Tuesday, October 8, 2019


I carry my grief high in my chest. A hard lump, slightly smaller than a clenched fist, it lives just below my collarbones. 

Every breath has to get through this knot. Every bite of food, every drink. Every word I speak has to make it past before it can reach my mouth. I need to be careful with the words. Anything too serious, too close to real, the knot may unfurl -- a great dark bloom, wet petals dripping with poison. 

It’s overwhelming. 

Better to let my hands speak for me. Writing, drawing, tattooing. My hands are happy. They get to speak their truth without sneaking past that awful knot. // They don’t have to sneak past that awful knot to speak the truth. 

Sometimes it sleeps, the knot. You’d never even know there was anything wrong. Times like that, I can almost, *almost* forget it’s there, sleeping high inside my chest. 


I’m good at grieving. As good as you can be. None of us make it to our fifth decade without a lot of practice. I know how it comes and goes. I know better than to fight it when it rises up, and better than to dwell on it when it chooses to sleep. 

And I know that finally, eventually, grief passes. Life demands too much of us to allow anything else. That’s both a blessing and a sadness. 

It’s been a couple of weeks now since my mom passed. Her illness and pain are over, her end was gentle, and our relationship these last few years was the best it’s ever been. You can’t ask for better. 

So, you know, it’s natural and all that. Still hurts, of course, but that’s natural too. And I’m glad to know it ends, because somewhere on down the line, I’m going to pass this same grief on to my own daughter. And I don’t want it to hurt her too much, or for too long.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Swallowing Stones for Love

Love is a sweet cake with a hard stone buried inside. Sometimes more than one.

We think about love, we think about the cake. The sweet parts you'd see on a car commercial.

They show you the happy family. Not the part where you change your father's diapers and bathe him.

They show you the embracing couple. Nobody mentions the way you'll feel trapped on an airless moonscape as the relationship unravels, or how words become a minefield until the only safe topics are the weather and the state of the roads.

Parents glow as they hold their baby. That's a very sweet treat, the best I've found in all my life. Any treat that big, that sweet, I know I'm going to swallow a good few harshly-shaped stones before I get to the big one: The only truly good outcome is that she has to grieve my passing.

Midge was my friend for sixteen years. Less than half an hour old when I first held her. Except for one month she stayed in a cattery while I was homeless, we were constant companions. Through all the ups and downs and right back ups, home for us was each other.

I took her to the vet in September. She wasn't eating much, and Hazel noticed brown drool around her mouth.

When your cat is sixteen, every trip to the vet makes you nervous. You wonder, will this be her last trip? This time, she came back. But she came back with bad news:

The tumor was at the bottom of her mouth, under her tongue. Surgery was a one in ten chance of working, and it involved amputating her lower jaw.

Yeah, nah.

She did get oral surgery to fix a bad tooth, and special food. Painkillers twice a day. She took over the library, sunniest room in our house.

For four months, she was a happy little old lady. Sitting in the sun and watching the birds. Watching Charlie play in the back yard. She put on weight again, and her coat was glossy.

Sometimes of an evening, if there were no smelly boys or loud toddlers about, she'd come out of her room and join us on the couch. Christmas, she spent the morning helping us open presents.

But the tumor had been busy. It got so big it pushed her tongue to the side, so she couldn't eat or drink properly. The painkillers weren't working as well as they used to.

She looked up at me, and I called the vet.

December 30, 2016, I held her and stroked her told her how much I loved her as she died.

I haven't been able to write about it until now. It just hurt too much.

Some stones are hot coals.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Very Good Day

Merry Christmas, everyone!

In a few minutes, I get to watch an amazing two year old rip through all those presents. It's gonna rock!

Talk again soon... :)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Writing Again. Mostly.

It took awhile, but I'm finally writing again. Sort of.

You see, in the nine years since I started this blog (Nine?! Seriously?!) I've had a pretty consistent method: I'd get up early and write for a couple hours before my day starts.

Then I had Charlotte.

Turns out, she also likes to get up at 6am, and her agenda has nothing to do with Daddy sitting in front of a keyboard staring off into space. That was one problem. The other is that I wasn't able to sleep more than two or three hours at a time, usually about five hours a night. Rough, but it needed doing.

I coped. My business ran off my phone whenever Baby wasn't looking, and seriously unhealthy amounts of Red Bull let me concentrate well enough to do my paying job. And more often than I should probably admit, I fell asleep at the wheel coming home from work.

Point is, no way I could concentrate enough to write. Hell, I used to fall asleep in the middle of conversations!

