“No. 2”: Feel-Good I Feel Good About

No. 2

IMDB

Year: 2006

Writer: Toa Fraser

Director: Toa Fraser

Rating: 4 out of 5

I don’t usually like feel-good movies. I like gritty. I cut a little slack for NZ movies. I liked Whale Rider. The reason that most feel good movies get up my nose is their sentimentalism, simplistic emotion, schmaltz, sugariness or, worse saccharine. If I’m going to feel really good at the end of something, I want it to be for a reason, hard-won in some way that has some depth, that illuminates something about the world or humanity.

Yes, I liked Me and You and Everyone We Know. I even liked “the Station Agent” (it went right to the limit, then pulled back). But I really did not like “Amelie” or , “Erin Brokovich”, as examples.

No. 2 I like because it is about life. Old Maria recognises the stuckness in herself and the system around her. A legacy from those who have gone before, the second world war, colonialism. In her irrascible way, she makes an intervention. Not a didactic or particularly calculated one but a disrupting one, none the less. She has been reading social complexity theory. It works because something shifts. Gradually, the associating, eating, singing, dancing, fighting, truth, love and leadership that she wishes for all emerge.

Maybe I am naiive, but for all the simplicity of the plot, I can’t say I found it predicatable. More, easy to go along with. And it was beautifully portrayed, with many funny scenes of ordinariness. I think my favourite was a dialogueless moment between Maria and Charlene in Maria’s bedroom. Yes, the music was stirring but the interaction between the two was rich and profoundly moving. That’s gotta be a measure of acting and directing.

I say “Yes” to this celebration of life with vivid performances from everyone in the cast.

No. 2

IMDB

Year: 2006

Writer: Toa Fraser

Director: Toa Fraser

Rating: 4 out of 5

I don’t usually like feel-good movies. I like gritty. I cut a little slack for NZ movies. I liked Whale Rider. The reason that most feel good movies get up my nose is their sentimentalism, simplistic emotion, schmaltz, sugariness or, worse saccharine. If I’m going to feel really good at the end of something, I want it to be for a reason, hard-won in some way that has some depth, that illuminates something about the world or humanity.

Yes, I liked Me and You and Everyone We Know. I even liked “the Station Agent” (it went right to the limit, then pulled back). But I really did not like “Amelie” or , “Erin Brokovich”, as examples.

No. 2 I like because it is about life. Old Maria recognises the stuckness in herself and the system around her. A legacy from those who have gone before, the second world war, colonialism. In her irrascible way, she makes an intervention. Not a didactic or particularly calculated one but a disrupting one, none the less. She has been reading social complexity theory. It works because something shifts. Gradually, the associating, eating, singing, dancing, fighting, truth, love and leadership that she wishes for all emerge.

Maybe I am naiive, but for all the simplicity of the plot, I can’t say I found it predicatable. More, easy to go along with. And it was beautifully portrayed, with many funny scenes of ordinariness. I think my favourite was a dialogueless moment between Maria and Charlene in Maria’s bedroom. Yes, the music was stirring but the interaction between the two was rich and profoundly moving. That’s gotta be a measure of acting and directing.

I say “Yes” to this celebration of life with vivid performances from everyone in the cast.

Walk With Me

Dear Jane,

Soon it will be six months since you died. Tomorrow I will travel to Bannockburn to be with Con and George, Kat and Rogan and Christopher and Barbara. Anthea is travelling with me. On Monday, we will inter your ashes in the family plot in the Cromwell cemetery. Kat and I are planning to build a cairn in your memory.

I know that your memory will be with me. The only times that I have been to Bannockburn before were with you. And before you died,the only times that I was with your family was with you. Those are not the reasons, tho. Over the past two and a bit weeks of my holiday, your memory has been with me. You have been with me, Jane.

