2019 Newsletter

Hello dear friends,

Thank you all for giving me your email address recently. For quite a while I have been busy travelling and working and out of touch, radio silence over here, and everybody is asking me what’s up at the same time. So I thought I would check in with a long-ish email.

How far back to begin? First the bizarre travels of 2018. I lived in the Marlborough Sounds for a while, then flew to Melbourne and recorded an album for two months. Then I took a job in Abel Tasman National Park which didn’t last long, then a job in a hostel in Nelson which lasted even not-longer because the boss was threatening me whenever he was sober. Then another similar job in Picton that lasted four weeks and was excellent until the bosses took a turn for the crazy too, then I was broke again and needed fulltime work, and it was bloody cold in NZ.

So from May 2018 to May 2019 I was working the night shift in the supermarket on Hamilton Island in Queensland (you can google Hamilton Island if you don’t know it. A big resort). It was a lot of hot, heavy lifting, and with extremely disturbed sleep, usually not less than 4 and not more than 6 hours per day – so for instance even if I did five nights of 4 hours sleep, my weekend catchup sleep in would still only be around 6 hours. Maddening. This of course is a recipe for a broken human, and I planned to stay only a short time, but I realised something uncomfortable: that I was always running away from hard stuff. Now, to back up, when I was still living in fear for 26 years in my hometown and had never dared to do anything because life seemed to be only horror, running away from bad stuff was a fine impulse to get me out of there and start wandering. But inevitably that road leads to laziness and being poor in more ways than one. Even with all the amazing places I have seen since I began in 2016, I have to admit it’s a dead end.

So, when the opportunity came along to do more work and more worrying and less sleeping for more money, I decided to stay instead of run, and see what happened. In the end this decision cost me a lot in physiotherapy bills and sanity, but it was actually a good one. Now I know I can work 12 hours of heavy lifting, sleep two, do another 8 hours, sleep three, and do another 8 hours, and still keep up a really good pace and do a good job and lead my team and be on top of every detail and be nice to other people and myself while at extreme pains. I was (and am) writing a ukulele album about exploring outer space, and an historic speech I found from JFK became my internal mantra for getting through this hell:

“Why climb the highest mountain? … We choose to go to the moon in this decade, and do the other things, not because they are easy, BUT BECAUSE THEY ARE HARD. Because that goal will serve to organise and measure the very best of our energies and skills; because that challenge is one the we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win … ”

Sticking at a really taxing job that was killing me taught me the measure of my own willpower, and was a great lesson. Many of you told me I was being an idiot and I should leave if I was suffering. But suffering plus learning equals growth. It wasn’t suffering with no point and no end. I’m proud that I stuck at something that nobody else is my-kind-of-crazy enough to stick at. In short, I disciplined myself to become an extremely high-functioning wreck. I really can’t imagine anything worse than what I have been through physically and emotionally in the last year (famous last words, right?). It helped me find myself, underneath all of the “I can’t”. Coinciding with my 30th birthday, it was the end of the young Andy and the beginning of the weirdo adult I plan to be.

Now as good as Hamilton Island can be, the thing is, it’s affluent. Everybody there is well-off, either a guest who can afford the luxury vacation, or staff who are being paid more than they can spend. This means that everybody has basically everything they need and there isn’t any opportunity to give. There was no way for me to serve others. Due of course to my night time work hours, I could not be in community there. Hamilton Island has a bit of an ugly side in the form of a ‘me first!’ attitude that lurks beneath the surface of most people, and in my sleep-deprived insanity I was going right along with it. But I knew that eventually (due to student loan interest rates) I would soon have to return to NZ. I was beginning to wonder when that end would come and what would be the bookend.

The next chapter started with the March 15 terror attack in Christchurch. I’ve spent many weeks in Christchurch on my various mad backpacking stops, waiting for bus and plane connections. Frankly, I’ve always hated it, because what I saw was hard and barren and cruel. The earthquake destruction is still everywhere; you can’t move in this city without road cones and orange tape and detours, kicking gravel and rubble along your path, and motorised saws and jackhammers or heavy vehicles invading your head. STILL after 8 years. Since the earthquakes (I assume) there was so much repressed sadness and anger in every robot person I met, and you hear stats about demand for mental health services being double the rest of the nation, and other anecdotal things about people still suffering from other quake related issues. Just a big eeeeewyuck. So when I heard about the attack I was really hurt for everybody here. I wanted it to have happened anywhere but Christchurch. These folks have had enough misery. The response from other kiwis over the days following the attack was incredibly moving. Even the coldhearted capitalistic giants were offering free phone calls and discounted flights and etc. The care packages and gestures from all corners made me really miss New Zealand and New Zealanders, and proud to be one. Universally the way we have dealt with this has been amazing in my opinion.

So on March 16th I decided what was important and what was not, namely my career, and booked a flight to Christchurch. I had two hilarious phone calls with friends that went “is this too crazy? I’m going to do it unless you talk me out of it right now go” and clearly they failed.

