Everything will be alright, there’s really nothing to worry about too much

It’s always uncomfortable when people talk about their favourite bands and you don’t like their bands, or can’t be bothered to listen to yet another thing that people say you should listen to. So maybe this post isn’t for you. Maybe it’s not for any of us. Anyway – I was listening to Voom’s album Now Am I Me while going for a walk last week. Nostalgia via music is predictable, and it wasn’t long before I was transported to a warm car on Peachgrove Road in Hamilton, waiting for one of my brothers to come out of his flat so we could drive off into town, listening to ‘Lose in the Long Run’.

I thought about the first time I both heard and saw Voom. I was lying on my parents’ bed, watching their tiny, ancient TV. A man with curly red hair was flying through a postcard-blue sky. He was wearing red-and-white striped pyjamas. Every so often, his head, like a huge glowing candle, would fill the screen, staring out with liquidy, flowering eyes as he murmured the words. ‘When you went to Australia, I promised I would come over …’ I hadn’t heard the word ‘Australia’ in a song before. (I probably haven’t since.) At one point in the video, the singer fell into some sort of cave and had an argument with a pair of uniformed officials. At another point, when he was flying again, this time through space, a guitar swam into view and he grabbed it and started playing it. There was also a bit where he looked down at the palm of his hand and his own mouth was on his hand, mouthing the words. On the whole, the man seemed unperturbed by this, and by everything. Words seemed to leave his mouth by their own volition. At the end of the video, he was returned to his band, who turned out to be the officials he’d argued with. Then the little NZ on Air logo bubbled up. That was the true sign I’d seen something weird.

I think it was a few months after I heard that song, ‘Beth’, that one of my brothers bought the album Now I Am Me, after hearing other songs from it on student radio. This was when all albums became part of the places that we drove through, because we dubbed all our CDs onto cassette tapes for the car. Now I Am Me was the grainy landscape between Te Kuiti and Hamilton, between where me and my parents lived and where my brothers flatted, and it was also driveways where I waited in cars for someone to come out.

The lyrics of Voom songs weren’t that clever or strange, or even incoherent, which song lyrics usually had to be in order to seem good. You could hear exactly what the singer was singing. One song was purely a monologue from the point of view of a surfer who had weird lumps all over his body. I figured that the song was meant to be funny – and the guy’s accent in the song was like the accent that I heard my brothers and their friends do, in their Hamilton bands – and I liked to imitate the bit where he went: ‘I’m not really worried about people kicking sand in my face. I’m just – a little, self-conscious.’ Voom lyrics were, on the whole, straightforward. They tended to be things that you could probably say out loud to someone. Even the love songs were made up of ordinary phrases, things that you could imagine muttering. ‘I care about you. You know I do.’ You could probably say that in a New Zealand accent and it would be alright.

Then there was ‘Isn’ That Good’, which I liked to play over and over, usually while lying on the floor pitying myself (I was 13). It was a song about a man trying to comfort someone.  ‘You are bleeding now, soon you’ll feel all right again. Isn’t that good?’ It reminded me of Dylan’s ‘It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only bleeding)’. I liked the sudden force of the man’s voice in the chorus. It sounded like he was yelling into a phone. Actually it sounded to me like he was losing it a bit – trying to reassure someone, and then, partway through, realising: Oh my god, we’re actually completely fucked. In that chorus he reminded me of an exchange student who stayed with our family for a while, who would make late-night phone calls to his family back home in Brazil, and he would get increasingly upset and end up screaming down the phone. No one in my family expressed emotion in such a way. Maybe this was why I liked songs where the singer spent some time screaming or yelling or otherwise making odd noises – it was cathartic. If I closed my eyes I could almost imagine that it was me screaming or yelling. I particularly liked how, in ‘Isn’ That Good’, you could hear the singer laugh towards the end. Hearing a singer laugh was proof that they were really alive. I loved it, for instance, when Paul snickered in the otherwise horrible song ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’. It meant that Paul McCartney was real. It might even be possible to be the person to make him laugh.

