Well, 2023 was interesting, wasn’t it?
I start each year with a list of ten things I want to do or achieve in the following 12 months. Reviewing my list for 2023 it turned out my year was reasonably successful, but it still felt like a massive failure, and I couldn’t quite pinpoint why.
The year started out all innocent and full of hope like so many others (not looking at you, 2020…), but there were early portents of unusual and unstable times ahead.
On the same day Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced her resignation in Napier, I witnessed a tornado / funnel cloud on my home from work – a sight I have only seen once before in my 46 years here in Hawke’s Bay.
Then in February Cyclone Gabrielle hit Hawke’s Bay and Tairawhiti and threw everything into disarray.
People lost homes, livelihoods and lives. Parts of Hastings and all of Napier, collectively New Zealand’s sixth largest urban area by population lost power for up to and over a week.
The fact that so much ruined infrastructure like many of the bridges that were taken out in the flooding Gabrielle caused have been repaired and trains and vehicles are using them again within 10 months of their destruction is remarkable.
Groups of people got together in the aftermath of the disaster and helped clear out properties, remove cubic kilometers of silt and help get others back on their feet as soon as possible speaks volumes of the care and compassion Hawke’s Bay people have for their neighbors and communities.
While things were getting back on their feet, I wrote a rather extensive piece covering the days of darkness that Napier endured and, at the suggestion of Twitter friend Jolisa Gracewood, I sent it to The Spinoff. Editor Mad Chapman graciously published it as their “Sunday Essay” the following weekend and it was very well received. In my last email to Chapman, I optimistically (deludedly?) wrote “see you at the 2024 Voyager Awards!” (We’ll come to that bit later.)
I think having gone through the Covid lockdowns so recently was a major factor in this – Everyone knew they were in the same boat, so help where you can and don’t be a dick.
Sadly, not everyone learned from that experience.
During the blackout perhaps one of the biggest ulcerations and indications of bad things to come that year was the breadth and scale of rumor and conspiracy bullshit that spread around the region and seeped into social media and news feeds.
Authorities hiding the fact hundreds had died, refrigerated containers at the port full of bodies, mass looting, even political parties ACT and NZ First stoked fears of lawlessness running rampant which were gobbled up by and readily regurgitated by commercial radio opinionists, far detached from the realities of the actual situation.
All utter horseshit. The same “cooker” mis- and disinformation crap perpetuated since Covid that would slowly suck empathy and intelligence from so many in the lead up to the election later in the year..
As our region recovered, I faced more conflicting communication.
Once things were running (comparatively) smoothly I had an interview for a job I had applied for before the cyclone.
I felt the interview went well and, after doing literally the exact same tasks every day, week and month for the past almost 20 years, I’m more than ready for a change.
But I didn’t get this new job because they felt “I was too negative about my current job”?! If I was perfectly happy doing what I do I wouldn’t be applying for other positions, would I? They said there was no question I had the skills and talent, and if anything else came up they would call me.
Similar positions have come up there and they haven’t called me.
When asked why I was applying for their job I had expressed frustration at a lack of development and progression in my current role, while others with less experienced had shot up the ladder. No vitriol, not knocking my employers just facts. The interviewers even said that was not how things were done there and I took that as a good sign.
But not good enough.
How would you feel being trapped in an occupational Groundhog Day for 20 years? Like so many people I’m not doing what I WANT to do, but it supports my family, so I do it for them.
I’m clearly not failing at my job, otherwise I wouldn’t have lasted this long, but there’s no incentive to excel, because doing that has gotten me nowhere either.
Yet, when an opportunity arose for me to be able to leave that situation, those with the power to help me escape and utilize my recognized skills and talents choose to keep me trapped in my current situation?!
I gave up.
I also gave up my childhood home this year.
Well “SOLD” my childhood home.
But clearing it out for sale felt like a loss.
As an only child it was a task and burden I had to shoulder alone in 2023, too.
Desecrating the sacred place that was my Dad’s shed resulted in me manually loading one and a quarter tonnes of scrap metal that I took to the recyclers.
It did wonders for my bulking up my arm muscles, if only I’d had feeling in them afterwards…
Between selling the scrap metal, tools and other trinkets we made over $2100, which would have been a great little financial bonus, but taking off the cost of the general and green waste disposal and our wonderful tenants having found a new place and moving out only a couple of weeks into their 90 days’ notice, we were losing around $1000 a month for around half of 2023 before final settlement happened in October.
That just added onto general pressures and worries.
I got commissioned to write a couple pieces during the year and, true to my word to buy a Tamiya Lunchbox with the proceeds of my next writing gig, I realized a childhood dream of securing one of the big, bright yellow RC monster vans! (I even managed to get it on sale, making it more affordable under the circumstances).
While I do enjoy writing and especially getting paid to write, this year has been a hard one for wordcraft.
I had little free time to write. The commissioned pieces I completed were slotted into busy schedules that all somehow worked out in time for their deadlines. But the pressure to complete amidst the congestion of everything else took the fun out of it for me – I didn’t learn as much as I usually do researching the topics, which is something I really enjoy.
When I had the free time to write for myself, I seldom had the drive or confidence to set words down in type. With everything else going on – Disaster recovery, AI technology taking over print, lies and conspiracy running rampant and the media that I aspired to be a part of continuing to circle the drain the drive just wasn’t there.
My optimistic / deluded dream to be nominated for a 2024 Voyager Media Award for my “Napier in the Dark” essay also came crashing down in December when I learned the News Publishers Association, who run the Voyager Awards, have absolutely eviscerated the number of categories for the 2024 Awards. 2024’s awards will have 10 “Print/Text” and 16 “All Media” categories, whereas 2023 had 19 “Print/Text” and 28 “All Media” categories.
