A maverick origin story, the story of Michael Reason.
“It is time to really live, to fully inhabit the situation you happen to be in now. You are not some disinterested bystander”.Epictetus
“Dad won the war,” I once proudly declared as a six- or seven-year-old to my primmer class at Morning Talk as though I had my own Superman at home. It was true that Dad had been a WWII pilot, but he was prone to exaggeration, and I was prone to parroting his sayings. I also retold the one about my surname: there was a Viking named Ra who had a son so he was named Rason but it was easier to say Reason.
From then on, I was known as Ra but after a few years we became self-conscious, fearful and no longer willing to reveal our weaknesses to ourselves or to others.
I began writing for interest whilst still at school. Having achieved modest maverick business success, and my own family, I was drawn back to writing but not to exercise a ghost. I’d had a stable, even idyllic childhood. There were holidays, parties, dancing and fun. That was the 70s, small town white New Zealand, our half-gallon, quarter acre Pavlova paradise.
Nothing bad happened.
I found in my family history a transition story waiting to be told, joined a writing group and did some courses at the English department of my local university. In the Directed Study paper, I could write whatever I liked and wanted to use the process to churn out another rewrite of my historical fiction. My lecturer had other ideas.
“Just write about yourself,” she said.
Did I have a story to tell about my own life or was that what I feared? I must have had some ideas mulling in the back of my mind because a bit of an early memory spilled out onto the page.
Why had Mum offered me Valium when I was a young teenager? It dawned on me that she must have been high throughout a good part of my childhood. She must have been depressed; but why? I remembered more. Murky memories of my long-deceased father on boys’ trips reappeared before me as dreams of memories or memories of dreams. It was hard to tell the difference.
Piercing them together, it occurred that Dad had been having an affair or more than one. Mum had been stoical, keeping the family together for our benefit. I wondered whether they were really happy but open. I might never know but once the painful facts were there on paper, I could begin to discuss them with siblings, old family friends and acquaintances and cousins who I had expected to be prudish but we’re not. Like a detective I had corroborating evidence for my memories.
The story that others told was a happy one. It seemed that my parents had been genuinely happy. Perhaps Dad simply lapsed with indiscretion and Mum couldn’t do anything about it so gave up trying and made the best of it.
The historical novel project was possibly less interesting after all, but it was part of the puzzle. Why had Mum never mentioned that her ancestors were Irish on both sides? She wasn’t Scottish, Welsh, Māori or English either and accepted being a third generation New Zealander. I wanted to dig a bit deeper and tell her ancestors’ Irish story. Even now, it feels like a betrayal to say she was Irish. None of the Irish hallmarks applied to her. She didn’t sing their sad folk songs, play the fiddle, cook soda bread or celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day. It wasn’t fashionable amongst protestants to be Irish and those who did identify as Irish didn’t accept us for being protestants.
While living in London I visited Ireland and did some digging. I discovered that there is a whole nation of protestants who had been Irish for three hundred years but who had left for the New World after the potato famine and had vanished from Ireland almost without trace. By putting flesh on their bones and by giving them a voice, I also found my tribe.
We’re neither Northerners nor Southerners. We’re not Irish or English, Australasian or Caribbean. We’re the diaspora of all parts of the British Isles, and Scandinavia, a versatile breed who take root, clinging to rocks and crevasses but who, like me, swim with the current and flourish in different habitats.
The family history story was hard to put aside but telling my own was more of an emotional roller coaster. I confronted hidden half-truths, family scandal, mysteries and put on paper a tryst with a teacher during my last year at school. I showed what I had written to my high school sweetheart which demolished an unspoken barrier between us. My fears seemed quaint and innocent rather than shameful and terrifying. Demons put to paper, open to the world, became harmless. The result is that I am comfortable in my own skin, present in myself.
Perhaps my strings vibrate in harmony.
In the end, this sounds like redemption, a popular podcast genre but I was not beaten or imprisoned. I was never hungry, discriminated against or persecuted. I have no physical disfigurements or handicaps to overcome. Mine is an everyday drama of a simple choice to be open with myself, to accept truth, speak about it, to hang the dirty linen out to dry in the sun and so to inhabit my own mind.