Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Drawing Doors

As life progresses, we might feel like swirling down a funnel with less-and-less room to move about, fewer-and-fewer choices left, freedom lost forever: hard on free spirited souls. Some of the narrowing tumble comes from bodies no longer willing, some from choices previously made, some from minds set in their habits. Yet, the progression of life continues to have points of inflection. Divide by zero. Trajectory undefined. Our rigid, fearful wills usually skip over these discontinuities and continue on more-or-less as before, but if we pay attention we have a chance, at these times, to take a completely different path. Even better, with some effort and a little luck we can create these chances for ourselves by drawing doors.

Imagine sitting in a room. A nice room. Life’s good. Excellent companionship. Great food (especially the free lunches at Google) and drink. No worries. You notice a marker on the table and begin to wonder. Not knowing exactly what the door will look like, you start to draw one upon the wall, improvising. You have no idea how to make it real. No idea what’s on the other side. No idea if you will walk through. You just want the freedom to choose. A choice. An option in life. You keep at it patiently, adding hinges. One morning, as you are sketching some molding detail, you hear a voice on the other side, “Hey mate, if you’d just put a door knob opposite the hinges maybe we can get this thing open.” Accented English. Not really British. Not quite Australian. Oh bloody hell, it’s a Kiwi! What luck!

This post is our story of drawing a door to take us to New Zealand. I think of our friends Theron and Sarah who spent two years drawing their door to Romania, and then two years living there with the Peace Corp. Perhaps our story is comparatively small potatoes, but it’s the big pumpkin to us, particularly because we’ll be continents away from our children and our love child Alizée. As I did with Theron and Sarah, I take the liberty of using real people and real names in our story. They all read (if they so choose) these posts, so they can bloody well speak up and defend themselves if needed.

When we were out sailing talking with tired circumnavigators, New Zealand always stood out as a special place. By-and-large most would just as soon drop the anchor there for the last time and call it good. Like many people, particularly sailors, we began to have a budding fascination with a land we had never seen.

Kiwis understand boats and understand sailing (sheep too, apparently). A goodly part of Alizée came from New Zealand. In particular, a neat piece of kit (I’m working on my kiwi here. ‘kit’ means ‘gear’.), the XB-8000 from Auckland based Vesper Marine sits behind Alizée’s instrument panel. In a nutshell, and at its most basic, this little blue box sends and receives signals from everyone else’s little blue boxes so we don’t bump into each other out there on the high seas or, more likely, play bumper cars in a foggy harbor. Bump sounds a little too symmetrical. Being run over by a freighter is hardly a symmetrical experience. At any rate, these little blue boxes are great things and save lives. Anyone who knows me knows I root for the little guy. Vesper Marine is the little guy taking on the marine electronics giants and winning because Vesper makes a superior product, plain and simple.

Carl. All right ladies, move away.
He's married with a little boy, Cooper.
Problem was the optional companion app for the XB-8000 ran only on the iPhone. At the time I was working for Google in the Android division. iPhone? Really? I figured I could quickly write an Android app to do what I needed if I just had access to the XB-8000 API. I wrote an email to Vesper with an offer; share the API with me and I’ll give you the Android app when I’m done. Perhaps they didn’t believe me or perhaps they doubted my sincerity. Either way, it was crickets. I did something I do well when so moved; I was annoying. Finally, Jeff passed me over to Carl for babysitting and a non-disclosure followed shortly thereafter. I don’t know (yet, I owe Carl some beer over which I hope he will divulge all history on the other side of the door) whether Carl was pumped or annoyed at having yet another project dumped on his already full plate. I, however, was definitely pumped because I could telnet and http to this thing over Wifi. Not only that, I could connect to their test unit and watch the traffic in Auckland harbor while freezing my cheeks off in Boulder. I mean how cool (cold) is that? My inner geek slipped its leash and I felt ten years younger. I mean ‘HELO’! (Everyone that gets that one can have a free beer next time I am in their presence. In a bar. After noon. Jim H., I know you know and I already owe you one, so back off.)

As these things tend to do, the simple project ballooned completely out of proportion to the original intent and the little Android app became a real app, in many ways exceeding the capabilities of the Vesper iPhone app. Vesper sent me hardware. I sent Carl a sweet Nexus phone to wean him off that evil iPhone. Mostly I worked Sunday nights, Vesper time. Cath grumbled, "When are you coming to bed?" In addition to my day job at Google, I was building Alizée, so moonlight coding hours were hard to come by. That was OK though because I wasn’t getting paid for it anyway, though I did received some nice NZ wine and single malt at Christmas. Still, this was getting a wee too close to real.

