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So it’s Been a While

Mountain pass
8 min read

This is going to be a long and per­son­al post, so if you have no inter­est in hear­ing about my life then stop read­ing now…

…and if you’re still here then great, it’s going to be nice catch­ing up. It real­ly has been quite some time since I’ve had a per­ma­nent online pres­ence, which is a strange thing to say as a web design­er right? Plen­ty has hap­pened in the past 6 years — all of which I’ll try to address in this post — so get com­fort­able and grab a cup of cof­fee, this is our catch up call.

Cast your mind back to 2008, the Aus­tralian Prime Min­is­ter Kevin Rudd makes an his­toric apol­o­gy to Indige­nous Aus­tralians and the Stolen Gen­er­a­tion, Barack Oba­ma becomes the first African-Amer­i­can to be elect­ed Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States, Bill Gates leaves Microsoft and my father pass­es away… remem­ber that last point, it has a big sig­nif­i­cance to this story.

Dawn in Canberra, Australia
Canberra, Australia

It’s March and my wife has just sub­mit­ted her fin­ished PhD the­sis to the Aus­tralian Nation­al Uni­ver­si­ty (ANU) in Can­ber­ra, where we have spent the past 4 years liv­ing and work­ing. I work for a small soft­ware com­pa­ny called Tow­er Soft­ware as their in-house web mon­key and graph­ic design­er. It’s a great first real job because the peo­ple and atmos­phere is relaxed, super friend­ly and cre­ative. I’m giv­en free­dom to try things out, which is quite daunt­ing for lit­tle 23 year old me.

Roll on April, my wife has accept­ed a Post­doc­tor­al research posi­tion in Umeå, Swe­den and I’ve just found out that the rumours were true, Mega Corp™ Hewlett Packard will soon con­sume Tow­er Soft­ware to feed the bel­ly of the beast. A lit­tle dra­mat­ic I know, but this is how it felt — at least for me — going from a com­pa­ny of about 200 employ­ees to one of well over 300,000, that’s more than the pop­u­la­tion of some towns I’ve lived in. So this hap­pens which drags me into May and a meet­ing with my future boss. I thought this meet­ing would be over in a mat­ter of min­utes since I’m mov­ing to Swe­den in just over a months time and they wouldn’t need some­one with my skill set, I was very wrong. Instead it went some­thing like this…

Me: Hi, nice to meet you, my name is Rhys
Boss: Ah per­fect! You’re the web guy right? Great! I have a project for you!
Me: OK, well I’m mov­ing to Swe­den in a month so I’m going to have to pass sor — 
Boss: Swe­den? Awe­some! They have great met­al up there. No wor­ries we can deal with it.
Me: So you’re cool with me mov­ing to Swe­den and work­ing remote­ly for you?
Boss: Yep!
Me: Rad!

The rest of the con­ver­sa­tion was about a new Infor­ma­tion Man­age­ment Dig­i­tal Hub he was set­ting up with my soon to be col­league (and friend, hi Natasha!), heavy met­al bands (turned out he col­lect­ed gui­tars and loves heavy met­al, I kept qui­et about my pre­dis­po­si­tion to 80’s new roman­tic music) and social media.

So that was it. I was leav­ing Aus­tralia with a new job at HP in San Fran­cis­co while work­ing remote­ly from Sweden.

The depar­ture was every­thing we expect­ed, lots of tears and heartache. We left a lot of great friends behind that we still miss dear­ly. How­ev­er we still had some very impor­tant peo­ple to vis­it back home in New Zealand before start­ing our jour­ney to Swe­den—our fam­i­lies. It’s June and my birth­day is in full swing, we’re out cel­e­brat­ing at Christchurch’s finest, The Dux Deluxe (a clas­sic water­ing hole which is now gone thanks to mas­sive earth­quakes in 2011). I smoke some­thing in the mag­ni­tude of 2 packs of cig­a­rettes and vow to nev­er smoke again.

Farewells are said, tears are shed and the hugs are long… it’s one of those farewells, the hard­est kind — or at least I thought at the time, a much hard­er one is only 3 weeks away. We board a plane going from Christchurch, New Zealand to Los Ange­les, then on to New York, then Stock­holm, Swe­den and then Umeå. It sucks. As most inter­na­tion­al air trav­el sucks in cat­tle class, not enough leg room, shit­ty meals, shit­ty peo­ple and shit­ty enter­tain­ment. Plus a total trav­el time of 52 hours thanks to the stop over in New York, the one and only time I have ever eat­en a Philly sub for break­fast, sweet baby jesus.

