Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Better Person

So I was walking along, thinking about how to make myself into a better person. I guess probably a lot of people do this. I'll walk to the supermarket or the bus stop, or where ever, and give myself an internal pep talk about how I'm going to turn it all around. I'm going to let that light shine through that I'm sure is deep in there somewhere, just waiting for a chance to rival the sun... well, at least, rival the streetlights.
Sometimes I'll be making myself fairly banal little commitments, like getting to bed at a reasonable hour, or doing more exercise or finding more friends to hang with.
But that inevitably leads to my thinking that I really need to just be a better person on an emotional, and spiritual level in order to attract all these new friends. I really need to seem kinder and happier and to project all the good things about me that people are sure to like and admire. I need to let go and really be myself.

I started thinking about this today and it suddenly occurred to me that... well, the term “let go” isn't doing me any favours. It's a little bit like the way I used to see artistic ability. It seemed like the kind of ability that is assigned to you at birth and either pours out of you with ease, or doesn't happen at all. There is no other way.
Of course, this is bullshit and thank goodness for that, or most of us creative types would be screwed. There are a few people in the world, I'm sure, who can make art (I'm using the word art in an all-encompassing sense here) without effort. But, for the most part, art is a craft. It takes time to learn it, effort to refine it, dedication to bring it into the world. There's something beautiful in the story of how any skill is created.

I think all the emphasis we put on building self esteem can backfire in some ways, because my instinct is to believe that I'm a naturally good person, an interesting person, a person who happens to have some issues that get in the way of her true nature. If only I could get past those issues, my life would automatically be filled with rainbows and unicorns and the best jelly-bean flavours and everyone in my life would love me just the right amount that I want them to.
Yeah, that's also bullshit. Being a good person and, in particular, being an interesting person, takes effort. It's not something that the average human being can just relax and pour out of their soul once they've burned away whatever little issues they think are holding them back. It's not going to happen tomorrow. It's not going to happen all at once. 
If I want to be a better person, I need to work for it, learn it, refine it, dedicate myself to it. And there's something beautiful in that story as well.

Or at least, that's what I'll tell myself tonight when I try to get to bed at a reasonable hour.  

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Luminous Shadows

This is the full text for my story-video "Luminous Shadows". I have included the attribution notice here as well (below the text). The script and all work to put this together was done by me.

Luminous Shadows is the story of a bullied girl who is counselled by inspiring, historical New Zealand born women.
The words are original, the story is not. We've all had moments when we wished our heroes could come and rescue us. I hope this video will help to remind us of some lesser known heroes in our history, for Kiwis (and anyone else) who needs the inspiration.

Luminous Shadows

by Rachel Sawaya 

They left me with a bloody nose and a black eye. It had happened before. It would happen again. The scent of blood was in the air long before it left my body. Those three carried it around with them like a whiff of Mars, and when they cornered me it roiled and thickened until it was all through me.
“Can't you...?” My words, so quick in my head, lay dead on my tongue.
“Can't we what? You want some of this, faggot?” Her hand cracked me open and every word of mine spilled out. All dead.
They didn't have to hold me to beat me to the ground.
Carol spat on me and the other two laughed. “Stop asking for it and we'll stop giving it to you, queer.”
Without another glance at me, they wandered off.

