Well, I’ve failed the first test of acceptance in Paekakariki. Took Max for a walk, because, well, isn’t that what you do with dogs? You take them for walks? So we headed down to the beach, Max trotting along as fast as her three little legs could go, which wasn’t very fast at all. And we got to the beach, only, there wasn’t a beach, just murky waves crashing against the wall. So we walked back to the village, and as we passed under a shady shop veranda, Max plonked herself down and refused to move. The women in the adjacent shops came out to see what was going on. The older one gave me quite a telling off, “It’s too hot for her! I never take my old girl out at this time of the day. Only early in the morning or late at night.” She tut tutted her way back into her shop. The younger woman produced a bowl of water for Max, and knelt down to stroke her ears. Max really is a very sweet dog. I’m trying to train her to locate young allegeable lesbians, and do the cute thing to get their attention – but it’ll never work. The whole town already knows that I’m not a Real Dog Owner.
Tramping is always a cheerful activity; think aching legs, extreme exhaustion, sunburn, windburn, mosquito bites, bee-stings, stinging nettle, and your back just about breaking under the weight of clothes, food, tent, cooker, kitchen sink...
But tramps in the Tararua’s, well, they’re particularly uplifting.
Think mud. Really deep mud. And wind. And lots of prickly scratchy plants.
Well, the track wasn’t exactly a wheelchair path (hey, I’m not kidding, some tracks you could get up in one). There were huge roots to be climbed over, and small roots that tripped us. Slippery rocks that moved beneath our feet, and sticky mud that sometimes sucked us in up to our knees. Supple-jack vines twisted across the path and got caught around our limbs and packs. Swollen creeks to wade through. And the wind! We had to abort our mission over the tops, because we would’ve been blown off, so we stuck to a river valley. If it was a plantation, you wouldn’t even go into it with hard hats. The forest would be closed on such a windy day. But trampers aren’t into wearing hard hats, let alone closing forests! So we clung to roots and branches as we tried not to get blown off cliff faces, and shuddered as trees crashed to the ground meters away from where we were frozen, boots trapped in the mud.
Then it got really fun, because the river was flooded so we had to tack a longer route. And then part of the track had fallen down a huge slip, and we got lost. We tried to bush bash for a while, hoping we could follow the map and meet up with the track, but it was too hard with the vines. And it was getting late. And I was exhausted, disheartened, with two twisted ankles, dizziness and nausea. We were about to pitch our tiny tent and squeeze into it, trying to sleep on a bed of rocks and roots, while the rain lashed against us and the wind threatened to rip the tent to shreds... but luckily, just at that moment, my mum spotted a marker. After a bit more scrambling around we found a second one, and so we trudged onwards. What should have been an easy four and a half hour stroll on Christmas day had turned into a seven and a half hour marathon.
But my father has always said, the best thing about tramping is stopping. We got to the hut and there were three people there already, so the fire was blazing and it was cosy and warm. We had pasta with sundried tomatoes and olives, and home-grown peas, and believe me, nothing ever tastes as good as food eaten after a long tramp. Then we shared a Christmas cake, finished our hot drinks, and snuggled up in our sleeping bags. Ahhhhh!
Day two was still windy, so we couldn’t get up on the tops and we decided to head out – the weather forecast was for worse to come. But we were well rested, had an early start, and the river was down so we could take the quick route out. The valley was beautiful, a sea of toitoi, golden against the grey of rocks, river and sky. There were rewarewa, kamahi and rata flowering, tinting the bush a deep rusty-red. Even the mud didn’t seem so depressing when we knew we didn’t have far to go.
And oh, the first shower after we got back... complete and utter bliss.
I thought it didn’t have any affect on my sleep. But apparently the combination of Cadburys drinking chocolate and organic instant coffee, well, that’s another story all together.
Poor blog. Honestly, you’ve been in my thoughts, constantly… I just haven’t had the energy to care for you lately. So much study, work, you know how crazy it gets at this time of year. I could post my essay in Maori, but you’d probably have a seizure over the macrons. Never mind, next year I promise to be a better blog owner. Or at least to try...
