Auē! Me tangi noa ahau ki muri nei

My grandfather’s brother never came back from World War One. He’s buried in Armentières, France. My grandmother’s brother lost his leg, so the family farm in Southland had to be sold – he couldn’t take up his inheritance. My great aunt’s fiancé returned a shell-shocked alcoholic – PTSD, they’d call it these days. They parted and she never married.

In the retellings of the larger stories of war it is often these vignettes of personal loss, the consequences felt by loved ones, that speak quietly but with a universal relatability.

I found myself thinking of those members of my family, and the war that changed their lives, when listening to the beautiful lament E Pari Rā.

Written by Paraire Tomoana (Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāti Te Whatu-i-āpiti leader) for his relative, kuia Maku-i-te-Rangi Ellison, E Pari Rā gives a lasting voice to her pain and grief over the loss of her son Whakatomo Ellison, who died in the battle of the Somme. Its beautiful metaphor for grief as the surging tide is both deeply personal, and universal.

E pari rā

E pari rā e ngā tai ki te ākau. / The tides surge onto the seashore
E hotu rā ko taku manawa. / with each throb of my heart.
Auē! Me tangi noa / Alas! Weeping without restraint
Ahau i muri nei / for I am left behind, 
Te iwi e he ngākau tangi noa. / everyone is utterly heart-broken.

Tēnā rā! Tahuri mai! / So please come back, return
E te tau! te aroha. / my beloved, my love
Tēnei rā ahau te tangi nei. / I weep here
Mōhou kua wehea nei. / for you now far away
Haere rā! mahara mai. / Farewell! And remember, 
E te tau! kia mau ki au. / Beloved! Be true to me
Haere rā! ka tūturu ahau. / Farewell! I will be true to you
Haere Rā! / Farewell!

Haere rā e tama / Farewell young man
Haere rā. / Farewell.
Haria rā te aroha i ahau / Take my love with you
Auē! Me tangi noa / Alas! Tears fall
Ahau ki muri nei / as I am left behind here
Te iwi e he ngākau tangi noa. / the hearts of your people weep openly

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Grieving and Living: What Abi Taught Us – WORD Christchurch

Lucy Hone. Image supplied
Lucy Hone. Image supplied

‘Buy This Book’. I have never, in all the many blogs I have written started a blog with these three words.

Lucy Hone wrote What Abi Taught Us after the traumatic death of her 12 year old daughter Abi in a car accident. Abi left the house to go for a drive with family friends. And she never came back. How does one cope with a life event like this?

Standing alone centre stage, without even the use of the podium provided, Lucy Hone reached out to all of us to share her strategies for survival in the face of one of life’s crueller events.

She made us think about what resilience meant to us, that it is not a suit of armour that you don, but rather a way of leaning into pain and hardship that allows us to feel the emotion while continuing to function in our lives, which just carry right on.

She used her studies in Psychology and  qualifications in Resilience Psychology to work out what strategies we need to nurture our own mental health – even in the face of the unthinkable.  The three Determinants of Happiness are: 50% from your genetic start point ( the Mum and Dad stuff), 10% from outside influences (winning the lotto or surviving an earthquake) and 40% from our own thoughts and actions. And it is in that wriggle room of 40% that Hone has developed the five strategies that we all need:

What Abi Taught UsStrategy 1 – Choose where you focus your attention

We don’t have infinite processing capacity. Our brains can only manage 7 pieces of information at a time. Genetically (and understandably, for survival’s sake) we are hard-wired to notice the bad stuff. We need to practise noticing what is going well. People who have higher gratitude scores have better well-being. Lucy has a sign in her kitchen – a bright pink poster and on it the words: ACCEPT THE GOOD. She refers to it often.

Strategy 2 – Never Lose Hope

Lucy paid tribute to the building we were in – the brand new The Piano – as a concrete manifestation of hope for Christchurch. She stressed how important it is to recognise that we all have some big hopes and many smaller ones. When tragedy occurs, turn to your smaller hopes. Ask yourself: What am I hoping for now? It may be something very small. Go for that smaller hope.

Strategy 3 – Nurture Your Relationships

Good relationships are a great predictor of happiness. Be careful with your communications, even when you are in pain. It takes 5 positive interactions to cancel out one negative communication. The negative is unfortunately very powerful.

Strategy 4 – Ask yourself: Is this thing helping or harming me?

Lucy and her husband chose not to view the motor vehicle in which Abi lost her life. They asked themselves this question and the answer was No, this will not help. It is a very simple tool. It will help you get up out of bed, put one foot in front of the next and grieve and function at the same time.

