Sensible or Scaredy Cat?

Risk management is tricky business. To celebrate my mid-March birthday, Scott and I had planned to go to Hilma af Klint’s exhibit in Wellington, and finally visit Te Papa Museum. But when Omicron escaped New Zealand’s managed isolation facilities, we reconsidered our timing to minimize the chances that we might catch — or worse, spread — the virus.

First, we moved our trip forward to mid-February, figuring we’d beat the COVID peak, expected at the end of March. Then we decided to drive rather than fly. Driving would extend our trip by two whole days, but if we happen to catch Omicron while in Wellington, we’ll at least still be able to get back home to isolate in Thames. Finally, I booked us a hotel room with its own bathroom, kitchenette, and a three day cancellation policy. The shared bathroom and kitchen in the bed and breakfast we had booked suddenly feel like unnecessary risks.

We’ve been following the news about The-Convoy-and-associated protests, never imagining it would last this long, or get this tense. When I came across a map of the protestors’ activity I started to wonder: do we really want to visit Wellington at a time when the city is full of people who are not only gathering without masks, but actively harassing those who choose to wear them? As a person of color and an immigrant, do I really want to enter a zone rife with anti-Semitic sentiment? Where nooses hang? Where known white supremacists may be recruiting as others fearlessly share violent intentions?

A few years back, while applying for visas to live and work in New Zealand, my partner and I had to declare that we’ve never made public racist statements, or been members of a racist group. Now permanent residents, we enjoy most of the rights of New Zealand citizens, but there is still no guarantee we will be safe from their racist statements or actions.

My birthday happens to fall on March 15th. On that day three years ago, a white supremacist gunned down 51 innocent Muslim people in Christchurch as they gathered in their places of worship. Many New Zealanders were shocked that such a racially-motivated terrorist massacre could happen here, despite what many Muslims already knew — and had been trying to tell authorities — about anti-Muslim sentiment. If I’m scared about what this protest means for New Zealand’s future, I can’t help but wonder how the Muslim community feels about what’s happening in Wellington right now.

Every year, on the anniversary of the day my partner and I immigrated to New Zealand from San Francisco, people around the country light off truckloads of backyard fireworks. Every year I joke that all this fanfare is in honor of our immigration. The truth, of course, is more complicated.

In 1605, English Catholics had had enough of being persecuted under the Protestant leadership of Great Britain. A group of conspirators hatched a plan to assassinate King James I and his parliament, gathering 36 barrels of gunpowder under the Houses of Parliament with the intention of blowing it all up. Their chosen date: November 5th.

As the date approached, however, some of the conspirators began to have second thoughts, particularly as they considered the innocent people that would inevitably get caught up in the blast. One sent an anonymous letter warning a friend to stay away from Parliament on November 5th. That warning eventually made it to the king, whose forces discovered the barrels of gunpowder under Parliament, along with Guy Fawkes, with only hours to spare before the attack. Guy Fawkes was convicted of treason, and sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Guy Fawkes Day is meant to be a reminder that traitorous plots will not be tolerated.

I’m not sure how many Kiwis are aware of this history, or see Guy Fawkes Day as anything other than an excuse to light off fireworks. If they are aware of the political backstory, do they see themselves as celebrating the government? Or do they align more closely with those who sought to bring the government down? Do they see any parallels between this event and what’s happening in Wellington right now?

On our first evening in New Zealand, the fifth of November, 2016, we attended a Guy Fawkes party at the home of some fellow Americans, friend’s of Scott’s. An older man who works with one of them brought, along with an enormous selection of fireworks, several MAGA hats. “As a joke,” he claimed, when we Americans failed to laugh along. Scott and I tried to stay awake for the fireworks but were exhausted from the flight, from jetlag, from the months of logistics related to securing visas and shipping our things across an ocean. We excused ourselves early, catching occasional flashes of light through the windows or our Uber as we crossed town.

Three days later, Trump was elected as the 45th President of the United States. My new boss, a Māori man I couldn’t wait to move across an ocean to work with, offered me a hug when I came to work shellshocked the following morning. But before long he too was saying things like, “well, you got what you deserved, more than half of you voted for him.” I got tired of explaining how few people in the US actually vote, or the intricacies of the electoral system.

“Your timing was impeccable!” people kept saying of our move to New Zealand, as if I’d had any idea Trump stood a chance at being elected. I hadn’t been paying enough attention to the rise of alt right sentiments in the US. What little I’d heard I wrote off as too absurd, too fringe to be of real concern.

Are Kiwis paying attention?

