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August 27, 2022

she will always carry on | sharing some words again in 2022

It's a little weird, on a random early Sunday morning in late August to be struck with the desire to update this long-left blog. I'm not exactly sure what is special about this particular time I write this: I have noticed over the past year or so a building desire within to write again. But more than that - to write again and to actually press publish; or to submit some poetry anywhere to finally start some solid steps towards a long-held pipe dream of mine to publish a book of poetry one day, someday. 

Inevitably when you don't update a blog for a couple of years you could say something like "so much has changed" and that would likely be true. However, it feels a bit of an understatement this time. Compared to my life in November 2019 when I last wrote; nothing about my life that was normal then is normal now. In fact, almost anyone's normal back then wouldn't be familiar now, given the global pandemic of 2020, 2021, and as it continues with multiple groups and all of us individually grappling with the myriad of ways in which COVID-19 has impacted and changed us. We'll never be the same as 2019 - but then that is true of any year: the passing of time is a reality and no future moments for any of us are guaranteed. While that may sound morbid, it's also equally freeing. Forever is a quaint human illusion, after all, but don't we all need a few good illusions now and then? 

In 2019, I didn't yet know what job I'd find after graduation. I didn't know I'd successfully make my first national conference seminar 10 days after faceplanting into an intersection and cracking my front teeth - but though I needed a crutch and had some minor healing face lacerations, it was well-received enough to help me get some funding to make it to an Infection and Immunity conference in Lorne, Australia. As 2020 dawned in NZ, we woke to a yellow sky from the Australian bushfires. The conference was in early February, and I wasn't sure if it would be cancelled or I'd be unable to fly in due to the fires. I made it there, and had a fantastically mind and network-broadening time. 

A special session was convened on one of the first days regarding the novel coronavirus, which was at that early stage spreading within China and neighbouring countries, but had not yet made it to "pandemic" status. We heard from two of Australia's leading scientists in infectious diseases and vaccine development - via zoom because they and their research groups had been working nearly 24/7 since the announcement of the first sequence of the virus on January 12, 2020, almost exactly a month prior. 

One of the research groups who worked on vaccine development had a research proposal underway where they would test their ability to rapidly generate a vaccine to an unknown disease "Disease X". The SARS-CoV2 virus that causes COVID-19 disease in humans became their disease X. Vaccine candidates were already in testing in early February, and efficacy and clinical trials meant a vaccine would be about a year away - which was borne out in reality. 

I returned to Ōtepoti, and fast forward only about two months and, mid lockdown, I find myself employed as a scientist for a global biotech company that had recently moved its NZ research base to Dunedin. This isn't a blog to talk about work, but I had always dreamed in the final few especially challenging months in academia of working in industry; and while the pandemic meant I couldn't go further afield as I was itching to do, fate intervened and I found myself working in a position I'd hoped for right in my familiar neighbourhood. 

So I got a job as a scientist, the first thing that's different about when I last wrote.

What else is different? 

Well, almost everything. The past two and a half years have treated me to some pretty gnarly personal experiences and I'm very lucky to have come out the other side in one piece in many ways. 

Arsonists burned down our wider whānau isolated and beloved "Hut", our safe place, the one place that remained a constant throughout my entire life and was built by my parents, aunties, uncles and their friends - the "hut crew", a labour of love and mutual bonding over 34 years. My dad called me one Tuesday night late September 2020, nearly in tears, to tell me the farmer across the river had seen the hut burning and that fire vehicles were on their way - but we both knew it'd probably be gone. It's not a quick trip, no matter your mode of transportation. 

I didn't cry as much as I thought I would, even when my brothers went up the next day and sent pictures - it was gone. Everything. It wasn't until late December 2020, after Christmas in Wellington with the whānau I got to go up there for the first time. Wearing a dumb oversized pair of gumboots (at least 40 pairs worn by many of us at different points depending on foot size would've been burned in the fire), walking along the track I know like the back of my hand, thinking of the assholes carrying petrol cans or whatever fuel they used to start it walking along this same track like how dare they; stomping through the streams and realising one of these comically too large gumboots has a crack in the rubber near the sole; and finally getting to the point where the river track goes down, where when I was little and the walk felt much longer I'd usually just run the last bit because we were finally there, and you could see the corrugated iron cladding and those classic recycled windows. Mum and I, being both of our first times back there since the fire, cried and cried. To the point where you stopped noticing tears dripping out of your eyes. Picking out recognisable charred ceramic fragments of old dishes and mugs. Seeing the first aid kit scissors still whole but charred. The roofing iron, which had just been replaced about a year prior, an epic summer operation involving multiple favours and hard work of friends and family. A fire leaves nothing useful behind. 

In early 2021, two people unexpectedly died: one a maverick scientist who was a critical part of my scientific training at various points; and one a dear friend who was a very talented pianist. Both mighty tōtara in their own ways. I miss them. 

