Posts Tagged ‘childhood’

A brother and sister sell flowers in the streets of Montevideo to earn their daily bread


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This post follows on from yesterday’s post (lessons 1 – 14 of 29 lessons i’ve learned so far) in celebration of my 29th birthday…

In my fifteenth year I learned that if you tell a boy your friend likes him, even if she really does and even if he likes her back and they then start dating, she might not talk to you again for a really long time.

I think of my grandpa every time I see an Hibiscus flower

In my sixteenth year I learned that old people sometimes know when they are going to die. My grandfather invited me to visit one weekend and spent the day sharing memories and giving me small gifts. He had a stroke a few days later and died the next week. I still miss that man, who taught me to play pool in the his billiards room; who let me get my curious little fingers into his amazing collection of antiques; who played hide and seek with me in his hibiscus gardens; and gave me “horsey rides” on his great, kauri knees.

In my seventeenth year I learned what it feels like to fall in love and give yourself completely to someone else, body and soul. I also learned that it hurts like a motherf#@ker to get tackled by a Tongan princess in a rugby match.

In my eighteenth year I learned how boring it is to be unemployed and that I needed an education to get a “good” job. I learned later in life that that’s pretty much bull, but still.

Catherine and Heathcliff share a dark, destructive love in Wuthering Heights

In my nineteenth year of life I learned, for the first time, how a great book can sweep you up completely. I was reading Wuthering Heights and got completely lost in that mad, brooding world, unable to sleep until I devoured each and every word.

In my twentieth year of life I learned that sometimes love ends. It just runs its course.

In my twenty-first year of life I learned that if you drink an entire 40oz. of vodka all by yourself while you’re camping out in the middle of nowhere you will do a lot of embarrassing things you’ll never remember and your boyfriend won’t sleep a wink because he will be watching you all night to make sure you don’t stop breathing.

In my twenty-second year of life I learned that I enjoy pottery but don’t have the patience to make anything good. (I made my mum an antipasto platter and caught her the next week using it as an ashtray. Nice one.)

In my twenty-third year of life I learned that it is actually possible to work four jobs at the same time, if you are a good scheduler.

In my twenty-fourth year of life I learned that if you believe in yourself and work hard enough you can get what you want.

In my twenty-fifth year of life I learned to be careful what you wish for because you might just get it. I looked around me and saw my future in the eyes of middle-managers. It was frightening. On a brighter note, I went on my first international adventure and learned instantly that I was destined to become a travel junky.

In Lack'ech: We are all one

In my twenty-sixth year of life I learned that we are all one. I also learned that if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other your legs can take you pretty much anywhere you’d care to go. Oh yeah, and I learned Spanish.

In my twenty-seventh year of life I learned that people who live on remote islands can have very strange attitudes about relationships. I also learned that children have an amazing capacity for love, forgiveness, and optimism.

In my twenty-eighth year of life I learned what it feels like to think you might die in a sweaty hostel room in Morocco while your fellow travellers smoke hashish, watch the Olympics on mute, and pay you no heed in an adjoining room. I also learned the magic of being alone in the mountains staring into eternity on a clear black night.

In my twenty-ninth year of life I learned that I am stronger than I thought. I saw death and destruction on a massive and personal scale, thought my heart would burst on several occasions, and survived a bout of malaria; but came through it smiling.

I wonder what I may learn in this, my thirtieth year of life. Perhaps not to waste people’s precious time with pointless lists about what I’ve learned? Sorry about that, I’m only twenty-nine.

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Today is my twenty-ninth birthday. That’s right people, I am now beginning my thirtieth year of life in this body. In honour of this momentous event I present you with a list (can you tell I like lists a lot?) of 29 lessons learned thus far.

The first year can be a bit full on for any child

In my first year of life I learned how to breathe and cry and get my parents attention. I also must have learned how to create some sort of logic out of all the sensory input my little brain was receiving. That’s pretty amazing; probably my greatest single accomplishment to date really.

In my second year I learned how to walk, talk, feed myself, and hold a crayon.

In my third year I learned how to ride a motorbike. My dad was driving it, but still.

In my fourth year I learned that if I wore my new red shoes I could run really, really fast.

In my fifth year I learned to share my parents because my little brother was born. I also started school and learnt that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be on my first day when, aged four and a half, my mum and the teacher literally had to carry me into the classroom kicking and screaming.

In my sixth year I learned that if I told a schoolyard bully that my big brother would beat him up he would stop picking on me.

In my seventh year I learned that it is both scary and quite exciting to move countries. I also learned that my friend Lily could dive off the banister outside our classroom without hurting herself if she landed with a stunt roll.

My undies were not as cool as these ones

In my eighth year I learned that it is not cool when your dad owns an emporium in which he sells orange underwear because if boys lift your skirt up (which they are prone to do at that age) and always see orange they will tell everyone you never change your undies and you will be shamed.

In my ninth year I learned that the teachers who get the best results are the ones that bribe kids into good behaviour with lollies and bottles of soda stream.

In my tenth year I learned how thrilling it was to travel the world solving mysteries. I can’t remember where in the world Carmen Santiago actually was, but it was fun trying to find her.

