On Sunday night I didn't think I'd be able to come up with the goods for a column this week.
News of a large earthquake centred in an area of Peru's jungle — where my partner was (and is) — had me emailing my editor and explaining that I'd likely be too distracted to deliver the goods.
In the morning light, it was clear that the depth of the quake was such that, while several buildings had collapsed, there was minimal loss of life. With no technology available for her to make contact anyway, I knew I'd just have to wait it out.
As I write, I still haven't heard anything but my rational brain tells me that she's in a one-storey structure in the middle of the jungle so, short of the resident boa constrictor falling from the rafters and mistaking her for an over-sized rat, she should be fine.
So, here's the column that almost never happened. Because the truth is, even before the earthquake, I was already struggling to find something to write about. I'd been worrying about deadline for a full week. This rarely happens to me, thankfully. Yet, here it was. A blank slate. My unnatural state.
With a world chock full of unbelievable news, what was preventing me from having an opinion on something? Anything? You're reading this because you know I can be relied upon to heartily express one, right? It's what I do.
A sleepless night later it dawned on me that I had many things I wanted to talk about but had lost my nerve. My famous, indestructible nerve. The other day on a popular blog I read a comment that "insulting that woman [me] was about as effective as throwing frozen peas at a battleship" and I loved it. Yeah, baby! Indestructible.
Except, this battleship has had so many frozen peas flung at her she's starting to get dents. And dents can eventually become holes. And then staying afloat becomes a problem.
In other words, I'm scared. Not scared of being called an endless screed of unrepeatable names, or defamed, or threatened with deplatforming, or receiving helpful advice on the many ways to effectively suicide.
Rachel Stewart: Forget Mars - clean our mess up first
Rachel Stewart: Earth is heating up and activism will too
Rachel Stewart: Dignified death of a feisty farm cat
Nah, none of that scares me. Not a jot. That's been happening on social media since I started writing opinions a decade ago.
When I first started writing, I got abuse mainly from the right. Attacking dairy farming's environmental record meant I got some genuine debate, but mostly vitriol. I was giving what they did for a living the treatment after all. I kind of understood it.
Here's what scares me. Today, most of the bile is coming from the left. I repeat. The left. You know, the liberal, progressive left. Left. Read my lips. L.E.F.T. The people currently in Government. Not content to hold the levers of powers, they want to stamp out dissenting opinions from their own. And if that's not true, then it's exactly how it looks.
The people wanting to mess with our free speech laws are the very people who regularly indulge in abuse and name-calling on social media platforms. Why? Because they disagree with someone. It is heinous, sobering, and scary to watch.
After nearly nine years on Twitter, I pulled the pin two weeks ago. I've never felt better. But leaving the dysfunction behind doesn't mean it's not ticking away disgustingly well in the background. That's how monsters work. They take on a life of their own. Look at Frankenstein.
The bigger issue is that we have a new left that likes to speak for the "oppressed" despite their obvious academic, privileged backgrounds. They also enjoy shrieking "bigot" at anyone who strays from the path of their righteousness manifesto. Debate is out. Vilification and public shaming are in.
They hunt in packs and hound any individual who even attempts to think for themselves. The difference between the modus operandi of far-right racists and the far-left woke-ists is essentially undetectable — it's all about a skewed worldview that needs a serious intervention. Victimhood is de rigueur.
My fear, and why I'm scared, is that the left in power only despises certain hate speech. It depends for them on who's delivering it. If it's one of theirs calling people "scum" or "human stains" that's all perfectly acceptable. They can't see the hypocrisy.
But if someone doesn't share their political perspective, on even one thing, they're dog tucker. I've seen it too many times and experienced it. It's dirty and dangerous.
I am far from alone on this issue and, like a decent-sized chunk of New Zealanders, have spent my life leaning predominantly to the political left. We are scared. I advise the Government to think about their next move on the fundamentals of free speech very, very carefully.
Because it's an electoral jungle out there.