The Journey

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

–Mary Oliver

Mum, on a trip together to San Francisco in 2006.

I write this today because I hope my experience with Mum, as she lets go and I support her in letting go, might be of help to those of you navigating similar territory. 

I visited Mum again last Friday at lunchtime and was concerned by how much food she is being given when in fact we’re trying our best not to prolong her suffering. On any given day Mum has been eating breakfast, morning tea, lunch which includes a substantial meal and pudding, afternoon tea, dinner and more pudding. Up until last week, she was also being given three servings of Ensure (high sugar supplementary food) per day. In other words, she has been consuming considerably more food, on a daily basis, than I do. The rationale for this was that a couple of years ago when she was pacing the corridors all day, she was losing too much weight. Now she simply doesn’t need that much sustenance to keep her comfortable. In retrospect, I could have – had I known my options – raised this issue earlier. 

Yesterday, I met with the wonderful Dr Balaram again. I don’t use that superlative lightly, I am so grateful that I don’t have to battle medical staff at this time (side note, I’m also well aware of how ‘lucky’ I am not to be battling other family members, it’s bloody hard as an only child, but this is one of the benefits.) Dr Balaram is very supportive of changing Mum’s daily food intake to the three small meals a day he thinks she needs to keep her comfortable. No pudding, no morning or afternoon tea. He removed Ensure from her chart last week. He said the fact that she’s not aware of being full is indicative of cognitive decline to the extent that her hypothalamus isn’t registering satiety. She’ll be kept on laxatives, again, this is to keep her comfortable.

We also made the decision yesterday to stop her anti-seizure medication. Instead they will give her something to make her comfortable if and when she has further seizures.

In Dr Balaram’s words, this is horrid. Honestly, I felt validated hearing him say that. It is horrid and yet my experience of modern medical science, and the institutionalisation and management of aged care, somehow makes me think that I’m supposed to be okay, even grateful, to the way her life has been – is – prolonged. Yesterday when I arrived Mum was lying on the bed in her room. I’ve been reluctant to post photos of her that paint a more complete picture because it’s so important to preserve her dignity but I am also familiar enough with her spiritual beliefs to know that she would say, rather imperiously, “It’s just my body, Tink, I’ll be off having a whopping big gin and tonic and watching Independence Day.” She loved big dumb fun movies. 

Mum is in this state, with the exception of brief moments, all of the time. She is lifted out of bed everyday, placed gently in a lazy boy chair, and wheeled into the common room for activities she can’t participate in and is as far as we can tell almost entirely unaware of. She can no longer walk and hasn’t been able to feed herself for several years. A carer sits with her at mealtimes, places food at her lips, she takes it chews and swallows. She can’t see properly, she stopped being able to wear glasses years ago – she’d take them off and drop them. Yesterday, I had to lean right in, with my lips besides her ear, and say, loudly, “Mum, this is Tink”, her eyes turned towards me, but I have no idea if she has any idea who I am. I have no idea if there is really anyone there anymore or if her attention is reflexive. I keep coming back to the fact that over and over and over again, after she’d been to see her mother (who was in this state for years with Alzheimer’s) she would say “Don’t let me be like that.”

As we talked yesterday afternoon, Dr Balaram went on to say that – and I’m paraphrasing because I can’t remember his exact words – that at this point 40% of the patients journey is up to them and 60% to their family. He told me that “it’s great that you understand that your Mum is in transition” and I’m doing everything I can to support that. Many families, apparently, don’t. Dr Balaram said that he has had patients in Mum’s condition who’ve developed an infection and while arguably the kindest thing at that point is to do everything to keep them comfortable and let the infection run its course, instead the family are so desperate to keep their loved on alive, they insist on the patient being rushed off to hospital and put on IV antibiotics. 

Each situation, is of course different, in my case I am the only family here. We’re not having to wait for family to return from overseas, we don’t have religious beliefs that prohibit particular measures. I am my mother’s only only child and only immediate family in New Zealand. I have full enduring Power of Attorney (EPOA) and I know what her wishes were. Why am I writing this? I guess because I want you to know you have choices and to think through some of these before you find yourself in this situation, particularly if you have family to negotiate with.

I asked Dr Balaram yesterday if he has any sense of how long this might take. I find it helpful to know. This has been a long, hard road and while her death will not come as surprise and will be a good thing, it’s still – as my Aunt, my Mum’s sister, said to me the other day – huge. We both watched her mother, my grandmother, fade very slowly with Alzheimer’s and while it was in numerous ways such a relief when she let go, it was also suddenly a vast loss. Mum and I have travelled a rocky, rocky road together. She was an addict and like many that shared those challenges, she was charismatic, eccentric, smart and enormously funny….Often brutally so. But she was also my mother. I know, deep in the marrow of my bones, that she loved me with every cell of her being. Most of my life she had no idea how to constructively, healthily support me, her life was derailed by chronic anxiety and self-medication, but I know in her heart she wanted to have my back. I’m prepared for her death in so many ways, and of course, I’m not. We never are.

Dad died nearly 20 years ago. I spent a week, sleeping on the floor of his hospital room, as he moved on. Suffering from Lewy Body dementia, seven years after he was diagnosed and having lost the ability to walk and feed himself and talk but still with moments of absolute lucidity, Dad contracted an infection and made it very clear he wanted out. He was able to communicate that he wanted all food and fluid withheld. It took his body a week to shut down. Dr Balaram told me yesterday that he’s had patients like Mum who took 6-8 months to go. Unlikely, but possible. Unless she develops an infection following a seizure, which as Dr Balaram said gently, would be a blessing.

