A Christmas Letter

These past six months had been an insightful and personally rewarding period regarding my research on war and its effects on communities affected by war. In the spirit of Christmas, family occasions were particularly remembered by the soldiers who gained comfort and feelings of optimism while facing the prospect of death in the line of fire. Christmas and Easter were particularly recalled with clarity by men on the fields of battle.

Family photographs, letters home and diaries written by enlisted Anzac servicemen had provided a treasure trove of memories. The following excerpt is taken from Bob Russell’s recollections from Tony Williams’s book Anzacs: Stories From New Zealanders At War.[1]

There were many casualties on both sides and there was a lull in the fighting while both sides licked their wounds: It was Christmas and in 1941 there was no ham and Christmas pudding but “yummy” beef and rice: and for sweets, tinned fruit.’

Private Christie Rolleston was a soldier writing on the battlefields of Greece. He knew his letters home to Maketū would provide comfort and solace to his mother and father. The following excerpt was written by Christie during the battle in Greece and dated 5 May 1940:

By jove mum I wish now that I was back at home for Christmas … you sure did have a party for the dinner … Margaret mentioned it in her letter, it made me feel quite home-sick, but above all , pleased to know that you people enjoyed everything. Be like that mum and keep your spirits up for I’ll be home shortly.’

Christie Keretu Rolleston was born in Maketū to Maremare Rolleston and Te Ruru Ngawikau Tapsell. He was the second eldest son of five sons who had volunteered for active service overseas. He was educated in Maketū and Hato Petera Catholic Boys’ College. During his youth, he excelled in rugby and equestrian events. Christie and brothers Pu and Sonny managed and worked a dairy farm at Maketū while the farmer, Major Bennett, had travelled overseas.

In 1939, Christie volunteered for service overseas and enlisted into Te Arawa ‘B’ Company, 28th Māori Battalion. After training in Papakura in South Auckland and Trentham, Upper Hutt, the 28th Māori Battalion sailed for North Africa.

In his letter home dated 5 May 1940, Christie vividly described how the New Zealand 28th Māori Battalion and other allies in Greece were under an intensive attack and assault with no covering fire: ‘terrible bombing, machine gunning and dive-bombing … from the combined German army, navy and air force: they (Germans) had no opposition’. As a consequence, the allies had evacuated to Crete and North Africa under the cover of darkness.

Christie wrote at length about the experience of retreat endured by the allies. Despite their eagerness to remain and face the enemy, the order had been given from British High Command HQ in Cairo to meet the ships waiting to evacuate the troops and sail for North Africa and Crete.

______________________________________________ 

[1] Bob Russell, ‘He’s Alive, He’s Alive’, Tony Williams (ed.), Anzacs: Stories From New Zealanders At War. Auckland: Hodder Moa Beckett Publishers, 2000, 164–165.

Beyond the Ending

When Te Papa Tupu ended on Friday, 3 December at a hui held at the offices of Huia Publishers in Thorndon, it felt more like the closing of one process and the opening of another than an ending.

We were welcomed warmly into the HUIA whānau, and Robyn Bargh explained their kaupapa of nurturing writers, which impressed me with her emphasis on writers and their work rather than the marketplace.

We were told what would happen next with our manuscripts – several readings; meetings; an offer to publish, or not; editorial meetings, if accepted; further editing – about a six-month process.

The day ended in a bar on the waterfront sharing a jug of lager with Larree and Jacquie. We met once before at the opening hui for Te Papa Tupu, exchanged a few emails over the months and followed our respective entries on the monthly blog. Looking into the eyes behind the words, knowing there lay a person as mad as me, was a treat. I’m sure we do share a common madness: the madness of restless souls most soothed by playing with words and writing stories.

Later, I stopped on the City to Sea bridge to look at the new urban marae being built near Te Papa. I considered whether the sharp industrial roof design was a reflection from Futuna Chapel or a statement for the emerging corporate Māori elite.

I was standing beside the brass plaque honouring Lauris Edmond where a quote from her work talks about the importance of action, not just observing life.

Te Papa Tupu programme gave me the opportunity to live, in Lauris Edmond’s words, ‘the world headquarters of the verb’ for a few months so I could concentrate on writing, and with Alia Bloom as my mentor, my novel has been developed as near to completion as I can achieve.[1]

In saying goodbye to Zhu Mao and Mr Lau and all the troop, I’d like to thank those involved in Te Papa Tupu programme for their deeply appreciated gifts of time and guidance.

