Tiger Mom, Sh*tty Mom, and Dolphin Mom

tigermomimgres shitmom imgres-1There has been quite a buzz during the past few years about the bestselling book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” by Amy Chua.  One can tell the book is controversial by simply glancing at its ratio of good-to-bad reviews on Amazon – there are 350 five-star reviews and 150 one-star reviews.

“Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” is written by a mom of Chinese heritage who becomes a strict parent using Chinese values to raise her kids.  The book description states “Chua argues that Western parenting tries to respect and nurture children’s individuality, while Chinese parents typically believe that arming children with skills, strong work habits, and inner confidence prepares them best for the future.”  I haven’t read this book, but after learning of the Tiger Mother hullabaloo, I might take a peek at the tome for curiosity’s sake.  There has been a consensus among critics that Chua designed her book primarily to shock her readers.  Some reviewers asserted that her techniques were borderline abusive. There is much more to the phenomenon and philosophy of this book, and I’m sure it contains ideas that would help me be a better parent.  However, I know I’ll never be a Tiger Mother.  I am not the strict type, to say the very least.

I’m a Shitty Mother.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I’m not proud to admit it, but it’s true. At least I recognize that my parenting skills are sorely lacking – that’s a start.  I am actively working on this issue with my therapist.   Today we spent most of my session discussing about how my bipolar disorder and my numerous hospitalizations have adversely affected my girls.  I haven’t cried much during our sessions, over the last year, but I sobbed a great deal today, and I’m completely worn out by my sadness and guilt.

I do not physically abuse my girls, and I never will.  I have given the very rare spanking as a last resort, which makes me physically sick.  When I was a teenager I read Christina Crawford’s haunting book “Mommie Dearest” which detailed her alleged abuse by her adoptive stepmother Joan Crawford.   Reading her autobiography gave me nightmares.  I saw the Paramount film based on Crawford’s book; it starred Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford and she was absolutely terrifying in the role.   I’m not claiming that a crash course in “Mommie Dearest” will automatically prevent any parent from hitting her child, by the way.  The book and film were very trendy in Los Angeles where I grew up, and they vividly illustrated how reprehensible it was for a parent to beat her child.

I commit the same kinds of mistakes that the majority of parents make with their children, but my dilemma is more complicated than I can explain in a single blog post.   A significant difference between me and parents who don’t have bipolar disorder is that my manic outbursts, depressions and hospitalizations damaged my girls to the core of their being.  I cannot wave a magic wand to undo anything that happened when I was sick.

Today I decided (with my husband’s support) that I will seek a consultation with a child psychologist because our children would benefit from professional help.   This is a huge decision , obviously, and I am scared, but I feel it the right choice.  My longtime therapist agreed with me that meeting with a specialist is a positive course of action.

No matter what happens with a child expert giving us advice, my long-term goal is not to be a perfect mom.  That job title doesn’t exist on this planet as far as I can tell.  I’ve never had an authoritative personality, which was a major reason why I couldn’t cut it as an substitute junior high school teacher.  (I still cannot believe I did that job when I was twenty-one!) I believe I can reach a happy medium between authoritarian and loosey-goosey mama.  I think I can be more like one of my favorite mammals : the dolphin.  I can’t grow a much bigger brain, but I can become smarter, more compassionate and maybe even more playful like these wonderful cetaceans I’ve always loved.  I can incorporate the Dolphin-style of parenting.  Yes, there is the Dolphin Way.

To help inspire and motivate me with pragmatic tips, I’ll be purchasing the book “The Dolphin Way: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy, and Motivated Kids Without Turning Into A Tiger” by Dr. Shimi Kang.  It will be published on May 1, 2014., and Dr. Kang is  is the medical director for Child and Youth Mental Health for Vancouver and a clinical associate professor at the University of British Columbia. Dr. Kang has helped hundreds of children, adolescents, and parents move toward positive behaviors and better mental health.

Here’s some of the book’s description on Amazon.com:

“In this inspiring book, Harvard-trained child and adult psychiatrist and expert in human motivation Dr. Shimi Kang provides a guide to the art and science of inspiring children to develop their own internal drive and a lifelong love of learning.  Drawing on the latest neuroscience and behavioral research, Dr. Kang shows why pushy “tiger parents” and permissive “jellyfish parents” actually hinder self-motivation. She proposes a powerful new parenting model: the intelligent, joyful, playful, highly social dolphin.  Dolphin parents focus on maintaining balance in their children’s lives to gently yet authoritatively guide them toward lasting health, happiness, and success.”

Sounds good to me!