Voom was one of the last bands that I wasn’t able to find out anything about. The internet wasn’t really in flight then, and the music magazines I bought didn’t have New Zealand stuff in them, except for Crowded House sometimes. I had no posters blu-tacked to the ceiling, no damp grainy pictures I’d printed out. And I had never seen Voom play (… and still haven’t). So apart from that one mysterious video, they held no persistent imagery for me. There was nothing but the songs with which to feed my love of Voom. I wonder if because of this, the songs became bigger to me and occupied more space in my guts.

It was a long time before Voom’s second album, Hello, Are You There?, came out. Even though years had passed, the new album immediately touched all those old nerves, and I loved it intensely. Again, there were the lyrics that seemed like someone talking basic sense (‘There’s really nothing to worry about too much’), even though the person was clearly messed up in a few ways (‘You had it made, you had it all; but then you lost it and you’re just so goddamn pitiful now’). I listened to the album a lot while walking around leaking from the eyes. I had broken up with my boyfriend and had decided it was a bad mistake, the defining mistake of my life. Voom was the only band I could listen to, the only band that seemed to give me permission to feel sweetly terrible. It seemed to turn my heart into a little portable speaker, with all the songs amplified through it. As soon as ‘We’re So Lost’ came on, my heart started spewing heartbreak all through my body like something exploding in a microwave. A few years later I stumbled across an interview with the singer, Buzz Moller – finally, I knew his name – where he said that he wrote that song when he was at the lowest low of his life. And really, the song simply transported me back to 13 years old, lying there like a tenderised steak, full of blood and ridiculous feeling. I think that’s all it was: their songs were frank about wanting things, and feeling things, that they reminded you how simple it was to experience longing. ‘There ain’t nothing you can do about it – let it lie,’ he sang in ‘I Want My Baby’.

from 'Beth'

from ‘Beth’, via NZ on Screen

[The title of this post is from the song ‘No Real Reality’ from Hello, Are You There (2006)].

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The Tri-Suit

Today I bought a tri-suit. A tri-suit is a versatile garment that you can wear to swim, bike, and run without having to get changed in between. To make these seamless transitions possible, the tri-suit has to be sleek and all-encasing. That makes it sound like something Cat Woman would wear, when really it’s a bit like wearing a single pant leg. People talk about certain pieces of clothing as being ‘unforgiving’. The tri-suit isn’t unforgiving – it doesn’t even want to get involved in the first place. It has nothing to do with you actually. If it betrays any emotion at all, that emotion is grim acceptance: Let’s get this over with so we can both move on.

Looking at myself in the changing room mirror, I was reminded of a story in the Frog and Toad series of picture books by Arnold Lobel. I think the story is just called ‘A Swim’. The two amphibians go swimming – Toad wears his bathing suit, while Frog prefers to swim in the nude – and when it comes time to get out of the water, Toad refuses unless all the animals that have gathered around the riverbank go away. He doesn’t want any of them to see his bathing suit. The animals continue to wait, hoping for a laugh, and Toad gets colder and colder in the water until eventually he’s forced to get out. When the expectant animals see his bathing suit they all laugh hysterically, including his best friend Frog, and that’s the end of this cruel story.

Toad in his swimming trunks

from ‘A Swim’ by Arnold Lobel, Kerlan Collection, via UMD. [Note the callous Frog attempting to suppress his laughter.]

As you can see, Toad’s bathing suit has, at least, some semblance of style: the stripes, the elegant shoulder straps, the interesting neckline. And unlike the reckless nude Frog (uncharacteristically reckless in this story), Toad is respecting others’ boundaries – maybe they would rather not see him naked, so he has worn the bathing suit in order to preserve everyone’s dignity as well as his own. Only to be ridiculed. It was a lesson to us all.

Toad was always my favourite character, for his grouchiness and his emotional hyper-sensitivity, and in this gritty story I felt an even deeper kinship with him. On swimming sports days, it didn’t matter how inoffensive your bathing suit was, there would definitely still be something bad about it. The air on those days prickled with the scrutiny of pre-teens, which of the many different kinds of scrutiny is the worst scrutiny of all. To make your way to the starting blocks, past the crowded grandstands, you had to run a gauntlet of eyeballs, all of them hunting for things that were wrong with you. Once, I made my way through the gauntlet and then sat in a marquee to wait for my name to be called for a race. I was relieved I’d made it through the gauntlet unscathed. Then I heard snickering behind me and felt a weird pinging on my back and realised the boys behind me were pulling out my back hair.

