Fuck you, Goldman Sachs

With the kind of impeccable timing I usually have, today as I prepare to list my Auckland home for sale, Goldman Sachs announced the Auckland housing market has a 40% chance of crashing, literally immediately softening house sales and freaking out our stock market.

Well, screw you, Goldman Sachs. I’m going to get a good price for my place from buyers who love it, and everything’s going to work out fine.

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I’m so scared I’m screwing up

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Photo by Brendon Connelly on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence

I have three realtors coming next week to appraise my place. The plan for a while now has been to move out of Auckland, but now I’m facing this as an increasingly urgent financial necessity.

As I mentioned last year, my mom had to leave work and she lives with me now. Although New Zealand has excellent public health care, it doesn’t cover things like the neurophysio who helps my mom keep mobile.

As soon as I realized I was financially responsible for both of us I started applying for any and all jobs I was vaguely able to do. I haven’t even gotten an interview. This has not been a surprise. I’m over 40 and  overqualified. As an introvert I don’t have a good network, and in New Zealand most jobs come from who you know.

If it was just me I could live in the back of my car if I had to, and shower at the gym. I’ve given this a lot of thought: it’s always good to have a contingency plan, right? But I can’t ask an older woman with MS to do the same. I have to find somewhere that can be a home for us both, and which I can afford to buy outright.

I’m feeling crushing guilt. I should have been – I should be – a better provider. When I started my PhD I assumed once I finished I’d be able to get reliable, stable work as an academic, which is a sign of my horrible naivety.

As a kid I thought I would run my life more successfully than this. For forty years I’ve been showing ‘potential’ but never managed to turn it into actually being good enough at anything. I feel like I made poor decisions my whole life, and now I’m making another.

I know I’m lucky. I’m lucky I had work for as long as I did. I’m lucky my daughter grew up into a functioning adult and is out there living her life. I’m lucky I snuck onto the lowest rung of the property ladder in the 90s recession. I’m lucky Auckland house prices rose 325% since then. I’m extremely lucky New Zealand has good unemployment benefits.

I don’t know how fast I can sell my place. I don’t know where we’ll go. But now it’s time to jump.

I Possess Ovaries

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Seriously, fuck the cultural gender binary. Photo by Janet on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons licence

Not in a “don’t look in the serial killer’s fridge!” way, but in a “some humans make snap judgements about my personality, preferences, interests and skills, based on the meat my DNA grows” way. I feel it’s wise to bring this up because the gmail address for my pen name is michal.caspian@gmail.com. Fun fact: in New Zealand Michal is not an uncommon name for a human with ovaries. I’ve worked with three women called Michal, there was a woman editor of the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly called Michal, and my cousin is a Michal – Mike for short. It’s a versatile, non-gender-specific name, like Hayden, Robin, or Taylor. However I’ve just learned that overseas Michal is pretty much solely reserved for humans culturally gendered as ‘male’. Therefore, in the precarious current gender politics of m/m authorship, it might look – if you squint your eyes in low light – as if I am trying to present myself as a different gender in order to gain privilege and authority.

The Michal was an accident, actually. I just wanted an M. For Em. But M.Caspian@gmail.com was taken, so I needed to find a first name that went with the initial. And that cousin I just mentioned? I decided age 12 I would call my daughter Michal. Flash forward, years later, my aunt gave birth to her daughter three months before I had mine. She called her Michal. I had to pick another name. I’m still not over it. So what better choice for my email address than my lamented unusable baby name? (Now I verbalize that explicitly, that’s weird, right? I don’t think of books as my babies or anything. But I wanted to use the name, goddamn it!)

And I’ve got a book underway that is less . . . rapey and violent. And I thought I might distinguish this from the M. Caspian works by publishing it under Michal Caspian, so it was clear it’s still me, but also a book you can read even if you’re totally not into, you know, rapey violence.

So, yeah. Ovaries. I’ve got them.