Where am I going with this?…

I find myself, this week, in need of space to integrate. To breathe and be still. I spent most of the weekend with my nose in a young adult fantasy book (delicious), ignoring the rest of the world as my mind and body and heart integrated this explicit shift to palliative care. As I sit with my mother while she lets go – over days, weeks, quite likely months – I find myself aware of how absent our crazy, overwhelming modern lives are of quiet and gentle rituals that help us process and integrate these big, beautiful – and sometimes horrible – moments.

Where AM I going with this?…

Talk to your family. Be as clear as you can about what you, and they, want at the end of your life and theirs. Write a living will. These are the discussions none of us want to have, but please, let my experience nudge you gently towards these conversations and decisions, as hard as they are.

Originally posted at tink.nz.

Wrapping her in light.

“…so I thought: 

maybe death isn’t darkness, after all,

but so much light wrapping itself around us —

as soft as feathers —

that we are instantly weary of looking, and looking,

and shut our eyes, not without amazement,

and let ourselves be carried,

as through the translucence of mica,

to the river that is without the least dapple or shadow,

that is nothing but light — scalding, aortal light —

in which we are washed and washed

out of our bones.”

Mary Oliver, White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field

Facebook. Instagram. Like many of you, I suspect, I have a love/hate relationship with these social media apps. But as someone who is fairly sociable and values connection, like it or not, I can’t quite step away…There is nowhere else I connect with quite as many of my favourite people, in one place at one time. So here I am, endeavouring while in these spaces, to post not just a bunch of pretty photos once every couple of months, but images that reflect the fullness of my life, of being human. And in that vein, today, a photograph of Mum with a happy little Tink, another taken just a few weeks ago and a simple image of a willow coffin.

My father who was both a vascular and general surgeon (the latter meaning he was almost daily at the coalface of life and death in A&E) rarely spoke about his practice as a doctor, but I do remember him saying once that he felt that the great failing of western medicine was its non acceptance of death. 

Mum has had dementia for at least thirteen years. She has been in residential care for six of those – five in the dementia wing, the last year in the hospital wing. For much of that time, she’s experienced 2-3 seizures spread fairly evenly over the year, in the last month she has had five. Her doctor called me on Friday to say he’d increased her anti-seizure meds and if that is ineffective over the next couple of weeks, he could switch her to a different medication. Medication which while possibly more effective comes with a range of unpleasant side effects including nausea. Mum had another seizure on Sunday morning.

Diana, my mother, is undeniably winding down. She spends most of her time asleep, she has to be bathed, toileted, dressed and fed. Feeding her involves putting a small mouthful of food up to her lips and like a baby bird she opens her mouth, ingests it and chews. She still swallows food but increasingly seems unsure of what to do with a mouthful of water. She cannot stand or walk. She is partially aware of people, and while I think there are moments in which she recognises those people she loves and has known for decades, mostly these days she seems to be not there at all.  

The last thing I want is for Mum to experience a range of very unpleasant side effects in order to potentially stop some seizures, when her mind-body is trying to shut down. She appears to have barely any quality of life. The reality is that she is dying. 

My wish now is to advocate for this transition to be as comfortable as possible. So to that end I had a conversation with her doctor yesterday, with an intention essentially to determine the choices ‘we’ can make in order to let her go. And how to keep her comfortable while that unfolds. I was expecting to be challenged, but her young doctor was wonderfully empathic and holistic in his approach. He suggested we keep her on the current dose of the anti-seizure medication, pull her off all other meds, including her supplemental food (which was prescribed to try and keep her weight up), provide water orally but not by IV and if she develops an infection (quite possible, apparently, with the seizures) she won’t be treated with antibiotics. I was enormously grateful to have with me my-other-Mum (mother of my ‘oldest’ friend and former next door neighbour) who is a retired registered nurse with considerable experience in aged care. 

The doctor gently said to me that it’s often helpful to let someone, in this situation, know they can go. I’ve been doing that each time I visit her, over these past several months. Telling her gently that I love her. Telling her I forgive her for everything – this being an only child of a mother addicted to alcohol and tranquillisers and then suffering from alcohol induced dementia has been quite the wild ride.

We’ve no idea how long it will take for Mum to go. It could be days, mostly likely weeks, possibly some months. So in the meantime, I’ll spend as much time as I can sitting with her and – spiritually, if not entirely practically – midwifing her death. I’m also now turning my attention, with a full if somewhat weighty heart, to what kind of ritual we’ll organise to farewell her and celebrate her life. On that note, by way of a somewhat abrupt conclusion to this wandering, I have some questions… 

Can anyone recommend a celebrant in Welington/Hutt Valley?

I’m interested in alternatives to conventional heavy wooden coffin – any thoughts?

For those of you who’ve been through this with parents or other family, is there anything you wish you’d known at the time? Or would have done differently? Equally, any thoughts on really lovely pieces of ritual you’ve been a part of? And I’m thinking about the whole process – from now through to a gathering after the funeral service.

Let me know if you have any thoughts – tink@pekapekahill.nz

Love,

Tink

Originally posted at tink.nz.

Wrapping Mum in light.

