Thursday, 29 October 2015

The road to Hell

The event that ultimately led to this website’s inception was when I managed to deliberately orchestrate, through a conscientious application of my will, effort, imagination and belief, an outcome as improbable as changing the past. I figured if I was capable of pulling off a feat on that scale, then just about anything must be possible.

At the time of writing, I’ve endured some failures that have been so monumental, so cruel and so acute, I feel like some of that hubris has been bashed out of me. As a result, I am forced to revisit one of the assertions I initially made, and take a slightly meeker line with regard to the successes I tend to guarantee for anyone who chooses to apply themselves systematically toward their goals.

Nevertheless, I’m a resilient bastard, and not only am I getting through these adversities with my usual grim resolve and nuclear indomitability, but I also continue to stand by the underlying premise of the message I endeavour to share with the world.

That message is: if your life sucks, change it. Even now, after all my heartache and what amounts to a loss of god, my internal jury is still out on the subject of whether or not one can actually break physics. But irrespective of that, even if I end up concluding it really is impossible to regrow limbs, reverse ALS, or save a child from leukaemia, I believe I will maintain until the day I die that what we make of the difficulties life throws at us is overwhelmingly our own decision.

(And as an aside, I am convinced that it is only a matter of time before advances in medicine render the three examples above, redundant.)

I don’t want to be an angry man. I like myself better -- and I am more useful to others -- when I am blazing with happiness, clarity and empowerment. But if anger is the weapon I must use in order to survive my darkest hour, then that is what I shall wield. And when the battle is over, I will return that weapon to its resting place, radiating heat and stinking of cordite, and turn my inner eye to reflect on the path of destruction I have wrought through the barricades at the opposite border of Hell.

It was thanks to a song by Bruce Dickinson that I first became aware of the saying ‘the road to Hell is paved with good intentions’. I pride myself on taking a notoriously non-standard view of accepted beliefs, so it follows that my own interpretation of this aphorism is a variation on the usual themes.

Specifically, my take on it is that -- despite all the reams of reassurance that abound about everything turning out OK if you live well -- no amount of nobility, kindness, hard work, or belief in happy endings is going to save you from getting comprehensively fucked up at one point or another.

Such is the natural order of life, and even though it is certainly within one’s power to minimise the frequency and duration of one’s sojourns in the abyss, I don’t believe it is possible for anybody to avoid the left-hand highway altogether. Maybe the Dalai Lama can, I don’t know.

But that place doesn’t scare me anymore, because I have never failed to make it out in the end. Perhaps one day I won’t, but honestly, I doubt it. At this point, I think I’m just about eligible for dual citizenship -- even though heaven will forever be the first home of my heart.

And as has oft been said by many a sagacious traveller: the only path to heaven is the one that leads through Hell.

Please note: if you are curious about the song that lends its title to this entry, please listen to it on YouTube and buy it on Google Play or iTunes if you like it.

Friday, 13 March 2015

In praise of New Zealand’s people

New Zealand has such a legendary reputation as a country of unsurpassed natural beauty that I don’t see much point in repeating what you already know. That said, I would be remiss if I didn’t add my voice to the chorus and confess that I too have been utterly transfixed with wonder every single day that I’ve been here.

But meeting with and talking to the people who live here -- even in the fleeting, momentary interactions that a tourist has with locals -- has made an even more profound impression on me.

It is not my intention to boast when I say I have visited dozens of countries, I merely wish to underline that I have a solid base of comparison; my mother used to work as a diplomat, so I got dragged around all over the world during my younger years, and there was much less glamour about it than one might imagine. And while travel agents would have one believe that the people of every country in the world are exceedingly friendly toward visitors, this is not altogether consistent with my own experiences.

To be sure, the people of some nations are much kinder and more hospitable than others, but it is more than simply friendliness that moves me so deeply about New Zealanders in general and people with Māori heritage in particular.

The more sinister issues of alcoholism and gang hostilities that exist in this country were brought to global attention with considerable impact through the book and film Once Were Warriors, as well as its sequels, and I have no illusions that these aspects of New Zealand life are a troubling and persistent problem here. But until I sit down with some ‘average’ Kiwis and interview them rigorously, I have no way of knowing for certain how representative this depiction is.

While it would be dishonest to pretend such unpalatable realities do not exist, it would be even more unfair to view the majority of kind, forthcoming and incredibly welcoming people that I’ve met through the prism of the violent and unhappy picture that Mr Duff has painted.

I am consistently struck by a remarkable sense of stability, peace and harmony when I talk to people here. There is a friendliness and positivity about them that suggests a thoughtful respect for others, in stark contrast with the rapacious self-interest that typifies many inhabitants of my own country.

Just as one of many examples I could share with you: in a small-town pub* on a Friday night -- where there was much drinking and merriment going on -- even the most fearsome-looking and muscular gentlemen were the very personification of courtesy and friendliness. Everywhere I turn, there are countless little signs that the locals take pride in themselves, their culture and their surroundings, while also being considerate of others and taking responsibility for their own actions.

I am startled whenever I see graffiti here, because it is such a rarity compared to the default level of vandalism I’m used to. And I have not seen a single piece of litter thrown out mindlessly, anywhere, on the streets of any town or city I’ve been to -- the sole exception being a surf beach carpark which was visibly overrun with travellers.

The calmness and warmth that characterises the people of New Zealand resonates deeply with me, and reminds me of the idea that those who are happy have an instinctive compulsion to share their happiness with others. I’m sure a few of the people I’ve talked to were feeling a bit melancholy or annoyed, but they sucked it up and made the effort to smile as soon as they were greeted with a cheerful “Kia Ora!”

Such nobility is simultaneously humbling and inspirational, and above all it motivates me to follow the example that has been set and also be the best person I can.

*Special mention goes to the Muster Bar in Te Kuiti, where we were welcomed like royalty, enjoyed live music, received the finest personal service and were treated to a veritable banquet -- even though it was plain to see that we were just a bunch of dumb tourists.