I’m off in the morning, tramping in the Tararua range for a few days. On Christmas day I’ll probably be cracking open a bottle of wine in a hut somewhere with my parents. Bliss.
Then, when I get back I’ll be house sitting up in Paekakariki – so drop me an email if you want to come and visit for lunch and a wander on the beach. I’ll be spending the days writing – trying to finish my book about living in Costa Rica, and writing an essay about Te Arawa waka. And walking a 15-year-old sprightly 3 legged dog...
A digital camera. A good one.
The new novel by Jhumpa Lahiri, and the latest collection from Kevin Ireland, and any books by foreign poets because I need to broaden my horizons.
A ticket to Sweden.
A GE free country.
Oh, by the way, in case anyone cares, on the advice of my newly acquired literary agent, I have deleted a couple of old entries that contain material I might want to publish elsewhere…
I found this photo while I was sorting through some boxes of stuff, and realised it must have been taken five years ago this week. It was the abseiling wall in Otaki, where we went for the Queer Youth Camp. I was seventeen. The following is a letter I wrote soon afterwards (all names have been changed and I’ve edited it a bit).
Yes, the infamous Rainbow Youth / Flat Out camp. Well, that's what it started off being. Then people like me felt left out, so it became the North Island Queer Youth Camp. But we couldn't really call it that when people started turning up from Christchurch…
I got picked up by James's van, which was nice since he was the only one I knew. I was a bit daunted when everyone showed up at my house, they all looked like 20 somethings. I had to keep reminding myself that James was only 19... and of course there was Lisa, who was seven and a half. That was the first assumption to be shattered during the weekend; I was not expecting Lisa, or Alice who was 3 and a half. It suddenly realised that yeah, queers do have families.
We did the inevitable "getting to know each other" games out on the lawn, led by Denise and Rowan, but at the end I could only remember about three names. Then we went round the circle saying who we were, our roots (that’s our origins, sweetie!) and why we were at the camp. “Oh come on, we all know the real reason we’re at this camp!” “Um, I’m at this camp because I’m gay.” Tim was a running joke all weekend, every time anyone tried to talk to him he exclaimed in a hurt tone, “Are you saying I’m gay?!”
When we got to John, our “safety guy,” he had a confession to make. “Well, actually, I’m a heterosexual.” “That’s ok,” said James. “We’re here to help you!” It turned out John’s ex-partner had left him when she came out as a lesbian. Poor lad! He was also the oldest at the camp, probably late 30’s. The happy homosexuals were aged from 28, down to the youngest, Sam, who was 14.
Dinner was another surprise – I was expecting camp food, but this was like a trendy cafe. Dinner that first night included tabouleh, pumpkin stuffed with vegetarian haggis (which involved peanuts) and pasta. All of the food was dairy free, vegetarian, and delicious.
I stayed up late that night talking to a group of guys, Rowan and Luke, both youth group leaders, Simon, Steve, and a couple of others. There were a couple of rooms where people had brought alcohol, and they were partying into the night.
Saturday was pretty full on. There was the spider web. On one side of a piece of paper we wrote down any problems or issues that we had brought to the camp. On the other side we wrote down a possible solution, or a question mark if we didn’t know. There were some pretty complex issues. One girl had just come out to her parents and they’d kicked her out of home – she was living on a friend’s sofa. My hand was shaking as I wrote mine, and then fumbled to attach it to the web, hoping no one was paying too much attention. “A guy from school made me have sex with him, and then he told all his friends he’d proved that I wasn’t much of a lesbian.” Alongside my little square of paper there were a few lighter hearted ones; “What’ll I do if I run out of clean sox?” The web was to be used as a team-building exercise, we had to get our team from the problem side to the solution side without anyone touching the string.
After that it was on to the adventure activities. I’ve abseiled before, but nothing so high. It took me ages to work up the courage, and even then my legs were shaking so much John could see from where he was standing on top of the wall. But I did it, we all did, everyone who wanted to try. Rowan overcame his fear of heights and made it, Cate boldly took off and ended up flipping upside down, but calmly righted herself and continued!