Although I’m feeling very dejected today as a mom, I haven’t lost hope that I’ll get better at the most important job I’ll have in this lifetime.  (The cliche is true!) I realize I’m lucky to have a counselor who is also the parent of a young girl, and who provides me with an invaluable perspective.  I am thankful that I received a letter this past week from our health insurance company stating that my children are now eligible for mental health coverage.  It seems to me, the ever-superstitious gal that I am, that the letter was a good omen to use the new coverage!

I’ll be writing about my experience with a child psychologist during the spring. In May I’ll address whether or not the tenets contained in “The Dolphin Way” are more than perky sound-bites.  It’s now my mission to be proactive in regard to improving my family dynamic, despite the fact it’s incredibly daunting.  But after losing huge chunks of life with my girls due to mental illness, it’s time to make them my most important priority.

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The Dreads and the Flow

dread flowWhen I started blogging again after a two-year-long hiatus, I didn’t struggle with generating topics related to bipolar disorder.  I felt almost hypomanic as my brain showed no sign of decreasing ideas.  I jotted themes on neon-colored post-its lest I forgot any subject.  I enjoyed a sense of well-being connected with the inspiration writing gave me.  It was a joy to feel that way after being depressed and unable to write for so long.

Then my brain slowed with its outpouring of ideas, and I began worrying.  “Am I getting depressed again?”  I pondered.  Well, I more than pondered becoming depressed.  I created a fearsome mindset that I named The Dreads.  I was dreading the possibility of the onset of severe depression.  The good news was that I was still able to get out of bed, drive the kids to school, be fairly productive, and perhaps most importantly, I was sleeping at night.  But I had taken a couple days off exercising and wasn’t using my Sunbox bright therapeutic light.  I was eating even more sugar than I usually consumed. Making a big batch of red velvet cupcakes with my little girl on Tuesday (and eating lots of the batter…) certainly couldn’t have helped me.  Lastly, the “I Smell A Rat” problem really grossed me out to the point that I couldn’t use the room where my writing desk, files and Sunbox were located.

https://proudlybipolar.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/i-smell-a-rat/

The sudden ceasing of key elements of my daily practice threw off my routine, and if you have bipolar disorder, you know how critical your routine is for mental health.  It seemed that I was being challenged with a case of mild writer’s block worsened by the lack of several crucial healthy habits.

An attitude adjustment was in order as well.  I’ve been dealing with a bad case of writer’s envy.  This is a chronic problem for me and I know I’m not alone.   I also realize that I have to bring my envy up in therapy because it’s getting worse.  Yes, I’m not dealing with it well.  I keep comparing myself to wildly successful bloggers and non-fiction writers, and I find myself coming up short.  The expression “comparisons are odious” comes immediately to my mind; I’ve always found it to be so eloquently true.

At a particularly low moment I sent a Facebook message to my friends stating, “I am feeling so jealous and insecure. Not of another woman (thank you God!) but of other writers who are mediocre writers at best, yet they have HUUUUUUUGE internet followings!  I must remember that I am a decent writer and ***there is a place for me***, but it’s so hard sometimes.  Advice anyone? Mantras anyone? You can bill me.”

I was surprised at how many comments I received: a lucky thirteen in all.  I usually only get one or two comments at most on my Facebook posts, and I was grateful for this amount of feedback.  The most helpful comment I read was written by Beth Brownsberger Mader.  Beth blogs for the BP (Bipolar) Magazine website and she writes for the magazine as well. (http://www.bphope.com/bphopeblog/post/Perseverance-vs-Endurance.aspx)

Beth gave me the following advice:

“I don’t have a huge internet following.  I don’t write for that reason.  I write for the benefit of helping others, and for helping myself grow, learn and figure out my own life.  The fact that my audience has grown organically has been the benefit of it all. That my writing has improved has been a benefit of it all.  Sure, sometimes I notice all the “successful” writers out there, especially the ones I know personally, those from high school/college, and I feel less than.  Then I remember that everyone’s situation is different, and I don’t know theirs necessarily or what rows they’ve had to hoe–or on the flip side, what short cuts they’ve taken or values they’ve eschewed.  Dyane, give yourself a break–it takes time, keeping your eyes on the prize, and determining for yourself what that prize is–is it being a good writer? having a following? making a difference? healing yourself? witnessing the journey?  Breathe.”

She’s absolutely, positively right in everything she discusses above.   I’m working on determining what the “prize” is for me.  At first blink I felt that all five prizes Beth mentions are the ones I want!  I’m not wishing for megastardom, but here’s what I do yearn for:

  • To become a productive, consistent, and focused writer
  • To achieve modest success in having a well-written, well-edited book published by an established health publisher that will help others
  • To have a loyal following

Yesterday during my online time, I noticed a prolific blogger who I follow had tweeted asking her fans for help with her writer’s block.  That small thing buoyed up my spirits. Her comment reminded me that not everyone experiences the blissful “flow state” all the time, not even bestselling authors.   If you are new to the “flow state” concept, here’s a concise definition:

Flow: A mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. Proposed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi this positive psychology concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields”

Here’s my favorite line that appears later in the same definition:

“To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety  is to be barred from flow.”

