One of my favourite books from last year was Elle Luna’s “The Crossroads of Should and Must”. What started as an essay on Medium.com turned into a personal development movement aimed at unleashing the creative genius hidden within all of us. The “Should” is that which we feel we have to do. It is those activities and general lifestyle that arises from societal or familial pressure. It is what we do to fit in. To conform. To appease our parents. To adhere to the artificially constructed societal norms of our day and age. The “Must” is what our heart yearns to do. It represents our dreams. Our mission in life. Our driving force. Our Must is the reason for getting out of bed each morning.
Reading “The Crossroads of Should and Must” last April was the catalyst for this site and the exploration of a more creative style of writing. After 15 years of academic and formal legal writing I was inspired to break out of my comfort zone and experiment with new styles and formats. To find my voice again. As work gradually consumed more and more of my time last year so did the writing cease. For a brief moment in time I followed my “Must” and found a peace that had been missing for years. Now is the time to reclaim that. #100DaysOfWriting is my contribution to Elle’s #100DaysOf… art project. Everyday I commit to writing. And publishing. Sharing my Ideas. Thoughts. Experiences. Sharing my “Must” with the world.
I have a love/hate relationship with holidays. I love travelling. Exploring new places. The adventure and excitement of being out in the real world. Visiting the cities of my dreams. Seeing the history I had read about in my youth. Experiencing a lifestyle that very few people from New Zealand get to. But time off, that is a different story. Endless hours sitting at home doing nothing. Days lost to inactivity. That I do not enjoy. Life is meant to be lived. Every moment of it. I have two modes: work and travel.
And yet, that is precisely what I set out to do this Christmas period. 10 days off work. Home bound. Grand plans to be a tourist in London abandoned in favour of the quiet life. The relaxing life. Days spent watching Netflix. Eating junk food. Spending time with friends. Avoiding the gym. Reading. No quick getaway to Europe. No grand escape to a tropical island. No last minute trip around the world to visit family. A proper staycation.
2016 was one hell of a year. I’ll write about that next. As I get older, more and more I come to appreciate the joy of and, frankly, the need for, a decent rest every now and again. A break from this frantic, hectic, exhilarating life. As I prepare to return to work tomorrow, I am thankful for this break. I feel refreshed. Ready to go. Ready to crush my goals – personal and professional. Ready to take on the world again.
The sun is threatening to break through the clouds. For the first time in a long time, I can see blue sky around me. Autumn turns into winter. The auburn hue is replaced by bare trees and the soft light from a sun hugging the southern horizon. I am in Paris. The City of Lights. The most romantic place in the world. For in Paris I always fall in love. In love with myself. In love with the city. In love with life. And yet. I am closed off to love. Romantic has been replaced by poetic. Weakened. Diminished. I had first noticed the change a few weeks ago. I was with R in Durham. We were strolling along the river in the fading light. The world was bathed in colour. Red. Black. Orange. Grey. It was romantic. I called it poetic.
With every ounce of energy, I fought against the word. Romantic. It is an elevating word. It brings forth a meaning and an intent beyond friendship when spoken between two people. It opens up the possibility of love. Of romance. A possibility that I have been resisting for several years. Fear had become me. Afraid of loving as I did before. Afraid of hurting as I did before. The loss was too great. Paris brought me back to life. Romance pours out of the very soul of Paris. Atop a barge on the Seine, looking out across at the Louvre, I felt at peace with myself again. Everything was going to be okay.
And so it ends. Four months of travel. Four months of exploration. Four months of closing doors. Four months of unemployment. Funemployment as A lovingly referred to it. #MiniSabbatical2016 to my twitter followers. What started out as a desperate need to de-stress and recharge my batteries turned into a fundamental reset. From Whakatane to London. From academia to aspiring novelist. From writer to creative. I had time to breathe. To think. To process. Free from the 9-5. Free from the endless fight for justice. It was liberating. It was selfish. It was elitist. It was necessary. Now, back to work. Two new jobs. My new day job: finance manager for a tech startup based in London. Planning world domination. My new night job: Writer. Novelist. Explorer of dreams.
It’s 2am. I cannot sleep. The only light in East London tonight is from the laptop open in front of me. The only sound is the tinkering of keys. And Ke$ha. I am writing. But the writing is dark. Black dog dark. The music lifts the spirits. Re-centers me. I am writing my story. Well, a version of it. Part wish fulfillment. Part horror story. My nightmares in literature. A story no longer being lived. #MiniSabbatical2016 closed that door. Closed the door on past relationships. Closed the door on past employment disputes. Closed the door on my LLM. New doors always open. You just have to be prepared to close those doors that you have kept open for too long. Be brave. Live.
