Updated: 11 March 2018
It was the noise that started it…my sudden desperate search for ‘Utopia’. It began to intrude upon me like an unwelcome guest the day air brakes squealed and whiffed repeatedly as a huge truck manoeuvred a house onto new foundations at six one morning, early last November. The steady noise of hammering and chain-sawing followed as builders added decks and an extra storey. Then new tenants moved into the house across the road and amplified the noise with daily band practices and frequent parties, Pink Floyd screaming across the once quiet, wooded valley, “Hey, teacher! Leave us kids alone!” Loud voices echoed shrilly through the bush next door and I watched in dismay as three middle-aged women moved into the house that had been vacant for months. Babbling voices then began to disturb the flow of my writing each morning—even with plugs in my ears! By Christmas the unremitting noise was unravelling my nerves like someone pulling out rows and rows of careful knitting.
I began to wonder then, what it would be like with nine billion people on this planet. I read somewhere that the stress of overpopulation among deer caused large numbers to die of cardiovascular disease. I can now understand why after the onslaught of tourists on peaceful Waiheke Island over Christmas and New Year. Tourism may be good for businesses, but it certainly hasn’t been good for my nerves. I’ve become irritable and tetchy and wake feeling sad. That’s when I began to think that maybe it’s time to look for a more peaceful place to live.
Where to go, though, with next to no funds at all? I pondered this on an evening walk to the beach, hoping the cool wind had sent most of the tourists scurrying indoors. I was heartened by a memory of the time I had wanted to live on a yacht while I rewrote a section of my book about sailing. A friend had pointed out a beautiful cruising yacht that had been sitting at a marina for years, obviously neglected. Upon contacting the owners, they agreed to let me live aboard in return for the love and attention I offered to give her. While living there I thought how wonderful it would be to continue writing while swinging at anchor in some tropical paradise! To my surprise, when friends took me sailing that Christmas, I met a man who invited me to sail with him to Tonga. And so, as another dream came true, I listened in delight to the songs of whales, amplified through the yacht’s steel hull, while writing at anchor on an old laptop I traded for a bottle of whiskey.
Back from my walk on the beach, I collected the local newspaper in which I chanced to see the home of my dreams overlooking green water and set on six acres of bush with fruit trees and lawn. Oh, how wonderful it would be to finish writing my book in a beautiful and tranquil home overlooking the sea! Yes, I know what you are saying, “Dream on…” Well, the truth is, I am dreaming. What a wonderful New Year thing to do!
My dream brings to mind a story about the ‘horse whisperer’ who, as a senior at school, was given a paper to write about what he wanted to be and do when he grew up. He wrote several pages about wanting to own a 200 acre horse ranch and drew a detailed plan for a 4,000 square foot house he would build on it. When the teacher handed back his paper, it was marked with a red “F”. The teacher explained that he gave the “F” because, coming from an itinerant family, he had no resources to fulfil such a dream, and suggested he redo the paper and come up with something more realistic.
That boy was Monty Roberts. Luckily he refused to redo the paper and give up his dream. Years later, that same teacher took a group of thirty boys to a 200 acre horse ranch upon which a 4,000 square foot house sat. Over the mantelpiece hangs the plan Monty Roberts submitted to him, still marked with a red “F”. Not only did Monty Roberts achieve his material dream, but he set out to show people that when you treat horses and people with kindness, you bring out the best in them. He has made tough men cry when they realise how cruelly they treat not only animals, but their own children, after seeing what Roberts easily achieves with love and kindness. Monty Roberts is now working on his lifetime goal “to leave the world a better place, for horses and people,” than he found it.
Although I have no resources to buy the house ‘of my dreams’, I cut out its picture from the paper and blue-tacked it to the wall in front of my desk. Then I printed up photos of all my friends and blue-tacked them next to it to remind me how lucky I am to have friends to love, and who care and want the best for me. Seeing their faces on the wall reminds me to appreciate them and the many things I can be grateful for.
As I did this exercise, the thought popped into my head that the only way I could afford the house on my wall was to win lottery. So, completely out of character, I bought a Lotto ticket. I also decided to find the house in the photo and went for delightful walk in the bush where I followed a track from the beach, eating wild blackberries on the way. As I walked around tree ferns growing under the shade of native trees, the only sound was birdsong and the crackling of twigs and dry leaves under my feet. I said out loud, “This could become my ‘heaven on earth.’”