A Swedish river
Somewhere in Northern Sweden

At the end of this 2 day ordeal, we step out bleary eyed into a crisp Swedish sum­mer and it’s amaz­ing. The birds are singing, there are fields full of rolling green hills, cool qui­et forests and lakes are wel­com­ing, it was absolute­ly sur­re­al. We are both extreme­ly home sick and jet-lagged, but we’re also very eager to explore our new sur­round­ings. After we sort out our apart­ment and get some sleep, we set about acquir­ing some new bikes since Umeå is most­ly flat, as is most of Swe­den — Nor­way stole all the mountains.

The next cou­ple of weeks are spent get­ting set­tled into our apart­ment, our new jobs and Swe­den. It’s a real­ly excit­ing time for both of us and it’s the height of the Swedish sum­mer, it’s frig­gin’ amaz­ing for explor­ing the countryside.

4:03PM, July 3 2008

2 weeks into my new job at HP,  the phone rings. It’s my broth­er, he tells me to sit down. I’m con­fused by this for two rea­sons—one, it’s 4am in New Zealand and two, why do I need to sit down?

Dad’s dead…
…oh, that’s why.

My broth­er stays on the line, we talk, we cry, I'm con­fused, most of the call is a blur to me. I hang up and col­lapse into the arms of my wife, I’m lost. I inform my new boss that I need to go away for some time. An hour lat­er I receive a call from him, he’s in the back of a cab some­where in Lon­don, telling me that my wife and I are booked on the first flight out the fol­low­ing day to New Zealand. Absolute­ly speech­less I choke back the tears enough to say a whim­per­ing thank you and hang up. Bags are packed, more tears are shed, sleep evades me that night.

Suf­fice to say a funer­al hap­pens and the time was spent griev­ing with fam­i­ly. After anoth­er round-the-world trip we are back in Swe­den, win­ter is clos­ing in, the day light is dimin­ish­ing and I’m mis­er­able. I feel like the wind has been kicked out of me. I have no con­fi­dence in the art I pro­duce or the words I speak. This is how 2008 ends.

A Swedish winter
Winter closing in, Sweden

The feel­ing per­sists well into 2010 when we move from Swe­den to Nor­way. I’ve skipped over 2009 because I don’t think it would make very com­pelling read­ing. The time spent in Swe­den was great, it’s just I wasn’t in the best frame of mind to enjoy it. Regard­less of this I’m grate­ful that I took up run­ning, cross coun­try ski­ing and cycling there, it kept me from start­ing up smok­ing again, well that and the price of the junk. Swe­den was real­ly inter­est­ing, a com­plete rever­sal of the type of lifestyle we had been liv­ing while in Aus­tralia. We spent most week­ends out­side the apart­ment, either in a tent in some far off for­est camp­ing or in a wood cab­in tucked away in some moun­tain range ski­ing. This helped with tak­ing my mind off my fathers death. In fact, a lot of the things I did were to take my mind off this.

April 2010 is when we arrive in Trom­sø, Nor­way, a small island locat­ed 350 km north of the Arc­tic Cir­cle. We are now about as far away from New Zealand as one can get. The dis­tance from home hurts but I feel revi­tal­ized by the land­scape, the fjords, the open sea and the snow cov­ered moun­tains, they are all mag­nif­i­cent. The first two pho­tographs on my Nor­way col­lec­tion page are the very first pho­tographs I took in Trom­sø. I still love these two, they remind me of the time when I start­ed feel­ing alive again.

We con­tin­ue to explore Troms (Troms is the coun­ty and Trom­sø is the town), my wife starts her new Post­doc­tor­al posi­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Trom­sø (UiT) and I con­tin­ue work­ing for HP remote­ly. The next 18 months see us trav­el all over the globe for work and plea­sure, from San Fran­cis­co, Las Vegas, Cannes, Zürich, Lon­don, Reyk­javík, Sval­bard, Chi­na, Mel­bourne, Can­ber­ra, Christchurch and a myr­i­ad of oth­er loca­tions. It was nuts and amaz­ing and most impor­tant­ly for me at the time, it kept my mind occu­pied. Though if there is one thing I learned from that peri­od of my life, it’s that one should nev­er spend more than 3 days in Las Vegas, what a cesspool.

