Sunday, 17 June 2012

what a difference a day makes...

24 little hours...

I'm home in Aotearoa. This is where things make sense: this is at the centre.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

flying home?

I'm sitting in the airport in Vancouver with my friend Anne, who's heading home to see her whanau in Auckland. We've got seats next to each other on the Van-Akld flight, which will be nice because usually I make these long trips by myself.

Last nite, as I did the last of the packing and sorting before calling someone in Mildura to say goodnite, I noticed the small whiteboard I'd had in my study all year propped up against some other boxes. My suitcases were packed and stacked on the other side of the room, and the whiteboard was with a few last things I was leaving for Anne & Michelle to use or pass along.

"Te tau okioki" it says on the whiteboard in sticker letters. My sabbatical. My year of rejuventation, repair, recuperation, preparation.

Thank you Canada. Nyawen and Chii Miigwech to the Indigenous people on whose lovely beautful land and waterways I've been since August. Thank you to the University of Toronto for hosting me, and MacMaster University for letting me be a part of things there too. Thank you to my dear friends who have been whanau to me. Thank you to my whanau who let me come away for a year, kept me in touch with home, came to visit, kept me accountable and sent their aroha across to Toronto in a million different ways.

"Te tau okioki" says the whiteboard leaning up against the boxes in Anne and Michelle's downstairs room where I've stayed for the past two weeks. Is this the end of it? Not quite - I'm officially on sabbatical until the 30 June, and I've got things lined up for the next 2 weeks while I wrap things up with my tau okioki. But, this journey today does mark the end of a chapter for me... and, as people have reminded me over the past few days, the beginning of a new one.

As the plan touched down in Vancouver about an hour ago, the couple next to me asked whether I was on the flight home tonite. Home? They spotted me as a fellow NZer, and meant the 8pm flight to Auckland... I found myself unable to reply for a sec as I processed their question. Home?

For the past year, I would have answered "oh actually I live in Toronto."
In two months, I would answer "well I'm from NZ but I actually live in Hawaii."
Today? Well, yes. I'm heading home.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012


There we sat, eating BBQ chicken and chatting in the backyard. Profound? For me, yes.

For the past year, six of us from the 'GTHA' (Greater Toronto & Hamilton Area) have met about once a month to eat together and discuss a book we've read in preparation for our meeting.

The 'Indigenous Literary Studies Reading Group' has read a whole lot of books about Indigenous lit, and our discussions have been an absolute joy... committed, engaged, rigorous, fun, invigorating...

Tonite it was our last time together - Daniel J is already in Vancouver, but the rest of us met tonite and talked about our own research... a final act of sharing, after all of the sharing of the past year.

If te tau okioki has been an opportunity to recharge, this group has been a beloved, appreciated and feisty battery. He mihi aroha: Rick, Daniel C, Daniel J, Michelle and Nadine. You reminded me why I love this so much. 

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

On rebuttal

The first review of my brand spanking new book, Once Were Pacific: Maori connections with Oceania, has appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, the major weekend newspaper at home, and the reviewer wasn't happy. Then again, I wouldn't be very happy either if I read a book by someone who doesn't believe in intermarriage and thinks that the Pasifika Festival is dodgy in the extreme. Um, which is not a self-hating thing of me to say, because I didn't write a book which makes either of these claims.

When I first heard about the review and its limits, I tried to be philosophical about it: it's the Sunday Star-Times! They publish opinion drivel by people like Michael Laws! Who cares!

But, once I read the review I felt a bit differently. I feel sad that the person who reviewed my book clearly didn't bother to take the time to actually read it. I feel grumpy that such a person would then write a review which runs the risk of leaving a lot of people in NZ with strange ideas about what my book is about. And, indeed, what I am about.

I am tempted to engage in rebuttal, refuting points and writing back. But the review engages the very best kind of slipperiness, using great chunks of quoted text from the book and using them completely out of context and with misleading framing comments, and does this with such alarming confidence and with such implied claims that this - this - is what the book is about (despite the points the reviewer makes being rather minor points in the greater scheme of the book), that I'm not sure I could make a convincing point. Or at least, I don't find myself being willing to engage in rebuttal when the basis of the opposing arguments are based on not, well, reading the book. Don't argue with a fool, Grandad used to say, or people can't tell the difference.

And why am I most disappointed? And, well, confused? Because there's actually plenty of stuff I've said in the book which could be inflammatory or, at least, uncomfortable. If someone wanted to be angry about my book I've actually provided them plenty of fodder to work with. I just don't see why they had to make up other stuff, rather than just respond to the claims I've made. Handing, you know, the job of the conservative reviewer to them on a plate.

Oh, and a couple of tips, and this is addressed to the reviewer. If you're reviewing a scholarly book, dude:
a) read the book.
b) establish the last name of the book's author and cite it correctly throughout the review.
c) don't complain that the language of a scholarly book is scholarly; this is, you know, how us scholars roll. 

Okay! Got that out of my system. Thanks. Yes, I feel better.


Monday, 11 June 2012

how you're writing

I've written a lot about writing over the past year. Sabbatical is an opportunity to write, and I've written in a whole range of ways all year: essays, chapters, a job application, poetry, emails, facebook status updates, letters of recommendation, reviews, feedback, and... a blog.

When I was chatting with my friend Chris tonight, and we discussed the panel we were on just a few days ago at the NAISA conference, we were talking about presentation styles and he mentioned that writing a few blog posts had really helped him experiment with different styles of writing. Click! I'd been thinking about this blog as a way of writing about things, and hadn't been thinking about it so much as a way in which I was developing my writing...

