sidewalk social science and the Eurovision

Amongst various leisurely pursuits–many of which may well be things in the past, thanks to my recent surgery (snowboarding, skiing, biking, bodysurfing, alas)–I have one guilty pleasure: the Eurovision Song Contest. But even when it comes to something officially categorized as “light entertainment”, I can’t help but intellectualize it. A bit. I’m a member, for example. of the Eurovision Research Network, a heterogenous group of academics and fans who examine all sorts of issues related to the Contest™ with respect to culture, politics, and identity. This is very much a niche research interest. For me it remains mostly a hobby.

I have, marginally more seriously, delved into the realm of Eurovision “journalism”. Years ago I was an editor for ESCToday.com. I’ve also co-written a couple of articles about the Eurovision for the Advocate online, including an overview of the Contest and an analysis of the Grand Final in 2006.

Currently I do it bit of writing for ESCInsight.com. Ewan contacted me for some assistance critically appraising some quantitative research literature. To date I’ve written two articles for the site:

  1. Does the draw (order of appearance) impact how well an entry does in the Eurovision final–in particular, does it impact who wins?
  2. How might a tweaking of the ranking system for this year’s Contest impact the final results?

This is much more akin to knowledge translation than research. But very fun to write.  Working through some of the descriptive statistics is a nice way to keep that part of my brain fresh.

This year’s Eurovision Song Contest will be held in Malmø Sweden on 19 May (07h 20 May in Auckland). Unlike last year, where the favourite–where Sweden’s Loreen and Euphoria romped to a massive victory before becoming a global hit–there’s no obvious winner this year.  My favourite this year is Hungary, but I suspect we will be in Norway, Russia, Ireland or Germany in 2014. But I’ve only predicted one winner in 15 years (Sweden last year)…

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New year, new country, new blog

This time last year was a rather intense period in my life. Unbeknownst to family and friends (except my husband, obviously), I had applied for a job in Auckland New Zealand in January 2012. I was rather surprised at the end of February to be invited for a teleconference interview. I was less surprised when they made a formal offer in early April. I didn’t arrive here until 07 September—eight months after applying for the job—but that still seemed rather fast paced for a major life upheaval.

Overall, the experience has gone almost exactly as I anticipated. No, really. The job is what I thought it would be, in terms of scope, challenges and opportunities. Working with kiwis has also worked out as I anticipated: friendly, smart, helpful and generous people who work hard and then turn off their smart phones. Works for me! It helps that I’ve inherited an excellent team. There is a lot of “win”, in other words.

The main challenges have been beginning the process of a social life (again) at nearly 50 and managing a marriage with a 8000km difference between husbands. With respect to the latter, Max and I saw each other for 5 days in November and 2 weeks at Christmas. Then he arrived for good on 31 March. Unsurprisingly, the unfun separation just cemented how solid our marriage is.  In regards to the former, I knew a few people before I got here and they have all turned out to be even more os-some than suspected. I’ve also forced myself to be more social than is my inclination at this stage of my life, which seems to have paid off. There’s a real sense of community here in Auckland, and I can see us living here quite happily for a very long time.

Last week’s passage of marriage equality removed one of the few significant negatives about living here (since we became “partners” once we moved here, since our Canadian marriage wasn’t considered marriage here). Other negatives remain distance and entirely too many locals willing to pay extortionate prices for retail. For everything that’s cheaper (cheese!) there’s another that’s criminal ($2.50 for a single capsicum?). But income taxes are lower.

Then there’s healthcare, which I’ve learnt quite a bit about lately. A pain my shoulder in January became pain my arm in February. Which progressed to numbness, before it started on the other arm and hand. In March it started in my feet, then legs. By the beginning of April I was number from the waist down and for the length of my arms. An MRI showed 2 prolapsed discs, one of which was rather obscenely rubbing itself against my spinal chord. The morning of surgery only my scalp and face were numbness. This was entirely unfun.

Surgery went well (except the pain meds and anaesthesthia reaction) and I’ve been home recuperating for over a week now. In terms of quality of care, I encountered little difference between Canada and New Zealand. The physicians and nurses and other professionals were all mostly excellent. The hospital was well-run and clean and calm, mostly. I saw my GP on Wednesday, a specialist on Friday, was admitted Saturday, had an MRI on Monday and surgery the following Friday. All rather timely methinks.

