October 2022

31 Oct On Failure

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 31.10.22


Once, when a journalist saw me work one night at Auckland’s comedy club, he asked me afterwards how it had felt when one of the jokes I’d done hadn’t worked.

And when I say “hadn’t worked” it was in a quite spectacular way. Not only had there been no laughs, there had been the kind of silence we commonly describe as “uncomfortable”. Maybe followed by a groan? Hard to say – I’m deaf and it’s impossible to read lips in the dark. Small mercies.

Had I been mortified, he’d asked? Wounded? Shame-faced? I thought about it and realised that a new thing had happened. Yes, I felt a little of those things but mostly what I felt was pleased. Pleased that I had tried a new bit – the hardest part of comedy is coming up with new bits – and sure, it hadn’t worked … Yet. But it might if I kept working on it.

Though I’d realised that wasn’t the point, either. The point was ‘failure’ meant I had taken a risk. And taking a risk had become more important to me than success. If I was taking a creative risk, that meant I was still learning, and still alive.

It was the first time I’d thought of it that way – or been aware that this was how I’d started to feel. I used to be terrified of failure, anxious pre-show to the point of nausea. Maybe with this new way of seeing it, I could finally relax.

All of us spend a lot of time hoping we don’t fail – at work, as parents, in relationships. We are wired to want to succeed, and to survive. Also, failing sucks – it makes your face hot, and your stomach drop, and you want to crawl away and hide. Failing publicly – it doesn’t have to be on stage, it can just be in front of any number of humans starting with as few as one – feels physically and emotionally a lot like shame.

So we do a bunch of things to avoid failure. Good things, like preparing, training, doing our homework, making the effort, committing ourselves fully to a challenge. And maybe less good things – like not taking on a challenge at all, just in case it doesn’t work out. You’re not going to have a bad gig if you don’t do any gigs at all.

I’m aware that, at different times over the years, I have avoided competitions – or generally competitive situations – when I’ve been feeling less resilient. You weigh it up and realise that, at this moment, winning might feel ‘this’ good but losing would feel ‘THIS’ bad, so you take yourself out of the running.

Which is sensible for a short time, but no way to live forever. I’ve been thinking about this over recent days as I’ve watched people I admire and respect who had put themselves up for local body elections – which must feel like a kind of community-wide popularity contest. Some of them didn’t win and I imagine that feels pretty stink, to spend many months and lots of money, offering your services and then not being chosen. Ouch.

But also, how courageous to take that kind of risk, and how kind it is to make that offer.

Meanwhile, I still get nervous before every show. I’m still aware that I am always a heartbeat away from failure. But also, if some part of it fails, the bigger part of me is delighted I risked a new thing.



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24 Oct What Makes It A Day Off?

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 24.10.22


Two months till Christmas, right? Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. I just looked at the date and got a tiny fright myself. Ever since Covid turned up in our lives and we started spending chunks of time on “pause”, I’ve lost my inbuilt sense of “how long ago” and “how soon until”. But I think “two months till Christmas” usually comes with a mild sense of panic, right?

I am never ready for Christmas. Like anyone who works in events or entertainment, my work is seasonal and each Silly Season is delightfully mad. It starts in September, builds up a proper head of steam through October and November, and pops like a cork in December. All fun and games till someone loses an eye.

We’re not alone in this – the build-up of pressure applies to anyone who works in a business that wraps at Christmas and takes a summer break. Schools, offices, factories, tradies – anyone who plans a family getaway or shuts up shop will feel it.

So Christmas shopping happens when you are also frantically writing end of year reports, finishing projects, waiting for family to descend, booking travel and accommodation for January, and suddenly remembering one of the kids starts at a new school in February. (Again, sorry if I scared you.)

I haven’t had what you might call “a day off” for weeks – I say this not in a “wah wah” way, but with amazement that we are back to pre-Covid levels of gatherings, gala dinners and all those good things that give me a reason to shake out the sequins and fire up the curling tongs.

Though somewhere in this wild romp of gigs and travel and writing, it has made me ponder what actually constitutes “a day off”.

Is it a day when you don’t do anything you get paid for? In which case, travel days back from an event would count – except they don’t feel like rest and recreation. Is “a day off” not just about the absence of paid work, but about being able to choose what you do?

Of course, choosing what you do for a whole day is a rare luxury for a parent. Your day away from work is also their day away from school, which has you cast in unpaid roles of chauffeur, cheerleader, event manager, cleaner and cook. Some of this is fun, but it’s not all what you would choose. I recall the year my daughter signed up for water polo which involved 6am starts on a Saturday. I’m not saying I discouraged her from a second year but … I didn’t actively encourage it either.

Maybe each of us needs to think about what “a day off” looks like and see if we can design a date here and there that somewhat resembles this.

Here’s mine: Waking up without an alarm set; listening to music, not the news; not checking emails till I’ve made coffee and read something uplifting; doing some kind of bendy, stretchy exercise thing; sorting laundry and cleaning a thing till it shines; looking forward to something nice on a plate; and approaching each task slowly – even invoices or work emails or filing – and savouring it without being impatient to finish. It’s the slowness, I reckon, that makes it feel less of a chore, and tricks you into thinking it is something you choose to do.

