Dear Vinvan Vol #3 / “Help! I Can’t Stand my Neighbours!”

Dear Vinvan is back with another advice installment – this time, it’s hell hath no fury like a neighbour fed up with a particularly annoying habit.

Dear Vinvan,

My neighbours like to entertain a lot. And by entertain, I mean party. I mean having friends over most weekends and making noise that’s enough to annoy me but not enough to warrant an official complaint. So when I say party I really mean laugh. Because worst of all, worse than the occasional smashed bottle or screech of tires in the driveway is that the sound of other people’s laughter incites such an inferno of rage inside me I really should be calling noise control on the voice that is yelling inside my own head. I mean what kind of person gets mad at people laughing? It appears that I do. That’s who. I’ve thought about moving but there’s still a sane part of me that knows I’m overreacting. Trouble is, it’s getting so bad that as soon as I hear the creak of the French doors opening onto their deck I feel my inner thermostat ratchet up about 10 degrees. How do I stop myself from being so angry?

Burning Ann

Dear Burning Ann,

We’ve all watched enough episodes of Neighbours at War to empathise with what you are going through. But something tells me your question is less about those annoying party-animals over the fence and more about the demanding demons far closer to home. I’m talking about the ones that are within you. 

I also have a neighbour who keeps me awake at night. His name is Keith and until he moved in next door he was a homeless meth addict facing Covid and an impending winter without a roof over his head. His rent gets covered by the government agency that placed him here and while I cannot speak for him I can say that it hasn’t gone 100% according to plan for most of the staff and many of the residents in my building. Keith is noisy. He bangs on the floor and the walls at 4am in the morning with a hammer. He has episodes that sometimes involve the police. When I ring the front desk to ask for security they don’t need his room number because they walk a well-worn path to his door several nights a week. He has no friends here because he can be dangerous to be around. My fears are half real and half imagined so sometimes, make that often, I don’t like Keith very much. 

But it’s not actually Keith I don’t like. It’s shame mixed with guilt. It’s the powerlessness I feel to control what is happening. And if that feels familiar to you Burning Ann, you are far from alone. The whole world is burning, in places quite literally, and it’s up to all of us to find a new way. In Untamed, the author and activist Glennon Doyle says, “When we let ourselves feel, our inner self transforms… If you want to build the new, we must be willing to let the old burn.”  

Yes your neighbours sound like self-entitled twats on occasion but the fact you acknowledge you might be overreacting is where you need to dig. Go and talk to them or write them a letter or better yet invite yourself over with a bottle of wine. Your rage is not something you can stop. Manage yes, but it is there for a reason. Your rage is knocking on your door, in fact it’s thumping and you just might like to answer it and see what nugget of truth is standing on the other side.  

Right now, all over the city and possibly the country, vulnerable people have been rehomed in hotels and motels to get them off the streets and into safe housing. It’s a very shaky start that requires endless support from specialists in mental health and addiction and lots of understanding on all sides. Until the Auckland City Mission complete Homeground, a purpose-built housing and social services facility on Hobson Street, people like Keith will need to be housed elsewhere and resources are stretched. It will be 90 days until he has been moved into more suitable accommodation. In the meantime I have registered to volunteer at the Mission (on hold at the moment due to Covid) and I have bought some earplugs. It doesn’t mean I’m not still out of my mind some nights with sleep deprivation and despair. But I’m trying to understand the wider picture. In the changing world, accelerated in the last week due to the Black Lives Matter movement, many of us have been asked to pay attention. To leaders, to experts but maybe more importantly to each other. When Keith started banging his hammer I had no choice but to listen. 

So if the laughter you can hear from over the wall is fuelling your rage, then listen Burning Ann. What can you really hear?

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