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Green thumbs?

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My touchpoint for happiness has always been my grandparent’s house. It’s my lodestone, my central point. My spiritual hearth. It’s the place where I was happiest and my mind was quietest. It held all the things I thought made a good life — the sound of the wind in the pines, sun-warmed veggies and fruit picked off trees, lambs being born over the fence. The pool where I spent so much of my time and the armchair where I spent the rest, stack of library books at hand.

Sometimes little things come to me — the smell of the bunk room, with its generations of sporting equipment tucked into dusty corners behind old plastic sun chairs and shelves of homemade preserves. The bottles of soda kept in the bottom of the cupboard that could be fished out on special occasions. I can feel the snick of the key releasing the door (it had no handle and I never saw the key put away) and the way the hum of the upright freezer permeated everything in that small space.

I have perfect mental muscle memory of letting myself out the front door on dusky summer evenings and padding barefoot across the patio, down the two concrete steps, over the little ridge where the path curved and across the prickly sun-crisped grass to fetch the ice cream from the freezer. The house would smell like warm lights and roast lamb and pudding, and the tree above the bunk room door would hang over my head, laden with the red berries that had passed into family lore after a childhood dare led to an emergency doctor visit.

I don’t need my own collection of dilapidated homemade sheds and outhouses in which to store sporting goods and extra food, but I’ve always felt like I wanted my adult self to recreate the way I felt there. And I’ve always felt that that would require land and animals and plants. Making fruit from my own jam, a lunch table consisting of a bowl of fresh produce, a loaf of bread and a knife.

I’ve rarely considered that childhood me didn’t actually do any of the gardening or baking — I watched my grandparents do it, usually out of my peripheral vision while I lazed in the grass or the pool or on the couch. I also missed, in my child’s way, the work of it all — the days of de-stoning and stirring and boiling and canning. The baskets and buckets of plums and apricots and tomatoes that became my winter breakfasts and the ketchup I lavished on every meal.

This is a very long way of saying that I’m worried I don’t actually like gardening. Now that we have the land, and the babies are big enough to allow some time to start clearing and weeding and growing, I’m realising it’s… frustrating. It’s an excellent exercise in control, or the lack thereof — once you’ve done all the things you can do, you really just have to watch and wait.

I’m not a big fan of either.

I’m not sure if this is because I’m still not very good at gardening, or because our property has been such a frustrating mess for so long. It’s taken a lot of years to get good at baking and cooking and breadmaking, but the path felt easier — I always loved doing it, I’ve just been layering up skills until I could tell by touch whether my sourdough was ready and know how to turn the contents of my fridge into a delicious meal. Maybe I’ve started too big — my first garden is an overgrown quarter acre on a hill that no one’s given any care to in ten or twenty years.

I always kind of thought (foolishly, I realise, as soon as I stop to think about it) that gardening would be easy. It’s what the planet does, right? Put seed in soil, add water and sun. I forget that nature takes the path of least resistance, and nature is also slugs and caterpillars and weeds.

Gardening might be natural, but natural isn’t peaceful. It’s war. A never-ending tussle for land rights and supremacy. The plants we grow for food have been engineered over generations to be tasty and productive — but because of that, they’re also weak and fragile. They need us to coddle and protect them or they’ll be crushed by the hungry, scrappy might of the real nature that wants to steal their resources and devour them for its own.

But at the same time, they don’t need much of anything at all. The war is fought slowly, one weed at a time. Trying to hurry things along or plant in bad soil has lead to three years of dud harvests. My cauliflowers never grow; my lettuces and herbs all bolt straight to seed.

I know the solution, but the solution is time. Improve the soil. Build my compost. Grow less, with better care. Wait. Watch. Wait again.

My constant need to succeed, to achieve, isn’t coping very well with nature. Nature doesn’t give a shit about my timetable. Nature can’t be hurried or hacked or worked around with good communication and a post-it workshop. Nature is utterly indifferent to my ability to write convincingly.

I’m pretty sure that means I need to stick at it. If nothing else, we should all know where our food comes from; how much time and skill it takes to grow it well. It changes your relationship with the whole natural world, not just the things you eat. If it can teach me patience and care, it may even change my relationship with myself.

If my thumbs aren’t quite green yet, at least there’s dirt under my nails.