Also, doing it – just for a day now and then – in my pyjamas. Guess what I’m wearing now.


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17 Oct A Gift of Ageing

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 17.10.22


Our family is about to celebrate a 90th birthday and it will be the first one in a very long time.

There was probably a bit of a do when my maternal great-grandmother, Edith Rogers, reached this particular milestone but I was only two years old then and don’t remember it. No doubt it involved asparagus rolls and brandy snaps because in our family you couldn’t call it a party without them – still can’t, to be fair.

This dearth of 90th birthdays is not because we have a familial tendency to shuffle off our mortal coil prematurely – life expectancy on both sides of my family is generally well into the 80s. But this 90th sets a fresh benchmark, and it will be a delight to gather for Auntie Iris – my late-father’s youngest sister – and celebrate a terrifically good run.

I like the idea of 90 – it gives you reason to imagine a life might be made up of three acts, each of them thirty years long. You can think about what you did in your first 30 years, and then how much you’ve packed into life since, and feel quite chipper about imagining another chunk of life that size. Honestly, there might almost be enough time to get it all done. Though you wouldn’t want to dilly-dally.

The gift of youth, I often think, is that you don’t yet know that some things are impossible, so you launch yourself into ventures you might be wary of later. It can turn out they were possible – mostly because you thought they were. There is something to be said for being so young you haven’t had time to make a lot of mistakes. That youthful lack of cynicism is to be treasured.

Those of you in Act Two or Three – think about what you did in Act One, before you turned 30. I bet there was some wild stuff in there – stuff you might not do now, but which you don’t regret having a crack at then, and I bet a whole lot of it worked out really well.

As we get older, experience can make us risk averse. But it can also make us the other thing if we choose it. I have come to believe the gift of ageing is knowing in your bones that, if there is something you want to do, best you get on to it now. You become aware there is much less “later” than there used to be.

I have developed a taste for reading biographies and watching biopics – a thing we love to do, it seems, when we reach a certain age because, I’m guessing, as you start to feel the shape of your own life it’s encouraging to take a look at the shape of someone else’s.

I’ve recently watched two documentaries – one about Leonard Cohen, the other on David Bowie – and in both you could detect a time in their third act when they clearly had zero tosses to give about what other people thought of them. There was less anxiety – about failure, or anything else – and a palpable sense of nothing to prove and nothing to lose. Both those moments were followed by an intense period of creative output.

Self-acceptance is a glorious thing. It is also mercurial – you can have it on a Tuesday, and then wonder where it’s gone by week’s end. So perhaps another gift of ageing is learning to celebrate any moment of feeling comfortably and unapologetically yourself. Serve yourself an asparagus roll and a brandy snap. Make it a party.


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10 Oct At The Movies

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 10.10.22


I have taken to scooting off to the movies at the drop of a hat. It feels a wild indulgence to sneak a couple of hours out of an afternoon and watch stories in the dark about other people’s lives.

I used to think the point of going to the movies was the company, but it’s enough to have an audience of strangers, a big screen and an ice-cream to make it feel like an event.

When I was a kid, it really was an event. We’d put on our Sunday Best (black patent leather shoes, yes please) and I’d have a Sherbet Dab sold exclusively at the Regent Theatre – a red lollipop you dipped into a powder-filled envelope and fizzed on your tongue. This was back when we stood for ‘God Save The Queen’ and Dick Van Dyke was in all the films.

Now I go as I am, though with a coat because all movie theatres are freezing. I can do this because my life doesn’t have a regular structure. I work from home, or out of town, or at night or all day or both, and then occasionally none of the above. I don’t know what the word is for this. Asked to provide one recently I started, “My life is…” and a man offered, “Chaos?” But it doesn’t feel like chaos. Just a lot of different things I love which happen in an unpredictable order. “Impromptu”, perhaps, like these trips to the movies.

A friend says going out by yourself feels “like a secret” and I know exactly what she means. Especially for people who have spent chunks of their lives caring for others, managing complex logistics of pick-ups and drop-offs similar to General Norman Schwarzkopf that time he was organising Operation Desert Storm. Though Desert Storm only lasted 43 days. Now, when only you know where you are, it is thrilling.

There is a time when you are a kid when you grow big enough to go out by yourself. For a bike ride, to the shops, to the playground by the lake. No longer picked up or dropped off at an approved place at an appointed time by a responsible adult. You are becoming one of those yourself.

This is what being a grown-up meant – to think, what would I like to do right now? Where would I like to go?

You got a lot of this when you first left home – these opportunities which are also responsibilities. Then there was very little of it once you were in relationship and/or had kids. The chance to be alone or do things by yourself were so few and far between that sometimes you might go to the bathroom and lock the door just for a bit of peace.

I can see myself as a kid, going for long bike rides on my own. Sometimes this would be to the cemetery down the other end of town, to read headstones and imagine other people’s lives. You could find markers to make stories, like the gap in time between the husband’s death and the wife’s. Most often it was a matter of months but sometimes it was decades, and you invented different stories for the years in between – was it a long grief, or a liberation? Then on the way home you’d have a Jelly Tip.

And here I am this many years later, sitting in the dark with an ice-cream, still fascinated by stories about other people’s lives.



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