You weren’t so with me in the rush to finish the year’s activity and depart but as soon as the pressure retreated, there you were. There you were in the travel to Tyl’s, in the Christmas accounting and at each step of the holiday that I would have been sharing with you, had not that crazy event happened that changed everything. And of course, had we agreed to change the holiday plan that we had for Hautanoa to one for Auckland and environs. Each step of each walk across sand, through bush, on and off ferries, through malls even, was echoed by your silent footsteps beside me. Each surfacing in the water lacked the sight tho not the anticipation of your grin.

Of course you did not read my posts here that I was not ready to let you go, or even contemplate it. You did not notice as I began to get on with my life without you: working, rearranging the house, having fun, being single. You do not notice that you have returned to occupy this non-space near me. Or do you? Jane?

You felt closest when we visited Allan and Madge. Young Allan, Miharu, Hana, Leo and Haluka were there too. You had pride of place, absent at the dining table.

I remember my pledge, at your funeral, that I am going to keep the love you gave me close to my heart, Jane. That I am going to stay happy. Just now, I feel a little sad. I’d like you to be a little more materially with me, my Lovely. I know that you have changed me, though, given me something that I can’t lose. That you are with me as some kind of part of me, a knowing that I have, a strange extension, an expansion of me, gradually coming to fit better. Some how you remain alive, the life that you give me giving you life.

You were here. You left. You are still with me. Wherever I go, you are walking with me, Jane. I know that you always will be.

Who You Are Not Spending Christmas With

Luke 2, 0-6 goes:

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrolment, when Quirin’i-us was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.”

I obtained this quote, not via Google, as I usually would, but from my father Tyl’s only English version of the Bible. We’re at his place, at the beach, in the bush, where there is only dialup, requiring cables stretched across the room, pah.

Tyl claims that he prefers to read the Bible in Latin, or at least in German. He described the “Revised” translation that he has as “pathetic”. When I opened it, I realised that it was my old one that I got when I started at Marylebone Grammar in Grosvenor St, London at age 10 in 1972 (guessing slightly). I recognised the tacky plates instantly.

The first Christmas that Hanna (my sister), Elizabeth (my mother), Tyl and I arrived in London, I remember reading, at age six, those few stick-in-your-memory chapters from Luke that describe, in the most plain terms, the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, culminating in the birth of Jesus, and all that. We were in a small upstairs flat in a terraced house in Belsize Park, overlooking a bleakly wintery back garden. The landlady was Miss Bunbury. You had to put 20p in a slot to keep the gas fire burning. It had knobbed white slats that the fire burned up. They seemed to me to be bones. It was 1968.

The flat was the home of Oma, my grandmother, Tyl’s mother. I loved her. She was kind of religious, which is what led me to the Bible reading. It wouldn’t have been Liz, as she was pretty anti all that. Tyl was philosophical about it, as he is now. Oma, of course was a follower of the Maharishi. She practised yoga, ayurvedic medicine and Transendental Meditation (incl. levitation which she called “flying”). But she wasn’t above a bit of judeo-christianity, especially at Christmas. It was Lutheran, celebrated on Christmas Eve, of course, because we are all German.

In the story that we all know, Caesar decreed a census. Everyone was to return to the place of their origin to account for themself in the context of their family.

Two thousand years later, we in the Christian world faithfully re-enact this, each year at Christmas.

Each year, as the circumstances dictate, we journey or don’t journey to be with our family of origin. While physically we have the choice of being or not being with them, pyschologically we do not.

Last year, Jane and I held a big family Christmas Eve at Durham Castle. Her parents Con and George were there, as well as my stepmother Janet, half-brothers Martin and, freshly married, Karl and his partner Louise, as well as Hanna and her partner David and children Nick, Tom, Jonty and Chloe, Leah and Todd. It’s when we got the nice and much looked-at photo of Jane with a glass of beer.

The year before (Christmas 2003), Jane, Elsie and Ed drove here, to Te Henga (Bethell’s Beach) from Wellington in her “granny car”. It was a big step. Our relationship was still new, tho building quickly.

