Home again

I arrived in Christchurch this evening for a week visiting home, basically completely due to my sister deciding that Matariki should be a time the family is together and booking flights. Our flight landed here at 6.30, which at this time of year means night time, the first time I’ve overflown the city at night since the earthquakes. There are… some significant patches of certain areas where no lights are on.

So far it’s just been readjusting to how my family socialises together, which involves a lot of talking over each other, meandering trains of thought, and increasing numbers of conversations about the buying of property, getting the best rate of return on money, tax reduction, and how you should be putting a quarter of your income away for retirement from your early 30s. Even on my meagre income that’s about twice what I spend on food, so I feel that’s not a thing I’ll be doing quite yet (though technically I have about eight months until I’m 30). In the morning we’re getting picked up by our kaiako to go to market, and then we’ll probably end up at her house where I can get some dog cuddles and we may work on the old practice tukutuku panel that we had left unfinished for some other weavers to do. They never really did, so we’re going to get it finished for an exhibition of the group’s work that’s going to be on soon. Tentatively we might hit Orana Park on Wednesday, and one weekday I’ll head into town for some photos of the rebuild changes. Apart from that we’ll see.

Hair

I’m as surprised as anyone to find out I have really strong opinions about this. I suppose it’s something you don’t really think about until it becomes relevant. But in the wake of the court ruling that the suspension of a male student for having his hair too long (or, technically, for not cutting it when told) was unlawful, people have been talking a lot about what rules schools should be allowed to set.

It seems like the main thrust of the argument in support of the school is something like: Kids need to learn to follow rules. There’s a bit of other stuff mixed in, like it’s not about whether the rule is okay, it’s about the school being able to enforce the rule, and not undermining them, because otherwise kids won’t learn how to follow rules. I’ve seen it said a few different ways, but that basically seems to be the gist.

The thing is, we’re not talking about five year olds, we’re talking about fifteen year olds. If a fifteen year old doesn’t know how to follow rules something’s pretty irreparably broken. Is this kid able to turn up to school on time? Does he do his school work? Is he managing not to commit violence when upset or frustrated? Does he more or less tell the truth? Does he pay bus fares and not shop lift? Is he able to assess how to act around different people depending on where they fall in a social hierarchy in comparison to him? Can he line up when appropriate and wait his turn? Does he follow every single other rule except this one? Congratulations. He knows how to follow rules. It’s just that this rule is stupid. And after fifteen years of teaching a kid to follow rules, I think it’s about time to support them in learning to recognise when rules are stupid and challenge them. There are countless examples through history of rules that needed to be challenged. No, this isn’t a Godwin, I’m talking relatively small things that were nonetheless harmful and oppressive. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all my policy classes, it’s that rules can have far-reaching effects and they need to be assessed sometimes to see whether they’re actually doing any good.

In this situation, the rule is not doing any good. There’s nothing wrong with a school saying students should wear a uniform or be tidy. But hair is actually a deeply personal and culturally important thing, and not one that really has any impact on other people unless, I don’t know, you fashion it with razor blades hanging from it or it smells awful or something. The idea that men have to have short hair is by no means universal – in fact I’m willing to bet it’s the case in a significant minority¬†of cultures, and given that we’re making efforts to be a multicultural country, that’s a fairly important point.

The obvious response to that, I suppose, though not one I’ve actually seen, is that schools could make exceptions for students with deeply held religious or cultural views. The problem with that is that a) students shouldn’t have to justify their cultures, and b) when you restrict it to only students with “legitimate” reasons for exception, those students become very visibly Different. They suddenly have to become a spokesperson for their culture and constantly field questions about why they’re allowed long hair when everyone else isn’t while they’re just trying to go to school, whereas if everyone is allowed longer hair it’s just another personal choice that doesn’t need to be constantly justified and explained.

There is, of course, also a gender dimension. I saw a stat the other day that about 40% of non-cis people don’t identify with the gender binary, so it’s not only a case of specifically mtf transgender students. Anyone might want to play with their gender presentation and to be honest when you’re a teenager can often be the best time to do it. (Or at least, it would be if we could make a serious attempt to reduce gender identity related bullying.) It’s a time of life where most people are figuring out who they are – they’re old enough that they’re not so completely under their parents thumbs and they can go through phases, play with styles, try things out to see if they work without necessarily being expected to stick with them.

