Energy to Dance

For as long as I can remember, I’ve let anything mean and hurtful said to me stick.  I’m like a 5’5’’ strip of flypaper that has been hanging from the ceiling for 41 years. There is barely a space where there isn’t something, long dead, that I’m holding onto.

See? Over here by my eye are the vicious words of 11-year-olds who had learned, at the feet of their activist parents, that all white South Africans are racist and, therefore, this little white girl in a new country must hate them and their Maori skin. Their words are glued there by the thick spit that they lobbed at me before running away.

Woven between my toes, are pink ribbons from my dance teachers. “Such a beautiful point. Such expression. Graceful arms and rhythm.” The ribbons cut into the wounds caused by an overheard conversation; my mother to her friend. “She’s not going to be a ballerina. Look how she’s built.” Middle-aged hands held out indicating breasts and hips. Up until that point, I thought I was a ballerina.

Here, on my stomach, where I grew two babies, in a body that was barely adult, the cruelty of the man who said “well, at least I can close my eyes and remember what you used to look like.”  Those words are stuck there with breast milk and tears.

So, when, at a recent writers’ forum workshop, I asked a question and the answer was a personal attack, I immediately looked for a place to pop this one. I could see the words, typewritten, tapped out a letter at a time. I looked for a place to bash “where did you get your education, the internet?” into my skin.

But, I couldn’t find a permanent place for the humiliation, although I’ve tried.

It seems I’m full up.

So, I’m going to leave the words here because cruelty is cheap, easy and chickenshit. It doesn’t deserve my energy or engagement. (Brene Brown, page 21, “Dare to Lead”).

Besides, I’m going to need that energy for dancing.

Wait Here

“Why did you scream like that?” I asked, my voice wobbly with a fright-giggle. Jay’s scream was loud, right in my ear, and was set off by the click of a door closing behind us.

The waiting space we had been left in was a shipping container. It was cold and the bench seats hard. The scent of pine permeated everything as if someone had sprayed it from a can. Instead it was wafting in from the magnificent vista outside where a deep ravine cut through the middle of dense green. 

“I can’t believe you convinced me to do this.” He dropped his face to his hands. “You’re the worst friend ever.”

“Bollocks, you love it.” I jostled him with my elbow. When he was weighed, as part of the booking process, I told him that being light was better. I had pictured his thin body in flight. He’d be like a bird, I told him. But when the sharp corner of my arm met his ribs, he felt more like blown glass.

“He said I could stop at any time. You heard him, right?”

“Yeah. But then this afternoon, they’re going to put nuclear waste into your veins and you’ll be happy you did something a bit more interesting today.”

“It’s not nuclear waste.”

“May as well be.”

He sat, head still in his hands. His breathing went deep down and then left his body with a little whimper.  “I’m scared.”

The container became an echoing chamber of all the things he hadn’t done yet. It vibrated with lost opportunities and a future which was as hazy as the layer of cloud we came through on the drive up.  It resonated right into the parts of me which want to take life and shake all the unfairness out of it. Drop it all down that ravine, the way we were going to but without the coming back.

I was doing this for fun.  He was doing it because time was running out.

Mac, who booked us in, opened the door letting a gust of cold mountainous air in. “Ready?”  His face was ruddy, his eyes clear. He looked like someone who was on top of his game. Vital and full of life. Exactly the kind of person you want to be in control of a life-and-death situation.

Jay stood, not with the creaking bones of someone fighting a war in his very cells, but with sudden determination.  “Let’s do this.”

Jay wanted to go first and so they left me at a thick yellow line which ran the width of the bridge. WAIT HERE. NO CROSSING UNLESS WITH STAFF.

Adrenaline had taken the strength out of my legs and I leaned hard against the rail, my palms slick, my heart beating out a staccato rhythm.

Mac strapped the bungy cord to Jay’s ankles, double and triple checking it for comfort and security. Jay’s face got whiter and whiter. His hands were shaking, hard, as he signed the final consent.

Mac led him out onto the platform. Jay shuffled to the edge, closer, closer, then his toes were hanging over in space.

I wanted to say he didn’t have to do it. He didn’t have to prove anything. I was wrong to suggest this. I wanted to say it’s okay to not be okay. But his focus was on the ravine, the fall, and the flight, ahead of him and I was stuck here at the “wait” line, useless.

All I could do was watch as Jay turned his palms upward, lifted his face to the sky and let himself go.


Death Becomes Her

If you wanted to set your life on fire, there wasn’t a better combination. You, me and Life.