Well, that's not strictly true. I have realised for some time now that writing this blog has been really good for my writing in general because of the discipline, the habit, the practice of writing (almost) every day. It has made me more mindful of things going on (as I listen out for the theme of my next blog post), and it has kept me writing even on days when very little other writing-related work was going on. I've used the blog to write about things which have excited, angered or frustrated me... and I've known intuitively that writing about these things hasn't just enabled me to communicate my thoughts 'out there' but also to free up my emotions about things so I can focus on other kinds of writing where necessary.

I've let people down this year. There are things I should have written which I haven't. Writing has been a priority all year but, although I have faithfully started every project I've committed myself to, I have not always followed through. The blog has been a place where I have kept on writing, even when other kinds of writing have been grinding to a halt. The blog has kept my writing muscles, as I describe them to my students, limber and fit. Yes, even during periods when this is the only thing I've been doing.

I've fallen back in love with writing: truly, madly, deeply. I've remembered the joy of realising an hour has gently slipped away while I've been shaping a single paragraph. I've taken the chance to write about things happening in the world around me, and to write about my heart. Someone txted me the other day "u r grt writa :)" and I was elated: as I thought about why this comment had such an impact, I realised that this person had complimented me on something that really matters to me. I write. Writing is who I am. 

And yet, and yet, thinking about writing the blog only in these terms is still a limitation - because it focuses on the fact of writing rather than the content of writing: that I've written, not what I've written. Or, indeed, how I've written.

Tonite, I'm  thinking about the gift of being able to write (almost) every day... because it gave me a chance to experiment with a whole range of writing, with a sense of a supportive and diverse audience, with language. I think the blog has been my opportunity to try out a whole lot of styles, genres and voices; all of them are mine, but all of them are different. This blog has helped shape the writing I've done when I'm not writing the blog. Tonite I'm feeling thankful for that opportunity.

At home, there's an advertising campaign about binge drinking: "it's not the drinking, it's how you're drinking." Or, in this case...

Te tau okioki: it's not the writing, it's how you're writing.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

something old, something new

New year celebrations are always a good opportunity to reflect on how things have gone, to plan for how things might be, and to be thankful for how things are.

Tonite is my last Saturday nite in Toronto, and I celebrated with my Toronto friends Sarah and Bridget - Sarah and I were beautifully hosted by Bridget who made us amazing Peruvian cocktails and delicious kai. This is my last Saturday nite catching the noisy subway, my last Sturday nite sunset, and tomorrow will be my last Sunday morning here too. Boxes I sent from here have started arriving in Hawai'i today, and over the next few days I'll finish off the last of the packing, sending the remaining warm weather close directly to Hawai'i and bundling the warm clothes for my few weeks at home.

As this chapter is closing, I'm mindful it's Puanga, or Matariki, at home: 'Maori New Year' as it is widely becoming known. The middle of winter, a chance to think about those who have passed and to dream and strategise for the upcoming year. At my marae today, Waiwhetu, there was a Matariki celebration with music, fashion, science, food, crafts... all the good components of a good event! It has been great to see the excited and happy posts appearing on facebook; apparently the day has been a great success. Awesome :)

Something old, something new: things to be recalled and remembered, and things to be hoped for and brought into reality. I have so many things in both columns... but for the meantime, cheers :)

Bridget, Sarah and I share delish Peruvian cocktails.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

NAISA and mentoring: paying it forward

So often I have found myself in conversations with other academics (especially 'early career' academics) about mentoring. We talk a lot about mentoring because most of us aren't mentored in the way we'd like, from the people we'd like, and/ or about the things we'd like. Back in the golden olden days when universities were the domain of middle class white men, there was a very effective system known as The Boys Club. Senior academics would have a drink with junior members of staff, or wander into their offices, or take them to conferences or bars, and download all kinds of advice and perspectives intended to help the junior person make the best possible decisions in the most mindful ways.

The Boys Club still exists, but as someone who is not a middle class white man I am unable to access its benefits - so I need to find mentors when and where I can. And find them I do! I haven't had the mentoring I'd hoped for (even assumed I'd get) but I do experience mentoring. I have mentors from a whole range of fields and places; some are just a few years ahead of me in this game and some are very senior.

At the NAISA conference in Mohegan, I had the opportunity to catch up with some mentors and to think about some others. I had questions and thoughts which I wanted to float by people I love and respect, and they were open to the direction of conversation. I was given all kinds of advice and support, and I truly felt mentored.

However, I am not the spring chicken I once was: I am no longer a new kid on the block but have students and more junior academics in my life too. I try to stay deliberate, mindful and supportive when it comes to mentoring. Certainly condescension (indeed, bossiness) can be spotted from a mile off, and it is unhelpful to simply set oneself up as the example either of perfection or of 'what not to wear' - either way, this kind of self-centredness doesn't actually leave any room for genuine communication or, indeed, mentoring.

I started my first academic job in January 2005 and since then I've learned quite a few things. I am deeply committed to the fields of research and teaching in which I am engaged, and I believe one always has the responsibility as well as the opportunity to support younger peers and newbies coming through. I still have heaps to learn, and appreciate my mentors very much, and am thankfulo for the generosity I have been shown over the past few years.

Today i found myself reflecting on the various conversations I had at NAISA with other Indigenous Studies scholars and realised the things we often tend to call 'mentoring' when I've been in conversations'about mentoring' were very much present: as a gift given to me by others, as a contribution I made to other people, in discussions with peers; in formal and informal ways.  

It's not The Boys Club. It's way cooler :)