This year, here we are again, at Tyl’s. For Christmas Eve, Karl and Louise and Martin will join us. Cassima is here, too, dislocated from but conscious of her family. On Christmas Day, most of us will reconvene for a separate celebration with Janet and others of her family.

It’s a familiar format. Christmas Eve with the Germans (candles on the tree), Christmas Day (electric lights) with the English/Kiwi (Methodist/Anglican/denying/Jewish) ones. You get two Christmases, which is quite good. Stretching the presents across the two occasions can be a bit tricky. Each occasion is as defined by who is there as it is by who is not.

Two years ago, Jane and I shared the bed upstairs here. We lay naked in each others arms, soaking in fresh love as the house shook, as it does when the dogs trot around the deck. This year, the house shakes all day in the relentless Westerly.

Elsie and Ed are here but their mother is not. Mary-Anne was here with us at Christmas in past years, even Janet once. But not now. And not Liz, who is in England. Not Hanna and family, who are in Nelson, but we saw them two days ago. Not Leah (my half-sister) who is in Whangarei with her partner Todd’s family. Not Oma. We don’t have as many parents at Christmas as we used to.

I am not with Jane’s family this Christmas. They are gathering in Bannockburn. I spoke with Rogan and Kat today who were on their way; there now, I expect. Gathering for Christmas without Jane, too. I will join them early in January, when we gather to inter Jane’s ashes.

We will be with people at Christmas. We will phone people. We will feel love, delight and sadness, maybe even moments of anger and despair – how can that be at Christmas? Some people we will not phone. Some we will not be able to. Somehow or other, all will be present and accounted for.

Death or Dumping

A bit over five years ago, my partnership of 16 years with Mary-Anne ended. Walter was a dear and loving frend to me as I went through that. One day, we were walking on the bank of the Heathcote River and Walter said to me that this was bad. Worse even than the death of a partner.

I didn’t think I’d ever be in a position to make the comparison. When I was, Walter was right there again (you lovely man, Walter). We both remembered what he had said. Had he just said that to be empathetic and would he be revising it now? We shared a doleful little laugh about it.

Since then, I’ve reflected on this quite a bit and, seeing that I am in a position to make a comparison, I figure I will venture to. First, however, there are some things to take into account.

1: It is not always clear who dumps whom. I’m coining the phrase ‘constructive dumping’ where the real dumper makes it impossible for the other to stay but won’t end it. Actually, most of the comparisons apply to both parties.

2: When (am pretty sure that I) got dumped in 2000, I cracked open and faced a lot of pain that I had been dragging around for decades. That certainly added to the trauma that I experienced but was a separate factor and I think the following is unaffected by it.

3: This relates to my experience, not anybody else’s. Perhaps there are some things that apply generally here but your experience will be yours and will be very different from mine.

The guts is that I reckon the death was not as bad as the dumping. Four reasons:

1: There’s no rejection.

2: It’s clean. There’s no hope of a second chance and you don’t come across your ex or their new partner.

3: It’s sexy. You get heaps of cards and flowers, casseroles and hugs. People cut you lots of slack and let you hog all the attention. They throw a huge party and travel long distances at no notice, make speeches, cry and laugh (I think we should definitely consider doing this for relationship breakups).

4: (You could argue this is still #3, but) it’s less isolating. When a relationship ends, for both parties actually, you are the only one that it happens to. Everyone else just gets on with their lives. With a death, there are friends, family, workmates who are sharing the experience. Even months later you can check in with them about your shared experience.

Of course there are various factors that are the same in both cases. Huge sense of loss, denial, regret, anger. Languishing at the bottom of a pit of misery. Possibly shock. That nasty ‘phantom partner syndrome’ where you keep relating with the person when they’re not there. Trying to find new balance. Regular grieving stuff. Settling affairs.

And there is the thing about death that it is really frightening and reminds us of our own mortality. But that is about the only thing I can think of that is worse about the death than the dumping.

Time Doesn’t Heal: The Only Way Out is In

Quite a few people have said to me that “time heals”. They were being kind, trying to say something helpful. I actually think it’s a myth, tho.

