20/1/19: Girl resolves to write. Doesn’t, for weeks

20 Kohitātea 2019

I have not written. I could list several things I have done, and why I’m quite proud of doing them, and why my life is probably better for it. Maybe I should. Maybe it would be good to reflect on all the things. It’s just that it all seems inconsequential, because I have not written. That doesn’t mean it is. It only means that I have not written. I have not done what I resolved to do.

3/1/19: Girl wears dress, buys air freshener, washes dog. Kitten thrown out of vehicle, killed

3 Kohitātea 2019

I bought an air freshener today. People say my car smells like wet dog, as if that’s a bad thing. My two most frequent passengers happen to be dogs, and when we go out on adventures, they usually get wet. To me, the smell of wet dog is the smell of adventure, and freedom, and life worth living.

But I am trying to be more social. I would like humans to come on adventures with me, too, sometimes, and I don’t want to have to keep apologising for the dog smell. So I went into Supercheap Auto and bought a new air freshener and a bottle of stuff you’re meant to spray in the car to ‘neutralise odours’.

They didn’t have the kind of air freshener I wanted, the kind I’ve had dangling from my rear-view mirror since I bought the car, to replace the one that was taken from my beloved wee Subaru when it was stolen, trashed and stripped of anything not bolted down. A blue pawprint, with a sort of bubblegummy berry scent that was quite nice. They didn’t have them. So I got the cheapest, most generic air freshener there was, a sort of cardboard thing shaped like a leaf. I chose the ‘vanilla’ kind because it went with the odour neutralising spray stuff. A theme.

I drove for about five minutes with the leaf-shaped cardboard dangling from my rear-view mirror next to the obsolete bubblegummy blue pawprint before I took it down. It had that sickly chemical, artificially sweet stench of a Glade bathroom air freshener, the kind you keep by the toilet and spray for one reason.

I am trying to be more social, but I am the kind of person who would rather my car smelled like wet dog.

So the leaf-shaped vanilla cardboard is in the glovebox. Maybe I’ll get it out as a courtesy when I have human passengers and just put up with it, because I am trying to be more social, but there’s no way I’m letting it violate my nostrils when I’m on the trail of adventure and freedom and life.

On an unrelated note, I have a new dress.

My sister came around with a big bag of clothes that don’t fit her anymore for me to go through before it all goes to the op-shop. The dress was in it. You can’t really see it in the photo, but I prefer my face to my body, so. The material is very light and comfortable. I’m trying to get into wearing dresses.

On the way home from the falls, I washed my dog. I am trying to be more social, but it’s summer. In summer, I come with a dog. I don’t care if he smells doggy, but maybe other people do. So we pulled up to this big car wash hub in town that has a little ‘dog wash’ station. You buy tokens with money, put the tokens in the machine and choose shampoo/conditioner/rinse/blow dry. We’ve used a similar system before, at the pet store. I used to work at a proper, upmarket dog groomer’s, so it was like an extremely low budget DIY version of that. Enough Loki fluff is now drifting through the main streets of Hastings to make a whole new dog. Maybe two.

After the wash, we stopped by the pet store to get him a treat for being a good boy. At the groomer’s where I used to work, we would spritz a tiny bit of this premium dog cologne on the dogs after they were all clean and dry, to send them home smelling their best. That stuff was divine. Top of the line, ludicrously expensive, but you get what you pay for. I mean, it actually smelled delicious. Coconut, and all this. Made me want to rub my face in the dogs’ fur and take a deep huff.

There was some stuff at Animates you could buy to spray on your dog to make him smell nice. I decided to buy some. The most I was willing to spend was $16.50, because that was the cheapest one. “Botanical Mist”, it’s called. Pomegranate scent. The label has a nice design. “Infused with natural extracts that will leave your pets smelling as good as they feel cuddled up next to you.” Nice. The back of the label: “With its rich and fruity aroma, Pomegranate speaks to your pet’s sense of fun and spunkiness. Natural antioxidants and a touch of Matricaria flower extract add excellent moisturizing and nourishing properties for the coat and skin.” Sold!

I should have learned my lesson with the air freshener.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not the same assault to the senses as the leaf-shaped cardboard with its sickly fake vanilla stench, but there are lingering tones of the Glade bathroom can.

