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A Necessary Distance

Traffic had routinely backed up along Tamaki Drive. Single passenger cars hugged the distant bays, a winding conveyer belt of middle class life. I felt optimistic because of the icy blue harbour and Rangitoto Island. I thought it was perhaps one of my last chances to absorb the view. And even so, it didn’t look any different; I only saw the backdrop of our daily commute. Perhaps for my mum, this view looked like the vast space between familiarity and possibility.

As we turned onto Kepa Road, I switched radio stations so we could dance in our seats, her fists still firmly gripped at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock. She always tells me that she wishes she had become a dancer. In a week she’ll be driving alone and in this same week I will be getting lost on the New York subway, missing the convenience and security of this car. The monotony of these commutes always reminds me of the novel Fierce Attachments by Vivian Gornick. It is a book I renewed twice and read many articles about, but never managed to get through. It’s about her and her mother.

The novel is set in New York, the city of Gornick’s birth and the place where she still lives. In an article titled Why I Live Where I Live, she describes New York as the only place she needs because it is the only place where she can begin any significant piece of writing. I once asked my mum if she would ever live in Japan again, and she responded with a laugh and a scoff. I realised it was a ridiculous question. She already has the only place that she needs.

Gornick realises that her source of creative energy and insight is in stark contrast to the wanderers – the Beats, Kerouac. It goes against the writer’s mythology, the wandering towards Enlightenment. If home is what you know, then to the wanderers, knowing means not thinking. When I move to New York my position as a migrant will clash with my visa for expats. In this case, home is both that which is sought and that which is not enough.

My traditional name once led me to be an assumed emerging Japanese-New Zealand filmmaker. Soon my kiwi accent was revealed, lack of spoken Japanese was also proven, as were my non-existent filmmaking connections. They said they will email me, I checked my spam inbox only once. Individuals flock to New York for many escapist or idealist tendencies, for which I am complicit. I would be useless in bridging this international industry gap, but at least in New York I’m no longer in between.


Yet, Gornick describes the daily anonymity that comes with living in this city. It therefore becomes both a place she knows and a place where she can think “…where you can feel life on your skin and get it down on paper.”(1) Anonymity on the streets of New York – a position from which to perform, adapt and contradict myself.  It provides a necessary distance from my very own fierce attachments. It’s also enough space for both knowing and thinking, at least for now.

Hanako Fujii

  1.  Vivian Gornick. Why I Live Where I Live, October 11, 2015.

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