[1] The quote is from Lauris Edmond, ‘The Active Voice’ in Scenes from a Small City. Wellington: Daphne Brasell Associates Press, 1994.

Writing Magic: an Elixir to Happiness

We have only a few weeks left on Te Papa Tupu programme. I am still grateful to have been picked for this programme and know that these six months have given me the tools and insight I need to be a writer for life.

I spent quite a bit of time over the past ten years reading about writers, attending writers’ festivals and writing a little bit. As much as that was fun, I know I was hoping to stumble on some magic potion that was going to turn me into a real writer.

In a roundabout way, I have found several of the ingredients that may help to make up the potion, but I now know that it has to be mixed fresh every day and that some days, I’m just right out of what’s needed.

So what have I learnt?

Being totally committed to the project was invaluable. I wanted this book to be finished by 3 December, and at the beginning, even though I had no clue how I was going to get to that point, that was my challenge.

Having a mentor has been like having a secret weapon. At the start, I was all over the place, like when you ride your bike for the first time without the trainer wheels. But when I looked behind, I had Renée shouting at me to keep pedalling; just keep pedalling, you’ll get there. I wish I was rich enough to have one for every writing project.

To be a writer, you have to write. Regularly. For some reason, this constant writing changes how you write. Sometimes I don’t know what it is that is wrong with my writing, but because of the consistency, I know it is.

I have a friend that exercises most days. She said that when she doesn’t, she feels grumpy and pissed off. I am beginning to think that writing might be the same for me, but it does feel like it’s time for this project to be finished.

An invasion of teenagers has started to arrive for the summer holidays. Apparently something called Christmas is looming, and a house that hasn’t been cleaned properly for six months needs my attention.

My dream is to spend most of my days writing and hopefully make a living from it. This last six months has made me feel that much closer to my dream.

Touring a Nation’s Past

Since June 2010, I have been immersed in reading, writing and talking whakapapa to Te Arawa kaumātua and rangatahi in an effort to make sense of hapū and the connections that bind Te Arawa as a nation. The discovery and renewing of old ties between hapū members has been a thoroughly rewarding and very exciting journey. On the other hand, getting to know the subject matter of Māori warriors has been a constant battle for me as a writer operating within a belief system that ignores the warrior culture as mere folklore. ‘Why?’ is a word I have been living with these past months as I visited the hapū of Te Uru Uenuku Kopako surrounding Lake Rotorua, Reporoa and Maketū, searching for answers.

The rewards have been knowledge and revelation, after meeting tribal members and whanaunga connected in many ways to the history of Maketū. I suddenly realise the ancestral links come with an embracing history, and somehow in this journey of writing a historical account of our warriors both ancient and new, I am feeling like a tourist with an invisible guide.

This morning, I am watching a colony of quail feasting on my lawn. Set apart from the colony is a magnificent male on guard duty and sporting a perfectly tailored feather plume. He need not worry as paw-footed predators dare not walk near my house. In these precious moments, I am thankful my ancestors were magnificent and brave as they have bestowed on me a legacy of life and fierce pride and determination to ensure I protect and fight for the land they left in my care for succeeding generations. Hence, appropriately, this excerpt taken from the introduction to my manuscript is a summary of a Māori philosophical stance on the God of War.

God of War
The God of War is sometimes referred to as Tumatauenga or Tukaaniwha, although Elsdon Best acknowledged various different names used by tribes in reference to this god. For example, he notes that the personification of the ‘war-god Te Rehu o Tainui was a lizard’.
Percy Smith, author of The Māori Wars, said:
‘Uenuku was one of the great man-consuming or War God of Taranaki.’ These three lines from a Moteatea are in reference to the tangi for Taranaki Chief Mokowera, who was shot and murdered by Nga Puhi Chief Rewa:
The war god Tu should feast
The heavens should consume
And also Uenuku
The influence of Tumatauenga can be seen in the dedication of male children to the god through ceremony and protocol involving tohi, pure and karakia. These blessings ensure the child’s well-being physically and mentally, shaping and guiding him towards societal norms. Meticulous use and observance of karakia aim to invoke all the atua to strengthen the bones and shape the child. In explanation of the deep Māori understanding of Tumatauenga, I have included some examples borrowed from various Te Arawa men, both past and present, focusing on the importance and influence of Tumatauenga to mankind.
19th Century Te Arawa Chief Wiremu Maihi Te Rangi Kaheke said:
Na wai i homai? Na te pakanga i homai,
Na te riri i homai. Na nga tangata, i homai.
I homai ki a wai? I homai ki te kikokiko,
Kei te kikokiko
Kei te tini honohono
He Manawa ka
Irihia nei e Tu Matauenga.

