Auckland, NEW ZEALAND
I was born on the 16 April 1986 in Dargaville, a small town on the west coast of northern New Zealand. I always get a few sniggers when I tell people I was born there. It's a hicksville town in New Zealand, like Hamilton, that is synonymous with alcohol and drug abuse and teen pregnancy. But as a newborn baby I was as yet unaware of its notoriety.
My parents owned the local dairy and tea rooms in a small rural town called Mamaranui. We had a menagerie of animals: two cows, one was called Benji and I can never remember the other one's name; two pigs, who we later killed and used for Sunday roast; a dog called Pinot, alluding to my parents' love of red wine; a lamb called Feschi, who was later killed by our dog Pinot; and two cats Flopsy and Peter, from our favourite Beatrix Potter book. I lived there for just a year of my life with my mum and dad and my older sister Sara.
My Dad grew up in Switzerland, in its only official multi-lingual town, Bienne. He met my Mum, a New Zealander and seven years his senior at a party for a mutual friend in Geneva. My mum was working for GATT, better known today as the World Trade Office, and my dad was training to be an air traffic controller. Soon after they met my dad had to complete his year long military training that is compulsory for all Swiss males. It was a time he hated, not liking the hierarchy of the army and also being away from my mother.
Ten years after they met my parents were married with only my one year old sister and two witnesses in attendance. My mum wore pants and the ceremony was extremely basic. I believe my own nonchalance towards the ceremony of marriage stems from this and it just goes to show the profound influence parents can have on their children. The legalities over and done with my dad was now able to emigrate to New Zealand and start a new life away from the country of his birth. My parents had done a lot of research into self-sufficient farming and living off the land. With this rather utopian goal in mind they made the move to New Zealand. However the life they dreamed of was not to be.
When I was 1 my family moved again to a small fishing village near the top of the North Island, called Mangonui. Translated from Maori this means big and alludes to the local legend of a shark that was often seen swimming in the harbour when whalers frequented the village in the nineteenth century. My first memory of this place, and in fact of my whole life, is significant as it is the only memory I have of my father when he lived with us. Ironically it is not a memory of my parents being together. I have no memory of this. As a child one of my favourite movies was the 'Never Ending Story'. I loved this movie; however I was terrified of the wolf and used to have reoccurring nightmares about it. I can remember one time knowing that the scene with the wolf was approaching and going and talking to my dad who was working in the shed so I could avoid watching the scene.
A month before my fourth birthday and only about a week after my sister's seventh my parents told us they were breaking up. I don't think I really understood at the time what that meant and I don't have any memories of it. For that I am grateful. My dad moved back to Switzerland and maybe half a year later my mum's new boyfriend Mark moved in. Every weekend his three kids would come and stay. One of them was a girl my age and I remember that we never really got on. Even later when went to school together and our parent's no longer dated I never considered her my friend.
My mum never hid the fact that it was her decision to end things with my father. For years when I asked why she would merely say it was because she stopped loving him. My father often said that she'd had an affair but I never knew if I should believe him, knowing how hurt he was when she ended things out of the blue. A few years ago my mother admitted to me that she'd had a sort of mid-life crisis at that time and had indeed had an affair. However I've never regretted the fact that my parent's divorced. I don't think my life was harder in anyway because of it and always resent it when people suggest that children from single parent homes worse off.
My best friend growing up was Ben and I remember I always loved going to his house because he had a turret in his roof where you could look out to the ocean and a trampoline and we would play with his rat, ratty poo. Having a boy as a best friend I learned about the male anatomy early on as Ben would delight in grossing me out by peeing in front of me. Something, I myself annoyingly could never do. I used to call him Benny Boy and imagined we would one day get married.
Some vague memories of before I was nine. I remember being terrified of lightning and thunder, even when inside. I remember consuming every Roald Dahl book ever written and trying desperately to move things with my eyes after reading Matilda. We had donkeys in our back field for awhile and I was too scared to feed them grass thinking they would bite my fingers off. I fell into a fish pond at a friends place once and I can remember flashes of blue and orange (the gold fish I assume) and extreme disorientation. Jumping off Taipa bridge and floating along in the current until we reached the ocean.