“…so I thought: 

maybe death isn’t darkness, after all,

but so much light wrapping itself around us —

as soft as feathers —

that we are instantly weary of looking, and looking,

and shut our eyes, not without amazement,

and let ourselves be carried,

as through the translucence of mica,

to the river that is without the least dapple or shadow,

that is nothing but light — scalding, aortal light —

in which we are washed and washed

out of our bones.”

Mary Oliver, White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field

Facebook. Instagram. Like many of you, I suspect, I have a love/hate relationship with these social media apps. But as someone who is fairly sociable and loves connection, like it or not, I can’t quite step away…There is no where else I connect with quite as many of my favourite people, in one place, at one time. So here I am, endeavouring while in these spaces, to post not just a bunch of pretty photos once every couple of months, but images and words that reflect the fullness of my life. And in that vein, today, a photograph of Mum with a very little happy Tink, a photo taken a few weeks ago and a simple image of a willow coffin.

My father who was both a vascular and general surgeon (the latter meaning he was almost daily at the coalface of life and death in A&E) rarely spoke about his practice as a doctor, but I do remember him saying once that he felt that the great failing of western medicine was the non acceptance of death. 

Mum has had dementia for at least thirteen years. She has been in residential care for six of those – five in the dementia wing, the last year in the hospital wing. For much of that time, she’s experienced 2-3 seizures spread fairly evenly over the year, in the last month she has had five. Her doctor called me on Friday to say he’d increased her anti-seizure meds and if that is ineffective over the next couple of weeks, he could switch her to a different medication. Medication which while possibly more effective in controlling the seizures, comes with a range of unpleasant side effects including nausea. Mum had another seizure on Sunday morning.

Diana, my mother, is undeniably winding down. She spends most of her time asleep, she has to be bathed, toileted, dressed and fed. Feeding her involves putting a small mouthful of food up to her lips and like a baby bird she opens her mouth, ingests it and chews. She still swallows food but increasingly seems unsure of what to do with a mouthful of water. She cannot stand or walk. She is partially aware of people, and while I think there are moments in which she recognises those people she loves and has known for decades, mostly these days she seems to be not there at all.  

The last thing I want is for Mum to experience a range of very unpleasant side effects in order to potentially stop some seizures, when her mind-body is trying to shut down. She appears to have barely any quality of life now. The reality is that she is dying. 

My maternal grandmother died from Alzheimer’s. It was long, very drawn out and Mum was explicit. Please don’t let me end up like that, she said.

My wish is that my mother makes this transition as comfortably as possible. So to that end I had a conversation with her doctor yesterday about the choices ‘we’ can make in order to let her go. And how to keep her comfortable while that unfolds. I was expecting to be challenged, but her young doctor was wonderfully empathic and holistic in his approach. He suggested we keep her on the current dose of the anti-seizure medication, pull her off all other meds, including her supplemental food (which was prescribed to try and keep her weight up), provide water orally but not by IV and if she develops an infection (quite possible, apparently, with the seizures) she won’t be treated with antibiotics. I was enormously grateful to have with me Hazel-my-other-Mum (mother of my ‘oldest’ friend and former next door neighbour) who is a retired registered nurse with considerable experience in aged care. 

The doctor gently said to me that it’s often helpful to let someone, in this situation, know they can go. I’ve been doing that each time I visit her, over these past several months. Telling her gently that I love her. Telling her I forgive her for everything – this being an only child of a mother addicted to alcohol and tranquillisers and then suffering from alcohol induced dementia has been quite the wild ride.

We’ve no idea how long it will take for Mum to go. It could be days, mostly likely weeks, possibly some months. So in the meantime, I’ll spend as much time as I can sitting with her and – spiritually, if not entirely practically – midwifing her death. I’m also now turning my attention, with a full and slightly weighty heart, to what kind of ritual we’ll organise to farewell her and celebrate her life. And on that note, by way of a somewhat abrupt conclusion to this wandering, I have some questions… 

Can anyone recommend a celebrant in Welington/Hutt Valley?

I’m interested in alternatives to conventional heavy wooden coffin – any thoughts?

For those of you who’ve been through this with parents or other family, is there anything you wish you’d known at the time? Or would have done differently?

Equally, any thoughts on particularly lovely pieces of ritual you’ve been a part of? And I’m thinking here about the whole process – from now through to a gathering after the funeral service.

If you have any thoughts, I’d be very grateful to hear from you at tink@pekapekahill.nz

Shitsville 2020

It seemed to me that every year people forgot what spring was like in Wellington. Rather than explain it over and over, in 2014 I made a silly “realistic calendar” for Wellington.

To my surprise and delight, the calendar has taken on a life of its own!

For the last couple years I’ve been thinking it would be nice to do something new with the calendar but it was only this year that inspiration struck.

Here’s the plan …

Amy has kindly created an original artwork, her interpretation of Shitsville.

I’ve set up an online store where you can purchase tshirts with her design.

All proceeds will be donated to Kaibosh (a Wellington charity that rescues surplus food and provides it to those in need).

Shirts are only available for a limited time.

We hope you like it.
https://shitsville.printmighty.co.nz

PS. Shirts are made by AS Colour and printed in Paraparaumu by Print Mighty.

Originally posted at adam.nz.