I was surprised to find the flying fox was more challenging for me than the abseiling. I think it was the fact you actually had to jump, forwards, off the platform rather than lowering yourself down. I would have felt safer if I had a bar to hang on to, rather than hanging suspended in a harness. Most of the people down below lost interest after I chickened out several times, and they wandered off. But Rowan stayed there and encouraged me, giving me advice, and telling me cheesy chicken jokes, leaving the punch line until I got to the other end. Finally I jumped, and he was waiting for me, only to reveal that he hadn’t actually dreamed up a punch line yet…
During the lunch break a vanload of us hit the town – if it could be called that. We unleashed our queerness on small town NZ, and boy did we play it up! Walking round the shops in pairs, holding hands or with arms around waists, the boys laying on the lisps and limp wrists, and just in case anyone missed it all, there were Sam and Richard, making out in the back of the van. We visited “NZ’s largest 2nd hand shop; the guys found some cute little boxer shorts upstairs, and Alex found a dinky little red handbag, he claimed if for a makeup bag. Then, armed with clothes, power drinks, and more alcohol, we headed back for camp.
As soon as we got back it was time to finish the activities, so I left for rock-climbing. I opted for bare feet, a good choice. It felt so great, the sun had been soaking into the rock all day and now it was warm under my feet and hands. I found myself trusting Rowan at the other end of the rope, trusting myself, and trusting the solidity of the rock as I felt my way up
Rowan and I lagged behind and we only just made it back to camp in time for the end of the screen printing. I quickly cut out a simple design, with “Queer Babe” in the middle, and printed it with green and purple streaks. I laid it out to dry between “Queen Bitch,” and one that said “RU12?”
Then it was time for the wedding. Yep, Becky and Daniel were getting married, Becky in drag, Dan gorgeous in a rainbow flag dress and white veil, they stood under an arch draped with streamers of toilet paper. Chris married them over a “bible,” the book of Greek Homosexuality, and unique queer vows he had written for the occasion. Cameras snapped, and we showered the happy couple with marshmellows.
Next there was a fashion parade of the t-shirts people had printed, and then everyone crowded onto the floor to dance. Oh what a night! And the camp was only half way through…
But later on in the night, chaos broke up. There were bitchy arguments, and girls crying all over the place. One of the camp organisors had broken up with her girlfriend and she was sobbing on her bunk bed. I curled up beside James and cried silently until his t-shirt was plastered to his shoulders with tears.
On Sunday morning no one was feeling very cheerful or energetic, but we were hustled out of bed and onto the lawn for rafting instructions. Rowan was really quiet, so I put my arm around him for a while. Everyone seemed to be in need of hugs that morning! We went back to our room to get changed and ready, and that is when everything started to go wrong. I turned around, and Rowan had Luke in a headlock, they were both huddled on the ground by the door. At first I thought they were just mucking around, but after a couple of minutes Luke cried out because he could barely breathe. Panic slammed into my chest as I realised something was very wrong and I had no idea what to do. I ran into the kitchen, and dragged Denise back to our room. I think she thought Luke was comforting Rowan, it looked pretty weird, but I made her stay, and got others to help.
Karen and Kim were both nurses, so they sort of took over, getting Rowan up onto the bed. It was scary; he just lay there, not looking at anything, just frozen up. There were mutterings about some kind of pills, but I had no idea what was going on.
Meanwhile, John was trying to round up everyone for rafting. I spent the next 20 minutes running to the river; “Could you please wait a bit longer, Karen’s just talking to Phillipa, she doesn’t know what to do if anything happens,” and then back to the kitchen; “Er, I think they want to leave, John’s getting tetchy. How long are you going to be?” (Afterwards I felt so guilty that my biggest worry at this time was whether or not I was going to get to go rafting). By the time K & K got down to the river, everyone had changed into wetsuits, and received their instructions. Luke was still shaken, so I tried to stay nearby to provide hugs and comfort.
