Why you should learn how to speak Samoan.

Living in Samoa means my children have more opportunities to learn and speak Samoan. Which is a good thing because of course we want them to be bilingual and be nothing like their mother who can speak better English than the Queen of England but has horrible Samoan skills. (Its all my father’s fault of course. He wanted us to speak better English than the Queen because that was the language spoken at school and one day of course all his children were going to excel at prestigious universities, become brilliant superstar academics, meet the Queen and we’d need to be able to stun her into silence with our astounding grasp of English. Probably over tea and crumpets at Buckingham Palace.)

My Samoan language skills have gotten better but if you went to school with me then you know my Samoan was dreadful and my story writing consisted of – ‘O lo’u igoa o Lani. O lo’u tina o Marita. O lo’u tama o Felix. E ese lou fiafia ai keke. E ese lou fiafia ai kalo. E ese lou fiafia ai fa’i….’ Obviously not winning any literary gold medals with those stories.

Well, Little Daughter needed help with her Samoan homework and her father was in New Zealand so I valiantly stepped up to offer linguistic assistance. So yes, her story went something like this, “O lo’u igoa o Zion. O lo’u tina o Lani. O lo’u tama o Darren. E ese lo’u fiafia ai keke. E ese lou fiafia ai kalo…etc” And she looked very doubtful about the quality of her story but I assured her it made sense and would surely impress her teacher. Plus, it was a heck of a lot better than turning in a blank sheet of paper. oh ye of little faith…dont you know beggars cant be choosers?

But then her father came back and he made lots of rude comments about my story help. Because his Samoan is fluent and fabulous. So Little Daughter’s story has been upgraded and suddenly has lots of big words and complex sentences in it. And I can’t understand half of it. And she doesnt want me to help her anymore. Ever. I’ve been fired as a Samoan homework helper.

But Im not upset. No, no. I’m sure the Queen will want to read my story. While we’re conversating at Buckingham Palace. Over tea and crumpets…

In the meantime, let this be a cautionary tale for you. Dont try to help your child with their homework unless you know what you’re doing. And if you’re Samoan try your bestest to learn how to speak Samoan and then speak it to your children. So they can write good stories in Samoan and English.

No Illusions

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Today the awesome organizers of my Utah trip released this promo poster for the main speaking event. So of course I share it everywhere. Cos its prettiful. Then I show the Hot Man.

“See the nice poster they made for Utah!”

He says, “They used that picture of you?”

I say, defensively,  “Yeah. What’s wrong with it? I look good in it. The photographer did an amazing job with that glamour shoot.”

He says, “But everybody in Utah who comes to it is gonna think you look like that.”

“SO?? AND YOUR POINT IS??!! YOU GOT SOMEFING WRONG WITH YOUR EYES??!! YOU CANT RECOGNIZE YOUR WIFE??!!”

He says, “Umm, nothing…nothing. ..forget I mentioned it. I got nuthin to say. Nuthin.”

Thats right. You better say nuthin… dammit…

So, there you have it Utah peoples – a prettiful poster with some useful info about my upcoming trip. This event is free and open to the public. If you cant make this one, theres several other places that I’ll be speaking and doing author stuff at. I know theres some fab bloggers and readers of this blog that live in Utah and Id love to finally meet you in person.

But yeah, please dont expect me to look anything like that photo. Because as much as I hate to admit it – the Hot Man doesnt have anything wrong with his eyes.

More About the TELESA Film Project

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Karin Williams of Multinesia Productions is the (powerhouse) woman responsible for taking TELESA to the NZ Film Commission. Here’s what she’s got to say about how it happened and where we’re headed.

Telesā: Producer’s Statement

I read the entire Telesā series over Christmas-New Year 2014, including the Daniel Tahi novella. And then I read it straight through again. By the time I got to page 16, I knew this was something special. I’d never seen anything like it, especially from a Pacific writer.

Immediately, I knew that these characters and their stories needed to become a movie or television series. At first I was puzzled that the Telesā series hadn’t been picked up by a major publisher or film studio. Then I realised that mainstream media has no frame of reference for Pacific mythology or Samoan teenagers. Lani was flying under the cultural radar. But not for long!

People call Telesā the “Samoan Twilight”, but Leila Folger is a much stronger character than some wimpy girl who moons around after sparkly vampires. She’s more like the Samoan Buffy – a tough woman who fights the forces of evil and kicks butt. Leila’s the real “Girl on Fire”!

I admire Lani’s tenacity in getting the books published, never taking no for an answer, and her passionate relationship with her fans. Most moviemakers would kill for a loyal, intelligent, active fan base like the Telesā readers. It’s also a huge responsibility. All readers fear their favourite book will be botched by a bad film adaptation, so it’s important we get it right.

