Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Interlude

The other two are passed out on the bed here in our room in the Brentwood in the suburb of Kilbirnie, on our first day in Wellington. It's the third such first day, only this one is for real, the start of something new and unknown and wholly welcomed. We're staying at the Brentwood, a little hotel (by American standards), the only one between downtown Wellington and Miramar, because of a new friend we met through an old one. We arrived like vagabonds, tired and hungry, only to find out, after finding the promised free wi-fi, that a van was already awaiting us.

There have been many such unexpected bits of goodness along this particular way. As anyone who voted for me in the Your Big Break filmmaking competition (or for that matter, simply registered) already knows,  I was not one of the five finalists. Disappointing, yes. But for me the entire experience was tremendous, a fun and productive challenge, something I decided to do--had no choice but to do--on top of selling our house and innumerable other tasks. I was pleased with my work--no mean feat--for a contest whose very existence, at this time, seemed providential.

And so I found myself feeling very grateful for the opportunity to share my work, my perspective, my take on what New Zealand means--within the context of an advertising slogan. The anticipation of the results, while wrapping up my corporate work; saying farewells as best I could in a limited time; searching for answers for friends and family; moving in with friends and moving on.

On Wednesday, however, I was not feeling much gratitude when we learned, at the gate in San Francisco, about what I shall lovingly refer to as the passport glitch, and how a year's labor seemed suddenly jeopardized. And yet: the resulting delay, the postponement of our flight, the walk back from G93 . . . all these meant that I was in the perfect time and place in the South Court to meet, and thank, Barrie Osborne, the producer of The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings . . . and also Your Big Break. Barrie Osborne. What a gracious man. 

The next day, after spending a good part of the afternoon resolving the passport glitch, we wandered around looking for dinner. I had it in my head that Indian was the necessary cuisine (Italian was right out), and so, after inquiring at a nearby hotel, we proceeded past the Transamerica Pyramid in search of a restaurant that with each block seemed less and less likely to exist. 

I paused at a corner building. I noticed a plaque that described it as the home of Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope studio since 1972. This was interesting, I thought, but then my eye caught another Indian restaurant across the street. Not until Jenifer pointed out, quite rightly, that we were standing at the  front door of Cafe Zoetrope, Francis Ford Coppola's restaurant, did I see that maybe we should go in and enjoy some Italian food. 

And so we did. I enjoyed the best chicken caesar salad I've ever had, as well as an '07 Pinot Grigio. The previous 24 hours had been a mite stressful. And so we are enjoying the atmosphere, the photographs, the awards, and saying things like Barrie Osborne, when in strolls the Master himself. He moves to the rear of the cafe and disappears from view. Not until we leave do we see him again, sitting alone at an outside table and on the phone. There is no need to interrupt him, of course, but Hawk waves and delivers a bright "Hi!" and Francis waves back. A blessing.

Getting to Wellington has been a journey of persistent groundlessness. Again and again I am reminded that thinking I have some measure of control in the whole affair is rather pointless. You do what you can and then move on. Breathing is also helpful. Every seeming obstacle, every delay, every hysteria-inducing complication has meant that good stuff was on the way.  Two unplanned days in San Francisco turned out to be the perfect way to get to New Zealand, right on time.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Further West Than We Thought

When you step over the borderline of the "known" into the land of the "unknown," you take a risk. But this borderline is so unendingly fruitful, we just say "Okay." We take the risk. — Werner Sobek, architect and engineer
My last week at work I took a back way to the office. There are vast tracts of farmland and woods here, a district impossible according to previous experience and landmarks. The road winds between dell and vale, through hunting grounds and an old graveyard, and I wish I’d known these paths years before, but catch myself, grateful I know them now.

The sun glitters through trees, through the grey and silent world, dumb with frost, and the road finally opens to the back streets of Phoenixville. The bridge at Gay Street has been rebuilt, and it takes me across the Schuylkill to the wide, low skyline. Everything familiar has changed and been reborn in our time here. The old steel city itself, and more recently familiar, everyday haunts: my gym, which closed without notice; my company, which has relocated to a new building. We have sold our house and live in a back room of our friends’ house in Spring City. Everywhere I go, walking through a restaurant, driving through fields, the words rise up in me like a prayer: We are moving to New Zealand.