I view New Zealand’s history of peaceful protests with a sense of awe. I have deep respect for ngā rōpū tautohetohe, the Māori protest movements and hīkoi, protest marches. Since moving here we have attended marches for climate action, rights for all women, and Black Lives Matter. It has been disheartening to watch the pandemic-era protests get co-opted by people espousing a narrow sort of freedom and a false inclusivity, both of which disproportionately affect the very people who pioneered Aotearoa’s protest traditions.

Of course I’d prefer not to live in fear. I too want to get on with life. How lovely it would be to celebrate beauty, to learn more about Aotearoa’s history at Te Papa, to see the Hilma af Klint show before it closes at the end of March. 

So we wonder: how much longer will the protesters be occupying Wellington? How exactly do they define freedom? Freedom for whom? At what cost? How will they know when they’ve got it? How bad will things get between now and then?

We have no way of knowing, just as we have no way of knowing when the COVID curve will peak, whether or not we will catch it, or what will happen if (when?) we do. If we let the protesters change our plans, are we just giving them too much power? Should we just get on with our lives, regardless of risk? We have until midnight tonight to cancel our hotel booking without penalty. I still can’t make up my mind.

No Surprises: a Regina Spektor Radiohead cover that’s perfect for these times

A couple weeks ago Triple J’s Like a Version re-released this 10-year old performance of Regina Spektor’s rendition of Radiohead’s No Surprises, with much better video quality this time around. It’s definitely near the top of my list of favorite covers, and it’s so perfect for these times.

If I were savvier with audio editing I’d release a version without the criminal audio stings at the beginning and end, alas! Here’s a link that starts after the initial sting, or click play below; either way, be ready with the volume control so you’re ready to bring it up after the initial sting and down again before the VERY mood-killing sting at the very end of the song:

If you liked that, there’s also an alternate audio version of the cover, also recorded back in 2010 as part of a fundraiser for post-earthquake Haiti and Chile and (via?) Doctors Without Borders. May we all find ways to be generous in troubled times, no matter what we have to contribute!

And of course, the original:

…plus the lyrics (source):

No Surprises
by Radiohead

A heart that’s full up like a landfill
A job that slowly kills you
Bruises that won’t heal

You look so tired, unhappy
Bring down the government
They don’t, they don’t speak for us
I’ll take a quiet life
A handshake of carbon monoxide

No alarms and no surprises
No alarms and no surprises
No alarms and no surprises
Silent, silent

This is my final fit, my final bellyache with

No alarms and no surprises
No alarms and no surprises
No alarms and no surprises please

Such a pretty house, and such a pretty garden

No alarms and no surprises (let me out of here)
No alarms and no surprises (let me out of here)
No alarms and no surprises please (let me out of here)

If— by Rudyard Kipling: a poem for when people are behaving badly

Over a decade ago, in a moment when I knew I needed that kind of support, I booked myself into Sonoma Ashram for a few days. One afternoon I met with Babaji, the Ashram’s founder and resident monk. Weeping, I described the pain of being misunderstood, and worse, my anguish at being misrepresented to others.

“If someone is saying things about you that aren’t true,” he suggested, “swish cold water around in your mouth for a few seconds and then spit it out.”

He also recommended I try washing my feet in cold water.

Whenever I remember to do these things, I remember how powerful it can be to bring my attention to a part of my physical body, rather than let the unhelpful thought pattern continue to go ’round and ’round and ’round in my head. The shock of cold water often helps me see things from a different perspective, and sometimes that’s all it takes to break free from a mental whirlpool.


And just as often, words written by wiser souls are the balm.

Apart from the fact that “being a man” has never been a motivating factor for me, this poem is really helping this morning.

May I meet bad behavior in others without resorting to it myself!

by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

How are things in New Zealand during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Every time I start writing this update I hesitate because… it feels like gloating, and I don’t want to do that at a time when so many people are suffering. We are so so privileged on a normal day, even more so to be in New Zealand, and even more so to be here at a time of a global pandemic. And people keep asking, so I wanted to write up a few details to share.

On 22 March New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that within two days, the entire country would be going into lockdown for 4 weeks… which is where we are now. Everyone self-isolating, staying home, keeping at least 2 meters away from anyone if we do go out (for a walk or to get groceries); and interacting only with people in our household “bubbles;” all non-essential retail businesses and schools shut down; working from home only; no more indoor or outdoor events; no more air travel except for medical reasons or essential services like moving essential freight; most new arrivals into the country are being quarantined. She ended her speech with an appeal for people to be kind to one another.