Let’s be real. With increasing inequality in this country, what school you go to often matters far more than it should. And kids are legally obliged to attend school. It’s not reasonable to just say the market will decide and people don’t have to send their kids there if they don’t want to follow rules, especially a rule that will disproportionately affect boys from non-European cultures or who are gender non-conforming. Courts have always had the right to tell schools that they can’t enforce harmful and oppressive rules, and if we’re going to worry about undermining institutions, I’d far rather undermine the school than the court.

Self-care and loneliness

One thing I really hate about mood disorders is the way the faintest whiff of criticism can send me into an utter tailspin for days. There’s this feeling of complete self-loathing and hopelessness and anger, while at the same time your rational brain is saying “actually, that’s valid, and also not a big deal, I can work on that” (but also “even though everyone probably hates me now”). And you don’t ever want people to realise how it affects you because you don’t want anyone to feel like they have to treat you with kid gloves or be scared of disagreeing with you. Realising you were doing something that annoyed people and they were all talking about it privately but no one wanted to approach you because you were too unstable would be even worse, so you have to keep the emotional reaction to yourself – you can’t let these people see it, and you can’t tell anyone else because you’re so aware that it’s such a tiny thing that even thinking about how to word it feels so stupid you can’t bear it.

Boyd-Wilson (TW: Rape Culture)

Don’t get raped.

That’s essentially what the message has been, the last few days. The Boyd-Wilson path is pretty notorious in Wellington and it’s in the news again with two attacks committed there in as many days. The police response has been to tell people to simply not walk there, as though they’re simply ceding that territory to predatory offenders. There’s a lot more that could be done – making sure patrols regularly go past, cutting down the covering trees, installing proper lighting – and in fact those latter two suggestions have been put forward many times… dating back at least nineteen years, according to someone who was targeted there back in 1995.

The problem is that Boyd-Wilson is the best access to a lot of student flats. Some people walk or run there for fun, others do it because they want to go home. Back in the day when I worked Saturday nights at Church Corner and lived in town, if I missed the last bus home I had to walk through Hagley Park, which is at least as notorious in Christchurch as Boyd-Wilson is in Wellington, I’m sure. Once I tried to walk around it and it added somewhere between half an hour and an hour to my trip – and I still ended up on the northern edge. Hagley Park is bigger than Boyd-Wilson, sure, but the principle is the same. It’s a pedestrian thoroughfare where people need to travel and they should be able to do so safely.

Victoria University is responsible for Boyd-Wilson. Their security office (“Campus Care”) can be reached by phone, 04 463 5398, or email, campus-care@vuw.ac.nz. It’s well past time for them to take some action to protect students (and anyone else who uses the area) instead of putting the onus on them to go around it – something which this map shows is more than a minor inconvenience.

Equality of opportunity without equality of outcome

The one really big reason I don’t believe in market liberalism and the social meritocracy is that if it works at all, it only works for one generation. You know that old joke about how to make a small fortune on the stock market? (Start with a big fortune.) Kids born to rich parents just plain have more opportunities than kids born to poor parents. It’s not because of anything they did. They aren’t necessarily better. They’re just lucky. And when the same pattern repeats itself over and over through the generations, the difference becomes even more entrenched. I don’t think that all rich people are lazy and coast along on inherited wealth, plenty of them work hard, but so many of them refuse to recognise that working hard was not the only reason for their success. They’d rather assume that if you have less money it’s because you deserve less money.

The problem is that so many kids are born with less money, and it shapes their entire lives. Intergenerational poverty is about more than just not having much money – it has so many other effects.
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In more personal news

Moving back a bit from the bigger picture I had a big day yesterday with an early doctor’s visit and then a trip to the zoo (always good exercise in Wellington). I had a fairly thorough chat with my doctor with the main topic being finding somewhere other than the Phobic Trust as well as discussion of what else might be useful. I get the feeling he didn’t quite grasp the full impact of me saying I’ve had a rough couple of months and needed a medical certificate for dropping one of my papers because he made the comment that it would be good to consider doing part time study and part time work. Which it probably would be… in the future. Next year, next summer, next semester, I’m not sure which, but right now I’m definitely not up to it. Of course even if I were, it’s not really as easy as all that, is it? He doesn’t want me doing something menial and I don’t want to either (he gave specific examples of cleaning and Muffin Break, where I worked for a while about ten years ago) which restricts the options rather a lot because most of the more skilled jobs require qualifications which I don’t have yet. The absolute ideal would be part time work from home when I’m able – freelancing, maybe – but, really, how many jobs like that are there, and how many other people want them? Because I generally feel that one of the biggest barriers for me is that my ability to work is so unpredictable. That’s why I like doing extramural study, because I don’t have to worry about missing classes.