“Best First Person Essay or Feature”, the one I had my hopes set on, was one of far too many being scrapped.
In a time when media, news, reporting and even just the truth is under incredible pressure to prove its credibility, worth and quality slashing the ways the best of the industry can be displayed and celebrated is completely counterintuitive!
In 2023 I was giving up on a dream I had only started to get a foothold in over the last decade. As my creative output ascended, the goal I wanted to reach was sliding off towards a nadir on the other side of the peak I had yet to reach.
When we saw a general election like the one we had this year with one party that had essentially no policies, other than tax cuts for their already rich mates, for the majority of the campaign still come to power, supported by minor parties whose sole tricks are racial division and bug-eyed conspiracy peddling things do not look hopeful for our country!
Our media networks’ political editors and reporters can’t even seem to be bothered to investigate and reveal faults, frauds and failings like they used to. The current batch appear happier to applaud the theatrics of election promises gussied up to appeal to masses they know will never benefit from them.
When they do go on the attack it’s like some sort of demented political opinionista’s version of Mean Girls.
How many chances at how many different networks is too many for some bitter hacks?
Phillip Sherry would never have put up with that sort of shit.
I think I crafted more wood than words in 2023.
I tinkered away making a case for the Kane Williamson signed bat I won late in 2022.
I took me a bit to believe in myself and trust my own skills, but I like to think enough of my father’s innate craft and woodworking expertise eventually osmosed down to me like some sort of neural slow-release fertilizer and I was really proud of the job I did, especially when it came to cutting the plywood for the case.
Speaking of Kane Williamson, I made a second version of the customized Kane Williamson Pop from the Virat Kohii figure a workmate rescued from my Cyclone Gabrielle-flooded office with the intention of giving it to the New Zealand Cricket captain the next time they played in Napier.
Unfortunately I’ve been unable to give it to him yet, as Williamson was unavailable for the games against Bangladesh held at Napier’s McLean Park over and the Christmas break.
We managed to travel in late October and early November as, over Hawke’s Bay Anniversary / Labour Weekend we took our daughter on her first flight(s) to Wellington and went to the zoo.
Even that wasn’t without some drama, as our original flight was canceled with engineering issues a couple of hours before it was due to depart. Fortunately, we were able to re-book almost instantaneously and went to Wellington via Auckland – Two first flights (on a prop plane to Auckland, and then a jet to Wellington) for the price of one!
The view of the cyclone damaged Esk Valley as we climbed heading north out of Napier was very sobering, though.
We stayed in Newtown and walked to and from the zoo. The weather and food was lovely and I happened to meet a few online friends in real life by chance on the trip.
A little over a week later I got to go away on camp with my daughter and her class in early November, which was terrific.
The camp was for three days at Tutira, between Napier and Wairoa, and evidence of the damage caused by Gabrielle was still very visible, with loads of roadworks repairing the numerous dropouts, landslides and road undermining despite months of monumental work to get the vital arterial link open again.
The camp was great, the weather was lovely, and the kids were cool, and we all had a great time away from sub/urban life.
My daughter says she “only cried five times because she missed her Mum” (she counted?!) despite her loving, caring Dad being RIGHT THERE…
Our daughter was the star of my year. While hopes for myself dwindled, my hopes for her continue to soar.
She was awarded a “School Values Medal” for Excellence during the year and got an end of year award, too, which was a fantastic surprise to finish on.
She had been in a mixed class of her and about six other Year 5 students with around 25 older Year 6 students and ended up making friends with so many of the Year Sixes that she was really sad to see them go off to Intermediate at the end of the year.
Her and another Year 5 classmate took out two of the three end of year awards for their class, with her best Year 6 friend taking out the remaining one.
She is such a loving, compassionate girl.
It’s this hope for her future that also worries me so much about her future in a world already beset by blatant political corruption and interference in democratic process, the imminent threat of irreparable climate change disaster, the invasion of sovereign nations, and genocide/ethnic cleansing in an age where everyone on Earth is supposed to be happily working together to reach for the stars and travel the galaxies like on Star Trek!
It’s all a bit overwhelming! But, as David Slack so brilliantly wrote about stoicism in 2020:
“Concentrate on what is within your power to do. Disregard the hysteria and wrongness around you. Preoccupy yourself with doing what is in your power to be done.”
For me external depressants were hard to suppress in 2023 when for almost every good thing there were just as many, if not more, bad things – A cloud for every silver lining, death of positivity from a thousand newspaper cuts (and don’t even get me started on how Elon Must utterly fucked up Twitter…)
Above the arches that lead from Napier’s Marine Parade to the Soundshell and Veronica Sunbay is an inscription that reads:
“Courage is the Thing. All Goes if Courage Goes.” [The Rectoral Address Delivered by James M. Barrie at St. Andrew’s University May 3, 1922
I would tweak that slightly to read “HOPE is the Thing. All Goes if HOPE Goes”. [Andrew Frame, just now]
This year I hoped I could possibly be nominated for a Voyager Award, I hoped to meet Kane Williamson and Kyle Jamieson, I hoped I was worthy of a new job…
But none of those hopes were, or will, be realized.
But I can’t give up on Hope.
Hope was my Grandfather’s first and Dad’s middle name. I was born the same year as Star Wars: A New Hope.
Hope is what drives me forward and the most powerful force (other than love) that I can offer and support my daughter with.
Hope just needs to be realized, otherwise there is nothing to look forward to in 2024.