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Suicide

I watched a fascinating drama doco on Maori suicide called Maui’s Hook. A whanau whose mother has killed herself, go on a hikoi, calling in at marae to meet other families who have had a similar experience, before the cohort of whanau reach Reinga, where those who have passed are farewelled.  A magical presence is introduced into this realism in the form of Maui and Hine nui te Po figures – Maui seen, I suppose, as having committed suicide in his attempt to kill death, but also having fished up the island along which the hikoi passes. What would have been  a simple record of a group counselling and healing process becomes then a testing of the culture as a spiritual system for dealing with the suicide phenomenon which is accompanying the Maori renaissance. For, in a bizarre contradiction, the suicide rate is growing, along with economic and cultural success.

Suicide is a complex phenomenon, with chemical abuse, prescribed chemicals, poverty, relationship dysfunction, romanticism, revenge, despair, imitation, guilt, all playing their part. Quite possibly a belief in an after-life is a factor, as is the fact we live in a success-based performative culture where failure is keenly felt.

Watching the tikanga framework interact with this complex motivation and then, the simple act of someone killing themselves, which, in the words of one young woman, ‘leaves a mess for the whanau to clean up’, I realised that my own unsentimental reaction to suicide, something along the lines of, ‘Your choice, ‘bro,’ comes from the philosophical work done in Pakeha culture last century. Once it became obvious that God was dead, the spiritual and ethical framework that Christianity had provided collapsed and man was faced with a meaningless universe, with consciousness becoming an absurdity.

According to the existentialists, as these philosophers were called, a person was faced with a choice. Suicide was an obvious way out, and the motivation simple: Life’s absurd so why put up with the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune when one may end it…’ to quote Hamlet.

However, if continuing to live is the chosen path, a complex earning of meaning without the help of god(s) in any shape or form has to take place. An essence has to be forged from the existence so far lived, free from all the shackles of convention, in order to create a meaningful project from the rest of one’s life. I suppose the Maui figure can be seen as something of an existential hero who broke the shackles of convention, yet at the same time, to rely on heroes and magical thinking, immediately gives a way out from this hard and commonplace task of making one’s life meaningful and, at the same time, ‘cleaning up the mess.’

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The American Musical

I haven’t seen an American musical for a while, but being invited to her class’s performance of 42nd Street by a niece attending NASDA , whanau duty was involved.

The experience was one of psychosis: a noisy energy, a chaos of plot, masked faces, skilful dance and choreography, engaging in a way, never a dull moment, nor an authentic one. It is also a musical about a musical so has a hint of formal reflection. The show has a history: a depression-era, feel-good pulp novel about a girl from the sticks seizing an opportunity to become a Broadway star, became the basis of a feel good depression movie – lots of starlet flesh on show to provide fantasies in the soup kitchen queue – and then, in the 1980s the film gave birth to a musical, reasserting the bimbo female role in the midst of the rebirth of feminism. The depression context had long gone by then, other than as a costume statement. There’s a lot of skilful tap dancing to give a vaudeville edge and a sub text of a girl has to do what she has to do – no use sitting on it, baby.

42nd street pic1

Still from the film

I was impressed at how much this is propaganda, akin to the old USSR and Chinese spectacles, there’s the same skill set, the same mask, the same necessary energy to convince and captivate the masses; except this is propaganda for the capitalist system. Instead of taking place in Red or Tiananmen Square it takes place on the hallowed ground of Broadway.

To get through the evening I imagined staging it in Guantanamo Bay, my friend wondered about one of those bombed out Syrian cities… the culture of the US empire is certainly akin to a decaying Ancient Rome.

I was wondering what to say to my niece the next day but thankfully, she was also critical – not keen on playing the bimbo or ‘the dame’, had been a little horrified by the film with its tracking shot through the legs of the line-up of chorus girls. But at her age it’s all experience.

Before 42nd Street, there’d been time to catch Mike Leigh’s film, Peterloo, where his usual seeking of authenticity is focused on a historic action, the parliamentary reform movement of 1815 and its repression. The acting was superb but I was also struck by the costuming, where the same seeking of the real had been taking place. The film put to shame most costume drama you see – only the Russians have managed this before. At the same time, the effort required to capture the real was also apparent, so that the now existed as well.

peterloo

Still from Peterloo

Home through the snowy alps, all the dross momentarily cleansed and happy families sliding around the geological playground, no more important than the insects and the birds.

