a note to the boys in my class. Clearly playing hard to get I wrote, 'the boys are fucken wankers, bloody bastards, stupid c*@s, and useless shitheads'. The boys, not be outdone had returned it to me, surreptitiously (w.o.t.w) and simply crossed out 'the boys' and replaced it with 'the girls'. Clever eh? I went one better and accidentally left the note in the top pocket of my school uniform and Mum found it on its way into the washing machine.
I found her in bed weeping when I got home from school the next day. How could her little girl know and use such filthy language? Dad sat me down for a heart to heart, and as his concern moved to disgust out come the pearler: "I've worked on ships with Norwegian seamen who didn't use language like that!" Norway has been somewhat tarnished for me ever since. And whenever Dad says something less than born-again happy-clappy like 'Shit', I patiently remind him of the fine example those Nordic sailors set him.

Telling the skipper of a yacht sailing up to Tahiti that he had off-shore experience was another dodgy move. Dad didn't realise that sitting out the back on your surfboard was not the true meaning of off shore experience. But crewing on a yacht to a Pacific island where all the women were tanned and topless sounded like fun. What's a weeny white lie? As they left Auckland Dad started chundering and didn't stop for a couple of days. The skipper threatened to throw him overboard but decided it was worse for Dad to stay alive and endure more rough seas.

With that background you'll now appreciate why Dad thought it was a good idea for me to lie to Mum, wag school and drive nearly 5 hours with him to Kaitaia. He let me have a turn at driving on the open road - for experience - and he was wise enough not to enquire about my soul. The purpose of the trip to the Far North? A deal. And what a deal it was.

In the '80's the import tariffs on laptop computers was horrendous. So Dad used to fly up to the States, buy a computer there, bring it home and declare it for personal use, use it personally for a week or two to appease his conscience and the IRD, and then sell it using a cheap classified ad in the Herald. His profit after taking out the cost of flights etc... a cool $2,000.

But this time, he was going one better. Some poor sod was willing to trade his pride and joy, his beauty, his love, for a Toshiba laptop from my Dad. So after five hours of shared driving we all spent 15 minutes in a dingy old garage sealing the trade and then set off for the even longer, slower journey back to Auckland. Me, 16, driving the family sedan and Dad cruising on his new Honda Goldwing touring motorbike. Did he have touring bike experience? Had he ever handled 1500c.c of power on 2 wheels? Had it been more than 10 years since he had ridden any kind of motorbike? No, No and Yes.

Our biggest dilemma was who should go in front. If he crashed I could park my car to stop oncoming motorists damaging the bike. If I crashed Dad could decide whether Tahiti or North Korea would be the best bolthole to escape Mum's wrath. Like most tales of adventure the end was an anti-climax. We made it home safely. And after two or three rides as pillion passenger Mum declared that she would not be travelling to the end of the street with Dad let alone touring the South Island as he had planned. The bike had to go. Something to do with Dad not quite being able to reach the ground with his stubby little legs when they stopped at the lights, and the certainty Mum had that her long, lithe leg would be crushed when the bike tipped over.

Trader Dad made another cool couple of thou' when he sold it and we do have some lovely photos of Mum and Dad sitting on the bike. In the driveway, ignition firmly off.

Stories of our adventures give me hope. Lying here on Day 2 of my fifth round of chemo, riding the waves of nausea I can be thankful for two things. Firstly that my parents were so adventurous and included us in their travels, and secondly that I have a family of my own and we will write new chapters in that soon to be famous holiday guide "3 star holidays for suburban softies".

Monday, November 16, 2009

The paradox of surrender

Once upon a time I was a little girl auditioning for the Royal New Zealand Ballet Company. I had already danced with them in Coppelia and like about a hundred other girls from the Waikato / Bay of Plenty region was now dancing my feet off to be one of nine to take part in The Nutcracker. Looking back, the commitment of my mother was extraordinary. Rehearsals were over 100kms away in Hamilton and every Sunday we'd pile into the car and make the round trip. Driving duties were shared with other similarly committed mums.