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Do better

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Right before you turn the corner to our house, there’s a nondescript suburban road that ends in a one-lane bridge. It’s one of my favourite streets in Wellington, because it’s lined with cherry trees on both sides. It’s a riot of blossom in summer and a fiery tunnel of red and gold in autumn. I love it every time I drive down it.

There’s a collective at the end of that road where I’ve been meaning, for years, to volunteer, or at least donate to. We used to go to a playgroup run by them, and Nico would play next to a little Somali boy the same age as him, while his hijabbed mother beamed quietly from the sidelines. I assumed she was a refugee, because they do lots of work with refugees, but I realise I never actually asked her, or even spoke to her much directly other than a hello, or to comment on something the kids were doing.

I keep thinking of it today because the littlest boy who died on Friday — a three-year-old — looks so much like that other little boy who used to play with my little boy. It feels wrong that my connection to the Muslim community in New Zealand is so weak; that that thin thread is my frame of reference.

I need to do better. We all need to do better.

I feel sick about not being with my kids today, but I’m pretty sure all I did while I was with them yesterday was stare at my phone. I’m at the point now where I’m ferreting out the horrible comments and the gross racist opinions, and it’s not healthy. It’s not helpful. I need to stop.

I had one negative comment on the post I shared publicly and I feel sick about that too. The comment was ignorant rather than offensive, but I responded in anger. I got mad and attacked this person for coming into my space with her shitty take, for making a post about New Zealand’s lack of responsibility for its own racism an issue about her personal lack of responsibility. I was bitchy. I deleted her comments. I blocked her.

Things I did not do: act with compassion. Be the bigger person. Help her learn anything.

I need to do better.

It’s been a long time since I posted here. I’ve written things but felt no urge to make them public. Maybe that’s a good thing, in this age and climate. I don’t know if I need the world to validate what I think anymore. But I do like to write, and I do miss it. If nothing else, having a blog is good  incentive to form my thoughts into something with structure. Publishing a post means making sure it has a beginning and an end. All pieces present and correct.

Writing only for myself ends up being fractured notes and fragments of sentences. It doesn’t require me to question myself and dig deeper, or to do the technical work of making my thoughts readable and relatable. It’s not a very good record for my own future self, let alone whether I care if anyone else is reading.

So maybe I’ll try to do better at this too. Time is a fleeting thing, especially with small children — and mine are already not-so-small, and I’ve barely recorded anything about who they are and what they mean to me. (Hint: amazing and infuriating; everything.)

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Round two (Luca’s birth story)

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I had a cup of tea before I met my second child. A cup of tea and a piece of toast with jam. It was the best cup of tea and the best piece of toast I’ve ever had, even though the toast was hospital-cooked cold white bread and the tea was in a styrofoam mug with UHC milk from the little nook in the delivery ward.

I still feel slightly gobsmacked that I did it: that I stopped to have tea and toast, and then a shower, before I even saw my baby’s face properly. After he was born, all I saw was a grey triangle of squashed-looking face peeping out of a towel as he was rushed out of the theatre and up to the special care unit. Before that, he was a tiny lump on the other side of the room, hidden behind a huddle of midwives and doctors as I lay, sobbing, under glaring lights with my legs in stirrups while my body juddered and convulsed from shock.

Brazil didn’t know where to be, hovering behind the doctors and then coming back to squeeze my hand while the doctor set to work examining the damage they’d done to me in their haste to save my baby. “Wow,” the doc said, “look, there’s only a first degree tear!”

She went to get suturing supplies. “I feel like something bad happened to my haemorrhoids,” I told her. It didn’t hurt yet, but it felt like there was a cold breeze down there, like something that had been on the inside was now on the outside in a way it shouldn’t be.

She looked again. “Oh,” she said. “Ah.” Then, “well, the good news is if you ever have another baby, you can probably ask for an elective c-section.”

Back to the tea. They took my baby to special care once they got him breathing. Brazil went with them, I think, and I was stitched up and wheeled back up to postnatal, my limbs still jerking their violent and involuntary dance. I was covered in blood and sweat (and shit, probably), and I couldn’t stop crying. The whole thing felt surreal, like I was drunk or dreaming or underwater.

