Back to First Principles

Back to First Principles

Winter on the coast was tough. Coming into spring I find myself re-evaluating. Today I went back to the beginning to remind myself why I continue to choose hardship.

I love my life right now. I really do. I have two jobs that make me feel I am making my little corner of the world better. I have become brave enough to explore performing in front of others. Brave enough to try the things that resonate with me. Brave enough to risk failure because the chance to succeed carries more weight.

But there are always those aspects we don’t desire. There is always the flip side. My flip side is mostly condensation. This may seem like a relatively minor thing to you. Granted, it could be much worse. But I have been living in a 2m x 4m pop-top caravan with my two little dog friends since I returned to NZ in January, 2016. There was the notable exception of when we all down-sized to a 2m x 1m crawlspace to optimise mobility but condensation remained.

A micro living space is challenging in its own ways, but when the ceiling is coated with dangling raindrops, waiting to rain down on you through the evening, night and dawn, the complications mount up. It’s not the cold as such, that bothers me. Although, it is worth noting that the mountain range that forms a background directly behind us, is not coated in snow for half the year because of our tropical climate. I have two warm (canine) bodies and a hot water bottle contributing to heating my sleep space. But constant humidity and damp bring about mould, mildew, annoying droplets disturbing sleep. Holes between the walls of my pop-top caravan mean there is a draught and temperatures akin to those outdoors. Having to collect my own solar energy and drinking water directly from rain have required management. But believe it or not, that’s part of the appeal. That is to be more connected and conscious of the processes of life.

The reason is savings. The thought that reduced expenses might lower the obstacles to owning my own real estate. The chance to be responsible for significant capital investment does not really appeal. But the ability to contribute to my own equity in lieu of padding someone else’s retirement does. The house, the obligatory job, the fixed location… I could leave those too. At least the location I have chosen suits my needs.

“I’d known for a long while now that I really wanted out of cities and out of the cycle of working for the ability to pay off someone else’s mortgage and barely being able to get ahead. I have no real estate of my own, no desire to sell my life to a high paying job and its soul-sapping demands, no money to speak of, and no prospect of inheritance or a beneficent sponsor. The chances of procuring a lovely country home on a rural block, on which I could work towards a quiet, self-sustaining lifestyle were remote to say the least. And the problem of how to financially support myself once I got there always lingered in the back of my mind.” – part of my first post in this blog.

c2a9fairfax-brassett06.jpgBut the goal has always been freedom. All else was detail. I have saved a bit by living this frugal life. It means I can splash out if I want to as well. With the goal of true freedom, I find myself revisiting books on entrepreneurship and even writing ambitious beginnings to business plans. Visions of floating away on the tide to explore the open seas swim about in my mind.

Perhaps the permaculture goals I am living for are not ambitious enough. Perhaps they would become my new prison. Or perhaps they are really just another stepping stone to economic freedom and the pathway to absolute freedom. Either way, I can be sure that this process so far, has led to my mind being more free than it has ever been. Freer to truly believe in possibility.

Advertisements
When The West Went Wild

When The West Went Wild

March 11th, 2018

I mentioned the Wild Food Festival previously. Well, that was yesterday. A pretty crazy ol’ day relative to the usual Hokitika buzz. Music fills the whole town. The scent of cooking fills the nostrils. Thousands of vibrant costumes keep your head on a swivel and overload the imagination. The skies were even visited by a team of aerial acrobats in stunt planes. This usually understated town becomes a hub of fun and frivolity. While my wallet was a little light to partake in goings on inside the festival fence, I took the boys for a wander through all that transpired in the streets outside.

It was the end to a particularly eventful week for me. In addition to the part time work I will be doing for the It’s Not OK campaign, I got a full-time gig too. Everything has worked out really well and all because I’ve just kept directing my choices towards my end goal: a lifestyle that is in-tune with natural balance. I’m not out of the rat race yet, but I can see the end of the tunnel.

Part of this is the living situation I’ve managed to engineer, with thanks to the significant foundation work laid by Sonya and Torsten. After some major earthworks in the last few weeks and ongoing improvements happening all the time, this is a great place to just be. The best spot for that is my favourite “room” in the “house”: the bush bath. Such an awesome place.

The other half to that is community involvement. I hold very strongly, the view that most of the world’s problems stem from community dysfunction. I intend to use my time to proactively counteract that. It’s all well and good for politicians to do their thing at the macro level, but this process is slow, flawed and corrupted by conflicting interests. Voluntary change at the ‘grass roots’ level can be just as powerful, if not more so.