When I first sat down with Lani to talk about adapting these books for the screen, I asked what her worst fear was. She worried the films would never get made, that the project was just too big and no one would care enough. My biggest fear is not that the movies don’t get made, but that they get made wrong. The idea of “Hollywood” whitewashing Leila and the Sisterhood is a horrifying prospect. Cultural integrity is paramount to this project.

We’re at the beginning of a marathon – or maybe a triathlon. It’s a huge challenge and it will be a long journey to translate these books for the screen. Neither of us have done a project of this magnitude before, but with the backing of the NZ Film Commission, I have faith that we will find the right team of supporters who believe in this project as much as we do.

Karin Williams
February 2015

Multinesia Productions is a global indigenous production company with South Pacific roots. Founded in Los Angeles, now based in Auckland, we are proud to create, manage and produce award-winning projects for stage and screen. We’ve worked with communities from Alaska to Aotearoa to tell authentic stories of our ancestors and other native people.

That TELESA Bigscreen Project.

A quick announcement – The NZ Film Commission has awarded development funding for TELESA to make it to the #bigScreen. Still undecided between an international TV series OR a movie. Thank you to producer Karin Williams who fell in love with the books and believes in them enough to light the fire with the NZFC. Next step? They’ll put together a dev and production team, work on a script, connect with investors and a major studio, (and hopefully I will get the opportunity to be mentored by some of the greats in the industry #fingersCrossed) This is only the first step on a long road but its one thats only possible because of YOU – the readers and supporters who have embraced these books and characters. Because of your enthusiasm for this Samoan story, some very significant doors are slowly opening and I truly believe that with your continued support – the sky is the limit. Faafetai tele lava and thank you!  #TelesaMovie #dreamBig #TakingTelesaToTheWorld

http://www.thebigidea.co.nz/news/industry-news/2015/feb/160091-he-ara-funding-for-multinesia

Go to Savaii

I never understood why people would want to go to Savaii – unless of course they already lived there or were from there and returning. I grew up on Upolu and I just figured, hey you see one Samoan island then you seen them all, right?

Wrong.

Went over for the weekend to take Little Son to his new school Vaiola College and I’m now a believer. Savaii is epic and sorry Upolu, you just cant compare. If youre a brand new visitor planning your trip to Samoa, my advice? Dont even bother with Apia. Just go straight to Savaii.

The Fab Five’s observations on How Is Savaii Different from Upolu?

“Everybody’s got a horse in front of their house, and a volleyball net up and its so so clean here and the sea is a different blue-green color and its much much more prettier and much less cars and much less dogs that want to bite you.”

We only got to a few places in our short visit but here’s what you MUST do while youre here:

1. Feed the turtles at Satoalepai. If youre not averse to getting in the pool, then swimming with the turtles is also an option. I didnt want to get in dark (icky?!) water where creatures could grab my leg and drag me into the depths of nastiness BUT this is the year I promised myself I would get out of my house comfort zone and have new experiences. Even if it gave me some horrible turtle disease… So I did it. And nothing bit me and I didnt catch a turtle infection. The water is cool and being able to touch these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat is pretty special.
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2. Eat pizza at Leilina’s Pizza. I did not expect to find REALLY REALLY good pizza on Savaii. Wow. This place is gorgeous and the food is great. Bella usually wont eat anything with #greenLeaves on it but she loved their garlic n parsley bread knots twists. Large pizzas are $40 and service is fast and friendly.
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3. Go to the lava fields at Saleaula. When I wrote my Telesa books, Mt Matavanu and the lava fields were essential elements of the story but I’d never actually been to them and so Google was my reference. It was humbling to see the vast expanse of black rock baked hot in the golden sun – in real life. We didnt get to Matavanu on this trip but definitely planning on it for the next one.

4. Go to Tanu Beach Fales. Stay there if youre wanting the BEST beach fale experience on the planet. We only spent the day there but it far surpassed anything Upolu has to offer. The hosts are friendly and helpful. The beach is white powdered heaven and the water is that exquisite meld of aquamarine and emerald, shimmering jewelled tones in the spangled sunlight. The showers and toilets are clean, the water pressure in the taps is a rush and the place is kept spotless. They do meals if you want to sleep there and even have a cultural show on certain nights.
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5. Look for rivers and waterfalls. The lovely owners of the Savaiian Hotel told us about a beautiful river spot by Savaii’s only “iron bridge”. We parked by the road, asked permission of a very nice elderly man sitting in his fale, and then we experienced an almost magical place.
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6. Eat fish and chips at the Savaiian Hotel. Stay there if youre looking for somewhere not far from the wharf. Nola and Poi are excellent hosts and the rooms are clean and inviting. The hammock under the mango tree is a perfect reading spot!
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7. Go to the Eva Eva Nightclub if you like : really loud fun music, fascinating people watching, and an edge of danger with too much cigarette smoke.
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Im looking forward to our next Savaii trip.
Have you been to Savaii? What do you recommend?