It was as I lay on the ground behind the bike rack that the white mouse found me.
“Get up,” she said. “You look a fool.”
Thinking the voice was a teacher, I scrambled to my feet.
“Don't slouch like that. You're a woman. You need to act like it.”
The old concrete and half burned butts had sprouted a forest. I was surrounded in cool grey and warm green.
“I'm down here.”
She was pure, incongruous white, but her eyes were flinty.
“Right. We're going to get you cleaned up.”
There was no question. The voice was coming from the mouse.
“Who are you?”
“Call me Nancy. Now follow me.”
A mouse can move fast- surprisingly fast- in a forest. We soon reached a stream. I knelt down and gingerly washed the blood from my face, thankful the ripples obscured it.
“Here child, let me look at it.”
A brindled dog inspected me closely. Her cold, wet nose nudged my cheek.
“It's only a blood nose. Not broken. I'm Ettie, by the way.”
It hurt like it was broken. The mouse ran up my knee and sat on my shoulder.
“You shouldn't let them push you around like that,” she said. “You have to fight back.”
“Not fight, no,” said the dog. “But resist. You deserve better than what you're getting.”
“I can't do anything to stop it,” I said. “I'm too weak to fight. I'm too dumb to say anything.”
With a rush of wind and feathers a bird landed on a branch over the stream.
“You're not stupid,” she snapped. “Don't ever say that. And you're only weak if you choose to be. You should ask for help when you're in trouble.”
“No one would help me.”
“You call me no one?” The bird was amused. “Well, I call myself Frances. How do you do?” And she burst into song.
The white mouse nipped my ear. “Come on. I want to show you something.” Her little claws gripped my skin through my shirt. The dog led the way.
It wasn't far. We came across a tree, like all the others, but with picture frame hanging from it, as though someone wanted to make the forest feel more like home.
It was the picture of a woman.
“She's lovely,” I said.
“Thank you,” said the mouse, with a matter of fact tone. “She fought against the Nazis.”
“Someone once said of her, 'she is the most feminine woman I know, until the fighting starts. Then, she is like five men.' ” The bird pronounced this in a magnanimous sort of way.
“I bet she never had to worry about people beating her up in school,” I said.
“No,” the mouse said and from the look in her eyes, I believed her.
“So what's this got to do with me, then?” I sat down under the tree, away from the flawless, smiling eyes in the photo.
The mouse sat on my knee.
“Courage is a decision. I once said “I've never been afraid in my life.” But I was afraid. If I hadn't been afraid, and angry, I never would have fought as hard as I did.”
“Give us a story, then,” said the bird and she flitted down to the lowest branch. The mouse exchanged a glance with the dog.
“I have lots of stories. And they all involve doing what I had to do and not taking any shit.”
The bird harrumphed. “Well, if you're not going to tell us anything, we might as well move on.”
“Have I not told you anything?” The mouse asked me, and I said nothing.
We all followed the bird, who flew an unerring course to the next tree, with another framed photo of a woman. I regarded it curiously, until I became aware of a pointy silence coming from above.
The bird was watching me closely.
I hesitated, then ventured. “She's very beautiful.”
The bird trilled. “She's not bad, is she? Not that it matters much, after all when you're “'one of the greatest voices of the 20th century' no one is hiring you for your looks.” She fastidiously preened her feathers into place. The mouse gave a tiny little snort next to my ear.
“So you've never been bullied either.”
“Huh,” said the bird. “I've been bullied by the finest people around. One of my reviewers said I bleated like a sheep. Nellie Melba herself bullied me. She made sure I didn't have a single show when I was just starting out.”
She snapped her beak at a gnat, and then at another three.
“That's awful,” said the dog. “Were you very young?”
“Yes, I was,” the bird said. “And I almost gave up on myself. I know it's hard to believe.”
I had to ignore the mouse chuckling under her breath. “What made you go on?”
The bird shrugged her wings. “A friend told me to keep going. And I knew deep inside that it was up to me. Stay or go. No one will tell me who I am or how I should act.”
She burst into song again and launched herself into a wide circle around us.
We all watched her for a while, but she showed no signs of slowing.
A nose nudged my knee. “Would you like to see my picture?” The dog asked.
“Very much,” I said and she trotted away. The bird followed us, still looping around the trees and the mouse sat on my shoulder. Sunlight dripped down the leaves and speckled my hair.
The woman in the final frame was not as lovely as the previous two, but her eyes were focused and kind.
“'To no woman has it been permitted to do the same amount of good, and to save more misery and suffering, both during and after the war,'” quoted the mouse and as I turned my head to look at her, she gave a funny little bow. The dog inclined her head in return.
“What did you do?” I asked in what I hoped was an appropriately reverent voice.
The dog sat and opened her mouth in a wide, doggie grin. “Condoms. I passed out condoms to the soldiers.”
“And hardly got the slightest credit for it.” The bird landed nearby and shook her head. “A travesty.”
The dog looked away. “It was the times. Sometimes people are just born into the wrong time. But you have to do your best. And when you see something is wrong, you have to try to make it right.”
She snorted with her whole body. “Even if that thing is venereal disease.”
The three of them laughed, but I wasn't quite sure of the joke, so I stayed quiet.
At last, brindled dog leaned her head against my leg. “I just want to say thank you. Thank you for making a space for us here.”
“Me? What do you mean?” Even as I disagreed with her, I couldn't help but stroke her head. “I didn't put those pictures here.”
“Where do you think you are, child?” The bird fluttered closer. “This is your forest.”
“This is you,” the mouse whispered in my ear. “There's a forest inside you.”
I turned in a circle. There was nothing to see but splendid green and luminous shadows.
“Now,” said the mouse. “Make a space for yourself.”

I sat up on the concrete. I wiped away the blood that was pooling between my lips.
“Hey, Carol,” I yelled, loudly so I wouldn't be able to back down. I saw her hesitate, her back still to me, but then the group swung around.
I pushed myself upright as they approached. I made my eyes like flint.
“Hit me again,” I said, “and you will regret it.”
“What?” She leaned forward, as though she couldn't possibly have heard what she just heard.
“I said,” I said, pronouncing each word lightly and clearly, “hit me again and you will regret it.”
“What're you going to do,” asked one of her lackeys. “Run to mummy?”
“Yes.” I looked them in the eyes and couldn't see so much as a sapling. I felt sorry for them. “I will tell my mother. I will tell my teachers. I will tell the police. I will do whatever it takes to be safe.” I swallowed. “Because I don't deserve this.”
Carol shook her head a little. “You wouldn't dare.”
“Try me.”
I stood as straight as I could, wondering if the white mouse was watching me. I kept my voice steady as a songbird. I did what it took to fix the wrong.
“Oh, go fuck yourself, you snitch.” Carol spat again. It landed on the concrete. And they walked away.
The air cleared. The bloody scent diffused by wind and the scent of forest leaves.