To put things into perspective, there were a total of 102 known cases of COVID-19 here at the time of this announcement, which was prompted by the first known cases of community transmission… as opposed to transmission due to overseas travel or known contact with someone who already had it. To date there are still fewer than 800, most of which are related to overseas travel or contact with a known case (51% and 31% respectively), 1% due to community transmission, and 17% with causes still under investigation [source].

To get a feel for how clearly and compassionately the Prime Minster announced the new alert level and associated guidelines, I highly suggest watching her deliver this speech (or read the transcript if video isn’t your thing):

Then take a look at this Facebook livestream she did from her couch a bit later:

I’m not saying things are perfect; the situation in New Zealand, like everywhere else, is going to disproportionately affect people who have fewer resources and support systems in place. It already seems pretty clear that they’re looking out for businesses more than people with a lot of the relief programs, but we’ll see what (if anything) changes as more and more people find themselves in positions where they can’t pay the rent.

Meanwhile, New Zealand already has an awful track record with regard to mental health, and I can’t imagine this period of self-isolation is going to improve that situation. My heart goes out to people who are enduring lockdown with people they’d rather not be in constant contact with, and especially women and children in violent households.


A few other comments and observations from our privileged perch:

Life feels oddly normal so far

We’re weeks behind the rest of the world as far as this pandemic goes, and everything feels relatively normal compared to the news we’re reading from elsewhere. Which makes it feel even more remarkable to me that the government is acting so decisively, so early. But maybe still not early enough to prevent community transmission from asymptomatic cases? To prevent essential workers from taking the hit for the rest of us? Who knows; we’ll find out soon enough.

Working (or not) and playing

Scott’s job is non-essential retail so he isn’t working, but the government’s COVID-19 wage subsidy program means that he’s still getting paid. My office had pretty much moved everyone to working from home before the lockdown, though neither of us has gone in to work since the 11th thanks to a road trip we took that weekend to go to WOMAD… the entire time we knew it was going to be our Last Hurrah before things got weird, and in hindsight, I’m amazed an international music festival even happened! We’ve been self-isolating since we got back to Auckland on the 16th.

It’s much more peaceful in the neighborhood without all the car and flight traffic. A few busses are still running, including the double-decker ones on a route near us, but all the ones we’ve seen are empty. The sidewalks, however, are quite full! It’s remarkable how many more pedestrians, cyclists, and scooter-ers we see out and about. The park near our house (the equivalent of Golden Gate Park, just add sheep, cows, and the second tallest volcano in town) is even more mobbed than usual. We’ve only attempted walking there twice before conceding that panting joggers were not going to stay a safe distance away from us. We regularly go walking at night now, and I try to obey my Fitbit every time it buzzes to alert me that I’ve been sitting on my ass for an hour.

Staying connected

Even under normal conditions, the internet quality in my company’s New Zealand offices is far better compared to the connections in offices in some other parts of the world (esp Melbourne, San Francisco, and London). I’m feeling pretty darn fortunate that we can stream video (Scott) or video meetings and calls (me) all day long from our house with no issues. It’s been really nice to connect with so many long-lost friends who are reaching out!

Our neighborhood (we live on a street that’s only one block long) has mobilized! One neighbor put a flier in everyone’s mailboxes asking for contact details, and another went door-to-door to collect the same from people who hadn’t responded… keeping a respectable distance, of course. I helped format their Google Sheet, complete with columns where people could offer and ask for help, and sent it out to everyone. We’ve lived here over year now and I still only knew one neighbor’s name, so I’m tickled to have been involved, and feel much more a part of the community now! Tūrangawaewae (a Māori concept I’ve written about before) = the place where one belongs ❤

Takeout, retail delivery, and mail in general

All restaurants are completely shut down here, including all options for “takeaway” (that’s what they call takeout restaurants here). Which means that everyone is cooking for themselves… whether they know how to do so or not!

And you can’t just order stuff on Amazon, because A) we don’t have Amazon here and B) New Zealand Post and couriers are only allowed to deliver to essential services: food, prescriptions, computers and tech that would allow you to work from home.

Grocery shopping

This is the longest section because this is all we’re doing outside of the home other than going to long walks in the dark…

It’s possible that what we consider “normal grocery shopping” — buy a bunch of stuff when it’s on sale, 10kg of bulk goods at a time, because we can, because we don’t live paycheck-to-paycheck — is actually hoarding? A few weeks ago we calculated we still have 3 months’ worth of pinto, kidney, and black beans left from the bags we bought 10 months ago. (An aside: New Zealand banned all single-use plastic bags last July so pretty much everyone brings their own bags or boxes to supermarkets now, it’s pretty awesome to behold!)