In my eleventh year I learned that some kids are bad. We had a boy in our class that used to scream at our teacher and call her “tits on a stick” before throwing his chair at her and storming out. I learned years later that sometimes bad kids grow up and die of drug overdoses when they are still very young. That wasn’t a nice lesson.

Am I really less talented than a cow???

In my twelfth year I learned that I had star potential when I played “Widow Swanky” in a version of Aladdin that our teacher had written for the class. I also learned about envy when everyone thought the kid that was dressed as a cow was a legend but nobody told me I had a good singing voice.
In my thirteenth year I learned about death. A friend’s older sister died suddenly of meningitis. The funeral was at the beach and they played Bryan Adam’s Everything I Do.

In my fourteenth year I learned that sometimes people get so sad that they choose to end their own lives. That’s what my brother did. In his car. In the mountains outside the city. He was missing for two days before they found him.

…This post is getting long (and a little depressing – sorry) so I think I will continue tomorrow with lessons 15 – 29.

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A beautiful abandoned schoolhouse in Tokomaru Bay, New Zealand

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I remember teenage afternoons spread on the sunny grass of a local green, scribbling stories in my dog-eared 1B5 notebook. I wrote stories to imagine others’ worlds, to understand another point of view, and to be outrageous. I was often inspired by my dreams. I wrote poems to express my ‘self’ and process the emotions swirling around in my angst-ridden teenage soul. When I was sad or lonely I escaped to the page. When I felt weak I wrote myself strong. When I was bored with my life I lived vicariously through my characters – living out scenes of crime and horror that my off-the-page self would never partake in. I wrote about vampires shredding the throats of innocents, flamboyant self-centred suicide, back-alley blowjobs, and long-legged cowboys riding miniature ponies.

A tall man on a small pony - a character straight from my youthful page

In recent years not only the what but the why of my writing has changed. I still write to process emotions but I write much more about what I have been seeing, thinking, reading, and feeling. My writing is much more grounded in my ‘real’ life. I used to write to try on personas, to be someone else. Now I write to dig in to my own persona, to understand what it means to be me – to discover who I am, what I want, how I feel, what frightens me, and what inspires me. My writing is very self-reflexive; it it very personal. I do it, first and foremost, for me. That said, I have often reflected that what really stirs me is honesty on the page – whether in novels, essays, or memoirs, I love those books that sparkle with authenticity and truth. it could be a simple human confession, the noting of a tiny detail that no-one bothered to note before, which somehow infuses that detail with deep meaning, or a revelatory explanation of a social, political, or human state.

So, what is the goal of my writing? First of all, as I said, it is to feel whole, to stay healthy, to understand myself, the world, and my place in it. I write both to float into dreamy skies and to stay grounded and humble – to remain true to who I am and to acknowledge my doubts, fears, dreams, ambitions, and passions.

And after that? I write to inspire. I am an avid reader and I am constantly inspired by what I read – a beautiful phrase, an immortal ideal, an amusing anecdote, a powerful choice, an amazing adventure, a broodingly complex character. I read for the same reason I write – to understand myself, the world, and my place in it. Therefore I write in order to inspire others. Perhaps my own personalised and oft rambling wonderings and discoveries could mirror the questions and adventures of another soul? Perhaps my experiences could be relevant to another? I hope so. And it is this vague hope that encourages me to do more than scribble in notebooks, but to seek an audience. No, not exactly to seek an audience. Rather to offer my life and experiences, humbly, to anyone whom they may amuse, encourage, inspire, annoy, challenge, revolt, or evoke any feeling in at all. To anyone, really, who reads and responds to my words.

What about you? Why do you write, and has your why evolved over time?

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All of my writing, even the fiction, is largely autobiographical. I always thought that was true of most writing, no matter how “creative” and out there it may seem. However, musing on it today, I have had to consider the possibility that it’s just me – perhaps I’m just too scared to branch out into the unknown lest it ring hollow. Am I a safe writer?

It hasn’t always been thus. I remember I used to write to empathise, to try to understand other people’s perspectives. When I was 15 I wrote a short story about a teenage girl committing suicide. I gave it to my mum to read (proud to be meditating on such important themes). She flipped out. She came to talk to me in that calm-barely-concealing-hysteria way that parents, particularly mums, use to confront such joyful rites of passage as drug experimentation, early sexual activity (in daughters), suspected homosexuality, and teenage pregnancy. She put on her best ‘I can handle this’ face and asked me if I needed to talk about everything I was feeling. “Mum,” I chided, “I was just curious about what people must feel!” Perfectly flippant.

What I am neglecting to mention is the fact that my older brother had successfully terminated his own life several years previous after confiding in our mother his intentions. Needless to say she was somewhat fretful. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I actually hadn’t considered that angle (teenage selfishness at its best). Looking back now I guess I needed to write that story to begin to understand what my brother may have been feeling, why he would do such a thing.

Odd, but this anecdote, which was meant to illustrate my prior penchant for purely fictionalised writing, has only led me back to the conclusion that all of writing is somehow autobiographical. Perhaps it is unescapable – for how can we even begin to contemplate a theme/character/storyline that has not in some way already touched our lives, that has not in and of itself provoked our meditation?

What do you think?

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