Tag Archives: freedom

On returning home (and what that means)


My hopscotch journey towards New Zealand began with a flight from Inverness to Belfast. After six months on so many different roads I’m wondering what I’m heading back to. Where and what is my ‘home’? Here in my sister’s Derry backpackers around forty people a day enter our lives, tread about within our communal home, and then head out to their next port of call. Some of them bind themselves to us for brief periods, sharing pints, songs and stories. I ask these ones about their homes, about what makes their bungalow in Washington State, their apartment in Genova, or their farm outside Kabul the place they want to return to. And in their stories I hunt for meaning, because I’m about to return to a country in which I hope to build a new life.

It was the three months in the USA that opened my mind to new ways to envision my future in New Zealand. That bold country has enabled generations of people a great deal of control in deciding what sort of home they want to create for themselves. The enormous and varied landscape provided opportunities for millions of people to create something new, unrestricted hundreds of generations of tradition. And for some time their government left them enough freedom to determine their own paths. And though these freedoms may be disappearing, I still found plenty of people who had tried two or three different lives on for size, and found one that fit. Not the one their parents dictated to them, nor their laws, nor their peers. And their experiences helped me understand how I might be able to combine freedom of thought and movement, with a permanent base, a real home in my country.

Many of the Americans I met also helped me understand that I shouldn’t be afraid to walk with conviction towards the things I want. It’s not just the lifestyles that Americans have been free to create, they’ve also been encouraged to chase ideas. My own hopes and dreams were usually bolstered when I shared them with people. My enthusiasm for the outlandish wasn’t as open to negativity and cynicism as it might have been in other environments. I realised the importance of ensuring I spent time amongst ideas people, creative people, intelligent free thinkers. They drive me onward, rather than slowing my progress.

The third thing I decided to take home from the States was the utilisation of the honest compliment. My first response (I shudder to recall) to these positive critiques was cynicism. I hunted for subtext, for an end-goal in these happy comments on another person’s character, hair style or youthful vigour. And when I couldn’t find it, I began to realise it was simply a good and kind act. I was smitten. I was even the recipient from time to time, which no doubt made me doubly suspicious. But then I grew to understand its simple power to bring happiness. So I’m taking this home, and I’ll aim to fill a few half empty glasses.

The transition to Europe helped add new ideas to those I harvested from the Americans. I did two months of volunteer work between Ireland and Scotland, and the time spent in old homes in old parts of old countries was useful in corralling my thoughts on what I need from life. Wandering and cycling through the countryside on the occasional days that the sun spilt between clouds on the horizon was blissful. But being so far from civilisation tended to make my head itch. The humble quarters within the castle walls (ironically) taught me how little space I needed to relax in. The caravan in Scotland shrank this space significantly, but the views I took in from the narrow lounge windows became my environment as much as the thin aluminium walls that shook like barley in the exhausting cross winds. So small house, in big country. Tick. The lack of people though, that was the itch. I need my cafe interviews with artists and musicians, my wander through the markets picking out beetroot to roast, my Wednesday evening gigs at character packed pubs and bars.

Now I’m back in Derry, the heart of my travelling experiences. Six weeks ago I was here briefly, licking fresh wounds, and working through my thoughts and hopes. This time I’ve returned with a peaceful energy, a head full of ideas, and a focus. My Halloween evening here was spent dancing on the edge of a life I knew in my thirties. I told ghost stories to gladiators, twirled with witches, and faced down demons. And I’ve made peace with the things I’ve seen and done. I’m consolidating I’ve learnt, and begun planning for what comes next.

New Zealand is still a place where we can build our dreams. I’m returning to Aotearoa with new ideas from other places, aiming to build a home between town and country. A place I can share with people who fight to obtain their dreams, and with my family. I’m returning to spend time with my young niece, the newest member of that family. Her Uncle Regan’s returning a little less cynical, a little more focused, and just as happy as when he last saw her. He’s looking forward to telling her tales of far off lands, encouraging her imagination, and supporting her ideas and hopes.

I’d like to thank all those people who I have met along this most recent journey. You mad, wonderful, inspirational girls and boys with whom I shared a few beers, a trailer, a Castle or a laugh with. You’re all forever welcome to visit me in my home, wherever that will be. I’ll make sure there’s a comfy couch.


