Mar 26, 2018

a love letter to penpals

Last spring, I decided to sort through a pile of letters and postcards. They've arrived in my letterbox one-by-one, over the last ten years. The letters have been outgrowing their home, the shelves of my writing desk. It'd been a long winter, which started with losing someone I loved. Of all the many spring cleaning jobs, this seemed like the warmest — clean shit up, and reminisce...

There were a medley of postcards from a summer romance, written during the stopover on her flight back home. A birthday card from a parent who isn't here anymore. Newlywed photos of a couple that have split. Postmarks from Stockholm, Portland, Amsterdam, London, New York, Tokyo, Chang Mai, Calgary, Oxford, Berlin. Devonport (still counts as overseas, right?), Palmy, Invercargill.

Before I binned any of the letters (as a cleanse it wasn't very successful, I only dropped ten) I took pics of them and sent the jpg's to their senders. One of these Penpals gave me enthusiastic permission to biff her letter. Another is currently working at the Swedish Opera, after dabbling in Floristry. Ashley didn't reply, I think her life has blown up since she used to send me parcels — she has a book deal, averages 400 likes on Insta, and recently featured on Goop.
I made an extra effort to repay Renée, who had sent me fifteen hand-decorated mix CD's over the years. I put together a compilation of my favourite songs from her mixes, and sent it to her home in Amsterdam. I didn't ask her if she still had the same address, I wanted it to be a surprise. A few months later social media told me she's living on the west coast of America now. Just because I'm still here doesn't mean everyone else is in the same place.

Is there anything more thrilling than a well-traveled package in your letterbox? Alas, I don’t get much mail anymore, and not just because there's a mail thief doing the rounds. Are our twenties a halcyon time for getting and giving mail? Because of all the traveling and mingling, and having time to write? Or has Tech killed the Letterbox Star? Digi comms makes it easier to reach out, but mail is special, because it requires Old School thought and effort. A bridge between the two of you.

It's a rare person who can sustain that Penpal dedication. One of the postcards is from Zoe, who I met online. Zoe is a gem, a conscientious and caring. Her postcard lives on my fridge. Image up, and beautiful, tightly-packed handwriting on the back.
Maybe she's was born with it? When Zoe was a tween, on the Kapiti Coast back in 2001, she had 45 concurrent Penpals. She'd come home, get her daily mail, and write three letters back. She said her Penpals were mostly 'Petpals', chatting about cats. Zo's Penpals included a group of Kyoto friends who were all writing to her.
Anastasia is another OG Penpal, who demonstrates a young penpal's sweetness. At age 10, she was in Moscow was writing to Emelie in Paris. When her class visited Paris, a year later, she clocked every street sign, in case it was Emelie's.

I can pinpoint when the world was flipping from sentimental into digital, and we tried to combine the two. People would post enigmatic song lyrics as their Facebook update. In 2006 a Londoner made this postcard so his Gran could send him an email...
















Two of the postcards in the stack are from Sally. When we met in 2009 she couldn't get any new messages on her Nokia. She had run out of space because she wasn't ready to delete an ex's txts. Her aesthetic was 'Ugly/Beautiful — think Mick Jagger!', she said. A point of view lost on most selfies.
Around 2009 a group of 100 people, would send mix CDs to each other, across the World. Jono, one of the swappers, had recently lost all of his mp3's when his computer was stolen. So Garrity,  the organiser of the music swap, arranged for everyone to ship new music to him. Garrity and Jono live in Melbourne now, and regularly regale audiences with how they met.

My biggest chunk of postcards are from two friends in London. They were my besties in Auckland, before they left in 2010. Rozzy is the most popular person I know; she has more friends than she can be friends with. Before my 30th birthday that year, Rozzy bluntly said to me, "you won't have many invites to send, but they're all to quality people." I'm only interersted in Penpal-level people ;)
In 2010 I could pick up my landline and say, 'Hi Claire!', because she was the only caller. She is back here now, and she's been so busy (moving / operation / family / job / house sale) that I've only seen her three times in the last year. C'est la vie.
During a meltdown this month, I emailed them a few snaps from the last night of the King's Arms, the cauldron in which our friendship was fired. I missed Rozzy when she was back in January, but finding all her postcards now brought her back to me.

Somewhere in the Pile there's a hand-delivered Xmas card from an ex. She wished me summer as exciting as the crazy summer, but didn't leave a return address.

Even two mins of effort will be noticed. This Post-it got saved.











Can you spare the hours it takes to make some mail? If you are really against the clock, there's an industry of mail professionals on the internet. Blind date with a book sends mystery literature. Ship your frenemies glitter. Potato Pal prints your friend's face on a potato. Reddit also pairs up people for a gift swap.

