Who are you if you walk away from everything you know? The daily rituals you've come to depend on, the rungs on the ladder you've climbed, the day-to-day social network(s) you've acquired over a number of years, with no idea when or if you'll be back, and if not, where to from here.
For me it was the only way I was really going to see what I was made of.
Would there be anything left?
No knowledge of past achievements or past glories.
Just another face on the street.
And I knew I would only really find out if I did it alone.
Everyone should have an opportunity at some point to draw on themselves as their only emotional support. Yourself as your back-up, your best friend, your life coach, your Zen Master General. On the point of solitude though I am well qualified, as I have done most reckless things in my life on my own.
It is a dishonest life, in my opinion, when you do not push yourself, when you do not test and challenge your boundaries. Because, in what other life are you planning to take risks?
In some way or another I've been running towards fear for a number of years. If it scares me, I'm going to go over and pat it on the head, shake hands with it, sit down and talk to it.
Fear and I. We are good friends.
When I first moved to Wellington in 2007 I lived in an area called Kelburn. It's an upmarket suburb where people have status dogs and buy houses they can't afford so they begrudgingly rent out spare rooms to post-grads and young professionals.
On my walking route to University each day, I passed a twenty foot tall concrete retaining wall on which someone had spray painted in green:
"You adore me. Run come save me."
I hope that message is still there.* I have no idea who wrote it, how long it has been there or who it was meant for. To some extent, who it was meant for is irrelevant because to all that noticed it, it became theirs.
It became mine.
I always wondered why Wellington City Council didn't make an effort to get rid of it. Technically it was graffiti and in a suburb like Kelburn, you'd expect it to be dealt with rather swiftly. But it was allowed to stay, and to the best of my knowledge it's still there.
It got me thinking about the effect words have when they're decontextulised in unexpected locations. "You adore me. Run come save me" became like a teaser from a story I wanted to know the end of - and the beginning - and the difficult second act - and what my role was in it.
As a writer myself, I recently began thinking about ways I could provoke thought in strangers via decontextulised messages. So I decided to start leaving messages (on paper is the rule - but any type of paper) in random places and it turns out travelling provides many opportunities to do this e.g.
I call them (in honour of my recent visit to Tokyo) Shinobi* Memos. Here are some examples:
1. Shinobi Memo on the plane. Write on the barf bag and bookmark it in the in-flight magazine or behind the tray table. I left the following paraphrase on a barf bag bookmarked in the in-flight magazine. It is from the film 'Before Sunrise':
"You know what this makes me think of? All those people you briefly intersect with, maybe make eye contact with and then pass by. Now it's like... no matter what happens, we have met."
2. Toilet Roll Gag - I did this at my hostel.
3. Napkin Memo - Don't be afraid to be silly. I left 'Don't cry for me Argentinaaaah!' at Shakey's Diner in Harajuku.
4. Bunk Bed Slats - I left this note in my bunkbed at a hostel in Tokyo.
Want to leave your own Shinobi Memo?
> Take a book from the book-swap shelf in a hostel and write a message in pencil in the margin
> Take a book in your local library and tuck in a piece of paper.
> Write on the next leaf of toilet paper in a public toilet.
> In hotels, leave a few words on their feedback pad (but don't give them "feedback")
> Take a serviette from the pile in a cafe, put down your thoughts then replace it, hidden in the middle.
> Write on the barf-bag in an aeroplane.
> If you're in a bunk-bed hostel, leave a message tucked into the slats.
Any other ideas? Comment on this blog.
And if you take a photo, show me!
Leave the message in a place where the cleaning staff are unlikely to find it.
Don't get caught. Don't let people see you leaving it. Anonymity is key.
Why do this?
'Why' anything. But I suppose:
Maybe because it might break the monotony of routine in someone's day.
Maybe because by fluke it might be the words someone needs to hear.
Maybe because it will be a good story to tell their friends and family.
Maybe because it might make them smile or laugh.
Maybe because it might make someone feel privy to a secret.
Maybe because it might make them feel special.
Maybe because it might make someone stop for a second.
Maybe because it might remind them they're not the first person to have slept in that hotel room or to have pulled sheets from that toilet roll dispenser.
Maybe because it might remind them they're not alone.
*If anyone has a photo of "You adore me. Run come save me." in Kelburn, Wellington, please e-mail it to email@example.com and I'll update this blog (with you as the photo credit).
*A ninja (忍者)/shinobi (忍び)
Update: We checked Google Maps streetview and the phrase 'You adore me. Run come save me.' , is no longer there. Sad. Thanks for the heads-up though Catherine!
I was born about 300 years too late to be an explorer. To be the first person to walk on the shores of a new land or put a human footprint next to the root of an unknown plant.
The closest I can get is walking in fresh snow. I live in a city, but when it snows, as it often does at the moment, it coats the pavement and the road.
The pavement is an icon of human industry. It reminds us there are people that live in this area. This is where they walk, where millions of feet have passed before.
You are not special.
You are just one of many.
Going where everyone has gone before.
But when it snows, nature reclaims that space. It makes that reminder of human industry disappear. Wild reclaims industry.
So, although I am about 300 years too late to be an explorer, one of my favorite things to do is to get up early and be the first person to walk down the street in the snow, as if I were the first person to ever walk down it.