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.

Shaking out the Details

Flying southward, I was surprised to hear the pilot announce: ‘Good evening, guests, we’ve just passed the township of Kaikōura. I can see, in the distance, the lights of Christchurch, and it’s gearing up to be a clear and mild night.’ I didn’t know you could see Christchurch from that far away. In my mind, Christchurch is such an extraordinary distance from Wellington. And even further from Hastings where the bulk of my family live. Whenever Mum organises a visit to my sister in The Garden City, you’d think she was planning a trip abroad. She books months in advance and packs so much gear you’d think she was relocating. I’ve acquired many welcome and unwelcome habits from Mum: loyalty to family, the afternoon nap, hoarding and a taste for gossip. Yet as worldly as I like to consider myself, I also see that I have acquired her fantastic and false sense of distance. According to the pilot, Wellington is only twenty-seven minutes’ flying distance from Christchurch. Really? Is that all?

Much to my own disappointment, I myself had packed so much luggage I was charged an excess baggage fee.

As the plane descended and I greedily sucked my green Air New Zealand lolly to alleviate my popping ears, I considered the earthquake. The iron-flat bulk of the Canterbury Plains seemed enormous. The jagged Southern Alps and a slew of low-rise hills seemed to contain a basin that stretched forever. And this was from several hundred feet in the air. I contemplated the enormous forces from deep below and out of sight that had conspired on 4 September to shake this fabulously big area. I enjoyed a wonderful feeling of smallness.

*

I agree with the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle who moaned, ‘Writing is a dreadful labor, yet not so dreadful as Idleness.’ On many given days, the only worse-sounding idea than sitting still for an hour or two writing is sitting still for a day or two not writing. There is a quality of satisfaction I get after filling a few empty screens with nouns, conjunctions and adjectives that I do not get after any other activity. The sore point seems to be the doing itself – the mechanical process of teasing out memory and imagination via words. The payoff may be orgasmic, but often getting there is like a session of very average sex; only slightly more pleasure than pain. And that’s on a good day. On a bad day, it is more like having a groin accident. So why even bother? Because if I wasn’t a writer, I simply wouldn’t be me. And writers write. So I keep writing because I am starting to like me.

Hell, it only took thirty years.

*

I had booked my trip to Christchurch long before The Big One. Months in advance in fact. (Drat! Mum’s influence is unstoppable!) When it struck, I kinda grossed myself out at how excited I was to be heading down there shortly to check out the lovely damage for myself. I even borrowed a digital camera for the occasion. My sister was to meet me at the airport. I feel so flash at airports – like a member of some kind of elite mobile class. I always feel like some kind of emissary. By the time our plane landed, night had dropped on a cooling Canterbury. My sister couldn’t afford the $6-an-hour airport parking so had been waiting in the Drop off/Pick up zone just outside the domestic terminal. For an hour. After a kiss and a squeeze, we sped off inland towards Lincoln.

Morbidly, I expected to see roads broken apart and Civil Defence operatives handing out flares. I expected to see lines of the homeless and evicted queuing for ration packs. I kept an eye out at railway crossings for tracks bent into unnatural S shapes. I even half-expected to see the Prime Minister surrounded by a retinue of crisis management folk surveying gutted-out neighbourhoods. Or at least Bob Parker. There was nothing of the sort.

Instead, I had to content myself with my sister’s dry story about how her hot-water cylinder had cracked and leaked a bit into her hot-water cupboard. I’m not proud of it, but I think I am drama slut.

Good for you, Christchurch. Bad luck for the inner disaster tourist I suspect lurks in all of us.

*

It’s this hunger for bold and broad-stroked drama that held my writing back for a long time. I remember telling my sixth-form English teacher that to be a real writer, I’d have to go overseas first. You know, where the really big, important and exciting adventures go down. At that stage, I had no appreciation for the small. I didn’t know how strong a frail moment caught on paper can be.

While sitting in the Lincoln University library on Sunday, fingers tapping and face twisted in my frustrated-writer facials, the building began to shudder. Aftershock, nearly one month on. Shelves of books hummed tremblingly and fluorescent lights shimmered. I gasped, gripping my desk. But to my surprise, the Cantabrians continued – business as usual. Boys and girls in their tiny Canterbury shorts and stiff-collared Aertex shirts kept studying and chatting and Facebooking right through the micro-quake. They’ve had over a thousand aftershocks since 4 September. I so admired their adaptability, their stoicism.

In these final eight weeks, this last lap around the course, I learnt something valuable that day down there, southward. Life can’t possibly be all earthquakes. That isn’t lifelike. Plots may pivot around moments of large drama, but it is the ever-decreasing ripples – the aftershocks – that are the bread and butter of everyday experience.

