Feature: A Bare Necessity

As time passed, Walker started to enjoy her enforced stillness – a novelty for a parent of two small children.
Robert Kitchen/Fairfax NZ

My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 was to pose nude for a life drawing class and write about it. The resulting feature was published online and in Your Weekend magazine on 24 March 2018. Excerpt below and you can read it here.

 

It was a painting by Jacqueline Fahey that finally inspired me to take all my clothes off in a room full of strangers.

Her work Final Domestic Exposé: I Paint Myself depicts the artist nude (body looking much like mine does these days), surrounded by the detritus of her life as an artist and mother – dirty clothes, children, food, gin bottles, medications, paint brushes. I loved it on sight, and I took it as a challenge. If I really thought of my body as beautiful, then why not offer it to artists?

Let them make art from the body of another mother in the middle of the chaos.

Fixin’ to Write: An experiment in “found” writing

In July 2017 my writing group started a collective blog on the creative process called Fixin’ to Write. Each week one of us posts about our experiences of finding creativity in everyday life. Here’s my fourth post for the blog, an experiment in “found writing” inspired by Catherine Chidgey’s The Beat of the Pendulum. It was first published on 22 February 2018.

Due to a recent tweak in my insomniac four-year-old’s bedtime routine, I now spend hours each night sitting outside her room waiting for her to fall asleep while answering the questions that run through her head while she winds down: “Mum, what’s a fawn?” “How do you spell poison?”

It’s painful, but at least it affords me some reading time, and as a consequence I’m churning through the books at the moment. One of the latest is The Beat of the Pendulum by Catherine Chidgey.

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Fixin’ to Write: Getting Naked

In July 2017 my writing group started a collective blog on the creative process called Fixin’ to Write. Each week one of us posts about our experiences of finding creativity in everyday life. Here’s my third post for the blog, about my New Year’s resolution to pose nude. It was first published on 28 December 2017.

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but in 2018 I would really like to take my clothes off in front of a room full of strangers.

Continue reading “Fixin’ to Write: Getting Naked”

Fixin’ to Write: On writing with a newborn

In July 2017 my writing group started a collective blog on the creative process called Fixin’ to Write. Each week one of us posts about our experiences of finding creativity in everyday life. Here’s my second post for the blog, about writing with a newborn baby. It was first published on 16 November 2017.

I didn’t keep a journal when my first daughter was born four years ago. For the first week, my partner and I kept a notebook recording details of feeds, nappy changes, and the odd piece of commentary: “Day 3: a no good, terrible, horrible, very bad day”; “Day 5: first parental fight, re dates.” Dates the dried fruit, or dates on a calendar? Four years later, I have no idea, and the notebook is no help. Soon after it stops altogether.

Continue reading “Fixin’ to Write: On writing with a newborn”

Fixin’ to Write: A writer’s work is never done

In July 2017 my writing group started a collective blog on the creative process called Fixin’ to Write. Each week one of us posts about our experiences of finding creativity in everyday life. Here’s my first post for the blog, about the experience of actually finishing a book, and what happens next. It was first published on 24 August 2017.

My first book came out two months ago.

I’d always imagined I would write a book one day, but in that way you do when you’re not actually writing. As long as I wasn’t trying, I could cling to the fantasy that at some unspecified future date, when the stars and planets aligned, I would sit down and bust out the Great New Zealand Novel.

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A whole good day: When parenting finally feels like you thought it would

This essay was originally published on The Spinoff on 29 November 2016.

On the day my daughter turned three, a man gave me a chopping board. It was a lovely chopping board, made from caramel-coloured blocks of recycled rimu that had been glued together and clamped in a vice. The man had made it himself. He brought it over to my house in the afternoon, along with a miniature Pinky bar for my daughter, Esther.

I met this man about five years ago, when I was first running for Parliament. He was the chair of the local peace group, and hosted a debate for the candidates. Later he became a dedicated campaign volunteer. He was kind and generous, and donated several of his chopping boards to fundraising auctions. After I left Parliament, earlier than I had planned, he asked if he could gift me one as a token of support and appreciation. It took me almost three years to follow up and accept his offer.

