I’m going to Aotearoa/New Zealand in two weeks today. For about the past three months I’ve mostly been daunted by the prospect, and very occasionally excited about it. But this morning, while running, it occurred to me that I don’t have to be EITHER fearful OR fearless. I could be both. Or neither. I could be fearful and fearless, quite possibly at the same time.

I’m daunted partly to do with the schedule – not that it’s so very different to my usual work schedule at home, but there is quite a lot of extra travel AND also about 60-70 old friends and family to fit in the in-between work bits. In my 28 days (exactly) away from home I have:

  • 4 x 12 hour international flights
  • 5 x smaller internal NZ flights
  • about 12 hours driving time
  • three writing workshops for a range of abilities/interests
  • three Fun Palaces workshops
  • three writing panels
  • two literary salons (I’m hosting)
  • two student talks
  • two interviews
  • one three-day museums conference
  • four events that are just me about my writing work
  • two books meetings and two Fun Palaces meetings
  • one big Fun Palaces keynote
  • three festival parties (yay parties)
  • AND a beach weekend (phew)

I’m meant to be doing some writing as well, because – deadlines.

But the schedule isn’t what’s scary. Going ‘home’ is scary. Because, of course, it is home/not-home*.

I haven’t lived in New Zealand since 1986. I was born and spent the first five years of my life in London. Yet I did ALL of my growing up in New Zealand, most of it in Tokoroa. And while I have left and grown and changed, it has too. There is (literally) no place like home, because home changes as well. We can never go back to the home we left because it changes while we are away, just as we do. What I once called home has changed as much as I have – and yet …

The Pacific and the Tasman still do their big, wild thing. The bush smells the same, that warm, wet, dense, rich smell of vegetation and moisture and dark green. The blue of the immensely high sky is as strong and sharply different to a London sky as it is possible to be. The brutal sun burns my freckled skin, even in winter. The volcanic plateau remains wide and open. I know the land and the sea and the rivers. They are in me, strongly in me, and they age far more slowly than we do. And so there is an added confusion because the land and the water seem to hold more, change less, while everything else changes hugely.

I’ve had cancer again since I was last in New Zealand four years ago, my body has changed again. Again. People I loved have died since I was last there. Much as New Zealand is a land of loved ones for me, it is also a place of ghosts and dead people. In my daily London life it is possible for me to sometimes feel as if those dead people still exist, confronted with their absence, their deaths are very real.

So I know that what I am going to will be a good time, an important time. I will be glad to share my new books and our Fun Palaces mission – to help people work out how they can use what we have to offer, for their communities, for their own local dreams. I will be very glad to learn from the people I meet, and bring back what they will teach me. And there will also be parts of my time away that are difficult. I will be reminded that it is my home/not-home. That it has changed, and my (living) loved ones have changed, and so have I. There is nothing like going ‘home’ after a time away to be starkly reminded of time’s passing, of mortality, my own mortality, of the clear truth that I am well into the second half of my life – if I’m lucky.

Which is why I’ve decided to approach this trip as a hero’s journey. Something I can be both fearful and fearless about – possibly at the same time. There will be lovely bits. There will be new people and old loved ones. There will be tough bits. There will be ghosts. I will no doubt stumble, and if Joseph Campbell is right, I might even find some gold when I do. I’ll be sure to share it if I can, probably here, and hopefully in my work. Acknowledging that my experience will be mixed, that it cannot all be clichéd ‘homecoming’ and easy, helps both my anxiety and my fear/experience of depression. Knowing – and noting – that there is no place like home and that it’s still worth making the journey, makes going on the journey more possible.

Here are the links to my events in Christchurch, Dunedin, Auckland, Palmerston North – Museums Aotearoa conference. The Wellington events are a workshop for the IIMl and a talk at Massey, no public events sadly.

*on the home/not-home thing, I’ve found Greg Madison’s book on existential migration The End of Belonging very useful