(thank you Wikipedia!)

Doesn’t flow sound awesome?  Who wants scary-sounding “ennui” in her life?  I am fascinated with definitions, and I knew “ennui” wasn’t good; take a look at its precise meaning:

“Ennui: a feeling of utter weariness and discontent resulting from satiety or lack of interest; boredom”.

Oh, I know that feeling all too well.  As far as I’m concerned, I want to kick ennui’s derriere to the curb forever!

Another Facebook suggestion I received was to take a writing class taught by the bestselling local author Laura Davis.  Davis co-wrote “The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse” and I’ve known about her for many years.  Her website states that her books have sold over 1.8 million copies worldwide.  I’ve seen her writing class flyers displayed at my favorite coffee shop, and I’ve taken a peek at them more than once. While Davis’ teaching philosophy seems like it would be quite helpful, I don’t feel drawn to the class.  I could change my mind down the line, and take a class either with her or another teacher.  In the meantime I’ve bought a couple new books about writing to fire me up.

One book has the irresistible title of “You’ve Got a Book In You – A Stress-Free Guide to Writing the Book of Your Dreams” by Elizabeth Sims.  My other splurge was “The Power of Memoir: How to Write Your Healing Story” by Linda Myers.  I downloaded Kindle samples of Dani Shapiro’s “Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life” and the latest Natalie Goldberg book “Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir”.  (Yes, I read Goldberg’s classic “Writing Down the Bones” and “Wild Mind”.)  I’ve read every book by one of my favorite bestselling authors/artists SARK, including her “Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper” how-to guide.  I’ve had the thrill of meeting SARK, who lives in San Francisco, and I interviewed her for two “Good Times” newspaper articles.  Check out SARK’s website for a plethora of inspiration.  I bet you’ll recognize her unique artwork such as her colorful poster “How To Be An Artist” if you visit: http://www.planetsark.com. 

I will be writing more about the elusive flow in the months ahead.  If you have any pointers on the topic, by all means, please share them here.  I’m sure there are some amazing studies analyzing creative flow, so perhaps by studying innovative research, I’ll create more flow of the writerly kind…not magma flow, and not food poisoning flow! 😉

I Smell A Rat

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We don’t realize how sacred our environment is until we lose a key component of it due to a force of nature beyond our control.  There is a natural progression that is considered by many humans to be revolting, even though it’s one of the most essential processes in the world.

I am talking about decomposition.

I had lofty ambitions to write today about something that mattered, something profound and writerly.   One of the oldest, most cherished piece of writing advice that teachers implore to their students is to “Write what you know.”  I will abide by that dictum and profundity shall be damned!

I’d like to back up to a time that I enjoyed; a time that smelled a hell of a lot better than it does now.  This was the year I worked as the office manager at C.O.B.H.A., the College of Botanical Healing Arts in Santa Cruz, California. (http://www.cobha.org/) C.O.B.H.A.’s website declares it as “a unique, innovative, high quality educational institution and aromatherapy college providing training that focuses on the power of healing through the use of essential oils, herbs, and nutrition. We are dedicated to providing excellent comprehensive education in a balanced curriculum of science, holistic healing theories, and practical clinical experience.”  

Before I began work at C.O.B.H.A., I had always loved essential oils such as lavender and orange.  I read about their key general properties, i.e. lavender was used as a calming agent, while orange was more of an uplifting fragrance.  I had no idea of the myriad of essential oils that exist and their amazing clinical use until I attended C.O.B.H.A.  I was fortunate to take the Level One Foundation class, taught by the renowned school founder/author Elizabeth Jones.  Level One was the gateway to the rigorous 440-hour-long essential oil practitioner certification program.  As soon as I walked in the entrance door, I loved the smell of the small school.  There was an essential oil diffuser in my office which I used to disperse my favorite oil combination of lavender and orange.  I noticed I was more mellow and happier when my work environment smelled good.  I was more productive as well.   In the Level One class I took I learned how high quality essential oils worked to actually cross the blood/brain barrier and they affected the body in a variety of impressive ways.  The field of essential oils was not just a hippie-dippie, feel-good arena; the essential oils were used in the medical establishment and hospice work.   

