To drive along Hobson St's vile funnel, harbour at your back, spaghetti junction ahead, is to find yourself in some kind of dystopia. A city of mattresses. Blankets and pillows piled high. Soft structures spreading across unforgiving ground. Temporary and yet fearfully permanent. Homes for the homeless filling the doorways, covering the windows, of failed businesses and empty shops. Only the City Mission doing a roaring trade.
I am always torn. To look away, because it is too much to bear and I don't want to stare, or to look, out of curiosity and of compassion. Impossible if your existence has always been secure and comfortable, to fully comprehend the stress of a life lived on the street. To sleep with one eye open, to not know where or when your next meal will be, or who you can trust to keep an eye on your stuff while you find somewhere safe to go to the toilet. And yet the other day as I drove up Hobson St, I was so overwhelmed by my own situation I scarcely saw those destitute dwellers. A fellow columnist wrote this week about the futility of comparing yourself to someone you perceive to be doing better than you. I agree. To do so is a hiding to nothing. I would take what he posits one step further, though, and argue, in spite of gratitude journals, in spite of all the bloody #blesseds on social media, to compare yourself to someone with less, someone doing it harder, is equally unhelpful.
The recent purchase of a new house and sale of our family home, the subsequent move and simultaneous minor renovations have pushed me to the edge. I understand I am lucky to have these problems because it means I can afford to have these problems. But when you are in the middle of them, crying with frustration because a tradesman has just dropped a power tool on the bedroom floorboards you have been waiting all week for the polyurethane to dry on so you can finally shift in, screaming at your partner in the carport because half your belongings are stored out there under a tarpaulin and neither of you has a clue where the box with the paperwork you need to take to the lawyer's is, it's kinda hard to feel grateful.
In fact it's kinda hard to feel anything at all but sorry for yourself. Instinctively I have sought out those who get it. And shamefacedly, slightly resentfully, I have kept away from those who don't. Those who can't sympathise that when the garage door sales rep hands me a glossy information folder, I have to keep myself from shrieking, 'And where the hell do you expect me to put that?'
While I can turn a happily blind eye to a filthy car, shove something haphazardly away in an already untidy cupboard and it'll drive me to distraction. But when I judge myself for being stressed by this or when I feel judged for being stressed by this, I've realised it only makes me worse. Certain life events are undeniably, universally, trying, but mostly we are all just muddling along, our stress triggers as individual to each of us as our erogenous zones. The more we accept this, I figure, the less stressed we'll all be.
Last week I discussed my misgivings regarding single-sex education and I nervously awaited your brickbats, but those who wrote concurred.
Bob: "I was a boarder at one of New Zealand's then most authoritarian single-sex schools, Christ's College. I believe the parents who paid good money to send their sons there at the time should have sued the school for professional incompetence! Fortunately I escaped my "incarceration", and had the last part of my education at a co-ed high school in the United States, where I had a fantastic time." Judy: "In the 1950s/60s I went to an all-girls school run by nuns. Their intention was to keep us pure in case we desired to become a bride of Christ. This made interactions with boys later on in life fraught with danger, as if dealing with rampantly wild animals that would pounce on your virginity if you relaxed for a moment ... I didn't know how to talk to this species, let alone have contact with them, so I stayed home and knitted dresses as I watched Peyton Place on our black and white TV. My granddaughter, born to my daughter and her wife, will have such a different experience."