Writer’s Blockade

A post? On this website? Am I dreaming? Well, dear reader, you are not. Or are you? Okay, you most definitely are not.

So what is this all about?

I’ve been struggling with writer’s block (since forever), but it’s most pronounced at present.  It’s not that I don’t know what to write about, but the pressure from thinking whatever I write will be shit. A friend of mine, let’s call him Nethan, suggested I come back to this blog and write about everything and nothing. So that’s what I’m going to do.

What have I been up to?

What are my plans for the future?

Well, dear reader, you’re about to find all that out and more.

It’s February 2018, and I’ll spare you the “this year’s going by so fast” because once you leave high school life practically flashes before your eyes.

A few weekends ago Michelle and I attended Ōtaki Summer Camp, organised by a group of people including New Zealand journalist Nicky Hager (co-author of Hit and Run). It was designed for young people (primarily activists under 30) to come and congregate and share ideas. The camp was inspired by kiwi camps of its ilk in the past especially in the 70’s and had guest speakers coming to speak on themes including activism, conservation, prisons, and Māori.

Deborah Manning spoke on her legal defence of Ahmed Zaoui, a refugee detained for suspected terrorism which had no grounds. The case took over five years. Again and again, Deobrah’s goto was not to give up. Now I’m a quitter. Always have been. When things got too hard I packed it in, had a tantrum. Nowadays I start projects and don’t finish them. I’m looking at you Fair Trade Upper Hutt. So I’m trying to do better, to be better. My mantra this year is “Don’t quit 2018”.

Ōtaki Summer Camp

I’ve been looking more into te reo Māori recently but this camp really cemented my need. There were a number of Māori speakers and guests in attendance who shared their stories. If I’m to care about New Zealand and fight for important issues I need to know the language and its colonisation. It wasn’t as peaceful as people make it out to be (or gloss over) and the effects of which are felt, even today.

So we applied for the free home course at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa (still on the waiting list) and got out some library books:

The Great War For New Zealand   Māori At Home   Māori Made Easy

I started my new permanent job in December. I can’t say much about it but belonging to PSA it’s probably pretty obvious I’m in the Public Service. It’s mostly administration, some customer service. I signed up to complete an NZQA qualification through work this year because, why not? There’ll also be a large component on the Treaty of Waitangi.

I did have hopes for learning Spanish once upon a time, but it does make more sense to learn te reo Māori, living in New Zealand and all that. Plus, this is a language we need to keep alive. Spanish is doing alright. Heck, there’s nothing stopping me learning multiple languages.

Money’s been a bit tight lately. We really shouldn’t have blown through our savings (on an expensive TV no less). Yes, throw smashed avocados at us. Us no good millennials only have ourselves to blame. Nevermind how the boomers have screwed us. Wow getting all political already (I must’ve drunk more whisky than I thought!).

But as for entertainment I’m looking forward to The Killers hitting Wellington in April and Pink hitting Dunedin in September (it will be our first time down there!). Of course, there’s the New Zealand Film Festival and I’m going to make a bigger effort to do more artsy fartsy things like the Fringe Festival and going to Bats for homegrown theatre. I’ll have to leave homegrown music (sorry folks), there’s just too many art forms to follow!

Beautiful Trauma

As for projects, I’ve still got a bunch unfinished including a sci-fi novel I’m co-writing with Nethan, and designing a board game with friends. Hopefully, I can find the determination to continue with these projects. It’s better to try your best and finish something than to give up halfway and never realise what could have been. Wow, went a bit dark there, sorry.

I learned a bunch more WordPress stuff last year and launched a web store for non-profit NZ bookshop Writers Plot Readers Read. There’s certainly a lot that comes with e-commerce and we’re learning as we go.

Writers Plot Readers Read

I started a televison blog in February last year called Binge With Me, and write with a fellow contributor (who I haven’t met!). I’ve got a huge list of things to write but perhaps I’ve made it overwhelming for myself, hence the procrastination. Normal service should resume shortly (I hope). It would be a mighty shame to cancel the project after a year, though that was my initial goal. To let things flourish, it takes time and repetition. Success doesn’t happen overnight!

Less than ten years ago I called myself a Christian and youth group was a big part of my life, and so was a man named Geoff who recently passed away. I feel terrible distancing myself from them in the last ten years after I fell away from Christianity. The last time I saw Geoff was at a quasi-reunion a year or so ago. He had the memory of an elephant and remembered our time together recounting an experience that I’d forgotten.