Although the tri-suit is an unbeautiful garment, it’s well designed for the triathlon, which is one of the most liquidy sports. During the three disciplines, the competitors spit, wee, sweat, cry, chafe and bleed, and the tri-suit has to be able to withstand all those elements. And for my first adult triathlon, I have to be able to withstand the tri-suit. For a long time I would never by choice wear anything that revealed my bare arms or the outline of my body, so in many ways the tri-suit is an intense experience, and an experiment in self-perception. As a garment it’s completely dispassionate: it just shows exactly what bits of you are where, and how they go. Its unloveliness is testament to its focus on what the body can do, not how it looks. Maybe this will lead me to focus on the same, although at the moment getting the thing on and then off again exhausts all of my mental focus.

The reason I’m doing the triathlon is that a few weeks ago I was out cycling, and somewhere around Miramar Peninsula I realised I was caught up in the cycling component of a triathlon. It was an accident, but suddenly it felt like a nice thing to be a part of, and everyone, amazingly, looked like they were having fun, drying out after their swim in the sea, together in their tri-suits.

 

Toad in his bathing suit.jpg

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A week goes by. A year

The thing about writing is – I reckon – that it requires a lot of space where you don’t write. You think about nothing or one very small part of a poem you aren’t happy with. Hours go by, days go by. You put on a CD. You read half a book. You walk into the next room and forget why you did. You walk back. A week goes by. A year. Then you join the French Foreign Legion.

—In an email from James Brown

Laura Gee instant touch

Instant touch by Laura Gee

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Holding note

I’m trying to finish writing a very odd book. Which is why I haven’t posted here in a while. I feel a bit nervous around this blog now. It’s like standing behind a horse. It’s either going to kick me in the arm or wander off into the internet looking for better people. Well anyway. Here are some paintings by Noel McKenna which I came across yesterday at work, when we were thinking about a cover image for a book of poetry. One of the things I love about Noel’s work is the strong animal contingent. There are numerous dogs, horses, cats, and they all tend to look slightly wonky, out of sorts, as if in the grips of an inner struggle, perhaps enduring a moment of existential dread.

Quiet Room by Noel McKenna

Quiet Room, 2013, via

 

Noel McKenna Food on Table, Dog Begging

Food on Table, Dog Begging, 2015, via

 

Cat in Kitchen Noel McKenna

Cat in Kitchen, 2013, via

 

Horse behind fence Noel McKenna

Horse Behind Fence, 2015, via

I met Noel late last year when we went to Futuna Chapel in Karori, with Greg O’Brien and Pip Adam. Greg is putting together a book about the history and architecture of the chapel, and wanted Pip and me to each write something for it, and Noel happened to be there too, visiting from Sydney. So we wandered around in the chapel, all of us quiet (except for Greg, our tour guide). Noel took photos and looked at everything very carefully. He had a quietness that I imagine I can see in his paintings. I tried to feel inspired by the chapel, or to notice something there that moved me, but I didn’t much, which is what nearly always happens when I look at beautiful things that I’m supposed to find beautiful in the company of others; I try to get a hold on everything so that I can get the good stuff, but it’s like trying to open a jar with oily hands while being watched by someone stronger. After our visit, Pip wrote a fantastic short-short story about the chapel, which went into the book. And I … didn’t get around to writing anything at all. I still feel guilty about this. I felt like I couldn’t write, because I was feeling frantic and stressed, and also I kept putting my shoulder out. Those are excuses that writers use all the time, though.

The thing that did really interest me a lot about Futuna was the story of its life-sized mahogany Christ figure, which was stolen from the crucifix on the wall in the year 2000 (or possibly the year before; at this time the chapel was standing empty). The thieves would have needed to use ladders to get it off the wall, and must have had a vehicle waiting outside to cart it off, so it’s likely to have been premeditated. Twelve years later the statue was discovered in a milking shed in Ahititi in Taranaki. It had just a few scratches and a broken finger and its crown of thorns was missing. ‘I think with a good clean he’s going to be all right,’ the figure’s sculptor, Jim Allen, said. The figure was triumphantly returned to the chapel and crowned with new thorns.