Sex and the Samoan Woman

Back when I was a teacher at a high school here in Samoa, I attended a workshop for English teachers at which they gave out a list of texts recommended for studying with  senior students. I noted that a favourite author of mine was missing from the list, so I asked if Sia Figiel’s books could be included – ‘Where we Once Belonged’ and ‘Girl in the Moon Circle.’

The room went quiet and the co-ordinator gave me a look. She said, “Of course you’re welcome to use her books in the classroom, but a true tama’ita’i Samoa ( a real Samoan woman) would not want to read such things or talk about them with students.”  Everyone shook their heads vehemently in agreement, throwing me sideways glances of disdainful shock, ewww I can’t believe you even asked that question!

I was embarrassed, very young and very new to the teaching profession. So I didn’t argue or even ask why.  I assumed it must be because Figiel’s book contains sex and graphic (rich) descriptions of a woman’s body (including her vagina).  As well as mentions of incest, and the shattering effects of child abuse.

I wanted to ask why Albert Wendt’s book was on the list – when he’s also a Samoan who writes books with sex in them. Or why ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ was on the list – when it has racism and rape in it. Or why Macbeth is on the list  – when it has mass murder and witchcraft in it. Or why…

I could go on, but hopefully you get the point.

I didnt ask. I said nothing.

But I did go back to my classroom and introduce my students to Figiel’s work anyway. And just like I knew they would – they loved it.

That’s not the only time I’ve had people shudder and #yuckFace about Figiel’s books, specifically the sex. Another time, a woman refused to send her daughter to a workshop for young writers because Figiel was going to be the keynote speaker. “The woman writes about vaginas on the first few pages of her book and says the F word a lot. No way will I allow my daughter to go.” Another time, a university lecturer talked about her unwillingness to touch Figiel’s work in her classes, because of the ‘unnecessary sexuality’.  (Because sex is unnecessary, didn’t you know? Especially in Samoan literature. )

These are all examples from a local Samoan context. And from some years  ago. Perhaps its different now. I hope so, but I doubt it.

Figiel’s books are studied in many countries, especially whenever Pacific Literature is being critiqued.  I find it quite telling that a landmark work like Figiel’s, doesnt seem to be more widely read among those who she writes about. And when it is read, I’m intrigued by the responses to the sex (in all its forms and expressions in the books, both positive and negative) from Samoan women and men.

I know that when Albert Wendt’s first books came out, they were banned in a few places. People were shocked about some of the material – Im guessing the sex was a big part of that. Perhaps time has helped to lessen the discomfort for local teachers who might want to take on reading and discussing his books with their students? Or perhaps it’s easier to cope with sex and intimacy when its written from a male perspective?

What does it tell us when we are more accepting of a Samoan man writing a sex scene – then we are about a Samoan woman writing sex, writing about a woman’s body, naming and detailing a vagina for example? Or when a palagi writes about sex/love/romance – does that make it more acceptable literary study material?

What are some of our prevailing attitudes towards sex and the Samoan woman that might underlie this? A couple of examples that stand out for me – as summed up by social media…

1. The Teuila Blakely ‘sex tape’. The most virulent and hateful reactions to an adult, single Samoan woman engaging in a sex act with an adult, single Tongan man – were from the Pasifika community in NZ. Many  Samoans there fell over themselves in their eager haste to condemn Ms Blakely for

a. dating a much younger man

b. having oral sex in a car

c. Either allowing her date to film the act OR being too focused on the activity that she didnt notice she was being filmed

d. Not being sorry enough  or repentant enough when her date shared it on social media

The disgust and antagonism for Ms Blakely as a Samoan woman who appeared  confident and    unashamed about her sexuality and her  choices in the bedroom (or in the car), did not seem to extend to the Tongan man who had been a co-participant. Even when  it was apparent the creep man had violated her trust by sharing the tape. People slammed her for being a poor example of a tama’ita’i Samoa, for bringing shame on the Samoan community, and for being that most lethal of Samoan designations, a pa’umuku, a slut. They said she should have been at home with her son, being a ‘good mother.’  A few said quite blatantly, “She should just die.” The degree of viciousness and hate was disturbing.