Geoff’s memorial service was touching and it was heartwarming to see that everyone had the same opinion of him as I had. A man who gave his home to take in teenagers, and was a father to more than just his own children. And he actually listened to you, intently, sharing deep important shit, not just surface level (the complete opposite of what a New Zealand man “should be”).

He was no fuddy-duddy Christian, he was funny and rebellious in nature, preferring his own ways of worship than the Church and was never found too far from a motorbike. I remember being re-baptised by Geoff and his eldest son in a subzero Kaitoke river. Rest in peace Geoff. I hope the afterlife answers all your prayers.

Chlöe Swarbrick brought Julie Anne Genter’s member’s bill Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis and Other Matters) Amendment Bill to the table last week. To show my support I turned up in person to the public gallery above the House of Representatives (for the first half at least, of course, the minister’s dinner break came up in the middle of it). And there was a decent turn-out, mostly young people, which one could say shows our progressive stance on the world. A cynic might say it’s because young people just want to get stoned. There may have been a couple of those, judging solely from appearance (I saw a duo in jandals and floral shirts!).

But this bill is about helping those suffering. Unlike the bill presented by the government, Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill (which went through to the next stage), this one only stops medicinal cannabis users being labelled as criminals. And only for those with less than a year to live. Nevermind people suffering from lifelong illnesses such as chronic pain.

Voting for Chlöe’s bill through to the Health Select Committee would actually give the people affected a chance to speak, as well as medical professionals. Unfortunately, they won’t get a chance as the bill did not pass thanks to a National block (despite it being a conscience vote) and NZ First all voting against. Where is our compassion? Are we really going to let the political game get in the way of human suffering? I can’t put into words quite like Chlöe. Go watch the speech.

 

Over a thousand words, I’ll take that. Writer’s blockade be gone!

Hot chocolate mixology

I couldn’t wait for the Sweet As Hutt Chocolate Challenge to start, so I concocted my own sickeningly sweet hot chocolate last night. Here is my not-so-secret recipe…

 

Magic Mike’s Chocolate Pony

 

INGREDIENTS

 

1 tbsp Trade Aid Organic Drinking Chocolate

1 cup whole milk

¼ cup condensed milk

1 Cadbury Flake for garnishing

¼ cup Puhoi Valley Caramel & White chocolate milk

1 Whittaker’s Creamy Milk Sante bar

1 block of Cadbury Caramilk

 

METHOD

  1. Spend way too much money on ingredients.
  2. Put a small to medium sized pot on a stovetop at medium heat to warm up the milk and condensed milk. Keep stirring. Once hot you can add the Drinking Chocolate. Stir until dissolved. Or y’know, you can do the lazy and zap it in the microwave.
  3. Once at your desired temperature pour carefully (like not all over the bench) into a mug, leaving about an inch of room at the top.
  4. Whisk ¼ cup of the chocolate milk until frothy. Throw it in the microwave for 30 seconds.
  5. Pour the frothy chocolate milk on top. Hopefully it floats and doesn’t just combine with the molten lava hot chocolate.
  6. Crush the Flake in the packet or you’re gonna get it everywhere. Sprinkle on top and hope it doesn’t just dissolve straight away.
  7. Unwrap the Santé bar and drop it in. You’re gonna want a teaspoon to stir it in once it gets all melty.
  8. Serve with a block of Caramilk & eat two pieces before you realise you can’t eat anymore.

In hindsight I might’ve only needed regular milk. The santé bar provides plenty of sweetness on its own!

A Dish Best Served

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A Dish Best Served

by Michael J. Gray

 

Orange flames French kissed the wallpaper. Pastel daisies peeled from the walls and became black. An immense heat filled the air. I spluttered on smoke as I stumbled down the stairs. I had to get out of the house.  Opening the door I managed to fall forwards a few feet before collapsing onto the front lawn. Behind me the second storey of the house turned bonfire. Pity no one brought marshmallows.

 

Right on cue a car screeched to a stop at the foot of the lawn. Vanessa stumbled out of the car. She stood metres away from me in her short black dress and heels. So much for getting away with it. She looked at her house aflame and then at me sprawled on her lawn. A gamut of emotions crossed her usually fake face – an insincere smile, now confusion. Horror. Anger. I didn’t know she was capable of such feeling. It made me question my motives.

 

***

 

“Laura.”

