It’s such a rich colour, full of iron and platelets and life. We need it in our veins, in our hearts and brains, or it’s game over. When you think of all the symbolism, it makes sense to use it in my work. Portraits are, after all, a portrayal of life, committing something fleeting to something permanent. By using this as my paint, I infuse the canvas with life itself.
Mix it with water and you can get all kinds of lovely shades. I add aspirin to keep it from congealing on my brush, or to make a putty that I smear on with a small trowel when I want to add texture. It’s not dead like monochrome, but it leaves room for imagination in a way that full colour cannot. You get to decide whether his hair is brown or black. Are his eyes blue or green? As long as all the shapes and strokes are right, you can tell who it is or what they are thinking. You don’t need all those other details. They’re already in the paint.
He is going to make a fine subject. His long, black hair flops over his face so you can’t see his eyes. He laughs with friends in a way that makes me think of kestrels – he doesn’t screech like they do, it’s more that the sharp decline in pitch as he pulls out of the hoot reminds me of the sharp drop they make before they capture their prey. I wonder how I will integrate that sound into my painting. It seems so intrinsic to his personality that I feel a need to incorporate it somehow. Perhaps I will perch a bird of prey on his shoulder, wrapped in his dark locks.
I watch him as he leaves the bar. He stumbles on the step, despite the fact that he spends enough time here to know full well that it’s there, and it’s always been there. I can tell that he’s had quite a lot to drink. That should make painting him easier. Alcohol thins the blood remarkably well. I may not even have to knock him out.
But I do, just in case. I am so thankful that I live in a ground floor apartment, and so close to such a wonderful bar, full of beautiful people, coming and going at all hours of the night. It makes it so much easier to bring home supplies and subjects. The fact that it all comes in the one package helps too, I guess.
I work quickly, and he is drained by morning. But by god, the final product is incredible. When I was studying, my teachers told me that my style was unoriginal and lacked life; my technique was stale and my work would need something to stand out from the crowd. I guess I found it, huh.
Eventually the canvas starts to smell, so I have to throw them all away. Again, there is symmetry in this. I could seal them and keep that stale smell in, but instead I discard them like others have discarded me. The same way they discarded my talent and my originality.
Fuelled by the glee I take in proving them wrong, I have become hooked on this new, exciting artistic endeavour. I could have a harem on my walls, every colour, creed and gender represented, all with a limited lifespan, as they were when my supplies were flowing through them. They are short-lived, but they shine bright, and only for me.
Back in August, I was invited by the wonderful Alexandra Neill to take part in her Blog Carnival project, along with a bunch of other writers who are much cleverer and more consistent with the whole writing thing than I am. That project was meant to last the whole month, and reach across five topics. I fell off the wagon after one, and now we’re in the back half of October and I’m writing the second one. Good work, me.
It wasn’t that I didn’t try to write it. I think I took four goes at it, knowing exactly what I wanted to talk about, but with no idea how to go about it. The topic was “Something That Scares Me”, and this thing left me so scared (and more importantly, ashamed) that I couldn’t bring myself to confess it.
It was such a stupid thing that I feel like a moron not being able to share it. It’s something I really struggle with, and I’m trying really hard to get over it, but things keep getting in the way: working full time, stress, exhaustion, procrastination, laziness, a total failing in terms of willpower, fear of the fear itself…
I am afraid of doing things, making things, being creative, having adventures. It’s such a stupid thing to be afraid of, especially when I consider the joy that comes from actually doing it, but the elements of the fear seem endless, and the excuses come in equal number. Yet at the same time, I am terrified of being ordinary, being boring, sacrificing my life to a day job and not doing and making the things my heart wants to. It’s a particularly uncomfortable position to be in.