Whether or not we agree with the choice some people make to film themselves doing sex-things, why is it that we are so outraged by a Samoan woman who chooses to have sex and likes it?

2. The domestic violence case involving Brian Lima and Sina Retzlaff. When Ms Retzlaff went public with the assault and a photograph of her bruised face made headlines, there was an outpouring of support and outrage on her behalf. There was also strong condemnation of her.  For speaking out and ‘airing their dirty laundry’ thus bringing shame on both families involved. Disapproval also came from those who said she deserved it because when the attack occurred, she was out on a date with another man. Ms Retzlaff and her ex-husband had been divorced for two years, but still critics blasted her on social media because, “she should be at home looking after her children” and “not going out having sex with other men”. (Never mind that the attack happened in a public place, outside a restaurant and nobody was having sex of any kind.)

The dynamics of domestic violence aside, I took particular note of those who criticized Ms Retzlaff for what they viewed as her sexually promiscuous behaviour. People cited her dating, as a divorced woman with children – as evidence that she “deserved” to get beaten up by her ex-husband. They delighted in pointing out that her date was a younger man. They implied Ms Retzlaff had been an unfaithful wife when she was married – more evidence she “deserved” to get beaten up. They said she was a pa’umuku, a slut. Someone said, “She should just die.”

Again, the degree of viciousness and hate was disturbing.

Again the double standard was evident. Nobody raised questions about Lima’s sexual conduct, either when he was married or in the years since. Nobody asked why he wasnt at home looking after his children.

Im reminded of a dear friend who, when she found out her husband was having an affair, was comforted by her mother, “Thats what men do. Dont worry about that other woman. You’re the one he’s married to, the one living in his house, the mother of his children. He only goes to her for sex. Because he has needs. You’re the wife.”

What attitudes towards sex and the Samoan woman are evident here? About what is “acceptable” for a Samoan man vs a Samoan woman? About what a wife ‘provides’ vs a lover #onTheSide?

What about for our fa’afafine sisters? Do they have the same expectations and codes of sexual conduct within our cultural context? I’ve seen a kind of envious awe from other Samoan women towards fa’afafine because ‘you can get away with so much more than we do!’ and ‘I wish I could be as flamboyant and fierce as you’ and ‘you get the best of both worlds’. But do they really?

I’m grateful to live in a country where fa’afafine are generally accepted and celebrated. (At least more so than in other countries.) Yet, while we have a more fluid view of gender than most of the palagi world, Christianity has done a good job at demonizing those who dont fit a rigid gender binary. The Bible’s take on homosexuality is quoted often. Yes, a woman can be villified for having any kind of sex outside the approved parameters (in a car with somebody much younger than you AND youre not married is a HELL NO!) But at least there’s some approved parameters for her to #getHerFreakOn. Fa’afafine dont have any. At least not according to our Christianized Samoan culture.

I’ve seen the heartache of some of my fa’afafine sisters as they are sexually objectified all while being treated as ‘less than’ or ‘incomplete’ because of who they are. I know of many Samoan men who have sex with a fa’afafine and then say – that doesnt count as cheating on their partner/wife because “she’s not a real woman…she’s just a fa’afafine.” Such dehumanizing is not only hurtful – it’s dangerous. It contributes to callous discrimination against fa’afafine and even violence. It needs to stop.

In today’s Samoan cultural context (whether here or abroad),  does a woman/fa’afafine have the right to be a sensual being who celebrates and enjoys her body and all her body is capable of feeling? How do we as Samoans, feel about a woman/fa’afafine’s right to choose who she has sex with, the kind of sex she has, and when and where she has that sex? And how do we make sure we’re getting the right messages across to our young people as they seek to navigate turbulent emotions and powerful relationships – often without any guidance from parents who cant/wont talk about #sexStuff or #loveStuff or #bodyStuff?

As a mother, these questions are important to me as I try to raise daughters and sons who can treat others with respect regardless of what/who they are in this rainbow LGBT world, and who can make informed decisions about when/where/who to have healthy, fun and fabulous sex relationships with.

As a writer, these things are important to me, particularly as I create characters that (I hope) are multi-faceted, authentic and believable. Characters who have rich, messy and messed up relationships with others. In characters like Leila, Simone, Matile, Nafanua and Pele, I have tried to portray a diverse range of Samoan women in contemporary Samoa. Women who love and are loved, women who have different attitudes towards their sexuality. Mindful that Im not fa’afafine and cant know or understand firsthand what it is to be a young fa’afafine like Simone – I was apprehensive about writing her, but it was essential to have her voice in the TELESA Series and I hope I did her character justice. My next novel is not Young Adult. Its contemp romance with lots of tangled Samoan family drama and contains mature themes. In other words, its got love, sex, lies, loss and too much laughter in it. It’s been a whole new world of challenge for me to write this latest book.