The digital sphere

Having heard a talk about e-publishing at a workshop, I thought I’d have a go at publishing a trio of novella manuscripts I’ve had sitting around for a while. It’s been a fascinating experience to enter the digital world as producer rather than consumer.

For a start the publishing programme, Smashwords is democratic; it’s free, there is no mediation (although they’d probably pick up porn), the only censorship is compliance with the processor that turns word into html, and this becomes largely a matter of getting rid of formatting. Simplicity is the key and initially that does seem a virtue, although there can be hidden corruptions one had no idea existed and these can torment. They’re not at the level of viruses but something more like allergies, to be got rid of by switching formats, word to notepad to open office back to word. It’s a little like switching governments. Time consuming as well. And if sales take place, the writer is paid a good percentage. A brave new people-to -people world, bypassing editors, publishers, censors, arts councils…

But then there is the question of marketing to the unknown global, English speaking consumer? The cover is everything one is told. Best to get a professional. And there are a list of people making a living designing book covers, not covers so much as images. Bright, simple and garish seems to be the requirement. Genre steps in and romance (soft porn) and crime are the sellers – go to the local library and see the same phenomenon. Suddenly democracy is very prescribed: Trump or Clinton, Stormy Daniels or the mafia and the underworld of desire and ambition. Key marketing tools are linked in, facebook, twitter, blogs, plus platforms I know nothing about. Suddenly it’s all very familiar: family, friends, neighbours, reviewers, libraries, a push here, a shove there, hope, and often a box of unsold books under the bed, or in the cloud.

It’s a milieu as dense as the Holy Roman Empire, accessible yet absolutely impenetrable except by luck, accident or misfortune. Above all, it’s a world without texture. There’s nothing to touch other than a keyboard. There are no pages to spill coffee on, or bend to mark a spot, nothing to put on a bookshelf to gather dust or to pack away when shifting house. There’s no deterioration, nothing for mice to nibble, no physical transaction like borrowing or lending a book, no physical market place. Everything remains untouched.

Of course great for aeroplanes and backpacks and cyclists, for those on the move and travelling light. And there’s immediacy. Gertrude Stein – remember? That’s right. Download all her work for a couple of dollars. I can have a reasonable library on my kindle or kobo or iPhone. It’s just this need for something to touch, to retreat from a world where actually everything is free but nothing has value. I find one of those old hardbacks with no image at all on the cover, just the title and author on the spline, open it, begin to enter the mystery of what these pages of words might be about… And even more extremely, the memory of the zamisdat method of publication in the old USSR where the reader laboriously made a further copy, often by hand, a labour of love and a gesture of freedom.

Ultimately I belong in the rehearsal room: real people, real floor, real walls, working toward a performance which will then disappear into the going home night of winter wind and summer rain.

Oh, almost forgot the marketing:

The Moments in Time trilogy – an exploration of the way historic and personal conditions intertwine.

Peace and Goodness – 1861, Taranaki at war and the wreck of the mail ship on the Maori-held Coast, the arising of the prophet and the journey of a French nun.

Cover Pai Marire cropped

Big End – 1962, coming of age in Palmerston North during the Cuban missile crisis. Adam is reconditioning the motor of his Ford 10 before heading off to university; his girlfriend, Sarah is off to RADA to study drama; Adam’s mother suffers from the nerves but has a visitation from God; his brother turns up with a Maori woman he intends to marry – as the ships head to Cuba…

cover Big End

Out of here –  2018. Two of Greymouth’s precariat meet at the pub, realise they share an emptiness, fall in love, steal a boat from Iveagh Bay and head south for the remote bush, watched over by some of the lesser gods.

out of here - cover ebook

 

Find them wherever you find these things.

 

Ihumātao

What a complexity is Ihumātao, a site of early Maori settlement, confiscated as part of the 1860’s land grab of the Waikato and Taranaki, abused over the years, finally made a reserve, but with an adjoining farm remaining in private ownership dating back to confiscation. Because it was in private ownership it could not be part of the Mana Whenua’s Treaty Settlement. The Auckland housing crisis brings into being the concept of Special Housing Areas where subdivision can be fast tracked and the Council and previous government targeted the farm, which was subsequently bought by Fletchers, keen to get into housing after losing money on commercial developments. There was consultation with Mana Whenua who gave it the go ahead after a sweetener of 8 of the 32 hectares going into iwi ownership and 40 of the 480 houses being reserved as affordable homes for iwi members.