Continue reading “A whole good day: When parenting finally feels like you thought it would”

The Mervyn Thompson Affair: What a 32 year old controversy can tell us about the Chiefs scandal

First published on The Spinoff on 15 September 2016, part of its week-long coverage of the Mervyn Thompson Affair – the strange, powerful 1984 incident when six women abducted an Auckland university lecturer, chained him to a tree in Western Springs, and labelled him a rapist.

I think the six women who abducted Mervyn Thompson had a grand plan. As well as enacting vigilante justice on him for his alleged crime, I think they hoped to shock the country out of complacency about rape and sexism, and force a culture change. In light of a police and court system that responded inadequately to victims of sexual violence, and deeply ingrained sexism in New Zealand society, perhaps they convinced themselves that violence was the only rational response.

Thompson became a symbol, chosen because of his high-profile and respected status as a playwright and lecturer, to stand in for all men – or at least all rapists. It was a brutal invitation to see things from a victim’s perspective: men, imagine if this happened to you. It’s how many women feel, all the time.

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How podcasts saved my life, then nearly destroyed it

First published on The Spinoff on 2 May 2016.

I was having a rough time. My partner was sick and we had a small child. I was working full time, and doing most of the domestic work too. Our daughter was not a “good sleeper”, and the most reliable way to get her to nap during the day was to take her out for a long walk.

Between working, walking, and washing dishes, nappies and clothes, it was hard to catch a break. My days felt relentless, from the moment I woke until I collapsed into bed (too late) at night. While there was no question that I would do what I must to support my partner and daughter, I wasn’t particularly selfless about it. I missed my old self, the spontaneity and freedom I’d had when things were easier. It was easy to feel resentful, especially as I dragged myself up after finally putting our daughter to sleep each night, only to make a start on the dinner dishes that had piled up in the sink.

The first few times friends linked to season one of Serial, I ignored it. I tend to be a late adopter. But after a while it was unavoidable: people whose taste I trusted and admired were going nuts for this thing. I downloaded the first episode, plugged in my earphones as I set about loading the dishwasher, and was hooked.

Continue reading “How podcasts saved my life, then nearly destroyed it”

You never regret a swim

This essay first appeared on The Wireless on 12 February 2016.

You never regret a swim. It was our mantra, a code for the way we would live our lives and define our relationship. We preached it to others. I used to imagine giving interviews and being asked, “What’s one piece of advice you would give to a young person starting out today?”

“You never regret a swim,” I would say. “That’s something to live by.”

Practicing what we preached, we swam everywhere. Midwinter in the Marlborough Sounds, breath steaming as we ran down the hill to the pontoon. In Cook Strait at the bottom of our street when we lived in Island Bay, chests seizing up from the cold. In a park in Switzerland, floating down the river with naked Europeans before clambering out to do it again. I nearly lost my engagement ring this way (back when I still took it off); Dave did lose his greenstone. But we didn’t regret the swim.

We made others come too. When my brother stayed with us for a week before starting an Outward Bound course, Dave dragged him down to Petone wharf every morning and heaved him over the side, calling it “training.” We took part in the “polar plunge” in the midwinter carnival, joining a hundred or so others to run shouting and costumed into the harbour in a howling southerly.

After Dave’s 30th birthday party at Waikawa Beach, we led the late night stragglers through the dunes to go skinny dipping. After my 30th birthday party three years later we did the same at Petone beach. We added arbitrary rules along the way: three times under or it’s not a swim.

You never regret a swim. But what if you can’t even get onto the beach?

Last summer was hot. We live less than a minute from the beach. But I didn’t go once.

I had been excited about last summer. The year before, we’d had a newborn. The invisible cord between me and her was short. One night we walked down to the beach after dinner and Dave took her in the front-pack so I could have a swim. I dashed in, dipped my head under quickly three times, and ran back, imagining I could hear her screaming on the beach. I almost regretted the swim – a first. It will be easier next year, I thought.

In late spring I attended a La Leche League meeting where the icebreaker topic was what we were looking forward to that summer. “More time at the beach,” I said confidently. “Now that Esther is bigger and I can actually enjoy it.”

***

Miraculously, having a baby and breastfeeding had helped me shed years of unfounded self-consciousness about my body. I was proud of my curves, the belly that had borne my daughter, the breasts that sustained her. I bought my first bikini. I couldn’t wait to wear it.