Video shoot in Zürich, Switzerland
Video shoot in Zürich, Switzerland

Fast-for­ward to anoth­er ​“work­ing well into the night” evening in July 2011, my wife bursts in with a rather anx­ious tone to her voice;

Her: Guess what?
Me: err… what?
Her: I’m pregnant!

At this point I knew I had to leave my cur­rent job, there was no ques­tion about it. We cel­e­brate and try to process exact­ly what all of this means. What will it be like hav­ing a lit­tle per­son who relies sole­ly on you for every­thing? We are ner­vous, we can bare­ly take care of our­selves, how are we meant to look after a baby? Do we need a licence to own one of these things? The night draws on and we con­tin­ue to talk. Arc­tic winds ush­er in win­ter and the baby grows, 2011 comes to a close.

The begin­ning of 2012 is when many things changed for me. I leave my job at HP and accept a graphic/​web design posi­tion at Arc­ticZymes, where I still work to this day, it’s awe­some. But more impor­tant­ly, it’s when I became a father. My daugh­ter was born March 9th, which was a rather mov­ing expe­ri­ence to say the least. All the emo­tions one expe­ri­ences in that instant is just over­whelm­ing. I cried a lot, a hell of a lot, but this time I was hap­py, real­ly, real­ly over the moon hap­py. My daugh­ter was one of the best things to hap­pen to me in a very long time — the oth­er was mar­ry­ing my long-term part­ner in crime.

So begins my jour­ney into father­hood. All of the sleep­less nights, poopy nap­pies, ill­ness, bad moods, ear­ly morn­ings are total­ly worth it. This is how most of 2012 is spent. We get to expe­ri­ence the Nor­we­gian social sys­tem first hand with their gen­er­ous mater­ni­ty leave quo­tas — some­thing like 14 weeks paid leave just for the father. Which works nice­ly for us as we can con­tin­ue work­ing part time.

2012 comes to an end and we spend our first Christ­mas togeth­er as a fam­i­ly in the Arc­tic. I’m final­ly catch­ing my wind, my con­fi­dence is build­ing once again.

The fol­low­ing year just gets bet­ter as my daugh­ter con­tin­ues to grow and starts walk­ing, then run­ning, then talk­ing and then a whole slew of oth­er seem­ing­ly unin­ter­est­ing things to oth­er peo­ple, but to me every sin­gle one of them is amaz­ing. She is at kinder­garten (barne­hage, day care) from the age of 1 and takes to it like a fish to water. My wife and I return to full-time work, we take a fam­i­ly vaca­tion to Croa­t­ia and Switzer­land, life is grand. I con­tin­ue to keep my head low though and decide not to work on any of my per­son­al projects — like this web­site — until a lat­er date. I want to con­cen­trate on try­ing things out at Arc­ticZymes, I’m hav­ing great fun doing so and I’m going from strength to strength. Actu­al­ly see­ing my work print­ed in mag­a­zines, on posters, being pro­duced into real tan­gi­ble things, it’s a great feel­ing. 2013 is a good year and we end it back in New Zealand with the whole family.

Rastoke, Croatia
Rastoke, Croatia

Dur­ing this trip there was one event that hap­pened which affect­ed me in such a sub­stan­tial way, for how sim­ple a ges­ture it was. I went to vis­it my father and while I’m plac­ing flow­ers on his head­stone, my daugh­ter runs off, picks some dan­de­lions and places them right next to the flow­ers I have just placed. Then looks at me som­bre­ly like she under­stands, like she’s feel­ing what I’m feel­ing. For me, I see it as time to stop griev­ing and time to move on, I have a fam­i­ly of my own now.

So this brings us to present day and my 32nd birth­day. If you’ve man­aged to read this far then you’re pret­ty much all caught up. I con­tin­ue to live and work in Nor­way for the time being. I con­tin­ue to hone my art. I con­tin­ue to build confidence.

I’m final­ly catch­ing my breath.