I am not edgy. I am not, nor ever have been, cool – except for half an hour in 1984 when I owned a pair of gold glitter roller skates and set off down Forbury Road, not a small girl in the chesticles, wearing a white crochet boob tube and shorts with tassels. In the movie house of my mind I was a wheeled renegade, a free-spirited risk-taker, and you can be sure the residents of St Clair had never seen anything like it (and wouldn’t again, until I broke my leg roller-skating home from a party at the surf club almost 20 years later wearing a tight red cheongsam. Appropriate clothing is everything, children). Unfortunately, I only got about ten metres down the road when I fell over in front of a bunch of surfers, one of whom I was desperately in love with, though I never spoke my feelings (or to him, ever), and took all the skin off my knee. The surfers laughed, the bastards.
Limping home in my socks, dripping blood and mortification, I knew I was not destined for the cosmic glade where uncertainty rules, the place where life is lived on the edge. That I would not be a fringe dweller. Well… I am at the moment, just not on purpose. Quite frankly, Port Chambers, where I am renting a thespian Eden (a garden of earthly delight full of figs and apricots, apples and pears; every morning a glory of birdsong) while my Purakanui bach is being made fit for human habitation, is like the Wild West. Just without the hats and syphilis. Oh, hang on…
Voted the second-least desirable Dunedin suburb to live in 1989 (Careys Bay the least), Port is chock-a-block with outrageous characters with amazing backstories – nobody just decides to come here, it seems, they are fleeing or pushed, on the run or retired from the kind of lives you only see in magazines. Crazy sh*t happens constantly. Scorned women run amok, old boxers smile, exposing teeth like fence posts in a muddy paddock, drink is taken and cars are driven into shop fronts. Goods trains heading north punctuate the night with their rattle and clack. The sun rises on broken hearts and beer bottles, logging trucks shake the historic buildings, ghosts sigh and cruise ships loom above it all. It’s marvellous. But I digress. The point is, I’m not a risk taker. Or, so I’ve always thought.
When I worked at the Fortune Theatre, it was this chicken-heartedness that meant I became enarmed of actors, set designers and directors. Because creative types are the riskiest risk takers of all. They live their truth, put their hearts, reputations and futures on the line every day. They tread a hard path, and I love them for it. Being around actors: larger than life, brave, able to recite pages of Shakespeare at the drop of a hat, pull something terrible and wonderful from their imaginations and place it in front of you with modesty and grace, I dared to dream of making a go of it as a writer. So much so, one day I said to my boss, “I’m going to write a novel.”
“Are you?” she said. “Well, go on then.”
So, I did. I had to, really. Even though the doing made me come over like one of those little dogs that shake all the time and have to be carried around in a handbag. Don’t think I don’t know that, if I’d just kept my mouth shut, I might still have a proper job.
Speaking of proper jobs, the Fringe Festival is on again from the 9-19 of March. From small beginnings, this annual showcase of ingenious fruitcake has become a highlight. A limelight, a spotlight, a flashlight, a strobe light: letting us see how wonderful we are. The aurora of awesome, Dunedin’s Tahu MacKenzie will manifest in a cloud of tulle and sprinkle fairy dust over the city, things will get silly. This year’s programme is jam-packed: from a history of Scotland with nob jokes to a multimedia reimagining of the Dunedin Sound, to a three-night stand with Jeremy Elwood. Each and every one of the acts have one thing in common: they put themselves out there. Had the courage of their convictions, instead of just convictions.
We can all take heart from the fringe dwellers, the risk-takers. Their bravery and beautiful madness is contagious. It might be steep, hard to find a foothold and it certainly is a long way down, but there’s a marvellous view from here, the edge.