Wallace Chapman

Our Work / Wallace Chapman

If you were lucky enough to get an invitation to Wallace Chapman's house you'd be treated to a real old-fashioned afternoon tea complete with pikelets and scones.

For Wallace it's all part of the philosophy of slow living.

This once keen long-distance runner was diagnosed at age 24 with Gaucher disease, a rare and incurable genetic condition, that affects the bones.

For the next eight years he would walk with the aid of a stick. At the time of diagnosis Wallace went into a deep melancholy. He laughs now at the memory. For near on six months he sat at home, until a friend jolted him out of his misery.

"He said, 'Mate you've got to get out there!' What am I going to do? I can hardly walk," was Wallace's first response. The next step was to sit down with a pen and paper and ask himself: "How do I want to live my life?"

Finding salvation in music

Salvation came in the form of a challenge to take on the role of musical director for the summer Shakespeare performance of The Tempest.

Wallace, who learned the violin at school and played in a band, suddenly found himself writing music, combining it with Cook Island drumming and then realising he had to conduct the 16-piece orchestra himself.

"It was a distraction from my pain," he recalls. "I had a goal and I was so engrossed in it I had no time to look inward. It saved me."

Observing and taking it slow

Wallace had never driven a car so he relies on public transport. While others might say time spent on buses could be put to better use, that's not so for Wallace.

"Nowhere else in the day will I get a chance to read. I also get thinking time, and I'm an observer."

His highly successful NZ Street Style blog was initially inspired by looking at buildings and architectural styles from the windows of buses.

"I see things as still images, so I went out and bought a camera," he says. These days, his focus is on people and he plans a few precious hours each week to take his street fashion shots. "It's a fantastic hobby."

Pain normalised

Wallace's health condition is managed by fortnightly intravenous drug treatments. Pain, he says, has become normalised. Deep depression is something he's seen in others close to him and has compassion for, but hasn't experienced himself.

"I've developed mechanisms to cope as a response to personal suffering - I have a sense of humour and I can see the funny side, even of the darker things in life."

He also relates to the concept of mindfulness. "Being in the moment, being aware of just a great conversation, a beautiful day. Not stressing about tomorrow. Making the most of what is now - being present, which is a bit of a catchword, but I actually think there's a lot to it. People worry too much over what might happen, over what may never happen."

Photo: Becky Nunes