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To New York, From Christchurch, With Love

Yesterday, I read an article and by the end I was so angry that my eyes turned into burning coals and shot right out of my face.

I was so angry that my howl reached the heavens and the stars extinguished themselves in fear.

I was so angry that I stamped my foot three times on the earth and the impact shattered my body into a trillion pieces hurtling through the cosmos, each a dense, screaming microcosm of my rage.

Then I put myself back together and started writing this.

What set me off was an article by Ruth Curry, excerpted from Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York.

It tells the story of a young woman who moves to New York, falls in comfortable love with a dude, and then he moves to New Zealand and she follows, and things do not go well. And it talks weird smack about Christchurch, the city of my heart.

Christchurch "spreads out like a spreading stain". Christchurch "really was exclusively populated by angsty teenagers and the middle-aged". Christchurch is where Curry "jokes, meanly" that "the only options for arts, culture, and entertainment were respectively rugby, rugby, and rugby." Also, there were no bagels in Christchurch in 2006 and she is forced, FORCED, to order interesting pizza with corn and shrimp on it instead of the boring pepperoni-sauce-cheese pizza she could get in any pizza place in New Zealand if she really wanted. I will concede the horrible enchiladas. There is decent Mexican in Christchurch, but it's hard to find.

Anyway, all of this is largely bullshit, but sure, whatever. (Christchurch spreads like a GLORIOUS MICROCHIP, thank you very much). I was rolling my eyes at the exaggerations and inaccuracies, but largely feeling sorry for Curry.

Curry had apparently never anticipated that she'd hit culture shock in an English-speaking nation, and it hit her hard. She was trying to break into publishing in New Zealand on a working holiday visa (yeah, no - retail, service jobs, and seasonal fruit picking are all you're going to get without some major chops) and her boyfriend kept telling her to grow up and dragged her away for hiking trips.

Curry was living the cold, poverty-ridden, tenuously-employed life of the student without the fun parts, like hanging out with fellow tenuously-employed, poverty-ridden, cold students or learning anything. And she was living in Lyttleton, a port town just barely connected to Christchurch through a tunnel cut through the Port Hills. She crashed her boyfriend's car into an SUV and totaled the car (no indication of the health of the SUV or its driver). She was totally miserable, and she left, and he did not follow her. I nodded sympathetically along. I've had the culture shock, the employment woes, the shitty boyfriend. I got it.

And then the article concluded:

I saw Russell once more. About six months after we split up, he came through New York and stopped by to return the stuff I had stored at his sister’s. Her basement had flooded, and a lot of his own things had been ruined, but not, he said, the sweet, silly notes I had left for him every morning when we first met. A year later he got married. I know his wife; they started dating three weeks after he and I separated.

A major earthquake struck Christchurch in 2011. It was the second-deadliest natural disaster in New Zealand history. Almost every place I remember well was destroyed, the rest damaged or irrevocably changed by what’s fallen down around them.

The sympathy train screeched to a halt. Flaming eyeballs, extinguished stars, a trillion dense spinning microcosms of rage, etc.

It is not a good idea to make a deadly and very recent natural disaster the snappy conclusion to your sad travelogue. It is not okay to talk about how much you disliked a place and how down it made you and then casually mention that large chunks of it are now destroyed, because whether you meant it to or not, that comes across with a very strong hint of "and thank goodness." The 2011 earthquake is not an excellent metaphor for your failed, destructive, romantic relationship - unless your relationship killed 185 people and shattered the heart of a city.

That conclusion is not clever, nor wryly amusing. It is glib, nasty, and oblivious to the very real pain that cracks through the city Curry so despised.

I am angry. This is why.

This entry was originally posted at http://karenhealey.dreamwidth.org/70082.html. You can comment here, at Dreamwidth using OpenID, or at my website, karenhealey.com


( 15 — comment )
Nov. 11th, 2013 08:56 am (UTC)
Wow. NOT cool.
Nov. 11th, 2013 12:53 pm (UTC)

Presumably the quake was OK really because it just got rid of a bagel-less (LIES) "spreading stain" that nobody important likes anyway. RAGE.

I was actually filled with uncontrollable fury tonight when I read a comment on one of those "Lorde is a big racist" blog, where someone reacted dismissively to the comments by some Kiwis about a kind of larger US cultural imperialism that they felt she was reacting to, which used the phrase "so-called NZers". Like, NZers have no right to name themselves. My head nearly exploded. I don't quite know why, but the complete dismissal not only of their argument but of their very identity, and knowing that it is MY identity too and that we do actually know about US imperialism both latent and overt... well, it was too bloody much.
Nov. 11th, 2013 02:16 pm (UTC)
I read through that big Lorde rant, too. And the writer's later response to all the people telling her that she didn't know anything about New Zealand and New Zealanders. Her response being largely "well she should know about how it is here!". In the end I just found myself sighing deeply and resisting the urge to respond, because it simply wouldn't have done any good.