In May 2021, I finally managed to end a relationship that, in hindsight, was much longer than it ever should've been. I won't say much about that - except to say that what I have always known to be true is that love needs a foundation of honesty and respect; and I learned that emotional abuse such as manipulative behaviours and gaslighting are far more damaging than physical violence. If you are in New Zealand and need access to resources see shine

So what's good then? I always save the good news for the end - I'm an eternal optimist at heart, so I'll always take the bad news first. 

Escaping my awful relationship was like coming back to myself. Coming up for air from the bottom of the Waingawa river, when I'd swim as deep as I dared then look up and see the sunlight dancing and refracting on the surface. Building my muscles back, fibre by fibre; remembering my personality, my dreams, my goals I'd kept suppressed for a long time. Finding my voice again, and remembering how to talk without having to yell to be heard or be ready to hide or protect my neck. Finding people who would just listen whenever I needed it.  

Remembering my family: my mum, my dad, A S and E. How well they know me. How they'd drop anything to help out if and when I truly need it. How lucky I am to have them and their unconditional love and support. It's times when you need that unconditional support unexpectedly that you are truly shown how blessed you are to have been born into the family you were. 

Remembering my friends: I have a few friends who are more like family than friends, and I was lifted up, supported, and kept safe by many special people I'll forever be in debt to. They read messages for me, they listened, they all helped in the process of remembering and honouring myself and my own desires. 

And I'm now 18 months out from that - and you know, single life is pretty great! I've got a wonderful flatmate A, just as an aside, it really does feel like Maitland St Meals has now properly come full circle and maybe I'll fiiiiinally get around to updating the old about page.. no promises though! I've been getting back into a few artistic pursuits - pinching a few pots again, painting and drawing a lot too. 

I started playing in a new band called Hystera (love you!) It's so nice playing music for fun again rather than trying to play enough 2hr piano slots in a week to cover bills when I was unemployed. If you like feminist melodic noise, you can check us out here playing for the Spectacle: Disturbance Fringe art show earlier this year. Music from 13 min, but enjoy the art leading up to it because it is pretty, shall I say, spectacular. 

Who knows - maybe I'll get the whim to write here again soon, maybe I'll be back in another three years... If you've read this far, especially in today's age of optimised, short form "content" - sincerely, thanks for reading. 

Aroha mai, aroha atu


Photos - all Kodak portra film, shot on my Dad's Ricoh KR-5 my grandfather gave him in the 1970's; that Dad subsequently gave me when I was about 15 to trial out the school dark room. "Its very dusty" said the slightly snooty photography teacher - she may've been right, but it's taught me to appreciate light through glass and the subsequent film effects. 

1. A concrete bollard outside the NGV; Melbourne in Feb 2020
2. A special seat in Carey's bay - if you know, you know xo June 2021
3. One of my favourite pictures I've taken in film - Melbourne 2020
4. Recovered ceramic fragments from the Wairarapa fire - August 2021
5. Reflections in my beloved Maitland St kitchen - September 2021


title from hymn to her - the pretenders
(one of my favourite songs ever since we sung it for primary school choir)

November 15, 2019

but when she's on her back, she had the knowledge, to get her where she wanted | november reflections

Last time I wrote, I was in the midst of a strange period of waiting for my thesis to be marked. It was a challenging time, life continuing on while I waited, and waited. I'm happy to be on the other side of that agonising waiting now, and I'm happy to report that the wait was worth it. I successfully defended my PhD thesis, even managed to make a couple of (incredibly nerdy pun) jokes with my examiners! I'm now planning my graduation in December this year, and looking forward to celebrating with my wonderful and wide network of whānau and friends; because as anyone who's completed a doctorate knows, no thesis was completed without support. 

I had friends who sent me baking, postcards while they were travelling, who were a sympathetic ear at various points. I have a partner who took a couple of weeks off work when I needed the extra support. I have a family who have listened to me even when I've been mad, grumpy, annoyed, frustrated, and I am so lucky to have people who have given, and continue to give, this kind of support. I only hope that I return the favour to people in my networks. 

If you ever read back through the Maitland St Meals archives, you'll see quiet allusions to the all-consuming lab work that occupied my every thought for 7 years. Maybe that sounds dramatic, but scientists will know what I mean. Even when I was too sick with undiagnosed typhoid to find the energy to get out of bed every day to get down to the lab, I was thinking about sigma factors. On the holidays I took to Waihi Beach with my family, flying up to Auckland and being driven to the beach for some salty swims and sand between my toes, I always took my computer with papers to read. Even while making some of the early time-indulgent meals written in the early blog posts, while I chopped onions or boiled beans, I was thinking about new things I could try to optimise some of my experiments that weren't working as they should. 