It can be a struggle to write with honesty (particularly when love and sex are involved) and I can only write a “single story.” There are many other perspectives and theres no one true definition for what is a ‘real tama’ita’i Samoa’. My characters are not representative of an entire country or culture and it would be a mistake for anyone to expect them to be. (A plug there for more Samoan women to hurry up and write novels.)

Back to stories. And sex. And what do they have to do with each other?

Its vital that we can see ourselves represented in the stories around us – whether in our media or in our literature. Stories created by us, for us and about us can be powerful, especially when theres a range of complex stories that encompass the good and the bad. And everything in between.

Yes, we can be wives, mothers, sisters and daughters, matriarchs and matai. We also can be abused and the abusers, rape victims, child abuse survivors, battered wives, mothers who encourage sons to beat their partners, friends who tell you to perpetually forgive the perpetually cheating husband, and grandmothers who berate 13yr olds who get pregnant from their uncles.

But we are also sensual beings with sexual and emotional needs and desires. Some of us enjoy sex. Some of us dont. Some of us have amazing sex – all by ourselves. Some of us want to have sex – and cant. Because age or health or religion says no. Some of us are really good at it and luxuriate in engaging in all sorts of enticing and intricate techniques. Some of us dont. Some of us never find a person we want to be in the same room with – let alone have sex with. Some of us only have sex with other women. Some of us only have sex with men – like with boyfriends, husbands and lovers. (Sometimes we have sex with other people’s boyfriends, husbands and lovers.) Sometimes we make stupid choices and have sex when we shouldnt. Or with someone that we know we’ll regret. Some of us commit to one person – and its awful. Some of us commit to only ever having sex with one person for the rest of our lives – and it’s beautiful and so worth it.

And you know what? All of these are true for our fa’afafine sisters. And for men. So can we please stop with that rubbish about ‘Men have needs…its harder for men to control their sexual urges…men want it more than women…he did that because her dress was so revealing and immodest so he couldnt control himself…its too difficult for a man to be faithful to one woman because of his NEEDS… Everybody’s got needs dammit. Learn how to control yo’self and let’s all stop making excuses for shitty behaviour.

The list of sex people possibilities and experiences is endless. And yet, we are given so few of these varied stories in our literature and our media. Especially for women and fa’afafine. When there is only a limited and limiting representation of Samoan women – we continue to perpetuate harmful stereotypes and attitudes – which then play out in intimate partner relationships, in often very damaging ways.

We need more Samoan women writing books, blogs and poems. Making art, plays and films. Im thrilled to know several Samoan women who are working to complete their first novels, like Caroline Hunt, Sisilia Eteuati and Sita Leota. And Im excited about the ongoing success of South Seas Pictures which is telling powerful Samoan stories, like the film NOFOTANE and many more.

We need to see the many different realities of Samoan women’s experiences, represented and challenged. The norms and underlying attitudes questioned. Because as Chimamanda Adichie so beautifully expressed, in her TED talk, ‘The Danger of the Single Story’ :

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story… Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize.”

To all my Samoan sister storytellers out there, wherever you may be – Im looking at you. Be brave enough to question, challenge and re-define what it means to be Samoan women or fa’afafine. Speak your truth.Take control of the narratives about us and our sexuality, our intimate partner relationships – in all their rich diversity of experience. Tell stories, lots of different stories. Stories that will help empower and humanize.

Kick-ass Words and Kick-ass Clothes

One of my 2015 goals is to be more organized with my work (ha ha).

I usually start prepping for an author event…a few days before. Then everyone in my house must endure my freaking out / panic / all-nighter writing, interspersed with a frantic need for lots of sugar (cake) and caffeine (Diet Coke) to get me through. With a bit of yelling at innocent children followed by bouts of crying as I wallow in guilt at being such a crap mother.

Sad fact is, I’m useless at public speaking without lots of notes and lots of practise – which makes no sense then that I would constantly leave my speeches to the last minute.

BUT this year is going to be different. Dammit. This year I’m going to be one of those smooth, capable and confident women who have speeches written MONTHS in advance. And can say them without looking at any notes, without getting so sweaty nervous that their glasses fog up and then they cant see anything anyway. Women who can rap and riff and pontificate with eloquence and wit and winning self-deprecation. Or, when the situation requires, they can deliver rousing, impassioned powerful words that make people cry, or shout, or do cartwheels.

