In episode 3, I talk about how my New Zealand experience started by my chickening out of a hike…a very long hike. Have a listen here!
Happy 2018! I recorded inside the car after driving down to the mall to get myself a coffee. Sounds like no big deal, but after over a decade of no driving, it sure feels like one.
Facing fears is a key part of any story, but being inside fear is no fun at all. Thankfully, I’m finding a way out…I hope. Listen to episode 2 of ‘Firmly on Shaky Ground’ to get the full story!
With 2018 looming on the horizon, I decided it was time to start writing down my adventures in my new home country: Aotearoa, the Land of the Long White Cloud. A year and a half ago I made a leap in the dark; I left my steady job and gave up my apartment in Melbourne, to reinvent my life in New Zealand. It’s a move I have never regretted, although there have been times when starting over felt like the hardest climb I’ve ever done. Earthquakes, job changes, snow, rain, tears, panic attacks, boils (ick)…the universe has thrown a few challenges my way. But there’s also been so much wonder and discovery also, and I feel humbled and blessed to call Christchurch my home (for better and for worse). So here is my podcast – called ‘Firmly on Shaky Ground’ – and I’d be honoured if you had a listen to my first episode.
It’s become a habit of mine to focus on negatives and risks. I think it comes from a somewhat nervous disposition. I was a shy child, at six already falling into the ‘caretaker’ role – bringing Mum my teddy bear to soothe her heartbroken sobs after a late night phone call from a bad-news boyfriend. Smiling through the tightness in my stomach as my Dad clutched my hand, walking me to the door of the bus. Time always ran out fast on Sundays, signalling the end of every-second-weekend-with-Dad.
Coming over here I naturally had fears. None of them came to pass. Things have turned out really pretty great. I’ve found work, and never been unemployed for more than a few weeks. I have people here that care about me, and a couple of scruffy animal friends that recognise me too. Sometimes home can feel like owning a library card, and having a local fish and chipper.
‘What time will you be home?’
‘Oh haha,’ I say. ‘Sux-thirty, you mean. I’ll get the water boiling for the veg.’
‘How’s your arm?’ says Mike.
‘Sore. Both of them are.’
Yep. There comes a time in any grand adventure when it stops feeling like an adventure – it’s turned into your new life. And then you hit the speedbumps. Or, as we are in Christchurch, let’s say major detours.
Before you know it, the promised new direction has turned into a single lane of traffic going under 30km an hour. Add to that the inevitable string of traffic cones (a couple knocked over) and half a dozen chaps in high-vis scratching their heads and staring into a shallow hole like they’re expecting Jessica Alba in a bikini and hardhat to pop out of it and say howdy.
Safe bet to cancel your plans for the day. You’re on the slow road to nowhere.
It’s the second day of spring today and I am sitting on the floor in my upper level room typing this as warm air breathes through the open window. The winter here was uncannily mild – barely any rain, and no snow in Christchurch itself. The farmers will be concerned.
There are big cracks in the wall of this house from the earthquake five years ago. In six weeks its getting bulldozed and rebuilt.
I’ve taken the day off because a virus I picked up two weeks ago has reared its ugly head again. I spent yesterday dry coughing and sleeping. Today I feel a little better but my voice is still croaky and I don’t have the stamina to talk much – a key part of the job I’m doing at the moment.
Over the past two weeks I’ve been absorbing a different kind of working culture. Results are important, and self-development is encouraged. Ripe grounds for the tech-savvy and ambitious.
I am ambitious – for balance. The old seesaw is still there, bumping from one extreme to the other. Income versus time to write; which one is uppermost this time? For me, finding my way round a new country and with a new job, making time to nurture the fragile plant of writing ambitions is something that needs work. I am out of balance at the moment – hence, getting sick. If Mum were alive, she would say that my body is trying to tell me something. Like I need to let myself relax more.
Security is important. Having a job, making money and supporting myself are important. Part of being an adult after all. But there are other pieces of the puzzle too – including making space for a creative life.
I saw Mum and Brian struggle with this equation all their lives. They dreamt up ingenious ways of making money: some worked for a time. Making and selling kites. Running a bed and breakfast. Teaching people how to build their own wooden canoes. When the money got tight, Brian would go back to relief teaching. As a teenager, I was puzzled by the exhaustion he exhibited after a day of sitting in a classroom; sitting at the kitchen table with his head in his hands at nighttime. During the summer holidays my sister and I would join Mum and Brian out on the vineyards training vines in the January heat. It was menial work and I wondered why they accepted it when they could have done other things. Perhaps they were trying to make room for their dreams?
So what have I done over the past month and a half?
I’ve learnt how to swing a golf club. I’ve seen Mount Cook up close.
I’ve fallen in love with a tall kiwi with blue eyes and an assertive manner and a mean golf swing. It’s been amazing and unexpected. Three months ago I was riding home on trams, feeling invisible as I took my seat next to businessmen who wouldn’t look up from their screens. I was dreaming change but unable to comprehend that it can come so swiftly and in such a positive way.
