Island Life

It’s a cold, windy Saturday night. Darkness arrives early and completely. Life unfolds slowly and quietly. We’re slipping into early retirement, we joke. Those of us with no pets, children or partners. There’s time to research nutrition and if eggs are that bad for us. Hours and be wasted doing this.

Of course, there are interesting observations to be made. The locals are short, speak with a quirky twang and being mostly farmers, are not very educated or worldly. The houses which were constructed from stone and cement decades or even centuries ago are like cottages for gnomes.

People drive like they’re drunk. Perhaps they are. There’s the ocean nearby, with craggy rocks, and sandy beaches. Hundreds of tangerine groves, which should smell sweet and citrusy are tainted by the pungent farm animal smells.

There are winding country roads and stone fences. One could be forgiven for thinking they were traipsing about the Irish seaside. But then the palm trees would give it away. But it’s not quite Hawaii either.

At times it could be a Third World country, with stray mangy dogs snooping around. Hunched over old women foraging for herbs on the side of the road. Swerve around a bend or two and there are palatial hotels and the busiest airport in the world.

Confusing? Disorienting? Full of contradictions? Above all, hard to make sense of.

Country Mouse

 

It’s been a while since I’ve had the time and mental bandwidth to sit down here and hash things out. Not only that, I haven’t had the time or space to weave the narrative together of the changes I’ve made in the past few months. There have been transitions, from a megacity to a village on an island, from an easy and relaxed work situation to a demanding and stressful one. The river of time and change keeps flowing whether we like it or not. For now, I’ll let these pictures speak for me. I’ll be back when things make more sense. 

The Whole Intimate Mess

I came across this excellent memoir, The Whole Intimate Mess: Motherhood, Politics and Women’s Writing because the author, Holly Walker, sounded familiar. Indeed, it turns out that Holly and I crossed paths briefly at University when we both worked for its student publication, which Holly went on to edit. She then went on to be a Rhodes Scholar and a Greens Member of Parliament. Overachiever much?

What I love most about this concise, well-written book is how candid it is without being oversharing-y. While it must’ve been terrifying for such a public person to lay her struggles bare, Holly navigates the personal and the political with grace, warmth, humour and vulnerability. In a nutshell, she opens up about the perfect storm of events and conditions that led to the brave decision to step down from her parliamentary role: her struggle with becoming a mum while working in parliament, her postpartum depression, her husband’s chronic illness, their rocky marriage, and the anxiety and self-harm that came along with these stressful life events.

In her vulnerability, she is down to earth and relatable. Holly also weaves throughout her at-times harrowing story quotes from other female writers from around the world who speak to, and contextualise, her struggles, and it is with the fusing of these excerpts and her writing that bring a universal quality to her work. I certainly identified with elements of her story as a white, NZ/western, working woman.

This memoir is ultimately hopeful – Holly gets help and rebuilds her life in a way that is more workable for her and her family. She acknowledges her privilege and that she has more options than most people. As a fellow lefty, the memoir is littered with examples and anecdotes of how New Zealand is not doing enough for children in poverty and the widening gap between the rich and the poor which is having a detrimental effect. Still, it gives me hope that people like Holly are working on these issues. Thanks Holly for all that you do, for reminding us that the pen is mightier than the sword, and for being such an excellent role model for the women of Aotearoa/New Zealand!

Rainy Season

And the rains they came. The monsoon season has started here. A day earlier than expected. Shows how much we silly humans know. It’s grey, humid and wet. The sounds are soothing. The repetition is somehow comforting. I’m sleeping better although I have less energy. Walking up the hill to my place from the subway station feels like my legs are made of concrete. Feeling wild, I ordered a latte with half a shot of espresso and the next day had a pounding headache. My joints ache. My life right now could be an advertisement for all of Pema Chodron’s books: When Things Fall Apart, The Places That Scare You, Taking the Leap, Comfortable With Uncertainty. You get the idea. It’s a time of transition, of uncertainty, of stepping outside of my comfort zone, of making choices and putting my agency behind them (as Ruth Chang would say). A group of friends I’ve leaned on these past few years has sadly disbanded. Although it wasn’t sudden, it’s still sad. What was sudden, though, was my friend’s loss of her twin fetuses at almost twelve weeks. I was able to offer her some comfort. These things happen. Nature is cruel. It’s not your fault. Still it rains. Then there was the death of my friend’s brother who was walking to meet his friends near the river where I had been just a few days before. It was a taxi, they said. It came out of nowhere and now he is no longer. Silly humans. Inside and outside are grey. But rain is good. It can cleanse and help things grow.

The Full Catastrophe

I stood alone in a corner waiting for my friends to arrive. I was wearing a new dress bought for this special occasion, my American friend’s wedding. It was black chiffon with dark pink flowers. It’s a cute dress and I hope to wear it again somebody. It was a fun, happy, quirky wedding. I felt grateful to have been able to experience it with my friends. We drove to the next venue, stopping on the way for tea in a new cafe/bar surrounded by traditional houses and fairy lights. People were drunk and laughing and there was a chaotic vibe in the air at the afterparty. I said goodbye to my friends, we said we would catch up soon, in a few weeks, maybe have dinner.

None of us knew that just one week later a mutual friend’s brother would jump off a bridge and die. We didn’t know then that we would gather in nine days time at a funeral home where we would pray in front of a coffin and offer a white flower to the deceased. We didn’t go just to support our friend. We also knew the dearly departed. We had trained capoeira together. We had partied together. We were all social media friends and followers. We couldn’t quite believe what had happened. Our young, handsome, charismatic, intelligent and talented friend had taken his own life under difficult, but not insurmountable, circumstances. An irrational and permanent response to an impermanent problem. I thought to myself how amazing that I have gone this long in life and never been to a funeral. It was my first and I held his mother tight as she sobbed into my arms.

Pepper the past few weeks with some job rejections, a lacklustre birthday and some lonely Saturday nights with only a needy existential crisis for company and I do believe I am living what is known as the full catastrophe. It’s like being on a rollercoaster that you have no control over, over when or if it will stop and if you’ll ever be able to get off. There’s little time to process thoughts and feelings, to read the emotional data, to regroup before the next wave comes and washes over you. It’s those cliches again, you can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf. Everyday there’s an opportunity for perspective taking, for saying a quick atheist prayer for my friend whose brother is gone far too soon and far too tragically. And least we forget the brother. Rest peacefully, HJ. You are forever in our thoughts, prayers and hearts.