By Neen Chapman
Never have I ever—oh so many experiences, so many wonders, so many purposeful and silly actions yet to do. I love this, I get to explore all the goals and dreams I have with you, the reader. Some, you may very well say, “I’m just gonna leave that one with you, Neen,” in some kind of, y’know, silly voice you reserve for humans you think are a bit over the edge. Others, you may think, “Oh, that’s something I’d love as well,” as a warm and wonderful tenderness and awe spreads across your heart and person.
What are all the experiences, travels, destinations, self-discoveries, and aha moments, I have never had? Mmm, really thinking about this, there are millions. Well, at least a couple hundred. I need to say here, I’m so grateful for my incredibly privileged life that I do not need to do or see another thing, and at this moment in time, I am immensely grateful for everything I have done, that I have seen, that I have experienced. I most definitely am immensely grateful for everything my white skin, education, country of birth, and finances have privileged me to do and experience. … but, oh, there are a few more that I definitely want to do and some I will force myself to do.
Life is for the living as they say—whoever they are.
Here are my never have I ever top two:
I have never seen the aurora borealis. I have been fascinated, awed, confounded, and just plain desperate to witness the art of the universe over the vast and deep midnight blue sky of the Arctic Circle. My fascination began when I was in Year Two at school (so about age seven). Sister Mary, my teacher, whom I loved, showed us pictures of this phenomenon in a class about the wonders of the world. This was in 1977, mind you, so the quality of photography was sketchy at best. But I was hooked. The way that Sister Mary spoke of the Sun’s cosmic particles colliding with the Earth’s protective atmosphere, like a blanket covering the globe and causing a dance of color over the Artic Circle’s winter sky was mesmerizing (I’m injecting adult language here). She probably said something akin to, “The Sun sends rays at the Earth and the Earth has a blanket which turns all the rays into beautiful colours of the rainbow”—or something like that. (I must say, I feel I do Sister Mary a disservice by explaining it that way).
I was six when I sat on the red brick stairs of my home and contemplated the vastness of the Universe and, perhaps, that we are all just an experiment in a jar. So, you can see how the iridescent greens, royal purples, intense and angry pinks and reds, and deeply calming blues could capture the heart and mind of a seven-year-old.
No, I didn’t go on to become an astrophysicist or any type of scientist. In fact, I went on to work in retail, customer service, hospitality, adult education, and construction. All careers and pursuits so effing far from the Arctic Circle as a human can get, unless you were born in Iceland or the Arctic Circle, of course. But I have held my awe of this phenomenon all my life.
I have a plan… a cunning and devious… no, just a plan to travel the Arctic Circle from Canada to Alaska, then to Iceland, Norway, and Scotland. To do an arc of the latitude and experience the aurora for myself. You might say, “Eh, sure, easy…” and it is, absolutely. With money and good organization anyone can do anything. I am talking about hiking to remote places in the dead of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. (I’m an Aussie, so the dead of winter is 12 degrees Celsius in a good hoodie). I want to be pushed to my limit to see this incredible wonder of the universe. I want to be bloody freezing and severely uncomfortable to witness this phenomenon. Why do it in comfort? Why do it the easy way? Just because I’m 50-something, why take an easy path? (What am I saying…). No, no, I want to lie on an expanse of white snow, isolated from civilization, and stare into the abyss of the night sky, listening to an amazing soundtrack which I have been DJing and preparing for years and hear and see the vastness and unique beauty of the Universe.
That was Number 1… it gets a bit more mundane after that.
Never have I ever emigrated to Ireland. Yes, this is my heart’s desire. I want to leave the country of my birth to settle in the country of my ancestors. This one is going to be tricky. With global political changes, Brexit, and just generally the lack of required documentation, it is going to be tough to emigrate. Prior to Brexit (honestly, U.K., who thought to ask this ridiculous question in the first place?), I could have held two passports—one to Oz, the country of stolen lands, horrendous atrocities, and colonialism, and also the land of my Irish ancestors when they were forced to emigrate as indentured servants in 1853, as well as an Irish passport. Easy peasy.
