Friday, January 29, 2010


When Europeans landed on the West Coast in 1846, they encountered unbelievably hostile terrain. The northwest edge of the South Island was made of dense jungle bush, stinking swamps, and torrential rivers. The coast was lashed with rain, bashed by the storms that came hurtling off the Tasman, and—as if that weren’t bad enough—the whole place was infested with biting flies. They also found a bunch of skinny Maori, who were hanging on by their fingernails for one reason only: greenstone. They traded for it, they fought over it, and when negotiations failed, they killed for it. And they used the greenstone to do the killing.

Pounamu, as the Maori call it, is known to geologists as nephrite, the native New Zealand jade. It is beautiful, it is hard, and it can be carved to a razor edge.

In the Hokitika Historical Museum, I overheard a conversation between two bird-like old ladies. They were admiring some greenstone mere, on display in a glass case.

“These really are lovely, aren’t they?” the first one murmured, and her friend made a little twittering noise in agreement. The designs at the base of the mere were intricate and skillful, with interlocking curves carved in a low relief.

Then they started reading the caption. “Oh,” they said. “Oh my. Oh. Oh. Oh my word.”

This had to be good. I leaned over their shoulders to see what they were reading:


Essentially, the mere is a can opener for your brains. This comes as a surprise to most Europeans, but unlike these sweet old ladies, the first pakeha settlers didn’t learn about greenstone mere in a museum. They found out the other way.

But greenstone can be put to all sorts of peaceful uses as well. Like jewelry, for example. Many Maori still wear pendants made of greenstone, but mostly their culture is appropriated by white people on holiday. I decided to join in this happy tradition when we came across a studio in Hokitika that lets you carve your own greenstone.

“I need to make a necklace,” I announced to Peter. “It’s for our new baby girl. She’s going to be the first New Zealander in the family, and she needs to start her jewelry collection.”

Peter, who is accustomed to this kind of self-serving logic, agreed. So he got to spend the whole day babysitting, while I got to take the day off to play in an art studio. This may seem like a hard bargain, but as I keep reminding him, I am a sacred vessel. I need special attention. And jewels.

Also, a little talent in stone carving wouldn’t hurt. Carving pounamu is a lot harder than it looks. The first Maori, who had no metal tools, worked the stone with a combination of sand, water, and the kind of mind-bending patience that we’ve lost since the invention of channel surfing. I had a whole roomful of power tools, and a teacher to supervise me, and I still came up with a greenstone turd.

Possibly, my design was too complicated. After looking through the binder of traditional motifs (fern fronds, fish hooks, marijuana leaves), I settled on the manaia, which seemed a good choice for a baby. Said to protect against evil, the manaia usually depicts a being with the head of a bird, the body of a man, and the tail of a fish. This is not as disgusting as it sounds. They’re actually quite beautiful.

First, I worked out my design. Note the bulbous bulges. I was trying to make the figure look female, since we’re having a girl:

Next, I chose which part of the stone to carve. You have to look at it with a backlight, so you can check for faults:

Then came seven hours of grinding and polishing. This got a little boring. It would have been more fun with cable TV and a remote. Also, possibly an iPod. And a sandwich.

Finally, at the end of the day, the finished product! The… Cancerous Aardvark!

Those bulges were supposed to be a breast and a belly, rather than malignant tumors. But as the Maori discovered long ago, greenstone is hard.

Besides, an aardvark makes a good guardian, too. Those claws'll tear you right up. Just like a can opener.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Exposure Therapy

People who suffer from irrational phobias cope with a host of unpleasant symptoms, such as heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and the fear that they’re going insane.

A few days ago, we drove into Invercargill. It was the first time we’d visited since escaping six months ago. And as soon as we got there, I started to choke.

“What the hell’s wrong with you?” asked Peter, steering our ancient van through familiar streets. “You sound like you’re coughing up a hairball.”

“I’m dying,” I told him. My left hand started picking chunks of flesh from my forearm. It felt strangely relaxing.

“Stop that,” Peter swatted my hand away. “You’re acting crazy. Let’s go get a burger.”

“Not crazy,” I corrected him. “Phobic. I have Inverphobia. It’s an irrational fear of the Asshole of the World.”

“Whatever.” He rolled his eyes, parking our van in front of the world’s most southerly Burger King. “We’re here now, so you’re getting exposure therapy. Let’s try to find something to like about Invercargill, instead of just bitching about what a depressing place it is.”

Peter’s so great. He knows exactly how to pull me out of a funk. And he was right. While visiting Invercargill, our mission was clear: we’d find things to like about the Asshole of the World.

First up: the media. The main Invercargill newspaper is called The Southland Times, and that day’s copy just happened to be lying on the counter while we ordered our lunch. As luck would have it, the headline was a heartwarming animal rescue story. SOLVENT POURED ON DOG, the cover read, with a big color picture of the dog. The dog was bald, his skin bright pink. This made him especially cute and soft-looking.