You saw me and, at the same time, you were disgruntled with Life. Or bored with Life. Or perhaps you were just content with Life. But we both knew that Life was the problem.

Life was the innocuous guest at the party. The one who sipped her drink and used a napkin under her finger food. The one who talked about the weather and her garden and allowed you to talk about yourself. Life was the one who would show up for work the next day.

Life didn’t make you want to rip apart your skin to see where the truth of your soul hides. That’s where I came in. Life didn’t realise how much she needed me. Neither did you.

Near Death.

Certain Death.

Death Wish.

Death’s Door.

I’ve been called all of those but for you I was Death Becomes Her.

I work the party better than Life ever did. I offered you a fourth drink even though your car waited outside. I was the voice which said the condom wasn’t needed. I tickled your throat with the cigarette you took outside under the stars.

I don’t wash ever my hands.

I watched you as you drank your morning coffee and scrolled through the news of tsunami in a place far away. I was in the backseat of your car as you clicked your seat belt into place. I was there when a man took his life and used it against you. But you snuggled up with Life, the two of you curled together in that tiny space in time, your eyes averted from the darkness of me and my eternity.

Every now and then, Life would let you look toward me. She allowed you to see me in the eyes of a friend as cancer invaded his body. She played you my song in the wail of an ambulance. She knew I waited in the pages of your photo albums.

But her attention span was short and so was yours.

You needed the reminder, not the finale. Not yet. You felt the light brush past you. The lump in your left breast was benign.

You needed to know that it ends so you can set Life on fire. Because Life is not finished with you yet.  

Besides, the chicken wings at this party are delicious.


Birth Notice

“There’s a lady at the door, Grandma.”

The telephone was screwed to the wall. I pulled its twisty cord, as far as I could, to see who the three-year-old had been talking to.


Hospital hold music played Opus Number One.

“The lady said there’s something wrong with Mommy’s baby.”  

I dropped the phone and ran.

But when I opened the door, nothing was there. 



This Little Miracle Maker

I was certain I was an adult when, twenty-three years ago, I decided to tackle life on my own. I threw clothes in my car and abandoned the rest of my things in my childhood bedroom. I didn’t move out. I left.

Basically, it’s been downhill from there on the scale of how sure I am of my status as an adult.

Until yesterday, when I realised my chilli plant has three chillies growing on it.

Sure, I have raised two children to legal adulthood. But my instinct to keep a child alive is far stronger than my instinct to keep a plant alive. Besides, children tell you when they’re hungry, cold, wet, thirsty. They demand care and attention. They give you feedback with smiles and hugs. They make you cute cards for your birthday and write you emails like “Dear Mummy. What are you thinking about? I’m thinking about ponies.”

Pot plants, standing quietly in the corner, will die in silence; desperate for someone to actively give a damn. 

I seemed unable to sustain caring about a plant long term.  As an admonishment for my immaturity and neglect, I would leave dead pot plants in place for months; a brown and shrivelled reminder that all this is just a facade.  I wanted the look of house plants without the work.

Outdoors was no different. I used to tell people my garden was “survival of the fittest” as an excuse for the tangles of weeds. Then I decided self-acceptance was the key to being grown up and I moved onto “I don’t do gardening”. My allergies backed my statement up.

I adopted the chilli plant from my partner, Mike, who got it as a present. It was in the way on our kitchen bench, an annoying twig stuck in some dirt. I shuffled the damned thing around the kitchen day-after-day unwilling to throw away someone else’s gift.

I don’t know why I started to water it.

Then New Zealand’s record-breaking summer of 2017/18 arrived. With the life-giving action of sunlight and water, the chilli plant began to grow.

One day, seemingly out of nowhere, chilli had more than just leaves.  A fat finger of green had appeared. It was almost the same size as the plant. It was an impressive feat of plant magic.

When we used the chilli in a meal, Mike saved the seeds “in case the plant dies.”  

No way was this little miracle maker going to die on my watch.

Since then, I have re-potted her twice and watered her with care and attention. I take her outside when it’s calm and warm. I’ve been known to stroke her leaves and say “You’re the most beautiful chilli.” She has tripled in size.

And she has grown three more chillies!


I’ve also added to my plant collection.  Ferns crouch in the bathroom. A decorative bamboo decorates my meditation corner. Peace lilies soften the living room, which has limited natural light. A number of other pot plants dot the house. Outside, I have two planter boxes with tulips, freesias and wildflowers. My plant care regime has become quite involved.

Some might say that I am preempting the empty nest.   

I’m sticking with it being proof I’m on the road to being an adult.