But something was wrong, and Karen and Kim had to leave. A few minutes later, we heard voices. For a few seconds, it sounded like someone having fun on the flying fox or something. Then came the chilling realisation that it was someone screaming for help, and at that moment I knew that Rowan was in trouble. The world seemed to tilt slightly, and my body seemed to be trapped in a slow time zone while my mind was screaming at 300km/h.
Rowan had wandered down to the abseiling wall, and threatened to throw himself off. Then he’d turned to Kim and Karen, and said, “do you want to come too?” He’d tried to push Kim over the wall, there’d been a struggle, Kim was dangling halfway over the edge, and Karen was fighting to pull him back. They managed to tie Rowan up with abseiling ropes and waited until the police and ambulance arrived.
Down at the river, where we’d been ordered to stay, we had no idea what was going on. Luke was beside himself. “If John says he’s ok, then why did the ambulance go down to the wall? Why isn’t he up here?” I did my best to reassure him. “Look, if he was dead, the ambulance wouldn’t be down there still! It doesn’t take that long to pick up the pieces!”
John was still insistent that we go rafting, so rafting we went. But I’m glad that
Gareth took the initiative to lead us in a group hug, and he encouraged us to scream everything we were feeling as loud as we could.
When we got back to camp a policeman came and talked to us. We went round the circle and everyone talked about how they were feeling. Some people were angry, at Rowan, at themselves, at everyone else. Others were shocked, some people didn’t know Rowan and weren’t really feeling anything. Kim and Karen talked about what had happened to them, and Kim began crying as he suddenly realised that he could have lost his life.
The rest of the afternoon was horrible, some people had to leave in just 20 minutes, everything was so rushed, trying to pack, say good bye, get addresses. I was in the last car to leave, so I hung around, cleaning and trying to be helpful. Tim had turned out to be a teenage alcoholic, and he was throwing up everywhere, so I organised plastic bags, paper towels, water bottles. I did not envy the others in his van the long trip to Auckland.
I wore my new Queer Babe t-shirt for the bus back to Rotorua, and when I
got off a guy was sitting on the ground. He had a bald head with a tattoo on his scalp, and a blackened gap in his teeth… and he was staring fixedly at my chest!! I suddenly remembered what I was wearing, and panicked. What was he going to do? Then he looked up at me, and said, “Love the t-shirt, mate. Awesome t-shirt!”
It was strange to be back home. Nothing had changed, and yet everything was different. My friends were still talking about who got with who at the last party, and I wanted to shake them and yell, don’t you understand? I wanted them to know how beautiful and fragile life is.
For a few nights I kept having a nightmare, where I was rockclimbing, and Rowan was belaying me. I was really high, and suddenly my foot slipped and I fell. Rowan caught me, but then he tied the rope to a tree, and walked away, leaving me hanging there.
More than a week after the camp I stayed with Kim in Auckland. He still had bruises in the shape of the fingers that had pushed into his back and arms.
I guess we all had bruises for a while, we were all shaken up a bit, but ultimately, I hope that we were all stronger. I hope that we all came to understand how sacred and ephemeral our lives are.
A few days later I went to get a tattoo on my arm; a small scar, to ensure I never forget that precious fragility.
I’ve just been speaking to my newly acquired half-uncle, Brent, the artist. He told me that my grandfather died in August 1999 - the time I came back early from Costa Rica. He was 85, he had Alzheimer’s. Until the last couple of years he had been reasonably healthy. He died of pneumonia.
I’m really not sure how I should feel about all this!
He had four sons and a daughter with his second wife. One of them now has an 18 month old, Tyler. My cousin. Given that a couple of weeks ago I only had one aunt and uncle, and now I have one aunt, one uncle, and five halves, it’s quite a dramatic increase!
And I’ve finally solved the mystery of the Maori name, which has always intrigued me. My grandfather’s adoptive mother noticed a cute little girl across the street, and her name was Hinemoa. So she called my grandfather “Merlin Tutanekai,” hoping that one day Hinemoa might fall in love with him.
I can’t decide if that is sweet or just really disturbing!
