You know what I mean

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I slotted Springsteen’s 2010 Darkness outtake set The Promise just behind Born to Run on my CD shelf. I had taken it out for a spin over the weekend.

The mistake is understandable given the context, and I realised it as soon as as the flap side  nestled into the back board of the shelf. For a brief fraction of a second there, I keyed in control + z in my head.

The option to ‘undo your last action’ can be a faithful companion when you are threading uncertainly through the treacherous fields of spreadsheet formulas. It’s the bonanza ‘get out of jail’ card that enables you to exist within the space just slightly behind an actual decision. The breath just before you place your money where your words comfortably reside.

For that moment I did not require a clunky time machine to undo my very recent error. It would be far too much fanfare for something relatively insignificant. What I needed was a quick shortcut, one that wouldn’t rouse too much attention. A two-step fix that would undo what was obviously a silly mistake.

But of course there was no such cockadoodle. No technological fairy dust to whisk me out of my predicament. So I dragged it out like a big boy and slotted it near the back of my Springsteen section.

We enjoy dealing in broad strokes when it comes to sifting through ideals. After all, why settle for a star when you can have galaxies? I can understand the sentiment.  The attraction of a time machine to the average person is not simply that it offers the ability for one to explore the past, but the opportunity for one to alter the past so that it improves our present and consequentially, our future. After all, the benefit of hindsight can be tragic and there are many sins of the distant past that many of us would love nothing better than to right, if we had the ability to travel back in time. On a fundamental level, it’s just geeky lingo for ‘not having to deal with consequences’.

But I have no such grand desires. I have formed an uneasy partnership with my past, in that I don’t knowingly rouse it and it basically just leaves me alone. I can rest comfortably with that idea for probably the rest of my days. So no, I do not need a grand piece of imaginary technology like a time machine. Instead what I really want is the simple ability to undo my last action. Just two keys, not the whole keyboard. To undo that slip of a hand that resulted in a bag of broken eggs, that last piece of fritter I should not have eaten or that white lie that I know I should not have told the moment it left my mouth. Nothing premeditated, just those almost-involuntary muscle slips that you want to quickly mop up and pretend like it never occurred in the first place.

Yeah just that. I’ve never been comfortable about dreaming ‘too big’ anyway …

   

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Small children in the background

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The town of Mossburn

Our rickety-sounding campervan barrelled down clear windy roads, gorging on kilometers as we made haste. Around us, nature was constantly purring an aria, primary blue skies venturing uncharacteristically downwards to meet frosty snowcapped mountains standing on the shoulders of spring-bloomed green fields. At times, it felt like the weather controls were left to the whims and fancies of a five-year old. I could be in a t-shirt standing next to someone in a down. Everything appeared possible and permissible.

It’s very easy to get lost in the gorgeousness of Te Waipounamu. To be literally transported to a place where industrial progress skipped a turn, where nature picked up arms and fought back. It’s a place that defies and denies the more capitalistic tenets of civilization. As our reliable bacon-odored transport continued to gorge on the open road barrelling from one holiday park to the next, we found ourselves zipping pass quaint little towns with pretty names, Geraldine, Fairlie and others with more cumbersome ones (Twizel). Some of these towns offer barely anything by way of township, a church that sits about 50, a garage that tends to only trucks and tractors, a snugged convenience store, a school if you’re lucky, etc.

As we zipped pass more and more towns, I find myself being increasingly fascinated by the seemingly randomness of thought that went to designing some of these towns. Some had fishing tackle shops but no signs of a petrol kiosk. Others had art galleries that also offered a cup of espresso and free range eggs but with no school in sight. My thoughts race back and forth, unable to satisfyingly resolve this conundrum of haphazardness. Perhaps each township is formed out of the chosen vocation of its inhabitants. Yeah, that must be it.

But that can’t be it, can it? Doesn’t the need of the many outweigh the desires of the few. Surely the community would benefit more from a small grocery store than an art gallery. Are businesses assigned based on needs? Are they legislated, and more importantly, how are they managed from a community level? I was drawn in, and fascinated with the nuts and bolts. Not just the political process of it, but also how it relates to ‘me and my neighbor living next to me’?

The obvious questions to ask are ‘why questions’ – Why can’t we carve out simpler existences like that for ourselves? Why was I born into a community that encourages the rat race? Why wasn’t I born in say, Mossburn, where the hills whistle choruses around me?

But yet, I find myself drawn towards the ‘hows’. How does one eke out an existence in a town like that? Where ‘choices’, something we demand unconsciously in cosmopolitan cities, are rendered meaningless by the fact that there is only one convenience store to buy your milk from, one school to send your kids to and one church to say your weekend prayers to God in. Does the 20-something manning the gas station on a chilly and lonely Saturday evening lock up at midnight, walk back to his home behind the station and repeats the same routine the next day? The things I have come to expect in my often bustling surroundings such as variety and diversity were turned on their collective heads. Perhaps it is just a case of wanting something I never had.

Perhaps.

I had a short conversation with the caretaker for the Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo. She lives about an hour’s drive up the main road. Every morning she wakes up, dresses and makes that scenic hour-long drive to the church, where she tends to tourists decked in bright fluorescent jackets, looking to take the perfect selfie with one of God’s more lovely homes in the background. She does it with a patient smile and informs each of them that ‘service is at 4pm later today’. At the end of the day, she packs up and makes that same drive back to her home where she probably would make her family a warm dinner as they look to fend off the chilly spring night winds before resuming the same routine the next day, “Oh you’re looking to climb Mt Cook. I would suggest you give that a skip today cause it should be raining up there.” Oh, how … “I did not see it this morning.”

For just a moment there, I greatly, greatly desired what she had.