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.

A Day’s Writing with the Author and the Internal Editor

Wakes up on the two-seater love seat. Alone. Feet dangle over the tiled coffee table. Wrapped tightly about in a duvet. Through the window, Thursday clouds threaten rain.  Crosses fingers; that would be nice. Heads into the kitchen. Has to rinse himself a clean cup, dishes undone for a while now. Has to empty ashtray, but keeps the butts in an airtight jar – for rainier days. They are forecast. Returns to love seat and re-dresses in the duvet. Thinks of flipping open the laptop.

[ENTERS: Internal Editor]

No point, you’ve got nothing to say.

Reminds himself what Murray said: ‘Activity precedes motivation.’ Hopes that proceeding with typing words, any words, will activate motivation. Flips open laptop.

Isn’t Dr. Oz on TV about now? Today’s topic: foods that battle the aging process!

Reminds himself that he is only thirty. Opens a new document while the ancient laptop whirrs like an air-conditioning unit and heats his lap. Decides to begin with a title, seems to get the juices flowing and provide direction. ‘Finger Lickin’ Bad.’                                                                                                             

You can’t use that. The Publisher will have to clear it with KFC first.

Steels himself and continues: ‘I am not sure what stop to get off at. I’ve never caught this bus before. I pull the cord just before the hospital to be sure I don’t overshoot. There are two Chinese women behind me speaking to each other in their own language. My paranoia flares up.’

Two things here buddy. You don’t want to alienate the Asian community. I think they buy a lot of books for their kids. Secondly, you don’t want to come across as some kind of neurotic, paranoid case. People at your work are gonna read this. Slip something humane and compassionate in.

‘This better be worth it. I hope Hera appreciates this visit. He’s been such an ungrateful and demanding patient.’

Not even close.

Backspace, backspace, backspace.

Starts last section again: ‘I check my own thinking. Like Sally-Anne remarked, so much of it is automatic and reactive. Of course the Chinese women aren’t talking about me. They got on at the last stop with plastic bags stuffed with groceries. They’re probably talking about dinner. I feel myself relax. But then, as Porirua winds into view and the concrete towers of Kenepuru Hospital rise over the low hills, I begin to feel panic. Dread. Something I think Sally-Anne would understand. I haven’t seen Hera for so many months. Just how unwell is he this time?’

You don’t have the right to tell this story. It belongs to your family. To Hera. Don’t shame yourself. Don’t shame them. Shame on you.                                                                                                              

Becomes for a time despondent. The Thursday clouds that threatened rain now realise it. Mt. Victoria is ushered away in a gauze of rain. Fast drops drum against the windows. Flips closed the lid of the laptop. Makes a simple lunch. Does dishes. The idea of doing the washing exhausts him, but the idea of lying on the two-seater love seat wrapped in a duvet turns him on. Before giving up for the day, checks his email. His inbox contains a piece of spam from quotationspage.com. Opens it out of boredom and curiosity: ‘If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.’ (George Bernard Shaw) Takes a big breath. Flips open the laptop. Begins to type away, writing towards the fear: ‘Pulling the cord the bell rings and the bus slams to a stop. The two Chinese women squeal. Like it or not, I have to see Hera. I have to see my brother.’
[EXITS: Internal Editor]

*

  Spends the rest of the weekend dancing with an old family friend.

Hunting for Truth in History

Writing a true account of history is no easy task. Bias and perceptions may influence the story and, to some extent, can change the historical record. Unfortunately, this bias will sometimes be replicated and assume a place in history as fact. As a researcher, I look for several references to an account of an event. I enjoy the hunt for information and finding new evidence to an event is always a relief.

Essentially, the information sought by a writer of history exists in landscapes, memories and literature. The difficult task is providing a fresh approach and using new information to inform a description of a historical event. In my experience of researching past events and people, the gathering of information can be an endless task. At some point, the research stops, and the hard work of writing up the findings begins. Importantly, a filing system of documents and notes gathered saves precious time for references as losing vital information to a sequence of work is frustrating and time-consuming.

The activity of writing is the moment when all is revealed. In my case, I have learned from experience the value of structure or a clear outline for a historical account of an event. In this instance, I consider myself very fortunate to have a very erudite and experienced mentor, Daisy Coles, who has impressed on me the importance of a progress spreadsheet and organiser to assist me in achieving my goals. The spreadsheet also works as a tool to help me focus on the manuscript’s content and what I need to do to achieve outcomes for each chapter. My sincere thanks to the Huia Publishers staff for this opportunity to write an important account of history featuring brave and courageous men and women.