During a catchup hangout with Carl, I said, offhandedly, “Hey Carl. You should hire me. Like in New Zealand.” I really do need to get more cognition in prior to vocalization. At that time I knew, and Google knew, I wouldn’t be coming back after our summer with Alizée. NZ was just a passing thought. Not really sure where it came from. “Yeah, alright mate.” Typical Carl understatement. Really? Hmmm. Some things, given nudge, develop a momentum all their own from forces yet undiscovered. I started looking at immigration information. Wow, too old to ever be a citizen, but one year left for permanent residency. Last chance. Now or never. Time to start drawing doors post haste.

Of course, I wasn’t alone here. I told Cath these going ons, but not with a great deal of intent because there wasn’t a great deal of intent at the time, largely because it was impossible to imagine that something like this could actually come to pass. I was just innocently (really) sketching doors on a wall without knowing where one might lead. I couldn’t imagine one might turn into a real door. Still, I kept at it and started to fill in form, after form, after form and my browsing history became dominated by all things ‘’.

The French may have invented bureaucracy, but NZ immigration perfected it. Somewhere along the line I learned to handle bureaucracy. It’s all about patience, persistence, and staying emotionally detached. Don’t get mad. Focus on what you need to achieve and just do it, whether or not it makes any sense at all. For NZ you must apply to be invited to apply for residency. The first application (for an invitation to apply) is point based. You get points for things like advanced degrees and youth. At my age, I got 0 points in the youth column. Cath got 1. Still, we’re well educated cookies in high demand fields and scored well if you look at just the bottom line. But, you have to wait for the fortnight lottery drawing and then the actual invitation to apply. After months of work, I received a cordial invitation to apply for residency under the skilled migrant category because we’re so, well, so skilled.

You would think we were halfway there, but, truly, not even close. The first part of the second application was amassing mounds of documentation to prove all the assertions we made in the first application for those precious points. This proved tricky. We said we had graduate degrees, but by NZ rules you don’t have a degree if you don’t have the paper thing: a diploma. Kinda like you don’t exist if you don’t have a birth certificate despite the fact that you’re standing right there. Case Western, where we went to grad school, saves trees and doesn’t issue paper diplomas. And then there’s the issue of Cath’s Frenchiness, which tripled her documentation. Take for example, police records, needed to prove ourselves of ‘good character’. (NZ seems sensitive about good character. I think it’s a historical NZ vs. the Aussie penal colony thing. I might be wrong.) We needed records from the FBI and the French equivalent. AND we need a translation of the French.

Definitely of good character.
I did the first translations of birth certificate, police records, ... I thought they were pretty good myself. Rejected. The translations must be on letterhead from an official translator recognized by NZ. Translations are a racket it turns out. Then we had the whopper. NZ is also big on ‘of good health’ as well. They insisted on a full medical, with chest x-rays, all by a NZ approved medical facility. You can imagine the price gouging going on there. I can’t even bear to write the number. This was, however, a turning point in the process. The door became real. “Hey honey, we have back-to-back appointments for chest x-rays tomorrow.” “Ah, what?” “You remember, for the New Zealand thing.” “Oh yeah, OK.” “Wait, what?” It was becoming tangible and unsettling. We avoided talking about whether we would open the door, much less walk through it. I focused on making the door real and let it go at that, too uncomfortable to go further.

Hey, now we're demi-kiwis!
We launched Alizée in June and were in the throws of the Wooden Boat Festival when the news arrived: we had been granted residency in New Zealand. Wahoo! Kiwi on the other side of the door, “Hey guys, when are you coming?” Still, we vowed to stay away from the topic and keep our minds on the summer cruising up to and around Maine. Pondering the future, particularly out loud, was too risky and a betrayal of our time with Alizée. We needed our passports to traverse Canada, but would send them to NZ immigration for the residency stamps when we returned to Colorado in September. Just one more step along the path, scary thoughts held safely at bay.

Back in Colorado, what are we doing? Are we walking through this door or not. Perhaps more than Cath, who had already moved continents once, I find the prospect equally exciting and scary. It’s always a bit of a reentry to come home after months out sailing. So many people (and this is just Boulder), so many cars moving about, such a hurry. This time it is different, or perhaps it only seems different because we needed it to be so, but it feels less like home. The entitled kids, the wealth, the first world politics. Is this Colorado or California? It’s becoming hard to tell the difference. For us, trying to live an increasingly modest existence seems hard to do here. Besides, we owe it to all those who would die for the chance. We take a ‘no fear’ vow and start preparing for the plunge.