Women who can back up their kickass words with kickass outfits. Women who dont have to raid their big sister’s wardrobe to borrow, beg and steal her fabulous work clothes. They have co-ordinated ensembles in their closets, always ironed, always ready to wear for any and every speaking event outside their hermit caves. And of course those outfits will always be clothes that actually fit. Not ofu’s that one buys because they look good on the store poster AND THEY MIGHT FIT ONE DAY. #everHopeful. Not that I do this…ever. Oh no. Not me.

In line with my goal to transform into this well-dressed, well-spoken author and public speaker, I resolved to stop eating cake and donuts which could help those ofu’s fit better. And to start NOW, writing my words for my March Utah trip.

Because on March 12th, I’m giving a lecture at the Salt Lake Community College, for Women’s History Month, about: “Celebrating a Woman’s Worth.”

Then Im visiting the Pacific Heritage Charter School on the 13th and Mana Academy on the 17th, where I will probably have to say some words. That cant sound dumb. That cant be about donuts or rugby player abs or why I like Eminem.

On March 14th Im doing a Talanoa Series to talk about writer stuff and also about Preventing Abuse in our Pasifika communities.

And March 18th Im giving the keynote address at the SLC Pacific Islander High School Teachers Conference.

That’s kind of a lot of words.

So I started writing my speeches. A week later and this is what I have so far.

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Zip. Nada. Nuffing.

A week later and I’m thinking that I really need some cake. And donuts. Maybe thats why the words arent making an appearance?

Or maybe, wonderful words only ever come to me when I have 48hrs left before I get up in front of an audience? Maybe wonderful words are only borne of panic, fear, desperation and desolation?

Ohmagosh Utah is gonna hate me.

Why are you so grouchy??!!

Dear children,

The whole point of having a door on my office is so you can leave me alone. Not so you can open it every 10 minutes and ask me VERY IMPORTANT questions, like:

*Do you know where the soap is? Theres nothing in our bathroom.

* Where’s Zach? He’s supposed to help me bath the puppies.

* Are you going to the store soon? Can you buy some batteries for the other XBox controller?

* She wont let me play XBox. Its not fair. Tell her to share!

* Can you tell Jade to hurry up and go back to university? Im tired of sharing my room with him.

* What are we having for dinner? …Why dont you know?…

* Why do I have to do the dishes that Zion made? I already cleaned the kitchen and she just came and made a sandwich.

* Can the puppies come inside and play?

* The puppies pooped on your rug. What should we do?

* We need tape / scissors / paper / a pen. Do you got any?

* The toilet paper’s finished.

And my favorite…

* Why are you so grouchy? You’re always in a bad mood. I thought you liked being a writer?

And people wonder why my next book is taking so damn long to finish.

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I love my office!  – When children arent in it…

Christmas in Samoa

A few days late – but better late than never!

Last night was Christmas Eve. The house was filled with the sounds of children playing as the Fab5 had their cousins over who are visiting from New Zealand.  We talked a lot, laughed real loud, drank too much Diet Coke and ate way too many brownies and Doritos. After the cousins left, we did last minute gift wrapping and I was snapping at the children to get the place cleaned up before they snuck off to bed. “I dont care if its almost midnight – go fold that laundry y’hear me!!”
Then we heard singing from the front. A choir from the church up the road, all dressed in white and carrying candles and lanterns, singing Samoan hymns as they walked in two lines under the starry sky. Hymns of worship, hymns of praise.

Just like that, all the rush and busyness and angst was gone. Replaced with a feeling of peace and immense gratitude. For the gift of the Saviour Jesus Christ and the celebration of his birth. For my family, for the blessing of being in our new home (so what if its unfinished), for the gift of living in Samoa and the opportunity to raise our children here.

I sat in the shadows and listened until the very last notes trailed away, until the choir was long out of sight – and thought about many Christmases past, growing up in Samoa….