This is where I focussed my efforts in job searching and this is what I ended up with. I will now be working as a Youth Worker for local communities as well as working to engage local Community Champions to speak and act against domestic violence. That, to me, seems a worthwhile way to spend my time and being “the change [I] want to see in the world”. On the side, I will help out at a local pub every now and then, which will mean getting paid to get to know a few locals a bit better.

On top of all this, I have found a creative outlet in discovering the challenges of acting for musical theatre. Not something I thought I would ever find myself doing, but that’s what I got by following opportunities and gut feelings. When I think about my interests and now that I will be working out of Greymouth, it’s actually starting to make perfect sense. But it certainly didn’t seem very logical when I followed it up originally.

So that’s me now. This seems to be what the next iteration looks like. All around us are opportunities to take the dogs out and explore new little places too. I’ve included a few pics of the lads and I checking out Ross and the wilderness out near Lake Kaniere.

Life’s starting to stabilise and is looking alright at the moment. And it’s all come about from a series of deliberate steps it a common direction. I’m yet to free myself from the bonds of full-time work but that is a necessary short-term stepping stone towards accessing my own land and being able to develop it how I want to. Well, that or proof of a stable and thriving business of my own. While a business is in the future, a stable wage is a quicker way to win a bank over. At least in the meantime, my self-imposed slavery is directed towards intrinsic goals. I’m happy with that compromise.

The World is But a Stage…

The World is But a Stage…

March 1st, 2018

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII [All the world’s a stage]
William Shakespeare, 1564 – 1616

I managed to secure a job! It’s only a 10-hour per week gig but it pays well and involves co-ordinating a project called “Community Champions“, encouraging people in the community to assist and speak out against domestic violence.

I have a number of applications in for jobs with a few more hours as well, from labouring and a potential building apprenticeship to disability support work and teacher support. I find landing on the ground in a new place is a great time to open myself up to new possibilities. It’s a chance to release who you have previously been and see where the new move takes you.

With that in mind, I also followed up on a thought that often occurred to me during The Longest Walk NZ. Since you are reading this blog, it’s probably no surprise to you that I am devoting a lot of energy to constructing my life as I would like it to be, as opposed to getting trapped into a default pattern. Many of these inquiries lead to changes in internal practice rather than external circumstance. The things we believe and choose are the things that determine our direction and success.

This line of thinking led me to reimagine what I thought about actors and acting as a profession. Choosing to be a professional actor, like any professional artist, is a long shot. Success is determined as much by good luck as by good management. Or at least that’s how it can seem on the surface. The reality may be different. All actors (or at least those not riding on someone else’s coat tails) face the same odds. Yet some of them convert those odds into a career. You could argue that talent plays a part in this, but I bet if you asked the successful ones, they’d say choices were far more important.

A good actor has to persevere not only in their belief that they can make it in the face of harsh and repeated rejection, but they also have to persevere in honing their craft. The former challenge is tough enough and the vast majority of people will never know such self-belief. Although that is admirable in itself, the latter task is what interests me. In order to be a good actor, one has to successfully portray a depth of character that cannot exist unless it is felt and experienced.

The actors you know from big movies are ALL good actors. Even the bad ones are only bad by comparison to a handful of elite performers. If they can’t convince an audience, they linger in the realms of pornography, bad theatre, infomercials and B movies.

The way I see it, the difference must occur at a very deep level. It must necessitate the removal, or stepping aside, of a person’s reflexive behaviours and image of self. It requires a person to strip themselves back to the basics of the human experience before layering on a whole new person. Someone with a different history, different beliefs, difference behaviours and a different perspective on life. To me, this seems like great practise for exactly the type of internal work I want to devote my energies to.

I’m not interested in fame. Not in the slightest. I had a brief taste of that last year and you can keep it, thank you very much. Money only interests me to the extent that it can invoke freedom. But the practice of confronting fears, insecurities and self-doubt as well as the actual business of re-inventing an experience of “self”… those things compel me to give it a nudge. In fact, I believe it is precisely because we see how people have accepted these challenges and excelled that drive the phenomenon of fame.

By separating others as “celebrities” from the common man/woman, we unconsciously forgive ourselves for not having risen to our own challenges. They can do it because they are “talented” or “special”. They are different or “other” when compared to us. Logically, we know it not to be true if we think about it. They are also just people after all. But if we think about it to that degree, our excuses dissolve. The difference in those who succeed (at anything) is what beliefs they choose to hold.

the road to addams
And this is how THAT happened…

So when I saw the local drama society, I enquired about it on Facebook. That led to mention of a play having auditions. The men they’d had at auditions hadn’t fitted and ‘Would I like to try out?’… ‘Oh, and by the way, it’s the role as the male lead in a musical production of The Addams Family that we need to fill’. Gulp. Oh well. Sink or swim, I guess. Caution to the wind, I decided to give it a go with the attitude that the very worst that could happen is I get experience of what an audition is like.