The following is an account of World War Two that threatened to change our society with devastating consequences worldwide. Essentially, some events of World War Two are constantly changing as new evidence is uncovered and old perceptions of World War Two are interestingly challenged. I have chosen to share some of my research concerning the Nazi ideology of women. There is nothing new in my account as I used references to compile my evidence and thus gain an understanding of German women’s society in the 1930s.[1] [2]

During Adolf Hitler’s rise to political power in the 1930s and the increasing influence of the Nazi Party in German society, the aspirations and dreams of higher education and individuality in German women’s society were eroded away by the formulation of the Nazi ideology of women. In the 1930s, German women were compelled to study domestic science. Physics, foreign languages and science were the subjects for men alone.

The women in Nazi Germany were encouraged to become childbearers, and to achieve this, they were forced to maintain physical fitness and a healthy lifestyle. Hitler introduced incentives to produce babies by giving women public recognition in the form of honour and medals. Young couples were also given government money to start a family. The breeding programme included a medical examination ensuring a clean bill of health for the woman and a system of selecting male breeding partners from Hitler’s military ranks, the Shutz Staffel (SS)[3] and generals. Hitler’s grand plan for Germany included increasing the German population, and underpinning the breeding programme was his desire to build a large army and thereby achieve world domination.[4]

A ban on cosmetics and nail polish was a restriction introduced to further suppress German women’s individuality. The Nazi government had adopted a campaign against cosmetics and make-up in World War One. This ban was extended to include French and United States women’s fashions.  Mothers in the SS were forbidden to wear make-up and nail polish, and women who did so were publically ridiculed. The Nazi theory of the ideal woman was a peasant wife devoted to work on the land and caring for her family. Women in the Nazi Party were encouraged to devote their time to working for Hitler and the Party as helpmates. Hitler’s innate theory of men as leaders in management jobs and public affairs further confined Nazi women to the home and reduced their position in society as second-class citizens of the Third Reich.[5]

Hitler enjoyed public forums where he could speak to the multitudes and promote his ideals for a greater German society. On 8 September 1934, Hitler addressed the National Social Women’s League[6] convention informing the members present of his plan for women:

 ‘… the women must be a complement to man, so that they can prevail as real fighters before our Volk and for our Volk with our sights set on the future … the two sexes will traverse this life fighting together, hand in hand fulfilling Providence: … the blessing of the Almighty will rest upon their joint struggle for life.’

Whilst he acknowledged the leadership role of women in the National Socialist Movement, he also reminded the women that ‘there were innumerable women who remained unshakeably loyal to the Movement and to me'[7].  Hitler’s determination to increase the population of Germany through childbearing was paramount, and through his speech, he exhorted the women to focus on his agenda and on a ‘single item and this is the child, this tiny creature who must come into being and flourish, who constitutes the sole purpose of the entire struggle for existence’.

It is probable that Hitler directly assisted in the formulation of the Nazi ideology of women although he claimed that this stemmed from the concepts of Nature and Providence. Hitler placed importance and value on the idea that German women (who were of Nature) contributed to German society in helping the men (who were of Providence) achieve their objective. The differences between the sexes guided the roles that they played in society. In reality, these ideals did nothing but take away the individuality and freedom of thought of German women and thus subordinate and demoralise them, condemning them to the tenet that by her nature the woman was home merely to the power of feelings and the power of the soul.[8] In Hitler’s philosophy the man was home to the power of recognition, the power of toughness, of resolution and of fighting morale; man strove for heroic courage on the battlefield, and woman was there to give eternally patient devotion, suffering and endurance.

In effect, Hitler’s ideology of women reflected his inability to see women in diverse roles. It is probable that Hitler may have based his ideas on gender roles from the philosopher Rousseau’s “But for her sex …” the Domestication of Sophie,which presented a model of ‘Emile’ (man) as soldier, public office holder and landowner and ‘Sophie’ (woman) as protector of moral values and educational practices, confined to the home.[9]

Personally, I have found that education is a perpetual learning experience. The human brain is like a microcosm of the universe that is forever growing and creating new stars of knowledge.

World War Two and winning the war through the sacrifice of our parents’ and grandparents’ lives has given us the freedom to shape our individual destinies – and let’s not forget the liberty that contemporary German women enjoy beside us.

 

 

 


[1] URL: www.educationforum.co.uk. Retrieved from the Internet, 16/8/10.

[2] Lawrence Rees, BAFTA-winning BBC TV series, The Nazis: A Warning from History. London: BBC Worldwide Limited, 1997.

