I have not posted for a while and a lot has happened in that time. I’ve started a new job, I’ve bought a house. Lots of big, ridiculous decisions.
I’ve thought every now and then about writing a blog post and then felt a bit overwhelmed as soon as I opened up my laptop. So here I am, writing in bite size pieces about some of the good things that I feel right now.
I have my own house. By my own, I really mean the bank has a house and I’m paying it interest. I’m not complaining. I’m very grateful. It’s a happy little house and I love it.
I live ten houses down the road from a good friend who has had an eye on the foliage outside my house for months. Now that I own it, she feels entitled to rob me. This, to me, is both hilarious and heartwarming.
Last year at work I almost burnt out. I started making some changes around September/October but have felt emotionally and physically exhausted ever since. Until now. I realised this weekend that I’m no longer spending all my weekends and evenings recovering from work. I hardly noticed myself recovering but I think I might be close.
I’m taking control of my eating. And I think this time it might stick. I love feeling like I have some self control, some discipline, again. When I manage to stick to a sensible diet, I feel like I start getting more control over every other part of my life.
I have a new job. I have mixed feelings about it and they fluctuate every week. I’m not passionate about it, devoted to it, like I was for my last job… and that sounds really bad, but I’m actually really happy to now be in a job where I feel moderately apathetic about it – I have no intention of killing myself for it, and I’m trying to make sure I go home and forget about it.
I just finished reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It feels bittersweet and nostalgic, a reminder of those times when a new Harry Potter book would arrive after a long, long wait. I would devour them, barely pausing to eat – on one occasion reading solidly from Saturday 11am to Sunday 3am – and then have to wait until my friend K. had also finished them, at which point we would dissect them on the phone for several hours. What a gift. I’m so grateful to the authors of good books.
This week, I was eating the most delicious curry at a Sri Lankan foodstall I’ve recently discovered. Really, really delicious, and not something you can find anywhere else in this town. And I was suddenly hit with an overwhelming need to share this news with my mother, who died over ten years ago.
For one moment, it was a tiny glimpse of what life would have been like if she were still around.
Before marrying my dad, Mum spent about 8 years of her life living in southern India where the curries are not the same as the Punjabi-style curries we tend to get here. When she came back to New Zealand, she brought with her a lifelong love for making and eating Indian food.
I would have been on the phone to her within five minutes and we would be arranging to meet in town on the weekend. She would have been a little bit sceptical but cautiously interested. She would have ended up hunting down recipes from tenuous connections and cooking Sri Lankan curries for the next six months.
The Sri Lankan curry incident set it all off again. I would have loved telling Mum about the curry. But there are so many things I would love to talk to her about. There’s about to be a big change in my working life and there’s no one I would like to talk to about it more.
There’s an ache to grief like this. It’s not like the immediate loss. It’s like a missing limb to which you’ve become more accustomed to missing, but its absence is just as glaring.
The words ‘I miss you’ just don’t feel quite right. I’ve been thinking that I prefer the French equivalent – ‘tu me manques’. It’s usually translated as ‘I miss you’ but it actually, literally, means ‘you are missing from me’.
Over the years she’s been gone I have sometimes struggled with a feeling of guilt for spending time grieving. I know how ridiculous that sounds, but sometimes you put things in perspective just a little bit too much – you think about how some people never even got to know their mothers, or how some other people’s mothers weren’t good mothers. So what right do I have to just keep missing a good person who was in my life for 19 years?
It’s only recently that it occurred to me I was doing this to myself and how unreasonable that was. I was thinking of that verse – to those who have been given much, more shall be given – and how it seems unjust but there’s a complicated truth to it. I thought about how reasonable it would be that someone who is eminently missable should be missed. Grief, in a way, is a gift: the evidence that she lived a life that has left a mark.
I was lucky enough to spend my Easter long weekend with some good friends from work, camping by the seaside in one of New Zealand’s beautiful national parks – Abel Tasman. It’s a land of beaches and coves and bays and greenery and unnatural warmth for the South Island – so that even at this time of year camping and swimming were viable options.
I’m sure there’ll be more to come. But for now I will tell you a story.
Last year, we went camping at the same beach (Totaranui) but we did not bring firewood. There are concrete fire pits all around the campsite and this turned out to be a real oversight. We managed to find some dry wood but it was largely of the kindling variety – nothing bigger was dry enough, so we had to get up every five minutes to get more wood for the fire.
It’s the first night of camping, and this year we’re far more prepared. L. is moving to the other side of the world in a few weeks, so she dismantled her bookcase, which she had built from wood found on the side of the road, and brought it along to burn. In combination, the sacrifice of the bookcase starts feeling quite uncomfortable when she also starts using pages ripped from her Lonely Planet Canada, 1997 edition, to start the fire. We all get it, in theory – she’s never going to use that book again, nor is anyone else – and yet it feels decidedly uncomfortable.
However, we settle down with our only remaining bag of marshmallows – the second bag had already been stolen by a villainous weka – and some wine. We sidle up to the fire and start getting comfortable:
When suddenly: the fire explodes. Literally explodes.
It’s satisfying to know that when something ridiculous happens you will react more quickly than you normally feel capable of. In my case, I throw myself backwards so fast that there is probably some kind of realignment in the equilibrium of the universe (slight exaggeration perhaps). It all happens so quickly that we look at each with a ‘did that really just happen?’ and just start going ‘um, so the fire just exploded, did we do something wrong?’
One of us had the presence of mind (or, poor priorities!) to photograph the aftermath before we all started running around stamping out sparks:
Doesn’t that just look so much more evil than the previous photo?