I was most drawn to how essential oils affected mood.  (Of course!)  My job at C.O.B.H.A. occurred long before I was diagnosed with bipolar, but I was suffering with clinical depression.  If I could only choose one oil for my mood benefits, it would be orange – especially blood orange.  Just one sniff and I could literally feel it helping me, I kid you not.  Regular orange oil (preferably a G.C.M.S.-tested oil, which is the mouthful gas chromatograph mass spectrometer, a sophisticated lab test that helps verify that the constituents contained in an essential oil are representative of what that particular oil should contain.) is very affordable, and it’s one of the best oils available to help alleviate depression.

I find myself yearning for my C.O.B.H.A. days in particular during the past twenty-four hours. 

For several weeks now, I have smelled an unpleasant, sickly-sweet odor in our kitchen.   The smell worsened as the days flew by, and my heart sank when I realized it was the odor of death.  I felt perplexed, however, as I couldn’t spot any deceased critter in any crevice, and neither could my husband.   Over the last week it became obvious the smell centered around our dishwasher.   The dishwasher, which had been on its last legs for a long time, broke yesterday.   It was a decrepit washer that was here when we moved in ages ago, and I knew that it was not worth repairing.   It was time to buy another dishwasher and make our almost-maxed-out Sears credit card squeal.

My husband was appointed to take on the dishwasher project.  He drove off to Sears and bought one on sale (Hallelujah!) before visiting some of his project sites.  When he returned after a full day of work, he decided to remove our old washer.  I wisely escaped downstairs to his office for some writing time.  When I returned upstairs to be with the family, the entire area smelled abhorrent.  When my husband took out the “dead” washer, he also found a very, very dead rat.  The sight and smell of that grisly scene were so atrocious that he ran out of the house to relieve his stomach contents. (Poor guy.  I have allotted him MAJOR bonus points for this duty.)  Thank God our two girls were totally distracted with a show in the other room, and they didn’t notice the rodential goings-on.  (For you writers out there, I created the word “rodential”.)  While he did his absolute best in disinfecting the area, and windows were wide open, it still smelled rank beyond what any author could possibly describe in words, and I completely lost my appetite.  (My rejecting food is almost unheard of, as some of you know!)

I now feel a special connection to the famous statement made by Founding Father Patrick Henry, who declined to attend the Constitutional Convention of 1787, saying that he “smelt a rat in Philadelphia, tending toward the monarchy.”  This colorful phrase can be construed in different ways, but after yesterday I interpret it literally – I believe Henry could not have “smelt” anything much worse than a (decomposing) rat, and I salute him for his evocative choice in words.  

I look forward to when the air that I breathe in my home is not tinged with eau de rat decompose.  It really does make a tremendous difference in our psyche, our productivity and our appetite to have fresh air to breathe.  At least our house is surrounded by a redwood grove and the trees will assist in naturally purifying the air over time.  So today when you are stuck in traffic, or stub your toe, or experience one of the many small grievances that are a part of life, be extra-thankful for the whiff you get of that lovely flower, that tree, or that briny ocean.  Be glad your home is free of decomposing rats!   Trust me, I know you are glad already if you’ve read this far.

Triggered

fire angerYes, it’s Fireface.  I’m back and I’m bad!

Today was not one of my finest days.  It was a mess.  I had my two little girls unexpectedly home with me.  While I love them more than anything else, they were going stir-crazy the livelong day.  I almost wasn’t going to write as I was worn out, but I knew that if I made the feeblest of efforts at my computer, it would be worthwhile.  Here I am at the end of the day, and it feels good to have the luxury of solo time in front of my laptop.

After my four-day-long New Zealand blogging sojourn, I’m back to brainstorming topics to write about each day.  Sometimes that’s so easy for me to do, but today I had ye olde writer’s block.  However, something happened that suddenly fired me up to write and so I’m going to expound on the topic here.  If you are offended by foul language, please skip today’s blog.  Tomorrow I shall write from a more virtuous place, I promise.  I usually refrain from writing pottymouth-style, because, as you know my dear readers, whatever we write on the internet can come back to haunt us in all sorts of ways.  And speaking of the internet and feeling haunted by it…

I am a Facebooker.  I really do love using this form of social media.  I think that utilizing Facebook in moderation is a sign of good mental health.  Through Facebook I discovered an acclaimed research organization called CREST Bipolar Disorder.  CREST consists of cutting-edge researchers located worldwide, and I’m currently participating in a survey they are conducting on bipolar called Delphi.  The Delphi study focuses on exploring and sharing wellness strategies for bipolar disorder and that’s all very well and good.  I’m glad to be taking part in it; hopefully they won’t kick me out. (Read on.)

