Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The 37th Situation

This is a different post. It's a response to a brilliant Fringe-festival play that we went to watch last week. Brilliant. Just brilliant. If you ever get the chance to see it, you should - it was funny and intelligent, and incredible cleverly intertwined, well acted. I forgot all about my Skittles until the lights came up and I realised the whole hour had gone by without sneaking one mouthful.

I've been reading a fantastic book about writing, in which the author encouraged writers to just write - first thoughts. Un-edited. And so I did. It's a bit of a strange way to write because you get to the end and think "hmm that's an interesting way of putting that - I'm not sure if I would have done that myself" and"I don't exactly know what that means" and then you realise you did do it yourself, and that you've converted feelings to poetry, but it is yet to be translated into something immediately recognisable. Here goes;

Theatre is
a cesspool of
crudity and
and lewdity with wings. Wickedness.
The things
that make us laugh, cry and ring
the bell of resonating identity that hangs
from a twisted rope
on a tortured soul
roundly tolling with each hoot and whistle of
ragged plebians, the commoners
flocking, jeering, beering
swimming in endless circles.
While righteous kings sit
pale cheeked and silent. exceptional
Unscarred. Unscathed. Un-lived
When the actors are the actors it is an enigma.
smears reality so no one knows
who is watching whom is watching who is watching whom.
They're playing with us
Us in the padded 36 boxes

where we perform
theatre of our own.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Do I have a sign on my head saying "If you're strange, please talk to me"?

Today, I was told by a “descendant of King David” that he saw a good seed and fertile ground, as he crossed me in benediction and commissioned me to “share the word”. All this while I waited for my friend to finish changing after we’d swum our laps at Freyberg pool (come on honey, change faster please! I’ve been cornered by a descendant of David!!) His calling has gone largely unrecognised by humankind, especially Catholics who widely propagate the idea that David’s descendants had been annihilated (apparently), but, now that I’ve met him, I need to keep a look out for The Oracle. The Biblical version, not the Matrix version. On this point I’m a little lost, and he seemed rather vague on the scripture reference.

Yesterday, a large Maori girl in sunshine yellow, with enough hair on her upper lip to call a moustache joined me while waiting for the train. She told me she used to have 3 cell phones, but now she only has two because she sold the other one and now her boyfriend is gonna be pissed because it cost a lot of money!
‘Why did you sell it?’ I asked.
‘I needed some cash’
What for?’ (I know – nosey right! But she didn’t mind)
‘I was hungry. I needed to get me a feed.’
I just about swallowed my gum, choked a little, blinked to keep my eyes from falling out of my face.
‘Oh. Yeah – he might be angry ae!’

That was the abridged version of this weekend. I could go on and include the guy who talked to me at the bus stop about his job, how good he was at it, all the professional development opportunities they gave him, the overseas travel…and the weather.

Or the guy from the waterfront – orange builders hemet, clunky bicycle laden with plastic bags and boxes. First he said he liked my scarf and we talked about colours. Then he gave me some mandarins for my lunch. It sounds like he was hitting on me, but seriously, it wasn’t like that at all. He invited me to his church on Willis street, which is where the Wellington fault line runs. ‘So, if you come, you’ll have to keep your fingers,arms, legs, everything crossed that we don’t have an earthquake! No wait’, he chuckled, ‘Don’t cross your legs or you might fall over while you’re walking there! HA. AHAHAHAHA. HEHE. That was a good one’ he said. The icing on the cake was the handshake he taught me before I left. The Trinity handshake (every good Christian should know it so take note people). Father: tilt grasped hands toward person 1, Son: tilt grasped hands toward Person 2, and Holy Spirit: Spirit fingers!!! (appropriately)

WHERE DO THESE PEOPLE COME FROM?? I’m pretty sure they don’t all come from Aro Valley. And WHY DO THEY TALK TO ME? I could write them off as isolated events if they weren’t so..erm…un-isolated. Just when I think I’ve met the strangest stranger, a stranger one comes along.