A little over a week ago, I turned 25. For a number of reasons, that milestone held a lot of dread for me, especially as it crept closer and I realised just how few of the things I’d wanted to achieve had actually come to fruition. As I write, I realise that I’m even afraid to confess that they are things I want to do, but here are some of them:
I’ve never been published by a publication that will pay me for my work. I’ve left four novels unfinished, and never finished editing the only one that I did finish. I’ve never played in a band. I’m yet to live overseas. I’ve never made a short film that was any more than a glorified slideshow. I’ve not made any wonderful pottery,made a sculpture or fixed something mechanical, or learned how to ride a bike, or how to drive a car. I never got to be a radio announcer or program producer. I can’t do a handstand or a cartwheel or rock climb. I’ve never tried stand-up comedy. I’ve never learned how to swing dance or any of the Latin ballroom styles. I never learned to juggle. I’ve never acted in a role beyond the chorus, and I haven’t even done that since I was in high school. I’ve never organised a successful public event or gig. I’m painfully aware of all the things I want to do I haven’t done yet, and I feel like I am running out of time to do them.
That’s what scares me: all those things left undone. As I get older, I feel like my potential is ebbing away; any talent I may have is disintegrating like muscles atrophying, and every day that ticks by makes me more anxious about what I’m missing out on. I’m surrounded by wonderful, clever, driven, creative, fantastic, unbelievable people (some of whom I am lucky enough to call friends, some of whom have just been rad enough to let me hang in their presence) who inspire and intimidate me in equal measure. They are musicians, writers, filmmakers, event-organising magicians, public relations wizards, actors, models, photographers, poets, circus performers, artists and so much more. I could ask them for help, but I’m paralysed by the thought of revealing that I want to do what they can do because I know that I’m never going to be as good at it as they are. I feel that I’ve left it too late.
I’ve missed plenty of opportunities by not being brave enough to take them, and it’s only been in the last 12 months that I’ve actually started acting on some of them, like writing for BMA, getting stupidly obsessed about a movie and doing insane and wonderful things as a result, putting together a murder mystery party for my friends, sorting out my medication regime and preparing to get clearance to go and get my L’s. But there are so many more things that I’m shoving down and hiding, so many more things that I want to do. It’s not that I don’t have the time or the energy; it’s that I am just too lazy and too afraid of making the changes to my life that I need to in order to do them.
So I find excuses: I don’t have the equipment, I don’t have the time, I don’t have the brains or the creativity, I don’t have the energy. Excuses are easy, but they don’t bring me the rewards and peace I’m looking for.
Often I find the core reason for my apprehension is incredibly simple. I don’t know where to start. It’s hard to get the ball rolling at the best of times, and it’s even harder to ask people how to start. It feels like there’s this implication that starting is easy. You just do the thing! Simple! Make like Nike and just do it!
But it’s terrifying to start. I’m not brave. A friend of mine has a tendency to call people cowards in a comedic fashion during his shows, but every time I hear him say it, it hurts because in my case I know it to be absolutely true. And once you start, where do you go then? When you have no known end to the process, how do you go about stepping through it? I try to think about it and my brain struggles to comprehend it. Where is the reward when there is no set end?
Maybe I’m not cut out to be a creative after all. Perhaps I peaked at sixteen, when I finally finished that shitty novel that now sits on my external hard drive, taunting me with its blatantly uninformed, teenaged angst-filled nonsense. Perhaps there was a catalyst that beat all the boldness out of me and made me so scared of what people think of me. Maybe I just got older and my brain stopped being malleable and free and I forgot how to just go with the flow. Maybe my brain never had the ability to process it in the first place.
Whatever it is, I need to shake it off. It’s not useful in any way. It’s just making me feel bad, and in the last few years I’ve come to be fed up with feeling bad. I want to feel good.
And that means that somehow I have to work out how to start. It means I need to figure out how to keep going.
I need to get to work.
Postscript: after I wrote this, I realised that my tagline for this blog is, “Let’s do the things that scare us.” I’m not sure if this is irony, or just completely appropriate. Either way, it’s worth noting, don’t you think?
The theme of “Something That Scares Me” was also covered by the following Blog Carnival writers:
You may have noticed that I went to Wellington a while ago, probably long enough ago that I should have stopped banging on about it by now. I’m almost done, I promise. But if you want to read about some of the magnificent things I did and have already written about, you can find them here.
This is the penultimate post in this series. I promise that it will be over soon and we can all go back to (ir)regular programming.
This post was initially meant to be a part of my post about my favourite Wellington places, but when I was editing what was already a 2000-plus word post, I figured I should probably cut some of the things on my list. Unfortunately, there was nothing at all I wanted to cut.