It's been nice to have the brain-break this year of not having to think about scientific puzzles with quite the same intensity - but now that it's been a good 18 months since I have done any wet lab work, I find myself missing it. I think this is a good sign that I'm in the right profession! And it's been nice to slowly realise that, despite the many challenges of being a young woman scientist, my innate curiosity continues to lead me down the scientific path.

However, I'm simultaneously creative. I've mentioned before my old poetry blog, which now resides offline and I'm its only reader. In June last year, after 2 years of collecting handmade mugs made by mainly New Zealand and Australian potters, I signed up for a ceramics night class at the art school at Otago Polytech. 

I remember saying to my old flatmates once I had been accepted that maybe I'd hate making things out of clay, but I just wanted to make one mug. I ended up making many more than one mug, and I didn't hate clay at all, in fact, I loved it. Going to night classes last year for two terms was such a creative treat for my brain, particularly leading up to thesis submission in December last year. Each week I knew I'd have 3 hours on a Thursday night just for making whatever the hell I wanted (and whatever my skills would allow..!). Making ceramics is partly scientific, partly creative, partly muscle technique, and with a little bit of luck. It was the creative outlet I needed. 

The other night I said to my partner R after making dinner that I felt like Maitland St Meals had come full circle. I'd just made a simple spring salad of blanched asparagus, tomatoes and red onion with a simple vinaigrette dressing to accompany dinner, then arranged it in bowls and plates I've made myself.

While it was a simple dinner, and while my hand-pinched bowls have some way to go especially on the consistency front, I was particularly proud to have dinner in "things I have made", and dear R dutifully stood over my arrangement to take the above picture (thank you). 

This year I've been minimally employed, partly by necessity as I needed to devote time to amending and publishing my final thesis; and partly because when your skill set is as specific as mine is, finding a job can take a while. I've currently got several jobs, and I'm thankful for all of them, however none are regular enough to ensure I can always afford to pay my bills. This "freelance" lifestyle has its perks which I am trying to enjoy, but I hope I don't forget what it's like to have a constant worry about money and where it will come from and whether I should be saving more, and what large purchases do I need to make between now and Christmas, or now and March... 

However, the flexibility in my schedule is also nice to make the most of. It's nice to have time to write more poems, to attend the newly-formed Ōtepoti Writer's Lab, to pinch a few bowls now and then. It's nice to have time to hang out with musicians, to develop my piano skills, to play a few gigs around town. I've been so thankful that I'm able to play the piano for people, and get paid for it - while it is work in a sense, it's also something that brings me a lot of joy. I'm thankful for these hands of mine with fingers that play, and shape bowls, and polish glassware at a bar..

I'm thankful too, for Ōtepoti / Dunedin, where I currently live. This year I have slowly discovered the music community partly due to my current living situation, partly due to my partner, and mostly due to having to find any way I could to make a bit of extra money. I've played regular gigs most of this year, and it's made me a much better pianist. Not so much in the sense of what I play, but more in the sense of where I play. I've practised performing so much I find I get less and less nervous before each gig now - instead I look forward to the delight of playing a piano / synthesiser; and the endorphin rush afterwards.

Playing the piano frequently has opened doors I didn't know existed - I've met some interesting and talented local musicians and learned so much from their generous insights into performing and playing; I've played the piano in a recording studio for a very talented friend completing her music honours album (it will be released sometime in 2020, exciting!). I feel very grateful for the small and generous community of musicians and creatives in this tiny Southern city I call home.

This year has not been without its challenges - but I'm learning that no good year ever is without challenge! As the year, and the decade, comes to a close, I find myself purposefully reflecting on this year with gratitude for the opportunities, for the people, and for the aroha given and received. I'm especially grateful to my parents, L & R, whose endless and unquestioning support and love gives me strength; and to my partner R, who allows me the space I need to be myself, all while loving me. He showed up to my PhD seminar even though we'd had a minor argument the night before; he's dropped my raincoat around to my old flat because the forecast was for showers; and he'll stay up cooking dinner when I am too weary to be anything but horizontal when I get home from a long day at work.

I'm planning on a tattoo to mark 2019 and its milestones..

Hopefully I will write a bit more frequently here - I have much to say, and much to share, but it isn't always simple finding the time.. See you soon.


title from Belle & Sebastian - The Stars of Track and Field


1. Light through leaves on George St, 3/11/19
2. Outside | inside, Otago uni central library, 12/11/19
3. Dinner in my pots, 7/11/19
4. My hand and a blue candle R gave me in a ceramic vessel I made in 2018, 8/11/19
5. The Northern motorway overbridge in Ōtepoti, 3/11/19
6. Early morning sunrise from the lounge, 4/11/19
7. Closeup of my hardbound thesis after I picked it up, a rather surreal moment for me. 6/11/19
8. Me outside the graduate office before I went and rang the University bell (made in 1863), photo taken by fellow graduating Dr P. 6/11/19

April 7, 2019

there's nothing to lose and there's nothing to prove | april thoughts

I had such good intentions when I wrote my last post. I imagined I'd have weekends to myself, that I'd manage to find a nice, relatively easy job to earn enough to pay the bills. I imagined I'd have so much more time than I've been able to find. 