The audition was… well… terrifying. Standing alone on stage, I had to belt out my most convincing attempt at one of the songs in the play. Unaccompanied. Just a handful of people staring up at me in serious appraisal. Scrutinising my performance and deciding whether I had what they needed in the role: A lead role with a whole heap of lines, a couple of solo songs to sing and several more in co-operation with others. In a production that, while it is no Broadway acting company, is intended to polish up as a piece of quality theatre.

Did I mention that they want their lead to be very Spanish? Next up came a cold reading with a Spanish accent at a Spanish pace. I was in WAY over my head, but I’d already confessed as much to the production crew and they were all really supportive. And I must’ve sold it because I got the part. I will be stripping away Stephen and learning to become Gomez Addams for the next few months for a stage show in Greymouth.

After that, I decided to swing by the local pub on the way home. I came in for a celebratory/wind-down beer and left with a job. Not even sure how that happened, to be honest. But the Wild Food Festival is in town in a couple of weeks and they needed a hand. So I shall be putting my barman hat on once again. Quite a week. But the next few will likely prove to be more eventful still.

Blow Me Down!

Blow Me Down!

February 23rd, 2018

Last time, I mentioned that I knew the rain would come (it is the West Coast after all). What I didn’t bank on was two back-to-back tropical cyclones. An already unstable time, became even more unstable with the advent of Cyclone Gita.

The time between my last post and this one has been very eventful indeed. Workwise, I have put my hand up for just about every type of job under the sun. I’ve landed a few odd jobs here and there, including maintenance work, reception work, and even a bit of a spell as an upholsterer. It’s been a case of just putting the word out and saying “yes” to whatever comes. I’ve always found that that approach works and if you are open to anything, it sometimes even leads down a path you never knew you would enjoy.

In this spirit, I joined the local MenzShed, which is a community organisation aimed at providing a space for men (statistically having smaller social circles than women) to congregate socially. In doing so, MenzSheds contribute to community projects by building, renovating and restoring all manner of things for school groups, community groups, public spaces etc. MenzSheds are great for helping men feel more connected and to share skills. I’m looking forward to what I might learn and eventually, what I might pass on to others.

All this only a few short weeks after a the dying remnants of Tropical Cyclone Fehi collided with the coast and caused devastation to roads, individual properties and whole towns. Yet, on February 22nd, coastal communities seemed destined to face the full brunt of a second cyclone. Tropical Cyclone Gita was a weather system with an even greater force, which maintained an official classification as a cyclone further into southern waters than most. The very same unseasonal heat I mentioned in my last post was also heating the seas and maintaining tropical storms far south of the tropics. When the rain finally did come, it was time to batten down the hatches. Literally attaching battens to doors and securing movable objects as well as preparing supplies for a likely civil defence emergency.

For me, this meant packing down my house to lower its wind profile and protect it from potential damage. It meant the dogs and I were going to be living out of my van for a couple of very wet, very windy days. I’m normally pretty unconcerned by weather warnings, earthquake warnings and the like. This time it was meant to be a direct hit by a cyclone that had already crushed Tonga, then gone on to actually strengthen rather than weaken. It seemed wise to take precautions.

(CLICK graphics to see a computer simulation of Gita’s passage)

The way it turned out though, Gita pulled a big side-step when she saw the Southern Alps. She gathered up her sari and high-tailed it through the Cook Strait instead. Her rage was left and right bringing destruction to both the northern and southern shores. Kapiti and Tasman seemed to be worst affected before bringing yet another wave of disaster to coastal regions on the east coast. Kaikoura had to face another round of road closures while they are still recovering from last year’s earthquake damage and Christchurch added another natural disaster to its already depressing run of tragedy.

For us, formerly thought to be in the centre of a massively damaging weather system, it manifested in very light rainfall interspersed with periods of complete calm. No wind to speak of at all. All the while, I was camped in my van because my house was packed down into its “over-sized suitcase” mode.

Such are the ways of weather though. Back to normal after that: Job hunting and settling into our new community.

Reboot

Reboot

February 11th, 2018

With The Longest Walk NZ coming to a close, I guess the journey to create my freedom returns to this forum. Last year was a unique and amazing year, through which I gained many insights about myself, my country and what is important. This year is shaping up to be just as formative.