E tu ka riri
E tu ka nguha
E tu ka aritarita!
E tu ite korikori
E tu ite wheta
E te ite whaiao
E tu ite ao marama

Translation:
Where did the binding, the strength come from?
It came out of war. It came out of fighting.
It came from the people.
Who was it given to? It was given to flesh. The flesh
The many people bound together
Their spirit is lifted up by Tumatauenga.

Angry Tu, raging Tu,
Burning up inside
Stand firm in the waving
Stand firm in the brandishing
Be established in light
Be established in full day light (MSS.81)

Aspects of reciprocity in association with utu
Utu is a term appropriated to revenge in warfare, explained by Elsdon Best in terms of a ‘sacred duty’ under the ‘aegis’ of Tumatauenga the God of War. In fact, utu has many facets of meanings, and is associated with Tumatauenga in many different ways. In traditional Māori culture, every aspect of nature was acknowledged from childhood to manhood and thus utu can also have positive aspects, as an integral part of a child’s conditioning and tribal teachings: a right which is integrated with tribal history and survival. Another aspect of utu is the custom of koha between manuhiri and tangata whenua. Another aspect is the exchange of children or bloodlines integral to reinforcing a peace agreement made as a result of utu.
The utu of retribution was conducted in several different ways, as the following scenario shows:
In a case regarding ‘a man who mistreated his wife from a neighbouring tribe, the taua muru plundering party of the woman approached her husband’s tribe who lay out taonga as payment for the offence’.
Some waiata, moteatea and names given to children, commemorated different battles and loss of loved ones: this was also indicative of the principles of utu to ensure the events were not forgotten and retribution would follow.
An important role bestowed upon Tumatauenga was negotiating and influencing the seventy gods, including Whiro, the malevolent atua of poautinitini’, to make the first man, Tiki. To alleviate any misunderstandings or confusion concerning Whiro: In the Māori paradigm everything has a balance. The Māori philosophical meaning of Whiro necessitates his role within the realm of deities in the creation of Tiki, who is perceived to have been gathered and formed by the gods.
As an illustration of the influence and importance of Tumatauenga in our lives, I include an excerpt from a Tauparapara often used by Rangiwewehi Rangatira Tohunga Mita Mohi before he begins his whaikorero:
Te ingoa o to tupuna o Tu,
Tu whakaheke tangata
Ki raro, kia Tawhaki.
Translation:
The names of your ancestor Tu
Whose blood travels through the descendants
To Tawhaki.
Note: All tribes can lay claim to Tawhaki as an ancestor. His name originates from Hawaii.

Twentieth-century warfare and Māori
During World War One and World War Two, Māori volunteered for service overseas with a sense of adventure and to see the world. In terms of utu in a modern context of war of attrition, Māori soldiers sought to restore a global balance of peace and justice.

__________________________________________________________

[1] Elsdon Best, The Māori As He Was, Wellington: National Museum, 1974, 167.

[2] Wiremu Maihi Te Rangikaheke was born in 1815. He was a Te Arawa Chief of Ngāti Kereru hapū affiliated to Ngāti Rangiwewehi. He is the author of the manuscripts in Governor Grey’s New Zealand Māori Manuscript Collection.

[3] Elsdon Best, 167.

[4] Telephone interview with Eru Biddle, Tūhoe, Māori Studies, Waiariki Institute, Rotorua, 11 November 2010.

[5] Interviews with Pat Mohi, Rangiwewehe,  November 2010. Telephone interview with Eru Biddle.