The other big barrier of course is balancing income – if I drop below full-time study I have to work enough to earn at least $250/week after tax. That means 7 papers over three semesters. I think it would be difficult to argue for limited full-time status on the grounds of illness if the reason I’m not studying full-time is so I can work as well. So to the above requirements you then have to add decent pay because even on $25/hr I’d have to work at least 12 hours or so, plus manage 1-2 (preferably 2) papers, which are all getting towards 300 level now, and that’s a lot more than I’m doing at the moment. And I think the most I’ve gotten at any job was something over $18/hr, which included holiday pay because we were technically casual staff. It would I think be more plausible to maintain the level of study I have planned and do a few hours a week of something, like 4-6 maybe, and get a lower student allowance rate. At that point though it becomes pretty dependant on location, because it quickly becomes not particularly worthwhile if I have to train and bus to and then bus and train from a 4 hour job.

Wrestling with the narrative

Sarah is on holiday in Melbourne, and suddenly the news cycle is being spammed with a press release from Paula Bennett about the thousands upon thousands of beneficiaries traveling overseas. Typically for a Bennett press release, there’s no real breakdown of the numbers. It’s just “these people are going overseas!” We’re apparently supposed to assume they’re all doing something dodgy, especially with the quotes about WINZ checking with Customs to catch people out, but there’s absolutely no evidence given for this whatsoever.

Personally I’m pretty sure that at least 95% of these people fall into (at least) one of the following categories:
- family or friends paid for a vacation for whatever reason
- it was already booked and paid for before they went on a benefit
- they’re traveling for an emergency or very special occasion
- they’re relocating to cut costs/look for work in a better market

I strongly doubt there are many beneficiaries who are paying for their own holidays out of their benefits.

HOWEVER. Even if they were, who cares? Remember, beneficiaries are not just people who don’t have a job but could be working. Not even the Jobseekers Allowance is only people on unemployment because they merged it with the sickness benefit. Some beneficiaries are on welfare their entire lives because they can’t work. But they get lumped in to this punitive authoritarian culture we have where they’re not allowed anything nice, ever, and they’re always assumed to be trying to get one over on the government. But to be honest, if a beneficiary is able to budget carefully enough to save up for a holiday, they fucking deserve it. That goes for all of them, sick/disabled or not. Because living on a benefit is fucking hard. The kind of constant stress it creates is dangerous and bad for you and having to spend all your energy on the basic necessities of living means it’s incredibly difficult to work to improve your situation. Getting away for a week or whatever and having some time to relax and clear your head is probably actually pretty damn helpful.

I feel like a lot of this really is down to jealousy. I see so many people who should know better saying that they work and they can’t afford whatever the big scandal is this time, and actually that’s kind of bullshit. They choose not to prioritise it. It’s not the same thing. And in this situation when the kerfuffle is over overseas travel, the assumption is that it’s something that’s 100% desirable when there are so many reasons where that would not be the case. Like going to a funeral, or to help with a sick relative. Or even something that seems good, like a wedding, but even if everything is paid for going overseas means getting your benefit cut but you still have to pay your bills, so that’s going to lead to some pretty fucking stressful times. If you would like to swap that with your comfortable secure income, seriously, get in touch, because I would fucking LOVE to. A full-time job at minimum wage is nearly $500 a week, let alone people who are earning enough to have a mortgage, and if it comes with no one obsessing over what I spend my money on and not having to get permission for the stupidest things, BRING IT ON. Unfortunately no one is ever going to take me up on this because despite the trappings of jealousy and resentment everyone knows on some level that being a beneficiary sucks.

Apparently some people think this is a good thing.
Edit: There’s a response article up on the Herald today that includes this quote:

“It proves nearly 10 per cent who have been job tested can afford to go overseas. I think a lot of the time someone else has paid, but it’s still what many New Zealanders would consider a luxury.” (emphasis mine)

Again, remember that the JSA includes sickness beneficiaries.

Surprise email!

I opened my email this evening and noticed a couple of things marked as spam. The first one was the really fucking annoying “Pfeizer” (I assume not actually Pfeizer) people who keep trying to sell me discount viagra, I get several of these a week at the moment. The other one had the subject line “Response to your email” and I decided to check it before deleting it, which was good because it was in fact a response to my email. From Paula Bennett! (one of her staff sends it with a pdf attachment, hence not recognising the name.) “What the fuck? When did I last email Paula Bennett?” I wondered.

