Executive Vacuum

Yesterday I started a temp job that will last for five weeks. It is as administrator to the School of Sport and Recreation at AUT Uni and I replace someone who is on sick leave at the beginning of semester, just as the students arrive. I went in yesterday to ‘learn the ropes’ with a head cold, and in that state of fuzziness, attempted to grasp the elements of the crucial databases and software necessary for the wheels to keep moving.

My notes I brought home are indicative of the complexities I face:

Fortunately, today, I felt much better. I do not need to return until next Monday, but if you see no posts or updates for the next while, it will be because I am buried inside some system somewhere, lost, alone, and without knowing how to get out.

On a lighter note, I found a movie from early days in my previous temp job at the same University. In showing the receptionist how to use the camera, I created this very small and silly film. What makes it exceptionally funny is a review my friend John wrote. He squeezed an awful lot of intensity out of what is essentially a 20 second clip. Hope you enjoy it too. [Click below or here]

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Steampunk Sisters

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I get asked just enough times just “WHAT IS STEAMPUNK?” that it’s worth a post about it. To quote wikipedia: Steampunk ‘is a subgenre of science fiction and sometimes fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery.’

In a nutshell, it appeals to me because I love metal, clockwork, futuristic, and Victoriana – add some steam engines to that mix and it’s a genre bound to get my imagination going. I first loved it for the contraptions and gadgets, which are pretty adorable:

But then I discovered vehicles and transport and my mouth watered:

There are many books devoted to Steampunk fiction – my favourite being Gail Carriger’s series of hilarious Victorian mystery novels.

And finally, I saw people actually made costumes, and wore them to various events and I was sort of, hooked. And so – before I actually got into Outlander in a big way – I had made a Victorian outfit, with corset, to pimp up with hat and accessories for wearing down to the South Island and a weekend of Steampunk bliss. We have a whole town down there, Oamaru, which is lovingly called the Steampunk Capital of the World, (perhaps in our own minds only). It is a weekend of teapot races, steam engine rides, and a steampunk ball.

I actually don’t have time to devote to what would prove to be an all-encompassing hobby, were I to do it justice. But I skirt the edges with some delight, and when possible, don my top hat and goggles and adjust my costume, to participate in some event or other. The latest one having been my own 60th birthday, when a couple I know got their steam engine going to have a ‘cook up’ party for me. We ate delicious steamed food, and enjoyed the hilarious range of costumes on show. There was poetry, some invention, and clever speeches on the night. I loved every moment.

On friendship

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My resolution to write a daily blog has failed spectacularly, but I’m good at failure. I’m just going to pick myself up as if it never happened and write another one. This one on Friendship.

I live a life of singleness and am pretty lacking in expensive assets – having a car, clothing, some knick knacks and books, but that’s pretty much it. I rent and share a house with someone else. I live in the smallest space I’ve ever lived in, which has required me to reduce my possessions to those that fit the little area I take up. It means that I can travel – which I love – and that I don’t have to fret about maintaining a house and grounds. But my real life and passions are on a different level, ones that only those close to me would really see and understand.

And I have always valued and cherished my friends. Not having a partner means that I rely upon them to be my sounding board, family, and companions in life, and in return, I offer the same. I have never felt particularly lonely, although I am often alone – it’s a very different thing. As I grow older, the complex levels of ‘friendship’ stack up, with a close band of old and easy friendships, a wider circle of comfortable relationships, and a constantly growing and changing circumference of ‘common interest’ friendships.

Despite what theories there are out there about extroverts, and the number of friendships they can maintain, the fact of the matter is that most people have but a few really close, easy friends, with whom they can be themselves.

With all the recent trauma in my world lately, with the death of my mother, I have REALLY appreciated the friends I have from all of these circles, but particularly my closest friends. Yes, it does make a difference to have someone ask how you are and tell you they are praying for you. Yes, it matters that some faces who love you, look back at you when you give your Mum’s eulogy, and support you on the day. And yes, I feel humbled, grateful, and very blessed to have experienced so many truly caring people lately.