And then I began to think about what I would do if I won the lottery and bought the house. I saw myself inviting my friends to stay for a weekend, each believing they would be camping on my lounge room floor. I would collect them from the ferry and tell them I had a surprise in store, and take them to my dream house where instead, they would have a comfortable bed in which to sleep. We would then have a celebratory dinner and, over a glass of wine, I would tell them of my dream…and how it became a reality.
With great pleasure and excitement I would repay loans, doubling the amount I had borrowed, for all my friends have invested in me in various ways, giving generously when they could—because they believe in me. Within the tranquillity of the bush my dream took on such a reality that I became excited about special gifts I could give, and of the wonderful weekends I could share with my friends at the house. I walked with a smile on my face at the thought of writing undisturbed and finally finishing a book in which I had shared many gifts of wisdom and understanding, hard won from painful experiences.
By the time I arrived home, joy had replaced my depressed mood. Then loud thumping drums from band practice started up. Immediately this time I rang noise control. When quietude became my companion once more, I began knitting back together again, the frayed nerves from the past few weeks.
What if, I thought, I created the image of that tranquil ‘dream’ house within my soul to carry with me wherever I go, where it can be mine forever? What would I need to do? Then I thought about all the chatter and disturbance that had lived within me for so long like noisy neighbours disturbing my well-being, rest, and sleep. I hear a chorus of voices from the past telling me that I will never be happy or succeed at anything. I hear all the put-downs, the jealous and nasty comments that morphed into self-doubt and fears. “But, what if something goes wrong?” “I can’t take a risk because…” “I want to move on, but something is holding me back…” “You are not good enough to deserve anything nice.”
I realise now that such noise is far worse and more destructive than anything I will hear from my neighbours. I need noise control to tell all the negative voices to shut up and move out of my life. And I can do that by following my dreams, taking risks, and jumping – even when I see nothing upon which to land. Then I see Apollinaire’s words as if etched in the sky from a tiny speck of a plane…
Come to the edge, he said.
They said: We are afraid.
Come to the edge, he said.
He pushed them…
And they flew.
I can fly, too, with my dreams. And, like Monty Roberts, one of my goals is to leave this world a better place than I found it. It is time to be kind and loving and respectful to one another so that instead of fearing total annihilation from the weapons of mass destruction my generation has built, our children can learn to live in peace…their hearts full of joy as they learn to give to others while following dreams of their own.
After polishing the small, but lovely, wood veneer table in the dining room that came with the cottage I rent, I smile to myself as I place my computer upon it before sitting down to continue writing my book, delightfully surprised to have found Utopia within me, where it has been all along.
It is now 11 March 2018. I never did stop dreaming. By holding that picture in my mind of what my ‘Utopia’ might look like, two years ago I just happened to find it by a stroke of ‘luck’ and strange circumstances. But that is a whole other story…
Quite often I have the whole house to myself as the couple (my age) who own the house go away for extended holidays in their campervan. While they are away I feed the quail who entertain me with their antics. A fantail visits most days and chatters to me before picking any spiders off the walls. As I write I marvel to myself that I can now look out over the sea while living in a park-like garden setting and watch yachts sail by. I believe this is one of those ‘pinch-me’ experiences.
As you can see, I didn’t need to win Lotto after all, but simply to keep on holding that picture of my ‘Utopia’ in my mind.
May 30, 2011
For many years, as Mark Sommerset wrote songs and played his guitar and drifted through life, he had a dream of writing children’s books. Then one day he wrote the first few lines of a story about a boy who saw a magnificent cherry tree on the other side of a river. Each day when the boy stopped to admire it he said, “If only I…
December 22, 2010
I am sorting through old files and rediscovering little gifts of wisdom from the many people I met on my travels twenty years ago. It causes me to wonder, would I have ever readSeven Arrows if I had not met Jim in an art gallery in Florida? Would I have worked in that gallery if it wasn’t for a car accident that stranded me in…
October 13, 2011
What you may call a disaster could actually become the greatest gift in your life. This is what I learned when Zeehaen, an eighteen-meter steel yacht my husband and I had bought to sail the world, foundered on a sandbar while at anchor, flooding the interior when she rolled into deeper water. After the high drama of a fight…