Apparently, February 13th. I’d emailed her to ask for a couple of example budgets for people living on benefits. Apparently when I said “example budgets” she read “please tell me what people can get in benefit money”, because she did not in fact give me any example budgets, she just told me what different people can get in benefit money. Fuck, I could figure that out myself in an afternoon, but whatever. She did say that “In both the case of couples and individuals, the amount of benefit paid out is intended to be sufficient to meet basic living costs. If this is not enough for the particular individual, couple or family, additional financial assistance is available, such as the Accommodation Supplement to assist with rent, board or home-ownership costs, Disability Allowance to assist with costs arising from a disability and Temporary Additional Support to assist with other essential costs that cannot be met from income.” Just bear that in mind – AS, DA and TAS are specifically mentioned as additional financial assistance, that can be applied for if other income isn’t enough.

Here’s the three examples:

A single parent with a 5 year old and a 14 year old living in Manurewa paying at least $340 in rent:
Sole Parent Support: $295.37
Family Tax Credit: $157.17
Accommodation Supplement: $165
Temporary Additional Support: $14.86
TOTAL: $632.40

A single parent with a 5 year old and a 14 year old living in Manurewa paying at least $340 in rent who has a full-time minimum wage job (ie 40 hours at $13.75):
Net wages: $463.25
Family Tax Credit: $157
In-work Tax Credit: $60
Accommodation Supplement: $153
TOTAL: $833.25

A single person aged 25 years living in Manurewa with rent of at least $150:
Jobseeker Support: $206.21
Accommodation Supplement: $69.21
TOTAL: $275.21

Already you can see that in the first example the total figure of $632.40 relies not only on the accommodation supplement but also temporary additional support. They do not generally advertising temporary additional support as something you’re meant to rely on as part of your income. It’s supposed to be the “you’re a complete failure” (there’s actually an aura of shame that clings to the very application form I think) money if you need to, like, pay off a loan or something, you know, temporary.

Not being a parent I asked on Twitter if it was actually feasible to raise two kids on that if you’re paying $340-$400 (more on that in a moment) in rent, and was told yes, just barely. It would basically be the same way I’m living, by budgeting very, very carefully. The working parent gets $200 extra, but is it just me or did anyone else have the impression that full-time minimum wage was kind of more than $463?? Obviously that’s after tax, but still, that’s really not much money.

Anyway, after looking at those of course my next stop was the TradeMe rental section. After ascertaining that Manurewa was in fact in [South] Auckland, I looked up rents there. There are a few two bedroom places listed for around $340 – $380, one or two for even less than that. In total there are 11 listed. Three bedroom places I think the cheapest I saw was about $360, and I saw a couple up around $470. Most of them were in the upper $300s, so if the 5 and 14 year old are different sexes and want/need separate rooms, that’s going to be a lot harder.

As for a single person with $150 to pay in rent, you can do it. You need to split a place, of course, but I’ve just listed the prices for 3 bedrooms and if you go up to 5 or 6 you could get away with paying around $100 each in some of them. 1 bedroom you’re looking at nearly $300, 2 bedrooms again I just listed – between $150-$200 split.

I guess it was sort of an informative reply, if completely not what I asked for.

Clawing back

This time last week it was like the world was ending. There are certain things I’ve gone over in my head a lot, trying to figure out how to explain them to people who haven’t experienced it. I should be able to; there’s a strong literary thread in my family, I wrote a lot during high school and attended the Christchurch Young Writers’ School. (That might not be what it was called, I’ve been out of school for a while.) But I’ve tried, and in this respect having a breakdown is much like the Christchurch earthquakes – I can string words together but it all comes out as cliches that do nothing to really convey the complicated mess that it is. After the earthquakes there was too much emotion, all happening at once and none of it making much sense. During a deep depression there’s not enough. They’ve actually studied this, interestingly. People who suffer damage in the part of their brain responsible for emotion start to have difficulty making decisions. It makes sense if you think about it – if you have no emotional investment, you might think you’d become more logical, but how do you assess which outcome is better if you have no metric for deciding what is “good”? And that’s sort of what emotion is, a lot of the time. And when you’re depressed to that level, nothing is good. There is no ideal outcome, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. It’s hopelessness. I felt like schoolwork was impossible, I cried a lot. It was pretty much my default time-killer, really. Staring out the window at the empty yard gotten too unfulfilling even for my apathy? Might as well cry for a while.