I can be a bit condescending when I tell these stories, and even while I’m living them - reflecting the brokenness of my own heart in the fact that even though I try to be open and ready to see the good in people, I’m so far short of the perfect love of Jesus. I spend most of my time thinking “are you for real dude?’ (totally understandable in some cases, right?) and “I hope people don’t think I’m as weird as she is, just because we’re talking”. I don’t know if it’s actually possible to live without judging people and placing them in the ‘strange’ category. Part of it is a healthy discernment of who can be trusted and who to be wary of. Yet, some of it is my own pride and self-importance that keeps me from seeing the face of Jesus in the face of these poor, needy, “strange”, mentally ill, fringe. Jesus wasn’t needy or hopeless or crazy, but he was fringe. He was despised and lonely at times, misunderstood, he polarised people, and he reflected views of society back to people around him that they didn’t always like. I’m reminded of what he said about “Whatever you do for the least of your brothers, you do for me”. Receive this love, Jesus.

I think people just want to be listened to. To know that they’ve expressed themselves and been heard. They’ve connected to another human being. We weren’t made to live in isolation. I may be wrong, but I think this is what I think people are drawn to. You know as well as I do, that often my thoughts and attitudes are far from saintly. Sometimes I’m just so speechless, can’t think of anythingintelligent to add, or I’m embarrassed about what other people around might think. And my silence is mistaken for attention and they keep talking. We’re so afraid of silence. WE try to fill quiet moments with music, or meaningless chatter. Conversations flow without cease, talking about anything rather than nothing. But silence is a gap which leaves a space for other things. I dare you to try it this week. Leave some gaps and see who fills them. There are people around who need nothing more than a listening ear. I’m sure you’ll hear some rubbish. But you might be surprised. At the very least, I’m sure you’ll hear something worth blogging about. And you may even be lucky enough to meet the Oracle. Wellington is full of potential (and crazies).

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Nissan Obituary

Dear Herbie.

I remember when Dad first brought you home. It was pretty exciting. I remember rushing out to the driveway and clambering over my siblings to be the first to touch you. And I remember Mum saying "David, the one thing I specified was that I didn't want leather seats because they're sure to tear with kids". She was right of course, as Mums will be. But Dad's mechanically minded mate had said that you were a good deal. And now, you were ours.

Your full name 'Herbie Digger Snowy Gogh' was bestowed upon you as a collaborative act. The older, cooler, culturally aware children (AKA me and Jesse-Ana) wanted to name you after Herbie - you know that famous movie star VW beetle that travels around Europe stopping thieves and creating mischief and hilarity. That Herbie was your namesake. Shem voted for Digger. His 4 year-old all-consuming boyishness convinced him that something big and machinery-like had to be named appropriately. Keita-Alix (7 year old, lover of pink, sparkles and the shoe aisle) wanted to name you snowy. I mean, In my 12 year old wisdom, I thought it was a little cliche and just...SNOWY ??? but it WAS cute. And finally Gogh. Well, you know all about 'Dad jokes' and puns - this was one of them. A Van...called Gogh...get it? get it? Yeah I thought it was pretty funny too. I almost voted for it just to show the maturity of my sense of humour and my advanced intellect. But I decided to go for consistency and stuck with Herbie.

In the end it was the family democracy which determined the order of your names, and, being the sort of family who likes to play "everyones a winner", we had to include all your names in order of decreasing popularity (Yay me! and Sorry Dad).

The years have fairly flown by. I learned to drive in you. Bunnyhopping, stalling and lurching around Levin. You dropped me off on my first day of high school. Your screeching rear door announced the arrival of our family at many events. Your unique frame made us easily spottable around town. Every now and again, Dad would lose control at the wheel and we would find ourselves at McDonalds, even though Dad tried to stop you "No Herbie, No! Where are you taking us HErbie?" From one end of the island to another you have been there. Through family holidays, and the inevitable laughter and arguments they entail, rain, snow, wind, hail and sun. You have been there. It truly is hard to imagine life without you because I know that there will never be another Herbie.

Rust in peace, old friend (I'm sorry, I take after my father and I just couldn't resist it!). I hope you are going to a better place (and not the wreckers)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Waitangi Day Special

I can never quite remember the first time I thought about what it meant to be Maori. I knew that my Poppa was brown obviously, my cousins too. They called each other “bro” or “cuz” and they ended their conversations with “catch you up, ow”.

Once our family sang a Maori song at church. Kia kaha. It went down a treat, and for a wee while I felt like I was part of this special elite group.