When grief lies down

Picture this, if you will…An old woman, looking at the ground, is mindlessly walking loops of a communal living room, occasionally muttering something unintelligible to herself. Another old woman, still in her dressing gown at lunchtime, is sitting at a table hunched over a bowl of unidentifiable pudding, crying ceaselessly while she asks someone to “Make it stop.” An old man with a birds nest of dark grey hair falling to his shoulders (one assumes, from how well the residents are cared for, that this is because he’s a grumpy old bugger and his temperament makes a hair cut impossible) asks me, with deep concern, if I can please explain why he has had a tooth removed.

Grief.

For a while, I didn’t want to go and see Mum. It was too hard. Our relationship too sticky, the rest home to confronting. But then things shifted and softened and I found myself wanting to see her. And I thought to myself, with – in retrospect – a tiny amount of hubris, that finally going to see Mum was easy. Um. Yeah. Until it wasn’t.

Yesterday, I found myself doing loops around the dementia unit beside Mum not knowing what to say to her. Not that anything I say makes sense to her, it’s more about me being there and the sound of my voice, of course, but suddenly I ran out of things to talk about. I found myself wishing desperately that I had a sibling there to chat with while we walked alongside Mum. Someone to share this load with. But I didn’t, so I left. I went and sat in the car, cried quite loudly for a few minutes, was given gentle nudges from both collies, pulled myself together and drove home. Only to get grumpy with Adam because he commented, as we tried to listen to an interview together, that “I wasn’t really there”, to which I replied “I had a really hard visit to Mum but I don’t want to talk about it” because I really, really didn’t know what to say.

Grief.

A couple of weeks ago, at the end of a massage, my very lovely therapist was brave and wholehearted enough to not only acknowledge this post about the miscarriages but cry with me. She. Cried. With. Me. And I cannot begin to tell you how healing that was. But also how revealing it was to suddenly become aware of how much I’d needed that reflection. It was the first time in seven years since I lost the babies that someone has reflected my grief, with unapologetic and unembarrassed tears, back to me. The first time I really felt I had company in my grief.  

Grief is mostly a solitary thing in our culture, at least that has certainly been my experience. We grieve, mostly, alone. Behind closed doors, we hide it’s wholeness, it’s all consuming nature, from others, even those closest to us. Grief is awkward, it makes us vulnerable, inarticulate, tricky, puffy. There is a statute of limitation on grieving, after a certain time we’re expected to have pulled ourselves together and if not over it, at least have the good manners to hide it so it doesn’t make others feel awkward.

And yet awkward it is. Grief is messy and unpredictable, if often arrives unannounced. It is also very physical. If we don’t express it and instead we shove it down, grief resides somewhere in your body until one day – and that day could be a decade away – you accidentally squash a snail or drop a full jar of tomatoes on the kitchen floor and burst into uncontrollable sobs.

I am aware that friends of mine who live (or even those who are American and live elsewhere) in the United States are currently grieving for their county. I am aware that friends are navigating their way through the slow loss of parents to disease that comes with old age. I know that family and friends are grieving loved ones taken far too quickly by cancer. Others are grieving life changing transitions forced upon them by circumstance. 

Lately, sitting in quiet conversation with Adam, my parents-in-law, and some local friends, we’ve been sharing our grief about our dying world. We’ve come together to take part in an online conflict transformation summit but we’ve inevitably touched on the grief we all feel, and don’t quite know what to do with, while we watch ecosystems collapse as humanity accelerates towards the edge of the cliff. And while it is important, essential, wonderful (pick a word) to maintain hope, it is – I am increasingly sure – necessary to be true to your grief and find a community who can not only hold space but share it.

Grief. 

Are you grieving? 

Do you feel seen? 

Is there someone sharing your grief? 

Are you able to share the grief of someone else?…

“After a while, though the grief did not go away from us, it grew quiet. What had seemed a storm wailing through the entire darkness seemed to come in at last and lie down.” 

Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow.

Mum, at rest.

Originally posted at tink.nz.

Do I want to talk about this? Yes.

25 June 2020

Seven years ago this evening I was lying, very uncomfortably, in a bed in the maternity wing of the Wellington Hospital having the first of three miscarriages. Adam’s still grumpy about the fact that the only thing they could find for me to eat was white bread and vanilla ice cream. As I lay there, ignoring the little pot of Tip Top’s finest and thin white bread which was tired enough to be curling up at the corners, a very dear friend was in a room at the other end of the ward with her brand new healthy baby.  The last thing in the world I could bring myself to do was let her know I was there, miscarrying.

Every year, on the anniversaries of three babies lost – 25 June, 22 September, 31 December – both Adam and I are tender. He’s currently lying by the fire, I’m sitting here, self-medicating with dark chocolate and wondering how vulnerable I feel like being this evening. Do I want to raise the uncomfortable subject of miscarriages again? I do, because here’s the thing…we still don’t talk about them enough. 

Women are left to process the grief and shame and sense of failure in losing a baby largely alone. There are myriad ways of experiencing infertility as a woman. I can’t speak to Adam’s experience, although I do know his is equally lonely and complex. Amongst all of my friends – and I am so lucky to have so many wonderful ones – there is not a single woman that I know of who shares my reality of recurrent miscarriages (and the subsequent hormonal rollercoaster) without a successful pregnancy to follow. Miscarriages without the happy ending.