It’s the artificiality that puts me off. I’m sure some humans I attempt to socialise with will appreciate my dog smelling like fake Pomegranate, but I think dogs should smell like dogs. They should be clean and dry, certainly, but if they have a musky, earthy, freshwater odour about them, it’s all good with me. It’s authentic. It’s adventure. It’s freedom. It’s dog.

But, I am trying to be more social. So.

When I got home, I made a spicy stir-fry and sat down with my iPad. I shouldn’t have checked the news before I ate. A kitten was thrown out of a car window yesterday, and died in excruciating pain. There’s a photo. The kitten looks just like mum’s cat, Alfie, when he was a kitten.

Alfie was supposed to be my kitten, and for awhile, he was. He was the boldest, sprightliest, most inquisitive and confident kitten in the world. He used to climb trees up to the highest branches and follow me and the dogs out onto the field. He used to chase tennis balls. But he became mum’s cat. He chose her. Now he’s the fattest, laziest, most contented house cat I’ve ever seen. She feeds him too much. He doesn’t care. He purrs like an engine the second you touch him. He’s the happiest cat. Not a care in the world. If he’s not snoozing on mum’s bed, he’s sunbathing on the patio. Or eating. Occasionally he stalks the pigeons, but he’s too fat to catch them.

A kitten died in excruciating pain after being thrown from a moving vehicle and run over in Taranaki, it has been claimed.

Stuff.co.nz

Julie Adlam spoke to the SPCA about seeing the kitten being thrown from a vehicle on Devon Rd, State Highway 3, near the Mangati Rd intersection.

The back wheel of the vehicle appeared to clip the tiny animal, which was riddled with fleas, and her pelvis was shattered as she tried to crawl by her front legs across the main road both ways, in a fearful effort to get to safety, Adlam said.

The kitten was taken to the vet in “excruciating pain” but died before the vet saw her. — Stuff

I don’t know what it is about kittens. Whether they’re being stoned to death by laughing teenagers filming themselves doing it or stomped to death under a man’s boot (also filming himself doing it) or thrown out of vehicles and run over, I just get very upset.

I might need to cry for awhile, or take a bath, or read a book, or all three. A glass of wine would be good too, but I am trying to drink less wine. I am trying to get into wearing dresses, being more social and drinking less wine. Wearing dresses and being social in a world where kittens are thrown from vehicles and die in excruciating pain seems every bit as stupid as it did before I started actively trying to do it.

I still haven’t bought a plant.

1/1/19: Resolve to write.

this is the day your life shall surely change

this is the day when things fall into place

— The The, This Is The Day

1 Kohitātea 2019

Don’t be the same old sucker for phrases like fresh start and clean slate and new beginnings. Nothing is new. A digit on the calendar has changed. It happens every year. Today there is a 9 where yesterday there was an 8. That is all.

There’s nothing new about resolutions when you’ve already resolved to them a thousand times.

Eat healthy. Write. Go for more walks. Explore. Save money. Earn money. Draw. Write. Clean your room. Stop procrastinating. Sort your life out. Finish things that you start. Stand up straight, fix your posture. Go outside, get some sun on your skin. Use sunscreen. And start using night cream — you’re thirty. Stop killing your hair with chemicals and heat. Just leave it alone. Let it grow. Buy a houseplant. Take care of it. Keep the bloody thing alive. Stay in touch with your friends. Write. Spend more time with your family. Write. Take more photos. Write. Donate to charity. Volunteer. Get involved. Actively fight the things that make you hate the world instead of bitching about them on Twitter. Do whatever you can to make Aotearoa safer for animals. Write. Make more funny YouTube videos. Go to a comedy show. Go to a gig. Get a tattoo. Don’t drink so much. Be organised. Be tidy. Be disciplined. Be focused. Seize opportunities. Stop squandering your talents. Wise up. Keep your promises. Be kinder. Be better. Be better, be better, be better, and write.

You know the things you need to do. You’ll either do them, or you won’t. If you resolve to do nothing else in 2019, resolve to write.

Write like you’re on death row, because you are. We all are.