Next, we visited the Southland Museum. Now, the great thing about the Southland Museum is that a dinosaur lives there. It’s true. His name is Henry.

Henry looks sort of like a dried-up iguana, but he’s actually a tuatara, which is a kind of Mesozoic sphenodon that flourished about 200 million years ago. Henry’s not quite that old, but he was born at the end of the nineteenth century, which means he’s seen pretty much all of New Zealand’s European settlement. If he wasn’t around for the Treaty of Waitangi, he hatched soon after, and he’s borne witness to the end of the Land Wars, World Wars I and II, the great flu epidemic of 1918, and the world’s first votes for women. Now, he lives in a glass box in Invercargill. He spends a lot of time biting the other tuatara. Nobody's sure why.

There’s also some great art at the Southland Museum, such as this lampshade made out of a varnished blowfish:

Many people choose to mock the bedraggled citizens of New Zealand’s most southerly city, but that seems cruel. Instead, we chose to count them, like endangered birds. In a rigorously scientific enquiry, we defined three basic population groups for study. They are:

THE TEENAGE MUM (TM): This group is easy to spot. They are pushing baby carriages, and they’re too young to drink in the United States.

THE CRAZY SOUTHLAND MAN (CSM): Somewhat more elusive than the Teenage Mum, the Crazy Southland Man displays at a minimum three of the following characteristics:
• wild grey hair
• darting eyes
• sunken cheeks
• autolalia (talking to self)
• open container (likely containing solvents to pour on dog)
• gum boots
THE AIMLESS RUFFIAN (AR): The Aimless Ruffian is defined by the following: he or she would be quite happy to spend a happy afternoon inhaling solvents. In fact, he would consider it time well-spent.

During the course of a 48-hour observation period, Peter and I observed the following:
TEENAGE MUMS (TM)............................10
AIMLESS RUFFIANS (AR)...................... 65
There are a great number of important conclusions to be derived from this data, such as the likely fact that each Crazy Southland Man has mated with an average of 1.6 teenagers, impregnating each an average of 6.5 times, thereby producing a small army of Aimless Ruffians. Where, one might ask, do they get all the solvents? How much of it do they inhale, and how much do they pour on dogs? These questions go beyond the parameters of our initial study, but I’m considering applying for a grant.

Then, there’s the wild mushrooms. Sure, the Italians talk big about their truffles, and in the American Northwest folks pick chanterelles right off the forest floor. But how many of those so-called connoisseurs can harvest mushrooms from their living room carpet? My friend Melissa can. Last winter, she couldn’t afford enough coal to heat her home, so she only warmed the place up a couple of times a week. Her house was so poorly insulated, and the air was so cold and damp, that she grew a healthy crop of mushrooms right in the living room floor. Imagine that. Wild mushroom risotto, without even leaving the frigid damp of your own house. That’s the kind of life Invercargill can offer.

And without a doubt, the highlight of our trip was our visit to Alliance Freezing Works, a sort of Wal-Mart mega mall of sheep death. This is the local slaughterhouse, where they process four million sheep in a nine-month season. By “process,” I mean electrocute, kill, eviscerate, dismember, and shrink-wrap to feed the world.

This was an amazing experience, and not just because Peter had to wear a sexy beard net. We got to follow the whole operation, dodging sheep carcasses and doing our best not to slip in the gore. And here, at the heart of the slaughterhouse, I saw the philosophical core of Invercargill, the man who made our trip complete.

"This guy here's cutting the asshole off,” our tour guide told us, indicating an elderly man on the line. He was wielding a razor-sharp knife, and as each sheep carcass came past, he lopped off the asshole with a flick of his wrist. That’s 16,000 assholes in a 12-hour shift. This man sliced out the assholes of sheep, lodged deep in the Asshole of the World. Four million assholes, all in a nine-month season.

I caught the guy’s eye, and he gave me a wink. And that’s the best part about Invercargill. If you can have a laugh here, you’re doing all right.

Monday, January 4, 2010


Peter and I recently attended the Convergence Festival, where we hoped to cavort with naked hippies and obtain enlightenment. Unfortunately, the only naked hippy there was me.

This happened accidentally, when the door to the composting toilet I was using unexpectedly swung open. Before I knew it, I was displaying my nakedness in all its pregnant glory, complete with fat pants around my ankles and a fistful of composting sawdust in my sweaty palm. When I finally slammed the door shut, I found someone had scrawled the words ALL THAT IS IS NOW on the wall, which means that I will be a fat pregnant lady with a handful of wood shavings in a porta-potty, again and again, forever. Which is one kind of enlightenment. I guess.