After a while, I noticed that there were a number of places on my list that had something in common: they were places where one would eat or drink. Thus, this highly uneducated guide to Wellington’s feeding stations and watering holes was born.
I have to say, I really was impressed by the various eateries that the Kiwi Capital had to offer. I don’t think I had a single dud meal in the whole week I was there. Not only was the food absolutely delicious, the cafés themselves were something to behold as venues.
Here’s a little something about each of my favourites:
Mucho Mucho Cafe
On my first proper day in the city, I wandered and wandered looking for somewhere to have breakfast. Due to a highly questionable encounter with an “Eggs Benedic” in Newtown a few days before, I was keen to make sure that I was going to get the best possible start to my day and my trip.
I can’t really remember what made me turn into this cafe instead of any other, but I was immediately impressed. The room was vibrant, the music wasn’t too loud, and there were already a handful of locals in there breaking their fast. And by gosh, it was tiny, but that just added to its charm. Seriously, it was freakin’ adorable.
An interesting thing I noticed: table service isn’t that common in Wellington. Most of the places I ate, you had to order at the counter. It caught me off guard a couple of times, especially in this case, but it was no biggie.
I ordered French Toast with banana, bacon and maple syrup. I think it may have had a fancier name on the menu, but I’ve forgotten what it was. All you need to know is that it was DELICIOUS.
If you’re in Wellington’s CBD, turn down Taranaki Street and grab a bite here. Not only will you get a fantastic feed, it’s a great way to introduce yourself to the strange fascination that the city seems to have with Cuba… but more on that later.
The General Practitioner
When you first see The General Practitioner on the corner of Willis and Boulcott Streets, it immediately commands your attention. Like so many parts of Wellington, it looks like it belongs in a fairy tale or a Disney movie. Straight away, I pulled out my iPod and took a photo, which led to the story on the left. The memory of that conversation still makes me chuckle.
The chairs out the front were how I worked out that it was some kind of eatery, but I think I would have walked in anyway, just out of curiosity. It was just so intriguing!
I ordered a fancy sounding fish and chips and a Tui, because their billboards are so incredibly wonderful/offensive/I saw them on the internet a bunch of times, that I simply had to try one to see whether the beer was worth all that advertising.
From the first bite, the meal was absolutely amazing: crisp, not too much salt, and the sauces alongside were brilliant as well. The fancy dish it was served in was a bit of a pain to negotiate, but everything else was so wonderful that it was easy to forgive. Thanks to some impeccable timing (I arrived just before the lunchtime rush), I even managed to get a seat near the window. Some would say that a view that consists mostly of an intersection is less than desirable, but I found it fascinating, with plenty of other interesting buildings to catch my eye, and lots of Wellingtonians buzzing around on the street below.
As for the Tui? Well, it was okay. Actually, it was entirely underwhelming. I finished it, but I can see why they advertise it so heavily – it’s not good enough that I would buy it off merit alone, especially since my trip led me to a much nicer example of what Kiwis can brew.
Either way, if you’re in Wellington, visiting The General Practitioner is definitely something I would prescribe. (Oh dear. That line was terrible. Sorry.)
I ducked into Enigma Cafe on Courtenay Place at about 2pm on Thursday for a late lunch. I wasn’t expecting much, but when I walked in I found a brilliant space with dark walls and a feeling that this is where all the cool kids probably hang out. Thankfully, there was a good mixture of different kinds of folks, so I didn’t end up feeling too out of place.
I took a while to choose what I was going to order, but I finally decided on the gnocchi with mushroom and bacon.
Right across the week I spent there, Wellington constantly treated my taste buds with beautiful flavours and delightful places in which to consume and savour them. Everything was wonderful and delicious and just magnificent. So basically, if you’re in Wellington, don’t skimp on meals – you’ll have no idea what kind of joys you’re missing.
Now we move on from beautiful food to brilliant bars… And trust me, Wellington has plenty, but I’ve managed to whittle it down to the three (well, four) most notable.
I touched briefly on the wonder that is Boogie Wonderland in my What We Did At The Premiere post, but I need to mention it again because it really is a place that should not exist, but I’m very, very glad that it does. Mirror balls galore, a flashing dance floor, and excuse me while I put my radio voice on: all the best hits of the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and Noughties!