Strategy 5 – Understand that struggle is a part of life

Sometimes we just have to be brave. Sometimes the happy FaceBook version of our life is so far from the truth. We have to allow ourselves to feel sad. Resilience Therapy understands that the bad stuff will happen – just don’t get stuck in one emotional state for too long. Try not to bottle it up. Lucy worried that she might cry in this presentation. Then she thought – So What. Crying is just crying. She grieves while simultaneously living.

Abi loved the book Allegiant from the Divergent Trilogy and had highlighted a passage from it. Lucy found this passage after Abi had died. She sees what she is doing as being like a line from that highlited quote, that she is making:

the slow walk towards a better life

There was not a dry eye in the Concert Hall at 12pm.

Thank you for talking to us Lucy.

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Making literary fiction exciting: Michel Faber – Auckland Writers Festival 2016

Michel Faber
Michel Faber (Image supplied)

Michel Faber’s novels defy easy categorisation. He has written in genres as varied as historical fiction (his novel The crimson petal and the white, is set in Victorian London), horror, and science fiction.

Born in the Netherlands, Faber’s family moved to Australia when he was 7 years old, and he describes himself as something of an outsider, an alien, an outlier. He now lives in Scotland, which for a migraine sufferer, has a much more overcast and hospitable environment.

When he sat down to talk at the Auckland Writers Festival with Kiwi writer Paula Morris about his work (and life), I was woefully unprepared for how raw and heartbreaking the conversation would become.

Cover of The book of strange new thingsThis unexpected poignancy was largely due to his discussion of the loss of his wife Eva, who died in 2014 from cancer. Her diagnosis was made while he was writing his latest (and what he claims will be his last) novel, The book of strange new things, and he admitted that her illness had an affect on how the book developed. The novel has a dystopian, futuristic setting, with a pastor sent to a far-off planet to minister to the indigenous population there. He is separated from his wife and themes of love and loss permeate the tale.

Although the setting is sci-fi one, this Faber says, is just “the furniture”, and to some degree is there for the entertainment aspect. At its heart the story is about human beings, faith and love. Though he lost his faith himself when he was 11, he still feels that religion has a purpose for being and he’s interested in what it gives to people.

Religion is intrinsically ridiculous but there is a reason that people have needed it.

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber, Flickr File Reference: 2016-05-15-IMG_1939

Regarding the adaptations of his books for the screen, he was very happy with The Crimson Petal and the White,  and on such good terms with the star Romola Garai that he stayed at her house at one point when they needed to be in London for treatment for Eva. He’s even happier with the film version of Under the Skin, starring Scarlett Johansson.

His feeling regarding literary fiction is that it should be interesting and entertaining as well and that’s what he tries to achieve with this books. There’s a risk, he says, that literary authors will write for the entertainment of other literary authors thus forcing ordinary readers towards entertaining but not very good fiction, that doesn’t give them anything of depth.

He doesn’t want people to regret, after several hundred pages, reading his books – “how pointless is that?”

There is actually nothing worse than a really dull work of literary fiction.

Shortly after the session started, a member of staff appeared carrying a pair of red women’s ankle boots. They were placed next to Faber’s chair, he uttered a quick thank you and carried on with what he was saying. Later on as Paula Morris asked him about what Faber would be working on in the future, since no more novels were in the pipeline, he talked about the projects that involved his wife and explained the mystery of the red boots.

His next projects will be working on Eva’s unfinished short stories as well as writing a biography of her life, not for publication, but for the family. As for the boots, he was taking them to parts of the world to which she had never gone and taking pictures of them in contexts in which he thought she’d be happy…

Then he read several poems from a new book called “Undying” (due out in July) which deals with Eva’s illness, her death, and the grieving process. And this was when everyone started crying. In particular, the poem “You were ugly” which describes the physical changes to Eva’s appearance in illness is brutally honest and heartbreaking with its revelation that after death those changes are forgotten, that her beauty returns. Even Paula Morris was seen to be dabbing her eyes after that one.

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W is for Wild

For an urban dweller whose forays into the natural world are, more often than not, limited to irregular visits to the beach, walks in the park and working in my demanding garden, Helen Macdonald’s memoir H Is for Hawk was a revelation. A taste of the wild, like a cold keen wind from a far off place where humankind is peripheral. I found it fascinating, weird at times and somehow refreshing. I should mention that it was the Costa Book of the Year for 2014.