Some gifted Penpals don't even do it with mail. The day after I met Rebecca, who features prominently in the Postcard Stack, I found flowers on my car. She had a moody flatmate, so she hid Rose Quartz under her bed, to heal their heart! Rebecca's mum has been having radiotherapy lately. Rebecca dresses her three year-old daughter in a tutu, and encourages her to dance in the hospital waiting room. This week they made bunches of flowers for all the people in the clinic.

Open an envelope, stick some stamps, and send something to your Penpal. It'll make their days. The day they get it. And if they're sentimental, the days they retrace their steps, too.










Mar 25, 2018

the Penpal, my Lover

















Last spring, I decided to sort through pile is of letters that I had saved from my twenties. They’d outgrown their home, and I was feeling nostalgic, after a break up.

There was a love letter from a holiday romance. A letter from my grandmother when I lived overseas. A mix CD from a foreign correpondent. Postmarks from Stockholm, Portland, Amsterdam, New York, Tokyo, Oxford, Berlin. Devonport, Balmoral, Herne Bay. Invercargill. Before I binned any of the letters (I could only throw out about five) I took pics  of them and sent .jpg's to the senders. One gave me full permission to throw her letter out. I made a compilation of the favourite songs from the fifteen mix CDs that Renée had sent me over the years, and sent it to her home in Amsterdam. It was a few months before I realised that she lives in the States now...

Is there anything more thrilling than a well-traveled package in your letterbox? Alas, I don’t get much mail anymore, and not just because there's a mail thief in my neighbourhood. Are one’s twenties a halcyon time for getting and giving mail? Or is Facebook’s true crime that it has brought down the  postal service?

What options are there for a 'penpal' relationship, in a digital age? Penpals take a lot of commitment, and it is a rare person can sustain that level of dedication. Zoe is an example of a conscientious communicator. When Zoe was a tween, on the Kapiti Coast in 2001, she had 45 penpals. She'd come home and get her mail, and write three letters back. She says her penpals were mostly 'petpals', as animals were the main subject matter. Her penpals included a circle of Kyoto friends who were all writing to Zoe. Here's one from Japan...















Post-puberty, the passion formerly for pets is often transferred to lovers. It's a lot of work to get to the post office these days, the sort of devotion only a love interest can inspire. If you're really lucky, a penpal relationship can turn into a love affair. Meeting up around the world, crossing space and timezones to be together. Long distance relationships are paradoxical. They are fired by imagination. Proust said “it’s our imagination which is responsible for love, not the other person.” But in more rational moments your ardent desire is tempered by the sobering gulf between.

















Jess from Sydney dated a Dane, who was based in Copenhagen. They would talk or write every day, and meet up every couple of months. Both of them travelled for work, her to Europe, and him to Asia. Their home and away rendez-vous-es were always exciting. In the beginning of every new meet-up there was a sense of having to start again, as they rediscovered the feeling of being in each others’ presence. Meet-ups would last a week, and very moment was precious. But as their hours drew to a close, Jess said they might spend the last 48 fighting. When they were apart she noticed herself become jealous and anxious, something she’d never been before. A bad day was made worse by not hearing from him.

Jess only recommends long-distance to high-achievers who are very into the relationship. It is not just for Christmas. The highs are euphoric, but the lows are lonesome. She was always tired from talking on a different timezone. There are cultural differences and communication barriers — the Danes are notoriously reserved, and Jess is a natural communicator.
Jess said it worked for so long for them because they both liked their space, and but could afford to jump on a plane to see each other. There was a recurring ‘thrill of the chase’ in their relationship, an addictive quest to see each other again. As the last meeting faded, the anticipation and planning for the next one began.

















Would you like to have your space, but to keep your lover too?

1. buy a plane ticket
The French have a more romantic version of ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder. They say, ‘Distance is like the wind. If the flame is great, the wind will make it burn! If the flame is small, it will blow out.’ Is it just pretty words? Test it out. Perhaps you or your lover have a dream — to practice Fencing in Moscow, or to learn how to surf in Mexico, or train Eagles in Mongolia? The Eagler, the Surfer, the Swashbuckler — are they all metaphors for long distance relationships, engaging and then retreating?

2. go get ‘em!
Is there someone you always wondered about, over the seas? Go and see them! If it wasn’t meant to be, you might meet someone, in those parts.
Or no love interest? No problem! Pay $20/month for Tinder and you can swipe anywhere in the world. Every nation has a different dating style. Argentinian men are famous for their persistence. The Japanese are scared of rejection. Are the French the most romantic? Chileans the cutest? Australians the closest? You will find out.

