What does happen over time is that memory of the loved and lost begins to fade and so the daily experience of pain at the loss reduces. You begin to form new life patterns so the reminders of the difference gradually diminish. This isn’t healing the wound, though. It is simply the wounding process winding down. The knife gradually being withdrawn as it carves on.

Healing is what happens to the wound. Perhaps not a bad metaphor is scar tissue gradually forming, closing up, joining together and finally healing over in some way. The body does it itself with physical wounds. With emotional ones, we have more choice over it.

When Jane died, I could have tried to avoid it. Overwork, drink, distraction, thinking about other women. Actually, I did most of those things at different times. But I also let the grief take me, a lot. I let myself fall into it and be overwhelmed.

I wrote about this before (also in the Pit and the Process) but I think it deserves repetition. It is the unknown, of course, so everyone’s experience will be different. For me, though, I have learned that the way to heal this kind of wound is to go into it. Let myself be in the most painful place. Experience the depth of it so that the healing begins from the very deepest part of the wound.

That is not all, though because it is scary in there. It feels like it could be fatal. What made it not was that I stayed connected with people. I talked about it a lot with friends and family. Writing about it here, and receiving comments and emails, I felt very connected to you people. I also, mostly stayed connected with myself. I reflected quietly by myself and I walked around the house calling for Jane. I knew what I was feeling and that I hated it but that it somehow had to be done, or “been”.

And there were moments when I felt disconnected with others and disconnected with myself. They were the most scary. To my surprise, though they weren’t quite unbearably scary. Perhaps because I’d been there before, perhaps because of my heart being a little more open to love, I always knew, heard a quiet voice, perhaps of a little bird somewhere in the dark saying “you will survive this”.

Feel and connect. Feel and connect.

Update on the grieving process, E K-R and DABDA

You might have read my comparison between my own grieving process and the Eliz Kubler-Ross model (in the Pit and the Process). Well, here’s an update. With the vision of hindsight, I can now see that I’ve been through three clear stages:

1: Searing Pain (July, Aug, Sept)
2: Broken-heartedness (Sept, Oct, Nov)
3: Enlivenment (Nov, Dec)

I guess #s 1 and 2 are E K-R’s “depression” and 3 is her “acceptance”. Still little sign of anger.

Of course, there were, and still are, lots and lots of smaller cycles within that.

Hi There, I’m Still Alive

Today is the anniversary of the day that Jane and I first met in Dunedin in 1976. I know that because it’s in Jane’s diary. I know it wasn’t transcribed from diary to diary all those years, like “28 Nov: Janet Hardy’s birthday (1958)” but, like “Nov 29: Jane + Daniel’s party (2003)” (the ‘Mystery Man’ party), added to the roster recently.

It’s been over a month since I last posted. I’m still here. It’s been a full time.

Just after Labour Weekend, I went to Wellington. I did a couple of days work staying with Rogan, spending time with her and Kat. Sharing our experience of the loss of Jane.

I had a coupla beers with Struan. We bush-bashed a bit, trying to find the track but emerged at the bottom of the gully in the end.

Rogan and I were buddies, doing cafes, buying Con’s 70th birthday present, sharing quiet reflections. That was nice.

We visited Fort Jeypore, Jane’s old house. Anthea joined us. Kat and Bruce, bless them, were cleaning it pre-open day. We walked through the empty rooms, paint scuffs yelling emptiness from the walls and echoing memories. The Bubble, that beautiful magical Bubble that Jane and I inhabited in that house in the early days of our reconnecting.

We had the gathering of Jane’s Wellington family and friends. I cried at the love we shared. Mark Edwards and I had a good chat about fisheries policy and missing Jane. I had my first good talk with Renee.

The next day Anthea and I trod the ocean coast, walking in each others’ footsteps.