1. Back when Christmas lights were rare and we knew where every house was that had any. Our Dad taking us for a drive ‘to see lights’, sitting in the back of the pickup truck with the wind in your face, eyes eagerly scanning for sparkly color. The prize for #BestestLights going to the family with the MASSIVE pine tree draped with lights, across the road from the old St.Josephs school.
2. My mum’s Christmas baking. Sio grating fresh popo for her coconut cookies, outside the back door with chickens scratching for stray flecks of white salty-sweetness. The house filled with the smell of caramelized sugar and vanilla. Us kids hanging around, offering to “help stir” so we could stick our fingers in the bowl and swipe a taste of chocolate chip cookie dough batter. Her swatting at our hands and yelling for us to get out of her kitchen. Us hoping she would mess up and burn a few of the peanut brownies, hoping the Louise Squares wouldn’t lift out of the pan properly – so then we could eat all the rejects.
3. Christmas gift deliveries. My big brother sent to cut branches off the pine tree because he was the tallest. Helping to carry the prickly greenery to the kitchen where my mum would use it to decorate trays of cookies, cinnamon rolls and banana pumpkin loaves. Tying on ribbons of gold and red – which she would promptly re-tie because “your bows are dreadful!” Going in the car to deliver the treats to family, friends and total strangers. The Bishop, Papa, cousins, the couple at the little corner store “because they make such good bread”, the new family at church “because the woman looks sad and I think she’s having a hard time adjusting to Samoa”. One year we took cookies to the house with the massive Christmas tree lights. Even though they had no clue who we were. “Because they make many people happy with their lights.”
4. A creaky wooden bus filled to bursting with carolers dressed in Sunday white. Stopping at our house after midnight to sing Samoan hymns.
5. The radio playing non-stop Vengaboys Christmas songs. Boney M. Feliz Navidad trumpeting from every bus.
6. The hollow BOOM of faga ofe in the night.
7. Christmas to’onai at my grandfather’s house. Uncles, aunts and cousins. Cardboard boxes of ice cream. Chocolate self-saucing cake. Pisupo and taro. Avoiding Papa’s surly unpredictable dog Hero. Playing on the steel swing set and searching for guppies in the murky dead water of the Vaipe.
8. Visiting great-aunty Ita. Her face lighting up to see us. The feel of her velvet soft wrinkled cheek against my face as she tugs me close for a hug. Thick slabs of puligi on a tin plate. Ripe misiluki bananas from the bunch hanging outside the back door.
9. Papa sitting in his armchair solemnly accepting his presents from us. Stacking wrapped packages on the table beside him but never unwrapping them. My awed puzzlement at how he could stand NOT opening his presents. Many years later, seeing still-wrapped gifts stored in his bedroom.
10. The snap and crack of toy cap pistols. The acrid windings of smoke from the rolls of red paper pellets.
11. Putting up our Christmas tree. Reciting the history of each ornament, arguing about which one belonged to us from the collection of fragile decorations, as our mum bought us each a new one every year.
12. Planning and practising for a family nativity play – which never happens because me and my little sisters inevitably have a fight and somebody quits. Laughing about it every year since then.
13. My little sister buying me lolesaiga one year and wrapping them for under the tree. Then getting mad at me and unwrapping them again so she could eat one…or two. Then rewrapping them.
14. Going to the neighborhood freshwater spring with all my cousins and uncles after the big Christmas toonai. Ice cold relief from the sticky heat of the day. Big boss women yelling at us to stop making so much noise and splashing too much. Walking home wet, rubber seevae kosokoso making loud squelching sounds on the hot tar seal road.
15. Mum making her legendary fruitcake, redolent with so much alcohol that going into the kitchen is an intoxicating experience. All us kids having a turn to stir the thick batter and make a wish.
16. The scarlet fire of the flame trees in bloom all over town.
17. Huffy-puffy donuts glazed and sticky sweet. Made by Helen Atoa and delivered hot and delicious, Merry Christmas.
18. Pineapple season. Hating having to cut and peel them, digging out the prickly scabbed skin. Resentfully. But loving the chilled sweet taste of them.
19. Walking all over town with $20, in search of enough gifts for seven people.
And,
20. A choir from the church up the road, all dressed in white and carrying candles and lanterns, singing Samoan hymns as they walk past our house, under the starry sky. Hymns of worship, hymns of praise.
Manuia le Kerisimasi from Samoa.

What are some of your fave Christmas memories?

Why We’re Totally Wrong For Each Other

In four days it will be 23 years since I went to a party I didnt want to go to – and met the Hot Man.

He wasnt the Hot Man then of course. Oh no. He was one of the insanely sexilicious and dangerous Young brothers. All very good looking, very athletic, very in demand ‘with the ladies’, and very good at  drinking lots of beer. They worked hard and partied hard. I’d known who he was when I was at high school, but from an awe-struck distance because super cool dudes like him didnt associate with geeks like me.

When I make a list of all the things we had in common – I am mystified how we  stayed together so long.

1. He didnt like to eat desserts. Didnt even bother looking at the dessert menu because a meal was complete after appetizers and main. Outrageous!! Who knew people like that even existed?? Not I. As we all know, I live and breathe for dessert. Life would have no meaning without it. The only cake he ever ate was fruitcake. At Christmas. The only cake I wont eat, because its disgusting – is fruitcake.

2. He put tomato sauce on French toast. Ewwww yuck. Whereas I (correctly) believed in the essential sweet nature of bread soaked in eggs and cream and then fried in a daub of butter and sprinkled with cinnamon. Thus I ate French toast with maple syrup. Or jam.