I shook the mouse and the puppy dog screensaver disappeared from view. My boss, Kenneth, a balding baby boomer, leered over me. I felt his eyes scanning my body. I covered myself in defence.

“Yes?” I asked.

“Have you finished yet?”

“Sorry, finished what?”

“The minutes. I need them now.”

“I haven’t exactly started them yet. I’ve got tons on my plate. Since when were the minutes urgent?”

“Since my boss started breathing down my neck.”

“I know the feeling,” I muttered to myself.

“What was that?” Kenneth asked sharply.

“I’ll get right on it.”

“Good,” he said steering himself away.

I dropped my hand from covering myself and opened up the meeting minutes template.

 

“… Laura …”

Hearing my name I looked up from my monitor to see Vanessa chatting up Josh.

 

Oh Josh, the office hunk. Recently divorced. Silver fox. Biceps like mountains. I don’t know why Vanessa even bothers flirting, she’s married with two kids. I guess some people are never happy with their lot.

 

Josh laughed and looked in my direction. When our eyes locked his smile vanished and he turned sheepishly away.

“I’m right here, what is it?” I called out.

Vanessa pretended not to hear me.

I increased my volume. “I’m literally five metres away from you!” My voice reverberated around the office. Heads turned.

The red in Vanessa’s cheeks began to shine through the layers of foundation.

“What was it? Spit it out!” I called.

Vanessa finally looked at me. “It was nothing Laura, let it go.”

“Oh it was definitely something,” I said, standing up.

 

Before I could leave my desk Kenneth marched over and stood between me and Vanessa. “Laura, I need those minutes now.”

“She –”

“That’s enough!” he ordered.

“They brought it –”

“Get back to work.”

 

I sat down with a huff and returned to the minutes. Just when I was about to send them off, my computer dinged. An envelope popped up in the bottom right corner of my screen. I clicked it expecting an angry email from Kenneth. It was from Josh.

 

Hi Laura,

 

Sorry, I was just trying to be friendly. Vanessa can be a bit … full-on. If you really want to know what she told me, she was making light of how badly Kenneth wants to fuck you. Which is totally gross and I’m sorry I laughed.

 

If he ever touches you or says something I’ll back you up 100% okay?

 

Please don’t hate me.

 

 

Josh

 

I didn’t know how to respond to that. I left the message sitting in my inbox all day. I was almost going to ignore it completely when Josh stopped me on the way to the bathroom.

“I’m sorry –”

“Don’t,” I interrupted. “I read your email and I accept your apology. I just don’t understand why you and Vanessa hang out together. You know she’s a total bitch, right?”

“I was just trying to be nice,” said Josh.

“Oh, so it’s not that see-through top she wears every Friday?” I asked.

“Jesus Laura. Don’t make me reconsider my offer.”

“Your offer? To protect me from Leering Kenneth? I can take care of myself thank you very much,” I said, pushing open the ladies’ room door leaving Josh mouth agape in the hallway.

 

Was I too harsh? Probably. Jealous that he spends more time with Vanessa and barely notices me? Okay Laura, stop trying to therapize yourself. Staring into the mirror, I readjusted my hair, lifting the blonde curls out of my face as my mother always made me do. God, I was becoming just like her. At least I can handle my liquor.

 

The bathroom door opened, it was Vanessa. She slinked her way to the sink next to me and pulled out a lipstick. As if her lips weren’t blood red enough already.

“Really? You’re going to pretend that didn’t just happen?” I asked.

“I thought we had moved on?” she said, smacking her lips together.

“Look, I don’t care what you think of me.”

“Funny way of showing it,” she said, reaching for her mascara.

“I care when you start shoving your opinions onto others; my colleagues.”

“By colleagues, you mean Josh? Everyone knows you have a crush on him. It’s pathetic really.”

“I… I do not,” I protested.

“You really think he would be interested in a girl like you? You’re far too young.”

“I’m nearly 30,” I said.

“What Josh wants, is someone with experience,” said Vanessa.

“Oh, like you?” I asked.

“Of course not me, I’m married.”

“Like that’s stopped you before,” I snorted.

Okay, that was low, even if she deserved it.

Vanessa stopped halfway through her application and put the mascara down. She looked at me for the first time since entering the bathroom. “I’d appreciate it if you never brought that up again. That’s my business.”

“Oh come on Vanessa, the whole office knows,” I prodded. “That’s why Andrew left remember?”

“And I’d really like you to drop it,” Vanessa said through gritted teeth.