A word of warning. New Zealand, it's the last stop on the line. It’s not uncommon for long distance relationships to end because one or other tripped and fell into someone closer. Long distance relationships can seem safer than dating someone who will smash your heart in your hometown. But ultimately the price is not being able to see if it would work under normal conditions. But that’s a thousand skype calls away. For now, love like you’ll never get hurt.

Mar 19, 2018

Penpals

I’m not sure why my German Penpal stopped talking to me.  But I have a pretty good idea.

















I met Jenni on my Gap year. I was 18 and by sending a letter to the right person (my work experience boss at Villa Maria winery), I had landed a paid job on a French vineyard. We worked six days a week, those grapes won’t crush themselves! When the work whistle blew, my God I was lonesome. I realise now that at 18 I'd never spent time alone before, nor had I lived in the country. 
I would have dinner with the winemaker's elderly parents, because I didn't know how to cook or drive, and the closest supermarket was 30km away. 1998 was the year Bill and Monica scandal broke. The French word for a blow job is a 'pipe' (pronounced 'peep'), which our French teacher had taught us. I was delighted I could understand the conversation about Bill and Monica. Another time we were watching an animated weather forecast on tv. The old man of the vineyard muttered, 'I think he's a faggot' (the weather presenter), before shooting a withering gaze at me. 

Imagine my delight when a class of 18 year-old German geography students turned up, to walk the chalky hills behind the Chateau. The hills are called les Dentelles (the Teeth), jutting out like jaws. I remember Lena of the long blonde hair asking if I wanted to take my shirt off, so she could give me a massage? She saw the scar on my hip. Who knew that bike brakes are on the other way round in Europe? I'd slammed on the front brake going downhill  and landed on some Swiss gravel. After a week of longing, the Germans left. One of them, Jenni, gave me her address and our correspondence began. 

Jenni had been to New Zealand the previous year. Her host family was in Hamilton, but she'd only lasted a week. She was not impressed by the bunk room she slept in. After crying for a week, she caught a flight home. The only photos she had taken were documentary evidence of the bunk room, and a picture of the Civic on Queen Street. 
The winery I was working at had been run by the same family for 450 years. I had been making wine for two weeks. I didn't know how to do anything. The winemaker asked me what I was thinking about in the wine cellar once. 'The Germans,' I said. 'I miss the Germans.' He said, 'you know, you are Free!' My heart sank like sediment in the barrel.
A week later, in a sullen mood I left the Chateau for the night without telling anyone. A coworker had told me to stop fucking up the bottling line. I slept in the Teeth, where wild boar would very occasionally run out onto the path and a famous wind blows. I thought of myself as a young Crocodile Dundee. Alas in my strop, my open-air cry for help, I hadn't told anyone where I was going. The winemaker's mum had stayed up all night. When I returned at 8am for work, the winemaker fired me, and drove me to the train station. We weren't talking on the half-hour car ride, and at one point we picked up a hitchhiker, a 70 year-old woman. 'Don't you think hitchhiking is dangerous,' the winemaker asked her. 'Dangerous?! Crossing the road is dangerous!!', she said. I'd committed so many infractions at the Chateau. I once asked the winemaker if I could borrow a few stamps to send postcards to friends and fam? He hadn't realised I wanted stamps for forty postcards, from the loneliest 18 year-old in France. I once took three bottles from the cellar to send to a crush, and the winemaker was fucked off.

I got back to England, but landed in another isolated spot, in a small town near Bath. I kept writing to Jenni. Letters gave way to emails. My brain's pleasure centres would light up with every reply. I confided that I was having girl problems, in that I didn't know any. She said she was having boy problems with Fritz or Frank, whatever her boyfriend was called. After two months of dedicated correspondence she repeated her invitation for me to spend Christmas in Germany. 

It all started because I couldn't sleep. I'd been working in a quiet café and would gorge myself on Espresso. I couldn't sleep till 4am and would wake up around noon. Jenni would wake me to go to high school with her, and I'd tell her I'd rather just sleep. The time I did go, I was with two of Jenni's male classmates in a room at the school. A phone started ringing and I picked it up and said 'Hello.' Someone said something in German and I said to Sebastian, 'It's for you...'

I felt weird that I was creeping around the house at 2 or 3am, needing a pee. The toilet had a German design, which features a shelf for your poop to land on. Probably loud to piss on. I reasoned that it would be better for me to pee into a glass bottle, than make my host family wonder why I was still awake. What I didn't realise was that I was then stuck with a bottle of pee in my room. I placed the half full bottle out the high window, into the garden. And completely forgot about it.