The financial model is different between NZ and Canada, however. In Canada  (BC) I would have used my “care card” and all services would have been “free” except for prescriptions filled outside of the hospital (they’re free while admitted). In NZ I paid a subsidized rate of $54 to see my GP. The specialist and hospital care were all “free”. My prescriptions were $5.00 each—including Tylenol.  I’ve had one follow-up visit with my GP for another $54. My cervical collar was also “free”. So I’ve been out of pocket for about $130. In Canada I would have paid for the meds perhaps the same amount, thanks to my husband’s supplemental private insurance through work: without that coverage I would’ve paid perhaps $200 for meds.

I remain convinced that for many, the more it costs to seek care, the less quickly care will be sought. Possibly in timeframes that could exacerbate conditions unnecessarily.  But the money I’ve paid out of pocket gave me access to a comprehensive package of services at my GP, including a pharmacy, physio, x-rays. I’m still on the fence on this one.

I suppose for a lot of people it’s not an obvious way to assess how they’re settling into their new homeland. As a social democrat, however, makes sense to me: I’ve never been one of those people who assesses society solely in terms of how well it works for me. But any fears I had about the quality of healthcare in NZ have been assuaged significantly.

Pride. In the name of love

Doubtless it will take a couple of years before my brain correctly aligns with the seasons of my new antipodean life. It feels like summer, and it looks like summer, but to my mind February remains a winter month in my feeble brain. February=summer. Summer! And in Auckland that means warm (not too hot) and humid (yes, too humid). Choice!

February is also the high seasons for queer community events in Australia and New Zealand. Which makes perfect sense: often our ensembles for such events are of a sort rather unfun to wear when it’s 3C and raining. In a few weeks time the mutha of all gatherings—the Sydney Mardi Gras goes off the first weekend in March—in defiance of the Lenten calendar, no less (fat Tuesday having been a week ago).

Pride has come early to Auckland, however. And amongst the glitter and glam and dykes on their bykes, a hearty group of men who look like tradies but know the word to every Kylie and ABBA song ever recorded give the city of sails’ queer events a decidedly furry hue.  Yes, it was Bear New Zealand week! Having been ma première fois, I was a bit trepidation: would they be gentle with me, or rough? Turns out it was just about the perfect mix of both.

The cabal

I knew several of the men who put on Bear week before I moved to Auckland; in fact they’ve been a core part of my support circle since day one. Being rather generous sorts, I was granted the chance to spend a bit of time with the committee cabal, which led to providing a bit of support to some of the events. I say a bit because these guys—Kent, Paul, Alan, Grant, Brian, Dave, and Will, along with dozens of other local men—spend hundreds of hours each year at planning, analyzing, and operationalizing a multi-day community event. Me? I backfilled a bit as needed. And I apologize in advance if there were any hairballs in your burger.

In the lead up to the event the cabal researched, ran dry runs, held meetings, discussed issues via email, liaised with vendors and community groups, solved crises, held hands, kicked arses, and generally got shi’ done. They also made sure communicating with guys interested in attending the week was a priority; so too was ensuring visitors (especially newbies) were brought into the heart of the activities once they arrived.

The Week That Was

In the week between Big Gay Out and the Pride Parade, a full calendar of events were on offer. In addition to two dance parties, a movie night, a trip to the zoo, and a welcome reception, there were the bear drag race/bear divas dinner, Will and Dave’s Excellent Adventure and the Mr. URGE Bear NZ Contest (felicitations Lucien!). Many of us ended up bailing on something we really wanted to do (the first dance party in my case) because, well, having a lot of fun can be exhausting.

Running community events is an unpaid version of working in the service industry: you often only get complaints about the bits that go awry, even when 99% of the experience was positive. It therefore takes a particularly strong understanding of human nature to deliver several events in a way that is operationally sound, cohesive and not (obviously) tediously anal retentive. Things unfolded on schedule, with few hiccups and a great deal of warmth. And the folks who registered were very good about being on time for events where timeliness was important (or letting someone know if they were unexpected waylaid and unable to attend). But it never felt like we were being marched around. Bravo!

The parade

On Saturday afternoon, Auckland hosted it’s first official Pride Parade, fully 12 years after the last Hero Parade. This new event, with a broader mandate than the fight against HIV/AIDS, including some key local government support, was sort of the parade that Vancouver used to have. All sorts of groups marched, the colours and costumes were awesomely real, and the parade was over in less than 2 hours. Perfect!  We bears drew lucky slot #3 so we went early and got to cheer on the folks who followed.