“Okay, I’ll stop. Just remember who has more dirt on who,” I said, as I left the bathroom, leaving yet another co-worker mouth agape. What a total mum move.

 

***

 

I collapsed onto my sofa, disturbing Pickles next to me. She stretched and gave me the evil eye before returning to her default position of head tucked into belly. I took a healthy sip of my drink. Nothing like a gin and tonic to take the edge off a day at work. My phone vibrated on the coffee table. It was a message from Josh.

 

Josh: Sorry about today. Hope this cheers you up

 

Attached was, well… ahem, a photo of his penis. Jesus almighty! Josh sent me a dick pic? Maybe I really did get to him today. Was this a submissive act? Am I supposed to insult the size to make him feel ashamed? Was Josh even into that stuff? I mean I’m flattered and all, truth be told, and I felt a little flushed. Did that mean Josh was into me? Or was that just the gin?

 

Another message came through.

 

Josh: Are you there?

 

I wrote back.

 

Laura: I’m here, just admiring your err… selfie.

 

Josh: I want to see your selfie

 

So, maybe not a submissive after all. Does he want a picture of my… pussy? I’ve done the phone sex thing before, but this is new territory even for me. I found the Santa hat I was saving for the work Christmas dinner tomorrow and put it on. I unbuttoned my shirt a few notches and posed cheekily before sending off a message.

 

Josh: More

 

Laura: Like more selfies, or more… more?

 

Josh: More more

 

There were lines and then there were lines. What ever happened to first dates? No chickening out Laura. You’ve been doting on this guy for months now. He’s finally expressed interest. Comply or lose him forever. I looked to Pickles for guidance, but she just slept wistfully. I looked to the half-finished gin and tonic. Batten down the hatches. I swallowed the rest and dropped my knickers.

 

***

 

That next day at work I was as giddy as a school girl. I could barely focus on my work. I’d look over to Josh and he’d flash his perfect teeth at me. I’d blush and shyly smile back. The work Christmas dinner was tonight. Drinks were involved. Perhaps Josh and I would finally seal the deal?

 

The work day dragged on until 5 o’clock finally rolled around. The function was at the local racecourse, one of the meeting halls with an adjoining kitchen for the caterers. I rocked up in my red dress and Santa hat. Now where was my Santa? Everyone was starting to mingle around the bar. I ordered a Sav and stood around awkwardly waiting for more people to show. Finally, McDreamy himself walked in. I smiled from across the room and he made his approach.

“Hey you,” I said.

“Hi Laura,” Josh said back.

“Looking sharp,” I said, eyeing up his black suit. “You scrub up good.”

“Please, it’s just a jacket. You look amazing tonight, I hope you don’t mind me saying.”

I blushed. “Do go on.”

 

Before Josh could compliment me further Kenneth moved to the centre of the room. He was wearing the same clothes he’d worn at work, an un-ironed buttoned up shirt that bulged at the waistline, and trousers that hung too short exposing old brown socks. His eyes lingered on the ladies closest to him in their short dresses.

“Can I have your attention please? Katherine has put together a slideshow for us this year. If you’d all be silent during the presentation.”

Katherine, the office goodie-goodie, was huddled over a laptop. Dear God, I hope Kenneth wasn’t taking advantage of her. Katherine hit play and the projector threw up some Word Art on the wall.

 

Aedox – A Year in Pictures

 

Photograph by Nickelback began playing. I groaned audibly and play punched Josh in the shoulder.

“Your favourite song,” I whispered.

“Please, I grew up in the 70’s remember?” he said.

The wall flicked to the first photo, St. Patrick’s Day. A snap of Vanessa prancing about in her green lipstick and matching frock.

 

Eugh! I ordered another drink from the bar.

 

I looked back at the slideshow. It was now Halloween. How could I forget Josh’s zombie costume? Half his shirt was missing. Sure, he had on a face of the living dead, but that doesn’t make me a necrophiliac, okay!

 

I drank back the rest of my wine and stared at Josh’s face. The way his chin dipped, the curve of his lips. How did I get so lucky? He didn’t see me looking. He seemed preoccupied with the presentation.

 

Everyone inhaled around me. I heard stifled giggles. I looked up at the wall to see myself in nothing but a Santa hat. Another photo. And another one, and another one. All from the night before. Josh looked as bewildered as I was. He half pretended not to look. Kenneth gawked at the photos.

 

I rushed over to the projector and stared daggers at Katherine. “What the fuck is this?”