Cover of H is for HawkThe book describes a period in Macdonald’s life when her father dies suddenly and she falls into a deep and disorienting grief. In an attempt to find her feet again she buys a goshawk and sets about taming it. Not as strange as it may sound! As a young girl she had spent hours watching sparrow hawks with her father and in her 20s had become an experienced falconer. The hawk “was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life”.

What follows is an absorbing, brilliantly and beautifully written account of her life submitted to the needs and habits of a tamed, but essentially wild, predator. A time which takes her to the edge of madness and back. During the training of “Mabel” – an ironically genteel name – Macdonald occasionally and frighteningly finds herself losing her sense of human self.

To train a hawk you must watch it like a hawk, and so you come to understand it’s moods. Then you gain the ability to predict what it will do next….Eventually you don’t see the hawk’s body language at all. You seem to feel what it feels. Notice what it notices. The hawk’s apprehension becomes your own… I had to put myself in the hawk’s wild mind to tame her, and as the days passed in the darkened room, my humanity was burning away.

Well, it seems that’s what she wanted in her dark time of loss. However she does come out the other side and Mabel is integral to her healing. Not a method you’ll find in the self help books. Interweaving her own story is a biographical tale of the author T H White (The Once and Future King, The Goshawk) who, also in a search for peace within himself, engaged in agonisingly unsuccessful attempts at hawk taming. And woven through all of this again are fascinating accounts, and the arcane language, of falconry history. A rich tapestry of a read.

Cover of Ocean notoriousAfter quaffing some rather more domestic reads the next “wild” book to catch my eye was Ocean Notorious by Christchurch writer Matt Vance. Vance is an intrepid sailor, expedition guide, photographer and fabulous writer with a long standing passion for the Southern Ocean. This is the ocean at our back doorstep, which most of us never encounter, apart from icy blasts blowing in from the south-east. It is the most feared body of water on our planet, infamous for it’s raging winds, monstrous waves and horizontal rain. But people willingly, even eagerly, go there!

Vance takes us to our neighbour islands, closer to our shores than Australia: the Auckland, Bounty, Antipodes, Campbell and Macquarie Islands then on to the wilderness that is Antarctica. He introduces us to people have gone there and sometimes never returned – ocean explorers, polar explorers, sealing gangs, Second World War coast watchers, crazy-brave sailors, wildlife enthusiasts, conservationists, research scientists, artists, writers.

Oh my WORD!

Cover of ReachThis morning in a café, three of my favourite things came together for a sort of a bookish group-hug.

First there was the cappuccino, then a book: Reach by Laurence Fearnley, and finally a delicious little custard tart. Life is good. Three ladies came across to find out what I was reading. I love when that happens. Then an elderly man joined in and said that he knew Laurence Fearnley and her parents but he didn’t like her writing. Mountain men don’t argue, he said of  The Hut Builder. She got it wrong. By now the whole coffee shop was becoming quite intrigued.

Cover of H is for HawkAnd that is is exactly the sort of thing that happens at a literary festival such as the up-and-coming WORD Christchurch Autumn Season from 13th to 17th May. That same shared interest in books, authors, reading and ideas. And it’s why I wouldn’t miss attendance for all the world.

This time, I’ve got my sights set on Helen MacDonald and her talk on her memoir H is for Hawk. This is a book about the author’s grieving for her father, a photographer, whose last photo was taken as he collapsed and died.

Grief stricken, she becomes obsessed with the idea of training her own goshawk. She buys Mabel for GBP800 on a Scottish quayside and takes her home to Cambridge. Then she fills the freezer with hawk food and unplugs the phone, ready to embark on the long, strange business of trying to train this wildest of animals.

Cover of The Year of Magical thinkingThe only other book that I have read which deals specifically with grief and grieving is Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. Both MacDonald and Didion, so suddenly bereft, embark on their own spiritual journeys to come to grips with loss. The first words Didion wrote after her husband’s death are:

Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant.You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

At the WORD Festival event I attended in Christchurch last year, I bought the first copy of Reach that had ever been sold. I know that because I was there when Fearnley told me, and inscribed those words in my new purchase.

Who knows what bookish joys await me at the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season this month. See you there!

 

Have you lost someone you love recently?

Cover of How to say goodbyeLoss of a loved one is so final and no matter how much we may think we are prepared for it, say if a loved is unwell we don’t wish to see them suffer, or that dying is the natural order of things in our life-cycle, are we really prepared for such finality? I think not.