Thank you

Welp, that was a hell of a year, wasn’t it?

Thank you for reading my blog.

I made 109 blog posts and broke 5,000 blog views. In global media terms that’s not even small potatoes, it’s a single microscopic rhizomic nodule, but – not gonna lie – it means a hell of a lot to me.

Thank you to everyone who bought one of my books.

I banked USD$953.62 this year from book sales across Amazon and Smashwords. That’s nearly NZD$1400. To me, that’s huge. (And Germany is so fucking close to paying out. Come on, Germans, if I write some more, please will you buy just a couple more books?).

With the income I paid a power bill, donated some to Rainbow Youth, made a mortgage payment, and bought a piece of luggage. According to Stephen King’s rule, I’m a real writer.

I released five and a half books (a half because I pulled one, rewrote the end, and just re-released it as a 2nd edition). I didn’t release any M. Caspian books, but I have several first drafts completed and resting, and I will have at least a couple out in 2017, plus that book of three short stories, just as as soon as I get a cover. And that second book with Lisa Henry, I pinky promise.

Kraken is still my best-selling book, which is amazing considering it’s three years old, and it’s about violent non-con squid/man sex.

It’s the early evening of the 31st in Auckland right now. I’m going to put some more time in on my yearly review and 2017 planning, then head out for a walk along the beach. I suspect I will be asleep before midnight.

Not everyone’s 2017 will be peaceful, safe, or filled with well-being and joy. Let us find the strength to support one another through the next year, and continue to stand up for what we know is right. We will not allow fascism and hate to win.

Much love to you all.

Auckland from mt ecen, Flickr harrison and peppery cc lic.jpg
Auckland from Mt Eden. Photo by Harrison & Peppery on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence

 

“But an extra drink fixes that!”

I’m home again.

I had to come home by Sunday so I could take my grandmother out, and if I hadn’t I would have missed this gem from their weekly creative writing session. They choose a prompt pic and the staff write down the story they spin. Yes, the dementia patients at my grandmother’s facility write flash fic. And it’s awesome.

A far away look crosses Angeline’s face as she thinks of her lover who lives in a distant land. She will have a long wait for his next visit! So she drinks a lot! And thinks about another drink as she remembers her husband working hard in the mines down the road. He will be late home tonight and Angeline is a little more than mixed up today. But an extra drink fixes that! What a long wait! “Perhaps I will go and look for another lover who lives nearby,” she says to herself. She has one for the road and sets off.

Please, universe, let me still be writing when I’m 90.

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Travel is about highs and lows in the same day

I had one brutal day (in First World terms) this week. I finished it crying myself to sleep from tiredness and anxiety and hunger. And yet, for all that, it had great parts in it.

I skipped breakfast in Masterton, expecting to find an amazing cafe or welcoming vineyard on the Wine Trail route. First up were Carterton and Martinborough. I didn’t pass any amazing cafes or vineyard restaurants, and I kept watch the whole way south to Lake Ferry, right down on the coast of Cook Strait.

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This is the safest place ever for kids.

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I was expecting to get a room at the Lake Ferry Hotel – the only accommodation in town –  and drive out to Cape Palliser the next day. Mistake number one: I did not call ahead. A chalkboard outside announced the hotel was closed. Holy goddamn and shit. I was in the middle of nowhere. There was no cafe, no restaurant. Not even a dairy. There would be no lunch.

I drove out to Cape Palliser anyway. The road winds like a necklace dropped in a rocky Zen garden, twisting along a narrow margin between steep escarpments and a gunmetal sea. An “Active Slip” sign urged I use Extreme Caution. Washouts split the road in two places, but the water was down to only an inch or so deep, so I risked it.

Cape Palliser Road, Photo by Phillip Capper, Flickr CC lic.jpg
The road to Cape Palliser. Photo by Phillip Capper on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence

It rained the whole way.

