I met Damon nearly a decade ago although our paths crossed only briefly and irregularly for most of those years. Usually we’ve met at sustainability events of one sort or another at which we seem to have a bit of a history of publicly debating with one another.
One of our first such “debates” occurred at a conference at AUT. We were listening to a woman from one of NZ’s largest fisheries presenting on her organisation’s efforts to become sustainable and Damon asked about the overall sustainability of the entire fishing industry.
It was a fair question, but my concern went to the speaker, as much as his was with the ocean and sea life. That’s where the issues of social and environmental justice intersect – women have had to fight so hard to be heard and seen so I tend to take their side no matter what!
I have a fierce loyalty to women doing the best they can with what they have and you will see me standing up for friends or even foes many times again before my final breath. I often have to stand up for people and I rarely shy away from doing so and I’d like to think others would do the same for me when it’s their turn to be brave.
I will have friends backs and fronts and I will also tell people plainly if I do not like them and why – even though that’s not the kiwi way though I understand my candour can be considered obnoxious. I prefer that to being passive aggressive. Ask me one day how many fucks I give about the people I offend or scare through authenticity or bravery and I’m sure you can guess the answer. So many more things to concern ourselves with in these crazy times. Bruising the odd ego doesn’t make that list.
Speaking of other more important issues, say for example bullying and poverty, I remember driving with some associates to a vegan fundraising dinner to kick off a food poverty awareness initiative some years ago now.
All those in attendance were there to commit to a campaign to live on a three dollar a day budget for an entire month. That challenge forever changed the way I looked at food security and the social and psychological impacts of being hungry. I remember being so grumpy and hungry toward the end of the challenge having to live on oats, kiwifruit, and very little else.
That short time was my turn to walk a month in the shoes of the roughly one in five of the people in Aotearoa that live under the poverty line. This was my turn to be hungry and feel the ripples of sadness and insecurity that thrived in the dusty soil of that hunger and hopelessness. It was my turn to feel that way and fuck it opened my white privileged eyes wide and in short order. Opinions on health and obesity were turned on their head and I still think about that time a lot. Poverty is a prison without bars and society makes it nearly fucking impossible to break free. I don’t personally have a strategy or the answers to change this, but I do know how easy my life has been financially and how rare that is and how most people in my position completely take it for granted.
It was a little look into a reality that makes me angry and sad and left me bereft of the ability to judge the diets of those on the bread line or marginalised without food security. For the first time in the just over thirty years on the planet I finally understood the incredible pull of fat and sugar to fill an ongoing and relentless void. It wasn’t just the food. It was the feeling. That feeling of empty and helpless that comes from being denied access to nutrition and variety and the joy that good food brings to me and most of my peers.
Anyway. That whole time that it was my turn to be hungry and dig deep into my undeniable and sporadically documented white privileged guilt was kicked off in the same room as a man who would several years later become my fiancé. How weird is that right?
On the way to the event one of the people who joined me that evening had a lengthy dialogue about Damon being “beautiful” and I do believe that was the night he was in my reckoning christened “the Kiwi Ken Doll of sustainability” in my mind and vernacular. I saved his number in my phone under that name as a bit of a joke. He had no idea. Our paths crossed soon after that event as he invited me to do a Pecha Kucha presentation on electrification of transport in Aotearoa. Anyway. It was a lovely event and evening although I actually didn’t talk to Damon at all that night. He was there with a large group of friends and colleagues looking aloof and stylish and adored. I was also still very married to my Phoulmate Phteven. It was not my turn to talk to Damon that night. But my turn would come.
As an aside, I feel it is worth mentioning because I LOVE this bit… Those two associates I attended the event with are both long gone from my life as they in turn proved to be truly horrid and/or spectacularly incompetent as friends, colleagues, and sadly just awful human beings. Sure they have their stories, we are all shoveling shit but they proved to be at best cowards and at worst petty, malicious, greedy and nasty. To them I was not a friend but a gravy train or a quick stop at a station as they manipulated and complained their way through life. They had their turn and plenty of time and countless chances to prove themselves to be decent or at least beautifully broken and fascinating. They failed on all counts in spectacular fashion.
I can handle just about any character flaws and do not shy away from complication or intensity in people. It’s an honour to have met and known so many souls for moments or for decades. I love people, the quirkier and more authentic the better, and so many have and will continue to offer colourful threads as my life’s tapestry continues to be woven. A smile grows steadily on my face and a sigh of relief escapes as I write this account of letting go of toxic people. I do not hate them. That would require effort. I just cherish the distance I now enjoy without them and many others who have been. I’ve gladly let go of a good many assholes, and sadly let go of some lovely people who simply were not meant to remain in my narrative or me in theirs over the years. Some I miss dearly, most I do not miss at all, or even think about unless I am recounting or recalling a story that brings one of those many closed chapters to mind.