But now, wow, I’m certain I’ll find a way, but it may take longer than I could have ever imagined.
You see, my family, my Mum and Dad, always talked about our Irish heritage. I’m extremely proud of this heritage. They would regale us with stories and with idiosyncrasies we have as a family of our Irishness. They also mentioned our Spanish and French heritage, but it has always been the Irishness of my family that has intrigued me. As it turns out, through DNA testing, I found out that I am mostly Irish, Norwegian, Scottish, Welsh, a bit British, and then Spanish and French. But hey, why let facts get in the way of a good story? And DNA was not a thing when my Mum and Dad were telling these stories, so, eh… whatever.
I have wanted to go to Ireland since I was seven (hmmm, seems to be an age of awakening for me). I remember very clearly one Christmas, it was hot as Hades (as an Aunt used to say after a few beers) in Brisbane and the extended family was around the glass and wrought iron table in the rumpus room, drinking shandies and beers, talking of life on the land, how we came to be in Australia and about our Irish family. No actual facts can I say here, people. Just stories of old. Memories passed down through four generations to me, a wide-eyed and wide-eared little blond thing. Sitting as close as I could, pleading for a beer to be like the grownups. Don’t worry, they never actually gave me a glass of beer, but I do love a shandie to this day. (If you don’t know what a shandie is—it’s 50/50 beer and lemonade in a pot or schooner glass, mmm, tasty).
So, I tried to travel to Ireland when I finished school. Nope, didn’t happen, and I travelled the Australian continent instead. Incredible, life-changing experience as that was, I still wanted to go to Ireland. To County Kerry. To Dingle. Then again, when I had some dosh behind me at 37, FAIL. I rocked up in the U.K., at a friend’s place in Manchester with every intention of catching a train and ferry to Ireland but they could see I needed care and mending from a broken heart and insisted I stay with them. It was the best month of my life, recovering and sorting myself out. Thank you, Rod and Aylan. I needed to stop and just be. Not to travel to my heart’s home. Not just yet.
Third time lucky at 47. Yep, I made it. I was overwhelmed my first night during the Irish Summer in Wicklow. At a little BnB, after dropping my bags off after a day’s journey on two trains and a ferry (I am terrified of ferries may I say, utterly terrified), I went out to the local pub. I sat in what the Irish call a beer garden and marvelled at the sheer fact that I was in Ireland. I’m emotional now just remembering that moment. A 40-year journey, and Ireland was/is as green and fresh and beautiful as I could have ever imagined.
I travelled to a long-time friend in Wexford: oh dear, dear Donal. I hired a car and drove to Cork, getting lost on the way and being rescued late at night by a beautiful family who put me up and shared their dinner, stories, and whiskey. Then on to County Kerry. This was the big one. Killarney was sweet and beautiful.
I caught a sort of local bus to Dingle. With all the anticipation of 40 years and family weight on my shoulders and in my head. I alighted from the bus, collected my pack and bags, and surveyed Dingle. I cannot describe how I feel, how it felt. Have you ever been somewhere you have never set foot in before and yet, the moment your feet touch the ground you are home? Truly and undeniably, home.
I cried. I do that a lot, but this time not for myself, not because of anything, but because as a human being I was back in a place of complete and utter belonging. I was safe and I was home.
My time in Dingle and the rest of Ireland is another entire story, except to say I am still looking at homes to buy there, to take up a holding in the name of my ancestors. To reclaim their and my heritage and a place in my homeland.
Never have I ever… yet.
Neen Chapman is bi+ pan and out in all aspects of life and work. Neen is 51, silver-haired, and loves being the Vice President of Sydney Bi+ Network, founder of BOLDER, a mental health awareness speaker, activist and speaker, maid to lovely kitty cats. Neen is deeply into history, reading, geology, documentaries, art, painting, poetry, music, equality, bi+ activism, politics, and kink.