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Photo by me

I fell in love with the tiny town of Ngawi, clinging on to the rocks. They make a living harvesting crayfish, but there’s no safe harbor, so every night the cray boats are pulled out of the sea by heavy machinery. The road winds between the tiny fibrolite cottages and two dozen ancient excavators.

Ngawi, Jim Tucker on Flicker CC lic.jpg
Ngawi. Photo by Jim Tucker on Flicker. Used under a Creative Commons Licence. It was raining too hard here for me to use any of my photos.

I have such a yearning to rent a bach in Ngawi for a summer and just read and write and walk along the beach to the seal colony and embrace being a hermit.

Past Ngawi is the Cape Palliser lighthouse. It kept wavering into view through the rain squalls, like a mirage on a postcard.

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Cape Palliser lighthouse in the sun. I have only seen it in incessant rain. Photo by Aidan on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

These are the stairs to carry supplies up to the lighthouse. I do not want this job.

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Photo by me

Apparently no one wants this job as it’s been unmanned since 1986. Fun fact: it still has the original lens from 1897.

The coast is so gorgeous there, you guys. If there were such a thing as mermaids, they’d swim here.

Coast between Cape Palliser and Ngawi, photo by Aidan on FLickr, CC lic.jpg
Coast between Cape Palliser and Ngawi. Photo by Aidan on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence

It was nearly four pm by the time I got to the lighthouse, and this was a little worrying as I still had to drive all the way back the way I’d come, then head to the next town, Featherston.

Mistake number two: I assumed there would be a hotel or motel in Featherston I could stay at. I couldn’t ring from Cape Palliser or Lake Ferry, because there was no phone service out there, and also, it’s not like there was anywhere else to try: Featherston was the next town.

You can see where this is going, right? Apparently there is a simply lovely motel in Featherston, but I did not find it. And I could not get a strong enough signal to use my phone. I found B&Bs, but they were all full.

It was now five thirty pm.

“Fuckit,” I thought. “I’ll push on to Wellington. It’s only a 70-minute drive. There are hundreds of hotels in Wellington.”

Mistake number three: I did not phone to check any of them HAD ROOMS. In my defence, I had the phone issue. It would have taken 30 minutes just driving around trying to find enough signal to use the internet. So, I drove into Wellington.

Okay, up side: driving over the Rimutaka Ranges was INCREDIBLE and I want to do it again, over and over. It helped that it had stopped raining.

Rimutaka ranges. Photo by Duane Weller on FLickr, CC lic.jpg
Road over the Rimutakas. Photo by Duane Weller on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence

What didn’t help is that EVERY HOTEL IN WELLINGTON I TRIED WAS FULL. Including all the ones right out by the airport. How is that even possible?  It’s our capital city! And sure, it was a business day, but there’s so many of them. Maybe the beds were all filled by insurance assessors after the earthquake.

Now, when I say every hotel, I’m lying. There was one hotel I found with three rooms left. I had the address. I found the hotel. I just found it on the other side of an intersection on a one-way street. I couldn’t get to it. “Ok, fine,” I figured. “I’ll just circle around.”

If you’ve never been to New Zealand you might not understand the trauma I was about to go through. So, A) Molesworth Street – one of the main thoroughfares – is closed after the November earthquake damaged an office building that is now being demolished floor by floor. B) A lot of smaller streets were also closed for repairs. And C) much of Wellington is super-hilly. The flat bit – the CBD – is largely built on land reclaimed after an 1855 earthquake lifted it from the sea (can I point out here, that was an incredibly stupid thing to do in the first place.)

This means the city is not constructed from simple blocks. It’s a couple of long straight main streets squashed tight between the ocean, and tortuous, narrow-as-fuck, winding roads canted at angles only drunk teens riding in wheelie bins enjoy.

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A simple manoeuvre to circle around to get back to the hotel left me instead climbing the hills around the university quadrant, before descending a hairpinning lane the width of roll of washi tape. It was straight out of a 1960s James Bond film (the scene would involve a suitcase on wheels and an automatic weapon disguised as an umbrella).