But younger members of the iwi protested at the idea of a suburb being built next to the sacred site – and where does a sacred site begin and end? A 480 house suburb with its infrastructure, mortgages, insurances etc is an intensive development and this will be another car reliant suburb. There is resonance with the original confiscation, but this is where it gets tricky. Treaty settlements always bypass privately owned land, otherwise the Waikato and Taranaki would be up for return, quite justifiably of course, but politically untenable. And the kaumatua agreed. This is where it gets trickier. Traditional leaders willing to collaborate with the coloniser have often been available. Feudal/tribal power structures are not always virtuous or inclusive; yet the treaty was a deal between these power structures and the British government and the honouring of the treaty has to honour these structures and it’s not for Pakeha to question unless some blatant corruption is apparent. And Mana Whenua believe the deal is a good one – they get a parcel of the land in their name (for the first time since confiscation) and some iwi members living there.

Leftish and environmentalist Pakeha are drawn to the side of the young tribal protestors, with the sacred-site, anti-corporate vibes resonating and a line of cops is always a challenge, conjuring up past struggles. The kaumatua don’t seem willing to budge and there is criticism of the protestors trampling on the mana of the elders, but the numbers grow, we haven’t had a stoush for a while and it is becoming an event with a growing celebrity list. Direct action does cut through complexity and confusion. Representatives of the Hawaiian anti telescope movement arrive and it begins to focus on development versus the spiritual desire to leave some places alone. It could be useful to peer into outer space and a Hawaiian mountain top is the perfect spot but it is our sacred maunga. We know there’s a housing crisis but this is a sacred site. Leave it alone. On the Coast there is a similar rebellion by communities over an incinerator proposal. These incinerators seem relatively benign environmentally, better than landfill and the Coast needs economic development, but no one can quite accept the idea of an endless stream of rubbish being burnt in their backyard.

Somewhere, in our heads, is the felt impulse of the need to stop. Just stop for a while. We’ve proved we’re a clever species but right now the clever thing is to stop. There is no technological fix for the problems we’re faced with. We need to listen to the earth, heal and nurture what we’ve got, sing to the gods and have a long look at one another. And out of that might come some different methods of housing ourselves, of feeding ourselves, of constructing society.

How about a papakainga on the land, housing 40 iwi families in a co-operative manner, with some equity in the houses for individual families, but the land owned by the iwi. Add some food growing and out of this might come a model of a different world, paying homage to the past and the future – as the planes fly overhead..

Ditches

In an age structured by google, facebook, an increasingly dense health and safety culture, surveillance cameras on every dashboard and street corner, and (despite a climate crisis) a general preciousness and paranoia about comfort, children are starting to wear high viz jackets to brush their teeth.

Looking after two grandchildren during the school holidays on a very wet West Coast – it has rained all day every day forever it seems – could have made for a difficult time.

We’ve been saved by the ditch.

Let me explain. Given the high rainfall the miners early on dug ditches along each side of the Blackball roads. They’re a metre or so deep. Culverts of various degrees of sophistication cross the ditches at each driveway. The miners probably never got resource consent. The ditches are untidy but they work, becoming small creeks in times of rain. They can be a threat to unskilful reversers of motor vehicles (‘ditch parking’ being a local term for driving your vehicle into a ditch) and a drunk falling into a ditch has led to the occasional ambulance call out, but they are also a wonderful playground.

The five year old has spent hours creating a mine in the ditch. Armed with shovel and pick he created bridges and found various treasures buried in the mud. Then he and his sister made boats from cat food tins and raced them along the ditch, under culverts and so on. I joined in but my boat sunk. There were often whirlpools at the end of a culvert, requiring some expert jibbing to escape. We explored the ditch to where it entered the surrounding scrub on the way to the river, but were turned back by the blackberry.