The main goals for The Longest Walk NZ were about animal welfare. It was about promoting what was going on out there in New Zealand communities. There were also a number of personal goals tied up amongst it. The most relevant to this update was the search for a place where my soul felt at peace.

There were a couple of false starts along the way, including the idea of joining the current members of Riverside Community in Motueka and possibly becoming a resident worker at The Black Sheep animal sanctuary in Otaki Forks. In the end though, I settled on a place that stayed in my thoughts throughout the whole trip. I ended up choosing a “Cool little town” named Hokitika.

20180212_092322
Moody ol’ Hoki with its sullen clouds one day and brilliant sunshiny beaches the next
20180203_131922
Cyclone Fehi broke the West Coast, stranding tourists and locals alike for several days

I arrived here first in March last year as I emerged from the immensity of a walk through the Southern Alps. Before I even met civilisation, the Arahura Valley was winning me over. From there, the vibe just continued to feel warm. Nearly a year on, I returned to a striking peach sunset blooming in the clouds, then fading over the horizon. The sea pacified after a day of raging storms (Cyclone Fehi) that tore away whole sections of coastal roads and barred my original route the day before. I can only imagine it was the contrast between this peaceful scene and the turmoil of the evening before that even had the locals out, wielding cameras.

This first return was just a drop-and-run though. It took another couple of days to collect my two dogs from their boarding arrangements with my parents in Wellington. All told, this relocation, including acquiring car (in Invercargill), retrieving my hillbilly house (from Gore) and reuniting with my dogs (back in Wellington) had cost nearly two weeks and thousands of dollars. I was working on the theory that it would all be worth it once life found itself in some semblance of “normal”. It was a chance to consciously choose where and how I wanted to live after taking a good deal of time to really consider my choices.

20180209_142456
Never been afraid of a little hands on work. Getting stuck in

I hit the ground running. Reaching out to the few people I had met on my way through managed to land a few days of maintenance work the very next day. After the first day of this, came the start of the hunt for longer-term employment. A year off earning money followed by a costly relocation doesn’t do the bank balance any favours. A couple of nibbles and one very promising application later, I am still short of a plan for long-term employment. It has only been a few days yet though and I feel positive about the prospects.

If you have been following previous posts, you would probably realise that my efforts will also be going into some sort of side hustle working towards a bit of financial freedom. For now though and for quite some time to come, I need to make sure I take care of my financial responsibilities first. In a couple of years, that side hustle may well ripen into a main income but it’ll all come one step at a time.

Right now, I have landed in a tranquil spot, sharing a developing permaculture plot with a couple of likeminded people. Our arrangement is mutually beneficial and the setting is ideal for both me and the dogs. Jake runs around blissfully in a state of relative calm that is rare for him. Piccolo seems much more at peace in the stability and familiarity of our 2016 home. I enjoy the fact I can safely walk my dogs in a number of picturesque spots off-lead. A bush walk at our front gate, another just down the street. The stony beach of a beautiful river and a wide, expansive sands of the West Coast both only a five minute drive away. As we walk down the road on the way out, the seascape beckons from the horizon and as we return, a formidable mountain range enfolds our home.

20180218_121530
Hoki from the hills

The roar of the sea rolling in can be heard all day from our vantage point on the hill. Stars blanket the skies at night. Kiwi and weka begin to sing at dusk. It’s not at all uncommon for a weka to pop over and pay a visit either. This unusual dry spell has meant hot days tempered with a mild sea breeze when the area is usually known for its heavy rainfall. Although the rain is sure to come, along with the challenges accompanying it, for now we enjoy an Indian summer. Today being the first day of rain so far and it was a light one at that.

All is well. And while I don’t believe there is a “right” path or choice, it certainly seems this is a good one.

Emotional Self-Care

Emotional Self-Care

Emotions have been the single most difficult thing about my journey recently. At the risk of sounding a little to “Dear Diary”, I decided to share a few thoughts in the hopes it may serve someone else.

Coming into The Longest Walk NZ, it was the emotional ride to finally deciding to commit that was the biggest challenge. I knew it was what I wanted to do. I knew it was important to me. I knew I had faced similar crossroads… made the other choice… and regretted it. Yet still, I found it incredibly hard to take that leap into the unknown. There was no security. There was no ‘how to’ guide. I didn’t really know what I was doing.

