Tag Archives: New Zealand

The time I won a green card and moved to Los Angeles

Los Angeles – city of dreams?

Los Angeles is a town where everyone is always pitching – their screenplay, tv show, movie, music – you name it, so here’s my pitch: a middle-aged New Zealand woman wins a green card and moves to Los Angeles to chase her dream of becoming a screenwriter.

Great idea, huh? If it was a movie, she would come to LA and after a series of misadventures and setbacks, overcome her internal character flaws, land a great job, sell that screenplay for six-figures, and find romance. I’d watch that! Or a TV series perhaps? Each week our protagonist struggles with being a fish out of water as she navigates the weird and wonderful ways of Los Angeles and struggles with its cult of youth. Sort of a “Not Hot in Los Angeles”.

Or maybe a reality show? Every week, our hapless heroine faces a new challenge as she navigates the complexities of moving from sleepy New Zealand to the fantasy capital of the world.

“The open road still softly calls, like a nearly forgotten song of childhood.”

I’m opting for the reality show version, because this is my reality and although it is a huge adventure, it certainly has its challenges. It had its beginnings in what screenwriters call the inciting incident. After a great holiday in Los Angeles two years ago, I decided to enter the diversity (green card) lottery when the link popped up in my Facebook feed.

A surprising amount of people, both in the US and home in New Zealand, don’t know about the lottery or think it’s a scam, but every year the US government awards 50,000 green cards to countries that have low rates of immigration to the US – New Zealand being one of them. Now 50,000 may seem a lot, but 22.4 million people entered in 2017 (someone better at math then me can work out the odds).

The initial application is fairly simple and free, so if you are on a site asking for money, it’s not the correct one.  On a whim, I merrily applied and sent out the application, seemingly into a black hole, then promptly forgot about it.

About six months later a notification popped up in my email, so I dug out the super-secret code which ‘you must not lose’ and checked my application. I think my exact words were ‘you are fucking kidding me” when I saw the sentence – “congratulations you have been selected.” I never win anything, except a bike once.

In some ways, this was a case of be careful what you wish for. By this time, my initial post-US holiday excitement had worn off and I was studying fulltime for my Masters In Communications Studies. I decided I wasn’t going to go forward, but part of me was also thinking “what-if?” so eventually I decided to continue with the application and make up my mind later.

And this became the first challenge for my real-life reality show. The initial application may have been easy – the second part was not as you have to undergo detailed background and security checks, including listing every address I had lived at since I was 16 years old with no more than a month in-between!

It was then I realised that I have been quite the roamer. My family left New Zealand when I was 16 to live in Australia, and when I was in my twenties, I set off travelling to Southern Africa, the United Kingdom, then back to South Africa and finally home. Talk about the da Vinci code – I had to dig out old address books, track down long-lost flatmates, and scour Google maps. I’ve always been amazed by people who stay in the same place their whole lives, but in this instance it would have been handy to have done the same.

Eventually I managed to pull together my life’s history, which I sent back to the black hole. I heard nothing for six months so I assumed that my application wasn’t going any further. I got on with my life, working on a screenplay for my thesis, getting a great new job; life was ticking along nicely when the email dropped – my US consulate appointment was in six weeks’ time! Wait, what!?

Crunch time – was I going to fork out the money to get my medical and visa for something I wasn’t sure I wanted to do. My life was going great – I liked my job, my studies were going well, it was all humming along nicely, why would I disrupt that to go to a country that seemingly was careering off the rails, with expensive health care and an incomprehensible political system.  

But no matter how much logic I applied, part of me wanted to do this – go and explore this place and have another adventure. Then I’d swing back the other way – “no, this is crazy, you’re too old, you have a good job, you need to plan for your future” and so on.

I swung back and forth like this for weeks, even after my consulate interview, but I figured I had plenty of time to prepare if I decided to go, until I picked up my visa, that is. I thought I had six months but because I’d had to wait on a police clearance from South Africa for three months, my visa had to be activated within two months.  Crunch time was here, I had to decide, so I decided no. Then I went home and opened my Facebook page to one of my FB friends telling everyone he had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Shortly after, I learnt another friend had been diagnosed with a neurological disorder.

This prompted me to have long hard think about what l wanted my life to be and what life should be about. I don’t think life is short, but it is unpredictable and we only have this one time around. I knew going to LA would be a huge challenge because of my age – middle-aged women aren’t prime candidates for fulltime roles, the chances of breaking into the film industry are slim to none, and I’d be leaving behind a comfortable and safe life. But I’m healthy, I’ve had my family and my kids were supportive, I’d worked hard to develop my writing skills so what was I afraid of?