I’d thought about writing about other significant objects that have been stolen around New Zealand. Things like the Jesus, Mary and Joseph figures that were stolen from a nativity scene in Waipu a couple of years ago. The giant bronze eel that was stolen from Auckland Botanical Gardens and discovered in a scrap metal yard with fins and tail missing. The Ronald McDonald that was stolen from a McDonalds in Whanganui in the early 2000s. I know the thieves of that one. They just kept the Ronald in a closet for about nine months, until a police officer knocked on the door. What would it take to steal something like that? What kind of recklessness? What is it in the human brain that makes us want to possess giant objects?

At the gym yesterday, when I was on the ground grappling with a medicine ball, a trainer guy almost screamed at me, ‘DID YOU MAKE ANY RESOLUTIONS.’ I sat up and said ‘No.’ This seemed to agitate the trainer, but I felt good that I’d been honest. I don’t believe in resolutions (not for myself), but there are things I would like to do. I would like to write more often than just thinking about writing. Looking at Noel’s paintings I was reminded that it’s possible to make something out of the very moment of thinking, not just the moment when the thinking’s ‘done’, when the idea’s been had. The most static-seeming moment exists on some kind of threshold; something not happening can be something about to happen. This idea, though vague, excited me. I will also get better at opening jars.

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Everything

This morning when I looked out my window

they were the first thing I noticed.

I saw them flocking outside my house.

I like to look at them from the back window.

I get the sun there. Yes, I wondered

why we were having hens but now I see.

Some people don’t have much to say

but if you put a hen on their knee it brings them to life.

I’m not fast on me feet. I have bother with me eyes.

Everything seems to go downhill.

I’ve got friends that can’t get out.

I would go back to when I was younger.

I try not to think about dying.

I’ve made no plans for dying. I haven’t paid for anything.

I’d be terrified if they made a mistake.

I do love everything about living though.

I love being able to hear even though I wear hearing aids.

I like to look out me window and see the leaves

like a blanket on the ground. I love the autumn.

I love the hens.

They’re beautiful.

I couldn’t imagine life without them.

They’re everything to me.

 

A found poem from HenPower, a project run by Equal Arts to brings together older people and hen-keeping, to combat loneliness and depression.
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On holding one’s head

Some use an egg shape; others a cube or block. Some even start with one feature and start building the form out around it until the whole head is encompassed. However, all these involve many chances for error. Only the front view of the head looks like an egg, and even that gives no line of the jawbone. In profile the head is not like an egg. As for the cube, there is no accurate way of setting the head into it. The head is totally unlike a cube from any angle.
– Andrew Loomis, Drawing the Head and Hands (1956)
Michael Owen, his Liverpool teammates and the crowd holding their heads after Manchester United goalkeeper Massimo Taibi saved a shot during a 1999 match between the two rivals (Phil Noble/PA Archive/Press Association Images)
Michael Owen, his Liverpool teammates and the crowd holding their heads, 1999  (Phil Noble/PA Archive/Press Association Images, via)

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week in New Zealand! This is a short ode to holding your head in your hands.

My preferred settings in which to hold my head in my hands are while sitting at a desk and while sitting in the shower first thing in the morning.

I also like to walk along a street, remember something embarrassing I did ten years ago or ten minutes ago, and then clap my hands to my head.

Part of the humanity of the gesture is that it doesn’t require any tools or preparation. There is no app. At any time, the quiet, dark refuge of our own hands is available to us. A desk can be useful for propping the elbows, but the knees work equally well. It can also be done with no props at all, stretching the arms up and then seizing the head from above. It can be done in very small spaces, like in a toilet stall on a train, or bigger spaces like on a stage or a sportsfield or in a meeting room or on the side of a mountain.

The head! Why does it do this to us? The best we can do is clutch it and try to keep it from running away or disappearing down a hole.