I never really connected as a Maori at high school. I said I didn’t want to be tagged as one of the smokers and drop outs. Its kind of sad, but that’s really how I saw it. Looking back, I wonder if I was too busy being ‘Christian’ to be ‘Maori’, and whether I thought that the two identities were mutually exclusive, or at least too difficult to mesh. It was unknown territory. It was ground that I didn’t feel steady on (I mean, the extent of my reo was prettty much ‘Kia ora’ and ‘whanau’ and ‘kai’) and I was a pretty awkward hongi-er. I preferred the solid turangawaewae of being teachers pet, eldest sibling, ticking all the boxes on the ropes I knew by heart.

Like many others before me, my university years signalled a change. For the first time in my life, I was an individual. Not a Harris. Not the big sister. Not the A+ student. Not the house captain. Nobody knew me, or expected from me, it was like a fresh start. I don’t think I realised it at the time, or really appreciated it. To be honest, it felt a lot more scary and uncertain than it did exhilirating. I felt lost in a world where everyone else seemed to be confident and sure of where they were going and what they wanted from their life. I felt more like I had nothing left.

Now, I don’t want to waffle on with rubbish about ‘finding myself’ and ‘inner peace’, but I guess my uni years were the perfect time to figure out some stuff. I signed up for a hip hop class,joined the gym, volunteered with disabled people, played some soccer, and started to learn Te Reo. I remember being on the marae one night and thinking “I feel like I belong here”, which was strange because I hadn’t really felt like that before in a traditionally Maori setting. And strange because it was right – of course I belonged. I was one of ‘them’.

What I was noticing was that in some strange way there were layers to my identity. At one level there was this underlying truth. Abosolute. I am Māori. I am European. There’s no changing that because my whakapapa tells the story. Māori 1 begat Māori 2, Pakeha 1 begat Pakeha 2...and so the list goes on, until somewhere down the chain...on a beautiful mountain named Taranaki, Māori 156 and Pakeha 893 begat me (Talking about my birth here, I would never go into details about my conception, even if I knew them). It’s in my blood.

There’s a layer above this where I am shaped by the past, I walk on the paths that have been laid down for me by my tipuna (ancestors). Whether I agree with their decisions or not, I live in a New Zealand that has been molded by them, and it would be silly not to acknowledge that. It doesn’t mean I have to be tied down to the past, but that in order to move forward, I have to look back and recognise where I (we) have come from.

Above this layer is yet another. A layer of my own choice. Where I can stand and look at my whakapapa, my biological roots. I can look at those who have gone before me – those of my own flesh and blood, and those who shared only a common humanity - and glean from their lives, experiences, errors and triumphs. I can choose to what extent I will allow these layers to affect my beliefs, my outlook, my whanau values, the way I see myself, my community, and the world around me. The way I speak, and present myself, the things I pursue, the taonga I treasure.

This is the layer I’m still trying to figure out. A layer I think many of us are still trying to form. What does it mean for me to be a Maori/Pakeha New Zealander in the 21st Century? Today it means that I stem from a strong and beautiful heritage. There are peoplethat I hope to be more like, and there are others who remind me that this world is not perfect. My place in this world, my value is not determined my belonging to a specific group, and yet at the same time, my connection with diferent groups, whether it be my family, my extended whanau, or my ethnic group is what reminds me that I am not in this world on my own. There are things about different cultures which remind me of different aspects of God, of life and the world.

Each of these three layers are different, and often it is only the third layer that is really obvious to people. For most of us kiwis, the first two layers are probably quite similar. For me, I want to make sure that there is consistency between the layers, that what the world sees reflects my whakapapa, the roots that I have come from. I want to preserve that which is good and precious which has been handed down from generation to generation to me. And I want to leave something for the future of NZ that demonstrates the fullness of where we have come from.

If my writing is jumbly,rambly and incohesive, it is probably a true reflection of my mind. This isn’t an easy topic to write about given that my thoughts are still forming. Fumbling, scraping baby thoughts. Usually I like to let things simmer into a flavoursome, full and more identifiable mix before I serve them up for public consumption. But I guess I want to acknowledge that this is an important thing to think about, even if, like me you don’t have anything new or intelligent to say just yet. Because this is our country. This is us.

“E kore e ngaro nga tapuwae i nga wa o mua, he arahina ke tatou ki te huarahi nei, me hangaia e tatou ano.”

We can never erase the footprints of our past, they lead us to the path of the future we carve for ourselves.