Blithe Friday: A Platonic Groupie Adventure

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Recently I’ve declared that I’ll write more about non-bipolar-themed tidbits.  I thought today would be the day that I enact my edict, but I’m not in the mood.  (Oh, we writers with bipolar are so mercurial!)  I am in the mood to write about something a little bit funny, a little bit rock n’ roll.

Please bear with me.

It helps me to remember the funny moments in between the dark ones.  Yes, there were some rather ridiculous happenings that took place during the hypomanic and manic times. Several of these incidents are firmly etched in my brain, and thank goodness ECT didn’t erase them.  Interestingly, they are connected with musicians.

I should state for the record that I am a groupie, although I don’t fit the exact definition in that I don’t aim to sleep with musicians .  I’m a very selective, innocent groupie of semi-obscure rock musicians who hail from New Zealand .  Aside from the Beatles, the band that has had the most influence upon me is of Kiwi origin, and it came into my life when I was thirteen.  A junior high school friend, a gifted musician herself, gave me a cassette tape marked “SPLIT ENZ”.

I listened to this tape incessantly on my tape player and on my Walkman.  (Remember those?) The music was odd but melodic, and the songs dug into my brain and stayed there. The band was co-founded by two best friends, New-Zealand born and bred Tim Finn and Phil Judd.  Tim’s younger brother Neil Finn (who would go on to form the internationally successful band Crowded House) also joined Split Enz.  Crowded House, a mix of Kiwi and Aussie members, became one of my favorite bands too.  I felt that I should be an honorary member of the Finn family.

The only time I had the opportunity to meet the Finn Brothers was was two weeks after the birth of my first child.  The Finns had recorded a beautiful album called “Everyone Is Here” and they were playing in San Francisco.  I had not yet been diagnosed with postpartum bipolar disorder; that wouldn’t happen until almost two years later.  I hemmed and hawed about whether I would attend the concert.  I had a two-week-old baby who I had been with almost every moment since she was born.  But I knew this would most likely be my only chance to see the Finn Brothers perform and to meet them.

What no one detected at that time was that my latent bipolar disorder had started to emerge, only to recede a few weeks later.  It was triggered due to hormones, genetics, and my losing a full night’s sleep when I went into labor.  I became hypomanic and I had the hallmark signs: increased energy, little sleep, pressurized speech, and other uncharacteristic behaviors.

I finally decided I’d attend the show.  A friend kindly volunteered to accompany me, and she drove us for ninety minutes in the pouring rain.  As soon as we left, I felt massive remorse at leaving my precious cutie.  I was breastfeeding her and I brought along my pump.  I had an agitated feeling of just wanting to get the evening over with and instead of happy anticipation.

The musicians gave the concertgoers their money’s worth and more.  It was a wonderful show, even though Neil Finn told us had a cold.  Trouper that he was, the show went on.  In true freaky fan fashion I brought cards and thoughtful gifts for each Finn.  They both were avid surfers and I brought them each a coffee table-style book about the famous surf break Mavericks.  The gifts and cards were how I expressed my appreciation for the countless hours of their music that I had enjoyed for the past twenty-four years.

After the show I found out where the fans would gather.  There was a designated roped walkway reaching approximately thirty feet from the venue directly to the tour van.  We fans lined up on either side of the ropes for a glimpse of them.  I clutched my cards and gifts and I felt nervous.  Most of all, I missed my baby – I wanted to get the hell home to her – forget these guys after all!  But I needed closure to my pilgrimage.

First sick Neil came out.  I didn’t want to interact with him because I didn’t want to breathe his germs and pass them onto my newborn.  I leaned back and handed him the goodies.  Being the consummate professional that he was, he charmingly thanked me.  It took all  of twenty seconds.

Then it was Tim’s turn to come out.  Tim strode by us and it was clear that he didn’t want to converse with anyone.  I was pissed.  He wasn’t sick!  At least on the outside!  And I had left my baby and come all this way to simply hand him a gift!  This is when my mania kicked in…

I somehow got over the rope and sprinted after him, yelling “GIFT FOR TIM FINN, GIFT FOR TIM FINN!!!” – I just wanted to shove it at him and leave.  My breasts were actually leaking through my shirt at that point, and I wasn’t a happy camper.  Then I heard him mutter, “You’re too much, you’re too much!” (At least he didn’t yell it at me.)  I shoved the gift at him as he jumped into the van, fleeing what I’m sure he thought was a psycho fan.