“He’s okay,” my midwife said. “He’s going to be fine. Let’s get you cleaned up, and you can go and see him. Do you need anything first?”

I hadn’t slept or eaten. I’d had a baby inside me and now he was outside and nowhere near me. I didn’t know who he was yet. We hadn’t met. He was supposed to go from my tummy to my chest and stay there, switching sides with my skin but staying part of me. Nico didn’t feel like a separate person for days, sometimes even for months. My legs continued to shake and my eyes continued to leak.

“Can I have my phone?” I asked. “And maybe something to eat?”

Let’s back up again.

Throughout this pregnancy, everyone assured me that second births are nothing like first births. They’re faster. They’re easier. Your body knows what to do. I was terrified of having to go through giving birth again, but I was pretty confident that this time would be better. I packed my hospital bag with one change of clothes. Positive thinking!, I’d thought positively. No week in hospital for us this time! We’d go in, have the baby, and be home when Nico woke up in the morning.

“I’m really sorry I told you it would be better this time,” my midwife said as I drank my tea. “Two bad births is really bad luck.”

This time did seem better, for quite a while. I’d been having contractions on and off for a few days, but they’d always vanish when I lay down to try and sleep. Finally, six days overdue, they started up and didn’t stop. There had been so many false alarms that when I told Brazil he needed to call my parents and let them know tonight was the night, he just kept reading his book. “Oh,” he finally said. “You mean now?”

Things happened as they’re meant to happen. It was painful and intense but manageable. I’d forgotten how much it hurts, but this time it felt like I was making progress, like the pain would lead us to a baby. We put Nico to bed. My parents arrived. I leaned on our bed and tried to breathe through the contractions until it was time to call my midwife, and then contracted my way down the path and into the car, and then out of the car and up to the delivery ward.

And then everything slowed down again. We passed a fun few hours alternating between the bed, the bath and the swiss ball, the contractions strong and regular but not getting any more of either. I mashed Brazil’s hand and forearm between mine in rhythm with the pain, like I could transfer it out of me if I squeezed hard enough. Sometime around 4am, I think, I hauled myself out of the bath and called a team meeting.

My midwife would check my dilation. If things had progressed, we’d keep going as we were. If they hadn’t, she’d break my waters and see if that sped things up — and we’d get the 20 minutes of monitoring required before having an epidural started, so that if nothing changed and we were in for another long haul, we’d be ready to go with some sweet, sweet relief.

I’d told anybody who’d listen that I wouldn’t wait for the epidural this time. I don’t need to try and be a hero, I’d said, paraphrasing a thing I saw on Twitter about how we don’t want anything about women to be natural until it’s causing them unimaginable pain.

But then it came to it, and… I just kept putting it off. The competitive perfectionist in me wanted to know if I could do it. And the idea that an epidural was a failure or an admission of weakness had buried itself too deep. I couldn’t bring myself to ask for it.

So I put it off. And put it off.

I have two thoughts about this. The first is that if I’d been even a few minutes earlier in giving in, I wouldn’t have had to feel what came after.

The other is that if I’d tried to tough it out, we might never have known how much distress Luca was in — or at least not until it was too late.

I was still only seven or eight centimetres dilated, so a nurse came and set up the fetal heart monitor, and we broke my waters. And then things got hazy.

Two things happened at once. The contractions went from crushing-Brazil’s-hand-and-breathing-through-it to screaming agony, and in the middle of each one my body would kind of hitch and I’d get this insanely strong involuntary pushing sensation, and then it would flip back. It was like I was in two stages of labour at the same time.

Second, everyone got really quiet and focused on the heart rate monitor. Luca’s heart rate was dropping precipitously with each contraction, and it wasn’t coming back up in between.

I could tell it was bad and that people (more and more of them all the time) were getting really concerned, but I couldn’t see the screen and I was in and out of these overpowering, all-consuming push-pull contractions.

My midwife did another examination. She called a nurse in to repeat it, and then another one. Luca, who’d been lying sideways for weeks, had finally turned — but the wrong way. He’d gone posterior — and then he’d tipped his head back, and now the hard ridge of his forehead was stuck against my cervix.

He was stuck, and he was in trouble.

What happened next was this: the emergency caesarian team were already performing an emergency caesarian. There was no one else who could do one, and no time to wait for them to finish.