Yesterday I became very enthused when I read on CREST’s Facebook page about EXACTLY what I am writing about: postpartum mania. Here’s the blurb they posted:

“The perinatal period is a time of increased risk for all women to experience mental health problems; those with a history of mental illness are at particularly high risk. This study looks into postpartum mania, about which relatively little is known. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00737-013-0408-1#page-1

I bookmarked the link’s study and I plan to contact the principals involved when I reach that point for my book’s research.  In my excitement I commented underneath the CREST post,  “I was diagnosed with postpartum mania/postpartum bipolar and I even experienced hypergraphia. (compulsive writing) I’m writing a book about PPBD titled: “Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar”…Thank you for sharing this valuable link – my goal is to help other mothers who have experienced postpartum mania etc. feel less alone and to give them resources as well. My book includes interviews with experts in the postpartum mental health field.”

I was the only person who commented in response to CREST’s post.  I added one more brief question – I just couldn’t help myself!

CREST.Bipolar Disorder – could you refer me to any experts on postpartum bipolar? I am participating in your Delphi survey. I’d be grateful to hear from you.”

These CREST folks love to post lots of items on their Facebook page, but after examining it, I noticed barely anyone even “likes” any of the posts or contributes any comments.  I didn’t receive a response to my question by their staff yet, which is disappointing, but I had a feeling not to get my hopes up.  I forgot about that issue for the time being, and I moved on with my day.

Later I checked my Facebook newsfeed and I spotted that CREST was sponsoring a webinar today on the positives of bipolar.

They posted “46% of survey participants w/ #bipolar would not ‘push a button’ to rid themselves of condition.”

Now, I’m grossly ignorant of what a hashtag represents; all I know is that “#” is connected with Twitter, yes?  No one “liked” that post or commented.  Quelle surprise!  Anyway, that’s all besides the point…

I allowed myself to be mega-triggered reading that post.  My heart started to beat faster, blood rushed to my face, I started holding my breath and I was MAD.  Steam should have been blowing out of my ears, cartoon-style!  I started typing furiously in response to the “button” statement, but I erased it as soon as I completed it.  Here’s the gist of what I wrote:

That’s great if you have bipolar and that you wouldn’t want to change your diagnosis even if you could.  I could actually begin to stomach that concept personally if I didn’t have children.  But I did have a baby, and right after I had that baby, bipolar kicked in. It not only f*cked me up beyond what any human being should endure, it affected my baby and my two-year-old and my husband adversely to the 1000th degree. Bipolar literally robbed me of months away from my family when I was stuck in loony bins.  Bipolar also stole me away from them when I was a foot away from their loving faces.  The fact that I was suicidal more times than I could count adds to the fact that if there was a “button” I could press to undo bipolar in my life, well, hell yeah, I’d press that button so hard it would break into bits.

Anyone who says “Oh, I wouldn’t change having bipolar because then I wouldn’t be the person I am!” strikes me as being selfish.  Do you think maybe, just maybe your kids and partner and your dog might feel differently there?  Or your other family members and friends and law enforcement personnel?  Don’t you think your kids would rather not have had their mom carted away in handcuffs if they had that choice?  I just don’t get it.

It’s okay to say “If I had a choice, I wouldn’t want to have bipolar”.  I think that those of us with this mental illness would still be pretty damn awesome even if we weren’t “touched with fire” or whatever the f*ck you want to call it.

GOD.

I guess it’s a good thing I did not participate in the CREST webinar.  My misguided rage would have engulfed me.  I probably would have started to speak in tongues and grown two heads.

The bottom line is that I was a groovy person before bipolar kicked in.  I was a “contender” for all kinds of cool things.  And now that I have the Scarlet B on my chest, I am still a groovy person.  I am still a contender, and I’m going to fulfill some of my dreams that were deferred due to bipolar.

If I had participated in that webinar today, I might have asked them, “Well then, if bipolar is such an awesome benefit, would you want your child to have it?”

Really.

Would you want your child to hate life, to want to die?  To loathe every single moment of every single day?  To be so fatigued from med side effects that she couldn’t stand up?

Would you want your sweet baby to feel so desperate that she’d try all kinds of drugs with soul-sucking side effects and then finally have her brain zapped numerous times, all just to survive?

Probably not, eh?

I don’t think so.

Blessed with bipolar?  I think not!  I am blessed with Dyane, and bipolar (give me manic depression any day, but that’s a topic for another blog) is going to start to take more of a backseat in my self-identity.

I’m still going to blog about bipolar, and I’m still writing my book about it, and I’ll be working with the International Bipolar Foundation’s Consumer Advisory Board.  But, I’m going to make an effort to develop the non-bipolar-related elements in my life and I’ll write about those as well.   I’ll keep you posted.

And, as always, thanks for reading!