As we drove back home, I felt let down from these less-than-stellar moments with my musical heroes.  I felt ashamed about what happened with Tim.  Years after this all happened, I realized that Tim nailed it when he remarked I was too much; I was too much, and “too much” is exactly what you could say of manic behavior.  I felt seen by him!

While he has never admitted in public to having bipolar disorder, I’ve wondered if he has it, for some of his songs (His autobiographical “Haul Away”) alluded to his “nervous breakdown” and his “Cruel Black Crow” song depicted his depression.  He has shared in interviews that he suffers from panic attacks.  Mental illness runs in his family – his aunt committed suicide.  New Zealanders are known for being reserved, but her death became public knowledge in the haunting Crowded House song “Hole in the River”.

Tim has been around bipolar disorder for much of his life.  His former best friend Phil Judd was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and Tim’s bandmate and close friend Paul Hester committed suicide due to bipolar disorder as well.  It’s so common for musicians to suffer with bipolar disorder.  I know this for a fact from growing up with my own musician father who had bipolar; quite a few of his orchestra colleagues had it as well.

Well, this isn’t the goofy, lighthearted post I meant it to be, but I am glad I wrote it all the same.  I do look back at that moment when I ran after Tim Finn yelling “GIFT FOR TIM FINN!” as pretty funny.  You could say my behavior was as “Bold As Brass”, a classic Split Enz song penned by none other but the great Tim Finn.

Surfing Sand Dunes and Cape Reinga – The Land of the Long White Cloud

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I am winding down recounting my trip to the Land of the Long White Cloud.  In an earlier post I mentioned that I packed a great deal of activities into the week I was in New Zealand.  Even so, one needs way more than seven days to see the North Island properly.  (I haven’t even mentioned the South Island, which I unfortunately did not visit, but there are a zillion incredible activities to do there as well.)

I signed up for a bus tour geared towards young, hip travelers lasting one very full day.  I was young, and a traveler, but as far as hip went, well, I’ll just note that I fit two out of those three categories!   One of our activities was visiting the famed giant sand dunes to “surf” on boogie boards.  When I got to the top of the steep dune, I froze in terror.  Even though I was a sometime daredevil, for some reason looking down the dune scared the living daylights out of me.  I was so disappointed, but I knew I couldn’t go through with it.  One of the tour guides, in an attempt to motivate me to face my fear, started making fun of me.   That backfired, and I said in no uncertain terms, “Ain’t gonna happen!”  When done properly, surfing the sand dunes did look very fun, and I had looked forward to surfing them.  However, I felt completely validated in my decision to pass after the next person attempted to surf down the dune. She wiped out very hard at the bottom, getting sand up her nose and in her eyes, and it was an ugly scene, complete with tears.  I was glad that I went with my gut and refused to surf despite the intense pressure I felt when the tour operator egged me on, as well as the eyes of my fellow sightseers.

The best part of that day was reaching the northernmost tip of the island: Cape Reinga, which in Maori means “underworld”.  Cape Reinga was known in the Maori culture as the leaping-off place of spirits.  That concept was briefly explained to us by our non-Maori tour guide in his “pakeha” way and I loved it.  (“Pakeha” is the Maori word for a person of European descent; some people find the word offensive, some don’t.  I couldn’t care less!)  At any rate, when we walked en masse to the lighthouse pictured above on that day,  it may have been the power of suggestion, but I felt a unique sort of gravity in the air.  I believed wholeheartedly in the spirit world and how certain places on our Earth had a special vibration.  (Now I really sound like the other folks in the town where I live: Santa Cruz, Homeland of the Hippies!)  It was a stunningly beautiful day and I found the setting to be perfect for contemplating the indigenous people who died and, according to their Maori tradition, whose spirits used that very point for a jumping off point into the next world.