The auditions would have made fantastic reality TV. I wonder if they run in the same ruthless way these days - now that telling kids they suck is practically illegal. How many rejected Idol contestants say that their family told them they have a beautiful voice? Yeah, but your family is pig ignorant about pitch, tone, melody and rhythm. Back in'82 the casting director simply taught a dance and all the contenders performed it a few times in lines of about 7 and if you didn't pick it up fast enough they sent you home. If you were fat, they sent you home. Ugly? Home. Crying? Home. I, of course, was not sent home but I had a nerve wracking time making the cut.

Eight girls ranging in age from 8-12 had already been selected and 6 were left in the possibles pool. Everyone else? Home already. The casting director looked at the 6 of us waiting to dance again and said something encouraging, totally appropriate given our tender years, like: "one last time girls, I'm looking for one more dancer and the rest of you can piss off home and forget ever dancing with the RNZBC again."

Up til that point I had been concentrating really hard on remembering the steps and smiling. But I knew, even at 9, that my strategy was clearly all wrong. My Coppelia friends were already through - I was the only one still dancing for my life. I decided, and despite no longer being able to remember simple things like what I'm doing at the dairy I remember this with absolute clarity; I decided to change my approach.

'Just dance.' A little voice inside my heart said 'Just dance. Don't worry about the steps, just feel the music, let go and just dance.'

And dance I did. "We'll take you," said the casting director pointing at me.

Sometimes we are most powerful when we let go, and allow the flow.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Changing fortunes

Oh the cruel vicissitudes of fate. I am often asked what's the worst thing about having cancer. Chemo? Being bald? Losing strength in my right arm? Scars? Breastlessness? Fatigue? Probable early dried up pruneness? Oh that it were that simple.

Schipol, Chicago, Heathrow, Los Angeles, Frankfurt, Arlanda - I love airports. Full of possibility and the promise of things to come, travelling through the world's big airports is one of my favourite things to do. The little kiwi in me always feels like busting out a song and dance routine to thrill the captive crowds. "Look at me, I'm Sacha C, all the way from New Zealeeeeeee". I'm not cool enough to be over the multi-cultural buzz of international gateways, the allure of duty-free and the electronic displays that read like the answers to a geography quiz. Istanbul? What is the capital of Turkey? Rome? Where didn't Sacha visit on her O.E because she was lovestruck and came home after 21 days? Lisbon? Where did Sach take P when she was 4 months old? Germany? What country did the moaning shitheads sharing Business Class with Sacha and the baby come from?

In the last 18 months I've been to Fiji, Sydney, Gold Coast, Aspen, Stockholm, Bad Nauheim, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Los Angeles (3x) and travelled between Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington too many times to count. This mileage is nothing compared to the global commutes of my friends at Les Mills International but for me, it was heaven in an over sized skybus. But most important of all I earned enough points to become an Air New Zealand Gold frequent flyer. Oh, the sweet taste of status. "Come this way Madam, anything you say my Queen. 75 bags to check in? No problem your highness. Extra socks for your tootsies my love? Have some more champagne. Do. Go on. You deserve it. You're Gold."

You know the wankers who attach their frequent flyer name tags to their luggage? Check. That was me. Shiny gold ones with my very own name printed on them. Sucker Coburn. Apart from the wee spelling error I loved them. You've all seen the arseholes who effortlessly saunter past the lengthy queue of (I feel dirty just typing the word) economy class passengers waiting to check in? Tick. I'm not a total snob. From time to time I would smile ever-so-graciously at them as I redistributed my body position to ensure that not one of their grubby children touched any part of my golden self. Oh, the hypocrisy. One of my earliest international airport experiences involved being delayed in LA and having no money for food. I contemplated eating the leftovers on the plates left behind in the cafe where I waited. My mother stopped me. I was seven. Dad, of course would have encouraged this sort of carry-on and rightly so. He's an opportunist, like me. Mum's an Anglican. Say no more.

