Gumboot

Jennifer the snail

I

Cobwebs are everywhere here, and spiders with ugly bodies and long legs. They hang curled up like closed umbrellas, then reanimate to trek across walls and blankets. The house is a rickety old thing that sits on a hill. The door is never locked. When the big earthquake comes, I don’t fancy this place’s chances, but last week’s shaking and rumbling didn’t bother me. Maybe I adapt too easily to my surroundings. The people who live here find the earthquakes scary.

The wifi password wishes death to the multi-millionaire landlord. The people who gather here talk about protests, stick and poke tattoos, dodgy hitch-hiking episodes and sex work. A collection of bangles conceals the words SLUT LIFE. Terms like genderqueer, fatphobia, cultural appropriation are known and used. Clothes come from op shops and chance discoveries in the street. Peggy Lee makes frequent appearances on the stereo. I drink vast quantities of genmaicha, make grilled cheese sandwiches and read Sexuality And The Stories of Indigenous People.

II

Variations on a theme:

I am on the other side of the planet (again). I am about as far away from home as I could be. Often, I don’t know how to start explaining to people what I’m doing or how it all came to be like this. I don’t have a long-term plan but I’ve gotten used to that and I know that it’s okay. I listen to music that links me up with past times and past places and sometimes I feel electric because of all the memories.

Things I probably shouldn’t write about:

My lifelong project of just Figuring Stuff Out. The self-betterment pep talks I have to give myself every so often, coming up with plans that involve the triumph of logic over emotional headfucks. The cringe – there remains no better word for it – that shows up whenever I look back on some usually tiny thing I did that I wish I’d handled differently. The notion, ludicrous and yet strangely compelling, that I’ve used up my allotted quota of action and romance and from now on it’s just going to be me, myself and I. (“You’re travelling,” people say, “it’s hard to meet people when you’re travelling.” I am unconvinced by their insight, seeing as I am meeting people all the goddamn time. But then I remember that even when I lived in one place and had a bedroom that saw an obnoxious amount of traffic, my travels rarely involved picking anyone up. I haven’t finished concocting a theory yet for why this should be the case but I’m wondering if it might be something to do with having more confidence when I’m on my home turf, maybe.) (There’s also this stupid age-related headfuck to go along with the above: this idea that nobody is interested because I am suddenly too old, even though nobody would guess my age if I didn’t tell them, but I’m not into hiding simple facts of my life, and if anyone really did have a problem they’d be welcome to fuck off: and yet, STILL.)

III

I drink in the park, get ID’d by the shopkeeper while buying a bottle of rosé wine that tastes like honey. It’s a day after my 34th birthday, my first summer birthday. I guess I now look half my age. My dad called me on my birthday. It’s hard to put into words how much that means now that my family feels so fractured.

IV

Memories fly up out of nowhere and hit me. A random selection, like clothes I used to wear, or the scent of my best friend’s skin twenty years ago. Recent weeks seem improbably distant, from small-town Georgia to the snowy mountains of Armenia, an airport terminal in the desert, the Sri Lankan coastline, and a day and a half in Kuala Lumpur. Once in New Zealand, earthquakes reached me groggy in the middle of the night, imagining for a few moments that a subway train had passed by underneath. I drove south in a free rental car, an automatic, picked up a couple of Chilean hitch-hikers on the way but neglected to stop for a juggler.

V

I go to a punk gig and drink cheap cider. “You’ve just come from Auckland?” says one girl to another. “I hope you got tested. They all have AIDS there. Ha ha.” I excuse myself to go and get another drink. I scrawl something in my notebook: “Maybe what is happening lately is the thoughts in my head are not getting shared in conversation and therefore they get lost.” The thoughts in my head are clearly pretty goddamn profound. Reading them sober, it crosses my mind once more that perhaps I have never shaken off my teen angst.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I feel so bad at social interaction lately. I ration my dealings with people, frequently sequester myself when the crowds get too big. I walk to the harbour to sit on a rock and stare at a jellyfish. I visit the library often. I reach the flying fox in Central Park just as the rain begins, and I note the regulars on Cuba Street. This city and the circumstances that led me here. It’s all a whirlwind, 2011.

VI

“Okay, this is my confession,” I wrote in my notebook, the day after Christchurch Zinefest. “That despite everything that’s gone on this year and before, I mean everything on this literal journey that I’m on,”

and then I got interrupted, and sat on the porch talking zines and politics with a succession of people in the sunshine while bees disappeared into holes in the armchair. What was my confession?

Mostly, I recall Ariel Gore’s Atlas Of The Human Heart and how she ran away to China and Tibet and Nepal and even then, in the middle of all the new experiences she was having – and she was so goddamn self-sufficient, and also she was sixteen – she’d obsess over all the dumb things she’d ever said and done, have them play out over and over again in her head.

I go back to the library, intending to spend a day re-reading the book, but it’s not there. Tuva Or Bust! is in the catalogue, but it’s not on the shelf. I read Emel magazine and Bitch magazine. I read Latasha Natasha Diggs’ essay The Black Asianphile in Everything But The Burden. “Dogon cosmology is as deep as Buddhism,” she writes, “but […] I will be long dead before it is referenced in a Sprite commercial.” I sit in the cafe and read a poetry zine. I find a Khaled CD for $1 in the library sale. I don’t want to acquire new things – my rucksack has mysteriously found its way from 12 kilos to 14 – but at that price, I can’t resist.

VII

When the punk gig ends I’m feeling antisocial again. The non-stop rain is illuminated in the street lights and I’m looking forward to the walk home because I like walking in the rain even when I’m not mopey. Most folks were drinking vodka tonight, so maybe when I make myself scarce my absence won’t be noticed. Making myself scarce has started to feel like a liberating thing, taking matters into my own hands and doing what feels best for me. But wait! I already made myself scarce from Berlin, from Edinburgh, from gainful employment, from all the settled stuff that 34-year-olds are supposed to have going on in their lives. And now I am making myself scarce in my day-to-day dealings as well! It’s all so goddamn profound.

6 responses to “Gumboot

  1. U hear ye, sister.

  2. Thank you for your posts. They are helpful to me, a stranger, halfway across the world.

  3. I love this whole post.

  4. Pingback: Scottish blog roundup: new thoughts cover old ground – Scottish Roundup

  5. I really enjoyed this post. I like to think that I write in a similar style, only in Finnish!
    This made me miss Wellington, and also made me want to take a walk in the rain.

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