 

“I swear I don’t know how these got on there,” insisted Katherine.

 

“Turn it off!” I commanded.

 

“I can’t – it’s on auto-play.”

 

“Shut it down for fuck’s sake!”

 

Katherine started clicking the mouse as I tried wrestling the cord from the projector loose. Bloody thing. Finally it came free. My nakedness disappeared from the wall. But it was too late. They had seen everything.

 

All eyes were on me. Vanessa was across the room in hysterics, keeling over. I marched up to her in my heels.

“It was you, wasn’t it?”

“Me? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I could see the lies seep through the cracks in her plastered makeup.

“You evil bitch!” I slapped her across the cheek, expecting a retaliation. But she just rubbed her face and looked at me with disgust as if I was something rotten. I turned and fled out of the hall.

 

“Laura!” Josh called out after me.

My left heel snapped and I fell to my knees. Grazed, I got up and kicked off the heels, leaving them discarded at the entrance. I ran like hell.

 

 

***

 

I pulled up outside Vanessa’s place. I had tracked down her address from an old Facebook event – a Halloween party I ignored. No way in hell was I going to show up to one of Vanessa’s snore fests. The invitation read ‘no alcohol’ because her kids were going to be there. Please, have mercy! Someone had to put Vanessa in her place once and for all. I got out of the car and my bare feet touched the cool tar seal.

 

There was her perfect house where she lived with her perfect little family. Mark and the kids were away on a school camping trip.

 

No time for subtlety. I yanked a pink flamingo from along the garden path and swung it around my head before it connected with the glass pane in the front door. The pane cracked. I swung the flamingo again and some of the glass shattered. The flamingo snapped in two. I reached a hand through the gap and unlocked the door from the inside. The security alarm triggered. Blasting sirens pierced my eardrums. I had better make this quick. I found matches by the fireplace and rummaged under the kitchen sink for anything flammable. Methylated Spirits. That would do.

 

I ran upstairs to the master bedroom. I yanked open the wardrobe doors and found Vanessa’s most prized possessions. With both arms I lifted up the skimpy dresses and the expensive jackets, the coat hangers coming free. I heaved them down the hall to the bathroom and dumped them in the bathtub. I poured the purple liquid over the mound of clothes and it splashed over the leather, the cashmere, and the cotton. The bottle ran dry and I tossed it in there too.

 

I lit the match and felt the warmth of the flame in my hand. Such potential in such a little thing. I tossed it into the bath. The clothes engulfed in flame. I watched with satisfaction as I imagined Vanessa’s reaction as she came home to find all of her beloved and expensive clothing destroyed, nothing but ash in the bottom of her bathtub. The small bathroom began filling with black smoke. I shielded my face. Bang!  Something exploded in the corner. Flames spread. It was Vanessa’s beauty bag containing nail polish, hair sprays and who knows what. Okay, that was enough. I spun the shower dial and water sprayed over the clothes, smothering the flames. But the small fire in the corner continued raging. It was spreading to the walls. I cupped my hands under the falling water and threw it at the corner but it was no use. It did little to perturb the flames. I tried prying off the shower head, but it was fixed in position. Oh God, Laura, what have you done?

 

Orange flames French kissed the wallpaper. Pastel daisies peeled from the walls and became black. An immense heat filled the air. I spluttered on smoke as I stumbled down the stairs. I had to get out of the house.  Opening the door I managed to fall forwards a few feet before collapsing onto the front lawn. Behind me the second storey of the house turned bonfire. Pity no one brought marshmallows.

 

Right on cue a car screeched to a stop at the foot of the lawn. Vanessa stumbled out of the car. She stood metres away from me in her short black dress and heels. So much for getting away with it. She looked at her house aflame and then at me sprawled on her lawn. A gamut of emotions crossed her usually fake face – an insincere smile, now confusion. Horror. Anger. I didn’t know she was capable of such feeling. It made me question my motives.

 

Nah, it was totally worth it.

 

                                                                                                                                FIN.

Creative Commons License
This work by Michael J. Gray is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

I feel fantastic and I’m still alive

Yeah, yeah I know, it’s been a while. Don’t look at me like that.

Time to check in:

I started a new job in January. It’s been relief to get somewhere new and not be a “permanent” temp. This one’s only a six monthly so things are still up in the air. I don’t know yet if the contract will be renewed. Time will tell, but here’s hoping they can find somewhere for me within the organisation.

(more…)