It is quite disappointing to see some of the people who spend so much time discussing gender, race and class privilege (and their intersections) so completely and utterly fail to recognise their national privilege.

Still, on that topic, when I visited Ruth Curry's wahhvelogue I got a link at the top to this article about her, which was surprisingly not bad.
Nov. 11th, 2013 03:11 pm (UTC)
It is quite disappointing to see some of the people who spend so much time discussing gender, race and class privilege (and their intersections) so completely and utterly fail to recognise their national privilege.

*engraves this in my memory so as to not be one of those people*
Nov. 11th, 2013 11:46 pm (UTC)
"Wahvelogue", heh. Good for her.

I think many of those people have no concept of a world outside America, really. American cultural norms are so deeply embedded in their world view that they cannot conceive of what it's like being in an English-speaking former colony that consumes other places' media in part because it cannot afford (and for a long time did not feel "good enough" to) create enough of its own. I mean we weren't going to shut our doors to foreign music and television, because we're not North Korea.

I remember trying to explain this subtle colonisation of our language that occurs via media to someone online once, and it actually worked when I pointed out that nearly everybody who sings rock or post-rock music in English does so with an approximation of an American accent. They remembered meeting a non-American at summer camp who had done so and thought that it was just now people sang... (which it is)... but the penny dropped.

Nov. 12th, 2013 12:48 am (UTC)
I found it interesting travelling to Germany, and discovering just how much German rock/pop music was being performed in English, with the best German approximation of an American accent. Which then reflected back to how we sing, and even little things like David Bowie's pronunciation in Let's Dance.
Nov. 18th, 2013 11:40 am (UTC)
Although that is also a regional pronunciation in the UK…
Nov. 18th, 2013 11:50 am (UTC)
Does that include London, where he's from?
Nov. 18th, 2013 12:19 pm (UTC)
I am not sure, to be honest. Possibly some parts of London. I am from Buckinghamshire, live in Sussex and went to uni in Yorkshire and so I don't really "hear" accents any more. I personally say darnse not daaans but then some people in this neighbourhood say daaans like Bowie sang. Yes he may have been putting on a US accent but I just pointed out that daaans is not *only* USian. Note my use of the word "also" in my original comment.

Edited at 2013-11-18 12:21 pm (UTC)
Nov. 18th, 2013 03:03 pm (UTC)
It's a fair point. I was aware that some UK accents have the sharper 'a' - it just didn't seem to fit with the rest of the way he spoke, so I assumed it was affectation for the song. Of course, we know what they say about assumption being the mother of :-)
Nov. 11th, 2013 11:57 pm (UTC)
I must say, also, that as an old person it never occurred to me for one second that Royals was specifically critiquing hip hop. The only thing in it that I know gets referred to in some hip hop is Cristal, and that's just a pretentious person's champagne brand. I'm sure I've seen it referred to outside the world of Sean Puffy Combs. Madonna was sporting a gold tooth possibly before Lorde was born. I must admit my first thought was rich white kids. Plus, they don't have royals in America. So that whole notion of royals, well that instantly locates it in England to me. Obviously there's a reference I missed, because it didn't make sense either.
Nov. 11th, 2013 01:58 pm (UTC)
If she was that self-involved, entitled and angst-ridden while she was here, it's little wonder no one cared to tell her where the good bagels were.

Any city is terrible when viewed through the lens of a failing relationship. But yes, this goes down about as well as, say, rounding off your account of a disappointing love affair that made you hate New York with something like "...and then the World Trade Center was destroyed in a tragic terrorist attack and the city I knew was irrevocably changed."

Sorry, but you simply don't get to make that kind of tragedy all about you.
Nov. 11th, 2013 03:10 pm (UTC)
I could rant in support, but really, as a New Yorker I wish I could 1) smack her upside the head and tell her not to be such a provincial snot and 2) apologize for her idiocy. I am sorry.
Nov. 11th, 2013 11:23 pm (UTC)
Oh, hey, don't worry. I know plenty of awesome New Yorkers, and they are not responsible for this article. No apology needed!
Nov. 12th, 2013 02:59 am (UTC)
AU: Reword to avoid rep
"Spreads out like a spreading stain"? So it spreads like a thing that spreads?
( 15 — comment )