We make our peace with how life turns out, don’t we. As you’ll see from the photos I post every few months of our life here at Peka Peka, it is beautiful. But it is not idyllic. Life is messy and behind the glorious images of sunsets there are trips to see Mum in dementia care, the wild ride of perimenopause (can we please talk about that too?!) and summoning the energy and enthusiasm to be a part of another conversation about the shared reality of motherhood while I sit there, very quietly, managing my grief and irrelevance. I may well have friends who read this, who have been aware of my journey over the last seven years, who can’t quite stop themselves from thinking “Jeez, is she still caught in that story? Hasn’t she finished grieving?” No. The answer is no. In the same way I still really – if not nearly so acutely or relentlessly – miss my Dad, I am still very sad we don’t have children. I wish we hadn’t lost our babies. I wish I didn’t feel so alone amidst the sea of mothers with children and their stories.

I’m posting this not because I want to check my FacebookDo tomorrow morning and see lots of notifications of comments of support. I’m posting this for two reasons. Firstly, if by any chance you share my reality and would be willing to have a conversation about it, I would truly, truly love to hear from you. Secondly, if you have experienced the grief of miscarriages, I would like to honour that grief. Whoever you are, wherever you are, in whatever situation, know that you are not alone. (P.S. Adam tells me I’m quite brave about having hard conversations and holding space for grief, so if you would like to talk, message me, I’d be honoured to hear from you.)

P.S. I wasn’t sure which photo to include, so chose the one from my library closest to the 25th of June, 2013. Adam and our fuzzles.

Originally posted at tink.nz.

How lockdown breathed life back into ElementAll

At the beginning of this year, I made the decision to close ElementAll. Increasingly I felt torn between channelling my energy into the development of our small regenerative farm and community, and this small clothing company. As I looked out into an increasingly unpredictable world, in which we’re all navigating the chartered territory of climate change, producing a very small range of locally produced merino garments didn’t feel like the best path for me. Then Covid-19 happened.

Thanks to several weeks of lockdown, we found ourselves with time (how privileged my husband Adam and I have been to ride out isolation in this place, in safety and comfort) to reevaluate the way we’re living our lives, to reconsider our priorities. Time and a slower pace created some key pieces of self-awareness which have shifted my relationship to ElementAll.

The first realisation was that it turns out I’m considerably more extroverted than I thought I was. Which is apparently no surprise at all to Adam, but it was to me. I’m an only child, I absolutely need time to myself, but it also would seem that I need very regular connection (in person, Zoom won’t do) with people. This is directly relevant to ElementAll, as one of my seemingly relentless struggles has been the isolation. Doing it all myself, but most importantly ‘by’ myself, has made commitment hard.

In an attempt to solve the problem of feeling isolated (at least for the next few months), we’ve set up an informal co-working space in the living room of what was, until recently, our BnB. Serendipitously, a dear friend has moved to Waikanae from Melbourne for a new job and Covid-19 means she can now work remotely two days a week. However, her scrumptious 18-month old daughter (delightfully, my goddaughter) makes doing this from home a challenge. Solution? She now comes up here. It works for her but also having the company makes a very real difference to my motivation and enthusiasm.

The second key realisation I had during lockdown was the importance of logistics in getting things done. Wonders will never cease, you say, but bear with me. Adam, an experienced manager and facilitator, observes that people generally favour one of three ways of approaching problems. The first is strategic (looks at the big picture, ‘where are we going’), the second is tactical (how to deploy resources to achieve the strategy) or the logistical (who needs to do what, when and then the actual doing). I tend to address problems strategically – looking at the big picture is my happy place – then to a lesser extent tactically. Logistics, the actual doing of the thing, is the least interesting part of the puzzle for me and consequently my weaker muscle.  

Stay with me while I tangent briefly. Many years ago, in a former job as a policy analyst for the Pharmacy Guild of NZ, I spent six months working on pandemic planning for the Avian Flu. As soon as Covid-19 began to take off in Italy, my experience suggested that this could be very serious, even for New Zealand. As we moved through Level 4, I’d spend a couple of hours every day reading long-form articles from science writers and following family doctors, other scientists and experts in public health online. In addition, it turned out a friend was working as a key member of the team coordinating New Zealand’s pandemic response and we’d often talk as she walked home at the end of the day. 

As I read, listened and digested a lot of information, it dawned on me that the logistical response to Covid-19 was critical. The necessary strategy was fairly clear, the tactics super important, of course, but what was absolutely essential was a well-executed logistical or operational response. No good having a tonne of PPE squirrelled away in a warehouse somewhere if it’s out of date or doesn’t reach the medical staff on the ground. No good having an apparel company if I’m not attracting customers, ordering fabric and capturing essential data in Excel spreadsheets. Understanding the importance of logistics has reframed my relationship with ElementAll, which means that instead of focusing on the big picture, I’m going to spend three months on the nuts and bolts. 

The third realisation, triggered by a shift in my relationship to logistics and a growing awareness of the impacts of climate change, is that it’s all too easy to be overwhelmed by how much there is to do. I’d convinced myself that a very small sustainable clothing company was simply not enough and that it existed in competition with the regenerative work we’re slowly doing here at Living Ground. But of course, it’s not in competition, it can fit elegantly into our lives here. At this point, I honestly believe that every little bit each of us can do to make our corner of the world more sustainable (ideally regenerative) is worthwhile. We all still need good clothing.