There was no risk assessment management involved except at a sub conscious level – the water wasn’t deep enough for him to drown and he seemed sensible enough not to crawl into a culvert and get stuck. There were no high viz jackets, no checks on the state of the water or the constitution of the mud, no scouring of the ditch for sharp objects beforehand, no need for adult monitoring – if they started screaming we’d hear them. They just said, We’re going to play in the ditch. And unbelievably, it cost nothing. There was no branding involved, no commodification. Nor is the ditch named after a famous children’s author. The ditch is without character or culture. The only genealogy is the vision of practical men on the ends of picks and shovels doing something practical, with the women bringing some scones for morning tea – and I’m not going to judge the ditches as an act of patriarchal oppression.  Thank God the council is not wealthy enough to fill them in or send out an officer to banish the children from playing in them.

At the end of a potentially very long two weeks of child minding, with a raised and clenched fist I shout, Long live the Blackball ditches.

On the road

Travelling up to Wellsford for a workshop at Kotare, with shuttles and planes and cars, inevitably some foot slogging and some waiting around in between, was a big enough trip to jiggle the thought patterns.

Sunday morning at Britomart, waiting for the Skybus, I suddenly experienced the feeling of homelessness, what it must be like, but at the same time realising that homelessness is a state of mind more generally as we are cut off from anything that might be described as turangawaewae. The airport, the aeroplane, the car, the shuttle, the smartphone become a stand in, with routines of leaving and arriving and the consumer paraphernalia. But the real homeless have a sort of stability. They can’t go anywhere, they don’t have access to the screens or the routines, there is little to distract them, they must wait and let time pass. They’re like village people as they used to be.

homeless

As I had left the Grey Lynn house to walk to the bus stop at 8am on a Sunday morning, I expected a deserted street. Instead there was already a market, and a woman waiting anxiously for the dairy to open. The market stuff looked pretty bedraggled to me but nevertheless, these well off people were pouring over it and there was a queue for the ATM machine. Commerce was alive and well at 8am on Sunday morning. At the workshop I had become aware of the way precarious employment is shaping people, even the educated. It requires a certain anxious energy, a need to network, a willingness to seize the opportunity when it arises, a sort of exhaustion. It’s the mindset of the market stallholder, the barrow boy or girl, the small business owner, but is now becoming universal.

Finally, on the shuttle home, I pondered the generation gap. I was brought up in a counter cultural era where it was expected that a person was skeptical of the system and of social norms. The government was crap, capitalism was crap, suburbia ridiculous, normal aspirations questionable and there was an alternative, with Che the hero. And full employment meant you could earn a living when you had to. Of course, many of my generation sold out when things got tighter, but I feel a certain schizophrenia as I try to be enthusiastic, positive, performative, even when addressing the wrongs. Set your goals and go for them. This comes from ads, reality tv, sports spectacles, education, celebrity role models… the only skeptical ones are the hungry and we can help them, and then they can be enthusiastic as well.

 

Positive

 

Life and death

I watched a talk by an Indian woman where she describes the production of food and its consumption as the central process of life.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzPyN_lAX6c#action=share

She argued that agribusiness, with its land and seed colonisation, fossil fuel-based fertilisers and pesticides, global distribution chains and waste, moving into ‘digital food’ controlled by Amazon, Google etc., creates death rather than life. Until we return to growing our own food  there is no hope for life. It was a talk backed by research and remarkable in its clarity.

It’s easy enough to transpose the model into other fields, including writing and the production of literature, where there is the increasingly restrictive genre model and the production of books as commodities by global supply lines. They will often look attractive, be well made, involving even a gentle, feel-good catharsis; and then they are spat out, washed out, removed – leaving, like fast food, no memory. It squeezes out the ‘peasant’ production for the local market, this latter production telling the local story (seed) which defies genre classification, and which will often be about contradiction as experienced locally/domestically/tribally… the local product will require some chewing, leaves fibre between the teeth and requires some greater digestion.

Instrumentalism is a word used to describe production derived from the splitting of process into segments – the factory production line is the primary example. As the product moves along the line it is assembled by people or machines each doing one small task. It is more efficient than one person making something by themselves. But it also means technology is in control. This division of task, and thought and learning processes into segments is now very widespread and described as a culture of efficiency.

The only times I worked on a production line it proved soul destroying because I couldn’t think about anything. I couldn’t imagine.

And the loss of imagination becomes, I think, a widespread phenomenon.

Life versus death.