“This baby has to come out right now,” my midwife kept saying to me. “We don’t have any time. I need you to push him out now.

I wasn’t even fully dilated.

My midwife and two nurses took turns reaching inside me and trying to physically shove what remained of my cervix behind the baby’s head. I expect that will be the most painful experience of my life. I certainly hope it will be.

With every contraction I just had to push and push and push, as hard as I could, with whatever I had. “You can do this,” my midwife told me. “You can do this because you have to. There’s no other way.”

I screamed. I cried. I shat myself.

The baby remained stuck. His heart rate dropped further.

They took my bed and ran me down to theatre, while I screamed and writhed my way through contractions in the hallway and the lift. They wheeled me into a huge white room, filled with people in scrubs and bright lights. My legs were locked into stirrups. An obstetrician ran in, a lovely older Sikh man in a colourful turban. I feel this rush of love for him every time I think about it, because he stopped at my head first and asked my name and told me it was going to be okay. (I think that’s what he did, anyway. All I actually remember is this sense of kindness, and an overwhelming gratitude that someone had remembered I was still a person, too.)

“I’m going to get these forceps,” he said, “and I’m going to pull and you’re going to push.” A nurse unpackaged the huge set of forceps, like salad tongs gone wrong, and handed them to him. “We’re going to do this right now, in one go. You need to give this push every single thing you have. This is our only shot.”

No one ever said “or your baby will die”. It sat there in the room, but nobody said it. I didn’t really process it until later.

While I drank my tea later that morning, my midwife said “usually they’d at least take the time to give you a local”.

They didn’t, though.

They pulled. I pushed. My baby came out. He was grey and floppy and he’d aspirated meconium. A swarm of people carried him away and left me lying on the table.

Luca was born at 6:45 in the morning, and I held him for the first time that evening. He started breathing on his own shortly after he was born, and he latched and fed the first time we tried. He had to stay in special care for five days of IV antibiotics due to the meconium, but he was strong and healthy and nothing else was wrong with him. We don’t know what happened to him during the birth, but there don’t seem to be any lasting effects.

He’s a healthy, happy, chunky baby.

I have an obstetrician follow-up this week to check the state of play in my ladybusiness, but it feels like I got off fairly lightly, considering. I went back to the gym this week and the only pain I’m in is the usual. I’ve had two rounds of gastro since he was born (thanks, sticky daycare fingers and completely fucked immune system) and other than discovering it’s possible to breastfeed while vomiting, my body and pelvic floor coped the way it always has. We haven’t even tried to have sex yet, both because we have TWO BABIES, ARE YOU EVEN KIDDING, and because I still feel like that area of my body is a war crime that should be cordoned off and left to grow weeds. I don’t know when that feeling will change — it still hadn’t really after Nico when I got pregnant with Luca (thanks, wine!).

I thought a lot during the election about whether the state of funding in our hospitals put my baby’s life at risk. Should there have been backup for c-sections? The hospital had no incubators free at first, and then his monitoring equipment was “the buggy one” that alarmed constantly for no reason because it was so old. After the birth I was put into a shared postnatal room because there was no other space, and I spent the first couple of nights separated by a curtain from a first-time mother and her screaming baby, while my baby slept down the hall in special care. The staff were trying so hard, and were so kind, but they were so obviously overstretched and overstressed.

The last nine years of cutting costs and corners in our public services are really showing, once you look under the hood.

So there it is: round two.

I’m both more and less cynical about the natural birth movement now. I still believe in empowering women to do what their bodies are designed to do. I read a book about the medical history of birth while camping out beside Luca’s incubator (Brazil made me stop reading especially gory facts aloud, but privately I thought it was probably small fry to anyone in that room. We’d all seen the kraken), which was a revelation in how many of the women who used to die in childbirth died because of shoddy medical practices rather than the process of birth.

But I also think women are on average older than they used to be, and fatter, and more sedentary. And less versed in experiencing both pain and loss of control.

There’s a very real risk that pushing women to give birth naturally makes them feel weak for asking for or getting pain relief, and ashamed of births that don’t go to plan and require intervention (which seems, anecdotally, to be most of them?). I know people who’ve had powerful, pain-free, empowering births, and I love that it’s possible. But are we risking making women feel like that’s usual, when in most cases it really isn’t?

