Embracing the Zen of Losing One

You win some you lose some. What you lose on the swings you gain on the roundabouts. Dad used to try to tell us not to sweat the small stuff with these sayings but infact he only served to reinforce a strong ethic of ridiculous perseverance beyond what is even logical because he was the worst at giving up anything if he felt he was right. Being a baby boomer bloke, that was all the time. When he did temporarily lose a battle, he would re-group to re-strategise his general war on whatever was the current target of his ire or the focus of his energies. He could not be consoled with platitudes about winning and losing in the big game of life. Nope. The only thing that could marginally deflect the sting of defeat was to remind him that 'Every Dog has His Day'. Which would cheer him up, but it's hardly a Buddhist breathing in of love and loss and letting go – now is it? Being an old white guy – he knew that it is, in fact all about winning and sticking at things until you do. And to his credit – he is an old dog that has almost always had his day somewhere down the line even if he had to lose an eye to get there.

I have issues with losing too – I put it down to stubborn genes. Let's face it – most women in the early stages of the colony must have survived in their frozen little raupo huts somewhere past the black stump, boiling clothes in coppers, up to their knees in mud, simply due to a stubborn streak that refused to let them lie down and wait for a vision of the baby Jesus to arrive, or at least for washing machines to be invented. I've never bought into that old hippy mantra that it is good or in fact admirable to 'Go with the Flow.' I always thought that whoever had made that up had obviously not spent much time kicking around on a farm next to rivers and swollen creeks in winter. The careful observer will note that most things going downstream are going belly up – which is not really a great position to be rallying any kind of win from. I've also wasted a lot of time and quite a bit of money battling upstream with various projects, inspired by such mighty creatures as the salmon. Forgetting of course that salmon will admirably make it to their destination. And then they die. Hard to enjoy triumph when you're dead.

New Zealand culture in general seems to be one of a resigned complacency. Where the Latins go berserk and break out in random acts of flamboyant irrationalism in the face of losing things they believe in, Kiwis will generally accept the outcome as a fact not worth having an emotion over. A few weeks ago in a spectacular display of the very reasons why I miss Argentina so much, a group of commuters, outraged at the delays on the trains simultaneously and spontaneously took control of the train on two separate lines. They then pushed the drivers out of the moving trains and attempted to drive to the destinations themselves. No one was charged. No one was hurt and it was deemed a reasonable response. They had grown tired of talking to the company and losing the battle to be heard about the constant delays and had taken matters into their own hands. Kiwi commuters would have grumbled quietly and sent an email to Radio New Zealand. I have to add that the trains in Buenos Aires were completely halted for the 2 days following whereby no one went to work, so it is difficult to argue which response is more valid, but I know which one would have felt good.

I lost one of my pet projects this week – and am feeling a stalwart kiwi acceptance of it. I guess it's not wise to pay too high a price for anything. Even when you're not a salmon and, especially when you know that every dog, eventually, has her day.

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Urban Dictionary

I teach teenagers literacy classes like mountaineers climb ridiculous chunks of punishing rock. Sometimes I think I do it because, like rocks – they are there. Maybe I enjoy being pushed to the limits of tolerance. Teenagers have no hidden agendas – they would never be able to fit one in around their all encompassing self interest. They are incredibly honest. An honesty often prefaced with a 'no offence but…' and then something fairly offensive is flung about in the form of an opinion that can be knee cappingly direct. Disarming I think the word is. They leave you without weapons or limbs, yet laughing. I had thought that modern adolescents suffered from such a paucity of vocabulary as to render them almost on a scale of high functioning autism – especially the boys.

Once, I even had to ring an immigration official who was refusing to give residency to a long established family on the grounds that their teenage son could not speak any English. I told him the boy had been born here and was in fact as Kiwi as any other teenage boy his age - which meant he existed in a sub-lingual state. Effectively he could navigate his environment with a cleverly negotiated set of codes including sophisticated hand shakes and slaps and the ever expressive raised eyebrows as a form of salute to other teenage boys. It was all he needed. The official insisted that he had asked him how his weekend had been and the boy had just grunted. Which seemed age and culturally appropriate to me.

Teenage boys don't explain lame stuff that is already OVER. What I didn't know is that teenagers, far from suffering from a lack of words to express themselves, are in fact landlords of a wide lexical domain – a kingdom that it appears I am exiled from. Like the high pitched ring tones I can no longer hear and with which they torture me to prove how out of touch I am, the words they use are not in my command. Here is an example: 'That is so scuxx, why is she giving you the cold finger – are you just getting lonerised?' When I asked for clarification I was referred to the online Urban Dictionary but not until they'd given me a fake definition for scuxx and then made me repeat it several times in a variety of sentences.