While I was thinking about meanings of this gesture I wondered if it held a suggestion of ‘dampening the flames’. In the photo above of mass head-holding, it’s almost like the disastrous deflected goal has caused everyone’s head to burst into flames. The action is one of self-preservation, of holding on tight, to stop the head from exploding into pieces. But, studying it a bit more closely, I think it’s more that we’re trying to shield ourselves from a sky which seems to be falling. The hands become a little helmet, a little hut. Maybe all of our gestures are like this, in the end – they help us navigate each moment, they’re a comfort, but they’re ultimately useless at defending us against the massive thing plummeting towards us.

Holding your head in your hands is also like stemming the flow of an open wound. It feels like you’re containing the spillage.

The truth is dark under your eyelids.
What are you going to do about it?

—from ‘Against Winter’ by Charles Simic

My fourth form English teacher was gentle and brilliant but too soft-spoken to control the class. Chaos would regularly break out and sometimes he would lose it and start yelling, and you always got the sense that it wounded him to yell at us. There was one day when our teacher sat at the desk at the front of the class and put his head in his hands. Silence gathered in the classroom. It was an awful sight. What had we done to cause this? I don’t remember what happened in the rest of the lesson, only that the head-holding seemed to continue for a long time. It was sort of the opposite of what happens at the end of Dead Poets’ Society when all the students stand triumphantly on their desks. We all just sat there gormlessly. Maybe some part of us always sits there slack-jawed when we see someone put their head in their hands.

I’ve been searching all over the place and it seems that no one really knows why we hold our head in our hands. There are some theories. The body language expert Allan Pease thinks cradling the head in the hands is a way of recreating a moment from infancy when our mothers cradled our heads, which our necks were too weak to hold up. (Maybe there’s something in this. Under stress, the body can feel frail and rubbery – which is maybe why we see despairing or triumphant sportspeople drop to their knees – and the momentary displacement of the head’s heavy weight into the more resilient hands brings relief, like offloading a heavy, smelly backpack.) Numerous body language manuals tell us that clasping your head is like creating ‘a barrier against some disaster or problem’ or that we do it essentially because we want to shut out the world and disappear. And there is the school of thought that the head is the location of various acupressure points, and when we clutch it we soothe ourselves.

I guess I should mention the ‘bridge of the nose pinch’. This manoeuvre was popularised by Ally McBeal in the 1990s. All the characters did it, usually to express exasperation, sometimes in unison. Their heads would bend to their finger tips as if drawn by magnets. The nose-pinch is a cleaner, more professional self-soothing technique. The nose-pincher is still thinking, still evaluating, whereas the head-holder has left the scene. The nose-pincher is vigilant at the surface; the head-holder has burrowed underground.

Unfortunately the head-in-hands gesture has become a stock photo cliché. It’s shorthand, in news items about mental health, for ‘person in crisis’. We know that people who are sad aren’t all holding their heads from moment to moment. Instead they’re going around unhelmeted, with their hands nowhere near their heads. Maybe their heads are upright, the eyes open and looking straight ahead. Maybe they’re smiling. Maybe their hands are engaged in ordinary everyday tasks. Like turning pages, or brushing a dog. So the head-in-hands photo is not a particularly useful signifier of ‘sad person’. Just as Andrew Loomis says in his guide for drawing a head, starting with just one shape – an egg, a cube – is dangerous; it involves so many chances for error.

The problem with clichés is that they always start out as truth. The gesture is still a useful one. There are moments when we need our heads to be cradled and when we are the only ones to cradle them.

Disappointed Homer

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Bicycle diary

Pascale Petit, via

Pascale Petit, via

 

The gross and net result of it is that people who spent most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who are nearly half people and half bicycles.
– Flann O’Brien

Friday

I just cycled home from work in the rain. The rain felt nice, although I still haven’t got myself some of those waterproof shoe covers, so my feet got soaked. James Brown tells me to tie plastic bread bags around my feet when it’s raining. But I just can’t do it. I can’t ride around with bread bags on my feet. At least, not yet.