I’m beginning to believe that the devil lies in overlooking the details.

All Work and No Play …

Oh no – it’s The Shining – I swear …

I am sitting in my little office and the door is closed, but I hear children making noises, dogs barking, cars passing by and a party going on next door. With so many little distractions, I can’t get a single word out of my head and onto the page.

I run a hand over my face and head – I haven’t shaved in days, and my hair is long and messy, and I am eating irregularly … I am not feeling myself.

The sun has set, and my computer is the only source of light and warmth. I’m hunched over the monitor like a man caught in a blizzard, struggling to survive the fierce elements. A line of dialogue suddenly sparks my imagination, and I return to my seat, crack my knuckles and begin typing – but the words do not fit the book: I realise I have written out a shopping list. WHY?

I have been alone too long – this office is definitely too small – maybe the walls are closing in. I make my way to the door. The screen monitor blackens, and the room becomes dark. My fire is dying – I can’t let that happen. I rush over to shake the mouse furiously and pray that it wasn’t a power cut. The screen brightens and heat returns, and the tower begins to whir and hum, playing that monotone song I find so damned intrusive … WMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM 

I strike the save icon – twice to ensure I have done it right – a third time to be absolutely positive my document is safe. I close the document and hold my breath – I open it and – YES! – nothing has changed.

But wasn’t that the problem to begin with?

Someone knocks at my door, but I ignore it. I pretend I’m not here. They inform me that tea is ready, but I am not hungry … I only want to get off this page and move onto the next, but I am all out of words. I grab my pad and paper and jot down a list of ideas – but at a glance I realise I have written out that stupid shopping list again. WHY?

My coffee is half-finished and cold – how did that happen? What time is it? I feel like a cigarette – but I don’t smoke … and that stupid page is still up on the screen, teasing me that it will never leave until I change that one line of dialogue that slows the pace of the story. But maybe I don’t want to change it – maybe I like it … but it reads funny … HA! HA! HA! No – not that kind of funny, but a shopping list kind of funny – a sad kind of funny …

WMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM … I hate that song now. I shut the computer down and rub my tired eyes. It’s time to return to reality.

I struggle to walk away, but the door opens and the smell of food arouses my appetite, and my son rushes up to hug me, and my wife greets me with a warm smile and asks how my project is going.

I turn and smile and reply ‘We need to get laundry powder and cornflakes.’

How Coincidences Mean More Than You Think

Often this month, I’ve questioned, why am I doing this?

Not so long ago, a New Age–shaped world view would have me think, oh, but writing seems to have chosen me. Now, I can’t be so sure.

Back then, I might cite the time I went looking for guidance on what I thought was an original idea, a novel comprised of short stories. I’d written a bunch after an eventful summer and saw they could link together. First bookshop I visit and my eye catches my surname. I share it with Robert Burdette Sweet. Above his name, imposed on a broody youth was the title White Sambo and A Novel in Stories. The structure of the book was what I was looking for and the themes in our stories uncannily similar.

That’s synchronicity giving a sign, I told myself. Keep on writing.

Now, I have the opportunity to finish a book with a publisher who’s taken an interest, and I’m near paralysed at times by doubt – the nemesis of synchronicity.

Carl Jung explained something profound and universal when he coined the word synchronistic to describe those events that seem like providence. My first conscious experience was on my thirty-third birthday. I was in the middle of making a life-changing decision: whether to stay in Aotearoa or take up an offer overseas. If I stayed, I wanted to make a veggie garden, and it was already spring, so hedging my bets, I went to the garden shop and bought lime, and blood and bone, and probably some seaweed magic. The cost was thirty-three dollars and thirty-three cents on my thirty-third birthday. I didn’t listen. Instead, I spent a miserable year in Taiwan.

A few years later, I read The Roots of Coincidence by Arthur Koestler where he explained Jung’s theory of synchronicity. I was sceptical, because although God wasn’t in the theorem, it still assumed an invisible hand. I talked to an uncle about it. He didn’t have an opinion. Then I told him I had a friend coming to visit me from Scotland. He asked where from, and I told him Loch Fyne. He said, ‘Jeez, I had a girlfriend from there when I lived in the UK. What’s your mate’s name?’ It turned out my uncle’s old girlfriend was my friend’s aunty. I gave him the book to read.

… a day has passed …

Driving home from town this afternoon, I heard an interview on the radio about China celebrating the birth of Confucius for the first time since the Revolution and how the new leaders are allowing a high degree of freedom in religious practice after fifty years of suppression.

Could this be synchronicity? My book is set in China, and a major theme is the preservation of the Daoist arts during the dark years of the Cultural Revolution. The interviewee talked about the tens of millions of Chinese openly declaring their faiths, unheard of even ten years ago.