Late Friday Theme…
Witch-hazel and paper-whites on frosty Rotorua mornings.
Fires on the beach. Wood smoke and gingerbeer, and strands of flute music.
The smudgy handprint that a child left on my wall.
Tane Whai Ora – a beautiful whare out at Tapu Te Ranga
The view from the 6th floor of the university library.
Hugs that last just that little bit longer.
Standing on a beach early in the morning, before any light has leaked into the world.
Creative endeavours that blur media and mix cultures.
The sound of puurerehua at night.
The curve between neck and shoulders.
Wreathes of spring flowers.
Little Blue Penguins.
Crushed fennel underfoot.
Tuhia ki te rangi
Tuhia ki te whenua
Tuhia ki te ngakau o nga tangata
Ko te mea nui
Ko te aroha
Write it in the sky
Write it in the land
Write it in the heart of the people
The greatest thing
Wow… I just had the most amazing weekend at the Te Ao Marama wananga. Met the most beautiful woman, Tiahuia Gray (photo poached from Hoturoa’s site). I’d heard so much about her, from so many friends who she’d inspired over the years, and I’d heard her karanga at the opening of Te Mana, and I’d written a poem about it that Tanemahuta passed on to her, but I’d never actually met her, or spoken to her. Then, at the powhiri, when Tia came to hongi with me, I felt as though she reached straight inside to the depths of me. And I expected her to recoil in horror at what she found there, but she didn’t say anything, she smiled, and she held onto my hands for ages and smiled at me, and I felt as though she’d looked inside me and found something beautiful, and I almost cried. I felt really humbled, and touched.
In the afternoon, while Tanemahuta was out doing Taiaha with the boys, Tiahuia came and taught the women karanga. It was such an intense – and beautiful – experience. She has so much wisdom and mana. And when we didn't have tears in our eyes we were clutching our stomachs, helpless with laughter! She taught us these really sexually explicit karanga, and she got right into them, jumped up and did actions to explain what they meant! Some of the karanga she taught us were really old, and the knowledge that accompanied them… it was such an honour and a privilege to be given those taonga. An experience I will treasure my whole life.
Another special part of the weekend was getting up in the morning and gathering in T āne Whai Ora, a beautiful whare built from logs and driftwood – although it is relatively new, it has such an old feel to it, and there are reproductions of ancient cave paintings on the walls. We sat in the darkness, absorbing the smell of wood and harakeke and the mauri of the whare, and we learned karakia by chanting over and over until the words were imprinted in our minds and bodies.
There were so many beautiful people at the wananga. On the Saturday night I read some of my poems and shared some of my experiences, and afterwards so many people came up to me and said “thank you so much for sharing your story… this is mine…” I felt so honoured that people were opening up to me like that.
Found out this weekend that I didn’t get into the MA in creative writing. Quite liberating really. I’m going to keep writing, painting, and finish studying for a tohu Maoritanga. Looks to be a great year!
I had such a disturbing dream last night – even a long hot shower couldn’t seem to wash it away. Yuck. I feel weird knowing that something so disturbing could come from my mind – even in sleep. Feel as though I need to apologise to the friend I dreamed about, but… it was only a dream… right?
I’m having one of those days when everything seems unbearably wrong. The world is so fucked up. People can be so horrible. You drag yourself out of the muck but you know you’re going to slide down again. What’s the point?
Are men really such animals? How can it be like this? How can even the guys who seem kind, supportive, politically aware, intelligent, thoughtful… how can even they do such sickening things?
I feel so worn out. I feel like I’m made up of layers and layers of what men have done to me over and over. And I’m scared, if it was all peeled away, there would be nothing of me left underneath.
So, you can't find out about recent deaths unless they happened to be in the paper (but I don't know which month to look...) or if you pay for a death certificate. Or if you ask someone who might know...
I had a nosy at the birth register though, and this artist dude is definitely my (half) uncle. So what now?
“Hi, you don’t know me but I was wondering if your father was dead, because he’s my grandfather, and even if he was a complete arsehole I’m curious about him, but I can’t find anything out if he’s still alive because I’m worried it might upset my father… oh, and by the way, I like your painting."