Surfing Sand Dunes and Cape Reinga – The Land of the Long White Cloud

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I am winding down recounting my trip to the Land of the Long White Cloud.  In an earlier post I mentioned that I packed a great deal of activities into the week I was in New Zealand.  Even so, one needs way more than seven days to see the North Island properly.  (I haven’t even mentioned the South Island, which I unfortunately did not visit, but there are a zillion incredible activities to do there as well.)

I signed up for a bus tour geared towards young, hip travelers lasting one very full day.  I was young, and a traveler, but as far as hip went, well, I’ll just note that I fit two out of those three categories!   One of our activities was visiting the famed giant sand dunes to “surf” on boogie boards.  When I got to the top of the steep dune, I froze in terror.  Even though I was a sometime daredevil, for some reason looking down the dune scared the living daylights out of me.  I was so disappointed, but I knew I couldn’t go through with it.  One of the tour guides, in an attempt to motivate me to face my fear, started making fun of me.   That backfired, and I said in no uncertain terms, “Ain’t gonna happen!”  When done properly, surfing the sand dunes did look very fun, and I had looked forward to surfing them.  However, I felt completely validated in my decision to pass after the next person attempted to surf down the dune. She wiped out very hard at the bottom, getting sand up her nose and in her eyes, and it was an ugly scene, complete with tears.  I was glad that I went with my gut and refused to surf despite the intense pressure I felt when the tour operator egged me on, as well as the eyes of my fellow sightseers.

The best part of that day was reaching the northernmost tip of the island: Cape Reinga, which in Maori means “underworld”.  Cape Reinga was known in the Maori culture as the leaping-off place of spirits.  That concept was briefly explained to us by our non-Maori tour guide in his “pakeha” way and I loved it.  (“Pakeha” is the Maori word for a person of European descent; some people find the word offensive, some don’t.  I couldn’t care less!)  At any rate, when we walked en masse to the lighthouse pictured above on that day,  it may have been the power of suggestion, but I felt a unique sort of gravity in the air.  I believed wholeheartedly in the spirit world and how certain places on our Earth had a special vibration.  (Now I really sound like the other folks in the town where I live: Santa Cruz, Homeland of the Hippies!)  It was a stunningly beautiful day and I found the setting to be perfect for contemplating the indigenous people who died and, according to their Maori tradition, whose spirits used that very point for a jumping off point into the next world.

At that time in my life I was not yet jaded by mental illness – my bipolar disorder experience was still light years away, and I was able to take in those experiences in a naive-but-wondrous fashion.  It has been gratifying for me to remember that epoch in my life which was virtually free of any thoughts about my ever having a mental illness.

We are more than our diagnoses, thank God, but it is so easy to forget that fact; at least it has been that way for me.  By my writing about the trip I took to New Zealand thirteen years prior to the bipolar diagnosis, it has been a mini-vacation for my weary brain. While looking at pictures of myself taken at Kare Kare and at other North Island spots, I see a young woman who did not view herself as seriously damaged.  Sure, I wasn’t thrilled with my shyness, my frizzy hair, my zits or my zaftig figure, but I felt that my brain was fairly intact and, compared to the surfers and hippies back in Santa Cruz, it was actually pretty damn good! 😉  I was still 100% drug-free at that point in time!  I was also wrinkle-free! (I now have what I call my “bipolar wrinkles”, i.e. two deep furrows between my brows, but ah, I’m in my 40’s now.)

The bit of authentic joy evident in my expressions in those shots would become almost permanently wiped out with my clinical depression later on.  Now some of that joy has returned with writing this blog, with reading my friends’ and strangers’ comments and “likes” here, and for being able to once again focus upon goals other than getting out of my bed.  Thank you for traveling with me just a wee bit into New Zealand.  I hope with all my heart that if you feel drawn to that country, you will have the opportunity to go there someday.

Kia ora!  (That is Maori for “be well/be healthy”.)

The Trip of a Lifetime – Land of the Long White Cloud – Aotearoa – Kare Kare – Part Four

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Music producer Nigel Horrocks at his former Kare Kare home

I originally thought I could condense my entire week in New Zealand into one blog post.  Ha!  I packed a month’s worth of fun into the seven days I was there.  Kare Kare Beach was one of the highlights of my trip, and the series of events that happened there were truly surreal.

I’ll begin with the Jane Campion film “The Piano”.  This New Zealand-made film garnered no less than three Academy Awards in 1993.  That was one year before I headed over to the very shore where it was filmed. I saw “The Piano” at the quaint Nickelodeon Theater in Santa Cruz, and I’ll never forget my reaction to its shocking ending.  The opening scenes filmed on Kare Kare beach in which actress Holly Hunter landed there were intense and foreboding.  The weather looked cold, grim and overcast.  Little did I know I’d be there – life takes us to unexpected places, that’s for sure.