Then, the last couple of months, a miracle:

Little Miss started sleeping through the night. I started getting as many as five, six whole hours in a row, and my imagination started to work again.

Writing was a bit harder. It was still early for a laptop-- all I had to do was open the lid and it was palm-mashing the keyboard and other explorations-- but I was able to use pen and notebook. Sure, there were breaks here and there for a certain young lady to take over the pen and fill a few pages, or draw all over her (and her Dad's) arms and legs while saying, "Tattoo."

But I gotta tell ya, those are breaks I don't mind a bit. :)

I'll continue this again soon. Right now, a Certain Somebody wants to show me something called a 'Finger Family'...

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Man Plans, God Laughs

So, back last July? I had a plan, a pretty good one I thought: Move back to the US for 3-5 years, buy a house, build some equity, come on back to New Zealand finally able to afford a house here.

Pretty good? Heck, that plan was great!

So naturally, the gods began to titter...

Fifteen years or so worth of clients got mad at me for leaving them. Most understood my reasons for going, but none of them were any too happy about it. My friends felt the same way.

One close friend even offered to use his equity to finance my mortgage.

This... complicated things. Suddenly, a home in New Zealand was a possibility. Now, my decision had pros and cons: I had to weigh the cost of moving overseas against the increased income. The opportunity to start a new tattoo shop against the loss of hundreds of loyal fans. The house I would afford in NZ against the house I'd afford in the US.

This wasn't going to be easy at all.

Until I told Hazel.

She pretty much jumped up and down and tore up all her packing lists and did a merry dance around the room. I may not be a weatherman, but I do know which way the wind blows.

I wasn't moving.

Now, you all know I have a certain commando sensibility: Adapt. Overcome. Nothing can stop me, only make me shift gears or change tactics.

So I shifted gears. I changed tactics. By the time my daughter had gone from crawling to standing, I had opened a brand new tattoo shop in a great new location, and my buddy and I started scouting houses in my potential price range.

At least, until his partner got pregnant. Now, him making that offer in the first place was HUGE. And while he hasn't said anything about taking it back, he hasn't said much about it all. This whole odyssey for me started with that thought of what I'm going to leave my child, so I totally understand. Support him, even.

But it does mean that I've had to change up again.

I have moments where I think, oh we should be closing on our house in the US right now, my new studio would be building clients, and it would be summer soon. I squelch those thoughts as quick as I can. After all, what's that Yiddish proverb? If my grandmother had testicles she'd be my grandfather? I could just as easily be in the US right now with a homesick Hazel, a studio tied up in red tape, and a child covered in mosquito bites.

And the added horror of a possible President Trump.

Oh hell no.

Charlie has gone from standing and walking to stomping all over the house and climbing on everything. We've gone from the big, expensive place that was all we could find three years ago to a smaller and less expensive house that feels more like a home. Still renting, but there you are. I'm whipping my new studio into shape, running it in a much more professional way.

And I may have my eye on one or two new opportunities. Nothing I'm ready to talk about yet-- I'm not quite ready to hear more heavenly tittering....

Friday, July 10, 2015

Hard Call

A few years ago, on a visit back to New Orleans, I had a truly fantastic dinner with CS Harris, CharlesGramlich and Sphinx Ink. (And Candy's husband Steve, but he doesn't have a blog to link to) That night, Candy said something deeply alarming...

I knew she'd lived in Australia. I didn't know she'd been there for over fifteen years, or that she'd been heartbroken to return to the US.

I remember feeling a chill. I'd only lived in New Zealand twelve or thirteen years at that point. Suddenly, those years didn't seem long enough.

Why, I asked, would she ever leave a place she loved? Her answer:


What a relief. I was about as alone, and as lonely as a body could get. My parents were used to having me on the other side of the world. Family, that single, treacherous, weighted word, had no hold on me.

I was safe.

But things change. Things always change.

Now I have a daughter. And lost a father. Either would be a pretty major event, and I got both less than six months apart. No surprise that my perspective has shifted. My world is different now, and every time my girls smile at me, I'm reminded that my decisions don't just affect me anymore.

We're leaving New Zealand.

It's been a hard decision, but in the end it comes down to carrots and sticks.

On the one hand, we could raise our daughter here. I make a decent living, enough to support us all. But the cost of living is high-- high enough that we get by, and not much else. Since the earthquake destroyed our housing stock, rents have gone insane. Our house is warm and dry, and over $2000 a month. The average price to buy-- the average, now-- is $485,000, and banks don't want to talk to you without a 20% deposit. For me, like a lot of people here, home ownership is out of the question.
And I want a house. It never bothered me before-- most artist are so far below the poverty line that just paying the bills is a triumph-- but now that's just not enough. I want equity. Permanence. Something to pass on to Charlotte when I go. In the US, the average house is $136,000, and there are a lot more options for finance. Like, a lot. As dreams go, that one's in easy reach.