By mid-to-late last week I was starting to get a bit of myself back. It’s hard work. I had to force myself through a lot of it, particularly dealing with the consequences for uni. I had help – I’d spent a couple of hours clicking through the Massey website looking for the most appropriate people to reach out to and couldn’t ever work up the momentum to actually email any of them, so in the end someone else emailed someone on my behalf and forwarded it to me. That worked. Once there was a point of contact in my inbox I only had to reply, and it didn’t matter if it was objectively the best person or whatever. In the end I dropped a paper, and then I worked as hard as I could to finish the assignments due for the two papers remaining. I will be the first to admit that those two assignments were not my best work. I think I actually put the wrong student id number on one of them, and I’ve been typing that thing out over and over for two or three years.

Don’t get the wrong idea when I say I worked as hard as I could, though. This isn’t the study habits of a diligent high school student trying to pad out their college application in America where you need a little more than a C average in Bursary (or whatever the NCEA equivalent is) to get into a decent school. I didn’t feel…. connected to it, really, like I have done in the past. That feeling that, yeah, I’m working on an assignment, I’m applying my learning and preparing for the exam if there is one and one day I’m going to use this knowledge or the experience of gaining it in the job market. I like most of my classes and I’m pretty used to that feeling. This was more that I consciously knew I had to get the work done, but I didn’t feel like it was very urgent. Not more urgent than staring out the window at the empty yard. The word vacuous comes to mind to describe that state, not so much a fuzziness as a general disconnection from reality.

Okay, here’s a metaphor. I have an Asus Transformer, the screen slides into a dock on the keyboard and clicks into place and lo, my tablet now looks like a laptop. Around the little sockets on the bottom of the actual tablet bit the plastic casing is of course thinner than it normally is, because it can’t cover that socket, right? So for the last couple of months, around one of the sockets the plastic had cracked at one end and poked out a bit unless there was pressure holding it in place, which there is when it’s docked. Recently I began having trouble docking it though. It slid in, but it didn’t click like it normally does, like when you’re doing up your seatbelt (make it click!), and if I wasn’t careful I’d knock it out of place. I could push it in but then it would be out of alignment on some other edge. Eventually I realised that the little bit of plastic had come off at the other end as well and it was sitting inside the dock on the keyboard, preventing the tablet from getting in far enough to make a proper connection. It was recognising the keyboard, I could type fine, it used the extra battery just like normal, but jog it the wrong way or accidentally kick it or something and nope, no longer connected. Sorry.

Obviously this allegory does not go much further. I can’t just tip my keyboard unit up so the plastic falls out and everything locks together again the way it was meant to. But it might be a little easier to understand than the other words I know, things like depersonalisation and derealisation and dissociation (of the three, probably derealisation is the most accurate, though it’s really meant to describe something slightly different.)

I submitted the second assignment today and I still have reading to catch up on. I actually had done a little bit of reading during those five awful days, because it was a way to pass the time and didn’t actually require much effort and, most importantly, the binders were right there. But I’m still behind in both papers and I’ll have to work on that this week. Right now I’m a little burned out for the day though, I’ve been reading too many articles and thesis abstracts and trying to assess them on a critical level to at least reach a level maybe vaguely acceptable in a third year paper. Mostly I just want to sleep for a long time. I don’t have many of the extra strength sedatives that might accomplish that left, though. I had to break into them last week after spending half an hour on the phone with a student advisor in the morning when my flatmate had some friends over in the evening. It sounds stupid, but hearing their voices, and particularly when they all would all laugh and the volume shot up, was unbearable. I ended up clinging to my pillow trembling, chest hurting from the way my heart sped up anytime a noise came that was louder than the general background levels. And more crying. After the drugs kicked in I was able to briefly duck into the kitchen to shove some ice cream and canned peaches in a bowl, after one had left and another went to pick up their dinner order and I only had to face three people. I almost couldn’t do that, but when you don’t eat enough as it is, occasionally you get to the point where you know you need to get some calories into you as soon as is feasible. And I didn’t know how late they’d be staying.

The struggle to convey an experience is pervasive, I think. Mental illness is terrifying because it’s isolating. If you could only find a way to describe it, it might lose some of its power over you, so you grope around for words that will tap into… something… you don’t really know what. A common spirit? Empathy? A quiet, disquieting feeling that haunts everyone when it’s dark and you’re all alone?

Maybe it doesn’t, though. You can’t know until you try to explain and see the reactions – whether people look at you afterwards with understanding, or whether they pull away like insanity is catching.