Beach House Waffles

“An adult polar bear can eat 60 kilograms of food at a single sitting,” my 10-year-old son says from his seat at the dining table. The annual beach house waffle breakfast is in its third year and we could have invited a polar bear to join us and still roll away stuffed to the brim.

“I want the first waffle.” His 8-year-old sister is used to getting what she wants. Those big brown eyes sucker everyone in. She waves a butter knife at the waffle iron as it warms up next to my place setting. “I haven’t had the first one, like, ever.”

“I think Mum should have the first one because she does all the work.”

“Suck up.” She sticks her tongue out at him.

“Selfish baby.”

I release the deepest sigh through small lips so no one would hear my frustration. “The first one or two always come out wrong. We’ll split them between the dogs.”

“Yeah, the dogs will get the first ones.” The agreement comes from the other adult at the table.

Their step-father.

Never one to venture an opinion I haven’t already voiced, he uses the tone of “yeah, you guys” like a playground taunt from the most irritating child in class. Instantly on the same side, the children roll their eyes. The little one glares at him for a moment, but he is looking at his phone, so she sticks her finger in the bowl of fresh cream, waggles it at her brother and mouths, “Yeah.”

The morning air is taut between the adults. Too much alcohol had fueled snarky words the night before. His perpetually hovering parents are calling him back to the family business. I am sulking at the early demise of our holiday. My desire to avoid “real life” is strong. The cracks are showing, and I am filling them with waffle batter.

“Stop it, you two.” The girl flashes those eyes, full of fire and mischief, at me.

“Sorry, Mum.” My son tries to hide his grin.

As I pour mugs of strong coffee and tumblers of fresh orange juice, I imagine myself wearing a crisp, clean apron, rather than my flour smeared yoga pants with a grubby tea towel slung over my shoulder. I imagine myself in control.

The waffle iron is flower-shaped and each petal is a love heart. It only makes one waffle at a time. It slows the process and drags out breakfast time, which is exactly why I love it. I swipe greased paper over the hot halves of the iron. They sizzle, sending up a heady, buttery smell.

The sign breakfast can start.

I ladle the batter, fluffy with egg whites, into the lower half and then close the top gently. I hold my breath and hope the mixture won’t ooze out the sides. Any extraneous mess, of any kind, makes the clean-up crew grumpy—and by clean-up crew, I mean the other adult—who is still bowed over his phone.

A little poof of steam indicates the first waffle is ready; light, fluffy, yet crisp on the outside. It is the rare, perfect first waffle. I divide it into four hearts and drop two each on the children’s plates. They contemplate the toppings; strawberries, fresh whipped cream, passionfruit, crispy bacon, syrup, honey or jam. They both give a piece of waffle to the dogs.

The bacon disappeared first. The girlchild ended up with cream on the tip of her nose. Jam blobs dot the table. Honey and syrup makes little fingers sticky. The process is warm and delicious.

It is the last day we would be together at his family’s beach house. It was the beginning of the end, but we didn’t know that yet.

A couple of years later, I decide to empty the storage unit which I filled when I took the children and left the marriage. The first box I open contains miscellaneous kitchen utensils I’ve managed to survive without. The waffle iron is at the bottom. It has been unused since that holiday.

The clean-up crew had overlooked it, and packed it away dirty. Micro-systems of mould have eaten away at the batter remnants and the surface of the iron. As I scrub and scrub at it, I feel all the pain associated with facing a sham of a marriage. Like me, it is pock-marked with the permanent damage of carelessness.

It hits the bottom of the wheeli-bin with a terrible, final thud.

This year, my son, now a 20-year-old, took me out for breakfast for Mother’s Day. When I order the waffles, he says, “I knew you’d get waffles. Remember our waffle breakfasts?”

I can only nod. I am desperate to believe they had good childhoods, that the ugly didn’t seep out like over-ladled batter.

“Do we still have the waffle iron? I loved those breakfasts. Such fun times. We should do that again.”

As we leave the restaurant, our bellies over-full, he says, “Did you know that a polar bear can eat 60 kilos of food in one sitting?”

I squeeze his hand. “Who would get the first waffle if I buy a new iron?”

“The dogs, of course.”

“No, I should. Because I do all the work, you know.”

He shout-laughs. “Yeah, but the first one or two don’t work out well. You’re better to have the third one. The first nice one.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

This personal essay was written for the YeahWrite SuperChallenge #9.  The prompt was “comfort food”.  