And the day after that, back in Christchurch, Rogan and Kat and then Con and George, Christopher, Alan and Madge and Heather and Colin arrived for Con’s 70th birthday dinner. The day after, we convened for the Tranzalpine to Greymouth and back – an excellent way to do a birthday. We all had plenty of time to hang out with each other. Wendy had dropped of a book of remembrances compiled and bound by the Libraries folks. We passed it around and wept reading it while the wide valleys rolled by.

We concluded with a Jane and Daniel style BBQ at Durham Castle. Lots of scallops. Ed totally rocked at the plate.

On the Weds, Kat and Rogan and I had lunch with Jane’s library friends at South. Even Debbie came. Good people. The twins and I went through quite a bit of Jane’s stuff. Books, CDs, effects, each declaring memories.

By the following weekend, I was still soaked with grief and pain. Emma was empathetic which I much appreciated. I went to ‘sculpture in the garden’ but wasn’t much cop. I felt gutted and then I heard that Rod Donald had died.

I grieved for Rod. I grieved for Zoe, our A&P show buddy and Nicola, Emma and Holly. And I grieved for Jane and for me. I went to Rod’s funeral. Shine on, you Crazy Diamond.

We went to the A&P show, without Zoe, without Jane.

Looking back, I think that was a turning point in my grieving process.

Jacqui shouted me the weekend in Nelson. I flew to Nelson. About 5 minutes from the airport, we stopped at the Boat House. An acapella choir performed, getting into it. Then the Marimba band struck up. The dance floor became packed immediately. Those who couldn’t fit cleared and stacked tables until everyone was dancing and we danced all night. Such fun. Really felt like Nelson. Hippies, really and their kids, and their parents. We got invited to a party in the Bay the following evening and decided to go for the night.

The Bay was beautiful. I could scarcely believe that I was there ~ it seems so far from here. The party was… ok. The next morning, my tears flowed. Jacqui was gentle.

Then further into my fun patch. SJD and Phoenix Foundation with Juliet, which was delightful. Dinner with Faith, Gillian and Ron – and Sacha who was in Jane’s MEd class. Elsie came and we played “ex libris”. Lyttelton Farmers’ Market where I procured a luxurious lunch to share with Karl and Louise followed by beers at the Dux in the afternoon sun. Ainsley and Klaus’ party. A vigorous steam around Castle Rock the next morning with Marek, Stephanie and Klemens and even Elsie and Anja (and Elisa, reluctantly) in gorgeous weather. Then a bike sprint and more beers at the Dux in the afternoon sun with Marek and a short rest before Jonty Eichler’s birthday party.

Oh boy, I just rolled around in enjoyment and the more I noticed my indulgence, the more I said yes yes. I can have fun.

During the weeks, I even managed to be fully at work and do some good stuff.

In between times, I picked away at packing up Jane’s things to go to Kat, Rogan, Christopher, Con and George, or out or to stay here. Still picking up a memory each time but now mostly gently putting it down again.

I felt so good that I thought something was wrong. Was I callous? In denial? Never really that involved? Or getting a good patch after all that grovelling in the pit?

Last weekend, I packed up the rest of Jane’s stuff. It’s done now. I am continuing, gradually to rearrange things here. It’s sparser. More my house than it was. The photoboard of Jane has moved from the main room to the landing on the stairs where I still notice it, notice Jane in detail whenever I pass, which is often. The photos wil go in an album soon, which I will open from time to time.

More new things will happen.. and I will be connected with my time with Jane, recent and old and with the emerging present and possibilities for the future.

When I was in Dunedin in 76/77, I got hold of a copy of the student mag. It was pretty irreverent, (was it called “critic”?) even then. One item had a picture of Norman Kirk waving from the open doorway of a railway carriage with the caption “hi there, I’m still dead”.

Now That Death Has Us Parted

Yesterday was three months since Jane died. I attended the Civil Union (marriage, effectively) of my friends Andy & Angus yesterday. They met about the time that Jane I re-met. Angus (her real name is Linda), lived in Wellington and moved to Christchurch to live with Andy. Andy has two 16/17 year olds and a 14 yr old.