First week in the U S of A

Cabin deck

International differences in slang are ripe for giggles. Whilst at my sister’s backpackers in Derry a Canadian came into the kitchen laughing, and telling us that her boyfriend was double-fisting in the garden. At this point I realised that the fanny pack wasn’t likely the only snort-worthy misreading of intentions I was likely to encounter, should I visit the America’s. A couple of days ago Francoise and I went for a walk around the Farmers Market in central Boulder, and then for a stroll through the bohemian quarter. At one end was a “Cheesecake Factory”, and whilst jittering at the number of © and (™)’s on the menu, I noticed they served “root beer”. “wass that then?” I asked. Quickly I was led to Mountain Sun, a brew pub which happens to make their own root beer. Now for Kiwis (and Aussies) the giggles might have already begun, as a “root” in the Southern hemisphere, is another name for sex. I guess a root beer lowers everyone’s inhibitions? But when I was asked whether I’d like to take it away in a “growler” my poker face gave way. Down under (don’t even start) a growler is a cheeky euphemism for a woman’s lady-parts. Of course we passed a playground on the way back to the car which had a beaver on full display, and at this point I’m sure my estimation in Francoise’ eyes must have dropped. If not then I’m sure we’ll be friends forever.

One of the things that’s sometimes struck me about a couple of the Americans I met whilst travelling, is that they tended to vocalise almost everything that passes through their minds. “That’s a big ol’ bus” as a bus goes by, or “mmm-mmm, that’s red wine alright” as they take a sip of (yip) red wine. Occasionally these same individuals also dropped over the top responses to minimal stimuli, “Oooooh my Lord! Sweet Jebuz wrap me in a chunky Kentucky man’s bathing costume and throw me to the coyotes…” in response to a traffic light shifting from amber to green. I’m so used to growing up in New Zealand, a world of muttered, muted understatement, that this broadcasting of one’s inner monologue always used to seem a little…attention seeking. Like the red headed cousin that’s lost the focus of their neurotic parents attention and decides to shove dry roasted peanuts up their nose until the cough-cry-snot combo has the desired affect. This morning I went on a bird hunting hike with a group of around 25 citizens, most in their 60’s, and I had to shift my perspective. The harmonic vocalised enthusiasm that accompanied every hummingbird spotting was endearing when matched with widened eyes and “o” shaped lips. I’m glad my inner cynic has given way, I’d sooner listen to a chorus of oohs and aaaaahs of appreciation, than a cacophony of scornful derision. Expressed happiness trumps arched eyebrows and rolling eyes heavenwards.

Amongst the childish observations, I’ve also jumped in the deep end, and been trying to draw real learnings from my experiences and conversations. One thing I’m finding is that there seem to be serious concerns that the US Government is working hard to reduce people’s freedom to choose. The implementation of the Patriot Act utilised a nation’s fears to introduce Big Government in a nation built on rejecting State control. And since then it seems further erosion of freedoms, many which appear to contravene the constitution, are causing angst, though maybe not for enough people. Despite this though, there’s still an underlying belief amongst people I’ve met so far, that they should be able to achieve anything they want, as long as they’re prepared to work for it. And just as importantly, they have picked their own paths through life, avoiding “convention” when it ran contrary to their needs. And up until recently the mix of federal and state leadership promoted this. Imagine 50 regions with different environments, different laws, different attitudes. Americans have been able to choose to live in the area that suited their desired lifestyle, from gun control laws to attitudes towards homosexuality. I love the idea of those sorts of personal freedoms. But it seems increasing federal powers threaten the ability of States to maintain this degree of independence. Hopefully Americans still have the will to protect their freedom of choice, hopefully they won’t sacrifice it in fear, so that the state can “keep them safe”. Hopefully they continue to insist that the Government support the right of the individual to be just that, an individual.

So. At the moment, I’ve got a bit of a man-crush on the US. Ok, I’m on holiday, I don’t have to fight others for a job, I don’t have to be concerned over my children’s education. My glasses are definitely rose tinted. But each day I find a dozen grins, a half dozen chuckles, and several stunned shakes of the head. Soon I’ll have to staple a bungy cord between my forehead and my chin to stop my jaw hitting the ground so frequently. As far as I’m concerned, this is an incredible land, and I can’t recommend enough that people come here and give these people and this country a big hug.