My original intention with ElementAll was to create the most sustainable, resilient, and ethical little clothing business I could, and that hasn’t changed. The garments are still made in Wellington, by Jan and Marilyn at Stitch Products. While I dearly wish I could buy merino that was guaranteed to be New Zealand merino (NZ produced textile from NZ sheep), at this very small scale, I can’t. However, the ZQ merino I purchase from The Fabric Store is Australasian and ZQ prides itself on being the world leader in ethical wool. The Fabric Store – as ‘middle women’ (in the case of the lovely folk I deal with) – is a New Zealand owned and operated business about which I only have good things to say (click here for their statement on sustainability).  

As I launch myself back into ElementAll, logistics are my priority. I’ll continue to investigate my supply chain and work to make it even more sustainable, ethical and resilient. There are new designs in the wings (long-sleeved tops just waiting for a handful of samples and some promotional photos) for both women and men. I’m excited to share the stories of some of the remarkable women who wear ElementAll.

In the meantime, I’ll sign off with a bit of house-keeping, then a thank you note. The price of ZQ fabric is higher than the premium merino I’ve used before and the margin for the Fabric Store is smaller, consequently, you’ll see there is an increase in price for the cardigans. While the tunics remain at $150, the cardigans are now $195. You will also see that the colours have been updated. The ZQ range is larger than the 11 listed on the ElementAll website, and you can find the full range of ZQ colours here – if you’d like to order a garment in one of the colours we haven’t listed, just send an email to tink@elemental.nz. 

Finally, I’d like to say a very, very big thank you to those of you who have remained ElementAll cheerleaders. Jo, Adam, Anna, Emily, Emma, Tina, Stephanie, Ray, Kath and Vanessa. Thank you. Your support means more than I can say.

More soon.

Tink

Originally posted at tink.nz.

Making and Breaking

I don’t often get angry online, the mere thought of it seems fruitless and feels exhausting. But I’m having a harder and harder time keeping my silence.

Politically I’m a boring one-trick pony. The only thing I deeply care about is how we treat our planet’s ecosystems. As far as I can see, however terrible the other issues might be, everything else can wait.

That aside, this is about something else.

As a country, we just went through something amazing. For the first time in my nearly 50 years, I saw my government work through something big and hard together. A few weeks ago, a friend who was very involved in NZ’s pandemic response said that she thought the “NZ government would be kinder for years because of COVID”. Based on my experience in the crucible of the film industry, this makes instinctive sense to me. The bigger the crisis, the tighter the team afterwards (provided the crisis doesn’t blow the team apart).

As a country we pulled together, temporarily shelved our differences, and got on with what needed doing. No doubt it was an imperfect response, but it was an effective one. NZ is one of the few Western countries with a success story about how we collectively responded to COVID. For one of the few times in my life, I’m proud of how my country collectively responded to something important.

There are two basic ways we can individually and collectively act. We can be Breakers, or we can be Makers. Making is the work of life, it is what we are all capable of, and hopefully, what we all aspire to. Life, powered by the Sun, is the only force on our planet that resists entropy. For as long as the Sun heats our planet we can be Makers. In my opinion, Wise Making is the noblest of acts and is within the reach of everyone.

As a country, we just performed a collective and heroic act of Making.

I know that lockdown was somewhere between stressful and traumatic for some people, but my experience of lockdown was nearly ecstatic. Without kids and with a part-time job I could do from home, each day stretched out gloriously in front of me. But the only reason I could relax and enjoy those days was that I felt safe. I felt safe because our government seemed to be responding in a sane way.

Was the government response perfect? Of course not, but there was approximately zero chance that it would be. Even if, against all the odds, we stumbled into the “perfect response” we would have no way of knowing that.

I’m all for constructive critique. Let’s talk about how we might be able to do it better next time, but let us also honour what we just accomplished. Let us honour the people who did the work, who put our collective safety before seeing their families. Let us remember all the people who weren’t on TV who worked invisibly to put in place systems which kept us safe. Let us remember that nobody in NZ had ever done anything like this before, and while we could spend hours on Twitter comparing the details of different countries responses, they were up to their eyeballs dealing with the messy reality of actually implementing lockdown in our wonderful and deeply imperfect world.

Now, back to anger. Here’s where I’m about to throw in my towel out of disgust. Where I loudly declare that Project Humanity deserves the ignominious end which it is working so tirelessly to achieve.

At the end of this beautiful and imperfect act of collective Making, some of the leaders of our country are acting with deliberate malice to destroy what we built. Instead of blinking in astonishment at the unlikely and beautiful thing we just collectively Made, they are trying to tear it down. Instead of joining in and contributing to this act of Making, they are deriding their opponents. Instead of telling us about their vision for all the wonderful things we can Make, they are lying and manipulating facts.

And we, the punters at home, are going along with this in soul-crushing numbers. We, the ones who just got handouts to keep our households and businesses alive. We, the ones who literally don’t know a single person who died of COVID (with condolences to the friends and families of the 22 people who died of COVID in NZ). We are cheering and jeering as we tear down what we built.

Fuck us.

What’s it going to take for us to collectively and individually realise that the only worthwhile thing we can do with our brief and precious lives … is be a Maker?

Originally posted at adam.nz.

Escaping the Big Apple?

This lockdown I got a wild hair up my ass and decided that it was time to move to Linux. I spent a ridiculous amount of time figuring out how to extract data from my Mac and (coming in a future post) researching alternative Linux apps.

Below is the “good bits” version of what I learned. Should you decide to escape the Big Apple one day, hopefully it will help smooth your way.

Notes.app

Almost everything I write starts in Notes. I have many hundreds of notes going back to the 90s. It might be my most used app. Getting my notes out of Notes was the most frustrating part of this process.