And then there's family. My wee girl already lost one grandparent. I want her to see as much as possible of the ones she has left. Moving, I can put her family in England and her family in Atlanta within a few hours of her. And afford to make those trips too.

I'm going to miss Christchurch. I really am.

But this city is broken. The city I loved, with its relaxed and easygoing people, its heritage buildings and Edwardian feel, its art galleries and opera house and vibrant public life, that city is gone. It died one afternoon in 2011. The place we live now is road cones and single lane traffic, the country's largest consumers of alcohol and antidepressants, fields of rubble and clattering jackhammers. Government types in ill-fitting suits are using my city as a testing ground for conservative social engineering. No matter how badly an idea has been repudiated in the past, they're determined to try it again.

The social engineering aside, our Mayor and City Council swear that all the other inconveniences are temporary. Just stick with us, they say, and this place will be even better than it was before!

In twenty or thirty years.

I love this place. These people. I'll never be able to fully leave-- especially because my daughter is a triple-citizen, and I want her to be a part of her New Zealand heritage. So I'll come back. To visit.

Meantime, I've got a life to build.  

Thursday, June 4, 2015


(What follows is the text of the eulogy I wrote for my father's funeral...)

When I think of my father, I think of his voice.

Trained by the Church in a day when priests had to reach the back pews without microphones, my father's voice was a wonderful instrument. Deep and rolling, the pure low rumble of it calmed my childhood fears. Allowed to boom, his voice could rattle the windows. A sudden sneeze in a department store when we were kids was so loud a salesgirl was startled into noodle-limbed terror.

His voice was lively, agile. Tales told around the dinner table had the whole family laughing until our sides ached and tears streamed from our eyes. Stories of his childhood and family, of life in the priesthood, of his coworkers at the bank... In his hands, every voice acted out, his timing so perfect, all of these everyday stories became so funny we forgot to breathe.

His voice, for me, will always be the voice of the Bible. Every year, in the weeks leading up to Christmas and Easter, there would be after-dinner readings of scripture. Those readings, and the discussions that followed, were a door into the world of his faith.

Dad saw churches-- whatever the denomination-- as human institutions, mortal and flawed. But God's love was constant and absolute, bigger than man's frailty. For him, faith wasn't something you do for a couple of hours on a Sunday morning in a special building. It was the bedrock his life was built on. His love for his wife, his children, his grandchildren. All were different expressions of his relationship with a kind and loving God.

His love of God was his life. He and Mom met when he was still a priest. Their mutual faith brought them together. It united them in forty-eight years of marriage.

Once, when Tania and I were little, he woke to the sound of someone breaking into the house. I can't imagine how he felt. No baseball bat in the closet, no gun in a drawer. That wasn't my father. Instead, with two sleeping children and an intruder forcing his way into our home, my father walked naked out into the lounge to talk to him.

That voice worked its magic. By the time the cops arrived-- hours later-- Dad and the burglar had shared a pot of coffee and some serious conversation. He sent the police away and took the burglar to rehab.

That was faith-- his faith-- in action.

It was how he lived every day. Secure in God's love, and living the message of compassion and Christian charity.

As we grew, his children made choices he didn't always approve of. Choices he sometimes didn't understand. But he had faith in us, faith that the paths we walked were part of God's love.

Looking back, despite all the twists in the road, he may well have been right. :)

Over time, my father's voice softened. Chelsea and Kristen, Cameron and Brennan and Brandon, may have missed out on the lively entertainer and firebrand preacher. But they had the joy of growing up with a wonderful and soft-spoken grandfather. His church eventually forgave him for falling in love, agreeing that a family was in fact God's plan for him and welcoming him back with open arms. My father was happy. Truly happy. His voice grew more gentle now, often little more than a low murmur.

As the years wore on, his voice became a whisper. The last time I saw him, he spoke so softly I had to strain to hear him at all.

On May 18, at 12.24am, that voice fell silent.

I miss him. We all do. It's hard to think that we've had our last good talk, whether about serious matters like books we enjoy, or something silly like politics. It's hard to think that his voice is gone.

Except, it's not. I still hear him. We all do, everyone here today, can hear him right now. Whenever I face a choice-- between selfishness and love, between fear and doing the right thing-- it's his voice, his faith that guide me. And when I hear myself laugh with my daughter, it's his voice I hear.