[3] Shutz means defense, and Staffel means echelon: Hitler’s SS was an elite private army and secret service. W L  Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History Of Nazi Germany. England: Book Club Associates, 1960, 120–121.

[4] Martin Kitchen, Nazi Germany At War. London: Longman, 1995, 142, 143–144.

[5] Third Reich was Nazi Germany 1933–1945.

[6] Nationalsozialistische Frauenschaft: W L Shirer, 1960, 120–121.

[7] M Damarus, Hitler: Speeches and Proclamations 1932–1945. London: I B Taurus, 1990, vol, 1, 531–535. [Bismarck readings 148–331], 531.

[8] Kitchen, Nazi Germany At War, 1995, 136.

[9]  Excerpt from Jim MacAdam, Michael Neumann and Guy LaFrance (eds), Trent Rousseau Papers, 1 35–45. “But for Her Sex …”: the Domestication of Sophie.

Suiting the Taste of a Target Audience

We are nearing the halfway mark of our journey, and I have just completed the manuscript in its rawest form – the unformed clay if you will.

My mentor has allowed the following week to go over this first draft and begin the editing process, so I am a bundle of nerves. Even now, I am finding some of its words distracting and some themes underdeveloped, but I wonder if anyone else would feel what I feel when they read the book.

Would Michelangelo find fault in the Sistine Chapel? Probably … but could you? This is the lonely and painful art of writing – and with it comes an age-old problem – taste.

I have written my book with a target audience in mind and the dream of attracting people who normally wouldn’t read that particular type of novel, but books are an acquired taste – what reads well for some does not often read well for others. There will be detractors of your work and fans alike.

I had dinner with friends the other night, followed by a glass of wine. I commented on its taste and how much I enjoyed its flavour, but one friend told me that it was too sweet, and another said it had a strong taste of blueberry.

I swirled the wine about in the glass and asked myself, ‘What do I know about wine?’ and the honest answer was – nothing. I did not find it overly sweet, and I certainly could not detect the blueberry – but I was adamant about one thing – I certainly enjoyed the glass and quickly poured myself another to prove the point.

It is the same with books. I know as much about wine as I do books – all I know is what I prefer. No matter how much a book is recommended, there will always be a polarisation amongst its readers. There are those who rave about Treasure Island … and there are those who, like me, have not got past the first chapter.

Like wine – given time, we will discover if my book fulfils the desire of my intended audience – I only need to bottle it. When the cork is popped, I have to be satisfied in my work.

Eru Shares Snippets of Past and Present

I’ve recently had broadband connected at my house. The digital revolution finally revolved its way to my place, flashing its light-speed optics in my direction. It was a bit of a mission. First of all, Telecom refused to set up an account in my name. I have a credit history as peppery as the spice trade, so I had to call Mum. From my cellphone.

From her bed – where she receives all phone calls – she considered my request. I lowered my bait in slowly. She agreed that it was nice to hear from me. It had been a while. She agreed that it’s great news I’m being paid to write a manuscript. She agreed that there would be a lot of emailing back and forth between me and my mentor. She slowly agreed that it was a bit of a hassle to have to email from work. She supposed that it would be much easier to have a phone line and internet connection at home.

Then we shared a pause.

‘So would you mind if I got my landline connected? ‘Cause of my … past, it would have to be under your name,  Mum?’

I’d asked her before, but she had been very reluctant. This time, however, I felt like I had some leverage.

‘This is my best shot to finally get a novel published.’

I heard the bed springs creak. The air grew rich with anticipation.

‘Okay then.’

It seems Archimedes may have been right: ‘Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.’

*

Mum’s gesture of support meant a lot to me. I do not come from a family of readers. Sure, we had lots of books in our home, but they fell into two categories: scriptures and commentaries on the scriptures. Reading wasn’t really a hobby or a pleasure; it was a duty – one to be carried out on the Sabbath and during weekly gospel study sessions.  We escaped the ordinariness of everyday life through television or sport or food. Reading for pleasure was seen as a bit suspicious, a bit indulgent. I got the impression that the proper function of reading was to prepare oneself for The Great and Final Day of Judgement.

The only reading exception seemed to be Dad’s Herald Tribune – Hawke’s Bay’s daily paper. And it was definitely Dad’s paper. No one was allowed to even unfold the paper before Dad had carefully thumbed through it. He had a pair of scissors as long as his forearm and as sharp as his temper. He used those glimmering scissors to carefully snip out the articles of interest to him, mostly stock market reports on how well his tiny portfolio of Brierley stocks were doing and anything to do with the Meat Workers Union, of which he was a representative. When Dad was done, anyone was welcome to read the paper so long as they could hold it together with its dozen or so rectangular-shaped gaps. No one else read the paper. It was too much hard work.