This door is real. This door is open. We will walk through it. At least we will once we have our lives down to two suitcases each. Aside from my tools, which aren’t going right away, we don’t own that much and we hope to own even less. Living on a boat will teach you how little you need. Each possession we sell, give away, or otherwise dispossess gains us an increment in freedom, an increment in modesty. The end result is like a cleansing deep breath. It feels good. We feel freer. We don’t know how this journey will turn out. Somehow it doesn’t appear important. We’ve heard both good and bad stories. Don’t ask what we’ll do next summer with Alizée or whether we’ll sail her to NZ. Don’t ask when and how we’ll next see our families. We have no idea. Those questions are matters of future doors not yet drawn upon the wall.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Reentry Update: What Now?

We have been slowly readjusting to Colorado, savoring the gorgeous fall weather, reconnecting with friends and deliberately not rushing back into the work life. The planner in the family (yours truly) has been plan-less for once. A bit unnerving yet totally liberating.

We posted all the photos we took over the summer, then we asked ourselves the question many have asked us: what now?

When you live on a boat for months, you realize how little you actually need. So every time we come back from a sailing adventure, we have the urge to clean and declutter. After our 2007 sailing trip, we even had a case of Tom Hanks's wife in Apollo 13 "I can't deal with cleaning, let's sell the house", and went as far as selling the darn thing. Not this time! While on Alizée, I read The Happiness Project, a fun read, highly recommended for women (for its great tips on relationships). The author enjoys decluttering her life and even the lives of others. I was looking forward putting her decluttering techniques to the test: first what you want to get rid of, then what you are keeping but really don't need, like 4 pairs of black pants, and that pretty sweatshirt I never wore - maybe it was not pretty after all. We have done more cleaning the past 2 weeks than in the past 9 years we lived in the house. As a working mother, I read once "the kids won't remember how clean the house was. They'll remember how unavailable you were because you were always cleaning". That was the day I stopped cleaning the house.

As we drove back from Maine, as the fog lifted, something became very clear: our kids are fully emancipated with their own job, place, bank account, credit card, cell phone plan, and even their own sweetheart. Our responsibility to raise responsible young adults has come to an end and we are now entering the third chapter of our lives: post-kids and pre-grandkids. With that realization, we vowed to make the best of that time. A recent event is helping pick a direction....

Over the summer, we received notification that we had been granted New Zealand residency. Bill had made it a goal to get NZ residency before turning 56, the age after which we could never be more than tourists in New Zealand, restricted to 3 month stays. Every circumnavigating sailor we met picked NZ as the place they wished they could have stayed longer, and that was enough for him to set that challenge for himself. I have to say it was a bit amusing to see him go through the application process, until I had to go along with him for a medical appointment. Ugh. I got lumped into the process when the NZ government saw the mate had a long-standing wife and they rightfully assumed I would be unlikely to stay behind. "Don't mess with the wrath of Cath" as Bill would say!

Who in their wildest dream could turn down the opportunity to go experience the land of hobbits and kiwis? We kept looking for a reason why we should not do this, then we stopped looking and started planning. We have learned a ton the past two weeks about requirements to rent a house in Boulder, US naturalization for the frog in the house (yours truly is still a French citizen), NZ housing options and quirkiness (rent looks cheap until you learn they are quoted by the week!), and how to dispose of all kinds of stuff. Anyone in need to recycle old lightbulbs and batteries? contact me!

We are marching through the steps to get outta here in November. I never liked history in school so having to learn about the US constitution was a deterrent all those years. But, after 30 years on a permanent resident green card, I finally applied for the US citizenship so I don't run the risk of having US entry denied would we find ourselves staying abroad longer than 6 months. We decluttered, cleaned (the whole 9 years worth of cleaning) and put our house for rent. Probably the hardest part is finding a nurturing home for our aging cat. The Humane Society says that Boulder residents favor adopting senior cats but so far no luck. Know of anyone who could fall for our 17 yr old sweetie? My agilist friends will appreciate that we are using a Trello board to track our relocation progress and not get overwhelmed by the litany of details - medical insurance, cells plans, cars, housing, medical checkups, etc... Oh and I gotta find a job when I get there so we have enough MULA to travel in the dream land.

After living a quarter of a century in France, then a quarter of a century in America, it seems fitting to move to a third continent. I just hope I don't bring bad karma to NZ. France was great when I was there and it went to pot over the years. The US was great 30 years ago when I got here. This year's presidential election would be enough to make me relocate anywhere, so timing feels about right to leave. Auckland, here we come!