When John and I made our way to Kare Kare on his motorcycle, there were scattered showers.  Luckily John was a skilled motorcyclist and he smoothly navigated the windy road.  (I was still nervous and I clutched him so tightly it was a wonder he could breathe!) We made the pilgrimage to Kare Kare because Crowded House had rented a house that overlooked the beach.  It was in that designer home that the band recorded their album “Together Alone” with the producer Youth, the bassist of Killing Joke.  (This unique house had previously been rented by the actor Harvey Keitel when he was on-location filming “The Piano”.)

I didn’t expect to see the Kare Kare house up close, but on a whim John drove us up to the entrance and he pulled off to the side of the driveway.  To my embarrassment, a man stood there staring at us.  He wasn’t angry, like I had assumed he would be for our trespassing.  He drew us into a friendly conversation and inquired why we were there in the rain.  He invited us into his home for tea, and John gave him the groupie details.  We discovered that he was Nigel Horrocks, the owner of the house.  “I am impressed you came here in there rain!” Nigel remarked.  “You must come back here tomorrow night for my party.  It’ll be a music industry shindig!”  I was slightly in shock that Nigel would invite us to his event, but I welcomed his hospitality with open arms.

We took John’s car the following evening back to Kare Kare.  Nigel’s driveway was festooned with lit tiki torches.  After we walked inside I spotted a kava kava drink station.  I helped myself to some of the brew and it was my first time imbibing it. The drink made me a little woozy, and I relaxed somewhat in the crowd of strangers.  It was early but there were already around sixty people milling about.

I looked over toward’s Nigel’s cramped kitchen and I almost passed out.  Less than five feet away from me was Neil Finn.  Now, if you are not a Neil Finn groupie, imagine the musician (or actor or scientist or whoever!) you most admire in the world.  You are within spitting distance of this person.  What would you do?  I freaked out.   There was no way I was going to chit chat with him  I did find it rather symbolic that I saw him in the kitchen.  Neil has frequently written about kitchens in his songs; I’m not sure of the backstory, so I’m not the best Crowded house fan by any means, but it seemed very fitting to spot him the tiny kitchen.

There were other musicians strolling about drinking wine or kava who I  sensed were famous in New Zealand.  Unfortunately I was clueless as to who they were, except for the Crowded House keyboardist Mark Hart and Split Enz keyboardist Eddie Rayner.  A television camera crew was in attendance, and I found myself on the New Zealand news later that evening.  (John kindly made a video of the segment, which I still have to this day.  I’m shown in profile holding my kava kava cup, speaking with another guest.)

A makeshift stage was set up in the living room, and several performers took advantage of the well-heeled crowd to sing, including the singer Emma Paki.  I was very impressed with the talent I heard that evening.  At one point nature called, and I took a breather in the bathroom.  I got a kick out of using the same toilet that the Crowded House musicians and Harvey Keitel used.  What can I say?  I’m easily pleased by such details.

One moment I won’t forget is when party guest “Jaz” Colman, co-founder of the band Killing Joke, took the stage.  I’m not sure if he had too much wine or whiskey or kava kava (or all three beverages combined, perhaps) but he was in a heated state.  He started yelling at all of us, calling us “C*nts!”  I was a bit offended, and slightly disturbed, but it was also a comical moment.  I guess you had to be there! (Someone did take the microphone gently away from him.)

It was getting late and the sky was pitch black, save for a beautiful full moon. Outside in the backyard there was a roaring bonfire and a small group of Maori log drummers playing.   The sound was intense and so was the vibe.  I found myself talking loudly with a friendly man who looked familiar.  John came over to take me aside.  “Do you know who that is, Dyane?” he asked excitedly.  “No,” I replied, wracking my brain.  “It’s Paul Crowther!” I shook my head and could not believe it. Paul “Emlyn” Crowther was one of the drummers of Split Enz from 1974-1976. Thousands of miles away from where John and I stood, in a Santa Cruz room lay my albums Crowther played on along with videos of him during his wacky Enz tenure.  Because he wasn’t famous like his colleague Neil Finn, I was able to relax and enjoy talking with him.  I returned to his side and he invited me to dance to the hypnotic-sounding drummers.  We joined hands and it was a magical moment.

John and I had brought sleeping bags with us, and we did not want to impose on Nigel so we walked down to the beach.   The potent kava kava brew made for an excellent sleep aid.  Luckily we weren’t subjected to any rain during the night.  We made sure to sleep in a safe spot so that we weren’t overtaken by the tide.  It was an unforgettable time for us, and I’ll always be grateful to Nigel Horrocks for creating an extraordinary experience for two young, ardent music fans.