Having marched in dozens of these events in Canada, US and Australia,  it was marvelous to be reminded of their potential as transformative, very personal, mass public events. A lot of the guys with whom we marched hadn’t ever been to a pride parade; many hadn’t previously a chance to march in one at home here in New Zealand. Yes, there have been many gains in queer rights in the past 30 years—but it’s important to remember that for today’s young people are still fed heaps of homophobia and heterocentrism, if the portions are a bit smaller than what I was force fed 30+ years ago. The collective energy of thousands of people saying “you’re awesome” is a powerful antidote. And, for some I suspect, a veritable lifesaver.

It wouldn’t be pride without somewhere to go to shake’ yer groove thang (yeah yeah) so many hours later it was off to Tri-Nations/Love Candy up on K’ Road. With two levels and dance floors, most folks found music to their liking. There was also a large chill space upstairs for those who just wanted to keep chatting. I left after 2am and it was still going off! I crawled out of a taxi, into a warm shower and into a cool bed. The only thing missing was Himself.

The Barbecue

Sunday arvo brought the final event of the week—the thank you barbecue—for the bears. The cooking and prepping was spread out amongst several guys, but Brian and Grant opened their gorgeous back garden to the guys for an entire Sunday.  There were chicken legs, burgers, salads and sweets. It was BYOB (ice supplied), and there was; an ample supply of every sort of tipple left after the final few wandered out. Grant and Brian’s (straight) neighbours sent over a box of anatomically accurate bear cookies for the party. The guys (plus Goldilocks) were chatting and drinking and laughing and flirting. There was good music on the sound system: a slide show of the week’s events looped on the big screen TV in the lounge.

Most out of town visitors (and many locals) said the same thing: the barbecue was a perfect way to end the event. It captured the essential vibe of Bear New Zealand week: friendly, warm and relaxed.  Throughout the afternoon phone numbers and email addresses were exchanged and mobile phones pinged with the “add me” requests for Facebook.

I was rather focused on grilling a gazillion chicken legs (alongside a lovely chap named Dirk; for 65 bears you need two honkin’ big BBQs to avoid being mauled).  Between turning and temperature checking and stacking and wrapping (the chook) and scraping (the grill) I was rather focused. Which suited me just fine…sometimes at social events I am the life of the party; other times a bit awkward and disconnected.  I’ve been in Auckland for a bit more than four months now…but four months is not a long time. People here have been generous and warm and super-friendly, but starting over involves feeling lonely at times. A few weeks ago it was particularly tough. I never expected to be able to recreate the sort of life I’d built up in Vancouver over 20+ years. And I haven’t. Yet.

Community

I suspect for a lot of people,  the parade on Saturday was a transformative moment. For me it was Sunday. As I cooked, men I met this week and good mates from Sydney stopped for a hug and a grope and a chat. The guys from the cabal teased me, kissed me, hugged me and thanked me: the same guys who had spent months planning this marvelous week for us. It was only after having taken my apron off that I realized that I was here, in my community.

And then I remembered one of the reasons why Auckland had been an appealing place to live for so many years before we took the leap: these guys; this community. There aren’t a lot of space in the big bad world where you can just be yourself: all heart and no pretense. In some of the gay bits, even fewer, alas.

Thank you Auckland. Thank you Alan, Paul, Grant, Brian, Will, Dave and Kent.

And thanks everyone for coming out for our wee bear gathering. If I don’t see you before, same time next year?

Welcome!

Welcome to my website!

I’m an experienced educator, academic leader, and researcher.  I’ve designed, delivered and managed numerous face-to-face, online and blended workshops, courses and programs. At various stages in my life Sydney, Vancouver, and New York have been home, but I’m now based in Auckland New Zealand.

Currently I’m the Director of the Learning Technology Unit in the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at the University of Auckland. I’m also a Lecturer in UBC’s Master of Educational Technology (MET) program. The MET is Canada’s–make that, one of the world’s–most prestigious, wholly online educational technology post-graduate program.

On this site you’ll find information about my practices as an educator, educational leader, and researcher, as well as my ethos with respect to teaching and learning You can also view (and download) my c.v..

The views represented here are my own.