I unplugged. By choice and necessity. My friend had told me there was a spot on the hill near the historic Anglican church (closed due to recent earthquake damage) where I could get cell reception. I never found it. Not sure why I even tried to. I didn’t need it in the end. I had sought out this secluded bay because it was far enough away from my everyday life as a travel writer and marketing coordinator in the bustling metropolis of earthquake-shaken Christchurch, New Zealand.
I love writing. I’m lucky I get paid to write. But even more than a love of travel writing, I love writing fiction. Recently I decided to dedicate a few days in Little Akaloa to working on a couple of my short stories. Without phones, internet, TV and (please, please God) without an iPod, I immersed myself in writing without distractions. Well, actually, without many distractions. The biggest distraction I faced was being lured to walk over that stunning long and narrow valley that ends in a bay. Or driving over the hill to walk to the next bay—Raupo Bay, a local surf spot. After parking at a gate, getting to Raupo is a hilly and muddy walk through a farmer’s field. It’s a long way to lug a surfboard while dodging sheep droppings and cow pies. But it’s worth it. Raupo Bay is breathtaking. Wild. Even when the surf’s not up.
Some writers would disagree that walking is a distraction. I know a few who would suggest that walking is an integral ingredient to the writer’s life. It gives ideas a chance to stretch their legs. I read somewhere that Dickens was fond of walking, that his characters often spoke to him during his ambles. It is in that quiet and rhythmic movement that ideas or solutions or characters can cry out, “Eureka!” (But not, I argue, if you’re plugged into an iPod. If Dickens had had an iPod would his podcast have been louder than his characters’ voices? Would Marley have then ever found his way to redemption?)
When I spend my days in Little Akaloa, one bay of a countless many on Banks Peninsula, I enjoy the luxury of quiet seclusion. I take walks and give my ideas room to breath. I give myself permission to not think about vacuuming or weeding because I’m not at home. I’m staying at someone else’s place, a friend’s bach. A bach. No, not like Johann Sebastian. But bach, “batch.” It’s a kiwi tradition as much a part of the fabric of kiwiana as jandals (flip-flops) and pineapple lumps (pineapple-y/chocolate-y confection).
There’s nothing quite like the kiwi bach in American culture. A vacation home comes the closest. The bach is so much a part of the kiwi psyche that every New Zealander must have, by default, at least one memory of going “to the bach” during their childhood.
I read in an old newspaper from ‘77 that the bach, or crib if you’re from New Zealand’s deep South, is a “venerable institution.” In New Zealand’s early days, the bach could have been a corrugated iron jerry-built holiday retreat with a one-holer over a pit in the back. But it was more than anything else a place for family to retreat. Even if that meant parking the car and trudging through scrub and flax to reach the family bach that was so hidden only the occupiers would know it was there.
The Little Akaloa bach may have been born in these times and from these basic beginnings, but it has been cared for and modernized over the years. The bach is so loved that I know every detail has been thought of ahead of me. I only need to bring my clothes and food (there is no grocery store in Little Akaloa. Or any stores at all.) Clothes pins are in the drawer. Connect Four is on the shelf. Pillows, blankets, soap, radio, shampoo, napkins, pots and pans, English tea, even a book about kiwi baches. It’s been thought of. It’s already in the bach. I don’t need to worry about a thing. Only writing and walking.
Does removing myself to Little Akaloa in a bach by the bay improve my writing? I don’t think so. But it gives me permission to write and not do much else. I don’t need to think about housework or errands. I just need to think about waking in the morning to the sound of birds chittering or sheep bleating by the window or waves that I had thought, the night before, had been the wind howling down the valley. Going to the bach allows me time to be free of responsibility and to write without guilt.
At the end of the day it’s still me in front of a computer, needing to write. I still have to actually set myself to the task. Whether I’m in Christchurch or Little Akaloa, whether the phone is plugged in or the nearest phone is a telephone box a hundred yards down the road, it’s all about the act of writing. Simply writing. And giving myself permission to hoard time for that act and to believe that, in that moment, it is the most important act in the world.