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Sweet

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If I had to describe Luca in a word, at two months and one week old, that word would be “sweet”. He’s sweet. Like Nico, he’s happy almost all the time, but his happiness is different: Nico’s is active; it comes from entertaining and being entertained. Luca is social too, but he’s a smiler and a chatterbox rather than a performer. He wants to ask how your day was and actually listen to your answer.

It’s amazing how easy having an easy baby is.

At the time, I never would have said Nico was difficult. I remember when he was this tiny, people would ask if I thought I knew what he was like yet, and I’d always say “determined”. His adjective was determined then, and it’s probably still determined now.

I wouldn’t have said he was difficult because he was so happy. He never cried a lot — probably because he nearly always got his own way. (His own way being, in order of preference: 1) a boob in his mouth, 2) being held, or in a pinch 3) a parent’s absolute and undivided attention.) For the first seven or eight months of his life, he had an apoplectic meltdown every single time I left his line of sight. He refused to lie on the floor or under his play gym unless someone was actively interacting with him the whole time. Just getting a glass of water was stressful.

Today I repotted my tomatoes while Luca sat in his bouncy chair having chats with the wind. I went up to the shed, got a bucket of compost, trotted inside and out and up and down, and he waved his little feet and noted my reappearance each time with a smile.

He’s so delicious.

Of course, it helps having two adults at home. It helps having experience in raising a small baby. It might even help that he spent his first week in an incubator, so although he never slept for long until the last couple of weeks, he’s always been willing to sleep in a bed. (Or the floor. Or his chair. Or someone’s lap. I have a whole series of photos of places he’s fallen asleep after we forgot about him because he’s just so freaking chill.) You can even put him down “drowsy but not asleep”, as all the books say, and he will actually go to sleep. Until I saw it happen I believed that particular piece of advice was a cruel MSM lie designed solely to make new parents insane.

He does loads of stuff I’d heard babies can do that Nico never did: stops feeding when he’s had enough, takes a bottle, poos less than every ten minutes. It’s a whole new world. We reckon we’ll probably keep him.

Periodically while going about my day I remember that our Prime Minister is a 37-year-old, unmarried, childless woman, and I get such a fizzy rush in my tummy that I feel like I could scale a mountain on the spot. I always believed in the importance of “if they can see it they can be it”, but I didn’t really consider it to apply to me. And yet I can’t help but feel like it’s so much more possible now to make a difference to my country, or to have my voice heard. I feel positive about our nation’s future for the first time in a long time, and it feels so freaking good.

Also, real talk: I reckon Jacinda and I would be mates.

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Luca

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I was due on the 23rd and born on the 30th. Luca was due on the 23rd and born on the 30th. He has Diogo’s nose, but my pale skin and hands and ears. His eyelashes are lighter than the rest of us but equally as long, and they curl up at the ends instead of sticking straight out. Maybe he’ll be a swimmer or a basketball player: he’s exactly average in weight, but 98th percentile for height, with the longest, skinniest feet I’ve ever seen on a human.

I’m so happy he’s here.

I’ll write about his birth, not just because it helps me to get these things out, but because I think it’s helpful to others who’ve given birth. I don’t want to scare expecting mothers and I definitely think there’s a very helpful place for uplifting natural birth stories, but I also think they crowd out the people whose experience was traumatic or awful or just so much more intense and affecting than they expected.

They sit with their births silently, thinking maybe the problem was them, or they’re weird or over-sensitive or just unlucky, but so many of the people I know use the word “trauma” when asked about their births… they just don’t say so unless you ask. Or get them drunk.

In the meantime, I’ll take the stitches and stretch marks and only sleeping in two-hour chunks while giving effusive thanks to any deities listening that I’m not pregnant anymore. The baby came out, and (once the shock wore off), my feelings came back. I looked at Brazil and felt a rush of love so overwhelming I proposed on the spot (I think maybe I did this after Nico too, he always just laughs and says yes like I’d asked him if he wants a cup of tea). My desire to do things came flooding back, along with the point of doing those things and the ability to look forward to them.

It’s been a rough nine months. This year has felt like a battle: against my hormones, against guilt and boredom, against my own body. It has, in a word, sucked.

