Migrant Life – The First Days

Day 2: I’m beat and it’s hard to understand why. Or maybe not. We had a restful day yesterday, our first in NZ. Of course we got off the 13 hour plane trip, negotiated our move in to the backpackers, walked to a (really wonderful) grocery store, shopped, went out for dinner, and I did about two hours of exercises. And then there is season-lag, what I call the whole body fatigue that I attribute to going from one hemisphere to another. Hmm, this is rather uninteresting so far.

Things about Auckland: It is a very car-centric city, despite the very large amount of foot traffic. Practically every corner is the intersection of two or more four lane-plus roads with separate signals for the turning lanes and the lanes of opposing traffic. Worked in there somewhere in the cycle is a brief moment of approximately five seconds where pedestrians may start crossing, providing of course that they have pressed the walk signal request in order to be offered up their chance at the macadam. In practice this means that one has to wait a long time at every corner, since the lights are timed with cars, not walkers in mind.

Like much of NZ, the weather is highly variable here. Today over the course of about five hours in the afternoon it was hot, cold, windy, still, sunny, rainy, and often humid. I also saw my first blanket-covered, sign-wielding, contribution-seeking, utterly beaten looking homeless people in NZ, one on each of the two days we have been here. This is quite an accomplishment when compared to SF, where I could not walk three blocks from my house without seeing several, but it’s disturbing as I had not seen anyone like this in NZ until now. (None yet so far on day 3.)

Being in Auckland makes me glad I am not moving to another big city. There are good things and bad things about big cities, and if I was attached to the good things then I would have stayed in SF. I’m perplexed when people say that I would like, for instance, Wellington because it is “a lot like San Francisco.” If I needed to be somewhere like San Francisco I would have stayed in San Francisco.

Still not too interesting… OK, then how about: Notes toward a time-use description of human activity?

When people ask, “What do you do?” they usually mean your job. I think the basic meaning of these words is more instructive, as in “What do you do with your time?” Rather than applying labels like stock broker, construction worker, homemaker, drunkard, Christian, etc., it is more accurate to simply talk about how people spend their time. This could lead towards a more judgement-free information-rich kind of answer. Since most folks have to work, who cares what their job is? Far more interesting, or at least informative, is what they do with their discretionary time: Watch TV? Run? Volunteer? Cook? Now that I think about it, I’d much rather hear what people usually eat than what they do for income. Do you think that I could get away with, “What do you eat?” rather than “What do you do?” I’ll have to try that out. At any rate, a description of how someone spends their time seems to me a powerful way to really capture the essentialness of a life without applying labels or making judgements.

Related to this is what I am discovering about how I spend my time. I had reached a sort of climax forest-state of behavior where I could spend all day doing almost nothing by contemporary American standards of value. I didn’t have a normal day job; I didn’t watch TV. Of course I was still doing things throughout the day, but I had to work hard to come up with answers to this question that wouldn’t disturb people. Unfortunately, I also seemed to lack the time to do enough of the things that I thought I really wanted to do, like work on my Chi Gung practice, develop a website, etc. It seemed that all my time was spent just maintaining my situation: interacting with and maintaining my physical, informational and social infrastructure.

The first big blow to the climax forest of my behavior was the decision to move to New Zealand. My energy level increased. I got excited. Most of this energy for a great deal of the transitory year was spent, ironically, on my situation at that time rather than the new situation. As I result I began to enjoy the company of my friends more, and get more out of San Francisco, which of course made me want to stay more than I had wanted to when I had decided to leave. This experience began to hint to me the power of creative destruction, something you would have thought I would have understood after several years of burning man, but no.

The last two months before the departure were mostly occupied with dealing with my stuff, of which I have quite a bit. I found that purging myself of things was actually fun! Of course the vast majority remained, but it did feel quite good to get rid of a lot of the things that I had loved and carried with me from state to state over many years. My Space:1999 uncut sheet of trading cards with Eagle poster on back that I had had since 1981, for instance.

The pleasure of getting rid of some of the dross in my life was far outweighed by the most amazing feeling of lightness and happiness when the movers had taken everything away. Suddenly I had all the time in the world to do anything I wanted, all simply because I didn’t have my things around me anymore to suck up all of my time. Those few days roaming around the empty apartment were golden, before of course. the apartment itself asserted its need to be cared for. In came Leo and his crew and set about covering the floors and plastering and repainting the walls. The apartment was ejecting my things and my decorative choices like the lining of a traumatized intestine, ready to accommodate yet another wave of occupants. Good for you, apartment!

Now here we are at the next step of the radical discontinuity I engineered in my life. I’m travelling in New Zealand with two (rather heavy) bags. Not only do I lack stuff, I also lack context. I came in off a 13 hour redeye flight at 5am local and I still had the time and energy to get myself situated and still do two hours of exercise. So far so good. I feel like now is a special moment of opportunity to redefine how I will start to habitually spend my time. I need to keep the space clear for the things I want to be doing and remember the essential nature of existence while engaging in the rather consuming research project of getting myself situated in this new life, working side by side with a fantastically energetic but also very driving partner.

Next morning update: My fantastically energetic partner said first thing this morning that we should extend our stay so as not to have to unduly rush. Yay! So nice to be on the same page. We had a great discussion about many things, including the notion that this was not an intermediate stage to be rushed through but a place in and of itself to establish behaviors. Kathy calls this a healing time, and I must agree. We have excised much from our life and while new things are rushing to fill much of the space, we must also heal the wounds, like the teary feeling I had when I saw the lovely softwood floor in our backpacker room, so much like the floors in our SF apartment.

Day 3 saw us visiting a backpackers car mart. Space in a parking garage where people are trying to rid themselves of their vehicles before travelling onward. Mechanic, legal title search, and insurance on site. I didn’t bring any money, because I didn’t want there to be any danger of buying anything on my first outing. Sure enough, a persuasive Israeli had me sold on his hard luck story and his vehicle but Kathy intervened, insisting that other deals would appear in the future and that we should certainly visit the once a week Ellerslie car fare outside the city which offers similar support services and perhaps a wider selection and maybe even better prices. Now she understands why I didn’t bring any money…