Blowing out the writer's block

I’m self isolating. 

A razor blade throat and stuffy nose sent me down to the local medical centre for a test on Wednesday. The good doctor gave me a throat swab and a PCR (up the nose to your brain) test. I’ve had a few medical procedures in my time but that one was a doozy. There’s been a lot waiting and thinking going on in this pandemic and it has to be good for us. Heaven knows, I charged around on the treadmill in Auckland and Sydney and, looking back, I wonder what it was all for sometimes. After writing, teaching, and working in online and social for so long I’m quite shocked and saddened by the virus of misinformation that has hampered public health in the pandemic. I had very rose-tinted notions of people expressing themselves creatively on self publishing tools around the free world. Turns out, the “creativity” has been used for harm and we now have to fight for every line and every stream and image that’s twisted for political purposes. But more about that in future posts.

So now we wait some more and watch online as Russia attempts to invade Ukraine and the New Zealand borders come down for Australia. What a news cycle we’ve had over the last few months. 

I haven’t been writing very much lately, mainly because I haven’t had a lot to say, but I think that’s about to change. Common wisdom is that the main way to get rid of writer’s block is to 1. Read lots.

2. Write lots. 

A print subscription to the New Yorker* has been an unexpected delight in my bubble. Not realising it was a weekly sub, I dutifully gave them my credit card details (mainly because I wanted the free tote bag gift with purchase) and then the little magazines of joy started arriving in my letterbox -all the way from New York!

The quality of the writing in the New Yorker is breathtaking and intimidating all at the same time. I’ve been “reading lots” of good quality stuff so lets hope that author Stephen King is right and it magically morphs into my writing. 

Soaking in a good long-form article is good for the mind and I’ve been reading one every night before I go to sleep for maximum effect. Try it out. 

In the true spirit of writer’s block I also ordered a new office setup that looks longingly at me every morning so today, I’ve sat down and decided to actually use it. Mostly it’s back to my roots in TextEdit and publishing on PostHaven (keep it simple) but I also splashed out for a new M1 MacBook Air, monitor and Bluetooth bits and pieces. I have a lovely, sunny office with views over the garden and reserve outside so it’s worked out better than I planned. The fact that I’m following public health orders and can’t got anywhere until my covid test comes back doesn’t seem to matter too much- it’s nice here. 

Now I have to write a follow up post and tell you if my covid test came back negative. A good friend told me that writing is like riding a bike and will all come back to you so with a few wobbles,I thank the old readers and the new ones for their eyeballs. 

*I would like to dedicate this post to my dear friend and fellow New Yorker lover, David Macgregor. Let’s hope there’s some magazines for us over the rainbow bridge. 

Housing affordability in the regions ignored once again

Today's bipartisan announcement of changes to allow for medium density property development is fantastic and I was very excited to see the changes come through. 

My first thought was that it would allow some of the affordable housing projects my friends have been trying to get off the ground to get the green light. But then this: 

Tier one urban sites- Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Tauranga, and Hamilton. 

No mention of the regions struggling to house whanau and the land that is almost impossible to get resource consents for. 

Rotorua surely is a top candidate for a Christchurch-style opening up of land for housing. Here in Turangi we have huge sections with 1960's Ministry of Works houses that are too small for most families. Prime land for housing our people and their families through to retirement and over 55 years developments. 

Let's hope the the next round of changes are announced soon, so that those in the regions aren't forgotten about, again. 

Super Saturday- a winning model of decentralised communications

Maori and Pasifika have been left behind in the covid 19 vaccine rollout. 

I'll leave the long-running, structural reasons for that for another time but what it comes down to is a lack of trust in the authorities and media. Trust can't be rebuilt in the next two months so what to do to get the vaccine numbers up?

The pivot on Super Saturday to a grass roots, decentralised communications approach where local providers spoke directly to their target audiences worked. The numbers proved it with over 130 000 vaccinations and targets exceeded for Maori and Pasifika jabs. 

The televised Vaxathon was a hit with young, fresh faces I've never really seen (showing my age) taking control of the messaging to get out and get vaccinated. Troops on the ground were equipped with fun event ingredients, spot prizes and thank you packs to get the tail end through. So the question is why wasn't this done earlier and has the current approach been all wrong? Should we just decentralise all the communications now?

"This is your captain speaking"

The message control coming out of the government has been necessarily tight and in an emergency situation like the one in March 2020 the team got it right. The 1pm public address format with media present ensured that the Team of Five Million were all on the same page and the clear, sharp (some say kindergarten) explanations navigated the country through a challenging time. 