3. He liked to run, box, do muay thai, workout in the gym, and then run some more. Being fit and active and healthy gave him great joy. Me? I hated sports and I’d never been fit or active or particularly interested in good health.

4. He was Catholic but never went to church. I was Mormon and went to church a lot.

5. He’d never read a novel in his life. Stuff for his work and books about running? Yeah sure. But fiction? No. Whereas I consumed books like bags of Doritos. With unbridled enthusiasm and a relentless hunger that I #mustFinishThis.

6. He was and still is, an early riser and always wants to be early to everything. (So annoying.) I like to stay up late which means of course I NEED to sleep late. And I think punctuality is overrated. If I invite you to my house for dinner, Im going to think you’re quite inconsiderate if you actually show up on time.

7. He was and is, excellent with money. Making it, budgeting it and saving it. Im useless at all those things. However, I am very good at spending money. I will get off the plane from a trip to NZ and not have a single cent left in my pocket because hey, money is for SPENDING. While he will still have lots of NZ dollars in his wallet and I’ll be thinking hello! What a waste of good shopping opportunities…

8. He could take any machinery or electrical appliance to pieces and put it all back together again. Install a shower or repair a concrete mixer. Build a steel frame warehouse or make the new blender work. While I couldnt figure out the stupid intricacies of the DVD player from its instruction manual. I wrote stories from nuthin. He made buildings out of a whole lotta something.

9. He ate at Pinati’s and lunch was keke pua’a from the market. I’d never eaten at Pinati’s and the sight of keke pua’a made me feel ill.

10. His idea of a tidy room was turning the light off so you dont have to see the mess. I couldnt stand dirt or mess. And I wanted furniture to have a color scheme and sheets that MATCHED DAMMIT.

11. He didnt know what a feminist was. I was finishing a degree in Women’s Studies with buckets of Feminist Theory.

12. He loved horror movies. I’d never seen any. Because I cant handle them. Because I cant turn off my psycho-active imagination when the movie stops.

13. He had a motorbike, worked security at a strip club, and was often mistaken for being a drug dealer. (Long hair and a leather jacket will do that to you apparently.) The most dangerous thing I’d ever done was drink milk that was two days past its expiry date.

14. When I said “I had a fight with my sister” I meant – we yelled at each other for an hour, somebody got Unfriended on Facebook and then we separately called our Dad to register our unhappiness. When HE said, “I had a fight with my brother” he meant – he had a fight with his brother and somebody had a black eye. Maybe some furniture got broken.

15. He brought me a rose on our very first date. And the second, third and fourth dates. On the fifth date he proposed and gave me a diamond ring. I didnt give him any presents. (My excuse? I was a poor student and perpetually broke. See #7 for further reference.) But somewhere in between dates 2 and 3, I got nasty food poisoning from post-Xmas leftovers, so he sat by me and held the plastic bowl I was upchucking into. So I kinda did give him some thing.

I could go on. And on. But yes, perusing this list, I am flabbergasted that he and I have made it this far. (And yes, Im rather disconcerted this list has so many references to food…as evidence of what I see to be our DEEPLY PHILOSOPHICAL differences…)

But we’re not the same people who first met at that party 23 years ago.

He eats dessert now. I have brought him over to the Dark Side of the (Sweet) Force, with Sticky Date pudding and oatmeal choc chip cookies being his particular favorites.

I have tried French toast with tomato sauce. And I no longer feel the insane need to color-co ordinate my dishtowels with my plates. Or micro-manage how each cushion is placed on the sofa.

Nope we are not the same people. We’ve had five (bloody expensive) children join us – and they’ve done their best to challenge and bewilder us. We’ve been struggling students, first and second and third homeowners, business operators, author publisher, Ironman and Watergirl…thru sickness and health, richer and poorer, relationship meltdowns and more…

Which goes to show that opposites can do more than just attract. They can endure. Forge common ground. Grow together. Change. Reinvent and renew. Falter and mess up, then re-committ and find new ways to keep going.

Is it “love” that does it? That zing?

Takes a list of opposites and turns it into a marriage that can go beyond French toast and fruitcake?

Or is it friendship, commitment, forgiveness, patience, laughter, hope, hot sex (be honest, theres usually got to be SOME OF THAT in there somewhere) trust, respect and a genuine enjoyment of the other person’s company?

Whatever combination of whatever it is – Im grateful I’ve got it with the Hot Man and I hope hope hope that we keep getting it right.

Happy anniversary Darren. Thank you for another year of being best friends (with benefits).

I love you.
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