This is a brilliant short film called Wanderers that uses commentary by Carl Sagan’s from his book Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. It has the wonderful quote: “The open road still softly calls, like a nearly forgotten song of childhood.” Maybe it comes from being a descendant of people who left home to start life in a new country. All my great great grandparents came from the other side of the world – the United Kingdom and Denmark. Maybe we carry the gene of the ‘restless few’ who are always drawn to far-off places for reasons, as Sagan says, “we can hardly articulate or understand”.

Humans find change so hard – we do everything to resist it, but the paradox is that challenge is the fuel the drives our brains and helps us grow. I could read motiviational quotes from the internet forever and stay where I was treading water, or take a leap of faith and push myself way out of my comfort zone.

How did I get here?

Whatever the reason, I decided to take the leap, jump on the plane and come to Los Angeles. Two months in, it has indeed been an adventure. I’ve been up and down, loving it, hating it, wanting to go home, not wanting to go home, panicking and then calming down.

How this story ends, well, I’m not sure yet, but I’m going to give it a crack. Life here is so different from home and every day brings a new challenge. The next big one is the Dept. of Motor Vehicles (pray for me). This city is big and loud and crazy, I’m definitely not in Kansas anymore, but who knows what lies ahead?  I might even sell my screenplay – write a better one (maybe about a middle-aged woman who wins a green card and moves to LA). Life should be an adventure so here goes…

Despatches From Wellington

Wellington – where long hair can be a safety hazard

In May, I made the momentous decision to move from Auckland to Wellington. It has been an interesting time as the two cities are so different, some days I feel like I’m in another country. But I am gradually learning the nuances of life in this weird and wonderful town and slowly adjusting to its different pace. During this time, I have been emailing a friend with my observations of life in Wellington, so I thought I’d share a few. Continue reading Despatches From Wellington

Morning dash at Piha

Morning swimmer Piha med res

I love the early morning light at Piha, and it is one of my favourite times to take photographs as only a few walkers and surfers are around. Because of the hills behind, the sun only sneaks over about 30 minutes after sunrise, so until then there is this lovely ambient light. One of the things I’m learning about landscape photography is the inclusion of active elements like animals and humans to bring it to life, so I was really chuffed when an early morning swimmer dashed across. I quickly snapped an image and I think this is one of my favourite shots as it gives a great sense of proportion to Lion Rock and the hills behind. My camera is a Nikon D5200 and I have a 16 to 85 DX lens, which I am slowly mastering. It was just on the landscape setting.

Wednesday night sailing – Messing about in boats

Messing about in boats on the Waitemata harbour

Every Wednesday, a small community of Aucklanders hurtle out of their offices and dash down to Westhaven marina to go sailing around the Waitemata Harbour for a couple of hours. They are the people frantically shopping  at Victoria Park New World at 10 past 5, grabbing chips and beer, before racing down the marina berths, tearing off their shirt and tie, to get aboard the boat before it leaves.

Yacht racing is a huge adrenalin buzz because of the enormous potential for something to go wrong. You see, yachts are a living swarming mass of ropes, sails and rigging, all under huge tension just biding their time until they can tangle, snap it or disappear up the top of the mast where they sit and taunt the crew, daring them to just try and retrieve them. Sails become clingy infants, desperate to stay onboard and wrap around a comforting mast, or even better, a crew member,  instead of flying free. Even better is clipping a hapless bowman around the ears as the sails flick through a tack.

The sea yearns to sit inside the cabin so it sneaks up through the toilet the moment you aren’t looking. And it  needs its offerings – winch handles, sunglasses and hats – all waiting for their chance to escape into the wide ocean. The ocean loves badly tied-down sails  and on a good day, a full boat. And when something does  break, it is not a gentle snap – it is a huge bang and crack as sheets and wires whip through the air (a trifle overstated here, but you get the idea), seeking a potential victim. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, (who knows?) yachties are among the most fanatical of sportsmen.

Just why this is so probably requires years of in-depth psychological research, or perhaps it is simply a result of too much sun. Maybe it is best summed up by Rat:  `Nice? It’s the ONLY thing,’ said the Water Rat solemnly, as he leant forward for his stroke. `Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING–absolute nothing–half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,’ he went on dreamily: `messing–about–in–boats; messing—-‘