Today was one of those days where, cycling, it feels like no matter how small you try to make yourself, you are taking up too much room. No matter how far over to the left I tried to go, I was taking up too much room on the road and also subjecting other people to the terrible sight and the nuisance of my body. Cycling up Washington Avenue in Brooklyn is my least favourite part of my ride home; not only is it steep as hell, but cars go really fast up the hill and a lot of them pass me too close. One time, going up Washington, a guy in a SKY installation van overtook me super closely at speed. Then he pulled into a driveway, talking on his phone. I said to myself, Right. I cycled up to the van, trying to suppress the flaring of my nostrils, to tell the guy that he had passed me too close. He seemed to stare straight through me. Then he looked away and kept talking on his phone. It is important to not to take things like this personally. Maybe I will master the art of not taking things personally at the same time as I begin to ride around with bread bags on my feet.

This week, cycling has somehow been churning things up inside me. As I ride, I am filled with grief and rage and sadness. It’s like someone is blasting a leafblower around inside my heart. I could just walk I suppose.

Saturday

I did a short ride into town to go for a swim. Waved at my friend Pip at an intersection. Then rode home in the rain.

There is a new cycle lane on Victoria Street. The cycle lane is pretty good. But at times it is not like really a cycle lane. Most times when I go up there, I have to pull out to dodge cars that are driving across the cycle lane so that they can turn left. It’s not the drivers’ fault. It’s the design of the cycle lane. David Byrne has a nice rant about this kind of thing in his book Bicycle Diaries. ‘A driver would never think of riding up on a sidewalk. Most drivers, anyway. Hell, there are strollers and little old ladies up there! It would be unthinkable, except in action movies. A driver would get a serious fine or maybe even get locked up. Everyone around would wonder who that asshole was. Well, bike lanes should be treated the same way.’ It’s funny how getting stuck in traffic essentially turns me into an cartoonish aggressive driver. ‘Bloody traffic!’ I want to hiss as I lean on a horn.

Sunday 

This morning the sun was out. I got up and rode down Happy Valley Road. I rode to Island Bay, to Lyall Bay, through Kilbirnie, around Evans Bay, to Oriental Bay, then back up Brooklyn Hill and home. There was a strong southerly but for the first time all week I felt pretty good. Part of it was not needing to be anywhere in much of a hurry. Not being in a hurry is one of my favourite things to do. I ate some toast then I rode back down the hill to meet my editor friends Simon and Bryony for coffee before they head off overseas for two months. Then I rode back up Brooklyn Hill. For once my brain was quiet. Sometimes I have this strange thing while I’m riding: I imagine that all the roads are branches of one giant tree, and I’m riding around on the tree like an insect. I imagine what it would be like if everything in the world turned to empty sky except for the road.

Monday

I did a big ride home. I went around Evans Bay and to Kilbirnie then up to Newtown then through the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park, then up Brooklyn Hill. Pukeahu still feels like an odd space to me. Maybe it just hasn’t grown into itself yet. It seems to strain for tranquillity. Yet it hurtles past it.

For a few weeks after it opened, cyclists were complaining because the kerbs were hard to see, and people kept crashing. (I, too, crashed. It was one of those embarrassing minor crashes where if your reflexes were sharper you could have prevented it from happening.) There was a photo in the paper of a man lying grimly on the ground across the kerb: the fallen. The comments on the online article were deeply aggrieved at the prospect of making the kerb safer. ‘Clearly they have taken the training wheels off to soon!!’ ‘How about you keep out of parks, you want the roads to yourselves now you want the parks.’ ‘Open your blimmin eyes when your cycling or buy some glasses if you can’t see.’ ‘Cyclists are like boy racers.’

This belligerence reminds me of my nephew’s toy keyboard – one of those keyboards that emits various animal noises, like donkey yells, elephant blasts etc. There were only about five keys on the keyboard, so it was always the same animal noises. But he’d keep playing it, almost as though he expected it to make different animal noises. It was funny at first. And after a while it made you feel crazed. The same shrieks, over and over.

Anyway, the kerbs have been quietly fixed, and so, that is good.