At that time in my life I was not yet jaded by mental illness – my bipolar disorder experience was still light years away, and I was able to take in those experiences in a naive-but-wondrous fashion.  It has been gratifying for me to remember that epoch in my life which was virtually free of any thoughts about my ever having a mental illness.

We are more than our diagnoses, thank God, but it is so easy to forget that fact; at least it has been that way for me.  By my writing about the trip I took to New Zealand thirteen years prior to the bipolar diagnosis, it has been a mini-vacation for my weary brain. While looking at pictures of myself taken at Kare Kare and at other North Island spots, I see a young woman who did not view herself as seriously damaged.  Sure, I wasn’t thrilled with my shyness, my frizzy hair, my zits or my zaftig figure, but I felt that my brain was fairly intact and, compared to the surfers and hippies back in Santa Cruz, it was actually pretty damn good! 😉  I was still 100% drug-free at that point in time!  I was also wrinkle-free! (I now have what I call my “bipolar wrinkles”, i.e. two deep furrows between my brows, but ah, I’m in my 40’s now.)

The bit of authentic joy evident in my expressions in those shots would become almost permanently wiped out with my clinical depression later on.  Now some of that joy has returned with writing this blog, with reading my friends’ and strangers’ comments and “likes” here, and for being able to once again focus upon goals other than getting out of my bed.  Thank you for traveling with me just a wee bit into New Zealand.  I hope with all my heart that if you feel drawn to that country, you will have the opportunity to go there someday.

Kia ora!  (That is Maori for “be well/be healthy”.)

The Trip of a Lifetime – Land of the Long White Cloud – Aotearoa – Part Three

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I should let you know that today’s reminiscence focuses on being a Kiwi music groupie, rather than upon the magnificent natural beauty of New Zealand’s North Island.  I will be writing about the scenic wonders I visited over the next few days.  I only went to a handful of them (Rotorua, Kare Kare, Waiheke Island, Cape Reinga, Ninety Mile Beach Sand Dunes)  but I’ll never forget their grandeur.  This journey took place over twenty years ago, and I thank God that electroconvulsive therapy/ ECT did not wipe out those memories!   

After a perfect landing at Auckland International Airport, I experienced deja vu when I walked by its lovely gift store.  I was tempted to stop in to buy more of the New Zealand milk chocolate (I wanted to actually taste it this time now that my cold was gone!) but I was distracted with finding the baggage claim.  I made my way to a Auckland youth hostel and was lucky enough to register for a single room at a reasonable rate.  After opening the door and throwing my heavy backpack on the floor, I promptly passed out on the bed.

The next day it was sunny and temperate, and I walked up and down Queen Street, one of Auckland’s main thoroughfares.  Queen Street reminded me a bit of Santa Cruz’s Pacific Avenue in that there were hippies and street performers galore.  I hit Real Groovy Records and bought a sleek, silver-colored, special edition Split Enz CD box set.  I would never find anything like that in the States and the price was reasonable with my beneficial exchange rate.  The set would be my most indulgent purchase while on the North Island and definitely worth it.  After I left Real Groovy, I found a nearby bakery and sat down inside for a snack.  On impulse, I looked through my box set and spotted a folded-up sheet tucked between the CD’s.  I opened up this paper to find I had the original autographs of Enz band members Neil and Tim Finn, Nigel Griggs, Eddie Rayner and Noel Crombie.  This was a true autograph boon as the band had broken up, and surprisingly it was included with the box set with no fanfare.  I crowed with glee over my unexpected luck!  I put away the box set in my roomy purse, and took out my well-thumbed North Island travel guide to review my itinerary’s must-see spots.

One of these must-sees not in the book included “Hang out with Auckland John”.  Over the past few years I cultivated an internet and phone friendship with John Dobbyn.  We “met” in a Crowded House fan club internet forum.  John originally hailed from Seattle and worked at Microsoft.  He immigrated to Auckland’s Microsoft branch to work there for a year.  We arranged to meet up after I settled in Auckland so he could show me some North Island sights. I had corresponded with John for so long that I felt relatively safe in terms of meeting him in person.  Now that I reflect upon my trip, I realize that it wasn’t the best idea to trust a strange man, no matter how comfortable I felt with him.  I was very, very fortunate that he was a stand-up guy.

