Wreck This Journal was possibly the coolest crafts project to do in 2013. Creative, subversive, and engaging. It definitely made me less inclined to colour inside the lines. Although I haven't finished my copy, or worked on a page for years, it's still a nice thing to look through. Here are my favourite pages.
The cover of my copy is plastered with headlines I'd cut out from the student University magazine.
Some mornings, I go to Pilates and the ladies tell me that they’ve seen me at the wharf again. We are putting out our mats and they are the same colour as the sky, when the wind has rushed all the clouds away. One of them exclaims that the other day, she actually didn’t see me at the harbour, which is the strangest thing. “Because you’re always there!” she says. Someone else makes an admiring comment about hard work.
After Pilates, I walk to the wharf, making a note of the sky. I remember what the weather forecast told me earlier and count up the variables. It is sunny, which means that it will be a busy day. A little windy, but not too gusty. A northerly, so I’ll have to open the window that faces south when I get to work. This little loop of thoughts is what I have been drawing all summer. Two streets across and a little more, and then I can see the food caravan sitting near the edge of the harbour, waiting for me. It is one of those days where the blue of the sky fights to melt into the ocean, their colours are so similar. The sunlight flickers over the water, following a trail of little silver fish that zip around plastic bottles and cellophane.
When I studied Classics at university, it became my world. Especially so in my last year, where I worked towards my honours degree.
I ended up going on a field trip to Greece for a month. There, I saw artefacts upon artefacts, studied variations, styles, riffs on myths and stories that were their great foundations. Stood on the Acropolis and gave a presentation on architecture, studied in the British School of Athens, got drenched in a Greek rain storm. Walked ancient cities that were now just brick, stood on top of crumbling stones that used to be part of a retaining wall. Visited small rural towns in the winter, where shopkeepers were so happy to see us. I was completely immersed in it. I came back home and wrote my final essay for the trip, then kept continuing and continuing to do what I needed to finish the last of my degree. Wrote assignment upon assignment, kept building upon those stories of an ancient culture, wrote my honours thesis. And then I graduated.
After I left university, my love of Classics seemed to dissipate. During my study, I read pages and pages of scholarship every week. But it took me a year after graduation for me to even pick up a book related to Classics. Classics had once been a defining feature of myself. And as the months passed, my university years felt like a nebulous dream and I became cloudy.
I don’t like setting New Year’s resolutions because I feel that the exercise is too strict to be productive. New Year’s resolutions place unnecessary pressure to hold a single goal steady from the first day of the year to the last. Because of this, when a New Year’s resolution fails, the rest of the year is turned into a write off. In reality, goals can be revised and changed, and this is not something to be ashamed of.
A woman in a group of four asks me if I can speak Chinese. In Mandarin, I say, only a little. My brain starts running through stock phrases that I might need for what’s to follow. I go through the motions, I stare at the shirt of the woman who spoke to me, a shirt embroidered with gold paisley. When I give her back her change, she asks, how long? Five minutes? I say, Yes, 十. The flock of women look at each other, then back at me. The woman in gold replies, what? Ten minutes? I realise that I’ve said the word for ten instead of yes—same letters but different tone—and then I am going, ah, um, sorry I meant, ah, it’s just five minutes. 五. The woman nods at me. The gold shimmers.
When I self-published my own little picture book, The Adventures of Moonbear, I went to a bunch of daycares armed with copies of the book to see if I could sell them. I also went to a bookshop. The book buyer flicked through the copy I gave her and then said it was too expensive. She pointed to some children's books on the shelves, little A5 books that were around the same size as my Moonbear. And then she said, your book is too expensive. These books are the same size as yours and are only four dollars each. I looked at the books. They were Thomas the Tank Engine books.
When I was a kid, I used to dream up the kind of home I wanted to have when I was older. A big feature in this dream home was a room full of books. Like a total library, with shelves going from floor to ceiling. I thought that would be the most beautiful thing, to be surrounded by so much literature.
A few years ago, I started collecting New Zealand poetry books. It was a nice and slightly niche category that I thought I could eventually turn into my own mini library. But my whole mindset on collecting things has changed. A few months ago, I sold half of my collection of New Zealand poetry books, around 30 books for $1 each.
I remember, when it was me and not her, there was a song that kept coming up on the radio. I sat there motionless in the passenger seat of the car, my head against the window, as my mother drove me to and from the hospital. And I fell into that same slow song, pretended it was my own pulse as it came out of the great looping playlist that was the radio station.
Many years later, when I fly to Auckland for my mother’s surgery, I’m much more restless. Only hours before my flight, my mother calls me to say that her surgery on Tuesday has been moved to Monday instead. And I’m just lucky that I had originally bought my flights to arrive a day early as well. I feel like I need to quicken my pace, but the schedules around me—playing through predetermined departures and arrivals—keep me locked in and unable to move any faster. When I land in Auckland, my mother is already at the hospital for pre-surgery preparation.
I think about alternate universes a lot. I find the idea of a place that could be just like our universe, but different because of a small history-changing moment, so fascinating.
I think about what an alternate version of myself would look like. I wonder how different I would be if I made a different decision at a crucial turning point. Would such a decision take me to a different branch from where I am now? If I met that other version of myself, would we agree on the same things? I wonder how much of my personality is predetermined, and how much effect external influences have had on the person I am now.
Recently I watched a video that made me again think about this. The video is about a girl named Kati Pohler. She was born in China, and was later adopted by an American family. Her biological parents gave her up when she was only three days old, leaving her at a market in China. They did this because of one of the same reasons my parents left China: the one-child policy.
I currently have two main jobs. I work part time as a librarian at a university. I work casually as a kitchen assistant at a food truck. I also do odd writing jobs and work contracted as an editorial assistant at a poetry magazine. Which one of these is a real job?
Whenever I tell people where I work, their reaction tells me a lot about who they are. My favourite reaction is from my friend Danny, who said to me, “That’s so indie!”. And some truly find it inspiring that I work to fit different interests in.
But some people look down at the food truck job. They say, well, if you can get that library job, then why would you work somewhere like a food truck? Get a real job. For them, having a hospo job means that I’m uneducated. And having an office job means that I’m educated. And because of these two facts that they hold in their mind, they can’t seem to reconcile the two. They can’t figure me out. (It's almost like all humans are multi-faceted individuals!). And the conversation dies down pretty quickly after that.