I’ve shared some of my least-proud moments with Mike and it was okay, it is safe to let myself be seen.
My adventure is going differently from how I expected it. I am growing, but not in the ways I imagined. My old narrative was one about walking alone. Instead, I am here in the midst of life, with its daily pleasures and small frustrations. I am shopping for groceries on the weekend and learning how to cook a juicy steak . I’m talking to people. I’m getting up early to jump on a bus to work and catching glimpses of snow-capped mountains through the windows. I am reading in my spare time. I am learning how to argue and to express my opinion freely.
I am learning how to be proud of who I am. I am questioning what work I want to engage in years to come. I am still writing and the storyline follows the lines more of a cardiogram – spiking then falling hundreds of times a day – than a smooth arc.
Twice now I have felt the earth wobble beneath me, a gentle pulsing that I only recognized after was the tremors of an earthquake. Once I was sitting in a chair outside and I thought Mike’s dog was bumping against the chair legs. The second time Mike said, ‘If I tell you to get up, go and stand in the doorway in the bathroom.’ Not words I expected to hear while lying in bed at 9.50pm on a Monday.
Adaptation is a slow but sure process.
You can’t let life in in half measures, so I am discovering. Where change is concerned, open the door a crack and the flood tide will rush in. It can stir up the deep waters of the past, and the debris clinging barnacle-like to the bottom of your psyche.
I’ve been in New Zealand nineteen days now. This is the fourth time I’ve hopped across the Tasman. My second and third visits I spent going on long walks (‘tramping’ in kiwi) – the Queen Charlotte Track in 2014, and the Routeburn and the Abel Tasman tracks last December. My first steps in this country though were in Christchurch, in 2012. I’m back in Christchurch now and it’s great being close to both the mountains and the sea. I’m falling in love with this city, whose graceful lines and beautiful gardens are still evident beneath the scaffolding and the traffic cones, and the potholed roads that were ripped apart in the earthquakes.
Living a new place, my sensory impressions become sharper. Turning a corner, I’m surprised by a glimpse of mountains in the distance, capped with new snow like freshly iced buns. Without sunglasses, my eyes squint through the low winter sunlight. The sky is a different shade; cooler than Melbourne’s fine-weather blue. A moment ago, before stepping into a cafe for a coffee (with cinnamon on top, not chocolate – a kiwi special), a few flakes of snow landed on my sleeve. The sensation was as gentle as the touch of a special dog – my new friend Millie, a gorgeously scruffy canine – nosing my arm.
There’s so much to learn, so much of interest. But the simplest things can be challenging too. Where do I get the bus into town and how much change do I need? Why isn’t my new bankcard working? And will the way I pronounce ‘six’ (ocker Aussie-style) sound hilarious to locals?
Then there are the bigger questions. What work should I apply for? Will I fit in here? What rugby team should I support? Which way is north?
I am staying in a house in New Brighton through Airbnb, with the lovely Simon and Sarah, two laid-back people who have made me feel at home in their home, offering me a taste of their vegan parmesan cheese (not as disgusting as it sounds) at dinner time, and free use of Simon’s beautiful old writing desk when I want it. The desk is an antique that belonged to Simon’s father, who wrote twelve novels at it. ‘It’s got good writing vibes,’ Simon tells me.
A quote from the Dalai Lama on the back of the bathroom door reminds me that kindness is always possible. Another says to embrace the imperfections of the ones we love.
I’ve met someone who loves in whole, not half, measures. Kindness is in the bedrock of his nature, as is a wicked sense of humour. He’s helping me to settle in here; I’m no longer in it alone. A local Canterbury lad, he’s shown me the routes round the city and has helped me decipher the game of rugby (not an easy task!)
Having a friend and a partner in this crazy adventure is amazing, and I’ve found myself doing things that I never thought I’d have the courage to do. I’ve gathered up the confidence to drive again, and I’ve even gotten behind the wheel of a van. Turns out that’s not so tricky after all; it’s actually great to be able to see the road from up high. (‘That’s because you’re short,’ my partner’s father told me. Apparently being teased here means you’re liked and accepted. Or so I’m assured!! ). I’ve had a go at golf too, and it turns out that I’m good at putting. Must be all those childhood mini-golf lessons with my own lovely Dad and my sister, Alexis.
Last Friday evening I ran along New Brighton beach as the tide rushed in. I had the beach to myself apart from a lone brave surfer. The clouds gathered behind me in a threatening grey horseshoe shape reminiscent of the Nothing in The Neverending Story. I looked forward, concentrating on the feeling of sand under my soles and watching the pearlescent sheen on water. I was reminded of why I’d wanted to come here in the first place: the amazing nature, the open spaces, and the trust I felt that everything would be okay. By the time I’d turned around to run back, the clouds had dispersed and the weather blown out over the sea.
‘Being okay’ is a fine goal to have, I’ve realised; but it is only the start. The time’s come to open myself up to the possibility of more.
I’m dedicating this to my Canterbury man :-). It’s a joy and a blast getting to know you, more and more every day.