The New Zealand Chronicles

I’m going to change a few things with this post: I will (try to) adhere to proper capitalization. I will be case sensitive, something you can discuss with your shrink to test the waters before fully opening up. I will also break my rambling posts into chunks and I will give each chunk a proper headline. Lastly, I will not swear (as much).

I’ve just finally begun to read Asimov’s Foundation Series, beginning with the volume “Prelude to Foundation” (written last). Enjoying it very much. Every once in a while, Asimov breaks away from plot and surprises with occasional escapes from pure plot into literature. An example: (ch 5)

«He thought of the gray day outside when he went to see the Emperor. And he thought of all the gray days and cold days and hot days and rainy days and snowy days on Helicon, his home, and he wondered if one could miss them. Was it possible to sit in a park on Trantor, having ideal weather day after day, so that it felt as though you were surrounded by nothing at all—and coming to miss a howling wind or a biting cold or a breathless humidity?»

Not too shabby, eh? But the plot isn’t important for this bit, it’s the building of atmosphere leading up to what the reader sees coming: the loss of home; at the same time we’re used to the wandering mind of the protagonist, Hari Seldon (given that there’s little by way of character building, this is pretty good for Asimov). The series seems to be a massive undertaking, I have some emotional ties to Asimov from my youth and I’m looking forward to learning more about writing a massive series of something massive and futuristic like a city that covers an entire planet (taken—Trantor) or a thinking ocean covering a whole world (taken as well—Solaris), or…

A good lead up to my next topic: New Zealand. How we got there, how we left again. What it all meant so far.

At the beginning of the 21st century, I’d had enough of the corporate yoke. Admittedly, it hadn’t been too much of a yoke: I had enjoyed enormous freedom; I had created my own job, but in order to stand spending what felt like the best part of my life in the bee hive of business, I had to walk around in downtown London for hours shopping, chatting, writing.
A decade later, I’m still enjoying the best part of my life, that’s miracle no 1, and I’m still writing, more than ever, that’s miracle no 2, and I partly owe it to New Zealand, in not-so-very-direct ways of course. Anything really worth telling that’s not also on TV comes in those indirect ways: life’s crisscrossing until the texture’s just right, and then it’s suddenly not right anymore and you have to cut it all up again and start over. At least that’s what happened to me.

So I left my high-powered position, climbed down from my lofty height into the nutshell New Zealand. We arrived in spring and my body which had readied itself for our Northern winter (whatever London knows of winter anyway, which isn’t too much) couldn’t believe where it was for a while. I kept getting colds. Because we had sold our London house, we were swimming in it and feeling richer than we were, we moved into the highest high riser I had ever lived in, overlooking the harbor of the prettiest harbor town, Auckland. When you entered the flat, there was one window on the left covering the entire side of the building on Shortland Street. There was nothing between you and the sea but that single window: I could hear the mermaids singing through it. It wasn’t much of a protection against Poseidon. And as a stout follower of Odysseus since my youth, I was weary of the old water god.

The opposite of corporate: first iBook. It made me want to dye my hair.

Having got rid of my job, any job really, for a while at least, I spent the first hours of every day writing in a backroom with little light. I wrote on my first ever Mac, an iBook that looked like a lady, white and innocent. I filled that thing with stories, a bag full of stories; most of them didn’t go anywhere but finally, after months of steady rootless rotten riotous rambunctious work, I grabbed the tail of one of these stories and follow it to some form of conclusion. It still wasn’t much of a novel but it looked like one at least and it was my first longer work in English. Then I went back to work, now at the University of Auckland, and forgot about the writing: there was a whole island to discover. Except we never did. Apart from the beach, we never ventured far: I still only know of the spectacular scenery of the South Island through the movies—LOTR.

Our special indulgence was going to two oceans in one afternoon: one blue, one brown. There aren’t many places on Earth where you can do that. We got used to Korean food, and my students got used to me. By now, we had moved to Grey Lynn, a suburb not far from downtown with gorgeous Art Deco houses. We lived in one of them—here’s a story from that time—good friends lived next door, and our daughter learnt to walk. I rode my motor bike all around town feeling dandy and European, and my wife rented a shack on a hill as a studio. We felt like settling in. There were Barbecues without end. Plenty of Germans, too, and the New Zealanders got them talking. New Zealanders can get you talking about anything. When you’re so few, it’s important to know how to talk. And then there are the sheep, but you don’t talk about the sheep.

At home, we fought a lot. It was hard that first year in a new country. The alien island felt like an outpost to us, like one of those planets you always read about: Mars to the first settlers in the “Martian Chronicles”. We felt lonely even though there was no shortage of social events and friendship. We had fallen into one big heart, but something was pulling us. So despite much friendliness given to us and given back, too, we left after one year—there also were other reasons: my father was old and he wasn’t feeling well. Whenever we spoke, he offered to board a freighter as a ship doctor: this was going to be his last big adventure. But he knew he wasn’t up to it—and I wasn’t up to letting him die alone.
Later, it turned out the government didn’t think we, as a family, were as hot as I thought we were: a few months after our return to Europe, I received a notice that we weren’t allowed to immigrate. They didn’t give a reason: I had never shown them my writing, or had I? Had I broken any unwritten laws? It was, and remains, a mystery to me, because we’d have fitted right in. I’d even joined a writing group and a men’s group (my first, and one of the most important experiences of my life, stuff for another story).

I’ve only scratched the very surface of my own memories here. The crust. I’ve not even added my wife’s and my daughter’s. It’s too much even though it was only one year. Maybe there’s something about that island, New Zealand, that creates strong memories, memories that go as deep as the Mariana Trench, one of the deepest locations on Earth and a possible final resting place for all of the island in a distant geological future. Maybe we’ll all be on Mars then. The people of New Zealand however, they’ve already tasted what it’s like to live on Mars and make it habitable. Not that the island looks anything like the Red Planet: it’s lush, it’s wet, there’re four seasons in a day, or five. But there’re Maori ghosts and the ghost of the Kiwi walks there, too, like the Last Martian. Enough said for now. Over to you.

This is an entry for the 1st Aotearoa Affair Blog Carnival “Crossings”— part of a larger project: Frankfurt Bookfair 2012—an Aotearoa Affair,  organized by Dorothee Lang and Michelle Elvy. Weekly Highlight 24 January: my story The Families/Die Familien (English/German) with an author’s note. Follow the carnival on Twitter. — And/or follow me on Facebook and Twitter. — Update: in May 2012, Flash Frontier’s founder and editor, writer Michelle Elvy interviewed me.

9 thoughts on “The New Zealand Chronicles

    • Siim, thanks very much for coming out to play and pay, too…I love me a good @flattr on a cold winter night: many flattrs will pay for pen and paper…cheers and keep up the good work!

  1. Pingback: Blog Carnival #1: CROSSINGS | An Aotearoa Affair

  2. Marcus – a wonderful entry for the Aotearoa Affair blog carnival! This story meanders and weaves through a NZ landscape with a little outerspace feel, too. Two oceans and BBQs and a men’s group — and yet the pull elsewhere. You capture the year so well. Can’t imagine why they did not let you stay. Maybe you ought to go back to cursing more. 

    • Cursing properly must be learned, it is a skill acquired under the wings of one’s mother and father and alas, I can’t even do it properly in German! Thank you for reading and commenting. The “outerspace feel” is still with me when I think of NZ. The pull goes in all directions, as usual, and the only way that I have found to make paradoxical pulls converge is on the page…Cheers!

  3. Pingback: Interview with Marcus Speh | Flash Frontier

  4. Pingback: October: FLIGHT | Flash Frontier

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