Through to the Painful End

Last journal entry and the months have flown by. I had hoped by this stage to be feeling rather satisfied and smug even, with a completed manuscript for a publisher, albeit for a little tweaking. When, in fact, I still have a confusing array of scenes and characters still at a loss to decide whether they are in the past or the present and does it matter. But, some positives, with Reina’s input. Firstly, many superfluous pages have been culled, for the betterment of the story, I think. Secondly, I have a stronger sense of the background of my characters due to the readings Reina has suggested. Although much of this is not in my novel, it has helped the writer.

This is also the time to express gratitude to Huia Publishers and Te Tupu Papa programme, brought about with the help of HUIA, Creative New Zealand and Te Puni Kōkiri. Without their support, I suspect this manuscript might have remained a weekend pastime. Special thanks to Dominika for all her administration arrangements and the emails of support.

A heartfelt thank you to Reina Whaitiri, who tells it like it is: ‘I am sounding like a cracked record, Larree, but this is confusing.’ Arohanui, Reina.

So, write what I want or what a reader will want to read? It’s a hard line for a wannabe first-time novel writer with a publisher prepared to offer their services. It is a difficult decision. My mentor, Reina, is being made to work overtime; I am wondering if she expected to be a counsellor as well. Do I want to get a book out of this, a solid hard copy that can be held and read in bed, on the train, in the library, or is this just an opportunity to see my name on a blog? NOT: I want a reader to read this, I want someone to pick my book from a library shelf, a book shop, a book club, and enjoy the read. It’s a hard line. Especially when you are new at this.

But the months have not been without their costs.
My ankle is strapped, and I am foregoing the anti-inflammatories, for now.
The pain should be perceptible so we know what is going on, my physio says.
I can tell you what’s going on, my ankle hurts, I say.
So your ankle hurts because you have back pain. Sciatica, he says. Sit up straight, do back exercises, stop hunching over your keyboard, get a proper chair. Sit with your elbows at right angles, your knees below your hips, or you will do some irreparable damage, and you will not be walking in Spain.
Who mentioned back pain? But that does it. I follow his instructions to the T, and suffer the exercises.
I am going to Spain, whatever. I am going to Spain with his wife, so he needs to get me walking.

My friend invites me to go walking, that’s fine, a walk, the sun is shining. I need to loosen up my ankle. I arrive at her place to pick her up. No, we walk from here, she says, okay. Three hours later, I am peeling my socks off at her back door to soak my feet in the foot bath she is preparing. Good, she says, while we relax with our feet in Radox, you passed the test, I will book for Spain tomorrow. Eight hundred kilometres is not so far in six weeks: two three-hour stretches each day. What else is there to do but walk? We will be in Santiago before the scallops are rolled over by the tide.
I am looking forward to it. We will have an adventure, I say, and sincerely mean my words despite my aches and pains.

The beginnings of a new novel, I think to myself.

Legacies and Legends

Well, this is truly the beginning of the end of the beginning.

As December draws near, I look at my body of work, and I am feeling quite sad – not for having the opportunity to complete my work under the guidance of professionals, but for the fact that I wanted to accomplish so much more in this time.

I set out on my creative journey when I was barely in primary school. My older brothers would read lots of books and comics and draw amazing pictures, and it was from there that I began to write and draw.

I wish I had kept some of my earlier work – although I’m sure I’d be cringing at the crudity of my craft – but every journey has a first step.

What I never anticipated was taking another million steps from there and still facing uncertainty. I thought a smaller, more unique country would allow better opportunities to realise my dreams, but it has been a struggle fraught with ignorance on my part. When you’re younger, you tend to wait for the world to come to you – for publishers to burst through your door, wanting to sign you up because you’re so damned special – and when that fails to happen, you begin to doorknock. You don’t knock on everyone’s door – you kind of test the waters by dipping a toe – and when that first frosty reception alarms and frightens you, you withdraw from the water’s edge and bide your time.

So I’ve been sitting at the water’s edge, casting stones and refining my work, but I should have been more aggressive and personal with my work. I can say that I have seen some of my ideas appear in other people’s work – not because they stole them but because ideas are continually floating through the air and are plucked and harvested by gifted people with a flair for creativity and a vision to achieve.

I’ve been sitting by the water’s edge too long.

