Stephen Witherden’s Website

9/24/2012

Pink electric toothbrush

Filed under: — Stephen @ 9:28 pm

Pink Electric Toothbrush

“So, do you want an electric toothbrush?” Sarah proffered the pink and white device before me.

My ever efficient flatmate Sarah is moving out. Not only is she moving out but she’s getting married and leaving the country to live with her new husband in India. Yes, that’s right: India. Since she’s leaving New Zealand she’s been diligently getting rid of her things, selling them, giving them to me, or just throwing them away.

And now it came down to her pink electric toothbrush. Her parents got her that toothbrush for her birthday a very long time ago. She hasn’t used it in years but in all the time I’ve known her that tooth brush has sat resolutely on the bathroom sink. Four different flats, if memory serves.

I drew her into a hug and started sobbing uncontrollably on her shoulder. I guess it hit home hard this time: I was blindsided.

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A small blessing

Filed under: — Stephen @ 12:23 am

The caller ID displayed “private”. I tried not to sigh out loud. Only one person I know has a private number.

“Hi Stephen”

It was J (not his real name). J is one of those people who only ever calls when he needs a favour. One of those people who never seems to call wanting to buy me a coffee or to ask about my day, just that he needs a favour and the other 4 people he called before he got to me were too busy.

“Hi, J” I tried to be up-beat “how are you?” My theory is that J is lonely but doesn’t know how to just be friends with someone. He’s so used to asking for help that he doesn’t know how to just ring up and have a conversation, he needs to ask for something.

“Well” I hear the panic rise in his voice as he remembers the problem “you see my microwave broke down today, just the most awful luck, I turned it on this morning and black smoke came out the back, it’s just dreadful and I was wondering if you could take me to St. Luke’s to get a new one?”

“Sure” I responded encouragingly. I do try to help him when his requests are reasonable. That means that when he’s being unreasonable, I don’t feel guilty saying “no”.

He txted me a number of times during the day to just check and triple check the time. I was late picking him up as a friend on Facebook started up a conversation just before I left. To be honest I wasn’t too enthused about the whole exercise. I often find myself doing favours for J and he’s the sort who will try to up the ante.

We made our way to the Briscoes. It was a hot day, I parked in the shade while he went to do his purchase. No doubt it would be on special, he likes getting a good deal. I refused to join him in the shop ever since the time he got me to help him buy a bucket chair and I then had to help him argue with the staff as well.

Pleased with himself, J placed the microwave in the back seat.

“You’ll never guess how much that was!” he declared excitedly.
“I have no idea, J, please tell me”. I said in my most patronising tone.

I guess part of me resented having to take up my afternoon helping him in the first place. I am very sensitive to the fact that I am a people pleaser, compliant. I like to make people happy and so if someone asks something of me: a favour, a car ride, a loan, I am only too keen to help. I end up doing a lot of favours for people like J and I always get that sinking feeling that I am being taken advantage of.

We talked about his day, his plans, his health we made comment on the weather and then he started digging into my personal life.

“No, J, I am not talking about that”

It’s one of the boundaries I have put in place. J has a tendency to ask just one more personal question to the point where he starts talking about things even I am uncomfortable talking about. Because of this I’ve just drawn a firm line on personal things. He persisted again and again and so in frustration I just stopped replying. We sat in the car in awkward silence for the rest of the ride back to his apartment.

“Well, have a good afternoon J and enjoy your new microwave” I tried to be cheerful.
“Oh, you will forgive me won’t you, Stephen?”
“Of course, J, already forgotten”
“Will you help carry this up, it’s heavy”
“No”

Another boundary. I know that if I ever agree to come up to J’s apartment I will be required to rewire his sound system and teach him how to use his TV remote.

“Oh, ok, well have a good day” with that he walked off, his microwave in his arms.

As I drove away I sighed, watching him carry his microwave back to his apartment in his skinny arms.

“God, please bless J” I prayed quietly to myself. It’s a thing I do. I do it all the time for people I am concerned about and let’s face it, there’s a lot to be concerned about for J.

The answer came pretty much immediately to my mind:
“You were my blessing for him today”

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Religious nonsense. Certainly it may be, but even if you’re not a religious person you can’t overlook the fact that at that very moment, it dawned on me that I was quite possibly the very best thing to happen to J the whole day, Maybe even the whole week.

And you know what? I felt ashamed. What a small weak pitiful blessing I must be. I could have been kinder, nicer, more encouraging and friendly.

No matter whether you’re religious or not, at every moment in your life, you have an opportunity to be a blessing to others. You may be the best thing to happen to the next person you meet. Will you make the most of that opportunity? I hope I do.