Antenatal depression sucks. Antenatal depression with a still-small baby sucks. Add in bronchitis, a cracked rib, FOUR bouts of gastro, a sinus infection, constant daycare-induced coughs and colds, hemorrhoids, IBS, the state of the wider world, and then several weeks of contractions-but-not-labour and I think 2017 can officially be awarded my worst year ever.

But the baby came out, and my feelings came back.

Now, my heart throbs watching my big baby give my little baby his Phillip when he cries, and try his hardest to be gentle when he strokes his tiny head. It hurts as it expands for this new little person who’s somehow his own little person already.

Luca is seven weeks old and getting chunkier by the day. His furrowed expression of wide-eyed concern is interspersed now with gummy, scrunched-nose smiles and earnest chatting. He sleeps fantastically during the day and barely at all at night. Mostly he’s so chill we sometimes forget he’s even there.

Not that he really has a choice: Nico is 18 months old, and a ball of frantic, utterly charming energy. The speed at which he’s learning things is incredible to watch, and he’s suddenly so much fun to hang out with. He’s a performer and a show-off, and his comic timing is impeccable for someone who only has a handful of words. I’ve said before that happiness is different once you have a baby — the highs are higher but the lows are lower. You live in extremes. Turns out that’s also toddlers, but squared — ours is by turns the sweetest, most hilarious human you’ve ever met and a demonic, rage-fueled beastling. Every day is a new exercise in patience, but is also more fun than the day before.

Without the routine of work, time has gone sort of fuzzy around the edges. Days are faster and slower at the same time. I’m aware this time that Luca’s babyhood will be gone before we know it. People tell you that the first time, but you can’t actually grasp it. You will sleep again and see your friends again and wear a normal bra again, and your baby will roll and sit and crawl and then get up and run, until the day you find them standing on a chair trying to get into the fruit bowl.

We’re tired and frequently living at the very edges of our physical, mental and emotional tolerance, but we’re both at home at the moment so we get to enjoy this period, instead of having to just survive it. I can’t even imagine being alone with both of them all day every day — that most families don’t have a choice is dumbfounding to me now that we’re here. The correct ratio of adults to under 2s is at least 4:1.

Brazil is at home until May and I’m back to work part-time this week. It made perfect sense when we planned it, and it still does: I have freedom about when and where I work, and I make more an hour. He enjoys his job, but can’t do it in less than four days a week — so logistically, either he works full time and I’m at home all day with two babies, or he takes parental leave and I work part time, mostly from home. It’s a no-brainer. Plus he’s the best dad ever, so it’s awesome for him to get to spend extended time at home with the boys while they’re little.

But now that we’re here the guilts are back. I love what I do and I’m a better person and a far better mother when I have time and space to do things other than mothering… but it still feels terrible sometimes to admit that. And I still wish I was with them every time I leave them.

There are those extremes again.

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Attention, please

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“I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.”

Is Google making us stupid?

To make this author’s point for him, I didn’t finish reading that article. I was researching something else, and it was one of about five open tabs I was skimming simultaneously.

Yesterday I read a fantastic interview on the Spinoff about why our political system is broken — policies tinker around the edges in neat soundbites rather than tackling actual structural change, which is not only seen as too big to manage, but too hard for the public to comprehend in a Stuff article or a news segment.

But the world is complex. Our problems are complex.

In my work, we take difficult government information and make it easier to understand and act on. Clients and users and user-experience researchers tend to think this means we can make it simple. We can simplify, but this type of information fundamentally isn’t simple.

After user testing, testers frequently used to come back to me with, “users said it was too long and hard to understand. We recommend you make it shorter.”

This is why we try our hardest to always be involved in planning and executing testing now — it’s valid feedback, but for government entitlements and processes, it’s also useless. We’ve already made it as short as we can: whatever’s left is the information required to do the thing. There are ways of cutting it up and displaying it and phrasing it to make it easier for most people to find only the pieces they need (which is where we try to focus testing), but until someone gives us leave to rewrite legislation along with the website, the information required is the information required.

Recently, we’ve had several meetings with clients’ senior managers about syndicating content. This is an idea that goes around government every few years before sinking back into the depths of 5-year technology strategies. It’s a great idea, in theory: rewrite your web content so you can serve compact, distinct “bites” of information on any site or platform (the word “snackable” was used repeatedly).