My dad didn't stay in Switzerland long. Not only did he find it too hard living so far away from me and my sister he had also met another woman. She had been my nanny for awhile and had visited my Dad in Switzerland while backpacking around Europe with her son Henare on the domestic purposes benefit. They moved back to New Zealand and lived about five minutes from my school which I loved although I found the house scary. My step mother was a potter and had a home made kiln in the bush behind the house. My sister and my step brother loved sliding down the mud bank near where she did her pottery but in my over active imagination it was home to fearsome creatures.
I always wanted to play with my sister and step brother, who were both the same age, but like any older siblings they didn't often give me the time of day. I would do almost anything my sister told me and one time I remember jumping of the deck with her and dislocating my ankle. The best thing about this was that my dad would give me shoulder rides everywhere. I loved being up so high and wore my bandages proudly.
When I was six, my dad moved to a city 12 hours away to finish his degree. The best part about this is we got to travel to Auckland city to and then catch a plane to where he lived. As a kid who grew up in a very small town I used to get excited by traffic lights and movie theatres and of course the obligatory McDonalds stop. I still get huge waves of nostalgia when I drive over the Auckland Harbour Bridge and see the familiar Auckland skyline because it evokes such powerful memories from my childhood. My step mum loved cooking for us and we would always have yummy treats like Pavlova or croissants when we went down there.
I did lots of extra curricular activities as a child: ballet, then later jazz too. I took swimming lessons and was also a brownie. When I think back to the number of activities me and my sister both did I realise the sacrifices my mum made for us and how hard she had to work to ensure we had a normal upbringing. My mum tried to teach me piano for a time but learning an instrument is an anathema to me. I was too impatient and lost interest when I didn't progress as fast as I wanted to. I wish now I had learnt because one of my favourite things to do is lie back in bed and listen to my mum play the piano. My friends find it a bit odd when I listen to classical piano music but when I do I can lie back in bed and pretend for awhile that my mum is outside my door playing for me.
My grandparents visited from Switzerland when I was seven. My granddad couldn't speak any English and my grandmother's was fairly basic. I remember she had trouble saying hippopotamus and mixture. We did a lot of travelling that summer and I remember it involved a lot of walking places which was not fun to my quick-to-tire seven year old legs. My sister and I fought a lot that summer most likely because we had to share a room for a month, something neither of us were used to.
Another significant trip I took growing up was skiing trip. All the local brownies, guides, cubs and scouts had been fundraising for months on end to make it happen. I loath sausage sizzles to this day. Besides skiing for three days we also travelled extensively around the North Island. I learnt how to ski and I also learnt that innocent ignorance is usually a good thing. There was a scout leader Gillie who came on that trip. He had diabetes and would let us girls give him his daily injection. My sister and her friends had complained to some other adults on that trip that he had touched them inappropriately in the swimming pool. They weren't taken seriously and were told off for trying to make trouble. I remember on the trip home I fell asleep in his lap and lay there for maybe four hours. A few years ago we found out that he had been convicted of sexually abusing his step daughter.
The time before I was nine is the only time I can remember being truly happy. The year I was in Standard 3 (the equivalent of fourth grade) is the first time I began to be unhappy and started to be plagued with feelings of extreme self doubt which I still experience today. It was a year of many changes for me. My sister was 12 and had reached that age when body image began to be important. She lost a huge amount of weight and although she wasn't considered anorexic she was fast on the way to developing a serious eating disorder. I was kept largely in the dark about this only really being told what I had to, which was extremely frustrating. I remember being confronted about it by a boy at school who said “Your sister's the one with the eating problem aye?” I wanted to hit him but instead I ran away.