4/19/2012

How Piano is Changing my Life

Filed under: — Stephen @ 12:02 am

“I can see you’ve been working really hard” Sam enthused encouragingly, his sincere expression belying the truth: “you haven’t really worked all that hard till now, have you?”. I grinned sheepishly and took the compliment like the eager student that I am. It’s hard going, and slow going, but I am determined to succeed. “Jingle Bells” my new nemesis, “She’ll be comin’ ‘round the Mountain” my stretch goal.

Being able to play the piano has always been a latent goal of mine but it’s always been something I’ve left in the “I’ll do it later” bucket. I picked it up recently out of necessity: I need to know how to read music in order to join a good choir. Once started, however, piano has become something of a goal in and of itself.

I guess that having a gym instructor has taught me the truth of the platitude: you’re never too old to learn. I know more about biceps than I ever really expected I would need to know. Another truth is that you learn far easier with instruction. I’ve taken to getting lessons for things I’m not so good at so that I can improve. It really does work.

Sam (my piano instructor) and I have discovered that my wrists are all bent out of shape from my keyboard at work: so out with the old keyboard layout that has served me well all my life and in with the natural keyboard I have shunned until now. I have even started finishing work on time so that I can have time to practise. Like anything that requires a modicum of discipline, this piano playing goal has started having a positive influence on other areas of my life.

The video below shows my progress at playing “sailor’s hornpipe”.

2/6/2012

Vinegar Hill 2011

Filed under: — Stephen @ 1:32 pm

vhillchairI lay there in the darkness, wrapped tightly in my sleeping bag. My hips ached from sleeping on the softening inflatable mattress. I shifted my weight, making sure not to lie on the saturated bit. The sound of rain hitting taught canvas came at me in three dimensions. It had been raining solid these past three days, so much so that a number of people had upped and left camp yesterday. I’d stayed on with the others to see in the New Year with all the stubbornness of someone who had driven half a day just to be there.

Everything was pitch black. Well, not quite. My discarded left shoe glowed internally with an eerie green fire. That must be the glow sticks I’d left there after crawling in from a night around the brazier. It’s unseemly to go to bed immediately after midnight on New Years Eve, so we braved the cold and drizzles to do a proper job of it. (more…)

10/22/2011

Porridge over Auckland

Filed under: — Stephen @ 2:06 pm

Porridge over AucklandAs my friend Peter Mason once said “a breakup always puts me in an existential mood”. These last two months after the breakup, especially over my birthday, have got me thinking: what is my purpose in life and when will I know that I have achieved it?

“Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless”

That’s how Ecclesiastes starts. It’s a pretty reasonable conclusion.

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9/4/2011

Action Stephen

Filed under: — Stephen @ 11:35 pm

Action Stephen“Hello? It’s Craig here,” my phone enunciated in my ear.
“Hello Craig” I replied encouragingly.
“From… Body by Craig”, it added, somewhat apologetically.
Thus was my introduction to Craig, my personal trainer.

Yes, that’s right: I have a personal trainer now. I’ve been to the gym a few times in the past but I haven’t been particularly good at it. Since I have the money for it, I thought it would be best to give it a properly good go for 6 months at least.

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8/25/2011

Without a Paddle

Filed under: — Stephen @ 12:17 am

DSC_7824I drove Russell home and pulled up into his driveway. “I’ve been thinking….” oh dear, this can’t be good news. I put my foot on the brake. “I feel like there’s been a bit of tension between us lately…” he continued.

That’s how it started, in the next 30 minutes Russell broke up with me there in my car.

You’d think I’d be pretty used to it by now. Maybe it’s just my imagination, but it seems like people always break up with me within a month of my birthday.

I cried.

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8/12/2011

Life Shared

Filed under: — Stephen @ 5:57 pm

The groomsmaids filed in to the tune of “teenage dream”, their dresses flowing magnificently down the stairs, their respective escorts dangled off their arms like so much blue, black and white jewelery. I smiled just a little as I noticed the lesbian couple: that girl pulls off the suit and tie look better than some men I know.

This didn’t seem like an ordinary wedding, and yet (happily) it was. As Katy Perry reached her chorus the two grooms, supported by their respective mothers, followed their groomsmaids in. It suddenly struck me as a strangely apt thing to do.

Music stopped, glances were shared and the ceremony began. As they shared their vows, I looked over at Russell beside me. His eyes welled with tears: a look of pride, joy, and something else. I rested my hand on his knee and he took it immediately, giving it a little squeeze.

Russell, like just about every other good thing that’s ever happened to me, happened entirely independently of my own doing. This is both the joy and the confusion of the situation for me: I don’t know why it is he suddenly entered my life, and I don’t know why he might leave it just as suddenly.