John was even more of a Crowded House groupie than I was, so we were quite the pair.  He too had just gone through the end of a relationship, but we had a low-key, brother-sister dynamic between us that set me at ease.  We drove to Te-Awamutu, the “Rose Town” of New Zealand located in the Waikato Region.  Te Awamutu means “the river cut short” in Maori language, as it is the end of the navigable section of the Mangapiko Stream.  Te Awamutu is the birthplace of Neil and Tim Finn of Crowded House/Split Enz fame.  There is now a Te Awamutu Museum with a Finn Brothers exhibit, but unfortunately it hadn’t been created when we were there.  (The Finns have been called the “Lennon and McCartney of New Zealand”.  Like Sir Paul, they were awarded OBE’s by Queen Elizabeth II for their contributions to New Zealand music.)  All I remember of our Te Awamutu sojourn is taking a picture in front of Te Awamutu’s entry sign festooned with roses, and another photograph in front of the obscure Te Awamutu Shell.

To our credit, we didn’t stalk the proud Finn parents who still lived there, thank God.  If we did accost them, Neil may have written a song about us like he did about an American girl who stalked him in New Zealand.  Neil wrote “Mean to Me” for Crowded House’s first hit album about his stalker, and it’s a great song.  John and I drew the line when it came to stalking.  However, later on after I left the country, John would cross the line from fan to actual friend in a most enviable way.  Somehow John was able to contact Neil Finn in Auckland.  I don’t remember how he pulled it off, but he impressed Neil with his computer expertise.  This was the era just when the internet took off big-time.  Neil, who had a keen interest in technology of all kinds, decided to get to know John and arranged for some computer help.  He invited him to his home in Parnell, known as Auckland’s oldest suburb.  John visited the Finn home numerous times for dinner, and he would tell me about Neil’s wife Sharon cooking lamb chops for them.  I was wistful and a bit jealous, but at the same time I knew that I would never be able to handle having dinner with the Finns.  It would be a bit like watching how sausage gets made.

The Trip of A Lifetime (St. Kilda, Melbourne, Australia)

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koalaYesterday to my chagrin I forgot to charge my MacBookPro before leaving the house.  I am proud to say I did bring my charger, but that didn’t help me when I was stuck in my car for twenty minutes with 1% left of battery power.  My blog post’s parting words, frantically written before the laptop conked out, were “Well, the plane flight to Australia was stressful, but not in the way I had foreseen, i.e. bumpiness or mechanical failures.  Oh no. There were several alarming problems that took place both during the flight and upon touchdown.

I had boarded my flight healthy and raring to go, but my immune system wasn’t strong enough to protect me from the other passengers’ germs. I picked up a nasty cold within just a few hours after boarding.  (I didn’t know that due to germs recirculating within the plane cabin, it was much easier to get sick.  If I had known that fact, maybe I would have doubled up on vitamin C since I had a weak immune system.) Lesson learned.  I was sneezing nonstop when the captain’s voice boomed over the intercom to inform us that we’d be arriving in Auckland in six hours.  “WHAT?” I shrieked inwardly.  “This flight is supposed to go to MELBOURNE!”  The itinerary that I clutched in my quivering hands clearly stated that I was flying from San Francisco to Melbourne. For whatever reason, the flight plans had changed and my plane was making an Auckland layover.  The pilot didn’t mention that we were still Melbourne-bound, and I felt petrified to flag down a flight attendant to clarify matters.  I credit my cold for fuzzying my brain and igniting a panic attack that prevented me from acting rationally.  It would have taken all of twenty seconds for me to settle my fears about our destination, but I wasn’t able to think clearly at all.

I panicked for the remainder of the journey, which felt like forever.  Just before we descended, the captain explained we’d be in Auckland for a short time and then we’d re-board. I let out an enormous sigh of relief and my sinuses momentarily cleared.  After we deplaned, I made a beeline for the gift store for some classic retail therapy.  The shop was full of tempting items, and I wanted one of everything.  I resisted temptation and treated myself to two essentials: an enormous milk chocolate bar and a jar of famous New Zealand honey, which made me feel a little better.