But my spirits rose as I miraculously failed to meet any cars head-on, and the road spat my car safely out into the CBD again. I approached the hotel, still on the other side of the road, but hooray, this was a two-way street. Two blocks up from the hotel a delightful traffic-calming median berm rose from the middle of the street, planted with saplings. The tiny elms shivered as they mocked me: there would be no U-turns today.

It was farcical. I circled around again, going the other way this time, but was stymied by a set of orange road cones blocking entrance to a side road, and a set of one way streets designed purely to taunt me.

I gave up.

“Fuckit,” I thought. Again. “I’ll go out to Petone. It’s only 15 minutes out. There are motels there.”

This time I couldn’t phone ahead because there was zero parking, and when I pulled into a taxi stand to try to grab five minutes on my phone a taxi arrived and the driver was an asshole.

Also, question: why does no one in Wellington indicate until they’re already turning? What’s with that? I thought Aucklanders were supposed to be the bad drivers but we are thoughtful, compassionate, and we indicate for the full two seconds.

So, Petone. Town of a thousand trucks.

petone, Photo by Brett Vachon on Flickr, CC lic.jpg
Petone. Photo by Brett Vachon on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence.

The beachfront Esplanade is lined with motels. They were all full. My cellphone was out of juice. I cruised up and down the main strip three times hoping to find a place that had a room. Finally I spotted it: a motorlodge without a No Vacancy sign! I pulled into the parking lot and practically leapt into reception.

Turns out their sign was misleading: the motel was full.

I burst into tears.

Right there, at the reception desk.

I was so tired and the only sustenance I’d had all day was a pot of peppermint tea and my knee hurt from micro-braking on so many hilly roads all day and it was all too much and I cried.

I want to give a huge thank you to the receptionist at BK’s Esplande Motor Lodge for not even mentioning my blubbering, instead simply phoning around to find me a room. It was a simple kindness but it meant so much to me.

She found me a room! The new motel was only 10 minutes drive inland. On the way there I spotted a Lone Star. Booyah! Things were looking up. There would be pan-seared sea-run Marlborough salmon for dinner! (A meal also functioning as breakfast and lunch).

I checked in. The room was basic, but it had beds. At this point, sleep and food were literally all I cared about. I jumped back in the car.

I got to Lone Star at 8:42.

Their kitchen was closed. They could not feed me. And no, they replied when I asked, there were no other eateries open at that time of night.

Pffft, foolish Aucklander, expecting a restaurant to be open past 8.30! We’re so fucking ridiculous.

On the way back to the motel I spotted McDonalds flags on lampposts. I drove in desperate, ever-increasing circles looking for it. But I couldn’t even locate a Big Mac. Without my phone – charging back at the motel – I was utterly helpless.

I found a supermarket, but I was out of spoons and I just Could Not. I drove back to the motel. I drank a glass of water and got into bed and cried again and went to sleep.

But Cape Palliser, man. Hell, yeah. Go there.

Cape Palliser, Photo by Aidan on Flickr, CC lic.jpg
Photo by Aidan on Flickr, used under a Creative COmmons Licence

Flash Fic!

I have a flash fic up on the magnificent unicorn-run Boy Meets Boy Reviews to celebrate their anniversary. Way to go, unicorns! I love you all.

Today is day three of my road trip. This is the delightful hot tub in the charming back patio of the motel I stayed the first night.

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On the bright side, yesterday I went to the New Zealand Bakery of the Year 2016, Ten O’Clock Cookie. Also I visited Manukura, the little white kiwi. I was this far away from her [——————] . She is not so little. She’s five now, and I feel like her claws could disembowel an unwary petter.

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And hey, Anne, if you’re reading this, I totally took your advice. I’m not working, not thinking about working, not planning when I’ll work next. I am totally and completely off duty.

Right now there are magpies singing their quardle-oodle-ardle-wardle-doodle outside. It’s gonna be a good day.

