At one time, I followed Gore Vidal's advice: Never turn down an opportunity for sex or to appear on television. Oh, and George Bernard Shaw's: The secret to success is to offend the greatest number of people.
You get like that when you are wounded. Of course, back then I thought I was just fine. I just found other, more well-adjusted people, a bit… fake yawn.
Well, the joke's on me. These days I'm the boring one. I don't want attention anymore. I like my noodling-along quiet life. I meditate and do embarrassing old-people yoga. I RSVP no to social functions. The thing that makes me happiest is drinking instant coffee and playing Rummikub with my kids of an evening.
Go me. But there are still precarious fissures in this nascent, new non-wounded self. And sometimes I just fall down them.
I've always been notably clumsy, bumping into tables, opening cupboards into my head, slapstick tripping over. (Sober). I literally don't know where I end and the world begins. I lack clear ego boundaries, according to one of the million self-help books I've read. Also, sometimes I forget I'm not invisible. The other day a family walked past my house and they were all walking and eating burgers, kids and parents and grandparents, walking and eating and I said "Hi there carbo-loading family!" and then grimaced and hit myself in the face. See? I lose my inner monologue.
In this column, I try to be more aware of saying the unsayable. I try to stick to the things I deeply care about like demanding more resources for special needs kids and keeping libraries open. That way, at least if I do offend anyone it's about something that really matters to me. I certainly don't intend to "divide New Zealand". But other times my low-level-Tourettes strikes and I blurt out something tone-deaf.
So, yes. It happened last week. I wrote a column about Clarke Gayford, the prime minister's partner. (Why, oh, why didn't I just stick to libraries?) I criticised him for various things, including seeming to enjoy his new fame a little too much. Turns out a reformed spiv, like myself, can be unattractively sanctimonious when I see others who are still embedded in the media circus. And then when it was published, I grimaced and hit myself in the face. I know. I'm the worst. Turns out, I'm the cringey one.
But then, I tried something different. Because the judo move here, as in most situations really, is to slow down and breathe. So instead of clawing at myself online, or breezily trying to pretend I don't care that everyone thinks I am a mean cow, I deleted my Facebook account, did tree pose, washed my face and then made the kids go and look at calming fish at Kelly Tarlton's aquarium. Boundaries! They're a thing!
So, my apologies, lovely and not-so-lovely readers. I didn't clock all your comments saying I was a cruddy human. (Although a special thank you to the reader who offered this always-sage advice: "Hey Deb, rock out with your cock out.")
I had to sit with the fact that although I didn't think I was being malicious, I still came across as spiteful and unkind. But what does one do with that knowledge?
Never transgressing or hurting anyone again sounds like a good plan. (Pixie dust, free cupcakes for everyone and real life Quidditch while we're at it) But for many of us, particularly journalists, sometimes offending people, although undesirable and painful, is unavoidable.
That doesn't mean we have carte blanche to shoot from the hip and say anything and damn the torpedoes. But we also can't walk on eggshells all the time, either, making sure we never ever do or say anything which might upset anyone.
So what's the answer Yoda? Do we spend all our waking hours modelling every possible interpretation people could put on our words? Do we practice cocktail party diplomacy until we are able intuitively able to generate the right way to say what is useful and needs to be said without ever offending anyone? I don't know.
But it does seem these questions are deeply important, as our society collides on multiple levels around offence and moral injury, speech and silence, and more pressing questions of rights and safety and boundaries than ever before.
How can we connect in an authentic way with each other human-to-human without banging into each other's sharp corners now and then? If we totally avoid edginess, for fear of hurting anyone, we also avoid growth. And a suffocating culture, coercing us with social and cultural pressure into frightened conformity sounds like dystopian Gilead. One of my favourite thinkers about relationships, Grant Hilary Brenner warns: "Being too fearful to cross the line stifles healthy variability, creating a fragile bubble of safety which arguably leaves people too tender and reactive to handle much of what reality dishes out."
Maybe addressing our feelings of guilt and shame at our own moral transgressions against others is just part of the messy ambivalence of life. I will try and look more carefully where I am going in the future, but I can't guarantee I won't ever fall down again either. The trick is learning to catch ourselves, and each other, after it happens, gently, without shame.