November 13, 2004

Tyranny of Distance

One thing about being a lawyer, even one with L-plates firmly attached, is that there's LOADS of reading to keep up with keep stacked in an orderly pile somewhere. Mine is currently doing a good impersonation of Tower of Pisa.

It’s mostly newsletters, detailing current legislative debate, recent case commentary, occasional snippets of Hansard (sometimes quite amusing, I have to say), thrilling missives on the new Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act, the implications for property transactions of the new Building Act, stuff about tax and trusts and estates and commerce. Ugh.

The pile doesn’t exactly go down, but now and then I finish one, initial it and put it into a second, much more modest ‘to-be-filed-somewhere’ pile. My desk is covered in piles. I am a Piler of Things. Now there’s an analogy…

This is going somewhere. I came across this piece a few weeks ago, and funnily enough it stacks nicely with my own half-formed theories on the societal and cultural influence of New Zealand’s geographical location with respect to the Rest of the World.

Tyranny of Distance

Some things do not change. Professor Michael Taggard prefaces a recent article (2004) 15 Public Law Review 1 with a quotation from Mark Twain's book, Following the Equator: a journey around the world (1897) which read: "All people think that New Zealand is close to Australia or Asia, or somewhere, and that you cross to it on a bridge. But that is not so. It is not close to anything, but lies by itself, out in the water. It is nearest to Australia, but still not too near. The gap between is very wide. It will be a surprise to the reader, as it was to me, to learn that the distance from Australia to New Zealand is really twelve or thirteen hundred miles, and that there is no bridge." In August, the English writer Jenny Diski (London Review of Books, 5/8/2004) observed: "... everything is far away from New Zealand if that is where you are. But that's easy to say if you are merely in transit and you have a return ticket to the far away you came from. All New Zealanders tell you about their European trip, a year or five spent where far away isn't. Or they say that they are planning such a trip - soon or one day. The feeling of separation grabs you, and you rapidly begin to think like a New Zealander. I've never felt the distance of distance so strongly. Not in the Antarctic, not at the tip of Tierra del Fuego, not even in the nowhere of Raton, New Mexico. Only in the grip of a depression have I felt the 'world', whatever I and my New Zealand hosts meant by that, to be so remote."

From The Capital Letter 27 TCL 35, 10


Six months is my longest stretch away from these shores in all my 24 years; I look forward to spending many more months exploring the corners of the world. All I know is that when I moved back to Dunedin after six months in a cultural blender, I felt like I was coming back to mono sound when I had grown accustomed to 5.1 surround. I vividly recall the metamorphosis as I flew home. One minute I was living the dream, and the next (actually a painful 24 hours later) it was over. I recall the drive from Wellington airport – I kept my eyes closed for as long as I could, trying to keep the awful truth at bay. Moving back to Dunedin may well have been one of the hardest things ever, even harder than the idea of my third year jurisprudence exam (which in reality wasn’t so bad). Of course I “got over it”, there’s little choice to do otherwise. I put my memories and experiences away, kept on walking through and beyond the reverse culture shock.

Something I ponder now and then is how our geographical isolation shapes our identity. The potential effects of isolation, insulation, and influences intrigue me. As I said, it's a half-formed theory. Like Mainland cheese...

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15 Comments:

Blogger The Saturnyne said...

That's a really cool and thought-provoking post, Jessie. One of the best i've read since becoming a blogger. Stirred a whole lot of memories within me, it did.

Don't recall you ever saying anything about being/becoming a lawyer before, either. That brings a very new side to you that i didn't know existed.

S.x

3:41 PM  
Blogger Barry said...

Hehe - your desk souns like mine did when I was in practice - just wait till you get the neat (and not so neat) little stacks around the edges of the office as well.

You know, when I was thrown out of the UK after establishing something of a suitable life there, and having a no more imaginative solution than to buy a one way ticket to New Zealand (well Sydney actually, it was cheaper - I still don't really know why I got off in Auckland) I had the same sort of reaction to home: how small and lacking it was. This was not helped by my relocation to Whangarei. You are definitely correct in saying that isolation shapes identity, it has a huge impact upon our expectations, which have to be tailoured to what is possible or we go mad. I admire Keri Hulme: she has made a thing out of isolation and of enjoying the things that are unique to her particular bit of the world. I am yet to be convinced that I will ever be acclimatised to New Zealand, despite it being my "home" - thanks to the gods of technology, I can escape every so often. Of course, it may also be down to the gods of technology that I am aware of something different and thus want to escape.

2:05 AM  
Blogger The Saturnyne said...