It was time to schlep back onto the plane, and I grew increasingly out of it.  When we landed in Melbourne I felt worse; however, I was relieved there would be someone waiting for me.  At the gate stood my longtime Greek-Australian pen pal “Kara”.  Kara was there with two of her friends, and she gave me a welcoming hug.  We found our way to her small car, and I assumed we’d head to her house.  I was totally exhausted, and even without my cold I would have been pooped.  Instead, we headed to the Australian outback to attend an outdoor 60’s-themed “rave”.  During the many years of our correspondence Kara neglected to mention that she was a psychedelic drug addict and that she enjoyed raves.  I was anti-drugs and anti-raves, and I felt shocked that my seemingly innocent pen pal had left out these key interests in her frequent epistles.

I wanted to be polite, so I accompanied the trio into the woods where the party took place, but I took one look at the tripping flower children and I jogged back to the car.  I gobbled down my Auckland chocolate bar even though I couldn’t taste it, and tried to sleep, which didn’t quite work out in the cramped quarters.  The time change had also really thrown me off and to top it off, it was sunny.  I don’t quite recall how many hours I stayed in that tiny car until Kara returned, but we eventually drove to her home.  She had a large, friendly Greek family complete with Grandma making spanikopita in the kitchen.  Between the gaggle of young children running around, and the television blaring in the background, the overall noise level was high.  I hated to be rude, but couch-surfing in that environment was not what I envisioned for this trip and I desperately wanted to escape.  I didn’t know what to do yet, and I furtively kept my thoughts to myself.

On the second day we went strolling around Kara’s St. Kilda, Melbourne neighborhood.  We encountered one of Kara’s friends on the street, a young woman with a neon orange buzz cut named Marilla.  (Interestingly enough, I’d be naming my own daughter Marilla many years later.  Her name was inspired by the character Marilla in one of my favorite books “Anne of Green Gables”, not by the Aussie Marilla!) Kara, Marilla and I did some mundane errands together, such as banking.  Upon exiting the bank, we spotted one of Marilla’s friends walking towards us, a pretty, dark-haired girl who looked like a university coed.

“This is Amy Judd,” said Marilla.  “Amy Judd?” I echoed.  “No, it couldn’t be…” I thought.

Phil Judd was the co-founder of Split Enz, the rock group I worshipped and that was responsible for my loving New Zealand.  I knew he had a daughter named Amy because he had written a song “Amy” about his little girl.  How many Amy Judds could there be, really?

“Are you Phil Judd’s daughter?” I asked, my jaw halfway to the pavement in true groupie fashion.

“Yeah…” she mumbled modestly.

“Well, then, I must take you out to lunch!” I replied.  She protested modestly, but I insisted, and we three went to a sushi restaurant down the road.  I didn’t say much during the meal, but I couldn’t help at marvel at how ironic it was that I sat across from one of my musical idol’s kids.  It was a surreal occasion, to say the least.  I found it a bit strange that Kara had known of my musical obsessions, but she never mentioned that she had a (distant) connection to a member of Split Enz.  No matter.  I took the happenstance as a good omen, and that my trip would turn around for the better.

I realized that I had to bite the bullet and change my trip itinerary.  I knew I was going to offend Kara with my decision, but I was absolutely sure I wanted to get over to New Zealand as soon as possible.  Call it a gut feeling.  I discovered I had to pay one hundred dollars to change my flight plan, but it would prove to be some of the best money I ever spent.  Kara was understandably hurt, and our friendship would never recover from that blow, but as I sat on the spacious Air New Zealand plane headed for Auckland I felt joyous and relaxed.  My fear of flying was gone, and to top it off, they started playing Crowded House (my other favorite band) songs on their sound system.  I looked out the window at the bright blue sky and puffy white clouds and a sense of freedom washed over me.  Sure, I was nervous about staying at youth hostels for the first time in my life, and not having a friend to meet me at the gate.  I was confident that I’d figure it all out somehow.  I opened up my “Rough Guide New Zealand” to review some of the amazing-sounding places I planned to visit and grinned.

(To be continued!  I really will get to New Zealand!)

The Trip of a Lifetime – The Land of the Long White Cloud – Part One

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Sometimes I find myself fixating on bipolar disorder to the point where I shut out everything else that matters in my life, i.e. paying attention to my kids, listening to my husband, or the most mundane of all: cleaning the decrepit house and paying bills.