The Cloak of Expectations


The Cloak of Expectations is draped around my shoulders. I imagine it like a roughly sewn patchwork quilt in a mass of colour. Some patches are there due to the societal expectations of my race and gender . My parents’ unfulfilled dreams are woven into the fabric. The majority of the pieces, however, I stitched together myself. At the start of my fifth decade, I have begun to resent the way it is part of everything I do.

I am acutely aware of carrying others’ expectations and this has informed a lot of my parenting. My son’s father expected his offspring would be a rip, shit or bust rugby player with a willingness to hurt or be hurt in order to win the game. As any 5-year-old child would be, our son was keen to hang out with his friends and run around. At his first game, instead of chasing the ball with the cluster of other kids, he stood alone at the one end of the field, pretending he was Buzz Lightyear. This was not a welcome development. His father unleashed his expectations on the car ride home. “You let your team down.”

When our girl came along, her father didn’t have those same expectations for her, even though she was more likely to play rugby as the more athletic of the two children. Being subject to expectations which differ to our male counterparts is something most women have experienced.

The mid-1980s was when I began to understand there were expectations on girls. In an effort to boost the economy the New Zealand government launched an initiativeGirls Can Do Anything! – encouraging women to work in male-dominated fields. Posters dotted Christchurch city and stickers were given out at school. Barbie even got on the bandwagon with her power-suits which transformed into glittery evening wear.

Being a baby feminist, I didn’t want a Barbie but instead attended a girl’s empowerment course in a drafty church hall. The course included self-defence. We were encouraged to yell as we dealt to our imaginary aggressors. “Nose (punch), throat (punch), solar plexus (punch), balls (punch).” Then we all cried, “Girls can do anything!”

This slogan became one of my core ideals, and it has added hefty weight to my cloak – because I forgot, or no one thought to tell me, to unstitch some of the other panels when I added my “do anything” pieces. No one said I could choose between parenting and a career. No one ever said “Don’t worry about the gym; you already have enough on your plate.” No one, who I don’t pay, has ever done the housework just because it needs doing and they live in the house, too.

I never allowed myself to think it would be okay to do less than everything.

So, as a result, I work full-time and, at the weekends, I mow the lawns and drywall the house. I actively parent my children and have done so for twenty-one years, which equates to more than half my life. I am in a happy relationship, which takes work because the happily-ever-after requires juggling a ton of expectation. I have done bodybuilding and race-walked marathons. Now, I walk to work just to keep active and feel guilty it’s not enough. I plan for holidays, Christmas, birthdays and the future. At one particularly busy time, I was studying for my degree by correspondence and working four jobs.

The message I internalised is very clear, “If you want to claim to be able to do anything, you better damn well be prepared to do everything.” Admitting I love a clean home and a crisply ironed shirt is tantamount to betrayal without the corporate job and ability to hammer a nail.

I often wonder what would happen if I were to hang my cloak on a hook by the front door and leave it there. No sooner have I started this imaginary life than the expectations begin to line up.  Well, you would still have to work because you need the money. The kids didn’t ask to be born, so suck it up because it is a commitment you can’t just give up. Your lovely relationship? You aren’t in a fairytale, princess. And, come on, do you really want to live with a toilet with a stain at the water line?

So, as I change the sheets, I think about the payroll issue I need to solve. As I cook dinner, I plan the upcoming meeting with a contractor for our renovations and midway through, remember I need to book my annual physical. I worry about my children while I write emails to family overseas.

I am relentlessly tired.

I have looked at this issue from a variety of perspectives in a futile bid to carve out some down time: feminist activism, minimalism, self-help, gratitude, meditation, and I have occasionally resorted to 360-degree, head spinning, maniac ranting. I know that other women, like Courtney Carver, have written about how to stop glorifying the word “busy” and how to be okay with “good enough”. I want to know if other women simply crave a silent room where food magically appears and nobody needs anything done.

No theories or approaches have worked to negate the hard wiring of Girls Can Do Anything!  

I hope, for my daughter’s sake, a time is coming where women are supported for making choices rather than just doing it all. Where the choice to stay home with children is as legitimate as working.  Where it is okay to say you don’t care about where the oil goes in the car. Where we can admit that having it all isn’t the same as being fulfilled.

I have a feeling when that time comes, however, I’ll be on the couch, catching up on the sleep I missed with my cloak of expectations on the floor beside me.



This piece placed first in the YeahWrite SuperChallenge #9.

The prompt was the line “This was not a welcome development.”

Withstanding Nostalgia

Packed away, beautifully framed, is my Media with Expressive Arts degree. For four years I studied for that piece of paper while raising two children and working full-time. As a result of all that work, I watch films and television series with a critical eye and a reasonable understanding of the theories behind film making. It improves my film and television experience.