Jane and I had got together with Andy, Angus, Awhina, Marama and Pomare on a few social occasions, often with Ed and Elsie.

This last weekend, Labour Weekend was the second anniversary of “Hard Work Weekend”. It was named that by Jane as it was the first “kids weekend” on which she came to visit me in Christchurch. Jane had been somewhat apprehensive. She had committed to hanging well back and to letting E & E initiate any interaction. Before we had got into the car in the airport carpark, however, Jane was already ribbing Ed about being adolescent. She was also clutching a large mysterious and elegantly wrapped parcel which she somehow was still maintaining was ‘not a present’ while Elsie hovered and drooled.

Actually, the kids spent most of the weekend with their friends. In Ed’s case, that included Aaron, the son of Rebekah with whom I had concluded a two year relationship earlier that year. The two of them ended up serving us breakfast in bed. It was surprisingly relaxed. Elsie had some do on so we got to spend one warm day doing things like lounging in the super-hammock and walking to Boulder Bay with Bill Greenfield.

In the “items” at the Ceilidh that followed the union, Angus gave a brief account of her first meeting with Andy’s kids.

Even though the poignancy of the situation was hard to miss, these particular ‘anniversaries’ both took me by surprise, each snaking from my delight in the present moment to a jarring realisation deep inside me.

Back in April, Jane and I attended the Wedding of our friends Barry and Claire. There was some speculation, especially on the parts of Yvonne and Brian as to the prospect of Jane and me getting married. I was pretty keen on the idea though accepting that it was still rather early days. Jane was rather less taken with idea, even than I was. She had various concerns with the relevance and effectiveness of marriage and was particularly untempted by the prospect of making such a public display. Nonetheless, we discussed it all long into the night.

Then, in July, on the afternoon of the fourth day after Jane’s death, I found myself sitting in the front row in a large room with, at the front, an alter of a kind. Jane’s coffin. I looked around, as I tend to do in any large group, and I saw my family, some close, some extended. And I saw Jane’s family, close and extended. I saw my friends and Jane’s friends. My workmates were there, present and past and Jane’s were, too. Many people had travelled, from Jane’s network and from mine. I even went as far as thinking ‘this is the joining of our two social networks’ before I clicked that the occasion was, appallingly, not our wedding.

Walter put it into words in his speech which began ‘This is all wrong’.

Jane, I don’t think you would have married me on the 27th of July 2005. I don’t think I would have married you on that day either, actually, had things carried on as they were. It was early days. I was enjoying falling further and further in love with you. I was looking forward to the day when my love and trust were so strong and my fear was so long gone that I could call out to the world that I loved you and wanted to be with you always. The publicness of that is daunting for me too. But I know that I wanted the day to come when we did get married, Jane. You knew that too. And I had a sneaking idea that you might come around in time. I remember thinking of that day of celebration and love, and knowing that I wanted it to be.

I do know that on the day of your funeral, I was ready to make the declaration. A cop out perhaps – it was easy to say I’d love you until death parted us – but it felt like a wedding to me. A weird, shotgun kind of wedding, a perverse consolation prize wedding with you there dead, Jane. But it was a celebration of love all the same. It was our celebration, my Darling. The one we got to have only you didn’t quite make it. But I did and all those other people did and they saw our love, yours and mine. And they let it soak into them and flow out again as tears. They looked at each other (all mingled on both sides of the aisle as they were) and knew that they had been joined together by you and me and our love, Jane.

And now that I feel more joined to you than ever, I must begin to say goodbye. But today doesn’t feel like the day. It feels like the day to have been sitting with you at our outdoor table, sharing coffee and brunch and reflecting on Andy and Angus union. Reading the short story in the paper to you and then sagely swapping opinions about it. Trotting our little paths together here and there around the town. Riding our bikes around and around the roundabout in the park, tipping bollards with our toes, trying not to fall off. Climbing the stairs to share our warm soft bed and wriggling together grinning and inhaling with our noses buried in each others’ hair and skin.