It is not lost on me that our new quarters are situated on the corner of Wall Street and Park Road, the convergence of material and creative abundance. It’s a fitting wink to the work Jenifer and I have done this past year, to our aspirations and willingness to identify and seek opportunity. I can safely say we had no idea New Zealand would change our lives.

During our first trip three years ago, we quickly fell in love with New Zealand and its people, making lifelong friends and discovering a pioneering culture that offered seemingly unlimited opportunity in our respective fields. Afterwards I came home and (according to reports of dubious origin) stomped around the house muttering, “I want to live in Wellington.” That was a start, setting an intention, but really no way to manifest a new reality. We didn’t know how to make this leap, what mechanisms were needed to click us out of one life and into another.

I made another push towards Los Angeles. But searching for work you don't really want has a way of wearing on you. Hawk's arrival the next year changed everything. His presence, his needs, his potential and my awareness of my role in fostering it led to a serious contemplation of Where I Was and Where I Was Going. After Hawk's name came to us (there is no other way to put it), we learned that, apart from its being derived from the Old Norse word for the bird, as well as a first name, it comes from an ancient Indo-European root that means "to seize." This was wonderfully appropriate for him as well as an ongoing lesson.  

Questions arose. About the conditions of my life, what I really want for myself, the life I want to give my son. David Byrne's shrill voice sang in my head, asking: What am I still doing in this house? Why am I still doing this corporate work? And: Why don't I wear autumn colors more often?

At the same time Jenifer, less given to brooding, was searching and finding answers of her own. Last winter (in the northern hemisphere), she discovered a holistic health practice for sale in Wellington. It met every criteria she had established for the kind of business she wanted to run, and in May we returned for a scouting trip. It turned out to be exactly right.

The next six months were jam-packed with a seemingly endless stream of tasks. Filing our application with Immigration New Zealand, which meant writing a business plan and accumulating sufficient evidence as to our Good Character and general Suitability. Preparing our house for market. Selling it. 

An odd thing happened during all this. I started getting good at it. Meaning, there was so much to do in any given week (on top of raising a small child and visiting with two sets of grandparents most weekends) precious little time was left for worrying about how I was going to finish everything. Paying bills, running errands, keeping up with the house--all the things Normal People do--now seemed within my everyday capacity. I got less practiced at procrastination. Maybe taking on the opportunity before us was my way of taking responsibility for my life. Maybe I was growing up.

I don't think moving to New Zealand is required for this. For us, however, it's what we needed to integrate our individual and shared dreams, to spend more time together, to live in a harbor city, to create a way of living that's in step with who we'd become while living in and outgrowing a small condo in a small town in Pennsylvania.

As I've shared the news of our plans, responses have been mixed. Some regard us with supportive excitement, others as if we are sailing into the West, to the shores of Valinor. (And perhaps we are, though I promise we’re going by plane.) The most common question is what my family thinks. Our move will be hard on them, no doubt, but I trust that through the distance we will grow closer.

There are many things I will miss. Perhaps most of all will be the sweetness of this time, these last days in the world we've inherited, when we didn't yet know the shape our dreams would take.

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Friday, January 01, 2010

Your Big Break: Capturing the Spirit

As Fate would have it, one of my New Zealand friends alerted me to a spectacular screenwriting and filmmaking opportunity happening right now. It’s the Your Big Break competition sponsored by 100% Pure New Zealand, the travel planning and information site of Tourism New Zealand, and involving good people like Peter Jackson and Barrie Osborne. You may have heard of them before.

In any case, five scripts are selected to be filmed by their writers. One of the top five is determined by popular vote. That’s where you come in!

I’d greatly appreciate your vote for my entry, Capturing the Spirit—that’s my video pitch below. Voting is simple. Check out my entry at, vote by clicking the big green button, and . . . you could win a trip to New Zealand! You!

Voting closes at 11:59 AM PST on January 15, 2010.

Thank you for your support! And Happy New Year!

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