But I couldn’t seem to get onto the beach.

Dave was sick. Six months earlier his previously benign neuromuscular condition had developed into chronic back and shoulder pain, probably as a result of hefting Esther around at home while I tried to keep up my duties as an MP. We spent our savings on a nanny while we waited for it to go away, but it didn’t. Eventually, we reached breaking point – not just financially – and I announced that I would step down from Parliament at the election.

By the time summer was in full swing, I had left my high profile job, but in many ways I was under even more strain. Dave was either in pain, exhausted, or sick from his painkillers most of the time. He barely got up off the couch. If I wanted to go to the beach, it was on me. I felt crushed by the weight of it. The idea of taking a toddler to the beach by myself, without another adult pair of hands to lift, chase, catch, change, wipe, spread sunscreen, make sandcastles and fend off overfriendly dogs terrified me.

Instead of being a source of joy and relaxation, the thought of the beach made my heart race and my palms sweaty.

I spent many hours walking parallel to the beach with Esther asleep in her buggy, protected by the shade cover. It was beautiful. Families played together in the shallows, shared picnics and fish-and-chips. Couples snuggled on blankets, beers in hand. I so desperately wanted to join them, to be them, but I couldn’t cross from the concrete path beside the sea wall onto the sand. I could actually see a force field stopping me, shimmering like a wall of heat between the path and the sea. Behind it, my peers enjoyed the record-breaking summer. On the other side, I trudged on, waiting for my baby to fall asleep so I could put on another podcast, sweat trickling down my back.

I did make it to the beach once. Between Christmas and New Year I took Esther to Nelson overnight to visit family and catch up with some friends. The friends had a baby six months younger, and they were already in the habit of taking her to the beach for early evening swims. I was insanely jealous, but intoxicated with the idea that maybe if I went with them, I could break through the force field.

I could actually see a force field stopping me, shimmering like a wall of heat between the path and the sea.

We drove to the beach. Outside the car, I became paralysed with indecision, trying to figure out which bags to carry, where Esther’s hat was, and whether to bring my togs, or change into them later. My friend gently suggested that while it might be reassuring to have everything with me, we weren’t going far and perhaps I didn’t need to bring it all. Flustered and embarrassed, I left the lot in the car.

By the time we had walked several hundred metres and chosen a place to swim, the idea of walking back, getting the gear, and changing myself and Esther, only to end up in wet togs with a sandy baby, had become insurmountable. I demurred at my friends’ offers to keep an eye on Esther and watched them play in the shallows with their daughter, hovering nervously over my own child as she toddled on the sand in her singlet and nappy. I wanted to cry.

You never regret a swim. But there’s plenty else to regret.

As the summer went on, I thought the force field might recede. It didn’t. My mum came to pick Esther up one Sunday morning. “I thought I might take her to the beach,” she said. “Your sister can come too. It’s easier for me to take her out when I’ve got another pair of hands.”

“Great. She’ll love it,” I said, though it felt like salt in a wound.

Dave’s mum was looking after Esther when I came home from work one hot Friday afternoon. “You two should go for a swim,” she said. “I can stay a bit longer.”

Dave and I looked at each other. “It’s ok,” I said. “It’s not that hot anymore.”

One Saturday morning in March as the summer was drawing to an end, we went out for breakfast first thing. We often do this when Dave wakes up sore. It’s a distraction for him, and means I don’t have to try to entertain a toddler and prepare a meal by myself. Afterwards, we drove to the park by the beach. “I’d like to see what she can do at the playground,” Dave said. “I think I’m up to it.”

We got out of the car. Esther charged off, overjoyed. She went down the slide a few times, crawled through the tunnel. Dave was amazed with how much more she could do than last time he’d seen her at a playground. Then she took off towards the steps that led up the sand dunes and down to the beach. We followed. She climbed to the top of the steps. The beach unfolded in front of us.

“Wowowowow!” She ran onto the sand. The wind caught her curly hair, whipped it around her face. She laughed and squealed with glee. She ran towards the water, stopping to pick up shells and sticks, poke fat fingers into grey sand. We followed.

I winced. She was so close to the force field. But she didn’t see it. She ran right through it.