The Neighbour’s Son

Jamie the neighbour’s son came over last night. Well, he skated past while I was chopping kindling out the front. He called out “Hey Jules”, and came up the drive. Obviously something on his fourteen-year-old mind. Turned out his mum is in hospital with pneumonia and his dad — Daryl — was in there with her, as moral support. There’s a shadow on her heart and they’re going to operate to find out what it is. She’s had cancer once already.

They’re messed up people, Daryl and Loraine, but they do right by Jamie. They’ve taken the route in life — forced to by circumstances I expect — of working hard rather than overcoming their emotional difficulties. As a result, they drink a fair bit, smoke a lot of tobacco (wacky and not), have the messiest yard in the street, and leave Jamie on his own a bit more often than he perhaps needs from them. But he loves them. He’s a solid kid with a lot of love inside. Most of his days he spends down at the river fishing or BMX-ing around. His dad encourages him as much as he can by taking him and his school friends with their rubber dinghy to the fishing spots he knows from his own childhood. When he’s not working both weekend days that is. I know all this from conversations I’ve had and overheard, in that suburban way.

Thinking of Jamie and all the unguided worry he’s dealing with, made me realise how much one can cope with if they have a bit of nature in their lives. Reckon that’s something I’m missing a bit. Could do with some kind of activity that takes me into the interactions of birds and trees, insects, flowers, rabbits and sheep. Leaves, branches and good solid earth. Yeah, even in winter. What would that be, though? These days all the professions are bastardised by machinery and radios playing The Rock FM and contracts and profits and deadlines. Forget that shit.

I had a childhood surrounded by nature — even after we moved into the city from the country, our house had a small orchard of twenty-five fruit trees. As a child I was always outside, except if it was raining or snowing — then I was only half the time outside. Making dams in the gutter. Slipping around in the paddocks. Playing in the sandpit on sunny days. Climbing trees. Trampolining. Camping in the backyard, or further afield. Walking all over the Port Hills, walking to friends’ homes up and down the steep winding stairs and streets of Lyttelton. We were poor (my mum raised four kids on her own) but I was happy.

Once I left home it felt like it was all over. Everything I’d loved suddenly became a luxury I couldn’t afford. Unless you pursue it into adulthood, learn to make it work for you, create money through doing the same things you’ve always loved. Right?

Well, that hasn’t worked for me either so far. No one’s going to feed me to climb trees unless I’m cutting them down. Or unless I’ve a doctorate degree in botany that’s been written on cut down trees. No one’s going to feed me to walk through the hills unless I’ve got a goal. A destination. Or an audience.

It becomes a profession.

Growing up is so fucking overrated.

One by one as they occur


As I worked my way through a ten year career as a software engineer, each trip to the office was accompanied more and more by a sense of regret for what I’d set aside to step into those high-powered cubicles.

The seeds of this regret were sown by my ignorance of life’s transience. I had taken the blessings in my life for granted and unwittingly traded them in. For the innocence I surrendered in order to “get ahead”, I was compensated only with mechanics and logistics.

It’s not just the dryness of programming tasks. It’s the detachment of busy-ness. Doing fifty, sixty hour weeks, again and again, we begin to acknowledge our joys only when they get in the way. We forget that one day they will be gone. We do things that encourage them to leave even faster.

I only saw my son when he needed feeding.

We scour them with our rushed decisions, life scours them and sours them for us. And when it does, we tell them out of hyperwhelm “not right now” and like troopers they soldier onwards and we want to say “wait, I was wrong, come back,” but we are too proud, unwilling to recognise how lost we truly are, and so we daren’t say it loud enough or soon enough to make a difference.

I could see the pattern forming before my itchy, tired eyes: necessarily they move on. Reluctantly, but with a growing confidence, and when they look back they see a path, straight as fate, paved with yellow bricks, and they think “I’m happy with who I am, I’m glad it happened like that, it all turned out for the best”; but we won’t help thinking “I wish I could’ve made that better for us all” once it’s too late.

Fuck that shit, I believe was my general thinking process, as I resigned my contracts and ceased trawling for new ones. I won’t abandon my joys, or my loved ones. Watch me abandon the departure every morning, the late arrival home instead. Abandon the grind that processes my life into monetized units.

It’s not been a materially successful decision. I wasn’t aiming for that. What I was aiming for, was a life lived in recognition of the moments, one by one as they occur. Fitting material needs around recognition of heartache. In holding a space for loving life so much, while knowing that one day I will be gone.

The doctors call it burn out, there’s talk of “recovery”. So that I can get back that 75k per year I’m missing out on.

Whatever. If I only live another thirty seconds, I will die knowing that I was doing what mattered most to me. And that knowledge is not, any longer, for sale.