I’m not sure, then, how I ended up as the family’s reader, the one child of seventeen who preferred to be indoors flicking through non-church-approved books. The one child of seventeen who seemed allergic to the outdoors but drawn to the inches-thick illusions between covers.

Fiction and secular non-fiction became the lever and fulcrum on which I shifted my world view.

*

So now that I have all the necessary shiny cables and light-speed currents pointed at my house, I wish I could tell you that I’ve been very noble with my broadband. I wish I could tell you that I’ve spent the last two months downloading pirated e-books on the art of writing. I wish I could tell you that I’ve set up RSS feeds to past Nobel literature winners. I wish I could brag at how many Booker prize winners I’ve friended on Facebook.

In truth, I’ve watched hours, probably days’ worth, of reality TV: Celebrity Rehab, The Real Housewives of New Jersey, Flava of Love, Sober House with Dr. Drew and even Keeping Up With the Kardashians. I’ve devoured hours and hours of celebrities and ordinary folks lose weight and sober up. I’ve watched the famous and the forgettable falling in and out of love – with themselves and with each other. I’ve watched people climb on the dry wagon and fall off again only to be run over and crushed under wheels of hubris. And most of all, I’ve watched them fight: Jill vs. Bethenney, Danielle vs. Teresa or Sergeant Harvey vs. Fat Celebrity has-beens. I’ve streamed hours of quiet tension explode in moments of the loudest vile. I am ashamed to admit it, but I’ve loved seeing ex-lovers collapse into one-on-one war.

*

During the writing of this manuscript, I have often killed my own momentum with the question, What right do you have to tell this story? It has stopped me dead on several occasions.

I’m not the kind of author that could write the story of a seventeenth-century Dutch lesbian widow. As fun as it is to imagine myself outside myself, I doubt I could convince a reader. God bless the authors who don’t write from experience. I can’t. I am a doubting and easily wounded thirty-year-old single Māori. Experience has worn away my capacity to trust. I act with kindness not out of any higher moral calling but because it seems to disarm and pacify most other adults. I’d prefer to be arrogant and straightforward, but I’ve found I’m not pretty enough to pull that off.

I am pulling this manuscript out like a series of splinters. It is not easy, but some internal pressure is telling me that it is significant and necessary. Sometimes I even chance across an unexpected and lovely paragraph. What I am making is part autobiography, part fiction and part fantasy. It is a crossover of scripture, Dad’s paper and what was left of the newspaper. You, the reader, will be expected to hold it all together, to keep the pages upright enough to make sense of it. The rectangular-shaped gaps will be both your challenge and your chance to hide away with me. The value of the Brierley stocks will be up to you.

December the 3rd, the Great and Terrible Day of Judgement, approaches.

Larree Makes a Stand on Unsteady Ground

A few Sundays back, we went to the Art Show in Wellington, and I bought a picture. A small black and white print by Joe Wright of a figure standing on this very precarious base of branches like a kererū nest, holding a megaphone up to the sky, and out of the megaphone comes all these birds. I love it.

I love it because it says where I am with my writing, and coming to terms with being a Māori writer, standing on this very shaky base and trying to make a stance.

Wake up print ©Joe Wright
An artist’s print signifies Larree’s own awakening ©Joe Wright

Later that day, we were lucky enough to catch Donna Dean at Lembas Café in Raumati South. She is such an open and honest person, a very genuine singer songwriter musician. Her songs are straightforward, and she just tells it like it is. It was an inspiring day.

I was very much reminded of my mentor’s – Reina Whaitiri’s – words. ‘The language should disappear for the reader … we forget we are reading. If you use language that insists on being noticed the story gets lost.’ My recent experience with art and song writing are very apt examples, ie. KISS.

So, my own writing. I think how I am affected by art, songs, music, stories, and it’s the openness of the writer, artist that fades behind the work that captures me. Reina has given me a list of books and authors to read as points of reference. She has also suggested changing tense, using the present. Try it, she says, see what you think. So I have, and in some cases it works; other times, I get confused. It’s hard to give up the preciousness of your work, but it’s a good lesson. Reina said she can be tough; she is, but she is also absolutely right.

The last few weeks have been about learning to let go – trying to rid the author from the writing and let the narrator get on with the story.