I can’t find the article now but apparently New Zealand is not expected to run out of anything because we grow or manufacture most of our groceries domestically, a fact which my former local-sustainable-food-systems-self would already have known… Meanwhile, the government is monitoring people’s reports of price gouging and apparently the #1 complaint is that cauliflower is too expensive, in some places costing up to $13 NZD (~$7.50 USD)!

Dispatch from Countdown (big Australian-owned chain): Big lines to ensure social distancing inside the store. Shelves empty of baking essentials, pasta, milk, yogurt, soap, feminine items… piles and piles of toilet paper though! The introduced very civilized limits on how many similar items any one customer can purchase shortly after people began panic-buying, and I appreciate that they have a priority assistance system in place to make it more likely that people who need it (folks over 70, people with compromised immune systems, people with disabilities, etc) can access to their online delivery service.

Dispatch from Tai Ping (our equivalent of 99 Ranch; a massive Asian grocery): When I arrived there was a long line to get in (again, because they’re attempting to keep things social-distance-friendly inside) and of course no line by the time I was done… and a security guard took my temperature with one of those touch-free thermometers before he’d let me in. Was very disappointed to discover that there was NO CANNED EEL left on the shelves and the tofu selection was a pale reflection of its usual self, but happy that their bulk section meant I didn’t also have to go to the bulk food store for oats. Only the white people (and I) were not wearing masks; I need to make some. They were in the process of installing plexiglass sheets to separate shoppers from the check-out staff while I was in there.

Dispatch from Farro (our much-more-limited equivalent of Whole Foods, and the closest store to our house): You have to check in using an online contact-tracking system before you can enter the store, but no lines at all! Hand sanitizer and wipes for your cart. Nobody seems to care much about the 2-meter-separation rule in there but they’re clearly taking care of their still-upbeat employees with gloves, masks, and full-on protective plastic shield enclosure-thingies at the checkout counters. Most items on my list in stock other than yogurt. We’ve pretty much decided it’s worth paying a bunch more to avoid the crowds and stay super local.

Anything else?

There’s probably other stuff that would be interesting to know? Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll report what I can.

Three years in New Zealand: some reflections

As of this week, we’ve been living in Auckland for three years.

The particular date we arrived — 5 November — is hard to miss because of two very interrelated factors:

  1. It’s Guy Fawkes Day, a truly bizarre holiday wherein people in New Zealand (and other Commonwealth countries) celebrate, in various explosive ways, the anniversary of a guy trying to blow up Parliament with a bunch of dynamite; and
  2. It’s completely legal for anyone to light fireworks from private property in Auckland, and oh do they ever, despite the inevitable fiery mayhem that ensues.

And so I’ve been joking since the day we arrived that the country sets off fireworks in celebration of our coming here.

Last year, on the two-year anniversary of our arrival, I wrote up some thoughts on pestestrianism, public health care, and paying income taxes… and forgot to share them. These days I have absolutely no idea what life is like back in the U.S. (and I doubt my experiences in the Bay Area Bubble were ever representative of what the entire country goes through!), so the intro feels even more relevant than ever.


The longer we live here, the harder it is to know whether the things I notice are really reflections of differences between the U.S. or New Zealand, or whether they are simply reflections of how the world has changed in the last two years. More likely, the things I notice are reflections of how I have changed since moving here? Continue reading “Three years in New Zealand: some reflections”

How to get your body caftan-ready for summer

The boys at work have been playing (and singing!) this song:

…which will forevermore remind me of the excellent article from which I stole the title of this post, thank you :

1. Select a caftan of your chosen gauge and length. Stroke its gauzy fabric and whisper into its folds.

2. Let your flesh settle into the crevices of your comfortable, comfortable caftan.

3. Crumbs? Let them fall where they may, swaddled in your caftan.

4. Throw out your razor.

5. Throw out your bra.

6. Throw out the aloe vera lotion you bought last summer. You will not be getting sunburned this summer.

7. Release your inhibitions. Feel the rain on your skin.

I’ve been itching to write about, in no particular order: the time I thought I needed to buy all new clothes to be more “feminine” because I had internalized all this male gaze crap and even went so far as to send emails back and forth with a few different personal stylists I was going to spend $$$ with and install a frikken wardrobe app on my phone and almost decided to grow my hair out, and then I randomly stumbled across an article by Cynara Geissler in The Establishment entitled ‘Toddler Grandma Style,’ The Fashion Approach That Will Set You Free: Continue reading “How to get your body caftan-ready for summer”

Keeping the baby AND the bathwater

We are complicit with everything we buy and click on and watch.

