Deborah Hill Cone
Deborah Hill Cone is a Herald columnist

Deborah Hill Cone: Learning to live with our past sins

If only I could tidy up my misdemeanours as neatly as my miscellaneous kitchen drawer! Photo / Supplied
If only I could tidy up my misdemeanours as neatly as my miscellaneous kitchen drawer! Photo / Supplied

I've had a lot of love affairs in my life. Years of crushes, hangovers and hookups; silly, slutty, unrequited, quick and dirty, brutish.

There are some where I can't remember their names, some turned into a punchline, the guy who danced like he was peeing down his leg, the guy who said "hop on".

Sex really is the ultimate displacement activity. So much easier than doing the much harder work of learning to be a human being.

So. Now. I've tidied my house, bought a hanging chair, planted herbs in pots. I go for runs, drink San Pellegrino, keep a sneaky pack of fags in the kitchen drawer just for visitors (along with the emergency tampon.) Days go by filled with unrelenting virtue and cups of tea.

Now I just wish I could go back and tidy up my grizzled past.

Do it all again, neater, with more care, less rage, be kinder, water the plants. Be less of a tramp.

Oh, I don't mean to anyone in particular - the past is just a faceless entity with shiny brogues.

But maybe this is the real reason it's so hard to turn your life around. The snazzier you get in the present, the harder it is to avoid what a shambles you were in the past. If you let go of your rationalisations for your phoney bullshit in the present, accept you don't shit rainbows, then you have to see the past in all its glory too. And that's not a pretty sight.

Absurd, I know. You can't make life better because you can't let go of how much worse it used to be.

I tidied up my miscellaneous drawer in the kitchen - you've got one too, haven't you? Now I have a little container for the elastic bands, and another for the Band-Aids, another for duct tape. But the past? You can't put it in click-clack containers.

I'm not just talking about lost opportunities and regret, although I do wonder what I could have achieved if only I had harnessed my urge to foment trouble into more productive channels.

Writer Steven Pressfield says trouble is a faux form of fame, but it's also a guarantee you never get a darned thing done. "The scars and tattoos of the convict are his own shadow symphony, his displaced epic, his unpainted masterpiece."

Distracting myself with petty self-serving rubbish was my superpower - the espresso martinis, the red dress, the self dramatisation - no matter how bad it was, at least "this will make a good story" (Oh yes, chicky, I'm uncomfortably aware I'm doing that very thing, right now).

Truthfully, sometimes I'm jealous of alcoholics. At least they know the booze was the problem. Get rid of the grog, and go through the steps, atone. You know what is required for exoneration.

Maybe the real tragedy is how often we let ourselves ruin a perfectly good today because we can't stop reproaching ourselves for the past.

You can run a tidy line under then, and now. You've got something to blame it on. Wet and dry. I can also see why Born Agains get born again. But all those years of ego, infatuation and lust. I don't have any excuse, drink or the devil, they were all on me.

It's impossible not to realise that I used to hold others hostage to do the stuff that I should be doing for myself. Help! Please make me feel safe, help me cope with the pain of being alive, make the world not seem so terrifying.

My own feelings were too intense. I needed someone else to hold them for me, someone to shove them onto. Here, have this! I was a monster.

Because the good stuff was never in the highs, after all. It was always in the middle, the non-glamorous thing. I never realised that's where love was. How many times when I thought I was being loving, caring about someone else, was it selfishness in disguise?

I went from one extreme to the other. It was all about me, me, me - red lips, shimmy, shimmy. Or it was about you, you, you, I'd do anything for you. I'd die for you. When love is neither of those. It's the being in the middle, the hard work of just staying put and working it out. But there are no prizes for that. No glory and no fame and it's never bloody done is it? Like warriors we have to fight that battle anew every day.

The real fight of our lives is not writing a symphony or achieving in whatever status-conferring arena you pick, but learning to love. Maybe this is my hero's journey, and that's why it's never done once and forever. My miscellaneous drawer is all messed up again. I smoked the fags I was supposed to keep for guests.

So, I've done all the apologising you can do. The truth is I'm the only one who cares if my drawers are messy. Maybe the real tragedy is how often we let ourselves ruin a perfectly good today because we can't stop reproaching ourselves for the past. When the truth is there is only now.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf04 at 25 May 2017 12:35:10 Processing Time: 435ms