We count out the things taken from us handed back nestled in conditions permissions and we’re so grateful, so grateful for the simple gift of driving to the supermarket sitting up in the trolley like an adventure choosing snacks for our drive back home we’re so grateful, so lucky to be able to drive to the supermarket together.
We walk around the block, hoping to bump into someone never dobbing in the neighbours, we’re happy to see them happy to stand in the street and talk to their aunty, their mother, their entire family the pavement becomes our meeting place kids sharing toys, drawing worms and flowers drawing hearts and rhinos and we’re so lucky so grateful for the company, so lucky to have each other.
Our radius expands and we could go to the city but our circle is set, not ready to be stretched and besides we’re so lucky, so grateful. It’s a numbers game as always one shot, two shots, dates and percentages kilometres from home, hours of exercise how many friends can you fit on a picnic rug? how many friends do you still have and we’ll get there we say, we’re counting on it, counting and counting conversations edited to how are you getting on we’ll get there. We’re lucky, we’re counting, we’re lucky.
Any other year of my life, I say, any other year and this would be unbearable. We can’t know what it’s like for everyone else, but we know we’re lucky, grateful counting our lucky stars, counting our blessings counting and counting and counting.
It’s been a difficult couple of months. Individually, universally. Hell, it’s been a tough few years if you really want to start scraping back through it all and trying to remember the last time you sat still, looked around at your personal, professional and creative life and thought, Yeah, things are okay. I wish I’d made better note of those moments of contentment, but perhaps that would have shifted them out of the present and it’s being present in those moments that makes one content.
I’ve been counting words – proud of a year spent launching a novel and working on two more. Gathering poems into a third collection and reading everything I can find. But in there somewhere I lost count. Lost track of how to hold onto what was mine, lost count of the number of job applications, inquiries and rejection letters, the social interactions cancelled or rain-checked beyond redemption. I can’t bear to try and count the heartbreaks and moments of self-doubt of the last few years.
I have, however, counted the flights. 21 international flights in the last two years, 10 since moving to Melbourne. There have been adventures and family celebrations and always something good waiting at each end – but counting and losing count has made me exhausted.
My last flight back to Wellington landed 24 hours before the 7.8 quake last month and as lovely as it was to see my family and friends and know they wanted me there so they could check in, hug me and try to settle me after what felt like a complete life-fail, I got the strong sense Wellington was trying to shake me free. Again.
But slowly the after-shocks stopped and things seemed to shuffle into a shape I could make sense of. The feeling that home wasn’t quite home anymore, the outrage or compassion my friends expressed on my behalf at the situation I’d found myself in, the daily routine and purpose my brother provided and the obstacle-ridden journey my mum endured to come and see me, care for me and give me a copy of Sarah Laing’s Mansfield and Me all helped me feel like me again.
There’s something pretty special about Sarah’s book. Reading about her journey juxtaposed with that of our shared literary hero, Katherine Mansfield, reminded me of what I need: To stop counting, stop flying, sit still again and write. To be somewhere that could become home, somewhere bright, open, flat and stable beneath the feet. Somewhere I can keep putting my words down, one after the other and build something, anything, that looks like a life. And sure I need love and connections; to be honest with the people around me, to ask for help and show others I can help them too, but right now I just need to stay alive and to write.
Back in Melbourne and every day I feel slightly different. Last week, when the moment felt right, I cycled round to look at a spare room in a cottage on Mansfield Street. Stained-glass bay window, picket fence. In Thornbury, but it would not be out of place in Thorndon. I thought of Sarah moving to New York and Katherine moving to London and me, now, with all this hope and determination despite what feels like months of disappointment.
So I’ve moved to Mansfield Street, into a room of my own. The wifi’s dodgy and we don’t have a kettle, but my optimism is boundless. It surprises me sometimes.