The thing is, I’ve never really seen it work in government. I’d argue it’s never really worked anywhere other than a google results page. If your content boils down into a three-line snack, it’s not content — it’s a fact.

There might be a place for this, if it’s ever worth the technology that would be required to centralise it: “The GST rate is 15%”, “Daylight savings changes on Sunday 24 September”, “Student loan repayments are 10% of your before-tax income”. (Also, Google is already doing this, and with reasonable accuracy.)

Anything beyond that would have to be so simplistic as to be functionally useless. We already try to write page summaries that say something definite about the content of the page, so our best suggestion is probably to just syndicate your page summaries where they fit and provide a link to the main content… then fix that main content as best you can. There will never be a way to claim paid parental leave or figure out your child support in three lines.

There will also never be a plan to end child poverty or a way to grasp the impacts of climate change that can be conveyed in a news break or a paragraph you can share on Facebook. I worry the internet is not only rewiring our brains to read less deeply and and spend less time thinking about what we’ve read (I did read some of the article), but to expect that everything we need to know can be rolled up into a Wikipedia page summary — and that it’s okay to form opinions and make choices and vote based only on that summary.

For anyone who’s interested, here are two things we’ve worked on lately that experiment with syndicating or bite-sizing content, with reasonable success:

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And anyway, Mozart died at 35.

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Twitter is now the place I go when I need something to make me furious at everything. Today I read an entire thread of men arguing over why work/life balance is a myth, and marathon hours and working weekends are fundamentally necessary if you want to be a success.

Look at Elon Musk, they said. Look at Mozart.

Newsflash, fellas: you’re not Mozart. Your work is probably not that important. And even if it is, if you’re doing it 12 or 14 hours a day you’re probably doing it badly.

Go the fuck home and see your kids.

Human brains aren’t designed to do creative or complex work for 12 hours straight. Long before you burn out, you’re going to stop doing good work. And your wife probably hates you.

How do these attitudes come about? There’s a wealth of evidence that extra hours of work don’t add extra productivity. The eight-hour workday is even based on maximum productivity for a factory assembly line — I’d argue the maximum creative output in a day is closer to four or five hours (with some padding for admin and meetings and eating sushi).

Your brain needs to rest to work creatively. Work/life balance isn’t important just because, you know, life is your actual life, but because without downtime your brain can’t process information and make new connections and break down all the things you’ve fed it into delicious spontaneous idea-mulch.

It’s also a socially dangerous argument to have. If it’s necessary to abandon your personal life to succeed at work, you either can’t have a family, are fucked if you already do, or you’re assuming you can dump all of your real-life responsibilities onto your partner forever in order to do your work.

I know I’m very privileged to not have to work in a 9-5 at-the-desk office environment, but here’s how I do my best work:

  1. Do a couple of hours of focused work.
  2. Take a walk, do a load of washing, knit, stare at the shops, eat chips, etc.
  3. Do another couple of hours of focused work.
  4. Stop working and hang out with my family.
  5. Sleep.
  6. Get in the shower in the morning and find a solution to whatever I was working on the day before waiting for me.
  7. Repeat.

I’ve yet to find a work problem that wasn’t solved faster by going to sleep than by continuing to try and actively beat it into submission after doing so had already failed. My brain is a wonderful and amazing creature that will come up with solutions to things without my help — if I let it.

The more I do creative work the more I realise that the time I don’t spend working is as important as the time I do.

I might send you an email at 9pm, but it’s not because I kept working until 9 — it’s because I went and made dinner and put Nico to bed and then sat on the couch staring at The Get Down and suddenly my brain was like “HEY, I GOT THE ANSWER!” and I got up and wrote it down.

Or The Get Down finished and because I’d had a few hours off the thing suddenly wasn’t as hard as it had seemed at 4pm.

And in the meantime, I also got to live my actual life.

Sixtyproof limit how much we take on not just because we have small children and partners and we like to interact with them (and occasionally also our friends and pets and television sets) but because we do better work that way — you can have 25 quality hours of work out of me a week, or 50 terrible ones.

Anyway, this whole post is a nice way of letting my clients know I’m going to start charging them for showers and Netflix.