Perhaps some of the people who have passed through our life and fallen are doing great things. I hope so. Truly, I generally and genuinely hope the absolute best for most everyone I meet. Awareness, growth, learning, laughter, Love. I wish these things even for… perhaps especially for those I have moved on from. Not those two though, they’re like wrinkly, officious, sad, insecure, mean versions of fairy tale ugly step-sisters and last I heard neither of them are particularly at ease or happy in Love or in life. I still hope things turn around for them, but it needs to be at a vast distance from me.
It is now my turn to have only healthy, honest and mutually respectful and encouraging relationships. Don’t get me wrong, we are all perfectly imperfect and in relationships, even healthy ones, we drop the ball and even argue at times. Conflict is okay and usually passes pretty quickly between the stoic sisterhood that remains in my world. But no more ugly step sister constant building them up and being let down and put down and treated like shit. That’s old me. It’s my turn to have boundaries, standards and respect. And I do. And it is fucking brilliant, even if it takes some effort and solid and earnest communication which can of course be staggered as I don’t really see people much these days…
We have our turns being villain, victor, victim and a vast variety of parts in our time and in our turn. I’ve moved rather far from the intended theme of this conversation. It has taken a typically tangential turn into something completely different than what I wanted to say when I started this outpouring of reminiscing and ranting as I so often do when my fingertips find their rhythm and the story takes on a life of its own.
What I wanted to say, was that after a decade of dancing around one another, Damon and I have now just spent two very intense and generally lovely and uplifting years together – it seems to be our turn to be happy.
Damon has also just changed his professional trajectory. He has said since the very first night we… erm… “hung out” that he felt a distinct and compelling urge to take a break and make some changes. Not because he was unhappy or unfulfilled or unwanted in his role. Nothing could be further from the truth. He has spent nearly seven years working solidly toward a spectacularly successful vision. His role as CEO at EcoMatters was an integral part of countless people’s lives in our sector and especially in the West of Auckland.
Damon led a talented, terrific and magically motley crew of passionate community and environmental champions to a place I can barely describe without tearing up a little. The culture of safety, inclusion, diversity, kindness, and hope that embraces you when you step over the threshold of the community centre is something so special I was honestly intimidated by it at first. After fits and starts and feeling like I might not be good enough for the “Kiwi Ken Doll of Sustainability” who was clearly a beloved and charismatic leader, I finally reached a place where I earned the trust and respect of most of his leadership team (I hope) and I relish any excuse to cross paths with them now. In just two more sleeps we will be at a farewell event for my beloved. None of the team wanted to see him go, but they love and respect him enough to know he’s due a little rest. He will keep his toe in the water and continue to contract to them while he takes a sabbatical and considers any number of the exciting options being made available to him as the market gets a whiff of the news he and his charisma and skillset are potentially available for hire. He can and will do whatever he wants, but first he needs a little rest.
He has juggled so very many balls for so very long. Not the least of which has been caring for my crazy ass through the second breakdown (that’s Dee’s Behemoth Breakdown V.2.0 for those paying attention to the sequence of events and titles they’ve been given).
He waited patiently for his turn and the right time to ask me out. He was brave. He was patient. He was calm. He was honest. He came to a couples therapy session with me two weeks into our relationship. He has been kind and generous and helpful to my family, and charming as fuck to my friends. And you know what… It is his turn to do whatever he needs to do right now.
It is my turn to be his calm and comfort. He is tired. He has run a personal and professional marathon as so many of us do and have. When it was my turn to take a break, the whole universe rose to the occasion and my once chaotic life was suddenly and serenely sized down. He kept calm and carried on for me and so many through countless personal and professional challenges. I have had nearly two years of regeneration and recovery and I had no idea how fucking far and firm I would eventually find my financial, physical, mental, emotional, and social shit coming together. My life is unrecognizable and the next chapter is so authentically and electrifyingly exciting I cannot wait to share our plans with you all. From high flying to low lying I am preparing for the most wonderful chapter of my incredible story so far.
So. Like you, I’ve had my turn as the supportive and the supported in many a relationship and many a dynamic.
After a strange but successful recovery from a long and painful descent into madness… it is now my turn to let my partner pick his pace. While I am well rested and ready to hit the starting blocks for our next project, he really does need some time before we kick off the next race.
And that’s what I was trying to say. It’s my turn to turn it up a bit while Damon takes a much needed and unbelievably well-deserved breath.
We have another marathon ahead.
Thanks for reading.