I’ve been struggling for months (if not years? decades?) to make sense of where to file the work of once-favorite actors, artists, comedians, scientists, authors, thinkers, etc who turn out to have done some very awful things (see: #metoo).

A couple weeks ago, someone suggested that I consider integrating both the baby AND the bathwater, rather than trying to figure out what to keep and what to toss. The idea of this approach appeals to me… but how?

This Art Assignment video does an excellent job of both articulating the conundrum and describing what’s actually at stake / why what we choose to do matters. Host Sarah Urist Green outlines a few approaches (including some both/and AND either/or options), and poses some very relevant questions to ponder as we each grapple with how to appreciate someone’s content, even as we condemn their behavior:

In addition to the quote I included above, here are a couple more that stood out to me from the video, but I highly recommend you watch it all if you’re at all interested in these issues.

Who reaps the financial rewards of our attention?

The context of this one was the question of whether or not to watch the latest controversial YouTube video, but the larger point is that these choices have impacts in any genre:

I can’t bear to think that I’ll… contribute financially in any way to that person and their fame. Our attention matters, and it’s also being closely monitored, amounting to ad dollars and influencing boardroom decisions about what kind of stuff gets made.


Clear as mud: Black Willow, Mississippi Mud, and FBI informants

LomaScott very rarely plays songs more than once in a sitting, so the fact that we’ve now listened to Loma‘s Black Willow six times in a row is no small endorsement. I agree: it’s infectiously beautiful, darkly haunting, the lyrics are provocative… definitely worth playing over and over, and there’s something about the album cover art, too.

I finally decided to look for a video and Lo, not only does one exist, it’s in a similar vein as the ones I have posted twice before:

And the plot thickens! The video’s first comment on YouTube is from (actor, producer, and writer) Daniel Martine, who points out that the song sounds eerily similar to a song called “Mississippi Mud,” a Black Blood and the Chocolate Pickles song with a grim history:

In his comment to the Black Willow video, Daniel continues:

The story is about the death of black students who protesting [sic] at Jackson State in Mississippi in ’70. Not long after Kent State shootings happened. But it didn’t get the press of Kent State, because they were black students.

I can google up no evidence that Loma may have meant Black Willow to be a straight up homage to the song and/or a rememberance of the events that took place at Jackson State, not to mention the inequality of the response thereafter compared to shootings of white students. But I could understand that the band could have gone there Continue reading “Clear as mud: Black Willow, Mississippi Mud, and FBI informants”

I want to talk to someone about Wendell Berry

LoadingBrushI love Wendell Berry. I think I’ve read more of his books than any other author’s. I’ve had the honor of seeing him speak on three different occasions. When he came and spoke to a rapt crowd at a packed barn in my (then) small town, I was thrilled that he signed my post-it-note-laden, cover-is-delaminating, I-recommend-it-to-everyone-who-expresses-an-interest copy of The Art of the Commonplace. I have had nothing but massive respect for the man and (most of) what he stands for.

With that context in mind, it kills me to admit any crack in my admiration for Mr. Berry. Now that I’ve started examining that crack, however, I’m realizing that I’ve had a few misgivings all along. This has sparked a familiar sort of grief: the grief that comes from removing someone from a pedestal I had them on.

In the first essay in The Art of Loading Brush (Counterpoint, 2017), “The Thought of Limits in a Prodigal Age,” Mr. Berry repeatedly compares screen addiction to drug addiction, but worse “because it wears the aura of technological progress and social approval.” Continue reading “I want to talk to someone about Wendell Berry”

Self care and art as acts of resistance

It’s hard to deny that there’s a lot of shit going down in the world right now. As the daughter of two immigrants (into the US) and an immigrant (into NZ) myself, what’s happening at the US border hits me in a particular way, and there are so many other examples we might point to around the world.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it takes to stay open to and present with this sort of unpleasantness, for a couple reasons. First, I believe it is important to actually SEE and GRIEVE these atrocities, rather than pretending they don’t exist or that they don’t hurt. And more importantly, I believe we must be present to what is going on if we might hope to effectively address any issues that are not in alignment with our own values.

And so I have been super inspired by a few things that my friends have shared this week. They remind me that there are so many ways to contribute to upending the status quo, and so many ways to take care of ourselves as we do that work. Continue reading “Self care and art as acts of resistance”