As best as I can determine, the only way to get everything (text, formatting, links, folders and attachments) out of Notes is to do it by hand. This is extremely lame and makes me very reluctant to ever use Notes again (which sucks because I really like Notes).

By far the best solution I could find is the free Exporter by Chintan Ghate, but there are caveats:

  • If you want to get attachments you must be running macOS 10.15 (Catalina). Even then it will only export images (annoyingly this doesn’t include scans).
  • Embedded links are lost. The URL vanishes and only the text remains.
  • It will only export to Markdown (which is what I wanted).

This was adequate but frustrating. Before exporting I manually removed URLs from linked text and copied them into the text of the note, converted scans to PNG and moved all the PDFs to iBooks.

If you need a more automated solution the only remaining possibility I can think of is Keyboard Maestro.

Day One

I’ve been sporadically keeping a journal for decades, over the years most of that has ended up in Day One. I didn’t like any of the exporting options, but fortunately Bear will import from Day One and export to Markdown.

Photos.app

I expected this to be the most unpleasant part of the migration. Thanks to Rhet Turnbull’s open source tool osxphotos it was easy. He was incredibly friendly and responsive, fixing a bug and adding two features for me. This is open source at its most wonderful. A few details:

  • osxphotos won’t download photos from iCloud. Before you can use it, all your photos must be on local disk.
  • My HD is too small for all my photos, so this meant that first I had to move my photo library to an external drive.
  • Make your life easy and download the Mac executable rather than mess around installing the Python modules. You want the latest file that ends in “…MacOS-exe-darwin-x86-64.zip“.
  • osxphotos is very configurable. It will export your photos in nearly any way you can imagine. Here’s how I ran it:
# osxphotos --db /path/to/Photos\ Library.photoslibrary/ export /path/to/osxphotos/ --directory "{created.year}/{created.mm}-{created.mon}" --album-keyword --person-keyword --exiftool --skip-live

Reminders.app

I’m still grumpy that Microsoft bought Wunderlist and ruined it. Anyway, I don’t like Reminders.app very much but I use it because I haven’t found anything “better enough” to bother.

I haven’t looked very hard, but I didn’t find a way to get my data out. I will probably just cut and paste the pieces that matter.

iBooks.app

I used to keep all my PDFs and ePubs in iTunes, it was weird but worked great. Then iBooks ruined everything. iBooks is less infuriating but I’ve only stuck with it out of inertia.

Until 10.15 (Catalina) there was no way to export your books from iBooks. Fortunately, a bit of hunting revealed that they were stored in the below two locations. Make sure that everything is downloaded from iCloud before copying them out of ~/Library:

  • ~/Library/Containers/com.apple.BKAgentService/Data/Documents/iBooks/
  • ~/Library/Mobile Documents/iCloud~com~apple~iBooks/Documents/

If you are running 10.15 (Catalina) you can simply drag and drop your books to a folder.

I haven’t yet dared to check if years of lovingly curated metadata has survived the export.

Mail, Contacts and Calendar

My email is on Gmail, my contacts and calendars are on iCloud. Linux supports both of these so no need to change anything.

Stay tuned for a future episode about extracting myself from Google and iCloud.

iTunes.app

iTunes is the shining light in all of this. It’s always done a fabulous job of making both data and metadata easily available. Just copy your music to where ever you want it and everything should work fine.

I had a bit of fun with this and set up a music server for the house. Centralising our music on the server means that anyone in the house can play all of our music. Music can be played either locally on a laptop/phone or through the house stereo.

Final Thoughts

I’ve always had a soft spot for cross-platform apps. There aren’t as many good ones as I’d like, but it’s becoming more common again which is great. Below is a list of the apps I use which run on both macOS and Linux:

Originally posted at adam.nz.

What You Eat Matters

There seems to be an emerging consensus that the choices we make around food, and thus agriculture, are important. That the individual decisions we make about food have planetary consequence. These dietary beliefs are coalescing into words like conventional, organic, vegan, regenerative, locavore and paleo. Each of these represents a different view of our collective situation and suggests different choices if we wish how we eat to be of benefit to our world.

I’d like to begin with what I hope is an uncontroversial starting point, and then explore a little from there.

If humans want to continue to exist (in anything approximating our current population) we must provide for ourselves from within healthy ecosystems.

Okay, so what’s an ecosystem?

An ecosystem is a community of organisms living in a specific place. Ecosystems are dynamic and constantly changing. Species disappear and new ones arrive. Sometimes ecosystems “die” and sometimes ecosystems are “born”. Ecosystems can look like almost anything: a coral reef, a desert, or a forest.

Okay, so how do I know if an ecosystem is healthy?

The amount of life that an ecosystem can support indefinitely is called its carrying capacity. The maximum carrying capacity is determined by the resources and constraints of the place the ecosystem occupies (eg. sunlight, water, temperature, minerals, shelter, pollution, wind etc).

Exponential growth of population size over time.
Exponential growth of population size over time.

Ecosystems are healthy when the amount of life they contain is near the maximum carrying capacity of the place they inhabit. If the amount of life within an ecosystem is below the maximum carrying capacity and steadily decreasing — we can think of that as a “sick” ecosystem. If the amount of life is below the maximum carrying capacity and steadily increasing — we can think of that as a “healing” ecosystem.

