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June 9, 2014

the sun is shining on | this is my winter story

I didn't think it would take me this long to write this post. I have been avoiding it for several reasons - not knowing the words, not knowing how, not even knowing whether writing it was necessary. And yet I can't begin to write again here without acknowledging what's been going on. 

In 2009 I had an accident up a mountain in Wanaka. I was learning to ski that season, and my boyfriend at the time (a proficient skier) was racing a friend, on a snowboard, who was staying with us. I happened to be in the blind spot that both of them jumped into. My ex-boyfriend zipped past me, the snowboarder was not so lucky, and crashed directly into me from behind. My only memories of it are my ex zipping past, and then looking at sky hearing someone going nuts at my snowboarder friend. I landed on my back, on my bindings, which made for some interesting bruising, and didn't have a helmet on. 

A few hospital visits later and quite a bit of imaging, I was given a Philadelphia collar to wear for the next two months. It was determined after a ct scan that I had probably fractured my c1 vertebra - this is the first vertebra of your spine. Thankfully, there was no displacement; but to be on the safe side I was required to wear the neck brace for two months, at all times. 

In retrospect, the most difficult part of rehabilitating this injury was recovering my neck muscles after two months of immobility, but thanks to the support of my family, my ex-boyfriend, and my wonderful flatmates at the time, and probably my own bloody-mindedness when it comes to rock climbing, I gradually got better. 

Since then, I have always been more aware of my neck, but it's a fine line sometimes between being too aware and too cautious, or too stubbornly zealous. In the past five years, I've been learning to accept and acknowledge my limitations, not just neck-related, without letting them define me; and this is something I imagine I'll continue learning for the rest of my life.

In early April, I well and truly re-exacerbated my neck injury, mainly from exercising too much and getting slightly addicted to the endorphin rush of cycling to the salt water pool, doing an hour of my old swimming exercises, and following that up with a run along the beach before cycling home. Admitting that I am in pain is something I struggle to do, and on the day I finally did and went to the doctor for some effective pain relief, I also "actively witnessed" a near-miss incident between a pedestrian and a car by uni, and treated my seized muscles to some sideways whiplash. 

Recovering this time has been much more active, and involved physiotherapy with a physio I trust from the acute stage, and the endless patience from family members and friends around me has been truly invaluable. Pain can change your persona, and it takes really special people to understand that. I'm lucky for all the people who've given support, and who continue to give it.

I've never written here about emotional pain, and that's been a purposeful choice. I'm a writer, and for a long time I've written poetry as a means to express myself. Sometime in 2009, emboldened by encouragement by my Dad and sister, and from friends who already blogged like N, I started a blog where I share poems, called a pastiche. I called it "pastiche", because that was what it started as, but "pastiche" was taken, so it became "a" pastiche. 

At the beginning of 2011, two significant things happened. My best friend's mum Mary passed away on 4.01.11 after a long and brave battle with cancer. Two weeks later, my then-boyfriend of two years moved to Switzerland, and on the same day he left I started my first ever graduate job as a research assistant in a lab in Dunedin. Two months of strange, frustrating long distance communication later, we broke up.

In hindsight, it was impossible for me to separate my feelings of grief for Mary and my sadness on a relationship ending. Every time I felt the latter, I'd feel guilty because he was still alive, and Mary wasn't, and that was the tragedy. Mary was my other mother in so many ways. I don't think I'll ever not miss her, it's just that time changes how you miss a person. I'm not convinced it gets easier, either, perhaps more that you get used to bearing sadness with grace.

This blog, Maitland St Meals, started after someone I once cherished - the ex-boyfriend who supported me through my ski accident - took offence to a poem I wrote, and wasn't shy about telling me exactly how it offended him and what it made him think of me. I'm sure he had legitimate reasons I cannot possibly know for his reaction; but it made me question everything I had ever chosen to share, to read my words in a different light. It stopped me from sharing my poems online for a while, and soon after I changed lots of the settings on my poetry blog so now it appears more as a personal folio rather than a forum. I still go through cycles of self-doubt - and sometimes these cycles can be good to keep your feet on the ground. 