It reminds me to BE a good friend as much as I can as well. I have been the recipient of selfless generosity and kindness, without reward. And that old adage about ‘to have friends, you must be one,’ rings true at such a time. My own experience is that it is possible for even old friendships to get richer and deeper, and become so much more. Many is the time I do something foolish, or goofy, and come home feeling disappointed in myself, and find that the friend I was with hardly noticed or completely overlooked it. At my age there really is no room for taking offence at what a friend, let alone an acquaintance, might say. Years ago I learnt the truth of the statement that ‘very few people set out to deliberately hurt you.’ Yes, it’s great to have friends when times are good, and you want to party and have fun. But I speak from experience now, when I say that it is even more crucial to have them when the chasms in life open up and you fall down into one.

Okay – enough. I’m rambling now. Treasure your friends.

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Facing the Peaks

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One of Life’s big hurdles came along a week ago, tossing me upside down and playing havoc with emotions and equilibrium . . . AND making me an orphan.

Only three and a half years have passed since it last happened, when my Dad – waiting for the coffee Mum was making – fell back on the bed and his life here stopped. The shock of seeing him lifted out of his house and carried away was only the beginning of what has proven to be the steep mountain range of the land that was my life until then. Compared to those slopes, all the previous years have been along rolling hills, beside babbling brooks – admittedly slowly climbing upward – but the foothills of that range have been approached for some time now.

The last few years have been a steep and steady ascent, with few level places, into the mountains, whose peaks seem to disappear into the clouds ahead.

We’ve clambered the slope of Mount Clear-the-House, which stretched previously untried muscles and relationships. At its peak is the Sort-Stuff plain, and the troughs of despair and decision.

There was a brief respite on a gentle downhill undulation called ‘Mum-Moves-To-Retirement-Village’ and we all took a breather. Soon after, however, the ground levelled and started to climb, and we hit the boulders of ‘Mini-Stroke’ slip, and the inside of a hospital ward.

And from that moment on, it has been an unrelenting if gradual climb, past Mount Mum’s Shopping, Mount Caregivers, Mount You’re-the-parent-now.

I must move from this picture now, because it feels too flippant for the situation that so many like me have gone through, or will experience.

I am very aware that – compared to what others have gone through – my own double loss in recent years was remarkably light on pain and rich in grace. Still, the loss of my Mum at Auckland hospital on the day following her birthday (29 Jan, 2016) still has the power to flip me and cartwheel me like I’ve been caught in the surf at Piha beach.

In both instances my parents did not suffer. And I feel very relieved that Mum, who was always young at heart, no longer faces a bewildering future of being old and completely dependent on others. But I am surprised that the numb acceptance with which I got through last week leading up to her funeral, has given way to periods of heaviness and lack of motivation. Waking this morning, I felt as if I had a weight pressing on my chest, or as if my heart was filling a cavity too small for it. The blood seems to have drained from me and pooled somewhere in my abdomen, away from cheeks and lips, and conversely, water is never far from my eyes. I can’t be bothered cooking but I eat food put before me.

Behind me, in my small studio, are boxes, bags, and books of photos and mementos, all of which need sorting, distributing or casting out. Oh that someone would do it for me!

This week my brother and cousin crossed the ocean to be with us, and while they were here there was much laughter, endless talk, occasional tears. It’s the spaces in between, when I’m on my own and the big empty gap inside me where all that care for Mum once filled my thoughts and heart, leaves me almost gasping.

I took myself off to the Garden Centre for lunch today. Looking up, the table directly in front of me was an echo of my own situation in very recent years: A woman and her elderly Mum, enjoying their trip out to the gardens. As they sat in silence eating, and sharing small talk between them, I almost got up moved elsewhere.

And the thing is – I’m not depressed. I’m as full of hope, joy, peace and abundantly aware of grace as I ever was. I just need to breathe in and out, place one foot in front of the other, let the grief be felt and be glad that Mum is free and undiminished. I have no idea how long it will take to feel back on surer footing, but I am glad of the support of so many friends and family, and glad of the wonderful life of two people who were instrumental in bringing my own into being.

What a journey this is!