I am part-Maori, part-Croatian, part-European – but if you look at me, you would definitely say I am a Maori – and when people ask where I am from, I say Pamapuria – not Scotland, Wales or Croatia. I am not rejecting that side – I truly embrace my unique heritage – but when I look in the mirror, I see Māori, and when I step out into the world people treat me as Māori.

As a Maori, I have always felt like I needed to prove myself – like the world was measuring me up and waving the bigger stick. This was not bred into me by my parents. This was an internal mechanism that was triggered by years of watching the news and watching social events unfold. But I have always had a profound sense of pride in my history and wanted to do more to lift my wavering spirit in the face of mounting statistics that told the nation Māori had higher levels of unemployment and less chance of success in the business world.

Sure, my mother and father provided for me as I provide for my children now, but I have always desired to achieve beyond everyday success – the kind of success I label ‘frequent-normalcy’ – going to work, buying a house, putting food on the table and clothes on our backs. We don’t celebrate that enough – but I desire more. When I was home and visiting the local cemetery, I asked my father about a headstone that bore our family name. He said it was a great-uncle of his, but he could not tell me any more. I realised at that moment that for all the years this man had spent on this earth – whether good or bad – his experiences are lost for all time. He had become a chunk of stone propped up in the ground with hardly a memory to carry him on into the future.

Was this to be my fate – to be remembered for a generation or two and then fade into obscurity? To become a cold block of marble with faded letters?

We might mention some folk with fond memory – whilst others live on in books and history – but most will live in this life and fade from the world without leaving a trace.

Not me – I want to be remembered long after my great-grandchildren join me in the next life, and I want to be remembered as someone who inspired others to do the same. For all our big talk and backslapping in admiration of our cultural identity, we have barely scratched the surface of what we can achieve as a people.

I can’t sit at the water’s edge and watch while others have all the fun – I’m going to jump in and get wet.

Judging a Book by Its Back Cover

‘I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.'(Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy)

So, twenty-six days before the manuscript is due. Let’s be frank: I’m sweating bullets. The good news is I’m close. The bad news is I don’t know how much work there is left to do. It’s an unknown quantity. Do I need to spend fifteen minutes each day until 3 December, or do I need to spend five hours a day? I really can’t tell. How exactly do you know when it’s ready or good enough or just plain good? This is the beauty of having a deadline. The deadline forces you to admit that enough is enough. Hand it over. Time’s up.

I’m not sure if the publisher requires one, but I thought I’d write the back cover blurb as a bit of a self-indulgent exercise. They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but they don’t say anything about the back cover:

‘In a home that is 50 percent love, 50 percent abuse and 100 percent religious, a child is born*. Angelus Tama is the thirteenth child of seventeen. His father is a High Priest in The Church. He’s not really sure which of the women is his mother. In a way they all are.

Follow his journey as he hits the Real World. Or at least the most commonly accepted delusion known as the Real World. He’ll discover that there are laws that can be broken and Laws that you can only break yourself against. Oh, he’ll also try to kill himself.

Sex, psychiatric wards, writers’ groups and alcohol abuse. This book’s got it all.**

*The author is aware that this equals 200 percent and is therefore illogical, but the point stands. **Disclaimer: This book does not literally have it all.’

As for the cover, which you are not supposed to judge the book by, I’ve found someone to do that too. My high school friend has a sister, Angela Vink, who is an amazing graphic artist.

Things are falling into place, and hopefully, not apart. And I’ve saved the best news for last: I finally have a title. Get ready for it: Goldilocks & the Three Episodes. Available in all good bookstores.***

***Assuming the author meets his deadline.

Reaching back to Find Political Purpose

With the deadline looming, a nagging sense of panic wakes up with me every morning. If I feed it, not much writing happens that day. It got so bad a few weeks ago I went searching for what my motives were in wanting to write this novel, and casting about, I found an essay I wrote ten years ago. There, I found the politics that underlie my purpose. The essay is long, 10,000 words, but here’s the gist:

‘At the end of the second millennium we live in a shrinking world colonised by our technological achievements in communication and transportation. The changes are so rapid, none of us can be expected to keep up and many of us are utterly bewildered as the familiar structures which support our lives are stripped away. Our policy makers seem obsessed with rationalisation and organisation; their doctrines attempting to reduce what is human, diverse and multiple, to comprehensive unity.’