Increasingly that seems to be the issue.

Can we regain control of the central processes of life?

 

 

Cuba

I feel a growing outrage as the Trump regime increases its persecution of Cuba. Outrage at the absurd resurrection of old language – ‘communist’, ‘dictators’, ‘spreading revolution to neighbouring countries’, portraying the American continent as ‘their territory’ and one which they must control economically and politically. Outrage at what it produced in the past and what it will produce now: the training of torturers, the arming of contra gangs who became mass murderers, the bombing of presidential palaces – all in the name of ‘freedom’.

trump2

So they will persecute the Cuban citizenry, starve them, torture them slowly, for that is who sanctions hit, the ordinary folk who are supposed to then rise up and welcome Hitler and his gang (sorry, a slip of the tongue) as they march in as saviours. It is the worst sort of theatre of the absurd, for sado masochism is always absurd.

I’ve been to Cuba. Cubans don’t shoot one another with monotonous regularity, they seemed to have very little domestic violence, they don’t have anorexics or teenagers exposing their genitals on social media, – in fact the kids were wonderful, they still plough their fields with oxen and don’t do factory farming, they supply doctors to disaster zones, there was no overt military or police presence, they dance very well and sing beautifully in complex rhythms; education and health care is free and they rate high on well being indices. They’re freeing the economy from state control and encouraging co-operatives, there were no beggars or homeless, they have a civil society, have elections and they have respected elders who forged a revolution and kicked out the mafia, the gangsters and the American corporations. They live at a humble level economically and there can be a lack of consumer items because of the sanctions, but it is a country that copes and is resilient. When I was there I decided the world could live at the Cuban level economically and things would be fine.

cubanschoolkids1

Hence the outrage when these mendacious and ugly bullies start kicking the other kid on the playground because they are bored with their own stupidity, their paranoia and the toxicity of their banal and greedy lives.

Could the NZ government have the gumption to kick out the US ambassador? Or at least, Winston, call him in and give him a dressing down?

Meanwhile the US government will inspect one’s social media output before granting a visa. I suspect, if I were ever wanting to go there, this missive will count me out.

Teachers’ strike

Mike Treen of Unite Union sends me a link: A South African couple, newly graduated with teaching degrees, are hired by a South Auckland school but are refused residency visas because  their pay is too low for them to qualify as skilled migrants. Bizarre.

But the government’s intransigence over teachers’ pay and conditions is increasingly bizarre. Instead of meeting the demands – especially the condition demands – they are throwing money at general categories of mental health and domestic violence. Both are globally causative – where do you start? Well, let’s have an advertising campaign…

Already, schools and teachers are in the thick of these issues, together with nutrition, equal opportunity, gender equality, inclusiveness, physical fitness, value formation, resilience, bullying prevention, tiriti education, environmental education, numeracy, literacy and creativity, technological preparedness … and are overworked and underfunded. That minister(s) is the point.

I know a young teacher who’s been teaching for a decade, A great teacher, active in the union as well, works six days a week, ten hour days, sometimes twelve; hopeful that Labour would bring some changes, and now the realisation that the industrial action is going nowhere without something extreme, like an indefinite stoppage (which many teachers can’t afford). It leaves a bitterness – I can sense it – a central hurt, a disenchantment, which will make it harder to face the daily encounter with twenty seven kids in the process of becoming citizens. This in turn will lead to a withdrawal, a look for some other employment – and the loss of yet another teacher.

Why is the government being so bloody dumb. And so bloody pompous? Are they simply jealous that teachers are more effectively involved in government than they are?

Perhaps the answer is that, at heart, this government have chosen to be philanthropists. Philanthropy and capitalism go hand in hand. Leave capitalism to the capitalists (with some minor adjustments) and let a left of centre government be philanthropic – it’s a smiley, feel good impulse. But it will run out of steam, become increasingly shrill, before disappearing into the celebrity wastebasket and the mafia will take over once more.

Whereas socialism is a re-ordering of economic and social relations, with the state playing a central role. Of course that re-ordering can take place at arms’ length, with the state providing the funds, but it is different from the philanthropic urge, which is proving so inane in the field of housing, so intransigent in education and so ineffectual in the field of health.

Only with the climate crisis, thanks to the Greens, do they seem willing to try and tackle an issue …

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