Write like it’s your deathbed confession and your declaration of innocence. Write like it’s 2013 and the pen is the only thing tethering you to reality. Write savagely, if you need to. Write viciously. Snarl. Scream onto the page until your throat is raw. Write in chaos. Write in misery. Write in hope. Write at midnight. Write at sunset. Write at dawn. Write in darkness and in daylight. Write in coffee shops. Write in bed. Write in your car. Write in journals. Write online. Write in terror. Write in rage. Write in bliss and joy, and in love and gratitude, because you have all that, now. If you don’t ruin everything, you could keep it. If you do ruin it, it’s your fault.

Write often. Write badly. Don’t worry about it. Just write.

Buy the plant. Keep it alive. Fix your posture. Clean your room. Sort your life out. Go for walks. Make videos. Get involved. Do all that, in 2019.

Or don’t.

But write.

Write yourself sick. Write yourself sane. Write like no one’s reading. Even if they are, it doesn’t matter. Write ’til your wrists ache. Type your fingers to the bone. Rip yourself open and clean out what’s rotting, because it’s been five years and this is ridiculous. Write. You’re carrying it all in your blood and your bones and your bile and it’s still written on your skin in a language no one can understand, so transcribe it. Write. Maybe the posture thing would sort itself out if you could just get the tension out of your muscles.

The earth did another circle around the sun. This is not a fresh start or a clean slate or a new beginning. It’s just 2019. You’re thirty years old. You’re alive.

Resolve to write.

The pretty dead girl is not public property

Art by Grace Millane

Social media is overflowing with heartfelt tributes, outpourings of grief and hot, blind fury over the tragic murder of Grace Millane. As I type, talkback radio listeners are calling in non-stop to vent their feelings. The hashtag #HerLightOurLove is trending on Twitter. Users are uploading images of the sky as a way to honour the pretty dead girl.

Hashtags and heart emojis. 💔

This is how we grieve.

It’s not just online. The Auckland Sky Tower is lit up white in Grace’s memory. The Prime Minister has tearfully apologised to her family, on behalf of all New Zealanders. It’s not typical for the PM to issue statements like that on individual homicides, but I think she read the mood of the nation and got it right. Our thoughts are all with Grace’s whānau, who will forever associate our land with their senseless and devastating loss. We are all sorry and ashamed that this happened to a tourist.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Grace’s murder has been prioritised by the media, or that the nation has taken what my friend described as a ‘ghoulish delight’ in this young woman’s death.

Cynics will be quick to point out that Grace was attractive and Caucasian, and there is no doubt something to that.

Just the other week, an elderly man was decapitated in Petone. His head was stuffed into a plastic bag and thrown out of the second-storey window of the block of council flats where he lived. The details of this case genuinely shocked me, but I have not read or heard a single thing about it in the media since it was first reported.

Pretty, dead white girls make headlines. This is nothing new.

But there’s more to this than that. Grace Millane’s story appears to be having a profound, personal  emotional impact on the lives of countless New Zealanders who have never met her.

Art by Grace Millane

Some of them are energised in their sorrow. Candlelit vigils are being set up all around the country. In Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin, and many other cities, thousands have registered their interest in attending on the Facebook event pages.

Mobilised mourning. Grief gone viral.

I don’t recall seeing anything quite like this in Aotearoa before.

It’s easy to understand why someone like Grace would become something of an adopted daughter, sister, friend to so many. She was a recent graduate and a talented artist. Full of promise, travelling from overseas, exploring the world on what should have been the adventure of a lifetime. Murdered on the eve of her 22nd birthday, by a man.

It’s a tragedy with all the ingredients for primetime. A photogenic young woman. A distraught family desperately searching for her. A life extinguished, a body discarded. A necklace and a watch, still missing.

The candlelit vigils will provide plenty of heartwarming footage for the inevitable ’60 Minutes’, ’20/20′, ‘Sunday’ style shows. We all know this routine.

Another factor in the hyper-romanticisation of this homicide is the timing.

In a social environment where disparaging men simply for being male is not only tolerated, but actively encouraged, a hideous murder of a beautiful girl is just too perfect a #MeToo movement moment to pass up. Opportunists have already seized upon Grace Millane’s death to fuel their cause.

Art by Grace Millane

None of us knew Grace.

As strangers, all we have to piece her together are fragments. Images and words. Little clues scattered in cyberspace, a digital imprint of her short time on this earth. I trawled through Grace’s Twitter timeline while writing this article, and all I could see was a genuinely lovely girl. Nothing in her digital imprint suggests to me that Grace Millane was a spiteful or vindictive person. I don’t see hate in her eyes. I don’t see hate in her art.