The Trip of a Lifetime – Land of the Long White Cloud – Aotearoa – Part Three

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I should let you know that today’s reminiscence focuses on being a Kiwi music groupie, rather than upon the magnificent natural beauty of New Zealand’s North Island.  I will be writing about the scenic wonders I visited over the next few days.  I only went to a handful of them (Rotorua, Kare Kare, Waiheke Island, Cape Reinga, Ninety Mile Beach Sand Dunes)  but I’ll never forget their grandeur.  This journey took place over twenty years ago, and I thank God that electroconvulsive therapy/ ECT did not wipe out those memories!   

After a perfect landing at Auckland International Airport, I experienced deja vu when I walked by its lovely gift store.  I was tempted to stop in to buy more of the New Zealand milk chocolate (I wanted to actually taste it this time now that my cold was gone!) but I was distracted with finding the baggage claim.  I made my way to a Auckland youth hostel and was lucky enough to register for a single room at a reasonable rate.  After opening the door and throwing my heavy backpack on the floor, I promptly passed out on the bed.

The next day it was sunny and temperate, and I walked up and down Queen Street, one of Auckland’s main thoroughfares.  Queen Street reminded me a bit of Santa Cruz’s Pacific Avenue in that there were hippies and street performers galore.  I hit Real Groovy Records and bought a sleek, silver-colored, special edition Split Enz CD box set.  I would never find anything like that in the States and the price was reasonable with my beneficial exchange rate.  The set would be my most indulgent purchase while on the North Island and definitely worth it.  After I left Real Groovy, I found a nearby bakery and sat down inside for a snack.  On impulse, I looked through my box set and spotted a folded-up sheet tucked between the CD’s.  I opened up this paper to find I had the original autographs of Enz band members Neil and Tim Finn, Nigel Griggs, Eddie Rayner and Noel Crombie.  This was a true autograph boon as the band had broken up, and surprisingly it was included with the box set with no fanfare.  I crowed with glee over my unexpected luck!  I put away the box set in my roomy purse, and took out my well-thumbed North Island travel guide to review my itinerary’s must-see spots.

One of these must-sees not in the book included “Hang out with Auckland John”.  Over the past few years I cultivated an internet and phone friendship with John Dobbyn.  We “met” in a Crowded House fan club internet forum.  John originally hailed from Seattle and worked at Microsoft.  He immigrated to Auckland’s Microsoft branch to work there for a year.  We arranged to meet up after I settled in Auckland so he could show me some North Island sights. I had corresponded with John for so long that I felt relatively safe in terms of meeting him in person.  Now that I reflect upon my trip, I realize that it wasn’t the best idea to trust a strange man, no matter how comfortable I felt with him.  I was very, very fortunate that he was a stand-up guy.

John was even more of a Crowded House groupie than I was, so we were quite the pair.  He too had just gone through the end of a relationship, but we had a low-key, brother-sister dynamic between us that set me at ease.  We drove to Te-Awamutu, the “Rose Town” of New Zealand located in the Waikato Region.  Te Awamutu means “the river cut short” in Maori language, as it is the end of the navigable section of the Mangapiko Stream.  Te Awamutu is the birthplace of Neil and Tim Finn of Crowded House/Split Enz fame.  There is now a Te Awamutu Museum with a Finn Brothers exhibit, but unfortunately it hadn’t been created when we were there.  (The Finns have been called the “Lennon and McCartney of New Zealand”.  Like Sir Paul, they were awarded OBE’s by Queen Elizabeth II for their contributions to New Zealand music.)  All I remember of our Te Awamutu sojourn is taking a picture in front of Te Awamutu’s entry sign festooned with roses, and another photograph in front of the obscure Te Awamutu Shell.

To our credit, we didn’t stalk the proud Finn parents who still lived there, thank God.  If we did accost them, Neil may have written a song about us like he did about an American girl who stalked him in New Zealand.  Neil wrote “Mean to Me” for Crowded House’s first hit album about his stalker, and it’s a great song.  John and I drew the line when it came to stalking.  However, later on after I left the country, John would cross the line from fan to actual friend in a most enviable way.  Somehow John was able to contact Neil Finn in Auckland.  I don’t remember how he pulled it off, but he impressed Neil with his computer expertise.  This was the era just when the internet took off big-time.  Neil, who had a keen interest in technology of all kinds, decided to get to know John and arranged for some computer help.  He invited him to his home in Parnell, known as Auckland’s oldest suburb.  John visited the Finn home numerous times for dinner, and he would tell me about Neil’s wife Sharon cooking lamb chops for them.  I was wistful and a bit jealous, but at the same time I knew that I would never be able to handle having dinner with the Finns.  It would be a bit like watching how sausage gets made.