According to my exercise journal, I’ve huffed and puffed more often in the past month than in any other one month period over the last two decades.
Government mandated self-isolation will do that, I suppose.
I’m exercising locally. The weather has been pretty good for autumn-heading-into-winter — little rain, mostly mild temperatures — meaning fresh air has been plentiful as I wheeze about the property. The dogs, like their predecessor, enjoy every moment we’re out and about at pace.
I’ve had to extend the running route to local roads (sans hounds) where there is little to no shoulder. It’s do-able so long as I keep a weather eye on traffic and wear bright colours I haven’t worn since the 1990s.
I’m not writing as much as I’ve been sweating. But in these uncertain times, I think achieving one thing at a time is pretty good.
I’ve pulled some old favourites down from the shelves. They may not be the most appropriate for these times but if it gives me solace to spend time in a world where I know how things will end, I’ll take it.
It’s that time of year when baby birds drop out of nests — or nests themselves drop out of trees — and whomever chances across such sights must decide between nurture or nature. Much as I front as a man of the land, when I come across such a sight, the choice is obvious.
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So, yeah: The Lovely Wifeand I have been fostering some wayward chicks. It’s been a slide down memory lane: a small living being reliant on you for their ongoing survival, eating and shitting and eating and shitting every hour of the day as you continually make sure otherfamilymembers keep their distance.
It’s not that different to shepherding a script or project along, one where you’re the passenger rather than driver, but it’s still something you believe in and hope to help along. It’s tiring and sometimes exasperating, and there might be a few moments where you might wonder to yourself how much easier it might have been to have let nature take its course.
But with each passing day, as you feed it carefully chosen words of encouragement, weathering the noise and smell and energy of it becoming, you notice small things. Things like feathers and claws and a preference for Chefs over Whiskas.
Honourable mentions: the final, ultimately disappointing, season of Game of Thrones; The Leftovers, whose first season was a cracker; and The Crown, seasons one to two binged in the month of December, leaving the phrase “thenk yew” as a verbal handgrenade in Fortress Mamea.
Ahi Arunaharan’s My Heart Goes Thadak Thadak, Q Theatre. Pic from 13thfloor.co.nz.
This is the view of Wellington from the International Institute of Modern Letters’ work room:
Contrary to The Lovely Wife‘s opinion of Wellington weather, this was how the city looked most days I met with my fellow scriptwriters.
What can I say about my year in that work room?
We all worked hard to be in there.
We continued to work hard. We shared work stories, war stories, and horror stories. We all wanted to write. We wanted to be inspired by who and what we admired and aspired to be like.
We wrote whatever the hell we wanted — prevailing and imminent zeitgeists be damned! — and Ken gave us the space and support with which to do so.
We all went through the pain of creating — actual wattage varied with each writer — but the work room was a haven where we could confess and share and not feel alone for a two to three hours.
This year was a treasure. I got what I wanted out of the course: a project I knew would be challenging — it almost got the better of me several times, I tell you — and, one month on, I’m just glad to see the back of it. I also got to know and admire and respect nine other writers, most of them half my age, all of them talented and motivated story-tellers, each with a recognisable voice — each I’m glad to know is out there writing.
So. That was my year.
Time now for a little lie down as the festive season approaches.
There’s a lot of ground to cover in this part, so let’s leave the pictures to do the talking.
In March, The Boy was in a frightful car accident and was hospitalised for a month.
After three months at home and regular physiotherapy, he returned to full-time work in July. He’s a little over people telling him how lucky he was. But oi was he lucky.
My father died in May.
He was 92 and he’d had an excellent innings (he loved his cricket). His natural athleticism may have skipped me entirely and gone straight to his grandson, but I’m grateful to have his patience, perseverance, and tact.
My father had some unfinished business and I volunteered to sort it out. In June, The Lovely Wife accompanied me to Samoa.
The wife loved the heat and humidity — apparently we’ll be visiting each year henceforth — and the pace of life there is glacial. Nice if you live there, a little frustrating when you’ve only a few days to get stuff done. It was a welcome interlude, considering.
Half-way through the year, my dreams began to have a recurring theme involving some massive weight slowly crushing me.
‘Twas only The Kitten missing me.
Still Life With Chickens is in its second year of touring. This year it did a couple of stops in the North Island, did a circuit of the South Island — and in August, it had its Australian premiere.
The Lovely Wife and I attended the premiere where we had a grand yarn with Martin Edmond and Mayu Kanamori, and we explored the Emerald City by tram, bus and ferry. Still Life is off to Shanghai later this month for its Chinese premiere.
Somehow, amidst all of the above, I persisted with my masters course.
* This teddy bear joined the Mamea Aiga in Christmas 2002 when The Boy, then aged six, announced his arrival: I got a teddy bear and his name’s Phil! The Lovely Wife and I exchanged looks and asked where the name Phil came from. It says so right here, The Boy said, turning over the sewn tag: “Polyester Fill”.
Late last year, I had the brilliant idea of doing a Master of Arts in Creative Writing.
The University of Auckland offers an equivalent MA and is only a couple of hours drive south of Fortress Mamea, but there was a certain je n’ais se quoi that an MA from the International Institute of Modern Letters at the Victoria University of Wellington held for me. Part of it was the cachet IIML has. A larger part of it, to be honest, was that the IIML is in my hometown.
The Lovely Wife, gods bless her cowboy boots, arranged her whole year’s work schedule so I could commute between the winterless north and the windy city. I planned a sub-48-hour travel itinerary for each of the 24 workshops that were spread between March and October:
3:30am–6:30am — drive from Fortress Mamea to Auckland Airport
7:30am–8:30am — fly from Auckland to Wellington
8:30am–9:45am — buses from Wellington Airport to Victoria University
10:00am–1:00pm — Tuesday workshop at IIML
10:00am–12:00noon — Wednesday workshop at IIML
times varied according to cheapest flights booked but —
bus to Wellington Airport
fly to Auckland
drive to Whangārei
— with arrival times as early as 7pm and as late as midnight.
I looked at that itinerary and thought, How hard could it be? It’ll be fun — I’ve got several years worth of podcasts to catch up on. It’ll be a blast!
The novelty of that commute wore off after the first week. Six and a half hours of travel each way will do that. But I did it, and I’m here to blog about it.
On the very first day, programme director Ken Duncum had a bunch of portfolios to show us greenhorns what we’d be producing by year’s end. One of them was for my favourite New Zild television show:
I took it as a sign that — commuting aside — I’d signed up for a year of awesomeness.
Posting has been patchy alright but I thought the least I could do is warble a little while it’s a bit quiet.
I gave up the day job late last year. Maybe it’s my selective memory but that was a big relief and about time, too. I now have no excuse to not write.
Having a writing gig earlier in the year certainly ensured that I had a buffer between the end of the day job and… if not the next gig (because one should never presume), then some kind of writing opportunity.
Having said that, I do have another writing job lined up later this month. But after that…
That’s where my anxiety lies: I can plan all I like but there’s a will-it-put-chocolate-in-my-mouth aspect to it that is frankly terrifying.
Honourable mentions: Condor; Haunting of Hill House; Ozark S01–02; Six Feet Under S01–05.
And here’s a new “How the heck do they stay so damned good?” category for returning titles that threaten to clog up my annual top ten: The Americans S06; Better Call Saul S04; The Expanse S03. I do miss the suburban adventures of Elizabeth and Philip Jennings Nadezhda and Mischa but all good things come to an end.