I’ve always struggled in May. An emptiness fills the void left by the endings of April. The passion disappears. All meaning is stripped out of my life. It started when I was 15. Not because of any dramatic life event but from the changing of the seasons. Not the seasons of the Earth, but the seasons of the pool. As a swimmer, my year was divided into four seasons. Pre-season. Provincial. National. Post-Season. The post-season started in May. That is when the struggle kicked in. Coming down from the high of provincial and national competitions I found myself searching for meaning. The season was over. I had achieved my goals. Now what?
May 2001 was the most challenging. Just weeks before I had signed off the year with my first national medals. Gold. Silver. Bronze. A complete set. Personal best times were smashed and I felt stronger than I ever have, and likely ever will again. I was not prepared for what came next. You spend all year fighting for those moments of success that you never stop to think about what to do after. I was a national champion. And I was empty inside. There is always another mountain to climb but the last thing anyone wants to do after climbing one is to start ascending another. This is how I felt in May of 2001. This is how I feel now in May of 2016.
Three weeks ago I submitted my LLM Thesis. After three years of hard work I was done. In the space of a week relief turned to joy turned to exhaustion turned to emptiness. Now what? The post-season is the most important season in sport. It is where you take time to relax and to refresh your mind. There is a season for hard work, there is a season for competition, and there is a season for play. I never fully learned to embrace the struggle of the post-season, but I did learn to acknowledge that it too will pass. May became a month of letting go. Letting go of the past year, letting go of past goals, letting go of past achievements. It is not a month for massive action, or climbing mountains. It is a month of reflection. A chance to reassess and refocus. To play.
Seasons change. One morning in early June my alarm would go off at 4:55am and my spring would arrive. I would drag myself out of bed and start climbing that next mountain. I have spent the better part of the past three years climbing the largest mountain I have ever come across. Battling my way through work challenges, a crumbling relationship, and the passing of the person who inspired my climb. I need time off. Time to recuperate. Time to recover from the stresses of the last climb. Maybe it is okay to feel empty for a little while. To allow myself that time to rest and to heal. Before that morning in June when I start my next ascent.
In loving memory of
Dr. Nin Tomas
I’ve carried your memory with me for two years since you passed. Today it’s time for me to let go. Our journey has come to an end. For a long time I never wanted to let you go. That is why I have put this moment off for so long. You were my mentor. You taught me what it meant to be Māori. You taught me what it meant to be a lawyer. More importantly, you taught me not to let either one of those subsume the other. It is a lesson I have never forgotten.
We first met in 2003. You did not remember me from then, but I will never forget the experience of seeing this powerful and intelligent Māori wahine introduce me to Māori legal issues. Several years later I enrolled in your Māori land law class. You certainly remembered me from that. I was inquisitive. I was angry. You sought to control that anger and harness my inquisitive nature. I’ll always remember the best piece of advice you ever gave me – “Don’t let who you are get in the way of who you want to become.” The lesson there was clear. To be a successful advocate for Māori rights, I could not let my anger over the hurt inflicted on our people overpower me.
We worked together many times over the years. You supervised my Honours dissertation. I assisted your research on Māori customary law. Today I finish the biggest project that we started. A project that only I get to finish. It still pains me that you are not here to share this triumph. I would not be here without your guidance. Without your support. I am standing on your shoulders. I let you down. For that, I am eternally sorry. It will never happen again.
Haunting. Harrowing. Powerful. Great storytelling has the power to change the world. Great storytelling tells the stories we need to hear. Great storytelling tells the stories buried under layers of corruption and cover ups. Stories hidden not just by the indifference of good men, but by the abject negligence of evil men who believe, in their heart of hearts, that they are good men. Stories that bring tears to your eyes. Stories that move you to action. Stories that rip apart the fabric of a cruel and unjust society. Stories that simply demand to be told.
I emerged from the movie theatre in a state of shock. I knew the story, but I did not know the story. London presented itself to me tonight, cold and empty, as if the City sensed my mood and was reflecting it back to me. The Universe had other ideas. It fought back against the City and provided the warm embrace that my soul was crying out for. I have retreated to my happy place, the basement cafe that presents an oasis of calm against the chaos of the Circus outside. Enjoying the ambiance, watching the flicker of the candle, its shadow lighting the pages of my journal, soothing myself in the comforting sounds of jazz that fill the room. I cast my eye towards the rose laid out in front of me, that symbol of human generosity, and return to finishing the story that I need to tell. Are you doing the same?