I never thought I'd find myself thinking or writing this, but I miss my focus last year. I miss having a clear goal and seeing the path towards it. I'm so surprised that I find myself missing my thesis. And I don't think it's the thesis I miss as much as I miss having a central purpose. 

I'm still waiting on examiner's reports. It's a strange interim time, where on the one hand you're incredibly proud of managing to submit a complete document, but on the other hand nothing is certain in terms of results - both what they will be and when they will come. It really is a strange waiting game, and one that's difficult to explain to anyone outside the bubble of academia. 

There was a time when I wasn't physically able to work; a significant additional stress during an already challenging time. I am just now realising how much I've sacrificed of myself, my ability to earn money and save money, in order to complete my PhD - and it's not even finalised yet. I feel so far behind other people my age. 

I rationally know that age is just a number; that 'progress' in terms of how society measures it is not something I should be measuring my success by. I rationally know that really not that many people start, continue, submit or complete a PhD, and I'm lucky to have had the opportunity to do so. But I've had to borrow more money from a wide range of supportive people in order to pay for the absolute basics - rent, medical care, food, heating, internet. I'm an independent person, and the psychological burden of this debt weighs on me. 

Now I'm able to earn money by tutoring and teaching, but all my hours are dedicated to work for other people. I only love my job if I truly feel valued; and I don't often feel valued in my current various employments. I constantly feel like I have to "hustle" to make enough money so I don't feel guilty for being a financial burden on people around me, and that means I prioritise paid work over everything else, including work on my own research, which doesn't currently pay. I feel like I'm working for everyone else, when all I'd like to do is work for myself.

These are the realities of life for many people my age, and I know there's advantages to my current situation. I have a lot of flexibility in my schedule - almost too much to truly enjoy. I constantly have dreams of getting out of Dunedin, of visiting other places, of adventures; but I can't see how to make those dreams a reality with all the practical circumstances preventing me. 

I think the main answer to all my current worries is time - time to rest, time to sleep better, time to do things I love with people I love. I am practicing patience, and being gentle on myself and people around me as I figure out what the next steps are. 


title from billy idol/tony james - dancing with myself. I think my favourite version is the Nouvelle Vague one, here

January 6, 2019

grass up to our waists | hello in 2019

The last post on this blog, which was in March 2016 so nearly 3 years ago, ends with me promising the recipe for croissants "if I ever get around to making them". 

I'll tell you right now, I never got around to making them. Why was that, you might ask. Let me tell you.

Firstly, the price of butter. In New Zealand the price of butter has increased recently, and particularly over the past 3 years. It used to cost around $4 for a 500g block, but now prices are around $6.50 per 500g. Croissants require quite a lot of butter, and quite a lot of attention. Attention I was willing to give, but part with $15 for butter just for a batch of croissants, as well?

Not only did the price of butter increase, but the amount of time I had for cooking and food, particularly labour intensive and perhaps frivolous food like croissants, exponentially decreased. The lab work I alluded to in previous posts consumed my life, as well as the teaching and tutoring hours, until all I did for the last couple of months of last year was work to earn money, or work on my thesis.

Although this was not a pleasant way to spend time, it resulted in the successful completion and submission of a document I was happy with. It's important to acknowledge the incredible support I had around me from my partner and my family which was instrumental in allowing me to work as hard as I had to. I will be forever grateful for their understanding, encouragement and support. The soft bound submission is a end-of-sorts, and because the examination process and second, hard-bound submission is still to come, that's all I'll say about it for now.

I submitted on the 20th of December, 2018; a mere two and a half weeks ago. Since then, I have been slowly unwinding into holiday relaxation mode, spent time with my family and my partner's family, slept as much as possible, and eaten all sorts of delicious holiday food. It has been a slow process, letting go of the anxiety-inducing deadline-driven thesis thought patterns and easing my brain into true holiday mode for the first time in a while.

I find myself with the desire to catalogue the coming months of my life as I unwind and reflect on achieving last year's milestones, and decide what direction I'll take towards the future. There are lots of career and life decisions to make in the coming months, which makes for an exciting time.

I hope to post here a bit more frequently during this time, to catalogue my thoughts as I reflect about all I learned during the process of completing my PhD, and as I determine the next steps in my career. There might not always be recipes, but I hope there'll be a few to share. I know I am looking forward to having more time to spend cooking this year.

If you're still reading this, hello! Thanks for being here, I'm happy to have the inspiration and time for self reflection to write again here. See you soon.



title from 'been in bed' by Grawlixes