Tuesday

I wasn’t going to ride home the long way again, but when I set off there was something  about the late-afternoon murk that made me want to keep on going. The light in the sky kept almost, almost emerging as pink, then dropping back to grey again. I was feeling good, and I felt like I was going fast. Then I conked out in Newtown. My hands were shaking and my legs were trembling. I stopped at my old local Four Square – I used to live in Newtown – and bought a Powerade. I hadn’t been in there for years. The woman behind the counter said, ‘I haven’t seen you in ages! Have you been on holiday?’ I had to tell her I’d moved to Brooklyn and I was going to the mini-mart there now.

I wobbled up Brooklyn Hill very slowly, thinking about food.

Wednesday

I left my bike at the bike shop this morning, to get a new chain put on, so I walked up the hill to uni. I had this strange altercation with an older man on the way. I was walking on the left of a wide footpath. The man, wearing a coat and scarf, was coming straight towards me quite quickly. I thought he would move over to his left, which is the usual footpath etiquette, I guess. But he didn’t. It was cold and drizzling and the man looked like the sort of man who you only ever see walking when it is cold and drizzling. He barrelled towards me, staring grimly ahead. I felt like I was lucid dreaming and that it would be interesting to see what would happen if I stayed where I was. I had to edge along the kerb to let him go past. As he went by, the man said, ‘Freak’.

That is interesting because a) why do we make life harder for ourselves than it has to be; I include myself in this, and b) it is very close to what my inner voice has been saying to me lately. It keeps calling me a ‘hideous monster’. Always those exact words, just over and over, compulsively, among other terrible things. It is a voice I can hear quite clearly and I worry that I am going crazy. What if one day I start saying the words aloud? Maybe writing the words down here will defuse them. I wonder if it would be possible to repurpose these words and turn the whole concept of a hideous monster into something completely magnificent.

Thursday

A man on an electric bike whizzed past me on my way home up the hill. Somehow this seamless whizzing compounded my exhaustion, and it also made me annoyed, and I conked out again. I had to push my bike up Washington Ave.

Friday

There is talk of the 1.5m rule: that it might soon be the law, rather than a guideline. Drivers would need to leave 1.5m of space when overtaking on roads where the speed limit is over 60 km/h, with a 1m passing distance on slower roads. It would be hard to enforce sometimes, and there are parts of Wellington where even 1-metre would be difficult. On the narrow roads I use each day, many drivers leave less than 1 metre between me and them. For more resilient cyclists this isn’t a problem; for me, it’s stressful and scary. But the fact that the law is being discussed, even if nothing further comes of it, is a good thing. It is recognition that other people are vulnerable human beings. It is true that we need to be reminded of this all the time, that our own experience closes in around us and our imagination of other lives fails. A few months back there were cycle awareness ads on the backs of buses, with people pictured standing next to their bikes, with a word that described some part of their identity. ‘Son.’ ‘Auntie.’ ‘Mother.’ ‘Nephew.’ I liked the ads. I also felt that the ads should be unnecessary. But we’re human: faces and names give statistics a life and a story, make them realer to us.

‘Get these 2 wheeled anarchists off roads intended for far faster machines.’ ‘I’d be super annoyed if I hit one of these guys playing chicken on a bike, imagine the dint it would leave on the car.’ ‘Don’t want to get hit? Either go 100kph or get out of the way.’

This isn’t so much about cycling anymore, but something that has been interesting and frightening to me this week has been the need some people have to complicate and intellectualise matters that at heart are simple. These aren’t emotional, bleeding-heart matters, as some people accuse; they’re human matters. Some of us are really good at finding words to defend the indefensible, in order to make ourselves feel better about not changing, not moving from the very deep groove they have worn.

Made it up Washington Ave in one piece.

Saturday

‘Get the fuck out of my way,’ said a man driving past me earlier.

This bicycle diary has taken a dark turn.

I have this urge to do something with this hostility – make something out of it. Like people posting messages in trees, but better. My granddad would probably have suggested writing these things down and them digging a hole and burying them, just as he had me and my brother write the word ‘um’ on a piece of paper and then bury it in the garden, to no avail.

This is the end of the bicycle diary for this week.

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