Maybe things just went sour because I ate so much food over the three days of German feasting. Maybe it was because I gave Jenni a bottle of Jean-Paul Gaultier perfume for Christmas, which she unwrapped in front of her 6'6" boyfriend. She gave me a Beck CD, but Cher's 'Believe' was on every car stereo. Their Doberman would run toward me and sniff my crotch. I think it was the Bottle. There home was immaculate. I think they would have noticed a bottle of pee. 
When the family unit dropped me at the airport I gushed about their hospitality. They waved goodbye as I walked through the gates. 
I emailed Jenni when I got back to England and she'd cancelled her email account. The next Christmas I rang her in Germany. 'hi, it's me from New Zealand! I'm just calling to thank you for last Christm...' She hung up.
 
I've had many penpals since then, it's often the same story. From a distance, I can control your presentation, and not be grating. But when you meet, someone might overstay their welcome. Cultures will clash. I might pee in a bottle. Don't meet your heroes, don't meet up with your penpals.

Mar 18, 2018

story from Playdates
















For two weeks in Feb I was matchmaking couples to go to shows at the Fringe Festival. It was called Playdates. The survey had over fifty respondents, it's always a bit of a shock when something actually connects with people.

One respondent to the survey, Steffi, was on a bad run:

I helped a guy I'd been seeing move into his new place, paint his new room, put his bed together and then we had a talk... turns out they're not over their ex. THEN a guy I was hooking up with last year contacted me saying sorry for ghosting me cos he'd found a girlfriend. But they're open so if I wanted to "hook up or send some nudes that'd be rad."

I awarded Steffi a prize, which I announced via a group email to all the Playdates participants. Imagine my surprise when one of the guys said he was That Guy (effin' Auckland, and it's one degree of separation):

Hey Drus, Re: Prize winner #1, I'm pretty sure I'm the guy she's referring to - the one she helped move into the room, not the one who asked for nudes. I feel I do need to clarify: a) She didn't help put the bed together (in fairness she offered to, but I'd lost a piece so it didn't happen); and b) What I said was that I'd just gotten out of a very long-term relationship and wasn't really looking for anything right now — crucially different to not being over my ex. 
She very much did paint the shit out of my room though, which was super nice. Very grateful for that.
Thanks, Norm

Norm emailed Steffi about his dishonorable mention — so it did get them talking again. I told her that if Norm apologised, he could have a prize too. But she didn't rate their chances.


Zambesi match-made me with the new JW Anderson mens collection, and had a little heart to heart.

 









Who first taught you about love? 
My grandmothers. My Auckland Gran was fun. I loved her style, and lately I've been getting a few of her things reconditioned.
 My third Grandmother lived down the road from us when I was young. May and Jim were childless, so they adopted us as Grandkids. Once May got me to alphabetise all of the death notices she'd cut out of the newspaper. So many friends. Carpe effin' diem!
Our family dog? We had a dog genius growing up, a failed guide dog. Dogs show how simple it is. My form one and two teachers, Anne Hill and Jan Hardley, who nurtured creativity in their pupils.

Who was your first crush?
Oh gawd. I fell in love with my mum's friend (Barbara) at my mum's 40th birthday party. I was 6. I spent some of that night thinking about how to steal a kiss from Barbara, who had silver hair, in a bowl cut. 
Fifteen years ago Barbara had terminal cancer and was having dinner at my parents' house. I wanted to tell her how beautiful I had thought she was, that night. But I held back, again! Her husband, my dentist, was there. He is a bit suspect of me already, although he helped me make this at an appointment, once.

What do you wear to a first date?
I put heaps of thought into it, but all my clothes are well-loved rags. I hate it when I don't dress like myself, but I try to make an effort, out of respect. I once bought a Zambesi top for a second date — must've liked her!


Is it possible to care too much?
It sucks when someone needs to impress other people, but aren't that fussed about the opinion of a person who really knows them.




How do you get over someone?
Last year I asked Paul Thurlby (an English illustrator) if he'd customise one of his pictures for me? I told him I thought it would help me 'say goodbye' to an ex, (she is an art lover.) Paul replied, "an illustration won't help you, only time will."
I think you've got to be able to make anything fun, even painy breakups — like imagining pics about it! It just helps you thru another bit of it. If you can't be rich, be happy.
Another friend suggests talking to your parents, for heartache.

What's your favourite song lyric at the moment?
A friend recently gave me this Rolling Stones album. He has become a monk in Tassy, and had to give all his stuff away.

What's your prediction for the future of human interaction?
It's so important to find people who make you lol. I can see the internet making an art of people finding each other. But does the Internet know about Zsa-Zsa-Zsu? I heard about a Manhattan cab driver who would match make the hundreds of people who had got in his cab. I predict the rise of middle people to help us find each other.