The LOTR movies really aren’t my cup of tea at all. Too much violence, too many boys, not enough character development, wit, clever dialogue… nothing to really challenge…. basically, too Americanised for my liking. But, despite myself, I got completely caught up in the Rings fever. It was so much fun to be part of such a cheerful crowd of people. I kept to the edges, so I didn’t get panic attacks from the crush, and soaked in the festive atmosphere. I talked to people I wouldn’t normally talk to. Like Sandy* “Our Michael delivered to Peter Jackson. Yes, we’re very proud.” And Shane* who took the top of his Quarter Pounder, carefully arranged half his fries on top of the pattie, and squeezed on some extra sauce before putting the top back on. He’d been finishing at the Architecture/Design school when I was starting, and we talked for a while about the soul-destroying crits we’d been through. And then I watched the second movie, which I hadn’t seen before, and it was great to watch it, lying back on a grassy hill with hundreds of other people, because we could talk through it, and take apart the cheesy bits, and because we weren’t taking it too seriously I enjoyed it more. And it was great, spotting friends among the extras, recognising the breathtaking scenery, and trying to spot Peter Jackson. We heard a rumour that he had a cameo in each of the films, but I didn’t spot him. Anyone? Oooooh, and aren't the Ents just the coolest?
Signs from the Parade:
Bring Back Bilbo
Jackson For PM
De-Bloom Me Orlando
*Names have probably been changed – due to my hopeless memory.
Should have been more organised.
1. There should have been people holding signs, the length of the red carpet, saying “Keep Middle Earth GE Free.”
2. There should have been people organised to start chants (some people hanging from a balcony started yelling “GE Free” during Helen’s speech, but there weren’t enough of them for it to catch on.
3. Should’ve paid Merenia and Tanemahuta (I presume it was him in the end – whoever it was had a more radical hairstyle than usual…) whatever it took to get them to cruise down the side of the embassy with a banner more political than “Only in Wellington.”
It would have been a great way to get Helen's attention.
Ah well. It was good fun, lots of shining happy people. I still don’t get what the attraction is with Viggo though. I mean, yeah, he’s obviously very talented, intelligent, and on to it. And he seems kind and thoughtful. But most people haven’t bothered to find that much out about him – they haven’t got passed his looks. And personally, I don’t really think he’s that cute. But I do have to casually mention, for the purpose of making a certain someone wild with envy, that I saw him in Dymocks the other day. I didn’t even notice I was standing right beside him, so close our elbows were almost touching. Then this woman came up and asked for his autograph, and I glanced over and thought, “oh, that must be Viggo. He’s better looking in person.” But he looked slightly harassed, and after giving his autograph he made a quick exist from the store.
I spent most of the afternoon sitting on the grass, with half an eye on the big screen, and in between reading “The Good Women of China” by Xinran, and chatting to people around me. I think I got burned in the one place I didn’t put sunscreen on – behind my ears.
I had a dream that I found a grave on my parent’s property, under a red rhododendron. It belonged to my father’s brother. Which throws it into the weird world of senseless dreams, because to my knowledge no brother of my father has died. But it did start me thinking about that side of the family. I don’t even know if my father has any brothers. I know he has half siblings, but I don’t know if they are men or women, or how many of them there are or if they have children… We heard a rumour that my grandfather had died, but we don’t know for certain. My father doesn’t want to know – the man was an arsehole, why would we want to know anything about him? The world is filled with arseholes… but this one was my grandfather. I don’t think anyone is born awful… something must have happened to cause him to do awful things. I don’t know anything about his biological parents, except that, for some reason, he had a Maori name. Well, for that matter, I don’t know anything about his adoptive parents either, except the surname they passed on to him. Doing a search for that surname (it’s not a common one) turned up an artist, about the right age to be my uncle, and from the right part of the country. But I can’t exactly ring up, can I? “Did you know that your father abandoned a young family to run off with your mother?” They probably don’t even know we exist.