Yesterday I was feeling “bipolared out”.  I was online too much which gave me ample opportunity to notice how many other bipolar-themed blogs and Twitterers have hundreds or thousands of subscribers and sleek designs.  I felt like a sack of beans next to them.  (Comparisons really are odious.) Sure, I only started blogging regularly a couple months ago and I haven’t promoted myself properly, but still…I got caught up in the “Your bank account is way bigger than my bank account” syndrome.  That kind of defeatist thinking won’t help out anyone, particularly myself.

I realized that I needed a little vacation from thinking about bipolar disorder.  It didn’t need to be an elaborate trip.  All it would require was my focusing on a separate time in my life when I didn’t even know what the word “bipolar” meant.  Hell, the vacation I found myself reminiscing about occurred when “bipolar” was referred to as “manic depression”.  (Yes, I’m dating myself!  I’m turning 44 next month.)

I talk a good game about how there’s so much more to me than bipolar, but I don’t incorporate that philosophy into my days enough.  Truth be told, sometimes I am still in disbelief that I have this damn metal illness and it has been over seven years since I was diagnosed.  Talk about denial…but it’s understandable, isn’t it?

Anyway, after I decided to write about a non-mental-health subject, I felt a spark of excitement.

Last night I brainstormed about what to write about.  I used my Kindle to do one of my favorite activities: search for recently published books about my favorite subjects.  One topic I’ve enjoyed learning about, but that I hadn’t thought about for ages was New Zealand.   Yes, New Zealand.  The Maori word for it is Aotearoa, which means “Land of the Long White Cloud”. (I love that phrase!)  I was introduced to New Zealand through music, namely via my favorite bands Split Enz and Crowded House.  The founders of Split Enz (Phil Judd and Tim Finn) and one member of Crowded House (Neil Finn) hail from the North Island of New Zealand.  Over the years as I listened to their music, I noticed how some of their songs featured New Zealand.  They sang about the significance their country had upon themselves.  I couldn’t help but become enraptured with this intriguing-sounding country that had such an impact upon my beloved musicians and their music.

I remember watching a riveting film, Jane Campion’s “The Piano”, in Santa Cruz during my college days. It was filmed in New Zealand and it won three Academy Awards  A pivotal scene in that film took place on the imposing Kare Kare Beach.  Little did I know I’d be walking along that same shoreline in the years to come.

When I turned twenty-four, I worked full-time as an office manager at a special event production company.  I was in a troubled, passionless relationship and we broke up.  I was long overdue due for a vacation, so soon after my break-up I took two weeks off. I used my brand-new credit card to travel solo to Australia for a week and then over to New Zealand the following week.  I chose Australia because I had a pen pal in Melbourne who graciously offered her family home for my week’s long stay gratis. We had never met in person, but we had been corresponding for years.  In New Zealand I would stay at youth hostels in Auckland and elsewhere around the North Island.

I was a little worried about the lengthy plane ride.  The previous year I had an upsetting experience on a plane that flew from San Francisco to Kansas.  I had panic attacks during heavy turbulence.  Ironically, I had loved flying up to that point, so much so that I actually started attending ground school to get my pilot’s license.  Because of the Kansas flight I wondered if I would be fit to fly the twelve hours from San Francisco to Melbourne.  I didn’t ponder that too much, thankfully, and I packed my backpack to the hilt.  Friends dropped me off at the airport, and I hopped on Polynesian Air.  I had located a discount price for my round-trip ticket (this was hard to do in the pre-internet days!) but it was still incredibly expensive to fly.  I threw caution to the wind, which was easy to do when using one’s very first credit card.  Charging that amount of money didn’t quite seem real.

Well, the plane flight to Australia was stressful, but not in the way I had foreseen, i.e. bumpiness or mechanical failures.  Oh no. There were several alarming problems that took place both during the flight and upon touchdown that I will cover in tomorrow’s post due to the fact that my computer is about to lose power.  Until then, I wish you a bon voyage whether you are making a trip to your local Safeway or if you’re headed for exotic, distant shores!