In that same year my mother's high school boyfriend got in touch with her. She hadn't seen him for about 26 years but he had never forgotten her. I was extremely defensive of my mother and did not like him much at all. He was still married at the time but by the end of that year he had pretty much left his wife for my mother. He offered her a position at his company and before I knew it we were moving away from my home town to a city over 6 hours away.
There are a few things that stand out from this year that I feel are still a part of me now. It was the first time I had very few friends and felt lonely and unable to relate to my peers. It was the year my passion for books really took off. They were a place of solace and comfort for me. Luckily I had an understanding teacher who would let me do my own thing a lot of the time, knowing that books, for me, were just another part of my education. Another significant memory from this year is lying on my mother's bed and learning by heart all the words to 'Phantom of the Opera', 'Cats' and 'Les Miserables'. I had seen both Cats and Les Miserables that year and was enthralled by them both. My mum bought me the tapes for both and I would sing along to them for hours.
But perhaps the one abiding feeling from this time is one I still get today and one I can trace back to a specific day. It was extremely confusing at the time and I remember crying because I couldn't explain it to my mum. I sometimes get the feeling that the person I am and the things are say are not really me. Instead I feel like I am sitting back in my head and observing my life, extremely detached from what is going on. Knowing a little more about the conscious and unconscious it makes more sense to me now but I can remember it being genuinely scary at the time.
So many memories! They are now flooding back with a vengeance. My teacher Mr Smith who would throw chalk at us or his shoes but was everybody's favourite; sleeping under the stars in a secluded bay on school camp; punching Owen Molloy because he said girls were weaker than boys and making him cry; Guy Fawkes night at the local fire station where we would make fake 'guys' and burn them on the bonfire and then set off fireworks, inevitably setting off the fire siren's eerie call; my crush Erik with a K telling me he liked me and kissing me the day I found out I was moving away.
When we moved away from Mangonui I went to live with my Dad, Step-mum and Step-brother in Palmerston North. It was the first time I hadn't lived with my mother and it was very hard to leave her. My step-mum and me had always gotten on really well before this but from the time I moved in our relationship gradually deteriorated. I wasn't very happy that first year. I had put on quite a bit of weight and didn't have many friends at my new school. I started spending time looking after girls in the junior school or being a 'buddy' for an intellectually handicapped girl, Amber, pretty much confirming my nerd status to the rest of my peers.
I started Intermediate (middle school) the year after that which I enjoyed a lot more. I had the usual pre-teen rigmarole of week long boyfriends, exchanging red faced conversations in the hallway with my friends giggling behind me or sharing awkward slow dances at the school disco. I would get about 6 books out in the weekend and would have finished them all by the end of it. My grandparents visited again and I finally lost my puppy fat. I had a large group of friends at Intermediate but in our first year of high school it fell apart through gossip and arbitrary culling.
When I was 13 I dabbled in various religions. I tried Wicca on for size but the empiricist in me couldn't reconcile itself with Wicca's theory of creationism. Lee Lee Sobieski converted me to Christianity after I watched her in 'Joan of Arc'. A few months later I realised I didn't like its rigid rules of what constituted a good person. Now I don't know what I believe. I suppose you could call me agnostic but religion and beliefs are so personal that its ridiculous to give them unifying labels.
When I was fourteen we moved again, this time to Auckland. By this time the relationship between me and my step-mother was getting worse and worse with most of my teenage resentment being displaced onto her. I didn't really fit in at my new school. I tried smoking for awhile as an attempt to make friends and be 'cool' and then realised the ridiculousness of it all and stopped. My best friend was Melissa and we used to sit in the library at lunchtime drawing Pokemon characters or writing fantasy stories. I started spending less time at home and more time at Melissa's as an attempt to escape the tension that was building between me and Robyn (my step-mum). Neither me or Melissa was very happy and I remember one time she filled a sink with water and tried to drown herself in it. Absurd now, when I think about it, but it was her cry for help.
