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Internal cultural conflict – my musings

In the last few weeks I have been thinking a lot of about culture – what it is, what it means to me, and how I can incorporate it better in my writing. And it all started with Playcentre.

I grew up as a Playcentre kid, and so it was natural for me to return with my own children, though it took me awhile to remember it was an option. We’ve been going for three terms now and it’s made a huge impact on me, and my kids (even helped in making our decision to home school Ivy). Recently I’ve been going to some workshops as I work my way towards achieving Course Two, and a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending one called ‘Celebrating Culture’ It was a two night course, and really threw me for quite a loop.

Why? Because I haven’t spent a great deal of time thinking about culture in general, let alone my own. I’m very accepting of people from all walks of lives and while I find different ways of living interesting, I’ve been more inclined to look for the similarities than the differences.

This negatively impacts on my writing. I paint my stories in broad strokes and while this is okay, it means that many of them never really come to life, unless they are in a fairly modern setting. I’ve struggled with this for a while now, and in particular with finding that balance between too much culture (I’m sure you all know those books that spend so much time detailing the world that you start thinking ‘okay, okay, now when are we going to get back to the story!?’) and not enough.

Out of laziness, I have avoided working on it, but I can’t put it off any longer. I want my stories to jump off the page at you, I want to draw you in with my words and have you experience the story as if it were real.

Throughout the course I was fascinated as we talked about what we thought culture was, and what our personal cultures were. Through discussion I realized that actually, I’m not very ‘typical’ in some areas, and that many of the rules I was raised with (and have since passed on to my own children) are quite culture bound. Maori culture bound, that is. And I had been unable to see that.

You see, I AM part Maori. Ngai Tahu. And I’ve been to several hui down south, Bruce Bay, to be precise. I even have memories of practising for a powhiri, welcoming Prince Philip to the area (back then there was no marae, but a hall where the hui was held), searching for fool’s gold in the river, smoking eels over a rubbish drum, and flax weaving too. These are good memories.

I also remember arriving down there and having this feeling that I had come home, even though I’d never been there before and I was probably only 9 the first time. It is the home of my ancestors and somehow, even at that young age, and without anyone telling me what to expect, I felt that very deeply.

And yet, for much of my life I’ve been denying all of this. Because I grew up in a culture where being Maori wasn’t a good thing, and being a half-caste was worse. And I am actually kind of pale, and I don’t look like a Maori (and I’m only 1/8th so really, not much of a Maori in the eyes of many). It’s an awkward position – on the one hand, I don’t look Maori so what right have I got to explore that, and on the other I am Maori but feel like I should keep quiet about that because its not something to be proud of. (Thank goodness the times have changed somewhat, huh?)

The older I get, and the more I learn and explore who and what I am (in all senses), the more I realize just how trapped I have been by my desire to fit in, and my fear of standing up for what I believe in. It’s only now, as an adult, with a family of my own, that I can cast off the boxes I’ve allowed to build up around me, and it’s only now that I can understand my mother’s journey to exploring her culture and Maori heritage back when I was a teen and wanted nothing to do with any of it—now, that I find myself on a similar path.

Which leads me here, to where I realize WHY culture has been such a struggle for me, not just in life but in my writing. Because if it’s not okay to be interested by my own, if in fact if it’s discouraged by society in general, why would I have interest in other peoples cultures?

Recently I have been doing a lot of thinking about my culture (all aspects of it—each of us has a culture of our own, after all), and finally I’ve come to see just how important it is to acknowledge, and embrace. It hasn’t been until now, when I am beginning to bridge that internal gap, that I have been able to see how I can integrate culture into my writing, without fear, and bring my stories to life. And maybe, just maybe, writing it out will help kick this internal conflict to the curb once and for all.

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Thank heavens for the internet!

Recently, I’ve been casting aside my… hmm – inhibitions seems like the wrong word, but something along those lines – my self consciousness? and have been making the most of the internet and its glorious ability to connect you with others.

Skype and G+ Hangouts are becoming second nature to me, and I LOVE it. The webcam is getting more use than ever before, and yesterday I purchased a new headset to help me on my way.

See, my writers group has just jumped into this new way of communicating. We had our first official ‘hangout’ yesterday morning, and aside from a few technical difficulties, it was really cool to be able to see and hear them while we talked writing and critiques. I like watching peoples faces as they listen, seeing their expression as they speak. It’s awesome.

The world seems like a much smaller place now. Of course, last weekend I trialed it with M to make sure that everything was working, Anna joined us and that was a lot of fun too – gave us some insights into the others lives, with kids running rampant in the background and life carrying on around us. I felt really boosted, knowing that despite the physical distance between us, we could still be close. Despite the fact that I may never meet some of these people in person, I could still know them and get a feel for the whole of them and their lives.

And it lessens the craziness of being a writer, having this easy contact with other people who spend hours and hours living in other worlds, killing off characters, creating conflict, exploring love interests and everything else that happens when you are trying to bring fiction to life on the page.

We are not alone, or at least, we don’t have to be. The internet is a wonderful thing.

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Nothing quite like it

I’ve been submitting stories to publishers/zines/etc for awhile now, and have become an old hand at it – finding a market no longer takes me days, and putting together the emails takes far less time too. Every market is different, but I know enough about what’s expected that I no longer make rookie mistakes (and it was only ONE time that I forgot to attach the MS 😉 lol).

A lot of my submissions this year have been a case of rinse and repeat – sending out stories that have had previous rejections, trying to find the right home for them.

During October I had the pleasure of sending something new into the world. A virgin MS. Unsullied by rejection, full of hope and wonder. After putting together the email and hitting send I had the most amazing rush. I was filled with a sense of joy and of possibility – the potential that the MS held was limitless. OMG who knew? Maybe they would say yes, and wouldn’t that be exciting? It’s been awhile since I’ve felt that, and I had forgotten just how amazing it is. I think it would probably slot in just under an acceptance as my favourite part of the submission process.

I enjoy sending my stories out, but something new? That’s a ticket to a head rush. There is no negativity attached to the story, no feelings of insecurity and worry, just pure exhilaration at having hit ‘send’.

It makes me want to write more, so that I can send more virgin MS’s into the world. Sure, they won’t all get accepted, but if I don’t keep writing new stories, I can’t capture that feeling again. Now that’s a good incentive!

Back to work I go 😉