So I gave praise to Carl Jung for quelling my doubts long enough to get on with the writing.

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.

When the Writing Flow Starts to Congeal

Robert Louis Stevenson was quoted as saying ‘Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant.’

At the moment, I am planting lots of seeds, but when I look at my fields, the crops seem like poor specimens – undernourished and not able to stand tall against strong winds.

I am in the middle of my novel, and this is the bit that I find hard. When something is hard, I don’t want to do it.

Last week, Renée kindly gave me the week off. I had a funeral as well as other things that needed my attention. I thought the break would do me good. Not so.

This week is even harder. I have had to glue my bum to the seat. I have had to wrestle every word, sentence and page and am still not finished. Even writing this journal entry. I suspect myself of procrastinating, again.

Half of me wants to find the easy way out. But, another part of me yearns for original and unique. I suppose it serves me right too. Up until this point, the pages were just flowing. Easy even. People have been asking how is the writing. Fantastic. Loving it. No one has asked this week.

Writing, I now see as a relationship. I was happy when everything was running smoothly, but now we’re being tested. For better or for worse.

So, I have to go back to the drawing board. Put in the effort and trust that I’m not just a fair-weather girl.

Must go. I have writing to do!

Tania Butcher Builds on Memories of Maketū

Tania Butcher
Tania uses her studies in tactical warfare to explore the history of Maketū warriors.

Being selected to write from a large field of writers is a humbling experience and an honour. My manuscript is a journal reaching back in time to gather forward the triumphs and tribulations of Maketū warriors who fought in wars with honour and a belief that a better world can be made for their families and generations of descendants ahead in time.

The beginnings of writing the Maketū warriors’ story cropped up five years ago in a conversation with my cousin Huia Tapsell who wanted something concrete to remember all those men who lived in Maketū during the warring years.

At the time, I was studying Defence and Strategic Studies at Massey University, and my head was filled with battles and principles of warfare. I was very enthusiastic and promised my cousin I would return to Maketū when I completed my studies and discuss the prospect of writing a book about our warriors both Māori and Pākehā.

Here I am, my dream a reality and a whole lot of work ahead of me. I am elated, exhilarated and energised to be working on an important project about my ancestors and their comrades-in-arms. I am very honoured.

Background on Maketū soldiers

Maketū is a historical township that nestles in the elbow of the Bay of Plenty coastline between Tauranga and the East Cape. The Maketū landscape is an archival trove of past fighting chiefs and militarily enlisted warriors immortalised in headstones, memorials and war sites. (From working manuscript)

Tania’s manuscript about Maketū soldiers focuses on their involvement in the wars of the twentieth century.

Larree Lust Ponders Purpose and Narration

The writing process.

Elation, anxiety, doubt, fear.

Larree Lust image
Larree Lust considers changing her storyteller

Despite which, I am looking forward to this journey over the next six months to finish an ongoing project: a draft of a novel that has been languishing. The support of Te Papa Tupu programme is an opportunity and a privilege to be involved with.

So, timelines, character lines, sketches, charts – the paint on my office wall is taking a beating.

And this journal is proving to be difficult. At least with a novel, the author can hide in the story; a journal seems far more transparent.

Excerpt from project: novel

Boys wait, bundled together into the large bedroom above the front verandah. They sit three to a bed, against the window sill, squat on the floor throwing dice, toss cards into corners, wage pennies, examine the dirt under their fingernails. Jokes fall on silence, as they swear at each under their breath. The once teasing, jovial, blithe voices subdued into apprehension. Sarah slips into the room, Hone barks at her to get back where she belongs.

They wait, until one at a time they are summoned down stairs to the TV lounge turned interview cell. Some slink, others strut, a few saunter. Hands in pockets, held tight to their sides, in fists, sweaty palms wiped on the sides of their jeans. They stand, are stood, answer yes and no to questions they probably do not understand, asked by imperious men in suits and white shirts with slack ties, before being sent back upstairs with strict instructions not to discuss, with anyone. They did not need to be told. What did they have to tell? They mutter under their breaths.

In the kitchen Iri bustles from the tea urn to slicing fruit cake and cutting the crusts from tomato sandwiches. She serves the men in the suits; the uniforms help themselves from the sideboard in the front hallway. Pap says for her to sit down, it’s not your fault; let the girls get the tea. But Iri keeps her hands busy, her eyes down; it’s what she does best.

About the Online Journal

Read about the experiences of six authors as they develop their manuscripts on a six-month mentoring programme called Te Papa Tupu. These authors will be working on novels, short stories, non-fiction or children’s literature. Check back here in July to follow the authors in the manuscript development process or subscribe to this journal (on the right) and get automatic updates as they are posted.