Which is why I was flummoxed when I couldn’t stomach the latest remake of a classic story. The emotive response was so strong it overwhelmed the theory.

I loved the mini-series, Anne of Green Gables (1985), before I read the books. To me, the televised version of the story was the original and despite having read the books multiple times over, I admit, a little ashamedly, I still do.  So, I was excited at the prospect of my favourite characters coming to life again on Anne with an E (2016). Written and co-produced by Moira Walley-Beckett (from Breaking Bad fame), the remake has had a two series run. A third is in the pipeline.

Until Anne with an E, I believed remaking films was a valuable way of keeping stories alive and allowed for continued discussion of important themes. I believed creativity can be found in deconstructing existing works and putting them back together to create something new.

Even something better.

But, despite all my knowledge and academic reasoning, I made it through a only a handful of episodes before abandoning the first series.  

I didn’t like this Anne Shirley. How was that possible?

I have now realised nostalgia beats out any special effects or divergent story lines, no matter how cleverly done.

On the surface, a version of the iconic story which includes bold feminism, LGBTQ rights, and characters of colour, would be a welcome way to retell the tale of an orphaned girl who arrives in Avonlea in 1876 to live with the aging Matthew and Marilla.  But, if you’re going re-make any beloved tale, you need to have an understanding of your source material and a love of the original. Without these factors as a foundation, the reconstructed product will never stand up to the nostalgia of the original experience. At least not for long enough to become worthy in its own right.

Anne with an E doesn’t deliver on either of the foundational factors. It diverts so far from the centre of what made the original story great that is it barely recognisable.

Rather than a place for hope and inspiration, Avonlea is a hotbed of intolerance and misogynistic beliefs with some physical violence thrown in. Gone is the positive heart which made Anne Shirley so delightful. In its place is a PTSD-induced darkness which drives her behaviour. All the characters have an edge to them and many characters display an outright nasty streak.

As a prime example, the remake takes the theme of feminism and uses shock-value tactics, like the sexualisation of preteens, to highlight it.

Walley-Beckett does not seem to realise Anne was already a feminist. She went to university. She wanted a career. She walked ridge poles, rowed boats and she found kindred spirits in other strong women. She wasn’t focussed on marriage and babies or being the perfect, quiet, genteel girl. She understood society expected compliance but being true to herself was more important. She was a disrupter of the patriarchal norms and she was good at it. She didn’t have to discuss the sexual arousal of the school teacher to be “woke”.

Remaking a film to show its dark underbelly doesn’t have to be disappointing.

A remake which honors the original, knows the characters and yet disrupts the predicted narrative is The Dark Knight (2008). Like the Anne remake, it darkens the fictional world far beyond the originals and it does so with a deftness which continues to resonate ten years later.

Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) was my introduction to the caped crusader. I rented the VHS tape from the store many times and watched it at sleepovers and on rainy Saturdays.The soundtrack, by Prince, had chart success and The Joker, played by Jack Nicholson, uttered the iconic quote “Ever dance with the devil by the pale moonlight?” which still sends shivers down my spine.

In The Dark Knight, director Christopher Nolan, took a deliberate step away from the cartoon-esque, two dimensional characterisation of previous iterations of the stories. The Joker, played by Heath Ledger, became not just disfigured bad guy, but a deeply disturbed threat who revels in chaos. He took that pale moonlight and flooded the whole of Gotham with it. It is also a go-to movie for lazy weekends.

The social commentary in The Dark Knight is carried by Ledger’s version of The Joker. Being a flawed human in a system which doesn’t seem to care is something most people can relate to.  “People call me a villain, a monster, but they forget that they’re monsters, too. I’m just being honest and accepting what I am, they don’t.” The wider commentary on the war on terror,  in post 9/11 America, were confronting but not alienating to the audience. This is due to the creators truly understanding and appreciating the source of their material and adding relevant discourse.

The remaking of a film or television series can be a way to pay homage, to test creativity and to explore parts of a story left untold in the original. Nostalgic audiences have contributed billions to the financial success of these retelling endeavours. Those same audiences, however, will be unforgiving if the proper care isn’t taken by writers, directors and producers to ensure what makes an original great, isn’t lost in the translation. The power of nostalgia is far-reaching.

Tonight, I am going to unpack my degree, put it somewhere prominent and sit my nostalgic, unforgiving self on the couch to watch the original Anne of Green Gables.




This piece was originally written for Round 2 of the Yeah Write Super Challenge.  It has had feedback tweaks completed in this iteration.