We first met in mid February this year. At first I thought it was something of a joke. I mean, a geeky (attractive) Christian gay guy who not only found me interesting, but wanted to date as well? Not even in my most secret and fervent prayers had I hoped there would be so accurate a match for me. It seemed to me as though someone had dreamed up the perfect guy as a form of torment. The first date proved him far from a joke: more real than I had imagined.

Six months on and things are still far from certain. We both have our doubts, but to be honest this is the most real relationship I have ever participated in. I find it hard to explain what I mean by “real”. I guess it’s on the completely other end of “fantasy”: not without its complications, surely, but firmly rooted in a reality that makes me optimistic about the future. I even used the dreaded “L” word. Something I’ve never done before without prompting.

We danced that night at the reception, trying awkwardly to figure out how two men do the two-step. I feel so humbled to have been invited to attend such an intimate occasion with Russell’s friends. As the day progressed, I reasoned that Russell and I must be the only other gay male couple at the wedding. It kind of made sense in a strange way. Marriage is still not a particularly gay thing, some gay pundits going so far as to decry it “heteronormative” and “sell out”. They say we should define whatever relationships suit us.

I don’t really care much about what they say.

I mean, admittedly, as a teenager I never saw marriage as high on my priority list. Then again, I never saw relationships as particularly important either. I’ve always believed in existentialism: life is about experiencing things. Being single is like that moment when you’re experiencing that life and something so surprising happens you turn to the person next to you and exclaim “wow! did you see that?”… only to find there is no one there.

Dodging the smokers to stand with Russell on the balcony of the hotel room, looking out at the serene beauty of lake Wakatipu, it’s easy to understand why relationships are important for so many people, and have become so important to me too.

4/6/2011

Sala kahle Emilina

Filed under: — Stephen @ 12:53 pm

Emilina“Sawubona umfaan, wena usaphila na?”

My subconscious registered the formal Zulu greeting and the response came unbidden to my lips.

“Yebo, ngisaphila, wena usaphila, na?” I surprised myself by how much Zulu I know.

“Yebo, ngiyabonga, umfaan”

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3/23/2011

Pre-flight ordeal

Filed under: — Stephen @ 4:41 am

KeysI was scheduled to travel back to South Africa: my country of birth. A place I hadn’t been to since I was 18 years old, about 13 years ago.

Everything was planned (in as much as I ever plan anything) down very finely. I arrived in Auckland from Brisbane at 7pm on Sunday, did a bunch of church finances, got the information to the auditor the next morning, handed over a bunch of work and prepared for the day-long meeting at work on Tuesday. The day-long meeting itself lasted from 9am to 2pm, thereafter I quickly whipped up the minutes, sent my final emails to those who needed input from me and raced to the university to give a guest lecture from 5pm to 7pm. Dinner and a shower later and I was off visiting a special someone up on the North Shore before the great trek.

As you can imagine it was a situation of mild panic packing my bags once I got home at around midnight. All I needed to do was get to the bus stop by 3am and I’d make my 6:15am flight in plenty of time. As I packed my toiletries I noticed I was out of razor blades. Hmm, I should buy more of those, I’ll just pop out to the store.

I ran up the stairs unlocked the door and stepped out. In one fluid unthinking movement, I locked and closed the door behind me.

Oh… bugger.

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2/28/2011

By any other name

Filed under: — Stephen @ 11:11 pm

By any other nameIt was two weeks ago, late Friday afternoon and I was just putting the finishing touches on a spreadsheet or some such when my phone buzzed angrily. I don’t know why I hate the sound of my phone no matter what the ringtone is. I guess I just don’t look forward to phone calls. “Ally” it announced in bright white letters. I’d better take this.

“Hi Ally” I said in my most cheerful voice.

“Hi” the voice on the other end was quiet, small and unassuming. The voice of a person who is used to slouching just a little to avoid looking conspicuously tall. The voice of someone used to being in the background, trying not to rock the boat, used to barely being seen.

“I got a letter from my father”

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2/6/2011

Vinegar Hill 2010

Filed under: — Stephen @ 11:59 pm

DSC_4906I had been in two minds about going to Vinegar Hill for a few weeks. Vinegar Hill, for the uninitiated, is a great big gay camping event that’s held here in New Zealand every year and every year I seem to be able to come up with an excuse: too far away, too busy, don’t have a tent. It was still 50/50 when I popped into the car in Hamilton to begin the journey down, but just like all journeys, once you get started it’s hard to stop.