Now that I’ve been on the road for over six months, I’ve found peace with the unknown elements and I actually enjoy the creative aspect of not having a blueprint. Not only that, but I have found security of sorts in history of supportive interactions with a vast number of people in every single place we have travelled to. The freedom I’ve found through making that commitment is unparalleled by any other experience of my life so far.

There are different emotional challenges now though. It took me a while to accept the hospitality and charity of others too. Having dealt with that, I am now often reminded of a very important lesson: to be aware of emotional vampirism.

The beast that is animal welfare draws forth strong emotions in many people. With that, comes a strange kind of attraction for emotional vampires. I refer to those who choose to dwell on drama or focus on painful loops and problems outside their sphere of influence. They thrive on ‘venting’ and constantly seek empathy for their perceived struggles. Black and white thinking tends to dominate their world view and everything seems to be hopeless or unfair. They leech others’ energy to feed their own insatiable hunger for high emotion and they flock to causes such as animal welfare.

Over the years and through my travels, I have become pretty skilled at conversing with people of varied backgrounds. It’s fair to say that I can have a reasonable conversation quite comfortably with most people I am meeting for the first time. Just because I CAN talk to most people, doesn’t mean I ENJOY talking to them all.

My psychic defences are poor. I feel other people’s emotions quite strongly and I have a very hard time not taking them on-board. The flip side of this is that I am also very aware of my own emotions and these days, I have learned to understand when they signal the need for action or change. That hasn’t always been the case and my inability to manage emotions as guiding signals has led to deep pain and suffering at times.

When these emotional vampires come into my life, I feel myself being drained and it becomes more and more difficult to maintain logic. They pull me into their pain and wear down my ability to resist. I can suffer their need for a sympathetic ear for a time but I reach a limit and have to physically remove myself from their presence in order to regroup. These encounters are dangerous for me because I often find myself close to the brink of re-joining them in their habits of unhealthy thoughts: the negative spiral of tainted/skewed logic.

To be honest, the thought scares me. It scares me because I know that pain. It scares me because I know how slippery the slope is and how hard it is to change. I have to be careful not to let empathy for their pain draw me in because I know THEY are ultimately the only person in the whole world that can help them. THEY have to choose to be ready and THEY have to commit to changing that pattern. Some aren’t ready yet (and I’m not qualified or able to help get them there) and others probably never will be. Either way, I have to consciously avoid letting it be my problem.

I want to be clear that these are not necessarily malevolent or nasty people. The ones I am coming across are generally killing themselves with kindness. They care so much that they too struggle to disconnect. Nevertheless, the cause is irrelevant. I still need to care for myself. The freedom I have fostered in my life right now balances on the knife edge of my beliefs and emotions. My freedom hinges maintaining healthy, useful thinking habits.

The other major challenge for me is dealing with being so publicly available. At first, the kind of minor celebrity that this venture has brought was novel and a bit fun. Now, while it is mostly just neutral, it has a definite down-side. I am always “on show” when I am around my trailer. I am almost always around my camper. Often, I am staying at kind people’s homes and that comes with an unspoken understanding that I chat about the journey and cause. I am happy to oblige and I am grateful for their hospitality, but it also means time to myself can be severely limited.

To put this in perspective, I prefer to be alone most of the time. I don’t mean that in an unfriendly way. I am also a very personable person. That might seem a contradiction and maybe it is. All I know is that I feel at my best when I have time alone to recharge and it allows me to enjoy time with others.

In combination with New Zealand’s ridiculous “freedom” camping regulations, it unfortunately means that the only time I can truly withdraw and recharge (legally) is inside my camper in a fairly public place like a campground. With this new-found “celebrity” comes a breakdown in normal etiquette. If people see the camper, they “have to see what it’s about”. If they’ve also been following the campaign, some feel they have earned the right to access me any time they might happen on me.

At this stage, I must add that usually, I am fine with that and I enjoy meeting people who have been following the journey. It’s nice to talk to new people and even nicer if I don’t have to start by explaining what is going on. In fairness, even I have trouble defining the limits of when it feels alright to be approached and when I’d prefer to be left alone. But II am starting to get a better appreciation for how it must feel to be a REAL celebrity. If I am trying to do some banking, I feel like common courtesy (at least in NZ culture) says to give me space. If I am sitting inside my camper with the door closed, it’s akin to someone in a zipped up tent. Personally, I would leave them alone unless it was someone I already knew.

Overall, I must say that it has been a great journey and I haven’t regretted the choice to undertake it. These little gripes are small in the grand scheme of things. My hope in airing them so publicly is that it might help someone else. If it does help you, I would love to hear it if you’d like to share it.