Art by Grace Millane

Before she was the pretty dead girl, Grace Millane was a real person. She had hopes and ambitions and insecurities and a sense of humour and a shoe addiction. She was an animal lover. She adored her dogs, Benson and Maddie. She studied. She painted. She played hockey. She posted a lot of funny gifs. She loved her friends and her baby niece. Everything I can see of what she left behind online gives me the impression that Grace was exceedingly gentle and kind. Many people who die young  are given undeserved sainthood status simply by virtue of being young and dead. This pretty dead girl seemed like a thoroughly decent human being in every respect.

We don’t know what Grace would have wanted to be said or done in her memory in the aftermath of this horror. We can only speculate as to how she would deal with her post-mortem publicity if she had any say in the matter, whether she would approve or disapprove of a hateful message being propagated in her name.

Still, the “Men are trash” Twitter brigade are brazenly informing Kiwi blokes that they all have Grace’s blood on their collective male hands. They were all in that hotel room that night. Half the population just killed a young woman.

I don’t want to make this about feminism — I’ll leave that to the feminists. They’re doing a great job of making Grace Millane’s death all about them. But I will take a moment to observe, not for the first time, that demonising a demographic and attempting to hold them collectively responsible for crimes committed by individuals within that demographic is wrong. When the targeted demographic is an ethnic or religious group, everyone seems to be very, very clear about that. When it applies to race or religion, this is the general consensus. When it comes to blaming males for all of society’s ills, however, this logic does not apply. One man committed a heinous crime, therefore, men are trash. All of them.

In the downtime between breaking announcements related to this case, news sites are publishing lists of all the female backpackers and tourists murdered in New Zealand over the decades. Journalists are making Twitter threads, attempting to collate all the women and girls ever murdered by men in New Zealand, ever — getting names and key details wrong in their enthusiasm and haste.

I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen anyone use the hashtag #NotAllMen in seriousness, but I frequently see it used to mock and dismiss anyone who refuses to participate in this vicious scapegoating.

So while I don’t expect for a minute to get an answer, I do have a genuine question for Team Men Are Trash.

Is Grace Millane’s father, David, who flew across the world to search for his missing daughter, pleading through tears for information on our televisions, trash?

Grace’s older brothers, Declan and Michael, are they trash?

Detective Inspector Scott Beard, whose voice shook with emotion when he announced that this missing person case was now a homicide investigation. Is he trash too? The male police officers, forensic and medical examiners involved in this case. The men who helped track down and arrest Grace’s killer, the men who will undoubtedly be part of prosecuting him and bringing him to justice. Are any of these human beings exempt from this?

Or are they all just male trash?

I don’t believe Grace Millane would have wanted all New Zealand men to feel guilty and ashamed for something they had nothing to do with. But again — I did not know her. 

Nor did those grieving so publicly for her on social media, organising marches and candlelit vigils.

Anyone can exploit a stranger’s death to further their own narrative. People do it all the time. No one can stop them. I wouldn’t even attempt to try. But I would like to respectfully suggest that Grace Millane’s name, her face, her memory, do not belong to any of us. They belong to her whānau and friends.  The people she knew and loved, who knew and loved her.

That’s not to say there is any shame in mourning for a stranger. I thought the sky photos were a nice gesture. I have friends who plan to attend one of the vigils, and I respect their choice to do that, but I don’t think I’ll be going. Organised emotional outpourings aren’t my scene, and I suspect some of the attendance will be politically motivated. For obvious reasons, I don’t want to be a part of that.

I have said a quiet karakia for Grace and wept for her in private. No doubt I will weep for her again — her passion for animals and especially for her dogs is what keeps getting to me, and there we go, the tears are streaming now — but I’ll keep it to myself.

Grace cannot consent to being made a symbol for anything. Her memory should not be a blank canvas for us all to project our personal politics onto. I know I may be accused of having done just that by writing this post, so I’ll say it one more time: I didn’t know Grace. I have no way of knowing what her wishes would have been in all of this.

And neither do you.

Grace Emmie Rose Millane deserves to be remembered for who she was, not who certain activists need her to be to fit their agenda.

The fact that she was murdered in this country should not automatically make Grace public property.

She was — is —  so much more than the pretty dead girl.

Art by Grace Millane