Back at home, humiliation and a grudging respect for their ability to keep a poker face throughout their shameless wind up battled for supremacy. The cold finger is the text generation's equivalent of the cold shoulder and the act of marginalisation and indifference designed to make someone a school yard loner is, 'to lonerise.'

The urban dictionary is to older generations what binoculars must have been to 19 century bird watchers. Radical insights into foreign worlds.

I learnt that I never had a job at the Northland Polytech – what I had was a career trajectory, a career path marked by increasing amounts of tragedy, lameness, futility, ineptitude, respect, and/or pay. Excellent. I discovered the purely adult pastime of 'pretendships' you know, like what the Maori and National parties had. I realised that I would probably become a scud parent – the kind of maternal nightmare that shows up at clandestine teenage drinking parties, goes off like a scud missile and then embarrassingly drags the offspring back to the car and home to bed. The kids' definitions of 'Whangarei' were particularly enlightening. 'Small town north of Auckland – it has a good skate park and not much else.' 'Bed gravity' pulls me into its evil vortex every morning for an extra 10 minutes sleep and prententiatarians are those annoying people whose diet involves a liberal dose of extreme liberal judgementalism. Like my ex-flatmate who once spent the weekend on E and other chemical cruise ships and then had the gall to ask me if the carrots I was chopping up for dinner were organic. Yeah. Because E is so organic. Finally – I can put a word to it. All thanks to those 'inarticulate' teenagers.

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My Choice New Gang

I think I'm going to get myself a gang. It's going to be choice. I'll win my new boyfriend off a mate in a poker game and then he will belong to me. Which is way better than all that relationship stuff. Blokes are such a hassle when you're always having to behave and negotiate. Of course I'll respect him. Our gang will respect all men. Or at least when we're sober. It's really important to have respect for all and for everyone to know that you do. Which is why I'll write it really big on a wall somewhere. You know. In case we forget. I'm thinking how the money thing is going to work too – and to be honest it's looking way better than having a job. That tax stuff is such a downer. Nope – way better to have a charitable trust. I'll get my accountant and my lawyer who deal with all my businesses - they'll know how it all works. Anything with the word 'trust' in it has got to be a winner with our new neighbours. It'd be great and we could do good like help kids fight better and other cool stuff. Beats fishing or teaching them how to cook or building the kids in some of the harsher parts of town a really choice playground, or working in the community garden. Having a charitable trust means we could have people working for one of our businesses and we could pay a 'donation to our charity' lets say that's their 'membership fee'. I think the new charity tax laws will get about half of it back anyway so it works all round. Who needs workers when you can have volunteers? It'll be like a gym but better: instead of toning their butts, we'd just – be owning them.  I'm thinking one of our businesses will be making macramé pot plant hangers. People like pot plants and we'd be really happy to meet that demand. We'll be needing to sell a few hangers though because a building like the one rented to another charitable trust like mine cost around $40K a year to lease so you'd be wanting to cover the costs with a fair bit of macramé. And if the macramé doesn't cut it I've always got the other businesses but that's commercially sensitive so I won't be discussing that here. Still, finding someone to lease your commercial building right now is about as easy as trying to make sense of anything that comes out of John Banks' mouth so there's bound to be a few community minded people who are willing to be pragmatic about a little negotiation on the rent. Not right in the middle of the CBD though. No sir. That's run by a very small group of mafioso and I'm not messing with those bad boys. They'll charge the same for a run down shop in struggle street in Whangarei as what I could lease in trust fund street (Jervois Rd in Auckland) and then they'll want my daughter. I got the impression that many of the retailers in town were waiting for their landlords to either to die off or run away with a pole dancer and just let the town get on with it. Personally I'd wait for Gerry Brownlee to grow dreads and an organic vege garden before that happens but I guess those working hard in hospitality and retail 7 days a week need to live in hope that one day Whangarei might just get a pulse at the heart and that when it does they'll finally be able to afford the rent. Yup. I hold out really big hopes for the North for groups like mine. We offer a real alternative when the only voices in parliament that could feasibly be asked to speak up for the young and keen, yet aimless, are scrapping it out in political turf wars rather than working on collaborative solutions. Pretty soon it's just going to be the very young, the very old and the gangsters left in this town. We'll be able to rent cheap buildings and we'll all just hang out and feel the respect. Choice.

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