Recently I lost my Mum. I know I wasn’t prepared even though my Mum was very ill and I was relieved she would not have to continue with such poor quality of life; the gobsmacking reality when it came of the final loss of the connection with my parents (my Dad died some 30 years ago) was heart wrenching.

Clenching our teeth we go through the somewhat short process of farewelling them. And what then? An ocean of sadness, the finality is abrupt and total.

I wonder if the Māori concept of farewelling their lost ones may be more cathartic – a Tangi somehow seems to be a more complex and genuine celebration of the life of those they farewell. Just a thought.

If you are going through a grieving process consider having a look at some of the resources at Christchurch City Libraries which may well help you in your time of grief:

Search our catalogue:

Purplerulz’s Top Five for 2013

To add to the lists being written from everyone’s reading for the year, I’m going to put forward my top five.

This may not be my absolute top five if I had a decent memory and I had kept my completed bookshelf on the library catalogue up to date… New Year’s resolution – I will do this in 2014! But they are ones that have stuck in my mind and have lingered long. They are in no order, I can never just have one favourite book.

cover of Every Day

1. Every Day by David Levithan: Imagine waking up every day in a new body, in a new life. For one teen this is all he/she knows but when faced with true love and a desperate desire to stay put, how will they get the life they long for? Great Young Adult fiction that speaks to adults as well.

2. Levels of Life by Julian Barnes: This little stunner of a book combines the raw pain of Julian Barnes’ grief after the death of his wife, with little known facts and stories about hot air ballooning. Odd combination, but it works. Highly recommended.

3.  The Wild Shore by Kim Stanley Robinson: An eighties dystopian novel about a post apocalyptic California dealing with a threat from foreign shores.

4. Perfect by Rachel Joyce: Could Ms. Joyce top the charm and cleverness of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry? Why yes she can, this book is very different to her first, but an excellent premise and wonderful characters.

cover of Perfect

5. The Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy: No year of mine can go by without a Cormac or two, and this is probably my favourite book of the year if I really had to pick one. Stunning prose, bleakness and such wonderful characters, he never disappoints. Check out my earlier blog about this great book and author.

And as this is my last day at the libraries for two whole weeks, count them…16 days, I’m arming myself with a couple of recommendations from colleagues and a few movies.

Harvest by Jim Crace and The Novel Cure are at the top of the pile.

I’d like to wish everyone a wonderful holiday period, even if you are working.  May the awesome book fairy shine upon you and the Santa of perfect prose leaves something so excellent, it lingers in your mind for a long time.

Meri Kirihemete!

Two authors = one breathtaking story

CoverIt’s no secret that I think Patrick Ness is a brilliant author (I’ve written many blog posts about it).  His Chaos Walking Trilogy is one of those stories that really struck a chord with me and the characters and their world will stay with me for a long time.  The books in the trilogy have won various awards in the world of children’s literature, including the BookTrust Teenage Prize, the Guardian Award, the Costa Book Award, most recently the final book, Monsters of Men won the prestigious Carnegie Medal.  When the Chaos Walking Trilogy came to an end last year, I was looking forward to reading whatever Patrick Ness wrote next and thankfully I didn’t have to wait very long.

Patrick’s next project was to write a story based on the ideas of another brilliant author, Siobhan Dowd, who had passed away from breast cancer in 2007.  Siobhan had the characters, premise and beginning and it was up to Patrick to turn it into a story. Being both a fan of Patrick’s and Siobhan’s writing, I eagerly anticipated their story A Monster Calls.

And boy, what a story it is!  Night after night, Connor is woken by the same nightmare, “the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming.  The one with the hands slipping from his grasp, no matter who hard he tried to hold on.”  It is one night, after waking from this nightmare, that the monster arrives, twisting to life from the yew tree in the graveyard.  The monster comes to offer Connor a deal; it will tell Connor three stories, but then he must tell the monster a fourth story, and it must be the truth.  However, Connor’s mum is very sick and the truth is the thing that he fears the worst.

I really can’t explain how amazing A Monster Calls is.  Before you even start reading the book, you just need a few minutes to marvel at how beautiful it is.  Walker Books have put so much love into the design, from the dust-jacket and the cover,  to the stunning illustrations spread throughout the book by the very talented Jim Kay.  The story itself is breathtaking and you’ll go on a roller-coaster of emotion as the monster guides Connor towards the truth.  I especially liked the three stories that the monster tells and I hope that Patrick Ness writes more short stories like these.

Grab a copy of A Monster Calls from the library now.  Trust me, you won’t regret it.