On learning from others. And yourself.

Note where the sun's shining from...
Note where the sun’s shining from…

Last winter my long term relationship came to an end. I met Alison whilst working in my sister’s backpacker hostel in Northern Ireland. When I first met her, I thought “Naaa[maybe]”. Over the next few weeks this progressed to “Maybe [naaa?]”, finally I ended up at “Hells Yeah!” It came down to me waiting at an airline counter in Dublin. I asked the Ryanair check in woman to toss a coin for me, as I couldn’t tell whether I should stay in Ireland and pursue the Northern English crumpet, or head on to new things. Even now I can’t remember if she actually showed me the coin, I just remember her Irish accented “teeyils!” and the accompanying grin.

Alison meant a lot to me. She was my moral compass, a pretty solid white yin to my somewhat dark yang. We had a chaotic time chasing opportunities around the globe. We also went through a lot of difficult struggles in our attempts to stay together, but we’re both prepared to fight for the lives we want to live. But in the end it was the children that undid us. She wanted them. By the end she wanted them soon. And I couldn’t solidify an answer on the topic. Or an answer that wasn’t “No”. So she left.

Yip, it hurt, and my first instinct was to numb the pain that accompanies my particular brand of self doubt. I clambered aboard the crazy train, bound for Shitfaced, Nebraska. But I soon began to recognise a guttural ugliness in my barfly conversations. So I gave myself a metaphorical slap about the face, and decided it was time to use loss as a catalyst for something positive. I dropped the alcohol (most of it…), bought an old Olympia typewriter and exorcised the bad thoughts through frantic keystrokes. I entered the summer with a slowly expanding manuscript, and the fizzy enthusiasm that the warming sun and smell of freshly mown lawns brings out in us kiwi’s.

I began sharing the season with a range of travellers, through Couch Surfer. My lounge and deck became a mini backpackers, and in exchange for a place to sleep, and my delightful company, I harvested their stories. From mental health nurses to snake breeders, I had a whole new range of ideas for character traits (and flaws…) along with enthusiastic punters with which to re-explore my city. The last of these near-random friendships was an American film maker, Francoise. Her and I spent the end of summer squeezing a hundred adventures into the shortening days. And in between chaotic film making, we spent the evenings attempting to unlock such mysteries around how we all determine our self worth, and how to best represent the mating of a shark and an octopus, in the form of a pie. A perfect blend of introspection and the surreal.

As the weather shifted from beers on the deck to hot chocolate in front of the fire, an astounding friendship was formed. From time to time we all need someone else to help us to get some perspective. Over ten weeks Francoise and I realised we’d found someone who helped us better understand who we were. I’ve spent many years learning to talk about what I feel. Kiwi blokes born in the 70’s don’t function that way, but a failed marriage stood testament to where being staunch gets you. One of the benefits of knowing how to explain yourself to others, is that there is a chance that they will then be able to share with you. And I now get to understand the heart of someone, whereas for years all I tried to do was to get someone to laugh, or cringe, or use a mini-tramp and a matress to do dive rolls over a bonfire.

Alison and my separation took my overly cynical outlook to ugly new places. But fortunately I realised that dwelling in dark places only prepares you for a life in the shadows. My writing had been depressive, anxious, and occasionally cruel. It needed to progress, to be more balanced. Several years ago I decided to take up snowboarding. Just before I first thundered my way down the beginners slope on a rental board, a helpful friend told me that I’d go whichever way I pointed my head. Then he pushed me into the snow. His technique though, was a significant step forward in my attempts to protect my arse and my dignity. I’ve found that my life can be like that, if I point my face towards the warmth, that’s where I tend to drift. I might take a few good falls on the way, but at least when I rise I’m looking ahead. And hopefully this is reflected in my words.

Francoise, I’m looking forward to continuing to head on into the warmth with you. Thank you for helping make this kiwi summer the best one I can remember.


2 thoughts on “On learning from others. And yourself.”

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