I trained my replacement at work, and threw everything I had accumulated in lots of big black trash bags without the slightest regret or hesitation, and set off with just my one old 55L backpack (and ukulele at my side of course). Living on the capitalistic paradise island and out of the real world for so long, I had gotten swept up in the religion of MOREMOREMORE! and forgotten the outrageous bloody backpacker’s joy of LESS! and it felt like completely the right path. God, what a relief to get out the door and away from my STUFF! I spent a few days on the Gold Coast trying to switch myself back to daytime sleeping with little success. I walked the entire length twice to try and tire myself out, and randomly bumped into an old workmate Sharon which was the greatest coincidence! Then two nights in Sydney to see Tim Minchin, who was excellent and made me fall in love with music all over again. Then I arrived in Christchurch, and immediately nothing was quite what I expected.

Everybody here is happy to see me and caring. The airport staff and the shuttle drivers were warm and hilarious from the very start. I was so used to what I must call the brusque Australian manner I was surprised and delighted to be back. For the first couple of days I just walked around with no agenda – my mission to reset and go from “me-first” to “me-last”. I held the door for people, I said how are you, gave extravagent tips for coffees, grossly overpaid for awesome secondhand books at opshops, carried groceries, had random conversations with members of the public and shop staff, escorted old ladies to the bus station, gave large sums to the homeless. I had nothing to do except to see how I could serve other people. It’s been wonderful. And every single person (well ok you always get a few odd-ducks) has bounced my cheeriness right back at me with twice the energy and love. Nobody has exactly taken me by the hand to explain what Christchurch’s ‘deal’ is, but I am surmising that everybody has been shaken out of their individualism and into a much larger community mentality by the attack. Everybody I meet is always all-in, taking on board the responsibility for making Christchurch a city of love not hate. That sense of despair I got from all corners over the past couple of years has vanished completely. Welcome to Christchurch.

I’m broke living out of my savings. I gave up a life I’d been building for a year. I wanted to be somebody who ran toward the Fire not away. I came all this way to find out.. that Christchurch is alright. Christchurch is a city of love.

So to pass the time and make ends meet I am working at a backpackers which pays my accomodation. It’s really great. We have a lounge with couches and a fireplace (OMG IT’S SO COLD HERE) and a giant TV with netflix, and it’s not very crowded. Choice. I get to share a cool hostel and city with travellers who also want to see it. I like it. Foreigners are so… not like me in all the ways I want, but also exactly like me. Who’d have thunk. We talk about the things we have seen and want to see, and drink port and Sav and watch Ghostbusters and Lord of the Rings. Double Choice. This week too though there has been a woman staying who escaped a violent marriage and needed to hide out a week and get some support while she figured out the next steps. Having chats over a cup of tea and just listening to the outpouring and going hours without getting a word in edgeways has been quite a mission. Years ago I was in a codependent relationship and learned first hand all the tricks that someone will use to try and control you, and suffered pointlessly, and this week it seems I now know why. I’m not sure I will ever do any more valuable work than I have by helping her in exactly the way she needed, and I will certainly never meet anybody more obscenely grateful.

Another thing I do is volunteer with a local charity called NZ Gifts of Love and Strength. Give them a like on Facebook, if you would. They provide care packages and other support to people affected by tragedy, with an obvious focus right now on the Muslim community. As you may have read in the media, a lot of the victims were the primary earners for their families and their deaths or injuries have left many in precarious circumstances. While I came here to provide a very general and hands off kind of support for Christchurch, through this charity I have found myself organising and delivering packages to the victims myself, not something I expected or sought. I made this trip mostly because of me, because I knew there was a piece of myself missing if I didn’t or wouldn’t or couldn’t do something in service of others. But it’s an honour to actually meet someone.

There are some difficulties involved with navigating whose help exactly is welcomed and whose is not, requiring hoop jumping and feather unruffling between many parties – not every Muslim comes from the same circumstances or nation or even denomination. In addition to this there is duplication, and weirdly, rivalry with certain other agencies. And of course figuring out how to find and help people who are too proud for what they may see as begging. It’s not simple work, it’s very draining, and with a lot of sadness and crying. But at the end of the day, we have food and other things to give to someone who needs it, and that’s a good thing. I try to keep it that simple.

Speaking of pointless suffering with no end, here I was going to write out our bank details so that you could give us a hand if you were inclined. Not that we don’t need it – food parcels don’t deliver themselves. But then this week I heard about one victim in particular, and I think everybody needs to send a few bucks their way instead of eating that donut at lunch tomorrow. I’ll attach the links here, please give it a look and share it.



We also include cards and painted rocks and knitted tchotchkes and a lot of things that say “Kia Kaha” and so on with every care package, so if you would like to make something crafty like this to donate rather than money, let me know and we can figure out how to include them for you. The need is ongoing and demand will be steady.

So what’s the next chapter? I’ll need to get a job again in July. I’ll visit Dunedin from the 1st to the 7th of July (and playing a gig with the Tommy Gunners again woo!), so please if you are there let’s make sure we catch up. After that — ??? — who knows? I don’t know that I’ll come back to Christchurch. Christchurch, as I say, is actually okay with or without me.

What should I do next? Where should I go?
But what are you doing? Where are you? Please do send me a reply to catch me up with your news. Looking forward to hearing from you and seeing some of you soon, with much love,

PS Did I mention I got wickedly sick for two weeks with a naaaaaaaaysty bacteria and had to hide away from all human contact and continue to take a hefty antibiotic that causes you-know-what every minute of the day and night? Ahh, the sweet romantic joy of living in cheap hostels!

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