A long discourse follows outlining the rise of corporate power and ends by saying:

‘We have allowed our world to be controlled by a handful of men in a handful of cities who are interested only in profit. And while money has become more and more important the quality of goods it buys steadily gets worse and worse. Small businesses which took a pride in what they were making and selling, and spent their profits in the community, are rapidly being taken over by these 21st century highwaymen, who take pride only in their dividends, which often leave the country. Their masks of capitalism conceal the face of its greatest enemy, monopoly, and we are witnessing the pillage of our planet by a form of totalitarianism at which all sincere supporters of capitalist democracy should be appalled.’

I try to pin down the essence:

‘One of the cornerstones of corporatist ideology, and perhaps its greatest weapon in ‘dividing to rule,’ is the doctrine of ‘individualism.’ Ironically, the essence of this concept could be a catalyst for change. Basically ‘individualism’ sees us all being personally responsible for our own lives, and has been recognised for millennia as a path to freedom. Corporate individualism is only interested in personal responsibility for our finances, because money is the core of its existence, and in this context has encouraged greed and selfishness. Most destructive of all it has eroded our capacity for cooperation and solidarity. Taken sincerely, however, personal responsibility can mean awareness of our actions at every level of engagement, including the thought patterns which precede all action. This is clearly a near human impossibility but it does recognise that the greatest gift of being human is our infinite capacity for growth in consciousness.’

And I offer some amateur psychology:

‘Consciousness simply means being aware, but in the culture of corporatism that can be a difficult and painful experience. It begs us to examine our own role in the system, and our own connections with all mechanisms of power and control, both public and personal. When we’ve been conditioned to fulfil our desires instantly, and find gratification in possessing things, be it a car, a partner, or an idea, the shift to awareness can be traumatic. Becoming aware that we are manipulated and controlled to live our lives forever acquiring more and more, and better and better things, can mean we deliberately begin to discard some of those things, inviting all the anxiety and grief of bereavement. Our sense of identity can be stripped bare when we begin uncovering the layers of conditioning that motivate our behaviour. To realise that what is being manipulated is our fear can be more scary than the fear itself. Discovering that the fascists we thought were without are also within can be deeply disturbing.’

But I did try to end on a note of hope.

‘There are no easy solutions or quick fix remedies to the dilemmas which beset us personally and collectively. No one of us can individually save the world but we can be individually responsible for how we impact on our world. Our escape from the psychic prison we have constructed for ourselves starts with awareness, applied moment by moment with diligence, determination and courage, to the myriad of experiences which comprise our daily lives. The path out of our predicament is a journey we take alone and nobody can walk it for another.  Only from individual effort can a new collective emerge, which shares the fortunes of our personal struggles, soundly based in a balance of imagination, intuition, common sense and reason.’

Expressing political opinion in a novel without blatant ideological ranting is proving difficult, but hopefully by 3 December, I will have finished a story subtle enough to be a novel and not a manifesto.

Detours Create Richer Detail

I went to a Rongoa Māori course on Saturday. I learnt a lot, but one of the most valuable I got was a reminder of things we intuitively know. We just need to be still, watch, listen, and all will be revealed. We often find things that we weren’t even looking for.

We are so often conditioned to set off in pursuit of something and be so focused on that end that we forget to look for signs along the way. The wrong turns that we take are all part of the bigger picture. Instead of a delay in reaching our destination, they may well have something to offer us. We may arrive a little late but hopefully richer from the detour.

My writing the last fortnight has been flowing, maybe because I have let go of the outcome. I need to turn up and write, and someone else can judge or do whatever they will with the words. I would never have been this confident in my first week on the programme.

Last week signalled the beginning of school holidays. A holiday that has two of my children having birthdays and an influx of extra kids. Eleven to feed one night, and we live in the country! I was wondering how I would get my allotted words when Renée (my mentor) suggested we double my quota for the next three weeks. This was actually clever on her behalf because what I first thought was a daunting task seemed easy now she had doubled it.

The end part of my novel (which is now nameless, but I have a few ideas incubating) has plants woven through it. A reoccurring theme with the traditional Māori medicine is that the more you get to know the forest and all the trees and plants within, they’ll tell you everything you need to know.

I am trusting this to be true with the characters in my book. At the moment, Libby, my main protagonist, is sitting on the limb of a tree. I need to go and watch, sit with her a while, so I can see where she needs to go.