I did drama both as a subject and outside of school. Every year we had a school production and I would love the few frantic months leading up to it where you would have rehearsals everyday and the utter exhilaration you would get being up on stage. My dad was quite strict with me growing up. I was doing very well at school getting top of most of my classes and I guess he thought if I started going to parties I would fail as this is what had happened with my sister.
When I was fourteen and staying at my mums my sister got me stoned for the first time. I fell asleep on a bean bag in the sun. Very exciting. I've smoked pot fairly regularly since then (although I realise regular to some means daily which it has never meant for me.) enjoying the different mind set it gives me. That was the same year my step-mother read in my diary some horrible things I'd written about her. She told my dad on his birthday everything I'd written something I still can't understand why she did. Maybe a month later I remember us having a huge fight one night when my dad was away and after that we pretty much stopped talking altogether. It wasn't until four years later that we would properly start talking again and I stopped hanging up the phone when she answered.
When I was sixteen I started going out with a boy called David. I'd pursued him for months and had finally got what I wanted. He taught me about music and good movies. I taught him the benefits of a vegetarian diet and environmentalism. He told me he loved me after two weeks and I was so happy. Two weeks later I was already bored of the relationship and ended it. Somewhat of a reoccurring theme in my love life.
Once again so many memories. Being chosen as one of the top twelve German students in New Zealand but missing out on a scholarship to study there; driving in cars on hot summer nights; going to a peace concert against the Iraq war and dancing with abandon in a whole crowd of people; too many drunken nights, too few nights of significance.
I moved out the year I went University into a hostel five minutes away from the campus. I basically had no choice in the matter; things were so bad at home. My first year at University is a blur of parties, drugs and drinking. I got arrested one night for trespassing on a demolition site and spent 4 hours in a cell and 24 hours doing community service. I took ecstasy for the first time and lost my head and articulation in a cloud of euphoria. I lost touch with many of my high school friends as none of them were attending university with me. I made two of my closest friends at University and finally felt affinity with people. The parents' of one of my best friends now live in my childhood home. It took us six months before we realised this. We took a road trip up there this summer and I barely recognised it. It felt too small. Now my two best friends no longer talk to each other and I feel like it's my karma for what me and my step-mum put my dad through.
Me and my step-mum finally started talking again.
After years of trying to reconcile himself with my mum's independent nature and the fact that he couldn't move in with her, Tony finally went back to his wife.
I'm in my final year now at University studying Politics and Film and Media with only one more semester to go. I came to University with the idea that I would be a journalist. Through extensively studying the media and the ubiquitous role it plays in our lives I have become disillusioned with my former dream job. I cannot work within a commercialised system that breeds apathy and rampant consumerism at the expense of education and information.
I just recently finished making a documentary on a group called Stitch n Bitch looking at how knitting has become a feminist activity. From this I discovered that many people still have pre conceived notions over what feminism is and found myself having to defend the fact that I am one. My mum and my sister both just moved to Switzerland and I got my ticket today. I go in November and can barely wait till that day arrives. I remember being about twelve and getting a book out from the library called 'Masterworks of man and nature' which had pictures and descriptions of various castles, ruins, national parks etc around the world. By the end of the day I had an alphabetical list arranged by continent of 65 countries I wanted to visit. I haven't been able to stop smiling for the past week.
On Monday my best friend Ria left for Vietnam for 3 weeks and I miss her already. She understands me better than anyone. I have only had one day off in the past two weeks and I work two jobs. Next week the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are playing and I can't wait.
Some things about me before I finish this:
- I like patterns and making things symmetrical. I often rearrange objects in my flat to make them mirror each other much to the consternation of my flatmates. I remember watching 'The Royal Tenenbaums' and falling in love with the mise-en-scene of each and every take.
- I love film. Making it, studying it, watching it, living and breathing it!
- I can't stand tomatoes, milk or avocadoes.
- I have seen the 'Sound of Music' over fifty times.
- I have a tendency to be a kleptomaniac after drinking.
- I think conversations, food, bed, showers, movies and books are the best things in the world.