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.

Monday, February 2, 2015

So, this happened....

Her name is Charlotte Grace, and we call her Charlie. She was pretty much the coolest birthday present I could have imagined.

I was going to write something witty and clever, but it's been two month now. I've had to accept that witty and clever just aren't much on offer.... Maybe once she sleeps through the night. Maybe a few weeks after she leaves for college.

Work on the new book is going slower than I might like, but it's going. I carry pen and notebook everywhere, jot a few words as and how I can. Several times so far, I've fallen asleep in mid-sugar. I mean, sentence. I've fallen asleep mid-sentence. 

Can't wait to re-read the first draft on THIS one :)