"This your captain speaking" and fire it out as a press release has worked for certain audiences and built a good foundation to decentralise things out to grass roots channels. For example, on Super Saturday crowds of all ages were delighted by a dancing Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield. He was a total unknown 18 months ago. How did he get covid comms famous and become a trusted source? The joking around of Vaxathon youth presented with 'Optimus Prime' (PM Jacinda Ardern) was adorable and powerful all at the same time. 

Public health in New Zealand is notoriously bad at paid media advertising as a result of them having no budget and third party agency power. Public health have become over reliant on the traditional media to get their messaging out and the paid work often comes as an after thought. Here comes the issue for Maori and Pasifika communities-they're often not engaged in mainstream media channels and go to other sources such as social or word of mouth, relational channels. The fragmented media is harder and more expensive. You need complicated media planning, multiple languages and broad range of media-trained talking heads. It's harder and you risk losing control of your messages-especially if you are trying to pull all the levers from Wellington. 

Many of the ground troops involved in Super Saturday had already been partially media trained by the 1pm announcements -whether they knew it or not. But the time has come to add more grass roots campaigns as well as the centralised messages. Equip the people on the ground and if that means Super Saturday 2, I'm here for it. 

The St Matthew's billboard and why it kept me awake at 2am

Let's be clear. For those of you who don't me I am very pro vaccination and I've been horrified by some of the misinformation that's been coming through our churches. It's great that churches are getting involved in the covid response communications and I welcome it. 

I used to be the communications manager for Auckland Regional Public Health and went on to Ogilvy in Sydney. So you could say I know my way around a public health billboard. I'm also a Christian and a daily Bible reader which is why I was awake at 2am thinking about the St Matthew's new campaign messaging. 

"Give God a hand"

My knee jerk response is "God doesn't need a hand, He's God". Then I thought maybe I was missing the point and it's got something to do with praise- Give God a clap, a shout of

Because if the core of the message is that in someway, God needs our help or is making an appeal through his lack of sovereignty in a pandemic, well then we're all in trouble. 

Let's look at some Scriptures. The key ones for me are Isaiah 59:1 "Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear" and Numbers 11:23 "The Lord answered Moses, is the Lord's arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you."  People questioning whether God is sovereign still over a troubling situation is very common in the Bible (read the Book of Job) and in all cases it is made clear that God is in fact, God. 

So then I thought of the lovely imagery around God holding our hand (Isaiah 41:13; Psalm 63:8) and thought maybe this is what the campaign is getting at. Does God uphold us by his hand? Yes. Does he need a hand? No. So I don't think that's it. 

We can also pivot to some theology around co-labouring with Christ which may be getting warmer to the true character of God. "For we are co-workers in God's service, you are God's field, God's building (1 Corinthians 3:9). Partnering and being yoked together with Christ is very Biblical but it's also very clear that He is the creator (the potter, the builder, the field owner) and we are the clay. 

I'm sure these discussions have been had at St Matthew's and maybe that's the point but as ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18-20) it's important we get the key messages right. God isn't needy or in need of anything and I want everyone to know that at these challenging times. Take care. 

Brian Tamaki and his picnics that aren't protests

I'm on the fence about Brian Tamaki. Not as a person or a church leader, but on the legal ramifications of the the gathering he fronted in the Domain. 

He was definitely in breach of a Public Health Order and has been charged accordingly. But how does the right to protest work in a pandemic and what does that mean for democracy in our country? There has been some discussion from other bloggers such as David Farrier that Tamaki was the brown patsy for a white-church coordinated political drive but I think this is all nonsense. Tamaki is a big boy and while I doubt his wisdom, I don't doubt his cunning. 

The language gets tricky and Tamaki is working this. Facebook pages claimed the gathering was not a protest but a Stand (using Biblical language here). Tamaki met with high ranking police and explained his intentions for the October 2 event. Now, the church leader is planning further "picnics" in covid restricted areas- to mock the terminology used by the government. Surely he would be better to come out and simply claim a protest but their group has been careful not to do this. 

What is clear to me is that these actions have nothing to do with faith and everything to do with politics and a desire to introduce Trumpian grass roots movements to New Zealand. I don't like it but have to concede that there are those with different political views to me who have the right to air their disapproval. 

What if it turns into a super spreader? It concerns me and I don't have the answers but we need to hold fire on our personal judgements and think through what it would mean if our democracy was threatened. The officials have a challenging case study and I'll continue to watch with interest.