Looking for new shores: Planning road trip one

As I mentioned when I lost my job this year, I really need to leave Auckland. I just haven’t done anything about it yet. I’ve been under the thumb of my depression for the last couple months and I’ve found motivation difficult to come by. I’ve been sleeping a lot. But inactivity will not help. I need to take some action to improve things. It’s time to find a place I want to move to.

Kapiti Coast, by Aiden, FLickr CC Lic.jpg
The Kapiti Coast. Photo by Aiden on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence

One of the reasons I’ve been struggling is that a few months back my mom came to live with me. Her Multiple Sclerosis has caused too much cognitive decline and she couldn’t keep working any more, or live alone. It’s not like it was a surprise. MS has a predictable progression. We’ve been lucky that she’s been able to work up till now. She’s still mobile without a wheelchair, but mentally it’s getting much more obvious. MS doesn’t change your IQ, it just destroys your executive function and language skills. Plus she’s also autistic, so that makes things even more challenging. When you talk to her she very clearly sits askew from the world. She has meltdowns fairly frequently. I’ve been interpreting the world for her since I was about eight.

I’m still dealing with some sadness that this will be my life now, but I have always known it was coming. 95% of the reason I bought this particular condo was that it was one level, with a lift, so she’d be able to physically manage getting around. Plus there are close neighbors, and a small, contained local shopping centre with a great library. (I didn’t grok that MS would take away her ability to read a book. Fuck MS.)

So yeah, this isn’t a surprise, but it’s just . . .  I had kind of bargained on still being employed when she needed to retire.

Real dollars and cents talk: My mortgage is NZD$1610 a month, which is bloody cheap for Auckland, much cheaper than rent. I am very lucky. My property tax is $6,000 a year, and my condo fees are $516 a month. Add in groceries for two, non-subsidized medications, and clothes, and I can’t support both of us on my savings for all that long.

So, solution: if I move out of Auckland I won’t have condo fees or a mortgage. On the down side I definitely will have less chance of getting a job — there’s little employment out of the main centers — but frankly I’m close to unemployable anyway. I’m an autistic non-gender-conforming  fat woman over 40 with an utterly impractical PhD. There are very few niches for me.

So on Monday 28 November I start leg one of my Find A New Home road trip. A four-day road trip along the Kapiti Coast,  from Otaki down to Pauatahanui. The northern point of the Kapiti Coast is still only 90 minutes away from Wellington Hospital, so it’s close enough to drive my mom to her hospital appointments.

Peka Peka beach, pic by Aiden on Flickr, CC lic.jpg
Peka Peka beach. Photo by Aiden on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence

I’m looking for a community where I think I could make a life. This process makes me really evaluate all the things that I think I “need” for contentment. I feel like I need a cafe where they know my name and I can get a good flat white and sit at a table for two hours and no-one will huff impatient sighs at me. But, you know, that’s not a need. Maybe I have to give that up. I think I need a library nearby. But I guess once a month I could drive to a library. It would make me finish my tbr pile.

I do need space. I need to be able to shut myself away from my mom and get some down time. Maybe I could look for a place with a yard big enough to build a tiny writing cabin with a desk and a day bed.

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Sleepout by Skyline. I want the picnic table too.

But I do need internet. This one is not negotiable.

And you know what? I’ll finally be able to get another cat. I’m so ready for a cat.

At this point I’m planning for leg two to be the Wairarapa, and leg three will be Kaikoura, but these won’t be until next year.

I am so lucky to have these options. I am so lucky to have fluked my way into an unprecedented housing price rise. I get to cash out of the market now and live a good life in a safe, beautiful country, when I did nothing to deserve it. All I can do is try to pay it forward where I can. Maybe I need to find a place with a guest room for American friends to come for retreats, although I’m not sure that will do much to ease the pain you are feeling right now, or the future you are facing.

Two weeks until I leave. I’ll take my camera and laptop and keep y’all updated.