Oh my. So much kitsch in one room. It made me very confused and very, very happy. Be sure to jump into this nonsensical retro indulgence if you’re ever in Wellington. It needs to be experienced to be believed, trust me.
But if you head out to the toilets, you will find another door to another bar. This is Alice, where the walls and shelves are adorned all kinds of bits and pieces from Lewis Carroll’s classic books, the music is eclectic (I honestly heard “Business Time” by Flight of the Conchords come over the speakers and I couldn’t hold in my giggles), and the cocktails are delicious and sometimes served in teapots.
Jane and I settled in for some “White Rabbits”. They were freaking delicious.
One Wonderland in Wellington would have been enough, but two right next door to each other? Well, that’s just spoiling me!
On the Friday night, I was on the hunt for some live music. At the exhibition launch where I started my evening, I met Vanessa (well, for the second time – we’d also met after the premiere), who told me that she was actually playing a set at a bar called Havana, just off Cuba Street. (Hmm, funny that.) I told her I was planning on doing some general wandering, but I’d see if I could make it.
The wandering was pretty uneventful, save for meeting this guy. I strolled up and down Cuba Street, stopping into a few little bars that seemed like my kind of place, but they were all pretty full, and not particularly appealing to the solo traveller. (My criteria were that there had to be somewhere I could sit without awkwardly jumping in on another group; decent music, live or otherwise; a reasonable drinks menu and preferably a friendly enough crowd to find folks who would adopt me into their fold.) There were plenty I would like to visit again (namely Laundry and The Rogue and Vagabond – I intend to spend more time in both on my next visit), but none of them seemed right for me at that moment.
So I kept walking up to the far end of the street, trying to remember Vanessa’s directions to Havana. I wandered down one dodgy-looking side street, then another, until I finally stumbled across this little house nestled in among some more modern, less friendly looking buildings. I walked up the passage to the front door and was let in my a lovely gentleman and was met by one of the most beautiful bars I have ever seen, and my gosh, it was busy.
It was at this point that I really began to come to realise just how much of an influence Cuban culture seems to have had on Wellington venues, most notably along… ahem, Cuba Street. From cafes like the aforementioned Mucho Mucho Cafe, right through to Laundry and (obviously) Havana Bar, there is a lot of iconography that harks back to that island in the Caribbean. It really is a little bit odd when you think about it, and incredibly kitschy, but it is also kind of nice and brings a lot of colour to those bars and cafes that choose to buy into it.
When I arrived, Vanessa was up in a corner, serenading the crowd. (Holy dooley, the lady’s got pipes!) I waved, then grabbed a cocktail from the bar. It was delicious. Knowing there was nobody there for me to talk to, I squeezed through the crowd into the garden area out the back, found myself a seat and got to work on my scrapbook as I sipped my drink. A few people came over and chatted with me as I cut and pasted and scribbled, and it was just really nice. I’d love to head there with friends next time I’m in town; the vibe was lovely, with beautiful decor throughout. Havana Bar is definitely worth the detour.
Jane and I hung out at Concrete on the Saturday night, and to be honest, it was quite underwhelming. But you know what? I simply have to share this with you.
This is their bathroom. Notice anything missing? Like, I don’t know… Taps?
It took me far too long to work out what how to get it to work. Initially, I thought it might be the silver things, so I tried pushing on them. Nope. Maybe it was a sensor under the top shelf? No, still too logical.
Let’s take a look at it from another angle, a little bit closer.
Nope. I’ve still got nothing.
Seriously, all I wanted to do was wash my hands. How on earth was I to go about it with no taps? Did I have to utter some kind of Lord of the Rings incantation? Sacrifice my first born? Telepathically compel the water to begin flowing? I was completely stumped.
Until I noticed the little round notches in the bench top. Here’s the same photo, except the “taps” are now circled in red.
Apparently, this incredibly stupid piece of “design” managed to win a ton of architectural awards, which is proof that architects are either completely insane, or have a terrible sense of humour.
Ridiculous bathrooms aside, Wellington is full of interesting, unique, intriguing and delicious places to eat and drink. It’s definitely worth the time, money and effort involved in getting out there and sampling as many of them as you can. Ranging from the sublime to the silly, there’s certainly something for every taste.