I like to think of hippies as nature-loving free spirits, but these hippies had a lot of rules. The Convergence Festival is GE-free, alcohol and drug free, dog-free, and meat-free. It is also, apparently, ejaculation-free. I learned this when I attended the Introduction to Tantra Workshop, at which the teacher informed us that he had not ejaculated for months, because the loss of his divine sex energy would drain his body of vital life energy. After he said this, there was a long pause in the sharing circle.

“Is that all ejaculations, or just the ones from intercourse?” asked one participant.

“All of them,” the teacher replied. “Including intimacy with yourself, and er… nocturnal emissions.”

More silence.

“Is that healthy?” asked one woman. “I mean, not just on an energetic level, but like, for your body?”

Apparently, it is very healthy, and keeps our teacher in a constant state of ecstatic bliss. This might explain why later on, when I was peeling back the layers of his psychic mask to reveal his true and God-like form, he contorted his face into a grimace of sexual climax. I felt a little icky, as though I’d caught a stranger having a wank outside my window, but the Convergence Festival is judgment-free, so I didn’t say anything.

It is not, however, spelling mistake-free. I noticed this when I was sneaking back to our van for a snack of illegal ham. The festival is decorated with a number of multi-colored and uplifting banners, saying very nice words like BLISS and DIVINE and EXTASY. Perhaps the seamstress was thinking about exhuming her execrable ex-husband to smear his body with excrement, and she just got carried away. But somebody should really tell her that ecstasy starts with “ec.” Like eco-friendly. And eczema.

Speaking of eco-friendly, we’re not. Silas is a Huggies man, which is our diaper brand of choice, despite the unpleasant fact that they take 500 years to biodegrade in a landfill. We flirted briefly with the idea of Elimination Communication, before deciding that we do enough laundry without letting our baby pee all over the floor. Besides, Silas is entitled. He’s going to save the planet.

As it turns out, Silas is a Crystal Child. The Auckland pediatrician may have diagnosed him as globally delayed and autistic, but that’s because he is a limited man who is stuck in third-dimensional consciousness. As a Crystal Child, Silas was born on the Sixth Dimension of Consciousness, with the potential to open up rapidly to the Ninth Dimensional level of Full Christ Consciousness, and then from there to the Thirteenth Dimension which represents Universal Consciousness.

Allow me to back up a little. We first learned of Silas’ gifts when he started a staring contest with one of the participants at the Convergence Festival. The man pushed back his dreadlocks and gave Peter a serious look. “Have you ever heard of the Crystal Children?” he asked. “I’m no expert, but I think you should look into it. That child is special.”

We knew that Silas was special, of course, in the sense of special homes, where people learn to live independently, eat special food, and pet the special kitty-cat. But when we left the festival, I raced to the Internet to learn more about the Crystal Children. And now, everything is clear.

Apparently, Crystal Children began appearing on the planet in the year 2000. As Celia Fenn says on her website, they are “extremely powerful children, whose main purpose is to take us to the next level in our evolution, and reveal to us our inner power and divinity.”

But wait, there’s more. “The first thing most people notice about Crystal Children is their eyes, large, penetrating, and wise beyond their years. Their eyes lock on and hypnotize you, while you realize your soul is being laid bare for the child to see.” This is what so confused the Auckland pediatrician. “His gaze is very intense, but it’s not a social gaze,” the doctor told us. “He doesn’t really smile at me.”

Clearly, this is because the doctor’s soul was being laid bare, and Silas didn’t like the guy’s limited, third-dimensional aura. In fact, Fenn explains, “It's no coincidence that as the number of Crystals are born, the number of diagnoses for autism is at a record high.” This is because the Crystals often wait until they are three or four years old to begin talking. And why do they wait, you may ask? Are they autistic? Dispraxic? Globally delayed? Dumb?

No. They’re telepathic. In the future, Fenn writes, “We won't rely so much upon the spoken or written word. Communication will be faster, more direct, and more honest, because it will be mind to mind.” And that’s why Silas doesn’t talk yet. He is far too evolved to rely on verbal communication. He is communicating, just on the sixth dimension. So if you can’t understand him, that’s your problem. You’re just not spiritually evolved.

Another way you can spot a Crystal Child is that they are fascinated with rocks. Now, Silas has always loved rocks, to the point where he used to sit in the parking lot, popping rocks into his mouth like gumdrops. I used to worry that the engine oil and other toxins on the gravel might have given him some kind of brain damage, but now I know: it’s just his sixth-dimensional Crystal energy manifesting.

As a Crystal Child, Silas represents the next step in our evolution as a human species. As Fenn writes, the Crystal Children “are the pointers for where humanity is headed... and it’s a good direction!” Silas, and other special children like him, “aren’t autistic. They’re AWE-tistic!”

On the other hand, as I recently learned in the porta-potty, ALL THAT IS IS NOW. So the possibility remains that my son might never speak, but just eat rocks, forever and ever, into infinity.

And as a Crystal Child, he’s pointing the way to where humanity is headed. So take heart. When you’re ready, you’ll be eating rocks too.