The flank

Monday 9 June, 2014:

Monday. First of five days. And I can only think of one at a time, otherwise I’d bolt. It would be so easy, now that I’ve accepted there’s no possibility of squaring things at MC ever again.

But bolting isn’t useful.  For one thing, it won’t pay the bills. An equally important consideration is that it won’t buy me any time… and I need that time to adjust to my new circumstances.


I take 13 History to the library and monitor them; not even that – I just stay in the library to fulfill some minimum function. The most useful thing I do is intervene in a confrontation between another teacher and a student in his class. When I see that the boy is about to lose it completely. I go over and calmly draw him aside, and for some reason he comes with me, not knowing me at all.

Later, the librarian gives me a look and a nod, saying quietly, “I saw what you did, well done.”

It’s the only thing I do all day that could merit any praise at all.


Tonight I apply for a job  as an ‘Assessment professional’ at the City Mission. Comme ci comme ca. Tomorrow there’ll be another to apply for – I’m going to do one a day from now on. I’m not expecting to find my ‘dream job’; it doesn’t have to be a forever thing. But there’s got to be something.


Tuesday 10 June:

I think of Slade this morning. When I walk into my room before school, and shut the door with a gentle click, the whole space is redolent with memories, just quietly holding and waiting. And the smell of ironlak seems faintly imprinted on the air.

10 Social come in. They’re such a nice class.  I go round and try to act like a human being –  that’s all I want to do. It’s not much, but at the very least it’s genuine. I feel a wave of revulsion for school, and then a wave of tenderness for everyone who tries to make something out of nothing in this place.

I don’t have to fake the relationship side of things. That’s a normal part of my response, when I’m standing face to face with someone. But it’s no longer possible for me to fake the values (whether they’re the ‘soft’ values about character, or the ‘hard’ ones, the ones school uses to include some people and exclude others).


Wednesday 11 June:

Last night I just sink miserably off to sleep, as if I’m slowly submerging into a bog. I feel tears ooze out of my eyes.

This morning, the only little nice thing I can focus on is that I’ll get coffee, when I fill up at the gas station.


So I get to school, holding my takeout long black. But it’s all fronting. My mind is skidding about, alighting on all these stupid little annoyances… it’s cold; my feet are cold; got to get upstairs to the meeting… wait, better grab the chrome books first… and so on and so forth.

It’s the same just before I leave home. I’m trying to put out the washing in the cold and damp, feeling aggrieved that there aren’t enough pegs: Why couldn’t Tau just put the pegs back in the bag? And why isn’t there enough time this morning… and why am I so tired today?  And why do I have to go to work while everyone else gets to relax. It feels like payday for the whole freaking world, huh. Sheree gets to come over here and chill out at mine, like the dang queen of Sheba, and I have to go and pretend to be a teacher all day.

On and on and on… my head’s spinning, and I can barely breathe.  At some level I know it isn’t fair, to blame either Sheree or Tau for anything about this whole state of affairs. Tau would have rushed out to pull his washing off the line in the rain last night, of course he wouldn’t have even grabbed the peg bag. It’s not like he did it on purpose to annoy me. And as for Sheree: queen of Sheba hardly cuts it, poor bitch. It’s not a lot to ask – to spend a day with the boys, shouting them a feed, making herself a coffee. I just feel… I know it’s stupid but I feel jealous.

Everyone wants somewhere to be. Everyone wants someone to be with. It feels like everyone’s the prize, for someone. Everyone except me.


School goes ok, all things considered. I have a ‘moment’ when 11 History come in, like: Oh, really? I’m supposed to be teaching thirty kids about something, and they’re expecting it, just like usual. But then I have to bite the bullet and start my patter.

I can do it, you know. It’s not that I can’t. I simply can’t believe any of it, even the very little amount that I ever did. And I don’t want the authority of a believer.

After work I apply for my ‘job of the day’ again; this one is a family/whanau coordinator for some government-funded organization.  I have no experience in this kind of role, of course. It just seems like something that isn’t  totally outside the realms of possibility. And I guess that’s all I’m trying to do. Just open up the field of the possible.


The ‘peg’ thing seems funny again (not annoying anymore), by this afternoon. I tell Tau the story, and he chuckles at me, saying triumphantly, “And they’re all back in the bag now!’


Thursday 12 June:

Almost the minute I get home from work, I pick up a very faint vibe about… something. I don’t know what, and Tau doesn’t say anything out of the ordinary. But there is a very slightly suppressed quality to his voice – and I’m so used to these signals that it makes my radar go off straight away.

I don’t say anything – well not at first. But when he comes in to get a drink, and ‘busies’ himself in the kitchen, just a fraction more self-consciously than usual – then I can’t ignore it any longer.

“Tau?” I say, actually surprising myself by just wading on out there, heedless of past experience with this kind of thing. “Um… are you okay?”

“Yup Miss, I’m okay,” he replies, apparently quite straightforward.

“Oh, algood then,” I say, but for some reason I can’t help wondering aloud. ”Cos… I just thought something might have upset you.”

Tau turns and looks at me; I think he’s surprised too. Not surprised that I’ve noticed – but that I’ve openly brought it up. He says, “Ah Miss… I just got a little bit upset today, with my mum.

“Oh,” I say, and then, “Just wanted to make sure you were ok.”

“Algood,” Tau says. “My mum texted Vailea, and he rang me and we had a talk.”


I don’t press him any more about it. I’m not proud of what I’m thinking – which is that I’m just the everyday carrier, kind of like the pack-horse. The big guns get brought in to handle the important stuff: Vailea and Maxwell, soon as the alarm goes off. And I just keep bumping along on the flank.