Life within ecosystems is organised in complex food webs. As ecosystems heal not only will the quantity of life increase, but new species will arrive and new interactions between species will occur. As the complexity increases so does the quantity and availability of food. In this way the amount of life the ecosystem supports will spiral upwards until it eventually maxes out at the carrying capacity (where the underlying limits of the place it occupies are reached). This allows us to use complexity as an indicator of ecosystem health.

As ecosystems heal they increase in complexity.
As ecosystems sicken they decrease in complexity.

To assess ecosystem health you need to have some idea of its carrying capacity. Imagine an exposed, rocky hilltop compared to a sheltered, warm river valley. At full health, each might have a dramatically different carrying capacity and complexity. This can be confusing because a healthy desert ecosystem might be less complex than a sickly woodland.

Okay, so why are healthy ecosystems important?

As ecosystems degrade, the amount of life they can support decreases. If there are more humans than the ecosystems of the planet can support, then eventually humans will die back to a population that the ecosystems can support. Since human population is projected to continue growing (at least for a few more decades), it would be sensible for us to focus on increasing ecosystem health. We are especially vulnerable because many of our industrial practices create pollution which further damages the ecosystems we rely on.

The focus of this article is about food, but humans require more than food from ecosystems. In addition to our needs for fuel and fibre, healthy ecosystems also regulate temperature, create rain, reduce flooding, mitigate pollution, pollinate crops, etc. These are sometimes referred to as ecosystem services.

In a broader context, anthropogenic ecosystem degradation is not a new phenomenon. Humans have been damaging ecosystems for millennia. Perhaps the first major shock began about 50,000 years ago as we started hunting most of the world’s megafauna into extinction. Then about 10,000 years ago, our early attempts at agriculture began turning some of our planets most abundant ecosystems into deserts.

One of the unfortunate realities of long-term ecosystem degradation is that every generation sees their degraded experience as normal. It’s hard to comprehend what was lost before we were born, let alone what was lost before our grandparents were born. For most of us, the loss over the last 50,000 years is unimaginable.

Despite this long history of destruction, there is also a long history of humans living skilfully within ecosystems. All indigenous cultures, including indigenous European cultures, developed rules and customs which enabled them to live in harmony with the ecosystems on which they depended.

Okay, so what does any of this have to do with farming and food?

At this point I hope that we can agree on two things:

  • that healthy ecosystems are essential to a future of healthy humans, and
  • looking at the complexity of an ecosystem is a way to evaluate ecosystem health.

Agriculture was developed on the floodplains of the world. The regular floods brought nutrient-rich sediment which makes floodplains some of the most fertile ecosystems on the planet. Most agricultural crops require ecosystems as fertile as the floodplains we originally cultivated them on. While carrying capacity and complexity can vary dramatically between ecosystems, when talking about agricultural ecosystems we can assume a degree of uniformity because the crops have similar requirements. By comparing the complexity of different agricultural production systems, we can get a sense of the ecological health they engender.

Below are some photos typical of conventional production. How complex are these ecosystems? How many species can you see?

Now let’s look at some photos of alternatives. How complex are these ecosystems? How many species can you see?

You can’t see the climate, pollution, soil type, microbes, insects or the details of plant species in either set of photos. However, even without those details, you can get some sense of their health and how close they might be to their potential.

All conventionally produced crops use a mixture of monoculture, tillage, irrigation, fertiliser, insecticides, fungicides and herbicides. Combined, these techniques kill soil microbes, cause soil erosion & compaction, cause drought & flooding, kill vast amounts of wildlife and poison our water. Sadly most organic food production is also destructive as it also uses monoculture, tillage, irrigation, fertiliser, insecticides, fungicides and herbicides (though the fertilisers, insecticides, fungicides and herbicides are less toxic to humans).

When you buy food at a supermarket you are buying conventionally produced food. The amount of care and skill with which conventionally (and organically) food is produced varies tremendously from farm to farm.

While the amount of damage varies from farm to farm, the reality is that conventional production techniques damage ecosystems no matter how much care and skill is applied.

That all sounds terrible, what’s the alternative?

The good news is that people have been figuring out how to produce food within healthy ecosystems for decades. The current catchphrase for farming systems which can also heal ecosystems is Regenerative Agriculture. However many farming systems have been developed with this intention. Agroecology, Permaculture, Forest Gardening, Natural Farming, Syntropic Agroforestry, No-till, Holistic Management, Analogue Forestry, and Biodynamics are some of the farming systems which attempt to produce food, fibre or fuel while healing ecosystems.

While there is a steady increase in numbers of acres under regenerative management, overall there are very few farms using these systems. In Western countries, adoption has been particularly slow. In part, because the increased complexity of these regenerative farms makes mechanical harvesting difficult (and the low cost of food and the high cost of labour means manual harvesting isn’t financially viable).

The good news is that we know everything we need to know to farm regeneratively. We aren’t waiting for a technological breakthrough, we aren’t waiting for scientists to figure something out. There are regenerative farms producing high quality, nutrient-dense food. And they’ve been making a good living doing it for decades.

What we are currently lacking is the political and social will to regenerate ecosystems on a massive scale. This is something that everyone can help with. Find your local regenerative farmers and buy as much as you can from them. Talk to your friends, coworkers and family about the importance of ecosystem health. Talk to community leaders and local politicians. After all, history shows that only 3.5% of the population is required to catalyse massive shifts in public perception and policy.

Originally posted at adam.nz.