I've been so thankful for this blog and the comments people leave - it's served in equal parts me and you, I'm sure. That's because reading this blog (and I do read my old posts) reminds me how much I love food and eating and cooking and sharing food; and that's a comfort in times when it's hard to find the motivation to cook. 

Recently, that motivation to cook has been notoriously difficult. In November 2013, I found out, randomly, from Facebook that a good old friend of mine, AT, or Truesy as I knew him, passed away in July 2013, after a fighting brain cancer, just like Mary had. He was a great friend to me during my final years of high school, and I've got fond memories of taking him to my leaver's ball, and though we grew apart when I moved to Dunedin, we stayed in touch sporadically, as people often do. He grew up to be a paramedic, and while looking after the young pedestrian suffering from shock who I actively witnessed almost get hit by a car, they said through tears whilst walking to student health, "oh how do you know what to should be a paramedic or something," and later I thought, with a smile, about the great big cycles of the universe we cannot possibly hope to know. 

On the 4.05.14, another friend from our close-knit group of high school friends, Grace Yuki Kinsella, unexpectedly and tragically died in Japan. That's all the information we have. She was quirky and deadpan funny, and I miss her in ways I don't yet have the ability to describe. There were plenty of good times we shared. It's been somewhat of a comfort to imagine Grace and Truesy getting on like a house on fire somewhere beyond the sun, as they did at that (extremely over the top) leaver's ball. 

Throughout this past six months, I've been so lucky and grateful for other ways in which the universe has watched out for me - or at least, that's what its felt like. I'm still not sure what I believe in a spiritual sense and in many ways, I hope I never do because part of the privilege of being human is to wonder. There's two yellow tulips in a milk bottle vase by my bed, I've got a desk at an awesome underground studio in Dunedin, my lab work has progressed throughout this time, and I'm blessed with a great network of Dunedinites - the sort of people who, when their oven breaks, will bring over homekill venison steaks to cook at Maitland St and fill the house with cooking smells while J's away.

So life's been a bit hard recently, but that's okay. That's okay because I can still make haloumi from scratch, and two chocolate guinness cakes at night for an event the next day, and last minute "vegeree"- brown rice, caramelised onions, havoc chorizo, eggs, nuts, cheese, and something green, shared with friends T and T, and because there will always be more music to listen to. 

I went to Tiny Ruins on Saturday night, accompanied by friend A who took friend J's ticket at the last minute. It was the most unexpectedly delightful gig. The music was expectedly beautiful, and this song in particular made me think of grace yuki, whose middle name means snow in Japanese. It's definitely worth listening to the more recent releases too, where the additional instruments complement so well. The unexpected delight was in the intimacy of the venue, which encouraged and invited conversations that have left me intrigued; and I left that night feeling personally delighted that the ability to be intrigued by one conversation still remains possible. 

See you soon; and thank you, as always, for reading.


title from little bombs - aimee mann


images -
1. 9 January 2014, a pavlova by Grandma Jojo, transported to the beach by car, to celebrate my parents' 33rd wedding anniversary - it was a memorable dinner. 
2. Mayor Island, one of the many swims in January 2014, Waihi Beach. Kodak portra 160
3. Arranging onions sometime in February 2014. My trusty red digital took this. 
4. Rain on Bowentown, January 2014; Kodak portra 160. 
5. My Grandad Lawrie watching a sudden shower at the beach house. One of my favourite pictures of summer this year. Kodak portra 160, probably shot at 200. 
6. Kinloch, looking at the sun through a telescope. Ilford FP4 125, probably shot at 200 as well. 
7. Half moon, January 2014, Waihi; kodak portra 160
8. Reflections on a January 2014 evening at Waihi Beach; kodak portra 160