We find there are logs that have been thrown into another fire pit behind the first, and are still burning away happily. We find there are sparks burning holes all over my picnic chair, which I had thrown out behind me, but none of us seem to be hurt at all.
A man comes running over from the other side of the camping ground (we later decide he’s probably called Murray, Steve or Bert) who is really relieved to see we’re all okay and swears with gusto. Apparently, from the window of his little cabin, he saw four people’s heads glowing, heard a sudden and almighty boom – the explosion flying up above the pretty good-sized tree that’s between us and him – and then couldn’t see anybody at all. He was hurrying over thinking he might need to clean up a rather disturbing mess.
As we’ve pretty much put out the fire now we’re starting to laugh at the ridiculousness of what just happened and the fact that we’re not hurt. Murray/Steve/Bert is getting pretty excited too, and we’re all trying to figure out what happened. Murray/Steve/Bert reckons that it might be all the rain they had a few days before – a massive inundation. It probably got in underneath the concrete of the fire pit and was boiling away – the steam building up until it burst.
[Update 9 April: Another theory recently offered by a friend who is a botanist by training – he thinks it was caused by an underground methane pocket from a layer of rotting vegetation – quite common in a coastal/sandy environment.]
That – or if you’re superstitious, it might be the book burning.
We’re laughing away and gazing at the fire pit when I suddenly start to feel like my back is warm. Unnaturally calmly: ‘Guys, can you check my back? Is there any chance I’m on fire?’ They can’t see anything but I take my coat off – and there it is – sparks have flown into the hood of my coat and are happily burning away.
How did none of us get hurt?!
The next morning, in the sunlight, we check out the fire pit. There are whole slabs of concrete which were ripped away by the explosion:
We think we got lucky. The explosion seems to have gone high rather than wide – so it went straight up and then the sparks fell in a ring wide around us. Where we all fell, we were in a little fire-free donut – except for my hood, nothing seems to have landed on us.
I am going through the slightly exciting but mostly frightening process of potentially buying my first house. So far it’s going really well… if really well means falling head over heels in love with everything that is the opposite of sensible.
My dream house is basically a tiny cottage with a sweet but dilapidated ambience. I have been known to totally ignore things like a lack of insulation, sloping floors and rotting piles while wandering around saying things aloud like ‘This is where I will write my novel!’
Fortunately for me I have a sensible father and a friend with a background in construction who have already rescued me from throwing money at not just one but two properties in this category. The first was totally lacking in insulation and over 130 years old; the second had windows missing that I had not even noticed on my first walk through the property, and would never see the sun in the winter months.
Since these experiences I have been trying to be more sensible. But last night I noticed I was sitting at home debating potential names for the pet I will be able to own once I have my own house. I had got so far ahead of myself that, instead of concentrating on the work of property-hunting; instead of considering whether it is a sensible decision to commit to pet ownership; instead of thinking about whether I want a cat, a dog, a goldfish, a HORSE – I was trying to decide on the most hilarious literary- or history-inspired names for my generic animal.
(And yes, there’s a list now. William Makepeace Thackeray. Virginia Woolf. Mr Willoughby. Dick van Dyke. I am thinking that I will know for sure once I actually see the cat/dog/animal.)
One day, one faraway day in the future, maybe I will make major life decisions based on sound judgment and careful cost-benefit analysis.
On the Kepler Track, J. and I walked 50.6 km. I measured my steps, and they were 84,652. We climbed from 205m to a total height of 1400m (4600 ft), and then down again. It was 22 solid hours of walking over three days, and each day got longer as we went.
It’s only three days of my life, but I really did come away feeling like it was more defining than seems logical. I learned a lot.
Things I learned about tramping
The weather changes really, really rapidly in Fiordland.
Tramping packs are way heavier than I thought they would be. I had kind of assumed, well, 10 kgs, that’s not a huge proportion of my body mass, it can’t make that much difference, right? It turns out that it does. And that makes it really hard to climb mountains. (Astonishing truths for you today.)
Extended downhill sections, despite all my expectations, are the worst. Approximately three months later, I still have a bruised big toe from Day 2.
Long hours have more of an impact than I had thought, even in the flatter sections, particularly after several days of walking. Tramping food (or at least the food we took) is generally horribly dry and even when I was tired and famished I couldn’t stomach it.
On a positive note, other people find it difficult too. Including people who look significantly fitter than me.
People in the huts are really friendly. I kind of assumed it would be like walking into a hipster gym wearing trackies and getting scrutinized by fit people in lycra. It really wasn’t. There was no judgment. If you made it up there, you deserve to be there.
Things I learned about myself
It’s a very different thing, being somewhere you actually have to keep walking or you will die – there’s no option to just turn around or stay put for a while.
I tended to lose confidence about one third of the way in, every day. It’s something about already starting to be tired but still having to walk about double what you’ve already walked.
But making it to the end each day, and to the end overall, was a massive confidence boost. I put on a lot of weight last year after having lost quite a lot the year before, and I wasn’t feeling huge amounts of self-love. There were moments each day on the Kepler where I was talking to myself in pretty nasty ways about my general capability and decision-making skills! To prove my own voices wrong was quite a powerful thing.
Next time, to cope with the challenge of getting myself through each day I need to be mentally prepared for what’s coming up, and research more than the basic elevation profile. There were a few nasty surprises for me throughout the Kepler where I had assumed that an entire section was flat or gently downhill, but there were sections that were suddenly uphill.
However, what I really need to do is: more things like this.