A tiny chuckle rang out beside my ear. 

To learn more about:

Nancy Wake

Frances Alda

Ettie Rout



Nancy Wake

By: Australian War Memorial on line catalogue ID Number: P00885.001
Image is in Public Domain

Frances Alda

By: White Studio (Metropolitan Opera's Archives)
Image is in Public Domain

Ettie Rout

By: provided by Project Gutenberg, taken from Ms. Rout's book titled “Safe Marriage”
Image is in Public Domain

First frame
By: Pixabay user “Geralt”
Image is in Public Domain

Second Frame
by: Flickr user rubyblossom
Image provided under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike Creative Commons license.

Third Frame
by: AndreasPraefcke
Image is in Public Domain

Sounds and Music

Tui Burst
by Freesound user Amphibio
Sound provided under Attribution Creative Commons license.

Sad Music Box theme
by: Freesound user Setuniman
Sound provided under Attribution-NonCommercial Creative Commons license.
Forest Spring Birds sounds
by Freesound user klankbeeld
Sound provided under Attribution Creative Commons license.

Frances Alda songs
by Frances Alda, Giacomo Puccini,
Sounds are in the Public Domain

Images created with GIMP
Video created with Windows Live Movie Maker

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Soul of a City: When Musing gets Metaphorical

I've been thinking about why some places have more personality than others. More "soul" if you like. The town I'm in at the moment is really nice, and an easy place to live, but I'm not inspired to love it the way I love, say, Wellington.
(as an aside I've just had a really glorious image of Wellington's soul being called into an afterlife, or being reincarnated as an ant colony in penance for her misdeeds).

I've been thinking about this and it seems relevant to writing, because I love it when a city is essentially a character in a book. So why would Wellington be a character in my book, but, for example, Auckland (yes, sorry, I'm going to use Auckland as my counter-example), not so much?
I think it's got something to do with pressure and time.
I can't write that without thinking of Morgan Freeman saying it.

Wellington is surrounded by undeveloped hills and ocean. There are suburbs beyond the hills, but the inner city is quite pressed together. Different kinds of folks are forced to live in amongst each other, bounce off each other, create different points of contact. In Auckland the pressure isn't so great. People there have a kind of distance from each other, just because of the tremendous space available. They can spread out.
Wellingtonians don't have that luxury.
So they end up ground together in a primordial goo (that's right, it's not just for sewer systems anymore!), and over time something new crawls out of that goo.
Something that is more than the sum of its parts.
And I guess that's my point. Auckland has some very nice parts. I've lived there and I'm willing to admit that I liked it. After only 3-4 drinks too.
But there isn't as much pressure. Not the kind of pressure that keeps all the flavour inside, anyway.
So they need a lot more time to grow a soul. To become something that is more than the sum of Auckland's parts.
 Wellington, on the other hand, has a lot of pressure. And I have always found it to be more than the sum of its parts. I don't know exactly how to define what that extra something is, but it's a factor that I would love to capture when describing a city with words.
Although, I guess if I was writing about it, my words would have to be less about description and more about interaction in order to really pin that sucker to the wall.

I hope you are having a lovely week. Here's a picture of Wellington. (yeah yeah, if I love it so much, why don't I marry it?)

Picture by Donovan Govan and taken from Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Adventures in Teaching and Blogging

I am currently doing the grad. dip. in primary teaching at Massey. I just finished my first practicum (a 4 week block of working full time in a school).
 It was good, but very difficult. I adored the students and liked and respected my associate teacher, but I found disciplining the students (even just raising my voice) to be... unsustainable. Really made me depressed and anxious.
I think I might grow callous about it one day, but I don't want to. So, the bottom line is, I'm going to have to figure out a way of managing a classroom without using punitive methods. Or at least, not using them often.
Highlights included:
Making a massive Where the Wild Things Are mural with my kids.
When asked to write a description of herself (we told them, use words like "smart" and "fun" and "wonderful", one of the girls asked me how to spell "gangsta".
Reading to them. Particularly when I got to choose the story and they were into it. There is no audience like a group of captivated kids. Seriously. Poetry reading attendees should take note!

I am completely hanging out for Game of Thrones right now (there's spoilers for the second season in that link). I'm listening to Florence and the Machine and The Dismemberment Plan on my mp3 player. Oh and Pink. I'm wandering around Tumblr a lot. We should hang out there sometime.

I'm on a two week plan to try and make this blog more interesting, or at least more... me. I've got Tumblr for anyone who wants to visit with Joey DeLeen (my alter ego).
And I've just listed all my published works (so far) on this page right here.

Hopefully will see you again soon.