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One night stand

Filed under: — Stephen @ 11:24 pm

“Do what makes you happy, Stephen, but don’t do those…. one night stand things… that just makes me frightened” My grandmother’s sound advice. Now, though I have been figuring out how relationships work for quite some time, and though I often go to gay bars. I have never, ever, ever “met” anyone at a bar, let alone experienced that all-to-common “one night stand” phenomenon. That is, until last Thursday. Please don’t read the rest if you don’t want to!

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12/20/2010

A Good Thing

Filed under: — Stephen @ 11:58 pm

I knelt there beside his prone body, his mouth was open at an awkward angle that matched his position on the ground. “God, help me, God help me” he managed to squeeze the words around his tongue, his eyes rolling back into his head out of pain… or perhaps it was fear.

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11/29/2010

The heart is slow to learn

Filed under: — Stephen @ 12:02 am

Those of you who know me rather well will know that this last month or so has been tough for me emotionally. As is often the case, it involves a guy: a marvellous guy. We’ve been friends for a few years and by happy circumstance recently found ourselves in each other’s arms. At the time I told him I was only in it for the physical, but I was wrong. Deep down, I guess I always knew I was wrong.

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10/24/2010

Do What You Want

Filed under: — Stephen @ 1:27 pm

Beach at Browns BayI was complaining to a friend of mine the other day about all the things that I had to do: a deluge of responsibilities at work, a torrent of administrative stuff for church. I’m inundated by events I’m supposed to organise, events I’m supposed to turn up to important family commitments. You know, sometimes life gets that way: where you feel as though you’re so busy doing the things you have to do that there’s simply no time left to do the things you really want to do.

My friend then said the strangest thing: “oh, well, at least it’s all good stuff”.

Good stuff?

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10/12/2010

The Tao of Pooh

Filed under: — Stephen @ 1:24 am

Lounge LayoutI met five friends far out in the wood
Rabbit, Eyeore, Owl, Piglet and Pooh

“My friends” I exclaimed
I’m so glad you came
How fares this evening for you?

“Been busy” said Rabbit
“Been thinking” said Owl
“I’ve always just been” said Pooh

“I am angry” moaned Eyeore
“I am worried” squeaked Piglet
“I suppose I just am” mused Pooh

So, Rabbit dashed off in a hurry
Owl’s mind had already flown too
Eyeore slunk under covers
Piglet followed the others

But…

“I’ll stay here with you now” said Pooh

10/10/2010

NZ Xeno

Filed under: — Stephen @ 6:42 pm

I love New Zealand. It’s my country of choice, I considered myself a New Zealander within a few months of arriving here and I am pretty sure it will always be my “home” even though I don’t plan on living here forever. Still, I have to admit to a little kernel of unpleasantness in our society that has been receiving quite a bit of attention lately.

Those of you outside New Zealand probably haven’t heard about Paul Henry. Well, I hadn’t heard much of him either, but he’s a TV presenter for our breakfast TV show and he has a habit of saying stupid things for laughs. He recently stated on national TV that our Governor General (the person who represents the Queen as head of state) doesn’t “look” or “sound” like a “New Zealander”, despite the fact that the GG was born in New Zealand and has a long distinguished history of serving the country. The reality is: it was a racist assumption that a Fijian Indian didn’t represent “New Zealand” since he, frankly, wasn’t white.

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9/9/2010

Sleuthing

Filed under: — Stephen @ 7:58 am

Guy stealing my briefcase“Steve, you’ve had really bad luck with that Prius” my friend Sam mused as we returned home after a journey out to West Auckland to see if we could find the guy who broke into my car.

Yes, that’s right, yet again, between 7:09am and 7:14am on Tuesday 7th September, my car was broken into, for a third time. This time, however, it was in my very own apartment building, in my very own carpark!

Here’s a video of the whole event: Video of guy breaking into my car.

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7/25/2010

Divorce prevents homosexuality

Filed under: — Stephen @ 4:46 pm

A controversial new study from a researcher in Christchurch New Zealand shows that if you are a single parent, your kids are 10% less likely to be gay. If you remarry and raise a child with an opposite sex step parent, then the chances of the child being gay are halved compared to if the child was raised by its biological parents.

You didn’t hear about that? Oh I suppose you only heard about the bit where gay people were more likely to have been abused during childhood. Well, I have actually read the study and actually understand the stats and I can tell you why you didn’t see my headline above. It’s because that finding didn’t fit in with the world view of the researchers running the study, so they chose to gloss over it. After all, we all know that divorce and the “breakdown of family values” is the cause of all the ills in the world and, homosexuality being an ill, it can’t possibly be that single parents or different-sex step-parents are less likely to cause gays, can it?

What’s going on? Is this study giving the wrong answers or is it asking the wrong questions? I argue it’s a bit of both.

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