Hi there, Barry. Hope you don't mind me asking, and i shan't be offended if ya don't wanna reply, after all the past is the past, and a person to my mind is best measured by who they are in the present...
...but why were you thrown out of the U.K.?

Yours inquisitively.
S.

4:41 AM  
Blogger Barry said...

Nothing too dramatic - my two years were up, my court challenge against not being given a work permit was lost, my appeal to the Home Office to let me stay anyway fell on deaf ears. To be absolutely honest, I wasn't thrown out - rather the Home Office told my employer to fire me, which they did, so staying was no longer viable.

5:24 AM  
Blogger The Saturnyne said...

Ah, right. Thanks.

Bloody Home Office! They can be right bastards.

3:21 PM  
Blogger Jessie said...

Thanks for the kind words, Saturnyne. Barry - you're right about tailoring expectations. It's hard to reconcile the limitations of location... makes the need to fly, one day, all the greater. It's definitely a common dream.
Either way, there's plenty to do in the meantime.

7:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

very interesting post, i agree... especially considering how i feel about new zealand, being a non-native. i was writing an e-mail to a friend of mine in the states on friday - here is a bit of it:

"and from there things have just been continually moving upwards and onwards for me - i started my permanent job last November, got together with chris at new years, turned 30 in may, visited the states (1st time in 2.5 years) in august and discovered for myself what it means to truly have a place you identify as home. and now i am just two months away from submitting my application for permanent residency in new zealand."

one of the most amazing emotional experiences of my life was on the plane back to new zealand in september - it was a stunning morning and as we flew into auckland you could see forever - and i've never been so happy to see a place in my life...

sometimes i grumble about how far away new zealand is from seemingly everything else, but i can't help feeling that is part of the charm and appeal it has for me... and why it has become my home...

marilyn

8:02 PM  
Blogger The Saturnyne said...

Oh, good people! You so make me wanna visit you all now. One day, when i'm well enough to travel again, New Zealand will be the very first place i'll come to.

I think it sounds just perfect to me. The kind of place i'd settle in and call home. I love my own home with a passion, but-

(And here The Saturnyne is so moved by the thoughts and passions he feels for faraway places and the peoples to see there, that he leaves his computer and it's connection to the outside world, and steps outside to look with deep unhappiness at the moon and stars journeying through the heavens. Such things are free. And The Saturnyne is not.)

2:29 AM  
Blogger Barry said...

Just to change topics completely, Jessie, but sorry I gazumped you on that Fang CD on trademe the other day. We nearly had Karen Onanon betting against us as well - luckily she recognised my user name and backed off.

4:48 AM  
Blogger Jessie said...

Ha! That was you! Funny. It's okay, it was going to be my fourth copy anyway... I really like that CD! I wasn't even sure who I was going to give it to; I hope that you like it! I've been spending way too much (time) on trademe of late anyhow.

5:08 AM  
Blogger Dani said...

Beautiful entry, Jessie. There is so much I want to say to that, and to the comments posted here, but... I'm stuck-on-stupid and can't get the words out.
Sigh.

5:41 AM  
Blogger Jessie said...

S'all good Dani! Thanks for the visit :)

9:59 AM  
Blogger limegreen said...

Hmmm. I remember when my "To read" pile first reached about 10cm tall. The following year I came up with a `solution', in that I started to catalogue everything as it came in. Stuff which seemed ultra-relevant got left in the "To read" pile, and everything else got filed. On the off-chance that I should ever want/need to read anything, I can look it up in my catalogue. Of course that hardly ever happens, and my new "To read" pile is probably about a foot now. And then there is all the other paper.

I guess I'm also a bit challenged (not in a bad way) by your comments with respect to NZ, and especially Dunedin, as it seems like I'm more and more settling here. I've been away a few times (although never for longer than 2 months), but instead of finding it like mono sound, it's more (to me) clean and minimalist -- refreshing. Or maybe I'm just justifying my choice to stay.

8:40 PM  
Blogger Jessie said...

Limegreen: the views expressed are largely representative of the way I felt to return home. Generally I'm very glad to be here and I'm aware, as much as one can be, of just how lucky I am... but I'm also aware that it's the nature of humanity (good at generalising aren't I) to be dissatisfied with one's current lot.

7:12 PM  
Blogger limegreen said...

I didn't mean that to come across at all negatively. Perhaps the thing which makes it different for me is that I've never been away long enough to settle. Because it was more holiday than normal life, for me, coming back was like returning home, not like going back to somewhere where I used to live. I'm just thinking aloud really, trying to sort some things out for myself.

10:01 PM  

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