My status points are sadly going to expire. Before cancer I had a number of international trips planned and then...well, you know how this story ends. Air New Zealand, in their wisdom, didn't buy my argument that I ought to be allowed to keep my status points so I'm on my way back down to silver. If I drop to jade, I'll kill myself. What point in living? They did allow me to carry over my complimentary upgrades which C and I will no doubt use when we travel together as soon as my treatment is over. It will be a honeymoon of sorts, 15 months after the first one. Oh, the anticipation.

The very worst thing about cancer is that it forces redefinition of who you are and where you fit in the world. Good luck to those who go all Buddhist and want world peace and a simple life growing veges and raising kids. Well done to those who soul-search and find new meaning in their life. Me, I just want the freedom to travel again. I want to experience the crush of the crowds, the rush to a tight connection and the pressure of explaining my hotel address to a driver who's even further from his homeland than me.
I want my Gold status back.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Mental as anything

Patrick Jane is mine. Hands off, all you other sad and lonely women who live for Monday nights. The Mentalist is a perplexing hit and I, with direct access to its star, understand why. Australian Simon Baker plays Patrick Jane, a fake psychic with a tragic past seeking redemption by helping hapless cops find the killer. Jane is able to 'intuit' what's happened by making a series of observations and engaging in some pretty basic pop-psychology.

The reason he's so popular? Are you kidding? He is gorgeous, smart, damaged, cocky, vulnerable....everything women look for in men. But more than that, he is knowing. He knows people. He looks right into their eyes and tells them truths about themselves. Every Monday night I wait for him to turn and see me through the tv screen and 'know' me.

"Sacha, you're struggling to understand why your life has taken an unexpected turn. You're a disappointment to yourself having failed to achieve anything much of note and you're longing to get a second chance to use your talents for a greater purpose. You adore your husband and family but would run away with me if only I said the word."

Well, of course I wouldn't. But you couldn't blame him for asking. John Eales used to regularly appear in my dreams begging to marry me, and George Gregan also carried a torch for me during REM but once I met C these subconscious fantasies subsided.

What is it about us that longs to be known without the effort of communication? Like most women I wish the men in my life just 'knew' what I needed at any given moment. How hard can it be, right? Am spewing, need lemonade. Am lying in bed, need cold flannel and hand holding. Am gorgeous, need telling so. We expect that these things are so self-evident they don't need communication and that if men had any respect, love, or hope of sex, they'd get these simple things right.

Which is why we love Patrick Jane. Whenever C offers to do whatever I need, if I'll only ask, he makes the comment 'I'm not a mind-reader' whereas Patrick would never say that, because of course he is. A mind-reader.

And it's not just husbands and partners who suffer from lack of insight disease. My Dad, so wise about so many matters, was particularly slow to realise that one of his parenting stratagems was never going to work. K and I used to get rides to school with Dad and dread them. "So Sach," he'd say, trying desperately for a casual tone, "How is your soul? Talk to me darling, open up." Yip, that's going to happen. Better chance of Bishop Tamaki steering his Harley Davidson collection through the eye of his own diamond-crusted needle.

This criticism, or insight as I prefer to label it, of men who don't 'know' stuff is for the most part completely unfounded. The desire for Patrick Jane to see into my heart of hearts is a school girl selfish indulgence. Why should another person anticipate our every need if we are incapable of expressing it ourselves, as in words actually said out loud to the exact human being we wish would fill that need?

Each time I hear myself saying to a girlfriend 'oh I wish C would just....' I ask myself if I've given him the courtesy of telling him first. And then I challenge myself to add up the number of his needs I've 'intuited' or 'known without asking' in the last week.

The principle works exactly the same with the fantastic team I work with. Sometimes I get frustrated that someone isn't doing something exactly the way I had envisaged it would be done - but if I hadn't bothered to communicate that, discuss it, negotiate it, and agree it, where do I get off being bothered that it's not to my liking?

Patrick Jane is perfect for Monday nights on the post-chemo couch. But we live in a world where everything doesn't get nicely wrapped up in 48 minutes. It is lovely when an unexpressed need or desire is met unexpectedly by people we love, who love us. But going mental when it doesn't happen is dumb. If you want to win lotto, at the very least you have to buy a ticket. And hope that Patrick turns up in your dreams to tell you the winning numbers before you do.