Living Out Loud: Juggling Life and Writing

Earlier this week, I sent my five-year-old grandson in Invercargill his winter jacket. It’s a little further south than here, so the seasons arrive a little later. Well, that is my excuse I wrote on the attached card.

He sent me an email back: ‘Thanks Grandma, but I’m a size seven now.’

In between everyday life, I have been reading the Paris Review online and the writer interviews, and I copy a quote every so often and paste and highlight in bold for inspiration. James Baldwin, Nina Simone, Richard Wright – they all spent time in Paris, even Faulkner, and Joyce and Beckett. Proust is a native; that doesn’t count. I am going to Paris because Nina Simone was there, and her music inspires me.

‘It takes me forever to get it to sing. I work at the language.’  Maya Angelou on writing.

‘I look at some of the great novelists, and I think the reason they are great is that they’re telling the truth.’ Maya Angelou.

Email catch-up to Reina. I have been a bit slack so need to get this thing moving. But not to worry about the outcome, just let it be, it is this … stay in the moment, this is the present and that is all that matters in the big picture.

Reina replies. Read it out loud to your husband, be a storyteller, it might help to find those areas where you have concerns, think about your characters, do you like them?

I had to get my husband’s attention, a place where he was sitting and still with no choice but to listen. Well, with men, there is only that one place, and somehow it just did not seem appropriate. So I read to my dog, Washburn. As a thirteen-year-old Labrador with a puppy brain and recently diagnosed with severe arthritis, it is not easy for him to get up and walk away. I moved his trampoline bed with its bio-mag mattress beside the fire and woke him each time he snored with Bomazeal treats. Some issues jumped out at me. Washburn cruised and slept and nudged my leg when he wanted his ear scratched.

Bruce Springsteen’s birthday coincided with Washburn’s big day out.

I played ‘The Boss’ on vinyl in kind regards and memories.

Washburn came home with a doggy bag.

Bomazeal, Rymadil and opiates (for severe pain) along with an appointment card for the next three Saturdays regarding follow up injections, and he may not improve until the final one, and after that an appointment every six months to monitor progress. Tonight, he is stiff and sore from the limb manipulation necessary for the X-ray poses, but I don’t think he minded that, anything for attention, that’s our Wash. He is hurting now, so we give him a Bomazeal treat with his Tux. ‘Mmmm,’ he grunts, ‘mmmm, I need to use the bushes, now.’ He doesn’t quite make it, but that’s what shovels are for. He limps back into his kennel, and we say goodnight. He is too tired to reply. It has been a big day.

I don’t suppose Bruce had quite the same experience, but the man that still sings ‘Born to Run’ is only sixty-one years old; in doggy years, Wash is ninety-one.

Life is a present occupation, a juggling act, between writing and everyday stuff.

Sometimes I spend my time writing stuff that is just that, stuff … it’s a break, that’s all.

……..

‘I want to read you something,’ he says.

He begins, ‘Once there was a small boy …’ his voice has a gentle smoothness, it lulls her, she is not listening for the story but is beguiled by the sound of his voice, every now and then he asks her a question, she nods her head, sometimes she nods at inappropriate times, because that was not the answer to the question, and there is a flicker of exasperation on his face, but it doesn’t last and he resumes. She becomes sleepy, drifting on the ocean of his words, he asks again if she is listening and she shakes her head, still he continues, she wafts in the swell, he reads, she is floating face up, the sun is warm, like his voice, they become one, his voice her body, her breath is his, they breathe together, the ocean is everywhere all around, they are the ocean.

‘Well,’ he says, finally, ‘What do you think?’

Once there lived a small dog …

Their neighbours ask, does your husband write, is he a writer, what does he write, does it pay, where can we see his books, are they in the library, is he famous?

Once there lived a small dog …

‘I want to read you something,’ she says.

She begins, ‘Once there lived a small dog. His name was Maz, his tail was neither the full length tail that might have curled up over his back, nor was it a wiggly stump, but in between, like a half smoked cigarette …’

Her husband snores and wakes himself. She is gazing out the window, the ash from his cigarette drops on to the duvet; he hears a dog bark, a boy laughing, the neighbour’s car in the driveway. He hears her scream.