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.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Money money money, must be funny.....

My phone has been disconnected. Again. Not the first time and probably won't be the last. I've never been good with money but the reasons are sound. I am an eternal optimist. I am only ever one big contract away from the financial big time. Only ever one paycheque away from being wealthy beyond measure for another few days.

When we found out that I was somewhat unexpectantly pregnant with T, C was instantly pragmatic. "We'll have to move to Woolston you know. We won't be able to stay living in Sumner." Riveria of the South that it is, we managed to hang on and though I had to sell my car and bus everywhere with my newborn baby I was only ever one big contract away from the big time. There were days when C would be on his way home for lunch and I'd tip all the cushions off the couch searching for enough coins to catch the bus and buy two slithers of ham at the local deli. Sometimes I couldn't afford the bus ride home.

You'd think C would have been a better provider. But in fact, he was. I had a debt that he didn't know about and so every week I would squirrel away housekeeping money to pay the lender and stretch the remaining food money to its absolute limit. Why didn't I just tell him? I was too proud. Too full of my own cleverness to admit to being so dumb. The only bill in our house I had to pay? The phone. And to this day, despite the increasing deposits in my bank account I never seem to have enough money for Telecom on the days they want it. Organise conferences? No problem. Speak in front of 1000 people? Piece of cake. Pay a lousy phone bill on time? Not so much.

It's got me thinking about money and the financial stresses of being unwell. Please be very clear, I am blessed beyond all blessedness and don't need your food parcels or postage stamps. But there must be people all around me who are not buffered in the way I am from the exhausting burden of making ends meet when times are tough. All the cancer books I've read suggest offering to help with meals and a cup of tea and that's all well and good but I think for some people what they most need is cold hard cash to pay the power bill.

So I've come up with a little solution. Rather than wait for the bad times to fall we should all contribute a percentage of our income into a central pot so that money can be allocated to those who need it most for basic things like food, clothing, education, and healthcare. And voila! Just like that, I'm a socialist.

The generosity of my friends has been overwhelming. About 50 people from the Sumner Theatre Group put on a Cabaret show giving up a Thursday night when nights off were most precious and performed for 170 locals who each paid $30 a ticket to watch the show. All the proceeds were given to my Mum to help pay for her flights back and forth from Auckland during my treatment. My first ever, and favourite, stalker (m.o.t.l) was given a suitcase full of $20 notes totalling $6,000 from her community in Timaru when she was first diagnosed.

So what stops us giving more freely of our money and asking for financial help when we need it? I think some of us have puritanical attitudes to money that if applied to other areas of our lives we would be ashamed of. I'm already on record for rather selfishly agreeing to pay whatever school fees necessary if it means I don't have to use my valuable time selling bloody bars of chocolate or attending fundraising committee meetings. No one would like to be thought of as inflexible in their parenting, or ironclad in their attitude to sexuality, or even too dogmatic politically. And yet some of us are still okay about being tight-fisted bastards when it comes to sharing our loot. I helped to organise a fundraiser for our local Plunket when T was a tiddler. $15 for a glass of wine and a dessert plate of nibbly nibble things. The Plunket made $4 on each ticket and a number of women complained that $15 was a bit much for just the one glass of wine. "Piss off you silly cow" I said to one, and "Piss off you silly cow" I said to the other. I am no longer involved with that group.

We're not much better at asking for financial help either. Pride. Potential rejection. Humiliation. Scaredy-catness.

I once borrowed $10,000 from a work colleague who on one level I barely knew and on another had known deeply ever since we first met. It was the single biggest kindness I can remember of my entire life. Not just because it's a shitload of money but because of the willingness with which it was lent. I have, of course, paid it back in full. He believes lending it gave him greater pleasure than it did for me to receive it. About this, he is wrong.

I don't advocate lending your friends large sums of money. I may have become a socialist for this blog update but I'll be a hard headed capitalist by the time the next one rolls around. I advocate giving it to them.