I feel so ‘replaceable’, I guess. Anyone could do what I do. You know… get a few groceries, pay the rent. And I love Tau like I raised him. But I don’t make the call. Those who make the call, well – they can call who they choose.


Later (on the way to the tinny house), Tau tells me more about what happened. I don’t ask him, he just tells me.

Sheree ‘wasn’t listening’ – is how he puts it. He’d been trying to talk to her about things, and then he wound up upset with her himself. “I just hate seeing her like that,” he says, softly. “In a… a tense situation.”

“Like what?” I ask, wondering which way he means it.

“Feeling uncomfortable everywhere,” Tau says. “Not feeling comfortable anywhere.”

“Ohh,” I say, getting it. “Poor Sheree… it must be pretty tough.”

“And I suck at explaining stuff,” Tau goes on. “I was trying to help, but I got all mixed up, and started mumbling and stuttering. It’s always like that,” he finishes, with a big sigh.

“Oh man, Tau,” I say with feeling. “You know what? You’re pretty damn good at explaining stuff. You just don’t see it… yet.”

He looks at me a bit wonderingly.

“You’re doing great,” I say. “You don’t have to be perfect, Tau. It’s ok to slip up and get upset sometimes.”

“That’s what Vailea said, too,” Tau tells me.

“Yup,” I agree. “Well, he’s right.”


There’s a Family Group Conference on too, tomorrow. Vailea’s going with them.

And it’s good… it’s good to bring out the big guns in these situations. Professional advisers and advocates, with their professional distance, which stems from the powerful knowledge I don’t have. The training, and the experience, the networks – the reputation. And at the same time, they earn the most genuine respect and heartfelt gratitude.

I ferry us home, just like the workaday carrier that I am. Tau thanks me, and goes into the sleepout to be with Leroi. I come in and make a cup of tea. 



A dream of peace and plenty

Saturday 8 May, 2010: 

I’ve realised that I’m kind of ok about cooking again, but there’s honestly not a lot of satisfaction to be taken in it. It’s more like I have a bit of ‘quietude’ about it, nowadays. My opinion is that I’ve only a certain amount of energy to devote to all my pursuits. So I don’t want to waste too much of it on cooking.

There’s a logical sequence to my thoughts on the matter, which goes something like this.

1) Cooking has always been (for me) tied to a feeling of using whatever’s available; making something nice because of necessity and love, out of very limited resources. Often, I’ve felt like I’ve worked a trick – pulled something from where it was unavailable and made it come into existence. I’ve never been the least attracted to exclusivity or epicurianism – food doesn’t have those categories for me; I can use anything in pretty much the same way.

2) Cooking then is not so much a good in itself as much as it’s part of a strategy, you could say – but one which is also a necessity under certain conditions. It’s also been a way of controlling or training my bricoleur’s impulses and – however modest – talents. But of course, the danger also lies in sublimating them.

3) So I also want to know that I can thrive in any circumstances. I don’t want to be attached to a pleasing, or even a ‘nutritional’ food intake. I want to know for sure that I can survive in times of shortage; times of war. I feel uneasy about the idea of being dependent on a full store-cupboard, nor am I comforted by consistency, which I know is an unstable notion.

4) At the same time I’m under no illusion at all that anyone can function for too long without vitamins, minerals, fresh food. But I see no virtue in a routine which dispenses these things in some expertly agreed upon, socially acceptable, form. I don’t believe it’s more than ideology; to require a certain type of diet; to see it as a desirable good, to be modeled by those who have it, and acquired by those who do not

5) I write this out of experience, and this experience is my only claim of any significance. I can’t believe in the virtue of a sensible, or even a healthy diet, when all around me, I see it’s a luxurious fallacy. A dream of peace and plenty – which doesn’t exist anywhere but in the minds of the sentimental. My world has been turned upside down and shaken by the experience of solidarity with people who don’t have the luxury of sentimentality for one second. Hustlers who arrive at school each day without food or money, and who are patient, diligent, intelligent, opportunists. They know what they need to survive and they’re gonna get it; if not today, then tomorrow. Having developed a ruthless insouciance, and a crucial sense of timing, they’re not without shame at their own lack. But they can override it at the flick of a switch, and chase down any hint of a deal closing. I’m emotional but not sentimental about this: I’ve seen it, and I respect it, and I understand the special ‘coldness’ it sometimes confers on people. I don’t have a liberal bone left in my body – I feel like every last impulse towards that has, first, been completely unraveled – because of my own experience of lack, and then been entirely transformed – because just when I thought there was nowhere else to go, suddenly a gap opened and I found myself over the line and calmly welcomed by these renegades. If I thought I was a bricoleur, I got nothing on these seasoned campaigners.

And that’s why all I want to do is learn: how not to be afraid, how not to wear the shame you sometimes feel, how not to turn down an offer. How to maximize your opportunities; how to expand little crumbs of time and space, so that right under people’s noses, you can create something else out of what you find; what you’re given; what you take or hustle or stockpile.

And it’s also why I don’t care anymore about expending a lot of time or energy on what I think of now as practice for the very skills I’d need in these times. My funny training ground – and I didn’t even know it. For I always used to wonder: Why do some people have to struggle while others don’t? Why can’t I do this, no matter how hard I try?

And there were no rewards for being ‘good’: no end in sight, no lesson to learn; just all the way down… and then just before you crash, suddenly it all changes, and you’re somewhere else entirely. And there’s no way you can see it coming; you just have to take that split-second opportunity when it approaches, and it might be one thing or it might be another. It might be as calm and quiet a moment as any; so that it seems like just a little step, or it might be a pulling and a stretching like nothing you’ve ever imagined… but either way, you’re gone.