Towards the end of 2017 I was invited to attend the annual on-air Christmas party for Radio New Zealand's The Panel. It was undoubtedly an honour, but, to be perfectly honest, I was almost dismayed to be asked. Dismayed and surprised. During my most recent appearance on the show, several months earlier, I had been an inarticulate shambles. That, I'd assumed, was that. Never again, surely, would I hear from the producers. And that, I'd decided, was probably a good thing. For several years now I have sporadically featured as a guest panellist, and every time I have been rendered nauseous with nerves. Why, I had started to wonder, would I punish myself thus. The ego, though, is a mighty thing and, I like to think, I have a steely spine, so after dithering about, after seeking various wise counsel, I agreed. You can do it! I told myself, You can do it! I made a few notes about what I might say. And then, a few days before the party, I realised it wasn't just terror lining my throat with razor blades every time I swallowed, I was actually sick. The flu. Happy days! I would be able to make my excuses. A genuine leave pass. Never have I welcomed snot and phlegm so enthusiastically.
I was reminded of my reluctance and my fear watching mine and my friends' children performing in a talent quest a few weeks back. Their stage was but a crackly lawn, the judges merely their mothers, the prizes only from the dairy. So cute. No big deal. Their little faces, though. Oh, the agony. The feeling. How terrible it was to behold. We had only decided upon a talent quest because the usual pageant, the stock summer entertainment of all holiday seaside towns, had been canned. I'd attended the previous year's (feminist misgivings only marginally allayed by the inclusion of a boys' category) and found it almost too excruciating to bear. The chubby Down syndrome girl in her modest togs competing alongside the preening teens in their teeny bikinis, the middle-aged women giving it their lumpy best in the Mrs section. It was just a silly radio station-sponsored bit of nonsense, and yet it was as if the contestants' very sense of self was on the line.
A woman wrote me a letter recently. I'm not sure why she chose me, I'm not sure she knew either, but out she poured her every pain and every grief. A great love had come to a nasty end and she didn't know how to go on. I received it one afternoon and mindful I am not a therapist, I decided to sleep on it, in order that my response be as correct, as helpful as possible. On waking I regretted that decision with all my heart. In the absence of my immediate reply, during the middle of the night she had written again, mortified by what she had revealed to a complete stranger. Begging me to forgive her ramblings.
Perhaps that is all life boils down to, each of us putting ourselves out there, in ways miniscule and monstrous, day after day, over and over, hoping, forever hoping, for approval, for acceptance, to not be cast aside. Convincing yourself you can converse scintillatingly with that fabulous woman seated across the table at the dinner party. That you can speak up at the brainstorming meeting, proffering your lame idea for what it's worth. And that once you've tweeted your heartfelt, ill-formed opinion, once you've lurched through a shaky karaoke rendition of Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay, you can look forward to that universal dread that fills the vacuum your output leaves. Will anyone like it? Will anyone like me? Someone say something, please.
Talk of vacations in the sun had Patrick reminiscing. "With my family I was privileged to have shared a great holiday togetherness over a period of 20 years. The location was beside a fantastic spot on the Rangitikei River at a place called Vinegar Hill. About five or six families gathered there every year and we occupied the same wonderful spot. The river offered great swimming, excellent opportunities for kayaking, some good trout fishing, or simply a great place to laze away the day under the sun or the shade. Our camping was well-organised and well-equipped. There was endless eating and drinking. The nightly bonfire was memorable and we often lingered, swapping stories into the wee small hours of the night."